The Big Apple, The City of Dreams, The City So Nice They Named It Twice…we’re all familiar with the idealist accolades of romance and magic surrounding New York City. In excess of 65 million visitors a year flock to see one of the world’s most famous cities in the flesh (or concrete…). So, you could be forgiven for thinking NYC could perhaps be too good to be true, and may be little more than an expensive and overrated tourist trap.
Before I first visited New York, people told me I would either fall in love with it completely, or hate it. Fortunately, it was one of the most awesome cities I’ve ever set foot in. Of course, growing up I had caught many glimpses of New York City in various films and TV shows, and had always longed to go there and see if it was really how it seemed ‘in the movies’. In some ways it was like stepping straight onto a filmset seeing the hanging street signs and fire escape-clad apartment buildings, while in others the modern, metropolitan side of NYC shone through the classic New York exterior.
While I was in New York, I made it my mission to see as much as I possibly could in the four days I was there – managing to get round the majority of must-see sights, some of which were worth queuing for a lot more than others. There are a thousand and one ways to explore a city like NYC, but here I’ll talk through how I went about getting the best out of my short trip, and hopefully give some tips on the best things to see and do if you only have a few days here.
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail
New York is a crazy, busy and incredibly fast-paced city to visit, and it can be somewhat overwhelming when you first arrive. To save wasting precious time on your trip spending too long figuring out what to do, where to go, and how to get there, plan your trip in advance to remove the stress and allow yourself to relax and get on with your travels.
If sightseeing is your thing, and boy is there a lot to see in this city, then I would suggest investing in a sightseeing pass before you go. Depending on which one you choose, it will give you access to a whole host of landmarks, sights, day trips, bus tours and even deals to certain restaurants, among other things. I chose this one, and it saved me over £100 on entry fees as well as removing the faff of queuing up to buy entry tickets. It also has an app where you can create your own custom itinerary, a really helpful tool that allows you to plan each day exactly how you like it.
You can waste a lot of time in New York going backwards and forwards between places, especially if you’re a Brit like me and haven’t quite mastered the grid system (although it is pretty foolproof). New York is also made up of five boroughs; Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. I tried to group together the things I wanted to see and do geographically, to save sitting on one of the open bus tours going round the same loop again and again just to get to the other side of town. Even Manhattan itself can feel like a concrete jungle.
Perhaps start by splitting it into Downtown, Midtown and so on. Alternatively, if planning isn’t your thing and you prefer to wing it then be my guest – you will probably stumble across many of NYC’s hidden treasures while wandering along your own path. So, without further ado let’s jump straight in.
- The Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island
- Ground Zero & 9/11 Tribute Museum
- One World Observatory
- Brooklyn Bridge
- Wall Street
- Staten Island Ferry
- Battery Park
- South Street Seaport
- Downtown bus & walking tours
There’s an abundance of things to see and do in downtown New York City. Historic and iconic landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge rub shoulders with more recent additions Ground Zero and the One World Observatory, making it the perfect place to start your exploration of NYC.
And as well as seeing the sights, take time to walk through the hustle and bustle of the Manhattan Farmers Market, stroll along the harbour or take respite in one of the many coffee joints in the area.
- Empire State Building
- Top of the Rock at the Rockefeller Centre
- Times Square
- The Vessel
- Bryant Park
- Grand Central Station
- Radio City Music Hall tour
- New York Public Library
- Madison Square Garden
- Flat Iron Building
We were lucky enough to stay in Midtown Manhattan, just off of Times Square (Luma Hotel) which provided a great base from which to get around the city, but also offered a multitude of things to do.
TIP: If you have limited time and want the best view of NYC, then make sure you go up the Top of the Rock – from here you can actually see the Empire State in the skyline, and you get a better view of the city from the top.
In addition to visiting all the sights on the list above, we had a brilliant time exploring the nightlife here – ending up in Swing 46, a super cool Jazz club with an awesome live band playing. Dallas BBQ is the place to go for a huge and hearty, and reasonably priced, American feast (we’re talking wings, steaks, burgers, corn bread, you name it – they’ll have it!), while Juniors is the best place to go for cheesecake.
If you eat anywhere in Midtown Manhattan, though, make sure it’s Ellen’s Stardust Diner. Here, hopeful Broadway stars serenade you over your pancakes with musical favourites and pop classics – it really is a fantastic show, and the food’s great too.
- Central Park (Strawberry Fields, Bethesda Fountain)
- Central Park Zoo
- American Museum of Natural History
- Museum Mile
- Carnegie Hall
My favourite part about Uptown Manhattan was by far Central Park. We hired some bikes and cycled round the whole park, stopping off at John Lennon’s Strawberry Fields and Bethesda Fountain, as well as the odd ice cream on the way round. It was like being transported to a calm, peaceful oasis – I truly didn’t feel as if I were in one of the busiest cities in the world.
We also traveled past Uptown Manhattan into the Bronx to watch a baseball game at the Yankees Stadium, which was pretty cool. I would definitely recommend doing this if a game is on when you go – tickets were cheap and there’s a great atmosphere in the stadium!
New York city captured my heart and imagination like few others, and although it’s been less than a year since I last visited I’m already aching to go back and explore some more. I’m of the opinion that you could visit New York a hundred times and still find something new or surprising each time. This is a definite bucket-list destination, and one that will leave a slightly different imprint on each person who walks its streets.