Quick Travel Guide: New York City, USA

NEW YORK CITY

Country: United States of America

Population: 8,597,673

Time zone: UTC -5

Closest airport(s): LaGuardia Airport (LGA), Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), John F Kennedy International Airport (JFK)

 

A little bit about New York City

The Empire State Building illuminated purple and gold for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

The Empire State Building illuminated purple and gold for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

The Big Apple. The city that never sleeps. The city so nice they named it twice. Choose whatever nickname you want for New York City because it has loads, and rightly so.

New York City, casually referred to as just New York (although not to be confused with the state that it lies in), is the largest city in the United States, despite not being its capital, and is one of the most ethnically diverse places on the planet with as many as 800 languages spoken by its inhabitants.

Its centrepiece is the skyscraper-laden Manhattan, but there are also four other boroughs that make the city complete – Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Staten Island.

New York has been portrayed in movies, on television, through music and has been the inspiration for a lot of art and literature.

It traces its origin to 1624 when Lower Manhattan became a major trading post for colonists of the Dutch Republic.

Now it is major world centre for culture, media and finance, attracts well over 50 million visitors each year, and is home to the the United Nations.

Why should I go?

Spectacular views from the Staten Island Ferry.

Spectacular views from the Staten Island Ferry.

If an alien came down to Earth tomorrow, had 24 hours to spend on this planet and asked me what they should do with their time, I would reply: “Go to New York City.”

That's because it has everything – a heck of a lot to see, great places to eat, fantastic culture, some of the finest architecture on the planet and lots and lots of people.

I’ve been to New York on three separate occasions spending one week there each time, and I feel as though I’ve barely scratched the surface. I could probably spend two years there and still have plenty left to do, and that abundance of activity is one of its greatest assets.

Almost undoubtedly, you will have seen the city on the big and/or small screens and its many recognisable landmarks and locations, and to see it in person is that bit more special.

New York City is the ultimate city break destination and is not one to be missed.

The main attractions

Times Square

Times Square is known as the ‘Crossroads of the World,’ and is one of the most visited and awesome attractions in the world.

Stretching from West 42nd West 47th Street, Times Square is adorned with a multitude of big and bright billboards and advertisements. It embodies its home nation by being big, bright and corporate, but the adverts are merely part of its charm, no matter how much they’re trying to push a product or service.

The square free to visit, although it’s difficult to not be compelled to buy something from one of the nearby souvenir stores, or grab a meal at a surrounding restaurant.

It’s advisable to make at least two trips to Times Square during any New York trip – one in the day and one at night so that you can fully appreciate in both the light and the dark.

It’s also the site of one of the city’s major annual events, the New Year’s Eve ball drop, which began on 31 December 1907 and continues to this day.

Empire State Building

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New York’s most famous building is the Empire State Building. Constructed in 1930 and opened a year later, it stood as the city’s tallest building for almost four decades after taking the mantle from the Chrysler Building.

Standing at 102 stories tall, its primary use is as an office building, but it is also a major tourist attraction with visitors able to get access to the observation deck on the 86th floor and, at an additional cost, the 102nd.

The Art Deco building is synonymous with New York’s image, it has its own zip code (10118) and puts on frequent light shows which are spectacular.

Tickets are available online and can be bought at the ticket desk upon arrival, although if you buy in advance then you can avoid the box office queue. There’s also an interactive multimedia tour app available for free on all iPhones and Android devices.

Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty is one of New York’s most recognisable landmarks, standing on Liberty Island on the Hudson River.

Gifted to the United States by France in 1886 to commemorate the country’s recent independence, the Statue of Liberty has gained a reputation as an icon of freedom and has long greeted immigrants arriving from abroad.

Although famously green, the statue was originally a copper colour but oxidation eventually caused the metal to change its appearance.

There are several vantage points from which tourists can catch a glimpse of the statue, including from Manhattan’s southern tip and from the Staten Island Ferry, but it is also possible to visit Liberty Island itself.

There are several companies that run ferry services and tours to the island every day and since 2009, it is possible to go inside the statue and up to the observation deck in its crown, but access to the area requires advance reservation.

One World Trade Center and Ground Zero

One of New York’s newest buildings is now its tallest. The One World Trade Center, the main building of the rebuilt World Trade Center complex in Lower Manhattan, stands at a height of 1,776 feet and has 109 floors in total.

Because of its stature, it has a fantastic observation deck, which is accessible via an exhibit which recounts the tragedy and aftermath of the 9/11 attack, as well as the construction of the tower.

On the floor of the observation deck there are a number of interactive features and talks to give further background and make it more than just a view.

Tickets to One World Observatory can be purchased online for a specified timeslot, which includes a saving of $3.

Looking into one of the waterfalls at Ground Zero.

Looking into one of the waterfalls at Ground Zero.

