So after our 4 and a half days in Washington D.C. naturally, like any tourists visiting the east coast, our next stop was NYC. We rose disgustingly early for a Saturday morning, jumped on the Amtrak and sat for 4 hours before arriving in ‘The Big Apple’. My first thoughts whilst driving through the city? I can think of only one word: CHAOS.
Honestly, never in my life have I seen such mayhem. I’ve never been to Asia, or specifically China or India which I imagine are probably worse in this respect but seriously, it was carnage. How many lanes do you need down one street before its no longer a street but a bloody motorway?!
There seemed to be no rules, with cabs ducking and diving, cutting each other up, accelerating like crazy only to brake harshly 2 seconds later. Can you believe that there were actually traffic wardens standing in the middle of this road rage?! And do so on a daily basis?! Furthermore, whilst I’m on the subject, how many times does one need to beep their horn when clearly there is no-where to go??
*Deep breath* – rant over 🙂
Getting around (by means other than a taxi)
After arriving at our hotel, we dumped our bags, freshened up and walked straight down to our nearest tube station. We sought the advice of the friendly lady in the booth and bought 4 MTA metrocards for $32 each which were valid for 7 days and enabled us to take unlimited subway trips. Although we were only there for 5 days, we used the subway a lot and thus, it was definitely the cheapest option. With regards to how easy it was to understand the system, well it was, and it wasn’t. I’d definitely recommend downloading the NY subway map and route planner because this helped us a lot! Also we found that tubes are not as regular and prompt as they are in London.
The chaos only amplified in Times Square, because you’ve not only got to be very aware of vehicles when crossing the road but also the huge mobs of pedestrians surging towards you from every angle. Furthermore, everywhere you look (day or night) there are flashing billboards and people thrusting bus tour flyers in your face. I promise you, they spot tourists a mile off. Watch out for the naked people too, they’re the ones in the tiny American flag underpants that barely cover their genitals – it can get a bit much.
HOWEVER, if you can deal with chaos as described above, it’s fantastic 🙂 There are shops, theatres and restaurants galore and the photo-taking opportunities are everywhere.
- Look where you’re going at all times. This may sound obvious but honestly there are people, bodies and moving objects everywhere you look in Times Square!
- Pricey pricey Broadway. So we queued for over an hour at the TKTS booth on 47th street in the hope that we’d bag ourselves some reasonably priced tickets. HA! 50%, 30% off? You’re still looking at around $80 a ticket for most shows. Needless to say we did not see a show but spent the money on huge NY cheesecake instead, which was unsurprisingly a lot more affordable 🙂
Where to eat
‘Potbelly Sandwich Shop’ was our go-to. We first discovered this chain in Washington and it soon became a firm favourite for lunch stops. It’s effectively just an upmarket Subway in that you choose a ‘sandwich’ (more like a small baguette!) or salad and they make it up fresh, enabling you to customize the contents if you so wish. Ultimately, the sandwiches were good and reasonably priced, the service was quick and the portion sizes certainly filled a hole!
Starbucks. They are literally EVERYWHERE. Not even joking when I say that I think every other block in the city had a Starbucks. This isn’t fantastic news for Costa lovers, Caffe Nero too was absolutely no-where to be seen, sorry.
Ruby Tuesday was a restaurant recommended in the USA Lonely Planet travel guide so we knew it would be a safe bet, and it was. We ate at the one near Times Square (585 7th Avenue) twice in our 5 day trip because we found the food good, service great and choice extensive.
Best tip? Chat to Americans because they love to recommend. This is how we heard about the following two eating establishments (including my favourite!)
Junior’s Restaurant and Bakery – 1515 Broadway, 45th Street (between 7th & 8th av)
It’s no secret that I have a massive sweet tooth and have devoured more than my fair share of desserts in my time, but let me tell you, I have never consumed cheesecakes like those served in Junior’s.
‘The World’s Most Fabulous Cheesecake’ is their slogan and I believe that although (and alas) I have not had the good fortune of tasting EVERY cheesecake available to man, I would say that they are probably, most definitely entitled to make such a bold claim.
As mentioned briefly earlier, they were both huge and delicious. Furthermore, the choice was overwhelming with the list of different types of cheesecake as long as my forearm.
Just below you can see two of these famous cheesecakes. I would go so far as to say that their texture was heavenly. You may be thinking that they don’t look very big but you’d be mistaken. I fear that the photos do not do them justice so I hope that you can trust me on this one. If you’re going to NY, get a Junior’s cheesecake.
Ellen’s Stardust Diner – 1650 Broadway (51st street)
Well, I’m going to be honest, from the outside it doesn’t look like much. We actually thought it had closed down and would never have ventured inside if it hadn’t been recommended to us by a nice lady in a breakfast diner in Washington.
