“The Big Apple”, “The City that Never Sleeps”, “The Melting Pot”, “The Metropolis”
NYC! The most vibrant city I’ve ever been and probably without a rival, with only Tokyo coming closer but still, impossible to beat the vibe and thriving live of New York. Since the moment you land and until you depart it’s rather feeling like in a real movie. Nonetheless of course, arch known from the many movies, TV series, documentaries, news papers… just everything; being there in person and you are part of a real movie. From the police cars, fire fighters engines, the huge trucks, if lucky, a Coca Cola truck, the subway trains, to the smoke coming out from the sewers, the bagel and hot dogs vendors… and that without going into it’s many symbolic architecture.
You need to be in the city to experience all this. And either you like it or… you actually like it!. No, just kidding, (I know some people who did not feel too comfortable after all), but it might actually be a bit claustrophobic for some people and others won’t appreciate its architecture and will consider it as all “the same”. Well, from my experience, definitely none of these are my case. It is still my favourite city ever, and I doubt this feeling will change any soon. Since the very first time I step in back in the year 2000, and to my most recent visit in December 2015. 3 times there, and for the many more to come (hopefully).
This guide is a mix of what I created 3 years ago when I visited the city back in September 2012 with my most recent visit in December 2015 for Christmas, hence why it is now way much more complete and better altogether than otherwise, the older versions of the city guides here in my blog. It’s good I keep returning to many of the cities I’ve already been and as such I will continue with the same trend in order to create a better than before guide for your help and information.
Make sure you get a good knowledge before you go on where more or less the sights are located. Get yourself good maps, like the ones you can find in Wikitravel split by district, and mark in them an optimal and easy to follow route with the points of interest. This will save you a lot of time. The city is really big, and we are only talking about the island of Manhattan here, but with so much to see and do, the time will always be against you. A 5 days visit is what I would definitely recommend you. Any shorter than that and you will be rushing and not seeing everything nor enjoying in full as you will want to do and see so much more. At every turn you will find something else!
As a very good tip to you, is not hesitating in getting the New York City Pass, this will give you access to the most important attractions and landmarks of New York saving you lots of money than if you would be paying for each sight separately. For instance, something I am almost certain you will want to do is going to the top of the Empire State building, the Liberty Statue and Liberty Island, the Top of the Rock observatory (Rockefeller), the Museum of National History, MoMA, Guggenheim… Also museums like Ripley’s Believe it or not, Madame Tussaud’s and many other attractions on top of the principal ones are included. And something else extra which many people does not even know, this ticket will grant you access to the Yellow Water Taxi boats!. This will be the best chance you have to see the whole of Lower and Uptwon Manhattan from both rivers. Not to mention this ticket is valid for 9 consecutive days after the first use. It is an absolute MUST on your first visit in this city.
Another piece of information you need to know, is about the 9/11 Memorial. If you wish to enter, you need to pre-order your tickets online in advance. You can select the date you want to visit and the time. Then all you need to do is presenting your booking confirmation at the visitors centre, and they will grant you access. Bear in mind that during high season, a lot of people have the same idea and plans, therefore expect tickets to run out quick, or your desired time/date not available any more. Many people do not know this is the process to access the Memorial, and while there are daily walk-in tickets available, don’t get with the idea of being able to grab one as they also go quick.
Talking about food, I rarely can recall any other city or place with such a ginormous choice and amount of restaurants and eateries everywhere. A choice for absolutely anyone, any religion, any taste, and for the rich and poor and all possible in between. While something is true I have not been to any “posh” place, I can at least recommend you two nice places. 230 5th Avenue is an spectacular rooftop terrace with views over Uptown and the Empire State in first line where you can go for lunch or dinner, and at the weekends also for brunch. We went here for brunch on a Saturday, around 13.00pm and it was simply awesome for the views you get. Breathtaking. While brunch itself was nothing out of the blue, was still ok for the overall experience. The price however set us to 41 USD per person already including the taxes and tip.
The second option for either lunch or dinner, (I suggest dinner better) is Rare Bar & Grill, at 303 Lexington Avenue. Some of the tables are overlooking the street and the half of the Empire State up which is very nice. They are famous for steaks as you could imagine, but also huge and tasty burgers. Expect to pay around 40 USD per person if having a filet and a drink, all including taxes and tip.
