AN HONEST TRAVEL GUIDE FOR NEW YORK CITY!
Often in the top three best cities in the world, the Big Apple is just as awesome as you think it will be! But it does come with it’s challenges. Read on to hear about my funny adventures in New York
Welcome to the city that never sleeps! New York has an unmatchable vibe that needs to be experienced firsthand, as words just don’t do it justice. Its appeals are almost endless. The bright yellow cabs that will have your arm twitching to hop in one. Gazing upon the many iconic landmarks mentioned countless times in books or on TV. The wonderful smell of salted hot pretzels and roasted nuts from the food street-carts on every corner. These are just a few of the things that will make up your experience in this concrete jungle!
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I first came here while studying at University in 2004. At the time, I’d just turned twenty-one, so I was more interested in shopping at Bloomingdales and Fifth Avenue than working on my latest research project. On my second visit in 2006, I decided to steer clear of the shopping malls and department stores, opting instead to explore the world-famous sights. Seeing so much more of the big apple made for an even better time, helping me fall even more madly in love with this city!
If you’re anything like me, you’re going to want to tick off all the top sights along the New York tourist trail. Marvel at the epic views from the top of the Empire State Building. Walk around the beautiful Central Park. Soak up the addictive atmosphere of Times Square. These are just some of the things we tourists can’t miss doing when visiting the Big Apple, and that will never change.
JOHN. F KENNEDY INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
There are three main airports in New York: La Guardia, JFK and Newark. John F. Kennedy International Airport is the most well-known and the one I always use. Sadly JFK is also quite possibly the only place in New York that has truly disappointed me. I would have expected such an amazing city to have a great arrivals and departures area, with lots of things to do and a great duty-free section to help you spend your last remaining dollars before you fly home. That was not the case. I prefer to get to the airport super early as I hate the thought of missing my plane, but for such a well-known airport, I thought the shopping area was really lacking, and there was very little to do to pass the time. My advice would be to bring some entertainment with you, as you will need it!
Going through an immigration line anywhere is also a long and dull process, but the USA is incredibly strict, as they should be, so don’t do or say anything silly, because they definitely don’t like to joke around. Everyone needs a visa or visa exemption certificate (ESTA) to enter America unless you are a US citizen, so this must be sorted prior to arrival.
For more information on visa’s head to the American Government website here >>>>> www.usa.gov/visas
John F. Kennedy International Airport, Queens, NY 11430, USA | jfkairport.com
THE JOURNEY BEGINS…
Ninety-nine percent of tourists landing in New York will be heading straight over to Manhatten Island. To get here, depending on traffic, it can take anywhere from 45-minutes to 1.5 hours. After 4 PM, the traffic can be horrible, and this can make it a slow process. You can catch a train into the city, but unfortunately, no direct route runs to and from the airport. You will need to switch in Jamaica, Queens, to get from A to B. However, it’s quite reasonably priced at $15.00 one way, and the whole journey takes around 45 minutes. Taxi’s are a flat fare of $52.00 one way from the airport to Manhatten, with peak hour charges on top of this.
So how did I get into the city? Well, that’s a whole different story. On both occasions, my university arranged for a coach to take us to our hotel in the city. On my second visit, the bus company sent us a tiny, rickety, old coach, which didn’t fit us all in, so some had to stand up for the 90-minute journey to Manhattan Island. Our somewhat ‘interesting’ bus driver said we were fortunate to have a bus at all. I was one of the lucky ones who did get a seat, right at the front, so I could see the city skyline first, which was super exciting!
Settling down into my seat for the drive, one of our lecturers sat upfront and started asking the poor driver heaps of questions about all the murders happening right now in the USA! I mean, can we talk about something else? How inappropriate! Bless the poor driver. He was so accommodating and answered every question thrown at him.
While on the highway, we were about halfway to our hotel, when suddenly I heard a loud ripping metal sound, followed by a blast of cold air! What was that? Well folks, that was the sound of the sunroof breaking off the bus! Oh dear. Luckily no one was injured, nor did it hit any passing vehicles, but I spent the next 30-40 minutes cowering in the corner, hoping no other bits would come flying off. I got there in one piece and lived to tell the tail. Welcome to New York!
