First time in New York can be difficult to work out what to do and what to see. New York should be somewhere everyone tries to go to once. Even if you don’t like cities, there is something here for everyone. If you don’t like crowds you will be surprised how little you run into them in a huge city. Like a dream, you will walking around and recognise places and corners in no time. Central Park is a true gem in the middle of this big city.
How to tackle the Big Apple.
I have written before about travel apps and how they can help. TripHobo is the best at helping you create a plan for almost anywhere and finding places of interest. I am not sure what the algorithm is behind their site/ app but they will help you work out what you should see and when. If you are anything like me I developed an itinerary with them and then completely ignored it, not one for a tightly packed schedule. What it did help me to understand is what was en route and nearby to other attractions I wanted to see.
We spent 10 days in the Big Apple at the end of August and I can honestly say whilst we managed to see and pack in a lot, we have a lot more to do and see. Our friend lives in Greenwich Village on Charles Street, (down the road form Sarah Jessica Parker) and this area has a height restriction for new buildings. NoLita, TriBeCa and SoHo further down do not and have some amazing new high-rises being built. Here in the village, it is possible to not even think you are in one of the world’s largest cities. The tree lined streets and brownstone buildings have neighbours saying hello as they walk their dogs or meet in one of the local gardens. The corner cafes are bursting with pot plants and bright coloured blooms. The place is quaint but not in an old-fashioned way.
As everyone does on their first trip to New York, you receive an overwhelming amount of information, tips and suggestions of where to go. Oh my goodness sit is overwhelming. Think back to when you had your first baby and you had opposing advice given to you for everything – this is the same. I would suggest to tackle it in the same fashion. Follow your gut and listen to yourself, you will work it out. If you make a mistake that could be your best travel adventure. Regardless, you are human and mistakes help us to grow. Move on.
With all of this information and with no way of doing it all or seeing it all, we decided the best thing to do was save everything to Google Maps. I coded things in blue for Instagram photo shots (Whilst I do not pose with my back to the camera and look whimsically to the left wearing a stupid felt hat in 30 degree heat, I do like a good photo!) Yellow stars for shopping, hearts for places I did not want to miss, and so on. You can add as many lists as you like. I suggest rather than just adding dining spots you divide into cheap and cheerful and fancier.
Not having any real plans we were free to join friends and then structure our day around meeting them. We would look at our map and make a plan as to how we would get there and what we would see along the way. We could plan where we would have lunch/ dinner or a drink. It was so easy and it really meant we managed to fit a lot into what was essentially only a few days.
What would I miss
Staton Island ferry. I’m sorry but any boat that floats t a 45-degree angle because everyone is on one side of the boat only, is not a great thing. Catch the ferry anywhere. Sure, you may miss the Statue of Liberty but doe that matter? You will see other stuff.
We went to the Gansevoort Meatpacking NYC Hotel or Hotel Gansevoort in the daytime and it was lovely. There is a pool on the rooftop for hotel guests. At night time the place is full of wankers. I am sorry for swearing but seriously what is wrong with people. These jocks were in serious need of a good slap. What a bunch of tools. I had written down a number of rooftops bars to visit but with this experience early into our trip I was kind of put off.
The popularity is such that you are outdoors which differs from a number of bars throughout the city. In my opinion, I would avoid the ones in the meatpacking district with the fashion set, but don’t miss all of them as a result of going there first.
Here are my tips
- St Cloud Social at The Knickerbocker Hotel. This is near to Bryant Park. We didn’t get in, it was full on the night we tried to go. You can see the chaos from Times Square from here.
- The Press Lounge at Kimpton Ink48 Hotel on the western side of Hell’s Kitchen. Due to the location being a tad out of the way for the crowds, you can relish in the view from here of the city’s skyline over the park.
- The Mandarin Oriental – whilst not a rooftop bar, this does give you a fabulous view over the park in the Columbus Circle area.
- Salon de Ning at the Peninsula New York. Get there early to nub a table as it’s first in for a table. This is a lovely bar with plants and relaxed outdoor settings.
- 1 Rooftop at 1 Hotel Brooklyn – from here you can see three bridges as you look across to the Downtown Financial District. If you have not yet experienced a lobster roll, try the rolls here.
- Top of the Strand gives you uninterrupted views of the Empire State Building which is what first timers want to do right, marvel at this amazing building, this is again a first come, first served bar. I believe in colder weather there is a roof.
Before you huff and puff that you’re not really into drinks, yes you are. New Yorkers excel at pre-diner entertainment and you need to partake in local habits to feel the vibe. New York rooftop bars are the quintessential way to feel like a local whilst partaking in breathtaking scenes around you.
