New York City, U.S.A, is a city like no other. All of the movies in the world cannot prepare you for what it will be like, and yet one visit prepares you for all of the movies you’ll ever see. A week in New York City ensures that the traveller can shout “I’ve been there!” at the television during the majority of the films they will watch for the rest of their life; and the cinematic preoccupation with such an iconic city means it’s almost impossible for you to forget any part of your adventure.
My week in New York was chaotic, tiring, and wonderful – If it gets to 4pm and your feet aren’t hurting then you know you’re doing it wrong! With so many sights to see, planning is essential, and a pre-planned trip will ensure your time in New York is well rounded and well worth your foot-ache. With that in mind, I’ve compiled a brief account of my time in NYC with my mum and sister. Our schedule was organised meticulously, as we all wanted to experience everything that the Big Apple had to offer in our relatively short time there.
After an extremely long flight we arrived at JFK Airport at lunchtime. The five hour time difference from the UK meant that we could predict that we would begin to get tired at around 5pm. However, if experience has taught me anything it’s that the only way to overcome jetlag is to NEVER take a nap on the first day – power through the fatigue to bedtime in local time no matter how tired you are, and you’ll be so glad you did when you wake up the next morning. Acknowledging jetlag when travelling is essential, and so you don’t want to do anything too hectic on your first day. We stayed at Salisbury Hotel at 123 West 57th Street, (just one block south of Central Park), and so our plans were relatively minor and centred around this area. The first stop was FAO Schwartz toy store, where we all immediately became children again. Any fans of ‘Big’ will remember Tom Hanks playing on the giant piano – it’s still there, as is the Zoltar machine which will read your fortune for a dollar. Next we went to Tiffany’s which is definitely worth seeing, even if (like me) you’re far too poor to even contemplate actually buying anything. Finally, Bloomingdales, workplace of Rachel Green and famously fashionable department store. Overall it was quite disappointing – if you’re into designer handbags then it’s definitely the place to go, but if the thought of spending £100 on a plain looking crop top is disgusting to you, then you should probably skip it.
Our first meal in New York introduced us to the American tipping system – a social protocol that will inevitably confuse every traveller at first. The customary tipping rate is 15 to 20%. You will use your phone calculator more in New York than anywhere else in the world, you will get it wrong at some point and either massively overpay or underpay and, if you’re from the UK, you’ll wonder why dollars look like monopoly money and smell like wax crayons. You’ll just start getting the hang of tipping right before you have to leave.
New York really is “the city that never sleeps” and, when you get back to the hotel, you’ll be glad you read this article because I’m about to give you the most important piece of advice about New York: Book a room on the 15th floor or higher and, if you can’t, then ask about how soundproof the rooms are, as the noise of the traffic is relentless.
When you wake up on Day 2, if you’ve taken my advice, you’ll wake up feeling not even the slightest bit jetlagged. Getting up early is important as you want to make the most of every day. The first thing on our agenda was Central Park, and then the Natural History Museum. The Museum will take up a good few hours as it’s really interesting and it’s so easy to become absorbed in the exhibits and lose track of time. One thing that’s worth knowing if you’re on a budget – the entry fee into the Natural History Museum is a “suggested fee” so you don’t have to pay the full amount. It suggested a $19 entry fee but we paid $20 for all three of us.
Natural History Museum
Getting around NYC can be tricky, with it being the most densely populated city in the world and, although the cab fares are cheap (don’t forget to tip 15 to 20%), I’d recommend the subway as you avoid the congestion. We got the subway to the Staten Island Ferry Port from the Museum, and then took the ferry to Staten Island and back to get a good look at Lady Liberty. It’s pointless going to Liberty Island to see the Statue of Liberty as you won’t actually see it properly – it’s so massive that the best way to view it is from a distance. Next on the agenda was Brooklyn Bridge. If you’re going away with a partner then you may want to take a padlock to lock onto one of the lamp-posts. If not, then just enjoy the walk and the view. When we were there, they were renovating the walkways and had big wooden boards up that had been covered in graffiti – it was nothing like the “Chris woz ere 2k10” rubbish that we get scrawled across our walls back home; it was poetic, inspirational, and beautiful.
Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty
If you’re getting peckish by this point, Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn make amazing pizzas. You’ll have to wait for a table but it’s worth it.
