City of Lights.
The Big Apple.
The City that Never Sleeps.
The Concrete Jungle where Dreams are Made.
New York is a pretty special place. There is an electricity in the air and an excitement on the streets. People walk fast, it seems like everyone is going somewhere in a hurry. Everything is big and grand and fabulous.
I was lucky enough to spend some time in New York earlier this year and it really did live up to its reputation. The anticipation of going to New York has been building inside me for a long time and I wrote a blog post about travel and how I was feeling the night before we flew out. You can read it here…. Travel blog
For more on my emotional response to finally getting to New York and walking around those streets you can read the column I wrote upon my return, here: New York column
But for some pragmatic tips and thoughts, please stay right where you are and read on below.
New York is made up of 5 boroughs or 5 areas: Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. We stayed in Manhattan and ventured into Brooklyn a couple of times so most of the information below is based on Manhattan.
You are completely spoilt for choice in New York City, there really is something for everyone. Your budget and your time constraints will dictate where you stay but if you get the choice, go central. You will walk a lot and being able to duck back into your hotel to drop something off or pick something up is wonderful. Sites like Air BnB will allow you to live like a local as you take over someone’s residence for your stay. There are also hundreds of hotels peppering the city. We stayed at the Langham Fifth Place and we could not fault it for location. It is a bit pricey depending on how long you’re staying and the size or style of room required but if we were to return we would stay there again.
We found New York to be quite expensive. It just is. It’s a big city with a booming tourist economy so they can charge, but like anything it depends what you do and where you go and of course the exchange rate of the almighty dollar. The touristy stuff will cost you and things like theatre shows on Broadway, in the good seats, you could pay up to $300 a ticket. Sightseeing will also break the bank but hey you’ve gone all that way so you have to see it right. As with all big tourist destinations, they count on that mentality.
We found that the cost of food wasn’t too bad but by the time you add 20% for the tip it gets up there.
The best value we found were the yellow cabs. They are everywhere and so easy and quick. The subway is good too and very efficient but you don’t see anything underground so I would recommend yellow cabs.
Tipping takes a while to get used to. Especially the door guys, luggage handlers, taxis and services. If in doubt just ask the concierge at your hotel and they will explain the etiquette. And then don’t forget to tip the concierge.
- Statue of Liberty: Well, what a mission! The queues were ridiculous, the wait times were astronomical. But like everyone else you think, how can I go to New York and not see such an iconic landmark so you put up with it. She is worth the wait. The majestic green lady looking out over the harbour, she is huge and an unforgettable sight, it’s wonderful to see her with your own eyes.
(tip) If you don’t want to do the specific Statue of Liberty ferry and get off on her island then just catch the Staten Island Ferry and you will still get a beautiful view and photo opportunity as you float past.
- Empire State building: incredible views out over Manhattan. Be prepared for queues and heavy security. You can pay extra to skip a lot of the queue though. This is worth doing if it’s a busy time period.
- Central Park: This huge park is the gem in New York’s crown. The park is used regularly by tourists and locals for leisure activities, exercise, arts and culture events and it is home to the Central Park Zoo. You can do a horse and carriage ride for a bit of fun and magic. It’s touristy and expensive but everything is, it’s worth it though as it gives you a different perspective and is so iconic. Ask your guide questions as you cruise around the park and the city, they are a wealth of knowledge.
- Times Square: It’s not a square it’s an intersection but what an amazing experience to be surrounded by buildings and dancing billboards and the buzz of people and cars and lights and shops and noise and colour. It feels like this is the vortex where New Yorks manic energy gathers and collides.
Again there are thousands of choices, but a few we went to that I would recommend are: (nb: restaurant names are links)
- Union Square Café– This Italian café restaurant is an institution. They know and understand food and it shows. Delicious and famous for a reason.
- Café UneDeuxTrois – Just off Times Square it’s a French restaurant with some flair. Great food and friendly service.
- Ai Fiori: Michelin Star restaurant inside The Langham Fifth Place Hotel. Great for a special dinner. Fantastic service and a 5 star experience.
- Keens Steakhouse– iconic and famous for its lamb and beef. Its been around since 1885 and is as popular as ever. Book in advance.
