Travelled in: February 2013 & October 2016
New York is the city everyone falls in love with, whether you have been there or not… It is one of the most popular tourist hot spots in the world and has almost 55 million visitors per year. Having visited myself twice over the past couple of years I can definitely understand why… The enormous buildings, the over-friendly people and constant buzz of the city is all part of the charm and it makes New York feel quite magical, both times I have been there it has felt like I was walking around a giant movie set.
My two experiences in New York have been quite different… The first time was for my 21st and my sisters 18th birthday and it was very much “wow were going to New York, lets be super tourists”. Our second visit was made as we had promised each other we would go back when my sister was 21, so we were both legally allowed to drink. Our second visit was different as we had already done all of the major tourist attractions, we wanted to experience a more “local” side to the city.
With my new job I am going to be lucky enough to be travelling to New York for work fairly regularly so I am super excited to experience more of what the city has to offer…
Arriving in New York…
If you book in advance you can actually get some super cheap flights to New York. For my most recent trip I booked flights in January for a trip in September with Norwegian Airways. They recently launched their “dreamliner” plane, which take less fuel, flys faster and reduces emission meaning they are able to charge lower prices. I booked a one way flight as I was travelling on wards to Las Vegas and then flying back to London from LA, so my one way flight was about £260 with a meal and luggage included.
The dream liners are really nice planes actually, with quite generous amount of legroom, huge windows with high tech dimming system and an android in flight entertainment and ordering system. The only downside is to booking a budget airline is that you only get your one pre-paid for meal and snack on the 7 hour flight so if you want extra drinks or snacks throughout the journey you have to pay an additional charge for these, unlike on carriers such as Virgin or BA. Also the food wasn’t great, but for the price I paid I wasn’t really complaining.
Most flights from London fly in to JFK airport, which is probably the worst airport I have ever had the misfortune to fly in to in the world! It is disorganized, slow and the staff are just awful! My first encounter on our trip in 2014 we queued for 3 hours just to get through passport control. On my most recent visit actually the passport queue was fairly quick this time, but that came after we were stuck on the tarmac after landing for over an hour as they “couldn’t find us an available gate”… horrendous news at 10pm after you have been flying for 7 hours and just want bed! Our baggage then came out 40 minutes after we were through passport control. Then by the time you have got to the front of the yellow cab line expect to add on at least 2 hours to your expected arrival time to your accommodation. Something else to note about this airport especially if you are meeting someone as there there is no wifi so it is really difficult to get in touch if you don’t have mobile data…
On both of my trips to New York I have used the yellow taxis to get to my accommodation… there is a taxi rank in each terminal of JFK and they are really reliable and I think a fixed rate. We payed $53 + tip to Soho. On the way back to the airport I used UBER and it was actually the same price, but if we had been unexpectedly stuck in traffic the fare would have increased, so I would recommend getting a yellow taxi. There is also a train that goes in to Penn Station via Jamaica I believe… if you are on your own and on a budget this is probably a cheaper option, if you are travelling as a group a taxi would definitely be cheaper and easier!
Staying in New York…
On my first trip to New York I wanted to stay close to the main tourist attractions… so we stayed opposite Madison Square Gardens and right next to Macys at the Affinia Manhattan, we got a really good deal and we paid $660 for 2 of us for 4 nights. The hotel room was very spacious and it is super close to Times Sq, Empire State, Rockerfella and Grand Central, so it was really accessible for anyone coming on a first time tourist trip to the city and want to really be in the thick of it all!
On our second visit my parents decided to join us and check out the city, so were traveling as a family of 4 and decided to use Airbnb. We found a place in the Nolita area which is further downtown. We booked a 2 bedroom apartment on Mulberry St for £1350 for 4nights, which at the time period we were travelling was at least £200 cheaper than booking 2 rooms in any of the hotels we were looking at.
I much preferred our stay in this area it felt really safe walking around – especially at night as there were loads of people, bars and restaurants around and it was more local than touristy. We were really close to Soho and Broadway which is a great shopping area, it’s super closer to Little Italy and China Town and also the trendy Greenwhich Village so there are some great restaurants close by. Ground Zero and the Brooklyn bridge were both a 15-20 minute walk away. If you want to experience a slightly “cooler and local” side to New York rather than the standard crazy tourist experience I would highly recommend the Nolita/Soho area as a great place to stay.
