All the images in this post were taken on an iPhone 11 or iPhone XR.
New York City. The Big Apple. Capital City. The City that Never Sleeps. It’s an iconic bucket-list destination with a skyline the whole world knows. For some, it’s a dream destination – to go shopping down 5th Avenue, see a show on Broadway, or experience the magical Christmas season and the famous Rockefeller Christmas tree.
♪Start spreading the news
I am leaving today
I want to be a part of it
New York, New York ♪
This was definitely a spur of the moment booking for us. We normally have our holiday destinations planned well in advance, with a two- three- or even four-year plan of where we’re going to be going. But when you see a really good deal, sometimes you just can’t resist.
January is probably the most affordable time of year to do New York and there’s definitely less tourists too. I know if we had tried to do this itinerary in the height of summer or just before Christmas, we would never have managed to tick off so much.
We arrived at JFK just after lunch so by the time we finally got into the city, we only had an hour or two of daylight left.
This definitely wasn’t our smoothest start to a holiday, what with car parking troubles, incorrect e-tickets for the flight and losing my passport in JFK, it’s easy to say my stress levels were pretty much through the roof. And the New York subway system definitely did not help – I’ll do a separate blog on this later.
TOP TIP: The subway is pretty cheap per journey, but if you’re planning on using it regularly over the course of 3 days or more, you’re best off buying a 7-day pass for $33.
The Roosevelt Hotel
The hotel, however, was amazing. An absolute bargain considering we were a 10-minute walk from Times Square, a 5-minute walk from the Rockefeller Centre and Radio City and one street over from 5th Avenue. Location-wise, it didn’t get any more perfect.
And I loved that it had been used for filming in some pretty cool movies too, including:
- Maid in Manhattan
- The Taking of Pelham 123
- Men in Black
You can bet your bottom dollar I’m going to be re-watching all three just so I can spot the hotel…
The room was pretty nice too. A little on the small side compared to some others we’ve had recently, but it’s an old building with prime real estate so I wasn’t surprised.
We had a built-in wardrobe, some limited draw space and a desk. The bathroom was okay too, a little cramped but it served a purpose, wasn’t too outdated and had a decent shower – never underestimate the power of a powerful shower.
There were adverts all over the hotel that said it was being refurbed this year so if you do want to stay, your room will probably have a fresher feel than ours.
For me, the only downside was the heating/air conditioning in the room didn’t seem to work very well. Lee was fine but for this human icicle, it was way too cold and we just didn’t have the time to speak to reception – the only time we were ever in the room was to pass out, exhausted on the bed or get dressed in the morning. I’m sure if we had gone down and spoken to someone, they would have been more than helpful.
Price: £527 per person (+$40.16 per night resort fee, circa £30)
Booking agent: Lastminute.com
Recommend? Not with this booking agent. Our initial booking was a great price. It covered flights and hotel for five nights, but I really didn’t enjoy the experience of flying with American Airlines so would definitely avoid them in future. The hassle we’ve had with Lastminute.com with the error on our tickets, even though my booking says we have hold luggage really did not help things.
The Rockefeller and Times Square
Once we’d dropped suitcases off, our first task was to scout out the local area. I’ve never been to NYC before so for me, everything was completely new. We wandered down 5th Avenue and made our way to the Rockefeller Centre where the giant Christmas tree had been replaced with a giant peacock. The ice rink was still open and it was a pretty nice atmosphere. There were loads of shops and eateries nearby and a faint hint of the festive season.
From there, we walked to Times Square and my first sighting was just as impressive as the photos you see. There weren’t too many people which was nice and the whole place was lit up like Vegas. In fact, I think there were more lights in that tiny plaza than there were on the Vegas Strip. It was amazing; who needs night-time anyway?
It was starting to get late, it had been a long day (our UK body clocks were 5-hours ahead and starting to struggle) and we were hungry, so we stopped off at the Hard Rock Café on Times Square – our 18th café.
If you’re heading to a HRC anytime soon, they currently have a 24-karat edible gold burger on their menu and I really wanted to try it. I compromised and had a cocktail instead, but if you’re gonna give it a go, please report back!