For cheaper, fast food style and deserts, “There is no bagel like the New York Bagel anywhere else in the world”. In Brooklyn you will find the best ones: Bagel Hole (7th Avenue of the F or G) or by Midwood (Avenue J on the Q subway line). The New York Deli Sandwich: Another delicacy brought over by Jewish Immigrants, you must try either a corned beef or pastrami sandwich (a “Reuben” is always a good choice). The most famous is Katz’s Deli at Houston and Ludlow Streets. As last, The New York Cheesecake: For the original go to Junior’s in Downtown Brooklyn (B, Q, or R to DeKalb Avenue). All of these and many more can be found in the Wikitravel page for the city, and I strongly agree with the ones I mentioned above.
For more information about New York City check the Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. The United States of America currency is the Dollar, and it’s abbreviated as $. Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in New York City:
Since New York City it’s quite self explained from the places you need to visit, most of them being the famous buildings, bridges, squares, museums or parks, I will limit myself to enumerate them without further description on them as otherwise the guide would be unnecessarily way too long. Still, for an architect lover (myself the example), would be wise if you read before some information about the landmarks and icons, noticeably the art-deco skyscraper wonders the city is world famous for. If you happen to be visiting the city during the Christmas period then you will have an added joy to it, with the world renown ice-rinks of Rockefeller Center, Bryant Park and Central Park; the glorious Christmas trees and spectacular shop windows along the 5th Avenue to name a few.
- Lower Manhattan This large area, commonly known as Downtown is composed of the districts of: Battery Park, Financial District, Tribeca, Civic Center, SoHo, NoHo, Little Italy, Chinatown, Greenwich Village East Village and West Village.
-Wall Street: Banks and the Stock Exchange
-Woolworth Building-Municipal Building (By Brooklyn Bridge Metro)
-City Hall (next to Municipal Building)
-World Trade Center Memorial
-Manhattan Bridge (the view down Pike Street is world renown)
-SoHo (South of Houston Street)
- Midtown Includes the districts of: Chelsea, Flatiron, Gramercy, Korea Town, Garment, Hell’s Kitchen, Midtown East, Lenox Hill or Lincoln Square to name the most popular.
-Chrysler Building, impressive art-deco icon of Manhattan
-Seagram Building (by Mies van der Rohe)
-Empire State Building, one of the jewels of Manhattan
-Flatiron Building, considered the first skyscraper in the city
-Grand Central Terminal train station
-Public Library, free to enter. Get around the impressive halls
-Rockefeller Center, where Top of the Rock viewing platform is
-Radio City Music Hall, on the corner of the main Rockefeller building
-NBC Studios, also in the Rockefeller complex
-Madison Square Garden
-Central Park, and buildings around it, not to miss the Dakota where John Lennon and Joko lived. Joko still there. At the front of this building is the Strawberry Fields garden.
-Metropolitan Museum of Art
-American Museum of Natural History
- Uptown Not much there from the tourist point of view, yet full of grand apartment buildings at both of the main districts Upper East Side and Upper West Side.
- Staten Island Ferry From Manhattan it’s free and passes through the Statue of Liberty. The ferry terminal is at Battery Park Lower Manhattan. 24 hours a day.
- Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island The ferry leaves from Battery Park. This is one of the attractions included in your City Pass.
- Yellow taxi tour Included with the City Pass. Take it at Battery Park. This is by far the best way to see the whole of Lower Manhattan, New Jersey and the islands.
- Coney IslandConey Island–Stillwell Avenue Station is served by the D F N Q subway trains. Here you will find the old world famous fun fair, where the Cyclone roller coaster still thrill the people, or the Ferris Wheel seen in many movies. The beach is also nearby.
Photo gallery from December 2015 during Christmas time:
Photo gallery from September 2012:
There are two principal international airports within easy reach of the city: Newark Liberty and JFK, being the later the biggest in the city and most important not only for New York but across the country.