- Buddakhan– Modern Asian cuisine in a very funky, beautiful space. Most famous for being the site of the Sex and the City rehearsal dinner for the wedding. Book well in advance.
Broadway shows are everywhere and they are amazing. The theatres are fantastic and the calibre of actors is first class. Contrary to popular belief the street ‘Broadway’ is not where all the theatres are situated but rather “Broadway” is a generic term for the whole theatre district.
We saw Kinky Boots, The Elephant Man (starring Bradley Cooper), Aladdin, Matilda, The Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, Avenue Q and Sleep No More. If you want good seats though you will have to pay. The Broadway shows were priced at around $200 – $300 for A reserve seating. All the classics and favourites were on as well but I’ve seen all of them several times over so wanted to see some shows that were new and different.
Sleep No More is an interesting experience. It is set over 5 levels in an old hotel and rather than sit and watch the show, the audience roam freely about the building weaving in and out of different scenes and watching different actors as they please. It was an immersive, surreal experience that I would highly recommend.
I also attended a comedy night called LOL comedy. (I know very Gen Y) It was late night stand up and it was hilarious. The New York Comedy scene is huge and these comedy clubs started the careers of many famous comedians we love today so it is worth going just to get a glimpse of that world if you are able.
Watching sport is not really my thing but we did go to a basketball game at Madison Square Garden and it is worth it just for the atmosphere and theatrics alone. We had a hotdog and cheered along for the New York Knicks like we were locals. They didn’t really play much basketball though- there was a lot of time outs and cheerleaders and talent shows and t-shirt missiles, so it was really more like a theatre show. Yay! Fine by me.
Depending on the time of year you may be able to see a different sport such as Baseball, Rugby or Ice Hockey.
Other must sees:
- Macys– The biggest department store in the world. It is massive! 9 huge Floors, and you can buy everything there.
- The Highline: This is a walk that follows the old railway line that used to run through the city. It has a really great vibe and you can see quite a few different things that you would never see otherwise as you are looking from a different angle. It is also free! A novelty.
- Open Top Bus Tours– I am a fan of these in any new big city. You can see everything, you can get your bearings, you get some history and context with the guided audio and you can get off and get back on as you like.
- 911 Memorial– This is a sobering, emotional, long journey. The site where the twin towers stood is two huge waterfalls with plaques bearing the names of all 3000 people who were killed. The museum is equally harrowing and beautiful. I didn’t think there would be all that much to see, but I was wrong. It will easily take half a day. You may feel a bit down afterwards so maybe plan a quiet evening. There are artefacts and bits of the buildings and profiles of all the victims and audio tracks and news reports and their families testimonials and videos to watch. It is an emotional rollercoaster which is all done very well and really pays tribute to the victims. After seeing all the photos and gifts and wreckage and sounds and memorabilia and media, the one thing that really stood out to me and made me get tears in my eyes was this simple observation. Written down by a man who was watching the whole thing unfold.
- The Museums and Galleries are also fantastic. The MET, The Guggenheim and The Museum of Natural History were our favourites.
- The TV show tours are also great. I love Sex and The City and the Sex and The City tour is fabulous. You get to see many of the places where they filmed parts of the show and get a lot of inside information. In New York they also do tours for shows like the Sopranos and Gossip Girl and many other New York based TV shows.
- Shopping, shopping, shopping. 5th Ave is home to many fabulous shops and there are so many of the big department stores too. Lord and Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, TIffanys to name a few.
- There are also loads of gorgeous little coffee shops and bars dotted about the place where you can have a pitstop after all your sightseeing.
Clearly there is an abundance of things to do in New York City but having said all this, the thing I loved doing the most was to just walk around the city. Walk and walk and walk. It’s impossible to get lost in Manhattan as it is set up in a grid and the streets are numbered. So just walk and observe and people watch: there are so many great characters and buildings and things to see. This city is a melting pot of culture and history and colour and energy and it really does feel like you are in one of the most fabulous, busy and exciting corners of the world.
Check out our gallery below for more shots of the great city
Have you been to New York? What were your thoughts?
Can you add anything to our list?