After food and refreshment, we decided to explore a few of the shops on Times Square, including the Disney Store, M&M’s World and Hershey’s World before heading back to the hotel for an early(ish) night so we’d feel ready for the next day.
Price: about $20-$25 per meal (circa £15-£23)
Recommend? You can’t really go wrong with HRC
Our first full day in New York and boy did we have a list and a half of things to do. Our first stop was the Top of the Rock, an activity we had high expectations for – so many friends had said this would be the best thing we do…
Top of the Rock
It did not disappoint. We got so lucky with the weather. The skies were a gorgeous blue and completely clear.
TOP TIP: The Top of the Rock and the Empire State Observatory open at 8am so do them early to avoid crowds and waiting around for entry.
When researching things to do, we discovered that a lot of places didn’t actually open until about 10am – sure, they stayed open until after midnight, but for the go-getters like us, that wasn’t good enough. So we actually headed up at about 8.30am and there was not a soul in sight. Well, that’s not strictly true, but it was definitely super quiet – no queues, no delays, we went straight on up.
Afterwards, the exit led us into the rabbit warren of shopping and dining underneath the Rockefeller Centre and my god, did we get lost… We spent a good 15 minutes wandering around trying to locate some kind of exit. By the time we finally had some semblance of direction, we’d found the NBC shop we’d walked past on our previous night’s walk.
QUICK SIDENOTE: When we’d been planning the trip, I really wanted to get tickets to see Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show but missed the release of January’s dates. The only option we had left was to queue outside the NBC studios for 9am to be given a ticket number and then come back around 3.30pm in the hope that there’d be space in the audience. Initially, we had this day earmarked for that as it was the only day we had free (where we didn’t already have tickets booked) but after reading a TripAdvisor post that detailed how some people queued from about 4/5am and we definitely needed to be there at about 6am for any chance of getting in, I made the executive decision that this wasn’t a good use of our time.
When we finally made our way out, we decided to quickly pop into the Nintendo shop and could have easily spent all day there. It was empty – of course it was, who else in New York is shopping at 9.45am on a Friday in January, everyone else is either asleep and recovering from a wild night out or going to work…
The Nintendo shop was proper cool, with consoles set up all over the place where you could play Mario Kart, Super Mario Brothers or Luigi’s Mansion. But we couldn’t stand around playing games all day, we had an appointment we needed to keep.
Price: included in the Explorer Pass (Pass cost £127 per person and included 7 activities from a list of over 90)
Booking agent: Expedia
Recommend? Yes, definitely!
I have no idea how Lee found this experience but it was amazing and a definite recommendation if you’re heading to the Big Apple.
If you’ve not heard of The RIDE before, it’s a bit a of twist on the original Hop-On Hop-Off tour buses. If you’ve read my guide to Los Angeles then you’ll know I’m a big advocate of a tour bus – what better way to see the city than via a guided tour that’s full of facts while giving you a lay of the land. It’s good for orientation and we always find a few more interesting places we want to visit afterwards.
We’d booked ourselves onto The TOUR a few weeks prior – spaces often fill up, so booking in advance is a definite must. The bus has a glass-roof and glass-side that gives you a 360°-degree view of the streets without the need to twist in your seat; everyone gets the same view. All the passengers face sideways (instead of facing the front) and have a tour guide there to tell stories and entertain on your way round.
Our guy – Tim – was brilliant. He was funny, interesting and full of useful facts.
FUN FACT: New York is called the Big Apple because of the old horse races where the winners were awarded apples – actual apples. New York was then nicknamed ‘The Big Apple’ to refer to the biggest and best of the races and the name stuck.
The tour took us through mid-Manhattan and covered Times Square, Hell’s Kitchen, the South side of Central Park, the Garment District and the Diamond District. We learned a lot about the history of Manhattan, how the different districts got their names, how immigrants shaped the New York we know and love, and even saw where John Lenon was shot.