One observatory tower only
People told us you didn’t need to do Top of the Rock and the Empire State Building. You probably don’t but we wanted to experience one during the day and get the perspective of the city and one in the evening. We went up the Empire State Building as they had opened for the day, avoiding the crowds and lengthy queues. It’s windy up there and also cold – be prepared. We were the last ones up the lift for Top of the Rock and came down at midnight.
One World Observatory is a different perspective and whilst I would have happily also gone up this tower, we saved this one for next time. I should mention I am not good with heights. See through staircases and step gradients are my worst. Going up 80 odd floors was not something I loved or even enjoyed. I didn’t go near the edge at several spots on both rooftops and found myself observing from the middle. I did however, observe and marvel at such a massive city. How could you ever think so many grey buildings together could be attractive? Even scared of heights you must do this.
Having being constantly told we needed to book restaurants in advance we found as long as you were flexible in dining times you could in most situations get a reservation. We booked most through the app OpenTable. TIP – if you can’t get a booking online always call the restaurant to confirm.
Divide your time into how many meals you have? What kind of dining do you want to do? We wanted one fine dining dinner experience and one late lunch experience. The rest we would go with the flow. Per Se was the pick for my dinner experience with Jean George’s coming a close second. The price of meals in New York didn’t even make me blink. I live in Sydney and when you are already paying it, you kind of get used to it.
We were tipped that Eleven Madison Park was the ‘best’ but up your nose and stuffy, so as that doesn’t interest me, it was left off all my lists.
Gramercy Tavern was on my list but not being able to get a reservation on the evening we wanted we went to Tom Colicchio’s Craft instead at Union Square. Click here for information about the chef and locations of his restaurants.
Balthazar was heavily suggested and we chose to go for brunch. Brunch in New York is served almost all day. In Sydney you have until 11.00am or midday to get your eggs. I love eggs and I loved being able to get them past midday. My French friends think it strange you would want eggs before midday.
Allow your bookings to be fluid to suit your day
Again, we referred to our tips and suggestions saved to Google Maps and would work out what was nearby to what we were doing or seeing. There is a whole city of places to go and places to eat. We went with the rule that we couldn’t do everything.
Locanda Verde was the choice our friend booked for all of us and it was great but it didn’t set my world on fire. I ordered my grandmother’s ravioli and it filed me with comfort and warmth and whilst I would happily eat it again it was not an organismic meal. The hotel however did get me excited and the ambience. It is not always down to the dish but the art of the service.
Some things left for next time.
- Peter Luger in Brooklyn. We just didn’t seem to be over this way for the evening so we missed this one.
- David Chang anything – we ran out of time to fit this in.
- ABC Kitchen at Union Square.
Sight seeing musts
- Brooklyn Bridge walk it or bike ride it.
- Central Park or Prospect Park
- 911 Museum
- Empire State Building/ Top of the Rock or One World Observatory
- Times Square
You might ask why I have left this list as minimal as it is. I think everyone should do the above. I then think you need to determine the weather and your own interests when you add other attractions. Mine would be food as clearly I am into food. This recent trip there was shopping as a focus. My next trip may include the children so the focus would differ again. We didn’t see one art gallery or museum this trip as the weather was so good we continuously wanted to be outside exploring.
Had it been hotter or colder, we possibly would have ventured inside but we were so happy just walking all day we didn’t change a thing. Averaging 20 kilometres a day gave me justification for all the food and alcohol consumption. We figured the next time we are the weather may not be as kind and we may need as many of these as possible.
The baseball. New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium v’s the Boston Red Sox. I wasn’t expecting to like it as I would rather watch paint dry that watch cricket. Baseball is similar in length and apparently dull. I don’t like crowds so was dreading getting the subway and into the stadium. What a surprise, it was fantastic. It was enjoyable and the crowd were involved. There was a massive merchandise store for some half time entertainment. I wasn’t reduced to drinking only beer and could get wine! Or margarita’s, or both! The crowd was into it. My husband works in sports marketing and it is so dull having to watch sport after sport, but the result of this game was that I could do this often. It was great fun and I can see why the whole family goes together. Go baseball. I still have no idea what was going on but assume it is similar to softball which I ‘played’ at school. (not very enthusiastically or well)
For those other first timers imaging being in New York doing New York stuff. I highly recommend it. I can’t think of a city that you would enjoy more as there is so much to do for so many different types of people. Find an excuse and get there. I loved all of it.