In today’s episode, we’ll be talking to Verena Erhart. A native of Austria, Verena has worked as a tour guide for years, leading group trips in Europe (bus tours for teenagers and river cruises for seniors) and local tours in NYC. Previous to starting her own tour business, she worked in international affairs and holds a degree in communications, anthropology, and development studies.
She loves animals (her dog Truffle in particular), loves to travel the world, cooks, and spends time in nature with her husband and dog. As a native of Austria, she speaks fluent German, as well as good Spanish, some Italian, and a little bit of French. She’s lived in New York for 12 years and still finds new things to do. She is a Certified Vegan Life Coach through the Main Street Vegan Academy, a certified beer server (studying for Certified Cicerone), and she has a wine certification through WSET (level 2).
Now, some listeners to the podcast might remember Verena from episode 85 of First Ever VEGAN Korea Trip. Verena actually was one of the four vegan travel service providers invited to Korea, so I got to know Verena a little bit over that amazing week, although this time, Verena is going to be chatting with us about her adopted city New York City!
In this episode we discuss:
- Things you can do as a vegan in NYC
- Vegan-friendly Activities, and events for all seasons
- Verena’s favorite vegan restaurants in New York City
Some of my favorite restaurants:
- https://www.spicymoonnyc.com/ a vegan Szechuan restaurant
- https://www.termsofbk.com/ the best breakfast sandwich (BEC) in town, plus amazing sweet pastries
- https://www.rasplantbased.com/ – a great Ethiopian restaurant
- https://www.veganontf.com/ – ideal for a quick lunch/dinner around Times Square – the gyros are my favorite!
- https://www.gregoryscoffee.com/ – offers many vegan breakfast options – multiple locations around the city
Things to do in and around NYC throughout the year:
- We have a bunch of animal sanctuaries close to the city and some even offer accommodation options. Here are a few https://casanctuary.org/, https://woodstocksanctuary.org/, https://tamerlaine.org/ – they are all located in areas with great hiking and other fun things to do such as winery or brewery visits. The New Paltz and Woodstock are fun-to-visit towns with plenty of great vegan dining options.
- fall/winter: ice skating – some of it is free https://www.timeout.com/newyork/things-to-do/ice-skating-in-new-york-city-this-christmas. If you want to go skiing, you can do that, too – it’s about a two-hour drive from the city and some companies offer those trips. https://ovrride.com/
- Late Jan and September: Broadway week https://www.nycgo.com/broadway-week – you will get considerable discounts on Broadway tickets
- May: https://www.bike.nyc/events/td-five-boro-bike-tour/ – a day of (many) car-free roads, where you can cycle 40 miles through the streets of NY. online sign-up is required.
- Cherry Blossom at Brooklyn Botanical Garden https://www.bbg.org/collections/cherries
- Summer Solstice Yoga in Times Square: https://www.timessquarenyc.org/seasonal-events/solstice-in-times-square
- A day-long event with free yoga classes – right at one of the busiest places in the city.
- Summer (Memorial Day-Labor Day – late May-early September): beach season in NY, plenty of beaches to choose from – many reachable by subway or boat. https://www.nycgovparks.org/facilities/beaches you can also go Whale Watching (May – October) and surfing in NY.
- Many free outdoor activities such as yoga, tai chi, and pilates. Movie nights, concerts, etc.
- Summer Streets https://www1.nyc.gov/html/dot/summerstreets/html/home/home.shtml – on 3 Saturdays in August, Park Avenue is closed to traffic and open to bikers, runners – a great way to see the city.
- Fall/Winter: the perfect time to get your culture fix – see an opera at https://www.metopera.org/, a dance performance at Alvin Ailey https://www.alvinailey.org/engagement/new-york-city-center, or a concert at Madison Square Garden https://www.msg.com/calendar
- Comedy shows are always a fun time and there’s even a comedy festival in November https://nycomedyfestival.com/. There are plenty of jazz clubs in the city and we even have a vegan jazz club now https://www.ornithologyjazzclub.com/.