WHERE DID I STAY?
On my first trip to New York, I had the ‘pleasure’ of staying in a hostel on Lexington Avenue. It was probably one of the most disgusting places I’ve ever slept. Many establishments will lure you in by having a posh-looking foyer and reception area, but once you step out of the lift and onto your floor, their true colours will be revealed. Think old, dirty, brown, sticky carpets with mismatched wallpaper peeling off the walls. I stayed in a dorm-style room with three other girls, one of which is still a very close friend, and thankfully, we at least got our own bathroom.
The only good thing about this hostel was its location. It was just a few blocks from the Chrysler Building, one of the prettiest buildings in all of New York. Fortunately, this hostel is gone, and I don’t care because I wouldn’t have recommended you stay in that dump anyway!
THE EVELYN HOTEL (FORMALLY THE GERSHWIN)
On my second visit, I stayed at the Gershwin Hotel, which is now called the Evelyn Hotel. The location is really great and you are close to many attractions, including Times Square, Madison Square Park and the Sex Museum. Generally, a name change is followed by a significant renovation, and from what I have seen online, it looks like they have done just that. It was classed as an Art Hotel when I stayed here with my university class, and the difference from then to now is night and day. Some of my classmates’ rooms looked like an artist had thrown up in them with a paintbrush! They looked like the set of a horror movie! Fortunately, I had a completely different experience. My double room, which I shared with a friend, was really lovely. It had big wardrobes, a dressing table and was painted in sophisticated neutral tones with polished floorboards. Three of our classmates slept in the next room over, it had two sets of bunk beds and was quite spacious. The shared bathroom was simply decorated, but a good size. I would definitely stay here again if I got a room like this, and it looks as though I would as they don’t seem to have any rooms with the crazy paint jobs anymore. With this new styling and its great location, I would say this is a good option when staying in New York.
7 East 27th Street, New York, NY 10016 | www.theevelyn.com | Book Your Hotel Now
TOP PLACES TO VISIT IN NEW YORK
EMPIRE STATE BUILDING
Easily one of the most recognised buildings in the world, the Empire State Building is an absolute must-see when visiting New York. At 102 floors high, it is the only place in the whole city where you can get a 360-degree view of the spectacular New York skyline.
My first visit was in the evening, and it was so busy! I excitedly packed into the elevator along with everyone else. About fifteen floors from the top, the lift stopped where I was advised that I would have to walk the rest of the way, as this is as far as the lift goes! Oh, my goodness! That climb absolutely killed me, but it was well worth it! When I looked out at the incredible views through the gift shop window, I quickly forgot about the burning pain in my legs and headed outside to take in the stunning views!
I loved seeing the Brooklyn Bridge lit up in the distance, as it is such an instantly recognisable landmark. Even though everything looked so small, the dotted lights that illuminated the outline of the bridge in the evening still made it look absolutely spectacular. I made a second visit in the afternoon, and I would strongly encourage you to do the same, as the differences between the views on offer are vast, and both times offer incredible sights to see. [>>>>> Full Post Click Here <<<<<]
20 West 24th Street, New York, NY, 10001 | Buy Tickets Here >>>>> www.viatour.com
GROUND ZERO – 9/11 MEMORIAL & MUSEUM
The first time I visited the World Trade Centre site (The Twin Towers) was two and a half years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. So I thought that I would be somewhat prepared for my visit here as I’d seen this area so many times on TV. However, when I got here and saw all of the devastation, it was a sight that will stay with me forever. The whole area still looked like a construction zone. The windows of the surrounding buildings were all smashed, and everything was still covered in a thick layer of soot and dust from the towers collapsing. Seeing the familiar, giant, gaping hole where the Twin Towers once stood made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck! The whole scene was incredibly upsetting.
In 2006, I was back in New York again, and this time I was eager to see the progress made at Ground Zero. I was utterly blown away! It looked like a completely different area. The thick layer of dust was gone, there was no black mesh covering the buildings, and the broken windows were nowhere to be seen. There was now a temporary memorial on display to the people who lost their lives.
