Sunday 21 April 2024

The first timer's guide to New York

New York is surprisingly...massive. More than this Londoner could fathom at first. I truly was not ready for the scale of NYC, and that a week there simply was not enough. If you follow me on any other platform, including this one, you'll know by now that I have fallen quite in love with the city, and haven't stopped thinking about strolling around Central Park in the midday sun, or grabbing a Ralph's Coffee for an afternoon pick me up since. It was of course my first time and we did what any first timer's do; be tourists. Here are my tips and tricks of what to do, where to go and what we did on our first trip to New York City.

Only have a minute? Here is my quick itinerary. If you do have a few minutes to spare, scroll down for my thoughts on everywhere and everything.

6 night trip

Day one- flights, taxi, Times Square at night

Day two- Museum of Natural History, Central Park

Day three- Empire State Building, City Line River Cruise

Day four- Top of the Rock, Rockefeller Plaza, 5th Avenue, Black Tap

Day five- Brooklyn, DUMBO, Manhattan Bridge, 9/11 Memorial and Museum

Day six- Cenral Park, department store window shopping (suitcase very much full sadly),  taxi, flight 

Day one

An afternoon flight from Gatwick to JFK landed us at about 6pm. We pre-booked transport from the airport to our hotel via a company that we found to be highly recommended on Facebook of all places. Bizzies Luxury Services were just that. From a clear breakdown of different prices and packages via email, to group chats with the driver the day before. The driver was far more excited than were were after an 8 hour trip, taking our photo outside of the airport (and sending them over straight away which for an instant photo enthusiast like myself, I very much appreciated not having to wait for them). He gave us bottles of water and snacks to keep us going throughout the journey. I'll avoid trains at the best of times and with no one in the group having done the subway prior, we opted for the easier (but yes of course more expensive) option, and honestly I am glad that we did. You can of course just opt for a taxi from the airport instead, however taxi drivers expect such a big tip (as we realised on our return trip to the airport on the last day... 20% was not enough apparently!) and the experience is far greater for not much more. In total the taxi return journey was about $100 in total with tax and a driver who cut everyone up in the road, where as our Bizzies car was bigger, $115 (no tips needed but we of course dug deep) and you get a much better service. Next time we will for sure be booking Bizzies for both journeys and could not recommend them enough.

I won't go into too much detail about the hotel, the Warwick, on 6th Avenue, as I have already written a lengthy post about the stay here. I loved the hotel and it would be my first choice for future stays. 

Times Square. My word. Not somewhere I would urge you to frequent if you enjoy personal space. We made the mistake of going on our first night, because why wouldn't we? It looks like day time even at night will all of the lights and is the busiest area I have ever seen. We walked through it a few times in between areas and our hotel, and I quickly realised that the tourist traps were not my kind of scene.

Day two

Our first booked experience was the Museum of Natural History. One for the Friends fans, I personally very much enjoy a museum, however be aware that this place is utterly huge. We thought that we'd only spend a few hours here, but no. Hours and hours and gift shop after gift shop we finally got to the end and realised that if today was anything to go by, we were going to be knackered very quickly. 

My top tip here and something that I am so glad we did, was get a NYC City Pass. There are a few variations, but found City Pass to be the cheapest one. You get five experiences (laid out in this post and in the short version above) and they include the tourist attractions like the Empire State Building, that you may have bought tickets for anyway. Super easy to use and all QR codes sent straight to your phone so great as a last minute purchase too once in the city. 

After the museum we decided on a walk around central park. We were quite honesty knackered however, and quickly opted for an early night. We took our first trip to Target, grabbed a Chick-fil-A and got into bed.