- November: https://www.nyrr.org/tcsnycmarathon – great times, whether running, walking, or watching. It might inspire even non-runners to get off the couch!
- November-January: Holiday train show at NY Botanical Garden. See some of NYC´s most iconic sights made of tree branches – a very unique experience! https://www.nybg.org/event/holiday-train-show/
- Any time of the year: visit one of our great parks such as Central Park or Prospect Park – come before 9 am and see dogs running around off-leash.
Other World Vegan Travel content connected with this episode
- Five Best US Cities for Vegan Foodies | Maggie Ortileb | Ep 86
- S4 Ep 12 | 2022 Hottest Vegan Restaurants in NYC | Angela Yvonne
- Best Vegan City Food Tours – North America (US, Canada, and Mexico)
Connect with Verena
Brighde: Welcome to The World Vegan Travel Podcast. Thanks so much for joining us today.
Verena: Thank you so much for having me, Brighde.
Brighde: We are gonna be talking about New York City, and even though you were not born in New York, you have spent a lot of time there and are an authority to talk about this topic, which is, why New York is such an awesome destination at all times of the year. So before we get into all of that, would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself and what you do in the vegan travel space, and your connection with New York?
Verena: Sure. So my name’s Verena Erhart, and as Brighde already indicated; I was not born in New York, I was born in Austria. But I have lived in New York for almost 12 years now. It’s always been my dream city. I’m very glad to be here and I still don’t get bored.
I have still not seen all the sites. This is, one of the things about New York, there are always new things to do and see, so you never run out of ideas. I run vegan food tours here in New York. It’s called Vegan Tours New York. So we run currently three different tours where we take visitors and locals on walks across the city and we highlight various vegan restaurants there.
Brighde: Great. For listeners who haven’t listened to one of our previous episodes, Verena and I met for the first time when we went to Korea and she was a guest on a reflection podcast that I linked down in the show notes for you. At the time of recording this podcast, you just got back a couple of weeks ago, just like me, Right?
Then you’re over the jet lag.
Verena: Yes. Finally, over the jet lag, it took a good week for me. I enjoy jet lag cuz you get up early and your day is pretty short but you have a lot of days, in the time in the day when nobody else is awake. Like the 5:00 AM club. I don’t know if you know that book where, you know, a lot of very high achievers get up super early, so I felt like yay.
I’m a high achiever, but I’m also super tired. Yeah
Brighde: yeah. It’s good to be over the jet lag for sure. I agree with you. So, New York, of course, it’s a world-class city. Lots of people dream of coming to live there like yourself or coming to visit but I think a lot of people might be put off at certain times of the year because the weather is pretty extreme in New York compared with, even here in Vancouver, I would say.
Can you speak to that?
Verena: Yes, unfortunately, I have to agree with that. But what I like to say is that if the weather was perfect, if the weather was like in Sydney for example, even more people would wanna live here and even more people would need apartments. So it would be even more expensive than it is. I think as a New Yorker or as a visitor to New York, you have to be a little bit hardcore, and it usually gets very cold in the winter, especially in January, February can be very cold and the summers can be very hot and humid. So it’s not rare to have 10 days in a row with 35-plus degrees Celsius and very high humidity. So like in the high nineties, if you’re in Fahrenheit, and the humidity is often around 90% or so. You sometimes get out of the door and you feel like somebody’s holding a blow dryer in your face because it’s that warm.
But having said that, still always a great place to visit. Some of my favorite seasons, if I would have to pick one, would be like late May, early June, or around this time of the year. Like October is a really good time, October November. But usually, it gets a little bit colder now. Today, as you could tell, it’s very warm.
Today we have 18 degrees Celsius and 64 degrees Fahrenheit. Climate change doesn’t miss New York either. So hard to tell. It can be warm any time of the year.
