HOTEL IN NEW YORK
I had been warned about the small size of New York hotels (although perhaps not as bad as Japan!) so was keen to find one that at least looked as if it was a little larger. Given how spread out Manhattan is, we knew that we would be walking and getting the metro more often then not. We decided to focus our search just North of Times Square further up on Broadway and found a lovely four star hotel called Broadway Plaza Hotel (1155 Broadway, New York, NY 10001)
It had decent reviews and booking.com were giving a discount at the time so it was only about £50 a night each. We chose the double room with breakfast (to save eating out three times a day!) and were very impressed.Our room was modern and spacious with plenty of space for belongings (and shopping!) around our comfortable double bed. The best part was the view of the Empire State Building from our window!
The hotel is well located on Broadway, around a 20 minute walk from Times Square. The staff were very friendly and helpful with directions and tips for us New York newbies.
The breakfast was served in a separate (small) room so you are encouraged to take it up to your rooms, which was not a problem at all for us. Tea, coffee, hot chocolate and juice were available together with a good range of fresh baked goods including bagels, croissants and doughnuts, as well as some fruit. I ended up having a cream cheese bagel most days which kept me going until a late lunch.
I would definitely recommend this hotel with the only downside being no Wi-Fi in our rooms, although that may have changed now.
THINGS TO DO IN NEW YORK
Before we left, we bought the “New York Pass” when the company was offering 15% off – it worked out at around £170 for a five day pass, which we thought was worthwhile given we had never been to New York and wanted to visit all of the touristy attractions. We picked up our New York Pass from Times Square which was a personal card with a pin (historically they gave you coupons for each individual place). Another plus point to this pass is you can skip the queue at certain attractions. The pass includes all of the main attractions so it is probably easier for me to tell you what it does NOT include and (for our trip) it was entrance to the new Freedom Tower and entrance to the Statute of Liberty and Ellis Island – https://www.newyorkpass.com
I set out my five day (jam packed) itinerary below. Some of the venues on the New York Pass that we did not visit were Madame Tussauds, Discovery Times Square and the National History Museum. We visited at the end of November / beginning of December which will give you some context to the itinerary.
In between all of the sightseeing we, of course, did some shopping. I just loved Bloomingdales (you have to go if you are a Friends fan) and managed to get a Michael Kors bag in the sale, as well as a Bloomie Brown Bear!
Macys is also worth a visit, even just to see the Christmas section all decorated. If you are looking for designer clothes, bags, accessories and more then Century 21 is a must visit. Think a more organised TK Maxx, Century 21 offers around six floors of merchandise to choose from. I managed to get a Calvin Klein coat for $80, Michael Kors sunglasses for $50, Levi jeans for $25 and Ralph Lauren t-shirt at around $10. Tiffany’s is always worth a visit too – just wander down Fifth Avenue and see many more shops on your way too!
One overarching comment I have is the metro system can take a while to get your head around, especially when some lines do not stop at each station! Generally workable but I did find it frustrating that it focuses on north to south rather than east to west, so it was actually easier to work between places or get taxis. Uber is available in New York but we actually used the famous Yellow taxis instead – shorter journeys are generally always under $10.
We wandered down to Times Square on the morning of our first day and, although it may not be to everyone’s liking, I absolutely loved the big flashing lights and advertisements – it was so vibrant and definitely beat Piccadilly Circus.
On our New York Pass, we went on “The Ride” which was a 75 minute interactive entertaining bus ride around central Manhattan. You sit sideways in a row on the bus and look outside almost like you are staring at a massive screen. It was certainly amusing but I would not have paid for it independently of the New York Pass.
We then caught the metro to Chambers St Stop for Brooklyn Bridge (J or Z trains) and realised we needed a bit of guidance on where to go! After meandering our way to the start of the Brooklyn Bridge, I became rather overwhelmed – it is a fantastic walk over the Bridge (and obviously free!) which can take 15 minutes or so. Make sure you look back as you walk for the stunning views of the Freedom tower. I recommend this as a must do in New York.
When we reached the other side, we took the footpath which exits on to Washington Street. We walked down the hill, towards the river on Washington Street to Front Street, turned left, walked one block to Main Street and turned right. A couple of blocks down you can see the river and the views are stunning. There is also an old school carousel called Jane’s Carousel which overlooks the river.
We then attempted to walk to Williamsburg but it was far too ambitious and we ended up a little lost with not many cars around. Luckily a cab came to our rescue and took us the rest of the way!
Before I visited, Williamsburg was described to me as the Shoreditch of New York. From my afternoon there, I can see why – it has quirky character to it, as well as some vintage shops. See the restaurants and bars tab for more detail.
We travelled south of our hotel to the World Trade Centre (also named the Freedom Tower) to visit the 102nd floor observatory (only the Burj in Dubai is taller). At the top of the elevator you are invited to watch a short video of the building of the new Tower and once it has finished the doors open up and you are taken aback by the stunning views.
You can spend an hour or two wandering around the 360 degree top of the tower and taking pictures of the amazing views. Entrance was $25, although I booked using my Amex card in advance and was given a 20% discount.
From here, we walked down to the river and turned left to walk towards the ferry terminal for Staten Island, seeing some beautiful views of the Freedom Tower on the way.