Days three and four

The Empire state building is iconic, as it the view. Day three saw a trip up to the top (again using our City Pass) and I didn't realised that there was a whole museum to walk through beforehand. I was happy to pay just for the view, but the exhibit as such was a welcomed bonus. I've combined day three and four here just as I wanted to add in that we did have tickets for the Top of the Rock experience, but my lift advsersion was far too much for another day going up and down, so the family went up without me and I took my first proper stroll around the park instead. They said that they loved the view however and it was another thing on the City Pass list. Back to day three and after the Empire State building we grabbed a Shake Shack for lunch and headed to the west piers (not their name). We, again through the pass, booked the Landmarks City Line Cruise which took an hour and a half. We sailed from the piers to the Statue of Liberty (literally pretty much straight up to it) which is smaller than I thought. I'm sure you've heard this before but unless you fancy climbing her, paying for a boat to the statue is worthless and many cruises and ferries will take you straight past, and you can get your photo. Anyway we passed Lady Lib, sailed towards the east of the city, under the bridges and back again. The cruise/ferry boat had a cafe so we had a hotdog each and enjoyed the ride. 

Day four began, for me, with the park walk, and I've never enjoyed sitting on a bench for an hour more. The weather was beautiful all week, and early mornings in Central Park are something I could easily get used to. We walked down 5th Avenue and I had a look at the St Peter's church, where if you've watched Gossip Girl, will know that it's the place of Blair and Louis' wedding. We then found ourselves in the maze under the Rockefeller Centre. It is of course not really a maze, but upon trying to locate the Starbucks, we ended up circulating down the same paths many times, and ending up at the same places. We went to Bills for lunch, not affiliated with the Bills chain that we have in the UK. We had massive chicken sandwiches (chicken burgers in the UK) and it was here that I realised how big the portion sizes really were. It was back home for a rest, and we headed to the Black Tap for dinner. Again, large portions and another burger. The restaurant is apparently famous for their milkshakes and at $20 each, they better be. Massive shakes with cakes or brownies on top. After a large meal at lunch and again at dinner, I'm unsure as to why I thought ordering one was a good idea. A few sips in and I was finished, so asked for a takeaway cup. Food was fine (I wasn't overly hungry as you can imagine!) and had I just gone in there for the milkshake, I know that I would have been very happy. Would definitely go back.

Day five

The final day saw an early rise, checking out of the room and grabbing a cab down to DUMBO. An early morning photo on the bridge was what I wanted, but we were far too late for that already without hundreds of people. All I can say here is get there early, sunrise early, if you want any pictures without the world in them. DUMBO was busy too, as to be expected. We walked through Main Street Park and past the pebble beach and carousel. Brooklyn has a Time Out Market too, which I didn't go to myself but somewhere to add to list whilst in the area. The steps to the Brooklyn Bridge were easy to find (a few streets over and past the market). I'd heard of there being market stalls on the bridge, great for those cheap souvenirs- I'm a keyring girl myself- but none were to be seen on that day. 

I find the entire 9/11 thing really interesting. If there is a documentary about it on the TV then I want to watch it. I think mainly because I don't remember it happening maybe? I was about 5/6 but have no recollection of hearing about it. It turns my stomach when seeing any footage of the day and it is one of the disasters of the world that really gets me. Going to the memorial and museum was a massive thing for me and something that was non-negotiable. Seeing the pools, knowing that this is where it all happened, was so surreal. I spend some time on the benches in the middle watching people go about their day, just as they would have done on that morning in 2001. Our fifth and final City Pass activity was the 9/11 Museum, and bar the exam halls in school, I have never been somewhere so quiet. From the mangled fire trucks from the day, to phone calls and voice recordings of the people in the middle of it all, and even parts of the walls keeping those two towers from flooding from the river, the museum had more than I thought it would. I love seeing walls. A strange statement to make yes, but knowing that this thing was there, on those days or in those far off time periods and yet here it is, standing in front of me, always makes me think. The museum is split into sections, the main section as such, then into the north and south sections. These two have different offerings, one with calls and images of those who lost their lives, and the other with pretty much everything else. Going into the second one (north maybe?), I felt really overwhelmed and claustrophobic suddenly- not for any reason may I add... maybe the amount of people? This just meant that after a room or two I walked through to the end of the room and back out to the main section again. I would definitely go back again though and take my time in that room as I felt that I had missed out for sure. 

And finally

The one thing missing from the trip was a big shopping day. Woodbury Common is so high up on my list of places to visit next time and I am already checking for flights to the city asap. New York was stunning and is one of the only places (Bath included in that list for reference) where I could see myself living. Upper East Side only of course. xoxo.


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