There’s now a 9/11 Memorial and Museum here, built as a tribute to the victims, their families, the firefighters, and the police. It tells some of the heroic stories from that horrific event and helps to educate us on how and why this tragedy happened. It’s also a great up-yours to terrorism! In 2014, the aptly named the Freedom Tower was completed on the site, soaring at 94 stories high. It now fits in perfectly with the cities stunning skyline. [>>>>> Full Post Click Here <<<<<]
180 Greenwich Street, New York, NY 10007, USA | www.911memorial.org | Buy Tickets Here >>>>> www.viatour.com
When I visited Central Park for the first time, I figured it would only take me around an hour or so to fully explore it. How hard could it be, right? I didn’t realise at the time that the park was over 185 acres in size! To resolve my dilemma, I decided to take the cheaters option and jumped onto the back of a Pedicab, which was operated by an awesome woman, who cycled around for an hour and spoke to me the whole time without getting out of breath once – superwomen, perhaps? I sat back and took in the most popular sights in the park.
One of the highlights for me was the memorial within the Strawberry Fields. Being a huge Beatles fan, it was very touching to see the Imagine mosaic dedicated to John Lennon. And the Friends Fountain too, which I was super excited about. Although I’ve seen hundreds of fountains in my time that are much prettier and way more extravagant than this, I still found it really exciting to see it in the flesh. Its real name is the Bethesda Fountain, but I will always call it the Friends Fountain.
59th to 110th Street, Manhatten Borough, from Central Park West to 5th Avenue, New York, NY, 10022| www.centralparknyc.org | Buy Your Guided Tour Tickets Here >>>>> www.viatour.com
WASHINGTON SQUARE PARK
One afternoon I was having a good walk around the city when I unexpectedly stumbled across this little park. I didn’t really have any idea of where I was going, but I ended up finding this place, which was a pleasant surprise. Funnily enough, when I got here, I realised that I’d seen it before on TV. There is an arch at the foot of the gardens, which at the time, I thought looked very similar to the Arc De Triomphe in Paris (>>>>> CLICK HERE <<<<<). I was really excited to see it, as I hadn’t been to Paris at this point in my life. It’s an attractive arch, but now that I have made that trip to Paris, I know them to be very different.
I later found out that this is a ceremonial arch built one hundred years after George Washington first became president of the United States. It was originally made from wood before a more permanent marble arch was created in 1892. It’s a lively place, filled with the noise of resident New Yorkers, and musicians busking by the fountain. The day I stopped by, it was very, very busy, so be warned.
5th Avenue, Waverley Place, West 4th Street and Macdougal Street, Washington Square Park, New York, NY 10011
STATUE OF LIBERTY
In 2004, I was really excited to visit the Statue of Liberty up close, only to be told on my arrival that it was closed. People were still feeling the impact of the September 11th terrorist attacks that happened in 2001, and this meant the statue had been closed to the public indefinitely. I was gutted!
A few years later, I was back, and this time, I was over the moon to find out that Liberty Island was once again open to tourists, so I caught the ferry over to check it out. Seeing the Statue of Liberty is one of those moments in life that I will never forget. Nothing will prepare you for its sheer magnificence. She really is awesome, although I did think she would be a little taller.
The only downside was that the island was jam-packed! It was probably one of the busiest attractions I have ever visited. I think next time, I will make an effort to go first thing in the morning. That way, there might be slightly fewer crowds. [>>>>> Full Post Click Here <<<<<]
Statue of Liberty National Monument, New York, NY 10004, USA | www.statueoflibertytickets.com
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A trip to New York would never be complete without seeing a Broadway show, which is why my friends and I had made arrangements to see The Jersey Boys during our trip. Unfortunately, our booking agent stuffed it up and booked a date for several months after we would have left. We were gutted! Luckily, the lady at our hotel reception let us in on a little secret that only New Yorkers tend to know. If you’re pretty easygoing about which Broadway show you’re going to watch, then you can buy cheap same-day tickets from a modest ticket booth in Times Square. She went on to say that we could probably take our tickets there and exchange them for a different show playing that night.
