Everyone knows something about New York. It is one of the most famous cities in the world with its landmarks featured in so many films. We visited for five days in May and only scratched the surface of things to see and do.
Having lived in NY for a year back in the late 1980s and visited annually during the 1990s and 2000s for work, we were keen to see what had changed over the last ten years or so. We found that so many things had changed and conversely nothing had changed. New buildings, shops, museums and tourist sites have appeared; restaurants and cafes have spread to the pavements; and there are a lot of car-free areas to sit, eat, drink and people watch. Yet the essence of NY, the vibrancy, noise and colour had not changed at all.
If this is your first time in NY, you will want to visit some of the iconic tourist sites such as the Met Museum, the Empire State Building, Ground Zero, MOMA, the Statue of Liberty etc. We have been to these sites on previous visits, so the following are a little different from the normal guidebook recommendations.
Magnificent 7 // New York, USA
- Travel back in time
- Visit a museum
- Take in the view
- Explore Central Park
- Go to a Broadway show
- Revel in the tackiness of Times Square
- Shop until you drop
Getting there –
We flew with BA and the flight left on time and arrived early. Getting through passport control at Newark airport took exactly 15 minutes and our bags arrived reasonably promptly. A relatively stress-free journey. We took a bus from Newark airport to the Port Authority on 42nd street and walked to our hotel on 49th. Getting back to Newark was just as easy, however our flight was delayed leaving Newark and arriving in London
Where we stayed –
The Pearl Hotel is near Times Square. A mixed bag really. The location was brilliant, the staff generally very helpful and the room we had was spacious with a good, strong shower. On the ground floor was a small room where you could get tea, coffee and snacks at any time and each evening wine was available in the lobby between 5 and 6 pm. What was a disappointment was the breakfast. Not only the lack of choice but the insistence on having disposable plates, bowls and cutlery. For a hotel of this status – and price – they could have done better. In addition, there was no attempt to separate any recyclable or food waste at breakfast. In today’s environment that is just wrong. The other point of note was that there were sharp edges on the (very comfortable) bed base and I cut my leg badly. My fault. But the first aid box at reception did not have large plasters or bandages
To eat and drink –
We ate breakfast at the hotel as it was included in the room rate. We would have eaten elsewhere otherwise. I am not going to rate the restaurants we ate at as so many restaurants come and go in New York. We always visit Restaurant Row on West 46th Street during our visits as there is a lot of choice and usually good food.
One restaurant that is a fixture in Central Park is Tavern on the Green. This was head and shoulders the best meal and ambiance of any restaurant we ate at. Our lunch salads were fab. This restaurant has been there a long time and will probably be there on our next visit.
1. Travel back in time
This has to be the best value tour in New York. A ferry ticket to both Liberty Island and Ellis Island cost us $24 each or $18 if you are 62 or over. The first stop is Liberty Island and look out for the free Ranger tours. The Park Rangers are excellent and are a fund of knowledge. You get an audio tour included in the price if that is your thing. The ferry ticket does not include entrance into the Pedestal or Crown of the Statue, which needs to be booked well in advance. We found simply walking around the island coupled with the museum and Ranger tours a fabulous day out coupled with visiting Ellis Island.
There are regular ferries between Liberty Island and Ellis Island. It has been a while since I visited Ellis Island and it is a treasure trove of information and detail about the eight million immigrants who passed through Ellis Island in search of a better life, adventure, their fortunes. It is simply one of the best things to experience when visiting New York
2. Visit a museum
New York is blessed with many great museums. The Met Museum is one of the best museums in the world and well worth a visit, but like all great museums it has a lot in it, so focus on your favourite topics as you could spend a week in the Met! If you love history and prefer your museum-going to be interactive and bite-sized, then The Tenement Museum is worth considering. This is one of our favourite museums in NY. It has lots of different tours with apartments in the tenement buildings restored to reflect different time periods. We took the Tenement Women:1902 tour. This 60-minute guided tour showed the conditions families lived in in the tenement buildings on Orchard Street from the perspective of the women in the family at the turn of the 20th Century. Truly fascinating and thought-provoking. It is well worth looking at the different tours reflecting different periods of New York’s history – and a great fit with Ellis Island.