Travelling in New York…
The subway system in New York is in my opinion absolutely awful! Compared to the London tube it’s really outdated and quite inefficient. The trains didn’t seem to run as frequently, and that’s assuming you can even find your platform due to the most confusing signs pointing you in all different directions for the same line… That said there are sooo many stations so the likelihood is wherever you are in the city you can jump on the subway to go somewhere. I don’t think I personally have quite sussed out the New York subway yet, I even found buying a ticket hard work as the machines are super old. But just an FYI a single journey on the subway will cost you $3.
Eating in New York…
On my first trip to New York I found finding decent restaurants within the tourist proximity incredible difficult if you didn’t know where to look, we ended up eating either in our hotel or at fast food places such as Shake Shack. One my second trip I managed to find some really good and very reasonably priced places to eat…
NORMA’S @ Le Parker Meridien Hotel, Midtown – Visit this place for an amaaaaazing brunch. Definitely not the cheapest, but its bloody good, they have a huge menu of sweet or savory brunches. My choice would be the Belgian Waffle with Berries and Cream! Make sure you book online in advance as this place is always busy!
The Grey Dog, Mulberry St, Nolita – We stayed right opposite The Grey Dog so came here once for breakfast, it’s cheap, cheerful and tasty! Most of the breakfast options are a standard price of $11 then you can add extras if you want.
Gelso & Grand, Grand St, Little Italy – A creative and cool Italian restaurant right in the heart of Little Italy. Great place to come if you want a fun lively atmosphere, alongside a good Italian meal. Definitely book a table if you want to visit at the weekend!
Ellens Stardust Diner, Broadway – This is a fun place to go for a Pre-Broadway show meal or just generally if you are in to musical theater. We went here on our first trip to NY. All of the waiting staff are trying to raise money for acting school with ambitions of becoming a star on Broadway. The waiters dance and sing around you as you eat your meal… Just remember they will expect a generous tip!
Shopping in New York…
There are soooo many great places to shop in New York, whether you want high st, luxury, vintage, emerging designers you name it New York will probably have it. For me being a big high st shopper I still prefer the British High St, but New York is a great place to discover brands you didn’t know about or do a massive Sephora haul.
Westfield World Trade Center – Based on the World Trade Center site, this Westfield is a great place to visit even if you don’t want to go shopping. It is a pretty impressive bit of architecture which looks like a giant spinal cord…
Maddison and 5th Avenue – This is the area to go for luxury shopping for sure. The stores are all amazing and if you are in to Fashion or Visual Merchandising the shops here are a great place to go for inspiration.
Soho – This is my favourite area to shop in New York as it is home to some really cool High St brands… The area on and around Broadway is great if you are in to scouting out new artists, designers or vintage finds I would definitely take a trip to NYC Market on Broadway as its full of cool quirky finds and as they are all still up and coming everything is very reasonably priced.
4 Days & Nights in New York: Suggested Itinerary
Both of my visits to New York have been for a period of 3 days and 4 nights (it always seems to work out we miss a day due to flights and time difference). I feel like I have seen a large amount of the city and what it has to offer in terms of tourist attractions, but obviously a big city like New York there is always more to see. In my opinion the perfect first time trip to New York would be 4 days and nights! I have combined my two trip itinerary’s as an idea of how much you could fit in in this time frame…
Ground Zero – Where the twin towers once stood a museum has been built as a memorial for the horrific events that played out on September 11 2001 and remember those who lost their lives. I have visited the 9/11 site on my both my trips to New York. On my first visit there was just the North and South pools which had been constructed to represent each tower and list the victims names around the edges – these pools are free to visit. On my most recent visit I also had the opportunity to go in to the museum, tickets for this are $24. It is a very emotional experience and gives a lot of details about the events of 9/11. Well worth a visit, plan to spend about 2-3 hours here as there is a lot to see.
Battery Park – Whilst you are in the neighborhood it is worth visiting Battery Park, which sits on the southern end of New York facing the Harbour. It has great views across the Hudson River and loads of memorials to have a look at.
Staten Island Ferry/Statue of Liberty – There are a few different ways to get a glimpse of the famous Lady Liberty… the cheapest being the Staten Island Ferry which is a free passenger ferry which goes from New York Harbour over to Staten Island every 30 minutes. The journey takes about 25 minutes and you get a good sight of the Statue of Liberty for free from here. Avoid rush hours as the ferry will be packed with commuters. If you want to get up close and personal with Miss Lib herself, there are many tours and boats operators available to book a trip with an inflated tourist price tag.
