There’s a lot to love about New York. Every time I’ve been I found something else that I didn’t discover on a previous trip. But if you’re new to the Big Apple, where do you start? These are my thoughts on what to see and do if you’re an NYC first timer.
1. Fifth Avenue – almost everywhere you go in New York will seem familiar, after all you’ve probably seen it on a film or TV show, but no more so than Fifth which starts at the Washington Square arch in Greenwich Village and runs all the way uptown to Harlem. A good place to start a Fifth Avenue meander is Tiffany’s on the corner of 57th, where you can peer through the window Audrey Hepburn style, or maybe even go inside and be dazzled by several floors filled with glass cases and gorgeous jewellery. Then take a leisurely stroll downtown, passed Trump Tower, into St Patrick’s Cathedral, maybe go across a block to do a backstage tour of Radio City Music Hall and of course browse all the fabulous shops including Saks Fifth Ave and the Rockefeller Center. A few blocks further on is the New York Public Library, which was a great stop for a book geek like me, while opposite is Bryant Park which often pops up on screen as the go to green space for New Yorkers.
2. View from the top – just a few more blocks down Fifth is the original and best high rise, the Empire State Building. That’s not to say I didn’t love the view from the top of the World Trade Center before it was destroyed and Top of the Rock isn’t half bad, but the Empire State is perfectly positioned in mid town to get the best views in both directions.
3. See a show – there are Broadway musicals and plays that are long runners and new ones opening all the time, so you can take your pick. If there’s something you’re set on, then booking online well in advance is a good idea, but if you’re more flexible try the half price ticket booth where you can buy tickets for that day’s performances. There’s one in Times Square but its very busy, so I’d go to the smaller one at South Street Seaport. It also offers more flexibility as opens at 11am in the morning rather than just at 3pm. Or if that doesn’t float your boat then check what’s on at the Lincoln Centre, home of the Met Opera and the New York Ballet and Philharmonic.
4. Stroll the Seaport – while you’re getting your theatre tickets take a bit of time out to wander around South Street Seaport and Pier 17. There are some nice shops (a much quieter Abercrombie & Fitch if you’re present buying for nephews like I was) and plenty of places to eat and drink. It’s also just a short walk along from there to Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange in the heart of the financial district.
5. Welcome to America – a little further round from Wall Street and you’re in Battery Park, the tip of Manhattan Island. You can pick up ferries here to the Statue of Liberty, but the far more interesting trip is to Ellis Island, the immigration centre that millions of people passed through on their way to a new life in America. It’s a fascinating museum with dozens of recordings of immigrants recounting their time spent there. The boat stops at Liberty Island too, though I’ve never got off, happy enough to just see the great lady up close without feeling the need to climb up her. And if the immigrant story captures your imagination, you can find out what happened next for many of them at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum on Orchard Street at Delancey.
6. Dinner in Soho – there are actually some really good shops and galleries in Soho if you have the time, but if nothing else make sure you get down there for dinner. Most people stay in Midtown on their first trip, which isn’t a bad idea as its central and easy to get to all the sights, but the eating out options are packed with tourists and nothing like as good as in Soho. It’s easy to get to as the subway is safe and there are yellow cabs everywhere. Some of my favourites are the Mercer Kitchen, Balthazar and Aquagrill, but there are lots to choose from, catering for every taste and budget.
7. Village life – I’ve stayed at the Washington Square Hotel in Greenwich Village a couple of times and you really can’t beat it for an slice of New York life that’s not all flashing lights, skyscrapers and department stores. Perfect time is the weekend when you can have brunch; mooch around the quirky stores, boutiques and designer shops; take a perch to people watch in Washington Square Park; and of course have a cupcake at the Magnolia Bakery in Bleecker Street. Though if you fancy a sharpener with your cake try Sweet Revenge on Carmine Street where they pair cupcakes and savoury cakes with wine or beer. A great idea, only matched by mine to have a bookshop that sells cakes and cocktails – really must get round to opening that…
8. Walk the High Line – the obvious place for green space in New York is Central Park and it is lovely, but also very big. A more compact opportunity to get off the busy streets for a while lies just above them. The High Line runs north from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District and is a former freight train track turned park. With wonderful views of the Hudson river on one side plus lawns, trees, plants, wooden benches, sun loungers and artworks along the way, it offers a totally different perspective on the city. Don’t miss the sunken amphitheatre at 17th Street where you can sit and watch the cars and people on the Avenue below.
9. Art in the city – this one clearly depends on your interest in the subject, but for anyone who’s even a bit of an art lover it’s impossible to leave without a visit to at least one of the galleries or museums. The Guggenheim is probably as famous for the building its housed in as what’s inside, while The Met is fabulous but huge, so if you’re short on time look at the website in advance and go with a plan for what to see.
10. Take a tour – I’m not a huge fan of city tours as generally like to make my own way, but New York has so much going on that its not a bad way to see a fair amount in a short time. Lots of people do the Circle Line boat tour from the pier at the end of West 42nd Street. It’s good but I personally found that at three hours it was a bit too long and the top section doesn’t offer a lot to see. There are plenty of hop on hop off bus tours too, but the ones I’v enjoyed the most are the location tours where you go to some of the places made famous by film and TV shows and get a slice of New York life along the way.
Whatever you do I’d defy you not to have a fabulous trip and what you don’t find time for this time, you’ll put on the list for your next visit. It’s definitely up there with London as one of my favourite cities in the world and I’ll definitely be back…just have a few other places to tick off my list first.
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