The building is situated next to another of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, Ground Zero. Ground Zero is the USA’s national 9/11 Memorial and Museum, with one of its most poignant features twin reflecting pools which are nearly an acre in size and feature the largest man-made waterfalls in North America.

The pools sit within the area where the Twin Towers once stood, and are surrounded by bronze panels which contain the names of every person who died in the 2001 attacks and the 1993 bombing of the buildings, totalling close to 3,000.

Museum tickets can be purchased online or in person, and guided tours cost extra. Opening times for the museum can be found here.

Central Park

In a giant bowl of hustle and bustle, there’s got to be some place for people to chill out, right? Well in New York that is most certainly true, with the 778-acre Central Park a contrast to the surrounding steel and glass utopia.

If you hadn’t already guessed by its name, Central Park lies right in the heart of Manhattan and is the United States’ most-visited urban park.

Created in 1857, the park has much more on offer than sitting on grass and admiring the pretty views from across its lakes and reservoirs.

It has its own zoo, 36-acres of winding trails which can be explored on foot or by bicycle, a 19th century castle and, in the winter, a giant ice rink.

Central Park is a microcosm of the city it’s in. So much opportunity crammed in to one modest space.

Getting there

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New York City is served by three main airports. LaGuardia and John F Kennedy airports which are both in Queens, and Newark Airport which can be found across the water in New Jersey.

Most international travellers enter through JFK or Newark, which have great links to Europe.

All of the airports are well-connected by public transport, but taxis are a more expensive option. To find out how you can save by travelling from the airport to the city, check out this guide.

If you’re travelling domestically or from Canada, then New York is well-connected by rail, and the city’s two major stations Grand Central (on the east side) and Penn Station (on the west), serve routes going out of the city and out of state.

Getting around

Walking aside, the best way of getting around New York City is by using their underground rail network – the Subway. The rapid transport system runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week serving 425 stations across the five boroughs.

Single rides cost $3, but the price falls by a quarter of a dollar when purchasing a MetroCard with multiple rides.

There are also a number of buses that run around NYC, and a less expensive Subway alternative to get to Staten Island is the Staten Island Ferry, which runs every half hour and is completely free!

New York’s famed yellow taxis are also a way to go, but if you care more about a budget than novelty and sentiment, I’d advise you avoid these as they are extremely expensive methods of transport.

Where to stay

New York City is expensive when it comes to accommodation, but there are a couple of ways around that.

One is to stay in a hostel, and whilst it isn’t the private experience that some may prefer, it’s a good way to meet people and save some money at the same time. Getting an Airbnb is another way to go, and if you compromise and stay uptown or outside of Manhattan altogether, then some decent savings can be made.

Having been to New York three times, I have stayed in a range of hotels – one three-star, one four-star and a five-star. While the five-star was a great hotel, there’s no shame in staying at a lower rated establishment. New York is in America, where they say that “everything is bigger.” Even in two-star hotels, the beds are huge, there’s bound to be a television and mini-bar and public transport is so good that there’s almost nowhere that’s too far away.

On our last trip, I found great value in staying at the Amsterdam Court Hotel. For around $100 per night (quite cheap for a hotel in Midtown Manhattan), we had two king size beds, a hotel with a roof terrace and bar, and were just around the corner from Times Square. I couldn’t recommend this place enough, and the staff were great, too. I tend to use Booking.com when sorting out accommodation, so I would advise starting your search there to find an NYC hotel, hostel or apartment.

Eat and drink

Amazing pizza from Angelo's.

Amazing pizza from Angelo's.

If there’s one thing you definitely won’t do in New York, it’s go hungry. There are a seemingly unlimited amount of culinary options available. Whether you want to eat at a chain or go gourmet, the variety is incredible and it sure to satisfy every pallet imaginable.

One of the best types of food you can get in the city is American BBQ, and nowhere exemplifies this better than Mighty Quinn’s, who have three branches in the city. Their pit masters serve up a treat every time and their food looks simply mouthwatering.

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For more big eats, check out a Jewish deli. There are plenty dotted around, but we hit up Sarge's Diner and had some INCREDIBLE sandwiches. Suffice to say I was full after that particular meal.

Pizza is also massive in New York, and while you can go in to plenty of places where you can pick up a slice for as little at 99ȼ, I’d advise dropping by Angelo’s Pizza, just north of Times Square, and getting a complete pie.

A personal favourite of mine which has transformed into a tradition is my first meal being a T.G.I. Friday’s, which has happened each time I’ve been to New York. It’s not a flashy place, but I enjoy eating there and they have refills on Mountain Dew, which equals a happy me.

T.G.I.'s is basic, but a tradition.

T.G.I.'s is basic, but a tradition.

