3 days as a tourist in New York City


BYB Travels, Ramblings / Monday, December 3rd, 2018

After a whirlwind tour of New York City in November, I wanted to show those that have been messaging me some of the highlights.

We packed in a lot between a very cold Thursday and a weirdly warm Sunday last month. The trip was for my husband’s 40th birthday, so he got the most say on what we did and saw – hence there being no Statue of Liberty trip or swanky restaurants. I know, what a spoilsport.

Below, however, you’ll find some info and photos including food, tourist hotspots, advice on getting around and how best to spend your money in NYC. Obviously, being that I’ve only been to this city once, this is not an expert guide, nor is it an exhaustive list. I am not claiming to be a New York guru in any way, but I’m hopeful some of it will be useful if you’re planning a visit to the Big Apple sometime soon.

Getting there

I used Skyscanner to find our flights about 8 months before we flew, making them much cheaper than even I expected. We flew out from London Heathrow to JFK with Delta and returned with Virgin Atlantic (the former was much more comfortable with better food than the latter) for just over £300pp. Flying out mid morning is ideal as you land at lunchtime and have a whole afternoon ahead of you to explore.

Once we were through security we got a yellow taxi from the airport which is $70 inc toll and tip to anywhere in Manhattan. Alternatively, you can buy a $5 airbus ticket from JFK to the Jamaica subway stop, then a $33 metro card to get into Manhattan. You can then use that metro card for a full week to get around the city via the subway. Tip: Book a very late flight home – you wake up mid morning in the UK and reduce jet lag.

Where to stay

I think this is all relative, and depends largely on your budget and what you want to do, see etc. I booked us into Night Hotel Times Square, which sat (at most) 10 metres from Times Square and a subway station. This location was central and ideal if you’re looking for a base to explore Manhattan and beyond. It’s also right next to the Theatre District if that’s your main reason for visiting. The hotel itself was modern and clean, and the double bedroom we had was fine for a weekend. It’s cheap to stay on the Brooklyn side, and I’d happily do that if we revisit NYC, as it’s so easy to get around it doesn’t really matter where you lay your head.

Food and drink

I’m aware many of you reading this are here for the food, so I’ll get that bit out of the way before I round up the tourist hotspots we hit. My absolute must try is Katz’s Deli in the East Village, which serves up bonkers sandwiches and the most fabulous slow cooked deli meats I’ve ever encountered. Oh and don’t ignore the free pickles – they’re incredible. This is also the same place Meg Ryan made sex noises in When Harry Met Sally – I assume she had the pastrami reuben, like me. Tip: Go in the morning rather than lunchtime else you’ll be queuing for hours.

If you like a good food market you will love Chelsea Market, over in the Meatpacking District. There’s plenty of street food and vendors offering everything from ramen to Italian sandwiches and hotdogs. I had a bloody amazing meat-stuffed bagel and tacos, amongst lots more. You can read more about this place below.

The morning we went to Central Park we also visited Astro Restaurant in Midtown. The cafe is an American diner run by a Greek family and I don’t think it’s had a refurb if any kind since it opened in the early 80s. It’s only got about 20 covers and you have to queue regardless of what time you show up, but it’s pure comfort food and reasonably priced considering its location. I had the scrambled eggs with bacon and potato hash on a hideous plastic plate – and I loved it.

Everyone’s got their favourite pizza place, and no one seems to agree on them. Pizza slices are sold literally everywhere, some for as little as $1, but my favourite spot was Joe’s Pizza in Williamsburg. We found it after 8 pints in a dive bar up the road, so I may be wrong but I loved the crisp base and the crust was fantastic.

I found a beer I fell in love with called Hummer from Greenport Harbour (brewed in the city) at Rattle N Hum. The dive bar is well priced considering the Manhattan zip-code and near to The Cutting Room – a music lounge we went visited to watch a gig and eat big burgers.

If you’re over in Brooklyn it’s worth checking out North 3rd Street Market. This indoor food and craft hall reminded me of an Independent Birmingham festival, if they were permanent. The food vendors change every so often but this is a full time set up and includes all sorts of food, from pizza to lobster to bao, and arcade games.

Tourist hotspots

Top of the Rock, Manhattan

We paid for a City Pass (Google this; well worth having and you can get them for 3 or 6 attractions) and used it first for Top of the Rock. This is an observatory on the roof of the Rockefeller Center and gives you great views of the Empire State Building and across NYC. We did this during the day to see the city in daylight. It’s about $36 without the city pass.

Empire State Building, Manhattan

Our second use for the city pass was the Empire State Building – the view from this at night is absolutely insane. We went up at dusk, so we saw the skyline go from blue to black and the city light up. It’s windy and cold, but it’s so so worth it. This costs about $39 without a pass.

Central Park, Upper East Side

This park is enormous. We walked around it in search of the John Lennon memorial for an hour and still hadn’t scratched the surface. There’s lakes, walks and (currently) an entire ice skating rink. In fall it’s absolutely glorious so I can only imagine how beautiful Central Park must be in summer.

Chelsea Market, Meatpacking District

If you like food this is a must visit. Here you’ll find homemade pizza sold by the slice, plus seafood, cheese and meat galore, and the most incredible smell of freshly baked bread. As well as all the glorious food and drink, you can find a plethora of shops and market stalls below the ground floor, including some selling records, jewellery and clothes.

Williamsburg, Brooklyn

An area rather than a specific place, we loved this part of Brooklyn. There’s loads of dive bars (beers are half the price and then some compared to Manhattan) and you can walk to it via the Williamsburg bridge from the Lower East Side. The walk takes about 45 minutes and half way across you get a lovely view of Brooklyn bridge and Lady Liberty.

Times Square, Manhattan

Yes – it’s a tourist trap, and yes – it’s terribly loud and bright. But, it’s worth visiting for some photos and just to absorb the madness that comes with Times Square. Saturday night is particularly bizarre with street performers and people trying to make you part with money. Avoid the bars on the street itself as they’re all overpriced, rammed and relentlessly themed around Ireland.

One World Trade Center, Lower Manhattan

We visited the 9/11 Memorial and One World Trade Center towards the end of our trip. The pools in the foundations of the North and South towers that fell are an emotional scene, and I left feeling glad I’d been but quite tearful. You can walk 10 minutes to get a good view of the Statue of Liberty from here too.

American Museum of Natural History, Upper West Side

Our last use of the pass came in the shape of this enormous museum. It’s usually about $20 to get in, but I believe you can just leave a donation if you don’t have a lot of money. We enjoyed the dinosaurs and naked monkeys, because we’re inherently very silly.

And that’s your lot – ending with a monkey penis like all good blog posts should, right? New York City is incredible and I hope to go back sooner rather than later. Just make sure you take enough dollars to enjoy yourself and don’t forget to tip!

Have you been? Let me know in the comments or over on Twitter.

Disclosure: I paid in full for all flights, accommodation, attractions, food and drink in this post.

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