New York a guide for a first visit

Posted on Oct 21 2015 - 1:42pm by Samantha Clark
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It was my first time in the big apple having wanted to go since my late teens. I don’t know why I’ve held back on going for such a long time, the financial aspect hasn’t been the issue as America has been my destination of choice for the past few years, a trip tantalisingly on the horizon. I can only think that subconsciously I was putting off a visit, concerned it wasn’t everything I dreamed it to be.

Knowing I had a bucket list the size of my arm, after all this trip has been in the making for some 12 years, we could justify a 7 night stay in the city. Incredibly, this wasn’t enough.

New York hotels, especially in Manhattan, are extremely expensive. The trip to New York for one week was as much as 2 weeks in America last year (5 nights in Vegas, 9 nights in Phoenix). See below on getting the best deals!
Empire State

For skyline views of the city, head up the Empire State. You’ll get instantly why they call it the concrete jungle.

Manhattan alone has really interesting neighbourhoods and districts, each with very distinct personalities, traits and even cuisine. The best way to see the city and as much of these areas as possible is by foot, we walked on average 10 miles a day. Although the island itself is seemingly small, the concrete jungle is extremely well consolidated and everything you could possibly want or need so easily accessible.

If you’re planning your first visit to the city and/or are interested in the iconic landmarks and museums, then the New York citypass is essential. For around £74 you get entry into the following:

  1. Empire State building (entrance twice in one day, allows you to go up in the day and return at night)
  2. Rockefeller Centre or Guggenheim Museum
  3. Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island or Circle Line sightseeing cruises
  4. 9/11 Memorial museum or Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum
  5. Metropolitan Museum of Art
  6. Natural history Museum
Rockefeller Centre

The top of the Rock offers an alternative viewpoint of the City.

I’d highly recommend this. It’s a fantastic and cost effective way to see and learn so much about this great city. Our top tips for the CityPass locations:

  • Do go see the Empire State building day and night. It’s a really unique viewpoint and although you’ll not much feel like Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan as it’s almost always packed, the city/a city never looked more beautiful. By day, pick a sunny day if you can as it’s quite breathtaking to see the sunlight reflecting off the Hudson River, the statue of liberty standing alone and proud and some of the most intricate details on some the most inspiring architecture. By night, the city looks like it is coated in thousands of stars, glistening out of reach, it is quite romantic.
  • Go to the top of the Rock– I bet you’re thinking why would you when already been to the top of the Empire state? Well, it gives a different perspective. Unlike the Empire State which gives a bird’s eye view, the view from the top of the Rock is more immersed. You’ll often be eyeline with most of the buildings, can see a number of the buildings rooftop gardens, a different perspective as it’s an alternative end of 5th Avenue, closer to Central Park which allows for a better view of this. Top Tip: Head up later in the day so that you get the day and night perspective, your ticket permits only one entry, however, you can stay up there from dusk until dawn if you wanted.
  • Statue of Liberty is really glorious close up. Something I didn’t realise until I was there though is that the tickets with
    Statue of Liberty

    Lady Liberty is pretty magnificent

    the CityPass will not permit entry into her pedestal or crown. To do this aspect when visiting Liberty Island, you’ll need to book your ticket separately and in advance. They only allow up to 2,000 per day into her pedestal and crown. You’ll need to book at least 2 weeks prior to your intended visit!