3. Take in the view
When in New York, you really need to get a bird’s eye view. There are lots of options: the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock at the Rockefeller Centre, various bars and restaurants, helicopter tours etc. Two new ones have appeared, The Edge – which is the highest outdoor viewing deck 100 stories high with a 360-degree view – and The Summit. We chose The Summit which is a new exhibition that offers not only great views but clever use of mirrors and space. We loved the balloon room where hundreds of adults reverted to childhood with joy and enthusiasm simply by playing with reflective balloons. There was also a continuous image of rolling clouds with visitors’ faces floating within the clouds which was both cool and a little disconcerting at the same time, as well as a glass elevator to get the best views. Well worth visiting.
4. Explore Central Park
Whether this is your first time, or you are a seasoned visitor, spending some time in Central Park is a must. This green oasis in the heart of Manhattan is glorious in all seasons. We have found that there are two halves to the park. The south side is most visited and is where the horse-drawn carriages ply their trade. There are more coffee /ice-cream vendors here as well as buskers and a lot more people.
Strawberry Fields is situated here. We spent half a day in the north side of Central Park starting at 104th Street and 5th Avenue. Here you have the Conservatory Garden, which is a formal garden in lush surroundings. As you meander gently southward there are reservoirs, a boating lake, Belvedere Castle, Shakespeare Gardens, various walks, and even a Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre. We were not looking for any of these, we simply came across them whilst walking in the Park. Go explore for half a day
5. Go to a Broadway show
Almost every time I have visited NY I have gone to a show. There is a half-price ticket booth for Broadway shows in Times Square. You can try to get Rush tickets (cheap tickets with great seats) by queuing up on the morning of the show or by an online lottery system (see https://lottery.broadwaydirect.com/). We used an app called TodayTix for well-priced tickets with lower booking fees than other places we had looked at.
American audiences are more outgoing and make their feelings very clear. At the musical Tina, Ike was booed and Tina cheered at various times during the performance. And the audience joined in singing some of the best-known numbers. One thing to note was that the aircon was fierce and we wished that we had taken jumpers!
6. Revel in the tackiness of Times Square
Times Square is where most visitors gravitate at some stage. It is full of bright lights, people and opportunities to spend money on things you probably don’t want or need. There are street performers, major brands and great shops like the M&M World.
7. Shop until you drop
Time should be allocated for some retail therapy. Made famous by films set in New York a visit to one of the famous Department Stores such as Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue etc. There are always surprises – a Harry Potter store, and old favourites such as Barnes and Noble and Strand Books.
The Summit gets very busy. Get there early. They do sunrise and sunset time slots which we would recommend.
On the ferry to Liberty Island there is a big scramble to take photographs on the ferry. Don’t bother. You will have lots of chances to take photos on the Island and on the return ferry when very few people are taking photos.
When checking in to an hotel, ask for a quiet room as if you have a room on a lower floor looking over a busy street, it can get noisy at night with car horns and sirens.
Strawberry Fields in Central Park is always crowded. There is not a lot there and, frankly, it is a little disappointing.
When booking Broadway Shows online beware of the admin fees. One site wanted to charge us $36 USD per ticket, another (TodayTix) $12.50 in total.
There are a lot of neighbourhood abbreviations in New York. Our favourite was DUMBO. Not a flying elephant in sight. It’s short for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. We went and had a look and it is exactly as it says and it is a really nice place to visit with great views of the Financial District.
More well-known ones are SoHo (South of Houston) NoHo (North of – you can work it out), Nolita (North of Little Italy), Tribeca (Triangle below Canal).