On our way back to Manhattan we stopped off at Grand Central Station, ostensibly the most beautiful station in the world, and popped outside to see the Chrysler Building, before continuing to Times Square to see Jersey Boys at the August Wilson Theatre. The show was fantastic – I won’t go into details but I would recommend it to anyone. When we left the theatre it was dark and we got to experience Times Square in all its glory. The amount of light is ridiculous – you could almost believe it was daytime if you didn’t look up at the sky. Shops are open late so we spent a good two hours in Forever 21 trying on clothes and wishing that Forever 21 was a more common shop in the UK.
The next day was a very clear day and so we decided it would be the “Day of Skyscrapers”, during which we would go to the top of both the Rockefeller Centre and the Empire State Building – one during the daytime and one at night to see the city lights. We elected to do the Top of the Rock first and so we went to get tickets as early as possible. Tickets must be bought in advance (unless you get there really early) and our time slot was booked for an hour later so we went to see the Rockefeller Plaza Gardens, St. Patricks Cathedral which is nearby, then the Lego store, and of course the ice rink. We got back to the Rockefeller Centre with plenty of time, and queued briefly for the elevators. The top of the elevator was glass and the elevator shaft was lit up in different colours. The glass roof, combined with the fact that the elevator had a screen showing the speed at which we were ascending, made the journey up to the top a surreal experience in itself! It was phenomenal and the view was spectacular. We took lots of photographs and stayed there for quite a while planning the rest of our day.
Rockefeller by day, Empire State by night
We decided to go to Ground Zero, however our research prior to the trip had told us that you could either book tickets online on the day of your visit or queue for hours. Being tourists in a foreign city, mobile data wasn’t an option so we couldn’t book it on our phones, and so we got on the Subway and stopped off at the Apple Store in Grand Central Station to book tickets before getting a second train to Ground Zero. We were glad we did as the queues were obscene and with our pre-booked tickets (booked only 30 minutes prior to our visit) we managed to bypass all of them. Take tissues because, even if you don’t know anyone who was affected by 9/11, there’s a strong possibility that you might cry. It’s so strangely quiet, and the sunken waterfalls (built to match the foundations on which the Twin Towers stood) are eerily beautiful. The sunlight reflecting on the mist from the water makes multiple miniature rainbows from one side to the other. It’s stunning. It’s surreal. And it’s devastating.
After Ground Zero, we walked to City Hall Gardens to have our lunch – we smuggled lunch from the breakfast buffet in order to save time and money. Eating lunch in a café or diner would’ve eaten up at least an hour and a half of our valuable time, whereas our makeshift picnic only took 10 minutes. We then took a walk through China Town and then through Little Italy, which imitate their namesake countries perfectly! We stumbled upon a gallery opening event where we enjoyed some artwork and some free hors d’oeuvres. It’s always good to take time to walk through a city as you almost always stumble across something unexpected that you would never have known about simply by travelling in straight lines from one attraction to the other. Walking allows you to experience the day to day life of the city, rather than simply the tourist hotspots. We continued walking all the way down Mulberry Street and Bleeker Street before stopping off for red velvet cupcakes at Magnolia Bakery, which my sister informed me had been featured on Sex and the City. The cupcakes were to die for! We got the Subway back to the hotel not realising that it was rush hour. If you don’t like a whole bunch of people in your personal space then avoid travelling at rush hour at all costs.
After dinner we headed to the Empire State Building which, compared to the swift efficiency of the Rockefeller Centre earlier that day, consisted of a whole lot of queuing that I bet Meg Ryan never had to put up with. The view was worth it. The New York Skyline at night is like nothing I’ve ever seen before or since. The illuminated roads with their tiny cars weave through the city like veins. It truly takes your breath away.
We spent the majority of our last day in New York at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was more museum than gallery as, although it contained many priceless paintings by artists from across the globe, it contained beautiful artefacts, up to and including an entire Egyptian temple which had been transported from Egypt and rebuilt in New York. We were at The Met until 2pm as there was so much to see and do, we then did some last minute shopping in Macys and Times Square before heading back to our hotel for our airport transfer.
While I’m sure we made the most of our time in New York, planning meticulously and cramming as much as possible into our allotted timeframe, in a city that vibrant you can never run out of things to do. Any amount of time will not be enough, and so one trip is enough to have you yearning to go back – I certainly will be!