We decided to risk it for a biscuit, but on the way, we got stuck in gridlocked traffic. It was almost 7 PM, and with every show starting at 8 PM on the dot, we were hard-pressed for time. We pulled into Times Square at 7:55 PM, ran straight up to the booth, and were lucky enough to be able to exchange our tickets to see Beauty and the Beast. Then we ran as fast as our legs could carry us to the theatre and arrived just as they were closing the doors! Phew! It was well worth it though, because the show was sensational! Like I said at the start, if there’s one thing that you have to treat yourself to while you’re in New York, it’s to a Broadway musical!
599 Broadway, New York, NY, 10012-3235 | Buy Tickets Here >>>>> www.broadway.com
A friend of mine once told me that the atmosphere at Times Square is indescribable and needs to be experienced firsthand. He was right. It is so exciting, crazy and fun all at the same time. Keep a lookout for the people in funny costumes which you can have your photo taken with.
Depending on the time of day you visit here will determine your experience. By day you have the fun amusement-style attractions, while at night you can choose from the many restaurants and bars.
There are many other well-known attractions here, including the Hard Rock Café and Planet Hollywood, but above all, make sure to check out the incredible Madame Tussauds. When I visited, I was almost too scared to go inside because I thought Nicolas Cage’s wax figure was the real deal!
Broadway, New York, NY 10036, USA | Book tickets here >>>>> www.madametussauds.com
WHERE TO EAT IN NEW YORK?
I tried eating at a lot of the touristy places during my visit to New York, and you know what? They were all really good. It’s okay to be a little mainstream sometimes because at least you know what you’re getting. Nowadays though, I would much prefer dining in a small hipster-style café somewhere in Brooklyn as opposed to eating in a more commercial, well-known establishment. I find that these little gems are much more intimate, and I’m a huge advocate of supporting local businesses. You are also more likely to receive excellent service within the smaller cosy setting. I really love the personal touches you often receive from the staff at these types of venues.
One experience I really want to share with you is the first time I tried bagels. It was during the last morning on my first visit to New York. I would regularly eat at a café which was a stone’s throw away from the hostel where I was staying. I decided that today was the day. I was finally going to try one. If only I’d known about the million different varieties and available topping combinations.
Wow, I had just walked into a minefield! In my confused state, I decided to simply opt for the classic option. A plain bagel with cream cheese. Most of my classmates had ordered pancakes that were dripping with maple syrup, while another had opted for the most delicious-looking French toast that came with bacon. The smells were intoxicating. Suddenly I found myself questioning my desire for simple cream cheese. Had I made the right choice? I had no time to reconsider as the waitress placed my bagel down directly under my nose. It was ridiculously thick, fresh-looking, and still warm, like it had just come out of the oven.
Mmmmmm… There was a huge wedge of cream cheese sitting on the top, just waiting to be spread. My mouth started to water as I stopped questioning my decision. I took my first bite of the soft, white bagel. I literally died and went to heaven! Honestly, it was so delicious. I must have had cream cheese all over my top lip, but I didn’t care. Try a New York Bagel; they are the best! When I returned to the UK, I bought some bagels just to re-live this heavenly experience time and time again. They weren’t as nice as they were in the big apple; even so, I’m forever hooked!
Oh my goodness, this place is so much fun! Think of the Hard Rock Café, but on steroids. It’s a bright, fun and loud over-the-top restaurant, which also houses Hollywood memorabilia. The food looked amazing, but during my visit, I was more interested in looking around than I was in eating, so I ended up settling on the soup with a roll on the side. It may have been simple, but it was still tasty. The others I dined with also really enjoyed their meals. Although, for the most part, they mainly consisted of big juicy hamburgers and fries. Instead of a dessert, I ordered a delicious vanilla milkshake, which was not only so yummy, but it filled me up alllll day!
It’s definitely worth a visit here, as you can order some good American-style food and have a look around at the Hollywood exhibits while you wait for your food to arrive. If Hollywood had a museum, you would kind of expect it to be like Planet Hollywood.
