Mrs JB and I love to SKI. (Spending the Kids Inheritance). We make no secret of it to our (one and only and grown up) daughter and regularly say when we are off on our travels, “we’re off to blow some more of your money”. She takes it in good spirits, she doesn’t go short and she knows she will be looked after when we’re gone.
I have visited New York once before but it was 32 years ago, a business trip and I didn’t see much although I did go all the way to the top of one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre (the view was breath-taking and even though it was inside with large panoramic windows, because I suffer from vertigo, I couldn’t stay up there for more than a few minutes! Yes, I know, pathetic.).
Wife and daughter have never been to New York and it has been on their bucket list for years. So, this time we took said daughter with us, which meant she was participating in spending some of her inheritance too. Because she works in a school, she gets school holidays off, which is why we chose late October for the trip and we felt that 5 days would be perfect (and not too cripplingly expensive).
We stayed in Manhattan. We picked a midtown location quite close to Broadway and Times Square where all the main action is, bus tours, shows, and restaurants. Our hotel was on W. 38th St and was a ‘boutique’ hotel, but very smart and subsequently not cheap but we were determined to be at the centre of things. We even had ‘Empire Rooms’ that had views of the Empire State Building! The hotel also had a rooftop bar with glorious night-time views of the ESB.
New York City is composed of five boroughs. While Manhattan and Staten Island are islands, Brooklyn and Queens are geographically part of Long Island, and the Bronx is attached to the US mainland. The islands are linked by bridges, tunnels and ferries.
Manhattan is roughly 13.4 miles long and about 2.3 miles wide at its widest. Except at its northern and southern tips, the borough’s avenues run roughly north and south, and streets run east and west. One-way thoroughfares are common, with traffic moving east on even-numbered streets and west on odd-numbered streets. Fifth Avenue divides the island into east and west sides (for example, locations on 57th Street west of Fifth Avenue are designated “W. 57th St.,” and east of Fifth Avenue, they’re “E. 57th St.”). As you move farther east or west from Fifth Avenue, street addresses increase, usually in increments of 100 from one block to the next. For north-south avenues, 20 blocks equals a mile, and the street numbers increase as you go uptown. Blocks can be a useful measure of distance, but you have to keep in mind your direction: walking uptown from 1st Street to 6th Street is about a quarter of a mile, but walking the same number of blocks crosstown, from First Avenue to Sixth Avenue, is approximately a mile.
I did extensive research and planning for our 5 days there. From various guidebooks and websites, I picked what I thought were the essentials for the three of us to see, do and experience and came up with a rough plan:
Downtown Bus Tour (include hop off at 9/11 memorial) – 4 hours
Uptown Bus Tour – 2 hours
Walk to Times Square or Empire State Building
Subway and walk to High Line /Chelsea – 30 minutes
High Line and Chelsea – 1 hour
Walk to Pier 83 – 25 minutes
Circle Line: Complete Manhattan Island Cruise – 3 hours
Subway to Washington Square Park/Greenwich Village
Brooklyn Heights *
NY Transit Museum *
Brooklyn Botanic Garden *
New York Public Library
Rockefeller Center *
Trump Tower *
St Patrick’s Cathedral *
Grand Central Terminal
Chrysler Building *
It went mostly to plan, but the bus tours has already taken us to several places planned for later in the week and because we had severely underestimated the amount of walking, we scrubbed these sights *.
This might not impress you younger, fitter buggers, but us oldies just did 48,300 steps, or 24.5 miles over the 5 days. We were bloody knackered.
OK – the top things, the must do’s for anyone wanting go to NYC for the first time:
- 9/11 Memorial. No words to describe this adequately. I have some photos below but it was the atmosphere, the ambience that affected us. Hundreds and hundreds of people paying their respects. I didn’t realise that around the two memorials (in the footprint of the two towers) are the names of the dead and that on the birthdays of those souls, the authorities place a white rose on their name. How can you adequately explain hundreds of people standing in total silence?. Grit in the eye time.One more thing. We heard sirens (there are always sirens in NYC) and sometimes it was the NYC Fire Service. We noticed all the fire trucks and fire stations we saw had plaques on the side commemorating ‘the bravery of their brothers’. More grit in the eye time.
- Bus Tour. There is no better or faster way to see the top sights, orientate yourself and learn. There are several tours starting from Times Square and there are four main tours: Downtown (Manhattan), Uptown (Manhattan), Brooklyn and Harlem.Some tips:
- Buy tickets in advance from the (several) street vendors to beat the scrum at the bus doors. They are official, accredited and carry credit card machines.
- The earphones are crap. Take your own or headphones as long as they have a mini-jack plug, they will work
- Sit upstairs. You will see nothing downstairs because of the skyscrapers all around you and upstairs is open top.
- Wear warm clothes. The open top is great but there’s no heating and forward motion is chilling!
- Ferry Tour. Take the ‘Best of NYC Cruise’ at Circle Line at Pier 83 on the Hudson River.