Brighde: Let’s talk about things to do during that winter. Cuz I know a lot of people would just be put off by the idea of going to New York in the wintertime. I would disagree with that. There’s no such thing as bad weather. It’s just bad clothing. If you can get a great coat, then it can be an awesome experience.
So how can people embrace that cooler time of year, whether it’s late fall? Or during the winter time.
Verena: Of course, before Christmas, you will see all the beautiful Christmas lights. There are Christmas markets around the city, and the decoration is just amazing. Like even just looking at shopping windows in stores like Saks Fifth Avenue for example, or Bergdorf Goodman, they put so much effort into decorating these windows.
It’s incredible. While it gets very busy before Christmas, January and February usually have some of the best prices for hotels. So you will get really good deals on hotels and also, Broadway shows are cheaper that time of the year. There’s a thing called Broadway Week, where often tickets are two for one.
That happens in January or February and also again in September. So that’s a good thing, if you like theater and if you like to see live performances. And then there are a lot of outdoor activities, believe it or not, in the winter too. You can go ice skating in various places in a city. For example, the very famous Rockefeller Center rink, which is also unfortunately one of the smallest ice skating rinks in the city. Then there’s a free ice skating rink in Bryant Park, and that also has a little holiday village built around it with various vendors, some of which also offer vegan food and vegan gifts. So that’s a nice activity to do. There are other ice skating rinks, for example, in Central Park and also in Prospect Park.
That I think is a nice thing to do. If you want to go skiing, you can do that too, but you have to drive about two and a half hours out of the city to do so, and you are living close to Whistler and all these beautiful ski resorts. Unfortunately, you cannot expect that here in New York, but it’s still snow and there are slopes and there’s a ski lift, so it’s alright.
Brighde: Yeah I went to Quebec, in February this year, and they have Carnival at that time of the year. And they have all of the free ice skatings and they have ice sculptures everywhere. I think they deliberately put it in January, and February, just because they already have lots of people coming to visit around Christmas time.
Let’s put something in a place, at a time of year when it’s not so busy. And I think that’s a clever strategy and it can be magical. In Quebec City anyway, everything lit up for the festival. It’s still a nice atmosphere even though it’s not, the holiday.
Verena: Yeah and they have these canals that freeze, right? That you can also skate in. I’ve seen pictures of those.
Brighde: In Ottawa, they have the longest skating rink in the world. I think it’s either nine or 11 kilometers long altogether. People ice skate to work, which is a cool idea. But yeah, it’s frozen from, I don’t know exactly, but maybe December to February or March or something like that. It’s a lot of fun. Yeah really cool. Yay. Okay, great. What about the things that are happening in, May, and June time?
Verena: So One of my favorite events in the city is called a Five Borough Bike Tour. So it’s a car-free bike day where you can rent a bike or go on your bike, and it’s 40 miles of car-free roads throughout the city. It’s very similar to the marathon route if somebody’s familiar with that. It’s like 30,000 people that go on this bike tour.
It’s not a race, so you can go at your own pace. There are different food stops and different refreshment stations, and it’s just a great way of seeing neighborhoods of the city that you usually don’t often get to.
Brighde: I love that idea. That’s cool. It’s like a guided tour just for the cost of a bike.
Verena: You do have to register for it, unfortunately, and you also have to pay for it, so it’s not free, but it’s maybe around $70 or so. So it’s not too bad for a full day of biking. It’s usually still pretty chilly in the morning when it starts. But then throughout the day, it warms up. It’s nice.
There is a similar thing like that if you do like biking, that is free in the summertime and it’s called Summer Streets and that is the first three weekends in August and they block off Park Avenue between Brooklyn Bridge and 110th Street I believe. And then you can just bike or run or rollerblade along Park Avenue and it’s just a very cool event too.
Brighde: Did New Yorkers embrace
Verena: Very popular. Yeah, very popular. Unfortunately, it’s only three weekends a year. But I enjoyed it. Yeah, it’s great.