1540 Broadway, New York, NY 10036 | planethollywoodintl.com
HARD ROCK CAFÉ, TIMES SQUARE
So, I have a confession to make. I’m a bit of a fan of rock and heavy metal music. Normally when people see me, they look at my blond hair and appearance and think that there is no way someone like that could like “all that loud stuff.” But they’re wrong. Walking in here and seeing the rows of guitars from bands I would regularly see at gigs was an awesome experience!
The highlight for me was seeing an old guitar of Kurt Cobain’s. For those that don’t know (hang your heads in shame), he was the lead singer of Nirvana, a huge grunge band back in the ’90s. The guitar was in pieces because he had smashed it up during a gig. That’s about as raw as it gets, right? There is also memorabilia from The Beatles, who I love, and the rock and roll king himself, Elvis Presley.
If you want your classic burger and fries washed down with a side of rock music, then you’re going to love it here!
1501 Broadway, New York, NY 10036 | Book a table here >>>>> www.hardrockcafe.com
DYLAN’S CANDY BAR
Welcome to one of the coolest places I have visited in New York – Dillions Candy Bar. This place is incredible. You will feel like you have stepped into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. A friend and I headed there as she wanted to show me what all the fuss was about. To be honest, I wasn’t interested in going, but she insisted, and after giving in, it turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip. So much so that on my future trips to New York, I won’t leave without visiting here again.
When you first enter off the main street, you’ll be greeted by an explosion of fun and colour. The walls are lined with every kind of chocolate and candy imaginable as far as the eyes can see! In the center of the room lives a large candy tree display, with leaves and branches sprouting giant lollypops in every colour. Massive displays consisting of enormous chocolate bunnies and giant candy props help to create this wonderful fantasy land. Even the stairs down to the lower level are decorated with candy. I know I say this a lot, but it’s possibly one of the funnest places I have ever visited!
The Candy Hall of Fame is there to help you get your celeb fix. Signed matching candy boxes are paired with each famous icon and contain some of their favourite treats.
The music playing in the background is anything relating to sugar or sweet things. As I was walking around, they played “Pour some sugar on me…” by Def Leppard, which I thought was pretty funny.
We couldn’t leave without sampling some of the delights, which instantly inspired me to buy heaps of American branded chocolate that we don’t have back in the UK. I also ordered some ice cream covered in melted chocolate, which was amazing. I think I ate around a week’s worth of calories, and I felt so sick afterward. Totally worth it!
33 Union Square West, New York, NY 10003, USA | www.dylanscandybar.com
GETTING AROUND IN NEW YORK
Pretty much the whole time I was in New York, I either caught one of the famous yellow cabs or walked. Cabs are everywhere, and to be honest, I found them to be pretty good value for money. There are also many attractions in this city that are close together, which is excellent when you are walking between tourist spots, as it really helps you appreciate the city up close.
One time I decided to avoid the traffic and brave the subway. It was such a terrifying experience! It wasn’t even rush hour yet, and there were already millions of people darting around in every direction. It was far worse than the London Underground! I felt really lost, the maps made no sense, and the whole environment was extremely overwhelming. Upon asking for help, the advice given to me by a staff member was very confusing. It was almost as if he didn’t want to help me as I wasn’t a New Yorker. So yeah, it really wasn’t a positive experience. I think the next time I go back, I will probably give the subway another go. I was quite young at the time, and I have traveled a lot more since then, so I’m sure today I’d be up for the task.
SHOPPING IN NEW YORK
Fashionistas of the world – save your dollars, and have your credit cards at the ready as they will be burning a hole in your pocket as soon as you touch down in the big apple! If you are looking to get your shopping fix, you will be spoilt for choice in this amazing city. There are so many places to shop that it’s hard to narrow it down. I’ll let you know some of the places I frequented, and hopefully, this should help inspire you where to go. A word of advice – my first trip to New York consisted of shopping, shopping and more shopping! If you plan to do the same, make sure to take empty suitcases with you, as they will be fit to bursting on the journey home.