FUN FACT: Yoko Ono still lives in the same building where John Lenon was shot. The Dakota is next to Central Park and Yoko’s apartment has a great view over the park.
We were also schooled on the old rivalry between the Upper East Side and Upper West Side, which was all about old money vs new money, and what it was like to live in one of the roughest areas where apartments didn’t have windows because it was a cheaper way to build apartment blocks, and how this impacted the health of the working-class Irish immigrants that couldn’t afford to live anywhere else.
FUN FACT: There are a few different stories of how Hell’s Kitchen got its name. The most common version involves a veteran policeman called Fred who was out with his rookie partner. While watching a riot break out on West 39th Street near 10th Avenue, the rookie said ‘This place is hell itself’. To which Fred replied, ‘Hell’s a mild climate. This place is Hell’s Kitchen.’ And so the name stuck…the area is actually called Clinton.
Price: included in the Explorer Pass (Pass cost £127 per person and included 7 activities from a list of over 90)
Booking agent: Expedia
Recommend? Yes, definitely!
After The TOUR, we took the subway downtown to the Financial District where we walked down Wall Street, and passed the New York Stock Exchange. The buildings here were similar to London; tall, grand, made of thick stone and intimidating. The whole place simply felt like it was made of money…if you get my meaning.
The Charging Bull – another iconic landmark – is only a 5-minute walk from here but we decided to do that on the way back, after we’d been on the Staten Island Ferry.
Recommend? It’s only a 5-minute walk but if you’re not in Downtown Manhattan, it can be a bit of a trek.
For many, the Statue of Liberty is a must-see. It’s fairly inexpensive to get up close and personal. Standard tickets are probably about $25-$45 and you can probably get a good deal for cheaper. But I’ve had a lot of people tell me it’s not really worth the money and you’ll find yourself trapped in a 1.5 hour trip with no way of fast-tracking your return to the mainland.
Because Lee’s been before, we knew a shortcut: the Staten Island Ferry. It’s free and you still get to see Lady Liberty. Admittedly you won’t get to see her as close as you might like, but if you’re looking to save pennies, do as much as possible and want to squeeze it in, then the Staten Island Ferry is the way to go.
20 minutes each way, the Ferry drops you off right by Empire Outlets, a new outlet mall that has a few good brands and is worth half an hour of your time – we picked up some pretty good deals, including 2 pairs of fluffy socks for 62¢ from Old Navy.
Recommend? 100% yes. Make sure you go on a clear day so you get a good view of Lady Liberty.
One World Observatory
Once we were back in Manhattan, we headed towards the Oculus. This mall is amazing, such a unique architectural shape. It almost looks like you’re inside a dinosaur and feels like a really weird optical illusion.
Once inside, we made our way to the One World Observatory which was built in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. I had very mixed feelings about this experience and felt it was a little overpriced, but I don’t know how much of that was to do with the fact that we went up at night. The first exhibit you go through is pretty cool and uses the faces and voices of those who built the tower to showcase how important the new skyscraper is to the people of New York.
At the top, you’re shown a short film about the city of New York and then the whole screen goes up to reveal a view like no other over the city. But when we went through to the observation deck, I was a little disappointed. There was no outside deck and you couldn’t really see all that much; the empire state was a bit too far away and unless you paid extra for an iPad, there wasn’t really any information about what you could see from each view.
I’ve come to the conclusion that observation decks just aren’t as good at night – after doing the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, and now this one – you just don’t get to see very much and you don’t really know what it is you can see.
Price: $42 each including tax and processing fee (circa £32)
Booking agent: Bought on the day
Recommend? If you want to tick off all the iconic buildings then maybe do it, but I wouldn’t rush to go back or recommend it as a must-do.
Our final stop of the day was the 9/11 museum. Let’s be honest, you can’t go to New York without visiting. Probably the most devastating terrorist attack in modern history, 2,977 people were killed and so it’s only right to pay our respects. Every person I know who’s been to New York has recommended the Memorial Museum and warned me it’s quite emotional.
The Memorial Museum was an impressive building that housed part of the original steel structure where one of the planes collided with one of the towers.