You should also check out Smorgasburg, a weekend food market held in Williamsburg on a Saturday and spends Sundays in Prospect Park. This is essentially the culinary version of hipster heaven, with hits like the ramen burger, the raindrop cakes and a birthday cake ice cream sandwich.

If you like alcohol, then look no further than Brooklyn Brewery, the birthplace of the famous Brooklyn beer. There are various tours and tastings on offer, and advanced booking is recommended as they tend to sell out fast.

Five observations

Take me out to the ball game

I met famous fan Fireman Ed at the Jets game, which was a great day out minus the result.

I met famous fan Fireman Ed at the Jets game, which was a great day out minus the result.

Sports are a pretty big deal in New York. A lot of you will have heard of the world-famous Yankees, even if you’re not fans of baseball, the sport that they play. They’re from the Bronx, and just one of eight New York teams that compete in the so-called ‘big four’ sports, which also includes American football, basketball and ice hockey.

Going to a sports game in America is more than just tuning up, watching a few players play a game and then going home. It’s an experience.

Take football, for example. I went to a Jets game back in September 2012 (and had an article written about me by USA Today), and even though we were on the receiving end of a 34-0 drubbing I had a great day. It was great to tailgate, where people get together, enjoy food, play games and have a laugh together in the parking lot before the game, and I loved the pageantry of the whole day.

My first baseball game, where I saw my New York Yankees defeat crosstown rivals the New York Mets 5-2 at the Mets' stadium, Citi Field.

My first baseball game, where I saw my New York Yankees defeat crosstown rivals the New York Mets 5-2 at the Mets' stadium, Citi Field.

I’ve also been to a number of baseball games and an ice hockey game, and I couldn’t recommend it enough. It’s what America’s about, coming together, having a good time and enjoying yourselves. If you don’t care about the sport, try it for the experience.

The best view is not where you think it would be from

Looking downtown from the Top of the Rock.

Looking downtown from the Top of the Rock.

Like I said before, the Empire State Building is the most famous building in all of New York City. It is not only famed for its height, but it is also popular amongst tourists as it has two observation desks.

But even though it might be more popular, I don’t believe that it is Manhattan’s best vantage point. Nor is the lookout at One World Observatory.

The best observation deck in New York City belongs to, in my opinion, the Rockefeller Center. One reason is because, unlike the outdoor section of the Empire State Building, there are no ugly, metal bars obstructing the view. The first level of Top of the Rock is surrounded by glass panels, and visitors can also go up a couple of levels for completely unobstructed views.

It also has a less recognisable image. Ask a random person to describe the Rockefeller Center and they will struggle, whereas more people would more than likely be able to attempt the Empire State Building. Being able to see the ESB as part of the skyline is much better than seeing the skyline from the ESB.

Why are there gaps in public toilet doors?

One thing I haven’t been able to get my head around on my visits to New York is the gaps in the doors of public toilets. When you use a urinal, there’s usually a wall separating you from the next person, but actual toilets seem to be lacking a lot of privacy.

The gaps between the frame and the door seem abnormally large and big enough so that people can see in and you can see out, even when the door is closed and locked. It’s slightly worrying that this seems to be so prevalent in public toilets across the States. And it appears I’m not the only one who’s realised this.

Shop ‘til you drop

I went to New York not expecting to buy that much, but when I went to stores like Macy’s and Century 21, I was greeted my so many bargains I ended up spending a lot of my cash and supplementing my retail therapy with my card.

Buying clothes in New York is so much cheaper than getting them here at home in the United Kingdom.

Heading home with my hands full of purchased from Woodbury Common.

Heading home with my hands full of purchased from Woodbury Common.

We even made a trip to an outlet mall called Woodbury Common, which is about an hour away from Manhattan. It’s New York state’s biggest shopping mall with over 220 stores and food outlets, and there’s little chance you’ll end up walking out empty-handed.

The five borough challenge

The Staten Island ferry is a great way to get to the least-visited of the five boroughs, and it costs nothing!

The Staten Island ferry is a great way to get to the least-visited of the five boroughs, and it costs nothing!

My last trip to New York gave me the chance to visit my fourth and fifth boroughs (Staten Island and Brooklyn), meaning I’d completed the whole set. Manhattan is great, and there’s so much to do, but there is a lot of value to be had outside of that one island.

Whether it’s rainbow bagels in Brooklyn or baseball in The Bronx, it is a good idea to explore the other areas of New York City. Plus, it’s a nice little challenge to make things that bit more interesting.

Did you know?

New York used to be called New Amsterdam. It got this name after 17th-century Dutch colonists settled on the southern tip of Manhattan Island. It served as the seat of the colonial government in New Netherland, a province located on the east coast of North America.

New Amsterdam would eventually go on to be renamed New York in September 1664 in honour of the Duke of York, in whose name the English had captured it.

 

Got any other tips or recommendations for New York, or is there anything I missed? Then let me know in the comments!

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