Ah New York, you truly lived up to your expectations. We only had 5 days to spend in this amazing and crazy city and wish that we had longer! Andrew and I flew to NYC from Vancouver to catch up with our friend Rebecca. We then proceeded to pack everything we wanted to do in the few days we had in the city – it was a blast! For our first few nights we stayed at a hostel called Jazz on Columbus Circle, which is right near Central Park and Times Square. It was pretty basic but it was all we needed. For our last night we stayed in a hotel called Hilton Garden Inn, near Times Square, it was pretty nice and relatively cheap for central New York City. Be prepared to fork out for accommodation if you want to stay anywhere in central Manhattan. New York isn’t cheap but it is worth it! It was also great being located near Central Park as we got to spend a lot of time strolling through its extensive grounds.
The edges of Central Park are flanked by many incredible museums. The first one we visited was the Metropolitan Museum of Art and it costs US$25 to get in. I really loved this museum, they had the most incredible works of art and we spent a few hours just wondering around. I highly recommend visiting this museum. We also really enjoyed the American Museum of Natural History – in particular the dinosaur displays and the Indian displays – both were fantastically put together and very interesting. The entry cost to the museum is the same as the Met – US$25. Another museum we visited was the Copper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, which was a bit cheaper at US$20. While some parts of this museum are interesting, it was pretty dated, we thought it would be a lot more modern in its design displays. It is pretty small and probably not worth it if you are short on time. Rather go to the Guggenheim, it is right nearby and on the top of most must-see things in NYC lists. While my un-architectural eye was a bit disappointed by the talked-up hype around the design of the building, our architect friends Oli and Libby loved it.
At the lower end of Manhattan there is enough to do to fill an entire day. We started off by catching the subway down to Wall Street and walking around the Financial District. It was pretty interesting to see all those places that you’ve heard about, like the Stock Exchange and the Charging Bull.
While in the area we visited the 9/11 Memorials and Museum. The memorial pools were really beautiful and well-done, it was such a nice tribute to all those people who lost their lives in the 2001 terror attacks. The museum itself was also pretty well set out, with a lot of information on the whys and hows and whos. Combined, both made for a pretty moving tribute. The only issue was the crowds, the memorial and museum were both packed. I recommend going first thing in the morning to avoid the queues and having to share the experience with an uncomfortable amount of people. Visiting the memorials is free but the museum costs US$24.
If we had a few more days in New York we would have liked to head out to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. Instead we decided to ride the free Staten Island Ferry passed these two places. The ride takes about half an hour and you get some pretty good views of both places. At the other end you simply hop off and then hop back on the next one going to Manhattan for some pretty good views of the city.
To top off our busy day in lower Manhattan, we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and explored a bit of the streets in the area. The walk across the bridge was fun and the bridge itself is gorgeous. We explored a bit of Brooklyn’s beautiful and quaint streets before stopping at a fantastic deli called Shelsky’s of Brooklyn for some incredible pastrami and seafood sandwiches. We then parked up near the water to take in some great sunset views of the city.
With another full day of activities planned we started by heading to the Rockefeller Centre’s Top of the Rock for 360 degree views of the city. It costs US$34 to go up there and it is best to book online the day before as the time slots fill up fast. It is great way to get your bearings in an enormous city and the views of Central Park were breathtaking.
We then went on our own little walking tour of some famous landmarks, such as the New York Public Library and Grand Central Terminal. Both of these buildings were really impressive.
It was then time to head to the Chelsea/Greenwich Village area to visit the Highline Park. This is an old railway line that has been converted into a park. We loved following the winding and narrow park all the way into the heart of Greenwich Village. It is free to visit and stroll down and is such a great way to make use of a disused railway line.
At lunch time we had booked in for a pizza tour in Greenwich Village with Scott’s Pizza Tours. Andrew had heard about them on a podcast so we were keen to give it a go. It cost us US$40 per person and it was well worth it! We visited 3 different pizza places and learned the history of pizza and how it was perfected in New York. We ate margherita pizza slices at each place we visited, but because of the cooking styles, they tasted incredibly different. Our guide Mike was top-notch, and a comedian in his spare time, so his banter was great! It was such a fun way to experience and learn about such an iconic New York dish.
Greenwich Village is a great neighbourhood to wonder around and it is also home to some of the best Comedy Clubs in New York, namely the Comedy Cellar and its off-shoot the Village Underground. You NEED to make a reservation in advance if you want to get a table here. We were so happy that we reserved a table at Village Underground because there were people desperately trying to get in but were not able to. A spot at a table costs you US$20-US$24 per person, which is really cheap for a fantastic night of entertainment. The comedians we saw were incredible and it made for one of best evenings in New York. I highly recommend!
I can’t finish this blog post without writing more about the food in New York City. We ate so much every day, and especially enjoyed all the food carts dotted around the city. Our favourites were US$1.50 bagels and donuts every morning for breakfast, and these delicious roti curry rolls for about US$5. We also ate plenty of hot dogs and pizza all for very cheap! A good place for restaurants and to go out drinking is in the Hell’s Kitchen area – specifically 9th Avenue. This place was always busy and fun. We would have liked to walk down this street and pop in and out of restaurants and bars every night.
Don’t bother going to Times Square unless you need to get to your Broadway Theatre. We accidently stumbled across it a few times and it is just filled with tonnes of people packed in and just standing around. Billboards tower over you advertising absolutely everything and any shop you want to visit is horrifically overpriced. We made our escape as soon as we could!
Our time in New York City was jam-packed but we loved every second of it! Just walking around the streets and seeing so many familiar landmarks made you feel that you were in a movie. The vibe and energy of the city is contagious and we never got tired of exploring the streets. It was an easy city to navigate and there was always something to do and something delicious to eat. We would love to go back!
Here is a breakdown of our costs for 5 days (2 people):
Accommodation – US$710
Activities – US$424
Food/Drink – US$528
Travel (incl. Taxis) – US$64
Miscellaneous – US$141
Total spent – US$1,867 (NZ$2,712)
Overall that is about how much we thought we would spend. We knew accommodation was going to be a lot so if you can find somewhere cheap to stay or stay with friends, then that will cut your costs considerably. When we come back we will probably look to stay in Greenwich village as it is nice and central and not as expensive as downtown Manhattan. You could also only just eat street food and avoid restaurants and bars, but where’s the fun in that? Basically you will spend a lot of money in New York and you should budget for it.