We paid $18 for a ticket on the ferry which allowed us to get off at the Statute of Liberty and Ellis Island. If you are not interested in the visiting those attractions, you can just travel on the public ferry to see the beautiful Lady and come back to the ferry terminal in one loop. If you want to climb to the top of the Statute of Liberty crown, you must book these tickets well in advance. Given we were visiting the World Trade Observatory, Rockafeller and Empire State Building, and the climb sounded a little claustrophobic, we decided not to.
Again, as touristy as it is, I absolutely loved seeing the Statute of Liberty – the Lady herself – signifying freedom for millions seeking a we life in America. The first glimpse from the ferry is great but when you get of and walk around, it is even better.
We timed the next ferry from Staten Island to Ellis Island for mid afternoon (always check the times so you don’t miss out) and visited the Immigration Museum. I surprised myself at how interested I was – the first immigrant allowed in New York was Annie Moore in 1892. It was really interesting to understand the experiences of the immigrants, who have entered New York in over the last hundred years.
After arriving back at the Ferry Terminal, we made our way to the 9/11 memorial park and museum. The two fountains where the Twin Towers stood are absolutely stunning features – the individual names of the people who passed during the attack are carved into the marble around the foundation, which is a perfect way to say a little prayer and consider the lives that were lost.
The 9/11 museum is a tough but worthy experience. There are many signs of hope and peace throughout the museum, as well as stories, videos and photographs. I must admit getting quite teary when they played the voice messages of those on the planes moments before the incident.
To avoid queues, we decided to visit the Empire State Building around 11pm (it is open until 1.15am) which was the correct choice given we were taken straight up the lifts to the 86th floor observatory. It has inside and outside areas to view Manhattan and it was just lovely seeing all of the twinkly lights.
Using the New York Pass, we visited the Museum of Modern Art (MOAM) contains one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of modern arts including the works of Picasso, Van Gogh and Warhol. We only needed around 1.5 hours there, as I am not an art fanatic.
After that we visited Central Park Sightseeing Bike Tours and Rentals on 56 West 56th Street (included in NY Pass) to rent bikes for Central Park. After walking our bikes to the edge of Central Park, we jumped on and cycled around (they give you a map) – watch out as some bits are hilly. Sadly it was a little rainy when we went and the wind was against us but it was an excellent way to see most of Central Park, including where the scenes from Home Alone are filmed. We saw the ice skating rink but were slightly underwhelmed by it and, from memory; it was around $30 for an hour which is a little steep.
After Central Park, we made our way to Grand Central Station to relive scenes from many films. It is an enormous station and fairly grand – worth a visit if you are around the area but wouldn’t be awful if you missed out.
Instead of booking a show on Broadway we decided to go to see The Illusionists at the Neil Simon Theatre, as I just love magic. If you don’t see many shows in the West End in London, I definitely recommend going to Broadway for the experience (my friend saw Les Miserable and loved it).
We visited Chelsea Market in the morning and meandered around the food and flower stalls. Expect to see a variety of produce ranging from artisan products, farm-fresh dairy products and hot food with specialities from around the world ready for sampling.
After that, we found the start of the High Line, what was once a disused elevated railroad tracked, now turned city park. Given it was Winter, there were no flowers in bloom, which I have been told are gorgeous. It was certainly an interesting walk along above the hustle and bustle of Manhattan life.
In the evening, we went to Madison Square Gardens to watch a Knicks game. I ended up buying my tickets from Stub Hub in the UK and managed to get them for around $70 – we were on the second tier in the centre so had a pretty good view.
People don’t lie when they say American Sport is fun! The stadium is huge and the atmosphere is so upbeat. An 80 minute basketball game lasted nearer 2.5 hours with the break and the entertainment from mascots and cheerleaders. It all sounds corny but I absolutely loved it (as well as my Knicks foam hand!).
One smaller thing to note is you have to take your passport if you want to purchase alcohol from the vendors – luckily I had some US guys who bought one for me, as they clearly felt sorry for me! Absolutely recommend attending a sports event and getting into the spirit!
Also on the New York pass is a Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise – there are three to choose from – a 3 hour all round cruise, sunset cruise or the landmarks cruise. Given timings, we chose the latter (although would have loved the sunset one!) The cruise departs from Pier 83, West 42nd Street and sails past a number of key landmarks including the statute of liberty, world trade centre, empire state building, Manhattan Bridge, Williamsburg Bridge and the Chrysler. As it starts at 3pm you get day and night!
We spent the afternoon in Greenwich Village wandering around the various streets – really chilled atmosphere here. We ended up at Washington Square Park where you can sometimes see street performers.
Given the timings of our trip, we had to save the best for last – the Christmas tree at the Rockafeller Centre!! I was so absolutely amazed by the size and beautiful of the tree, which stands 94 feet tall! The backdrop on to the ice skating makes that an absolute treat and I would definitely choose that over the Central Park ice skating.
On the run up the Christmas tree, you will find Saks another major department store, where they have a fantastic light display with Christmas tunes which is worth watching.
Finally, on the New York Pass, we visited the Top of the Rock from the observations decks at the 67th and 70th floors to admire the views of Manhattan. This was my favourite view as we could see the Empire State Building.
An absolutely fantastic 5 days in New York – can’t wait to return!