Written by Lynsey Oxton
I’m going BIG on this one because let’s face it, there’s just so much to see and do in this brilliant, vibrant city!
Tip No 1: If you’re planning on seeing the sights, invest in the New York Pass.
And no, I’m not on commission – the NY Pass is just money well spent if you plan to get around a lot of the sights, skip the queues and even save on some of your shopping. I bought the 3 day pass which cost around £145, although they do sell passes for less or more days. As it is quite a lot of money to stump up, you may want to check potential savings on their website first, to decide if it is value for you. It definitely was for me. Whether you choose to invest in the Home Alone pyjamas is up to you.
Tip No 2: Take in the famous skyline from the water.
One of the best ways to appreciate the ‘city that never sleeps’ is from the water. Take a trip along the Hudson River on a Circle Line Cruise, where you can see the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, One World Trade Center and other iconic sights, whilst sipping a wine (or hot chocolate, if it’s cold) up on deck. I’ve done the ‘Liberty Cruise’ on a sunny summers day, which gets you up close and personal with Lady Liberty. I’ve also done the ‘Harbour Lights Cruise’ on a winters night, which gave the best views of the city, lit up after dark. Both cruises come included with your NY Pass and set sail from Pier 83, not far from the Hells Kitchen area. As a bonus tip for those without the NY Pass, the Staten Island ferry will also enable you to see Manhattan from the water and whilst it can be crowded, it’s free. Catch this from Downtown.
Tip No 3: Visit Grand Central Terminal.
(To give it the correct title). What a building! Everyone recognises this famous station with light bouncing off the 60 foot windows on the concourse, whether from a multitude of famous films or well recognised photographic prints. Not only is this a huge hub for transportation (over 600 departures daily), it also has over 30 eateries and 60 shops. I can recommend the bagels and coffee from Zaro’s if you’re after breakfast treat. It’s completely free to visit, so why would you not? If you have a NY Pass, you can also do the audio tour, which gives you a detailed history of the terminal from its first opening in 1871. The tour will guide you around the Vanderbilt Hall (and its many chandeliers) and the Whispering Gallery (no clues given). When you visit, you’ll understand why it’s described as a ‘city within a city’.
Tip No 4: MoMA (we love you)…
If art is your thing, you should head straight for the Museum Of Modern Art (MOMA) on West 53rd Street. This is the worlds leading museum for contemporary art and here you will see all things arty from Van Gogh to Jackson Pollock. If you’re lucky, you’ll also be able to see an exhibition piece like I did (the ‘Spider Cell’ by Louise Bourgeois). The cost? Included with your NY Pass! – otherwise you’re looking at $25. I believe that if you visit on a Friday between 16:00 and 20:00, admission is free – but be mindful of bigger crowds. If find you have time to visit two art museums during your stay, the Guggenheim just up from MOMA, on 89th Street, houses a huge selection of 20th century art and that famous grand ramp, seen in many a Hollywood Blockbuster!
Tip No 5: Take in some jazz….
“Birdland on 63, the street sounds like a symphony”……as Bono said. I’d never normally have considered going to a jazz club, but being with a group of girls, we thought it would be fun – and it was. We went to ‘Jim Caruso’s Cast Party’ which saw around 15 acts throughout the evening and into the early hours – from comedy, to drag, to fantastic singers and musicians. The evening cost around $50 per person for the entertainment and a standard three course meal (excluding drinks). It was an intimate setting, with every table a prime seat. I’ve heard that it’s a hotspot for celebrity visitors – not that I can confirm that firsthand (maybe next time?).
Tip No 6: Visit the World Trade Center.
Formally known as Ground Zero after the devastating terror attacks on September 11 2001, within the Financial District now stands the impressive ‘Freedom Tower’ where the Twin Towers once sat. My photos were taken seven years (give or take a few days) apart – the first in December 2010, the second in December 2017. It’s amazing to have seen how the site has transformed in a relatively small amount of time. The 9/11 memorial and tribute center are a must see experience in my opinion – poignant, thought-provoking and inspiring. If you have some time whilst in the area, pay a visit to the 18th century St Paul’s Chapel opposite the east side of the center. This small church was completely undamaged in the 9/11 attack (a miracle!) and served as a refuge for the firefighters. rescue workers and first responders. It’s quite a special place.
Tip No 7: Do your own ‘tour’!
No doubt when you’re planning your trip, you will see a plethora of film and television tours that are available to book online, usually for a hefty price too. “Forget About It!” – (yes, there’s a Soprano’s tour too) – you really don’t need a tour guide or bus load of fans to see these familiar places. As a huge Sex And The City fan, I managed to locate ‘Carrie’s stoop’ and the original magnolia bakery, with only the help of google and a ticket on the subway. No big tour groups getting in my way and ruining my photos, thank you! It’s also worth noting that if you have the NY Pass, the hop-on-hop-off yellow water taxi will drop you nearby too – jump off at the Christopher Street stop. Keep it quiet, but the stoop is at 66 Perry Street!