  • In terms of Ellis Island, they’ve cultivated it into a museum (in case you didn’t know, Ellis Island was the gateway for immigrants to enter into the USA). It is the island’s history, a story of immigration and the feat to become a US citizen. You’re also able to do a search of your ancestors for a small fee, however, to save you the bother, you can do this at home, for free. Though unless you know who you are specifically looking for, know your family tree and/or have a very unique surname, it might be quite difficult to determine if anyone under the search results is a family member. You could easily spend a very long time at this location as the building and collection of artifacts are vast, however, I would discourage it unless you’re particularly interested in the immigration aspect. I feel you can deduce a fair amount from a quick wander. Of course to most American’s this island plays/ed a significant role on their families.
  • We decided to go and see the 9/11 museum instead of the sea, air and space museum as the event of 9/11 was, and still very much is, at the forefront of our thoughts and as such I strongly urge you to pay a visit. It’s difficult to explain the impact this visit had on us. It’s like any other museum I’ve visited before feels more like fairytale than reality though of course they’re alike in that it’s a collection of artifacts, fact and historical accounts. Though no museum experience I’ve had previously has been as moving. Mostly, it is inspiring, harrowing and emotional reminder and the ultimate tribute for those who lost their lives. For me, personally, there were some aspects I found too distressing and would have to move past some of the artifacts.
  • For the two most significant New York museums, unfortunately, we had barely any time to explore. As such they’ll be going straight on the list of things to do next time. Though, if you end up with a particularly drizzly or wet day then a visit to the museums is highly recommended.
    9/11 Memorial

    The 9/11 Memorial and Museum is incredibly moving

The 7 night trip was not enough to explore all these places fully (we spent our penultimate day cramming in the two museums!) as well as spend a day shopping, exploring central park, wandering around the neighbourhoods etc. In fact one of the days consisted of visiting Lady Liberty and Ellis Island, walking along the Brooklyn Bridge and visiting the 9/11 museum. Everyday we were out and about cramming in as much as possible.

Although each day was very busy and we’d inevitably be tired by night, it was massively energising. We’d wake up each morning raring to go, excited for what we might discover that day. You can see why they call it ‘the city that never sleeps’, though I strongly recommend it, you’ll need it!

I had the best time in New York, I loved it as much as I thought I would. A piece of my heart now belongs here. I can’t wait to go back and I’m already planning a return visit for next November/December. I’m told I just have to see it at Christmas.

What to do:

  • Grand Central Terminal is glorious in all it’s grandeur. Make sure you head down to the dining concourse where you’ll find food of the world. But that’s not the only reason. Take a walk to the Oyster Bar where you’ll find the famous Whispering Wall. Because of the curved archways, you’ll be able to whisper into the wall and be heard by someone on the opposite side.
  • New York public library: The Rose room, which was sadly closed for restoration on our visit, is legendary- we’ve all seen Ghostbusters. What we found interesting was that the facade, which looks made of wood, is actually intricately made from plaster. The restoration is taking considerably more time than they’d anticipated but it’s no wonder. It’s a vast and
    Grand Central Terminal

    Grand Central is pretty majestic.

    magnificent room. Should the Rose room be closed on your visit, it’s still worth going as they have rotating, free exhibitions, a wonderful gift shop and you can snoop into the other reading rooms which gives you some indication of the Rose rooms decadence.

  • A Broadway show is a must! We decided on Les Miserables in the end, too many to chose from, as it was a show we’ve both not seen before but having become well acquainted with the film, knew it would be incredible- it really was. We also managed to save around 50% by booking in advance through Telecharge.
  • The Brooklyn Bridge is a pretty iconic place for a photo op. Access the Bridge from Manhattan by Centre Street or by staircase near City Hall/Chambers Street. It is pretty impressive.
  • Times Square obvs! It’s really strange to find a location that is essentially just packed with advertising to be so beautiful!
  • See a baseball game. I can’t recommend this enough. I’ve wanted to see the NY Yankees a long time and at $20 a ticket, you’d be foolish to not at least try it once. Though in short, it’s everything you’d imagine: The smell of hot dogs, chips and beer sellers in the stands, mass amounts of excitement, patriotism and all round fun.
    Brooklyn Bridge