Brighde: Yeah. I was so lucky. We were in Paris, I think it was September. We didn’t even know when we arrived, but it was a Sunday and it was the one Sunday when Paris was completely car-free, and then very limited cars in other areas.
It was awesome. The atmosphere was great and it did get me thinking, Oh my goodness, how awesome would this be every week or all the time? Just living in cities would just be so much more enjoyable.
Verena: There are some places like Bogota for example, does that every week. That must be cool.
Brighde: Are there any other cool events or festivals or recommendations that you would like to share?
Verena: Yeah. Also in the spring, we have a cherry Blossom festival at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. We have like. 40 different cherry blossom trees. When they come in bloom, it’s really beautiful and you don’t necessarily have to go to Japan to admire those. It’s always a beautiful place to visit the botanical gardens but I think the cherry blossom is in particular beautiful.
Brighde: What about cultural events? Are there any particular events that people might like to time their visit to in New York?
Verena: There’s always an abundance of cultural events in the city, of course. So we have the Metropolitan Opera, which starts its season in September and is world-renowned and a wonderful place to visit. You can get very cheap tickets to it actually if you don’t mind standing or sitting a little bit further in the back.
Especially also before Christmas, there’s a dance performance called The Alvin Ailey Dance Company and they do amazing dance performances that unfortunately only happen at that time of the year. During the summer, we do have a lot of free outdoor activities that take place. So there’s, for example, Broadway performances or like glimpses of Broadway performances, I should say in Bryant Park where they recite different musicals.
There are free concerts throughout the city. We do have some free outdoor venues, like the Banchal in Prospect Park or the Banchal in Central Park, where there are both free and paid concert in these venues
Brighde: What about going a little bit further afield, like outside of New York City proper? You’ve talked about the skiing opportunities, that’s super cool, but are there other things that, you know, maybe for people who have been to New York a few times before but might like to get out of the city a little bit, can you recommend some place for that?
Verena: So one of the most popular places for New Yorkers to go to is the Hudson Valley. It’s about two hours north of the city. You could either ride the train or bus or you can rent a car and get there. There are towns such as New Paltz or Woodstock that are very nice and very hippy and they have lots of great vegan food there.
There are wineries and breweries in that area and really good hiking and a lot of wildlife surprisingly, if you’re really lucky, you might see a black bear. Depending on how your opinion is about snakes. You’re lucky and you see a rattlesnake, even like we have seen those.
It’s just a very nice way of getting out of the city. In those areas, there are a bunch of animal sanctuaries you can visit. You can either visit them just on a tour or you can visit them and volunteer for a day. For example, there’s, the Catskill Animal Sanctuary and then there’s the Woodstock Animal Sanctuary.
Then that one is not in New York, but in New Jersey, there’s a sanctuary called Tamar Lane Sanctuary as well. Some of these also offer the opportunity to stay overnight, as Catskills and Tamar Lane do. So that’s another opportunity to spend even more time outdoors and with the animals and just connect with nature.
Brighde: I was really surprised when we were in Korea together and I was talking to you about, what you do at the weekends, and I was quite surprised that you do go out of the city and do a day of hiking there.
Verena: Yeah. And in the summer we go to the beach a lot. Like you can take the subway to the beach even or a train, like a suburban train, and you end up at a pretty decent beach, and it’s all free.
I mean, a train you have to pay for, obviously, but the beach themselves are, most of them are free. Let’s put it this way.
Brighde: Okay. What about comedy? Cuz I know New York has an incredible comedy scene.