Tip No 8: Top Of The Rock.
Use your NY Pass to jump the long queues and go to the top of the Rockefeller Center! You’ll be transported up via its glass bottomed lift (don’t look down if you suffer with vertigo!). The 360 degree views from the observatory deck on the 70th floor go on for miles. It’s great to see the cityscape on a crisp, sunny morning. Equally, you can’t beat the bright lights only seen during a night viewing. Whatever your preference, Top Of The Rock is a great spot for a selfie, largely thanks to the perspex screens which allow full panoramic viewing. Without the NY Pass, you’re looking at around $40 for your ticket. Of course, the Empire State Building is probably more iconic (and is also included in the NY Pass), but if you only have time to visit one, I’d suggest Top Of The Rock wins; not only are the queues bigger but the Empire State viewing platform is also slightly ruined by iron bars that can obscure your view – definitely less camera-friendly than the perspex. It’s also fair to say that you get a pretty fine view of the Empire State from the Rockefeller anyway.
Tip No 9: What trip is complete without a bit of shopping?
C’mon – you know you want to! New York has the best stores; Macy’s, Bloomingdales and most definitely not forgetting, Tiffany’s. If you have a NY Pass, you’ll be pleased to know that you will receive 10% off at Macy’s and Bloomingdales too! Hit the shops at the right time of year (Black Friday and the January Sales) and you’ll get some great bargains. Although most things will be cheaper Stateside, it is still worth doing a quick currency conversion because not everything is (UK fashion brands, for example). It’s also worth keeping an eye out for temporary stores too; as a Sex And The City fan, when I heard that Sarah Jessica Parker had opened a pop-up shop for a couple of days during my stay, I couldn’t get there quick enough! If you’re a big shopper, you might want to buy extra space in the hold. I’ve heard that many committed shoppers take an empty suitcase out, with the intention of cramming it full!
Tip No 10: The buzz of Times Square!
There’s no denying, Times Square is the life and soul of NYC. With bright billboards, beeping car horns and a fuzzy character or two (including the infamous ‘Naked Cowboy’), Time Square has definitely got plenty going on. Here you will find lots of places to eat (I love Red Lobster), drink and shop as well as being in close proximity to the theatre district. Having been to NYC on four occasions (so far), I’ve always chosen to stay between midtown and Upper East, that’s just my preference. It’s obvious that the closer you stay towards Times Square, the noisier it will be. If you want a good, central location but only a few blocks away from the hustle and bustle, I’d recommend the Hilton Garden Inn, South-Midtown or the Radisson on Lexington Avenue.
Tip No 11: Do Central Park by saddle (provided its a nice day!).
I think Central Park is magical in the winter snow, but if you happen to be in the Big Apple in the Summer, hiring a bike is the easiest way to get around (the park is quite big after all!). Bike hire is available between April and October and guess what? – if you have a NY Pass, you get 3 hours free rental! Winner. There’s lots to see in Central Park, including the ‘Imagine’ tribute to John Lennon, Belvedere Castle, a large boating lake and the Alice In Wonderland statue. There used to be a great zoo within the park, but it’s sadly gone now. If you want to stop off for a quick bite (or indeed a fancy dinner), The Boathouse in the middle of the park is a good choice.
Tip No 12: Holler a yellow taxi!
Why? Just because you have to! It’s easy to find a taxi in Manhattan, but prices can feel steep if you’re not going too far. You might find it better to have your ‘taxi experience’ travelling into the city from the airport – both for the ‘wow factor’ of first seeing the skyline and also for the added benefit of convenience. Prices from all three of the airports are fixed at pick up, so you don’t need to worry about being ripped off. From memory, it’s around $50.
Tip No 13: Grab some seafood at South Seaport.
If you find yourself in lower Manhattan, take some time to stop by South Seaport. You may recognise the area from films such as I Am Legend, Godzilla and Hitch (amongst others). Pick up a tasty lobster roll at Fulton Fish Market and find a quiet bench to sit, looking out to the iconic Brooklyn Bridge. Like me, you may also spot President Trump and his entourage arriving in private helicopter (and see everything come to a standstill!). Wall Street and Battery Park are within easy walking distance of Seaport, as is the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge. The Circle Line Cruises and water taxis also run from here at regular times throughout the day.
Tip No 14: Celeb spot!