    Brooklyn Bridge is a great photo spot

  • Shopping: Tiffany’s (it’s as iconic as New York itself), Sak’s 5th Avenue, all the designers you can think of, Bloomingdales, Barneys and more. Shoppers heaven. Though it’s not just Manhattan that’s incredible for shopping. SoHo is the place to go: I’d highly recommend taking a trip into: Anthropologie in SoHo for reasonably priced homewares and clothing, Fish Eddy’s for some of the most quirky homewares on Broadway, Steve Madden stores (lots around) for the best footwear at better than UK prices, Mulberry and Grand in Little Italy for someone off clothing, jewellery and accessories, and of course find your closest Pottery Barn (I still can’t believe we don’t have one!). What’s ultimately brilliant about shopping in New York is a lot of the brands are charging the same amount as they do in the UK e.g. £99 in the UK and $99 in USA and even with a little sales tax on top you’re still saving.

What to eat:

  • Magnolia Bakery- famous for delicious and homemade pies and cakes made iconic by Sex and the City (the bakery Miranda and Carrie went into in Greenwich). Two locations: Greenwich and near the Rockefeller Centre. Highly recommend the chocolate cupcakes.
  • Lombadi‘s in Little Italy is very historical, loved by celebrities and you’ll love it too. It’s cash only mind, though they do have an ATM in the restaurant.
  • Waffles and Dinges Carts located in and around Central Park. Love waffles? This is for you. Just substitute the ice-cream on a cold day!
  • Katz’s Deli. You know the one: ‘I’ll have what she’s having’. They’re famed for the pastrami though the corned beef is tender and scrummy. Top Tips: Get a cab here otherwise it’s quite a trek with very little to see on the most direct route. Once in, move to the furthest counter you can; you’re more likely to be served faster.
  • Jaya in Little China for Asian Cuisine: They offer an eclectic menu that is authentically Asian and very tasty and free WIFI

Getting there:

Times Square

Visit Times Square in the day and night if you can.

Virgin Atlantic flies six times a day to New York from London Heathrow. Economy fares start from £362 including tax. For more information call 0844 2092770 or visit www.virgin-atlantic.com.

Once in the city, travel by cab to and from the airport. They charge a flat rate of $58 (excluding tip), one way. It’s a great way to see the city and it’ll ensure you get to and from your hotel directly. You’ll not need to call in advance either, yellow taxis are everywhere- NOTE: When picking up a cab at the airport make sure you head to the Taxi sign and don’t take anyones offer of assistance, they’ll only rip you off.

Where to Stay:

This is tricky. To get the best deals book well in advance. Most hotels open their bookings 11 months in advance. You’ll likely get the best deals in the January sales and avoid seasonal times (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas) if you’re on a tight budget. If you’re happy to commute (the Subway is super cheap) then stay just outside of Manhattan in Brooklyn, Bronx or Queens- Trip advisor can give the best advice on staying outside. I highly recommend Booking.com- you can now book well in advance and not have to pay until you go with free cancellation right up until the day which is fab if you find a deal elsewhere. Travel agents are obviously very good if you want a quick and easy process but I booked this trip myself and saved £700 on what they’d quoted, it was worth spending the time on it. Essentially most hotels are room only so all you need to do to book a stay in New York is your flights and hotel which, to be honest, shouldn’t take too much time.

Recommendations from others:

We were given a fair amount of recommendations from people who had been before. Although we didn’t get a chance for these gems, there is always next time but perhaps something for you to consider for your first visit.

  • Circle Line cruise is approx 2.5 hours long. Apparently a great and alternative view to the city
  • Want to get up and close to Liberty Island but want to save yourself some pennies? The free staten island cruise apparently gets quite close and is as good as going there.
  • Take a helicopter tour of the city. It’ll cost you around £100 but apparently worth every penny, the views said to be spectacular.
  • Eataly: A food hall dedicated to Italian cuisine.
  • Murray Hill Diner is said to serve good food.
  • Benjamins Steakhouse for THE best steak in town, possibly ever! Apparently on the pricey side but totally worth it.
  • Love Tacos? Salvation Taco is meant for you.
  • Big Gay Ice-cream

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