I loved Chinatown. It may have been a bit seedy and dodgy, but that just adds to its character. However, it made me feel a little out of my comfort zone, almost like I had to take extra care while exploring the vicinity. As I roamed the bustling streets, I marveled at the abundance of bargains the makeshift market stalls had on display. A certain handbag caught my eye. I’d already spent a small fortune that day and was running pretty low on cash. With the rest of my money back at the hotel for safekeeping, I knew I would have to head back here another time. When I asked the lady selling the bag what time her stall closed, she replied, “When the cops come!” Oh, dear! It was pretty funny, though. I guess this is how people have to operate when they are selling an abundance of counterfeit goods. I still went back the next day for my fancy new bag and wallet. A friend of mine also went back the following day. She said she saw the police roll past, and everyone pulled their shutters down and casually walked off. The whole place literally shut down within seconds.
Canal Street to Bayard Street, New York, NY 10013, USA
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Just walking down one of the most famous streets in the world was exciting enough, but to actually be able to shop there, was insane! You can easily access Fifth Ave if you are coming from Central Park, which is what I did. I got to the stores before they opened and was inside H&M at 10 AM on the dot. I spent a small fortune here, but it was well worth it. From here, I worked my way down the avenue, which is funny because that’s precisely what my bank balance did that day too! (sob!)
It’s important to remember, when shopping in the Big Apple, the price you see on the tag isn’t the price you pay at the register. After they have totaled up your purchase, the tax is added, which can increase the price by like 10-20%. It’s ridiculous!
5th Avenue, New York, NY 10118-4810, USA
As a young girl who’d just turned twenty-one, as well as a big fan of the TV show Friends, owning one of the famous Little Brown Bags from Bloomingdales had been a dream of mine for years! I can’t even remember what I bought, I just really wanted the bag – I even considered framing it! Just kidding! Strutting around New York with my Little Brown Bag was definitely one of the highlights of my trip.
Bloomingdales is essentially just a department store, but it only offers the best of the best. I must have looked on every floor, trying on the perfumes and looking at expensive clothes which I knew I would never be able to afford. Luckily the staff are even friendly with us paupers, which is a nice bonus.
If you want to shop in a world-renowned department store, Bloomingdales is definitely worth a visit. However, if shopping isn’t your thing, there’s not much else for you to see, so I wouldn’t bother.
1000 3rd Avenue, New York, NY 10022-1230 | www.bloomingdales.com
IT’S UP TO YOU (IF YOU GO TO…) NEW YORK. NEW YORRRRKKK!
There’s so much to see and do in the Big Apple that would be impossible for me to include everything in this blog post. One such place that still rates a quick mention is the Guggenheim Museum. The building alone makes it interesting enough to justify a visit. Another noteworthy piece of architecture is the Flat Iron Building which gets its name from its uncanny resemblance to the humble household tool. I must have walked past this well-known icon about a hundred times or so. It’s a very impressive building and is right in front of a busy intersection, so you may find yourself passing it many times as you get to where you’re going. And who could forget the Chrystler Building, which is actually my favourite building in the whole of New York? I love the art deco features at the top of the skyscraper, making it stand out amongst the rest of the New York skyline.
Chrysler Building, 405 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10174.
The New York nightlife and music scene is something else that needs to be experienced during your trip. On several occasions, I went to Union Square to sample some of the many bars and restaurants in the area. One night some friends and I decided to go to a rock gig of a well-known New York band, Taking Back Sunday! Initially, it was sold out, so we decided to head down to the venue to see if anyone was selling any tickets. Just as we were about to give up, a guy approached us and asked if we were looking to go to the show. How lucky we thought we were. He told us to follow him so we could talk about a price. Fortunately, we realised just in time that he was trying to lure us down a very dark alley to rob us, so we quickly ran away. On the plus side, we did end up buying some tickets from a younger guy who sold them to us for a reasonable price.
Going on a trip to New York means walking amongst so many incredibly famous places that are so rich in history, that you will undoubtedly feel like you have been there before. During all my time here, I found myself shrouded in a strong sense of De Javu. My advice is to just go with it and enjoy the amazing vibe that this world-renowned city has to offer.
Thanks for reading about my epic trip to one of the world’s most exciting cities. Have you ever been to the Big Apple? Tell me what you thought about it in the comments section below. I’d love to know if there’s anywhere you would recommend I check out on my next visit.
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