Many a famous face calls New York home but if the streets of NY are too crowded for you to spot your favourite celebrity, you can at least find the wax versions in Madame Tussauds, Times Square! Cheesy? – very – but good fun too, especially if it’s raining or you just want to kill a couple of hours indoors. Here you will find famous (waxy) faces from Jon Bon Jovi to Neil Armstrong, to Barack Obama. There are plenty of photo opportunities to be had here and it’s great for kids and adults alike. Entrance is included with the NY Pass, otherwise it’s around $30.
Tip 15: Walk a lot – but take the subway too.
Walking around NY is so easy, thanks to the helpful grid system in place, which makes map reading super simple (phew!). You’ll find that the city feels a joy to get around in the spring, summer and autumn months, thanks to the pleasant weather. Come winter, however, you might prefer to dive into the subway to escape the bitter cold. Riding NY’s underground is an inexpensive way to get around, much like the London Underground or the metros in any other major city. Buskers and on-train performers are not unusual (nor is the odd rat on the tracks!) – and definitely make for an interesting journey. One thing to mention is to take your time when using the turnstiles – the ‘iron maidens’ – as they can be a little temperamental and eat up your ticket if you don’t use them right! I speak from experience….
Tip 16: Don’t miss the guacamole!
Hell, no! The best guacamole I’ve found (and I’ve eaten a lot) is in New York. I know NY is perhaps more famous for its pizza-pies, but trust me – the Mexican restaurants are the best places to eat. I’ve tried a number during my visits, including La Contenta, Mama Mexico and The Lizard Lounge and they have all been superb. You can generally tell your server how you want it served (mixed already or mix your own) and how spicy (or not) you want it. The nachos are pretty good too! I previously recommended staying at the Hilton Garden Inn, within the theatre district; The Lizard Lounge is just across the street. Guacamole like that, on your doorstep? I was happy.
Tip No 17: Take in a Broadway Show.
Seriously – who goes to NY without seeing a show? Not me. You’re spoilt for choice on what to go and see – from all-singing, all-dancing musicals, to the more ‘art house’ performances, often starring some well known film stars. You can choose to buy your tickets upfront – but this can often be expensive. If you’re not overly fussed on which show you’d like to see, a tip is to wait a couple of hours before performances start and go directly into to the box offices – catch them when they need to sell the seats. In doing this, we secured cheaper seats to Motown The Musical, with a really good view of the stage. Of course, this is a risk (you have to be prepared to miss out), but the money you save will buy you that box of candy and a cocktail to enjoy throughout the show (and maybe even have money left over for a post-theater meal).
Tip No 18: See the City from open top bus.
Every big city has them: the trusty ‘hop on, hop off’ bus! With the right weather, go to the open top deck for the best views (if you can get a seat!). Not only does the ‘HOHO’ ensure you see all of the main attractions during your stay, it’s also a great convenience if your feet are tired and you don’t want to miss out on any of the action by being underground. I enjoyed sitting in the open air, in the dark, taking in the city lights and people-spotting. If you have the NY Pass, your Big Bus travel is included.
Tip No 19: Escape the crowds: visit Greenwich Village.
If you want a lazy lunch, but you’re a bit tired of queuing for TG Fridays in Time Square, then look no further than the quieter parts of town which offer much nicer food and surroundings. Take a stroll through the leafy East Village, Lafayette, Bowery and Greenwich Village, which have more of a ‘neighbourhood feel’ and a slower pace – welcomed after a few days in the hustle and bustle. We happened to stumble across a little eatery called Wren (in Bowery and not far from Washington Square Park), where we grabbed a lovely lunch and a bottle of vino, relaxing and chatting to the staff. SOHO, Tribeca, Little Italy and China Town are all within easy reach on foot.
Tip No 20: Go for Christmas!
If you want my honest opinion, having visited New York in Spring, Summer and Winter (only Autumn left to do!) – Christmas is the season when NYC truly sparkles! From the Christmas Tree at the Rockefeller Center (or the ‘Home Alone Tree’ as I like to call it), to the ice rinks in Bryant Park – there’s nowhere else on earth that gets you into the ‘Christmas spirit’ quite like New York City! Also in Bryant Park, you will find an array of Christmas market stalls, where you can pick up colourful handmade decorations, a bag of salted pretzels or a mulled wine to warm the cockles – amongst many other things. The street corners become home to many a Santa Claus, performing Christmas carols on whatever musical instrument they have to hand – and putting a smile on your face. The shop displays are nothing short of spectacular, including the musical windows at Macy’s and the pretty Tiffany’s tree. Over the top (yet appreciated) decorations surround the city, from the huge red baubles outside Radio City to the ‘dancing snowflakes’ in Rockefeller Square. You can’t fail to love Christmas in NYC!
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You may also like to read my Top 10 Tips for your Florida trip: Who says Orlando is all Mickey Mouse?