If landing in Newark, there is a free of charge monorail between terminals and car parks, and frequent buses to Penn Station in downtown Manhattan, 9 blocks away from Times Square and Bryant Park, or Grand Central Terminal also at walking distance.
As for JFK, the most direct option is to take the AirTrain which stops at each terminal making an anti clock-wise loop (between terminals it’s free to use), then after the terminals passes through the car parks and then continues towards either Howard Beach or Jamaica Stations, where you can connect with the Subway network at any of them both. The AirTrain costs 5$ per trip, but if travelling in a group, it will save you money to get a car of 10 tickets.
The local airport LaGuardia serves internal flights, and the quickest way to reach (and actually not expensive) specially if you are more than one person, is by taking a taxi as there is no direct metro line nearby.
Within the city, the best by all means if you are staying at least 3 days is to get the unlimited ride Metro Card which is valid for a period of 7 days. Bear in mind the only exception where you will not be able to use this car is on express buses, the JFK AirTrain, or PATH trains to New Jersey. This will save you a lot of money than if you would be paying separate tickets each time you get on a bus or the subway, and will make it way easier for you as you can take it as many times as you wish round the clock. The public transportation in NYC us running 24 hours. This Metro Card costs (as of December 2015) is $32.
As a good note here is to mention the “express subway trains”, those are, trains that do not stop at all the stations along the route. Majority of the 34 lines do offer these either at all times or during certain time frame in the day (as peak hours, morning or afternoon). Let me tell you how wonderful is this great service! You get from A to B in no time. But also knowing at which stops an Express train calls is not too clear to me yet. In any case, the stations you will be using as Times Square-42nd Street, Grand Central, Penn Station, Fulton St, Broad Street, Broadway and so on are a stop in the route.
While there is a good network of public buses, the only service I’ve taken was to go to Jersey Gardens shopping mall in New Jersey via the Port Authority Bus Terminal, hence I cannot further comment on the bus situation. Consider the heavy traffic and grid-lock during the day along most of the streets. The avenues have more fluid traffic but still, nothing to compare to the incredible speed you move around in the subway.
New York City is by all means one of the most expensive city for hotels in the USA (at least talking with the knowledge from all the other cities I’ve been in the USA). If you are staying longer than 3 days, you could definitely be better off by renting an apartment. Over the internet you will find plenty of choices, yet it is extremely advised to book it the earliest you can before the start of your trip. The demand is really high, specially in summer and during Christmas time and national bank holidays.
Also check the area before you book something. Manhattan is always the best option, saving you lots of time in transport that if instead you are elsewhere. Brooklyn comes in second place. Right next door to Manhattan and extremely well connected by subways and buses, or a nice walk through both Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. I would not recommend you to book anything in Harlem or the Bronx. Even those places will come way cheaper than the rest, it is still not an area from the tourist side perspective why you should go there.
A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, Hotels Click, LateRooms or Ebookers.
During our 2012 stay we booked an apartment through Smartapartments at East 48th Street – United Nations. The location could not be better, in the middle of Manhattan, next to the United Nations, the 2nd Avenue, Lexington Avenue, and Grand Central Terminal less than 10 minutes away to name a few of the key points. Definitely an area stringly recommended. *Please note that unfortunately as of December 2015 that I am updating this guide to include all the notes and more information from my most recent stay, Smartapartments have ceased operations and their website is no longer available.
In our latest visit, we stayed at the Fairfield Inn and Suites Manhattan Finantial District, by Marriott, right next door to the Pier 15 with the nearest subway station Fulton Street. Some 5 minutes walking distance from the One World Trade Center, hence a great location! Also great because of the huge choice of subway lines you can take at Fulton Street, Chambers Street or Broad Street stations, with both local and express services calling at any of them. The hotel was only 6 months old by the time we stayed, and they have really nice views from the upper floors. Very comfortable bed yet small-ish room. But remember space in Manhattan is precious, so nothing that worried us. It had everything we needed, absolutely well cared and clean, and extremely polite and friendly staff at all times. Breakfast also comes included, a simple continental one, but hey! Even if not mentioned anywhere or even at the British Airways page where we booked this trip as a flight + hotel booking, it was saying breakfast not included but it was. It is for anyone staying at the property. Highly recommended to anyone.