The diner itself is 50s themed and exactly what I imagined a typical American diner to look like. The main selling point here is that the waiters and waitresses sing. Yep, you read that right. They are all aspiring Broadway performers with degrees in Performing Arts or the like, working for their big break.
One minute they’re taking your food order for a double cheese burger and fries, the next, they’re dancing on the seats and leaping through the rows of tables in their pinny with a microphone in hand. They are both your server and your entertainment. The idea is quite genius actually and well worth a visit if you like that sort of thing because the food’s not bad either! (Fantastic three-tiered carrot cake pictured above)
Statue of Liberty
To reach the Statue of Liberty you must first decide whether you want to land on the island or if seeing it from the water on a boat will suffice. We chose the latter.
To choose a trip and actually get yourself on one such boat, simply arrive at South Ferry Station, step outside and TA-DAAAA!! Many a young man working for companies that organize these trips will approach you. Simply choose the most appealing one to you (trip not young man haha) and hey presto, all booked. Of course, if you’re more organized than ourselves and know exactly which day you want to visit, you can book a boat trip in advance online.
We were led up to a bus stop opposite the National Museum of American Indian where we were taken half way across town to a pier. Once at the pier we took a 1 hour boat ride down the East River past both the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges to the Statue of Liberty and back again. The trip cost $40 each and all-in-all, it wasn’t bad for a last minute book. The boat got quite close to the island and we managed to get some good snaps, as well as learn a bit about the Statue from the captain.
- Take water and food – especially if visiting in hotter months. Unless it states otherwise, the boat you choose to board will not have free water and may not offer any food so stock up and take your own.
- Sunscreen, sunscreen and more sunscreen. Summer days in NYC are HOT. If you’re on an open boat deck in 30+ degree heat, make sure you apply sun cream – I saw people turning to lobsters in front of my eyes!
- Establish your position. I promise you as soon as the Statue came into sight, selfie sticks were emerging left, right and center. ESTABLISH YOUR POSITION!
Central park is really quite big so we decided that hiring bikes would be the best way to explore it. We went with the first bike hire shop we passed – ‘NYC Bike Rental’ right by 57th street – 7 av subway station, and fortunately for us, it was a good choice. We wanted to explore the park at our leisure so did not opt for a guided tour, however there are plenty available if they appeal to you.
If I’m honest, Central Park didn’t blow me away. Yes, it was nice but not as amazing as I thought it would be. Having said that, The Lake was pretty special because in the afternoon of the day we went it was full of people in rowing boats enjoying the summer sunshine. Most significantly however, it was also full of turtles that were not camera shy in the slightest. We also saw a proposal by the Bethesda Fountain!!
Empire State Building
Nicknamed ‘the heart of NYC’, I was actually really impressed with the Empire State Building. Once in the elevator it takes less than a minute to reach the ‘Dare To Dream Exhibit’ on the 80th floor which boasts fantastic views from numerous windows. In addition, you’ll find well-presented information regarding the story and construction of the landmark which I learned only took 13 months??!! Honestly, once you see it and have been inside, it’s hard to believe that it was built in just over a year – and without the cranes and high-tech equipment we have now. Absolutely astonishing.
From here you take the lift again, to the 86th Floor Observatory. This level sits 320 metres above the streets of NY and on the clear day that we visited, provided us with spectacular views of the whole city and beyond! An adult ticket to the 86th floor will cost you $35. To go higher still, to the 102nd Floor Observatory, was more expensive with an adult ticket priced at $54.
- Tickets are upstairs. It’s a little confusing when you first walk into the building as to where you can purchase tickets but if you take the escalator upstairs and follow the meandering corridors that seem to go on forever, you will reach the ticket desk.
- More security checks.
- Top deck too?? For us, the main deck (the 86th floor) was impressive enough. I personally am not great with heights so it was more than high enough for me!
Again, like with Washington D.C. there are a few other places we visited in NY that I have not written about but will mention now. The World Trade Center Memorial and 9/11 Tribute Museum were both extremely moving and attractions I would highly recommend visiting. The museum in particular was one of the best I’ve ever been to when considering extent of information provided and the effectiveness of how it had been displayed/delivered. We also dropped by Grand Central Station to marvel at its grandeur and spectacular ceiling.
To conclude, I can definitely see why NY is a bucket-list city and why of course, it’s celebrity central – did I mention that my mum and sister saw Kim Kardashian?! It’s chaotic brilliance, but for me perhaps a little too busy. I loved my time here but am undecided whether I would visit again. Perhaps at Christmas time or in the winter months just to experience it in a different season with the decorations and ice rinks etc. We shall see!! 🙂