(https://www.circleline.com/sightseeing-cruises/best-of-nyc).Simply breath-taking. Check out my photos below. Beware – depending on tides and time of year, at certain times the boat cannot navigate under some of the lowest rail bridges and have to turn around. We were lucky and circumnavigated the whole island of Manhattan, starting on the Hudson River, around the financial district, Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, East River, Upper East side (very smart!), left at Randall’s Island Park into a narrow tributary, past Yankee Stadium, skirting The Bronx on the right and suddenly back into the Hudson River and back to where we started.
The brilliant thing about this tour is the guide. I have never experienced a better, more knowledgeable, more enjoyable guide. It’s a 2½-hour, genuine and interesting history lesson as well as a photographic feast.
Brooklyn Bridge from the East River
- Central Park. It’s enormous. Don’t be misled by the tour guides that it’s a walking park. It is, in parts, but to experience its wonders, hire a bike (they have hire stations all over CP and all over NYC), or a pony and trap (very knowledgeable drivers, but non-stop talking and personally, I think not kind on the horses). If you don’t mind walking, it’s wonderful.Tip: Forget Strawberry Fields. It’s become disappointing and disrespectful to John Lennon. Buskers playing Lennon songs, hordes of tourists photographing the ‘Imagine’ star in the pavement (OK, I was one to get a shot for this article and this star is the memorial – that’s it). Btw, the nearby Dakota Building (where he lived) is magnificent.
- Broadway/Times Square/Fifth Ave (if you’re into shopping) and New York Public Library. The library is enormous with a wonderful interior. Broadway/Times Square is noisy, it’s busy, it’s in your face, but must be visited, and better at night for the atmosphere.
- Little Italy. It’s downtown, easy to get to on the subway. Located between Tribeca (extremely smart – where many celebrities live) and Chinatown. It’s an oasis from the madness of ‘the city’ (midtown), relaxing and crammed with Italian restaurants and bars. We went there twice because it felt so ‘normal’. Prices are a bit more sensible than midtown too. Mulberry Street is a good choice.
- Chinatown. Keep walking through Little Italy (Mulberry Street) and you will seamlessly come into Chinatown. Lots of Chinese restaurants and of course this is really a Chinese area, thousands of ex-pat Chinese live here. We came across a lovely park, mid-morning where the residents were sat (in coats, hats, well wrapped up) reading Chinese newspapers and playing cards in groups (a big Chinese thing).
- Grand Central Terminal. Jaw dropping gorgeous. This historic world-famous landmark in Midtown Manhattan is not simply a transportation hub—it’s also a shopping, dining, and cultural destination with 60 shops, 35 places to eat, and a full calendar of events all under one magnificent roof. Opened to the public in February 1913, Grand Central Terminal is a story of great engineering, survival, and rebirth. In 1978, architect Philip Johnson and former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis campaigned to secure landmark status for the Terminal, ensuring the building would serve New Yorkers for generations to come (text from the website below).
MEET ME AT THE CLOCK. Grand Central Terminal is one of the country’s great architectural achievements and New York City’s unofficial meeting place with thousands of people choosing to meet friends and loved ones each day at the opal-faced Main Concourse Information Booth Clock.
- MetroCards. Ticket machines at every subway station. Pay by cash or credit card, best to start with $20. Each ride (from anywhere to anywhere) costs £2.75 per person and you only need to buy one MetroCard for you and your family. The entry styles make it easy to swipe your MetroCard, the green arrow says go, one person goes through, then repeat until it’s the turn of the MetroCard holder.
Things we didn’t do but had planned
We ran out of time/puff/or couldn’t be arsed but regretted not doing, the following:
- Broadway Show (annoying as our hotel was so close to Broadway/Times Square). It’s probably best to book well ahead before your holiday.
- Brooklyn Heights (fabulous, laid back, very smart neighbourhood, so very different from Manhattan). We went to the bridge and this is the view looking back at the financial district/midtown with the Empire State Building in the background.
- Rockefeller Center. (The highest and best views of Manhattan, if you don’t suffer from vertigo and if you don’t mind queuing or paying a premium in advance to go to the front. Links to websites at the bottom of this article).
We had read/heard about these spots as essential; so I can’t give an opinion as to what we missed, but so many guides said they were essential, so if you’re going to NYC, try to include them.
One more thing: Manhattan is a building site, especially Midtown. Scaffolding, skips, roped off walkways, builders trucks, concrete machines, cranes are literally, everywhere. It’s new construction, reconstruction and renovation all over Manhattan. Also, there are delivery trucks and vans blocking the inside lane of most roads, most of the day. It’s ugly as hell but still vibrant, exciting and – well, it’s New York City!!
Links to helpful websites, tours, maps etc.
Hop on, Hop off bus tour and maps
NYC Subway map
Top of The Rock
NB: All photos were taken by the Booth family
© John Booth 2018