Verena: Yes. So we have plenty of comedy clubs in the city. There’s even a comedy festival happening now in November. It’s starting next week, I believe. The good thing about comedy is that it’s a lot more affordable than Broadway shows. For example, you would usually pay anywhere from nothing to maybe $20 of an entrance fee, and that often includes a two-drink minimum or a certain amount of money you have to spend, but it’s generally speaking a very affordable and fun evening. You never know who’s gonna show up. You might go to a comedy club and expect nobody, or a not known comedian, let’s put it this way, and then all of a sudden somebody like Jerry Seinfeld might walk on the stage just because they feel like doing an impromptu performance that night. So you can get very lucky if you go to comedy shows. I do have one of my tour guides she’s just starting as a comedian and she’s very good. You can follow her. Her name is Diana Fogel. She does a bunch of comedy shows in a city as well.
Brighde: Something that you mentioned to me that sounds fun is a Vegan jazz club. Can you talk about that?
Verena: Sometime last year. It’s called Ornithology Jazz Club, and it’s in Bushwick, which generally is a very vegan-friendly area with lots of restaurants and lots of beautiful street art and lots of cool bars in front of them is a Vegan Jazz Club that usually hosts different food vendors.
So it’s not one set menu, but there are different popups and it allows these food vendors to test the market and see how people respond to their food.
Brighde: Cool. I like the sound of that very much. We’ve talked a lot about active activities. I know you are a very active person Verena and ways that we can be active in so many different ways and enjoy New York City or the surrounds at the same time. Do you have any other recommendations?
Verena: I forgot to mention that there’s cool outdoor yoga happening throughout the city in the summertime. So for summer solstice, there is an event called Solstice in Times Square. So they block off multiple sections of Times Square and build little yoga stages and then throughout the day, you can participate in yoga sessions. They start at seven in the morning and last until six at night, and it’s all free. Often there are, free giveaways like yoga mats and snacks and it’s just a very interesting experience to be doing this really quiet activity in Times Square, which is one of the loudest areas in the city.
Also, it’s one of the places that many New Yorkers try to avoid as much as they can because it’s so busy and because it’s so popular with tourists. But going to the solstice in Times Square is one exception where we do go to Times Square and that only happens once a year, unfortunately. But throughout the summer there’s yoga twice a week in Bryant’s Park. That is also a nice experience. You’re on the lawn and again, you’re surrounded by a city, but you could zoom out and enjoy your yoga practice.
Brighde: I’m just imagining that a visitor to New York, maybe they can time the visit to New York for some of these things that if there are particularly interesting, but as you say, there are so many incredible things going on. I’m sure every night in New York.
What is a good way to work out what is going on in New York at a given time? Do you have any recommendations for platforms or websites that will help us to find the events?
Verena: There’s Time Out in New York, which is unfortunately not as good as it used to be before the pandemic. And then there are sites just like Infatuation, they post a lot of events. There’s New York Magazine is very active at posting events. The New York Times just posts a calendar of events and if you are looking for a particular band, for example, I suggest you sign up for a website called Bands in Town.
They give you alerts when a certain band is coming to a city you’re either living in or you want to visit. In New York is also the website of Madison Square Garden has major events and will also show you some smaller concerts that are happening.
Brighde: Thanks for those recommendations. So we talked about a lot of great events in New York and we all know that New York has an abundance of incredible vegan restaurants I know people can visit some awesome places on your tours, and they should check up and sign up for that because I cannot think of anything better than spending the morning, wandering around restaurants, eating, tasting, different food at different restaurants with you or with your guides on an organized tour where I don’t need to think about anything and then maybe follow up in the afternoon with a bike ride or something like that. So if you have some of your favorite vegan restaurant recommendations, given the fact that New York is such a multicultural place and so enormous.
Verena: So let’s maybe start in the morning. There’s a small local chain called Gregorys Coffee, aside from coffee they offer really good vegan breakfast items such as a vegan burrito or Vegan croissant with egg and Beyond sausage in it. For those who like it a little bit on the sweeter side, there’s usually a zucchini loaf and some granola and they have locations across the city. So if you just put in Gregory’s coffee, you’ll find it. One of my very favorite things to eat in the city which we also visit on our Brooklyn tour is called Terms of Endearment. It’s a vegan pastry shop and they make the most amazing vegan bacon, egg, and cheese. So it’s a croissant filled with Just Egg, their homemade cream fresh, some vegan cheese, and vegan bacon, and it just blows everybody away.