Soho, China Town, Little Italy – After all that sightseeing why not pop back up to Soho for some shopping or stop for some food in China Town or Little Italy…
Central Park – There isn’t a whole lot of greenery in New York so if your looking for open spaces and some fresh air away from the hustle and bustle of the city, Central Park is the place to go. It’s huge, so quite easy to get lost in, but there are maps along the way to help you find the main tourist destinations.
MET Museum – Bit of a disclaimer as I’ve never actually been inside this museum, I’m sure it’s great, but being a huge Gossip Girl fan what I was more interested in was going to sit and have lunch on the steps just like Queen B and Serena… xoxo
Maddison Avenue/Lexington Avenue/Park Avenue/5th Avenue – Great streets to wander down and around for luxury shopping. Lexington is also the home of Bloomingdale’s if you fancy yourself a little brown bag.
Rockerfella Top of the Rock – Again I have been here on both New York trips, once I visited in the morning and the views were amazing, it was a super sunny (but freezing) day and I could see for miles. My second visit I decided to go up at dusk and even though the cloudy weather didn’t make for a good sunset the view was still amazing. New York looked super moody at this time period and it was amazing to stand and watch as the city turned on its lights as it went in to darkness. If you are debating between Top of the Rock or Empire State I would 100% say the view is better from Top of the Rock, but if you have time and budget it’s worth doing both. A trip to Top of the Rock will cost you $34, I recommend booking in advance so you can skip the lines. There is also now the One World observation tower to see New York from the sky, I plan on checking this out on my next trip!
The Piers – Right down on the waterfront along The Hudson is a great place to go for a morning walk, watch out for the hundreds of joggers as this area is a serious hot spot for keen runners, so if you’ve got your gym kit this is the place to be.
Walk The High Line – This is one of my favourite free things to do in New York, I started the walk in the Meat Packing district and walked all the way down to West 34th St. It took about 30-40 minutes, but you get to see some cool things along the way, in good weather you can see the Empire State Building, you also get some good views over the Hudson River and some cool city roads and residential buildings.
Empire State Building – Not far from the West 34th St end of the highline is the Empire State Building. I would recommend going up here during the day, I went up at night and the view was good, but compared to Top of the Rock not as impressive, our experience was slightly impaired to be fair, because we could barely go outside as it was so windy and cold! A trip up the Empire State costs $34, and to be fair is kind of a must visit on your first trip to New York.
Grand Central Station – Known for being one of the most impressive train stations in the world Grand Central is another great free place to visit or pass by on your way to a train/subway. Underneath the main concourse also lies a big dining complex with numerous food and beverage outlets, so it’s a good and cheap place to also stop by for lunch.
Times Square – No matter what time of day or night it is Times Sq is the busiest place in New York. Hundreds of tourists trawl through “the square” (which by the way isn’t even a real square) every day. Surrounding the area are so many gimmicky attractions, restaurants and theaters. It is a cool place and a must see, but after one visit I was a bit sick of the crowds, the inflated prices and the over rated craziness.
Broadway – I love going to the theater so for me watching a show on Broadway was a dream. We went to see Chicago (one of my favourite films) on our first visit to New York and I won’t lie I was a bit disappointed, but only because my expectations had been so high. The theater was really old and felt like it was about to fall apart and the tickets were craaazy expensive (much more than a London show). Over all it was great experience and I had a lovely time singing along to “he had it coming”, but I probably wouldn’t go back to see a Broadway show again.
Brooklyn Bridge – If you are staying downtown Brooklyn Bridge is only a walk away, if you are uptown there is a subway stop right at the end of the bridge where you can exit to walk over from Manhattan side right over to Brooklyn. You get some really cool views from the bridge and can also see Statue of Liberty from here.
Brooklyn – I didn’t get to spend as much time here as I would have liked, but it seemed like a really cool place to explore. I only really got to see part of downtown as we spent the afternoon walking through Brooklyn Heights, down to the Brooklyn Bridge park where you get some great views of the city then on to DUMBO before walking back over the bridge. I also really wanted to go and see some Bushwick graffiti, browse the bookstores at cobble hill and go to Fort Green vintage fair, but unfortunately didn’t get chance on this trip.