Like I’ve had people on my tour that were not vegan and they could not believe that this was an actual vegan sandwich. Again, if you don’t like the savory side, they do have amazing sweet pastries as well. Unfortunately, they don’t sell the croissants plain, so you have to get the croissants as one of their sandwiches.
But they do have Pain au Chocolat or almond croissants if you like that as well. Another place I love, it’s called Spicy Moon. It’s a Vegan Szechuan restaurant. So Southern Chinese cuisine with a little bit of a kick. They use a lot of Szechuan peppers. So it gives your tongue this slight numbness feeling but it’s a beautiful taste. They have two locations, one is in the East Village and one is in a west village. I highly recommend that, especially if you’re in a small group, cuz then you can just order multiple items cuz it’s all family style. Two are the places I would like to mention.
One is right off times square. It’s called Vegan on the Fly. So if you feel like a quick meal or even something you would take back to your hotel, they have really good Vegan Gyros and also a Vegan Philly Cheese Steak, Vegan Burgers. But the gyros are my favorite. I’ve convinced many people of their food and everybody loves to go back.
Another restaurant that I enjoy is called Ras Plant Based. It’s an Ethiopian restaurant in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. It’s all Vegan too. An amazing interpretation of Ethiopian food.
Brighde: I love hearing personal or local’s recommendations because I think a lot of us hear about certain restaurants in New York in the press and they might disregard other ones or just hone in on those. But there are just so many amazing ones. So thank you so much for those recommendations, Verena. I’m curious about your tours, like how can people book them? Because like I said earlier, a vegan food tour, a city food tour, and I’ve written a couple of blog posts about this. Vegan City food tours are a great way to sample lots of different restaurants in a short amount of time because the tour guide or the tour company, they have these arrangements with the restaurants so that you can just have a little serving platter or something like that. So I love vegan City food tours. So how do people book? Are there public ones? Do you need to like, take over a whole group and do a custom thing? Like how does that all work? Can people join in the day before? Can you just really talk people through how they might book?
Verena: Generally our tours are all public and they mostly take place on weekends. We do have a breakfast tour that is currently taking place Thursday mornings. Then we do have our East Village and Lower East Side tour on Saturdays. Our Brooklyn tour is on Sundays, and they can just go to vegantoursny.com and book a tour there.
If you would like to have a tour on a different date, you can just email us and we can arrange private tours at any given date or time. But for now, the weekends are when we offer our public.
Brighde: So actually you could do a different area of New York on a different day.
Brighde: I love it. I love it. What is your future for vegan tours in New York?
Verena: I’m actually in the process of putting together a few international trips and national trips also, like for example overnight stay at one of the sanctuaries around the city with some volunteer work and some hiking. As we’ve talked about in our Korea podcast, possibly a trip to Korea and I are organizing a trip also to Columbia, Austria, and Germany, which is where I’m from.
For Vegan Tours New York, we hope to add more departures throughout the week, since, demand is growing, so we can do that. I hope to one day do this full-time and just focus on that. That would be nice.
Brighde: Verena, how can people keep in touch with you and learn about all of the new exciting stuff that you’ve got coming up?
Verena: So the most active channel we are on is Instagram, so it would be vegantoursny. You can also always send us an email at [email protected]. You can follow us on Facebook also, vegantoursny and I’m also happy to offer your listeners a discount on one of the future tours they will take. If you just put World Vegan Travel in the promo code section of the booking window on our website, it will give you 20% off.
Brighde: Wow. Thank you. That’s generous. Thank you so much, Verena, for all of this information and for joining us today. Thank you.
Verena: Thank you. It’s great to be here.