There were a number of different exhibition rooms where you could learn about each individual who lost their life during the attacks, what happened on the day, and how the American government pursued Osama bin Laden. It was incredibly moving.
We spent a considerable amount of time sat reflecting in front of a huge piece of artwork that paid tribute to each individual life lost.
Personally, the most impactful exhibit was Ladder 3; the half-crushed fire truck that had contained a whole crew and was one of the first responders to the scene. These firefighters had just finished a shift and were in the middle of a shift change when they hurriedly jumped back in their truck and headed to the scene. Unfortunately, they came down with the first tower and no-one survived.
Price: included in the Explorer Pass (Pass cost £127 per person and included 7 activities from a list of over 90)
Booking agent: Expedia
Recommend? Yes. I think if it’s your first time in New York, you’ve got to do it. Everyone should visit at least once.
It’s safe to say we were exhausted by this point, both physically and emotionally. Our feet hurt and we were hungry. We needed something quick and easy so we headed to Little Eataly in the Oculus. Set up like an Italian market, this was a great little place filled with authentic Italian vendors selling fresh produce and at the back were a couple of different restaurants.
It wasn’t the New York-style pizza I’d been hoping for but man was it good. Although, I suspect we were so exhausted, we’d have thought McDonald’s tasted like a five-star eatery.
And with that, my poor, tired feet were so glad our first whole day had come to an end.
Price: $14-$30 (circa £10-£23)
Recommend? If you’re in the area, it’s a good little place to swing by. If you want something more local and small business, then maybe find somewhere else.
Back when we were planning our trip, Lee made a very polite request that we find a sports bar somewhere to watch the football on Saturday morning. Always one for trying out new places, I thought it was a great idea and would give us chance to regroup and plan our next move. But the football didn’t start until 10am EST which gave us a solid two hours to go up the Empire State.
The Empire State
Just like the Top of the Rock, I thought it would be a good idea to get up the Empire State early; it meant we’d tick off another activity on the list before sitting down for two hours of football, and nothing else was open before 10am anyway.
Once again, we managed to fast-track ourselves to the top due to the lack of tourists which was great. However, the skies weren’t as clear and there were some clouds hanging over Manhattan, which made me glad we’d already done the Rockefeller and the Staten Island Ferry.
The exhibitions at the Empire State were a lot more hands on than the previous two buildings which was fun. And it was definitely capitalising on it’s affiliation with King Kong. You could even meet the big fella yourself.
I really loved the room with all the tower viewer’s that pointed in different directions and let you catch glimpses of different iconic locations around the city – to clarify, when you looked into these tower viewers, you saw a short clip on loop.
It was a lot colder and it was a lot windier, so when we did get out on the observation deck, it wasn’t long before we were freezing. The views were pretty good, but definitely better from the Rockefeller Centre (only because you could actually see the Empire State); the skyline becomes a little less impressive when the Empire State isn’t in it. However, you could still see the Chrysler building and had a better view of Central Park.
Booking agent: Expedia
Recommend? You can’t not do the Empire State, surely?
Legends Sports Bar
Next stop was Legends. It was a typical American bar but we were directed downstairs to the Football Factory where there were at least 10 screens mounted around the walls, each playing a different game. It was pretty busy already, with a number of Brits propping up the bar. I shouldn’t have been surprised really…
We found ourselves a cosy corner where Lee could see the Saints game, got a couple of drinks and relaxed for a few hours.
I took the opportunity to review the itinerary so far and work out what we had left to do. In all honesty, it was just nice to take a load of our feet for a little while.
Price: $10 for a beer and a coke (circa £8)
Recommend? If you’re looking for a local sports bar to catch a game, this place is ideal.
On our way to the Empire State, we’d spotted Macy’s on the corner brandishing a sign that declared it was the world’s largest, so we thought it would be rude to not pop in.
However, enter at your peril.
Think John Lewis but on a bigger, more crazy scale with less direction.
It was definitely not my favourite experience.
The store has 11 floors in total, and it was pretty unclear how those floors were divided. They had some directories about but they didn’t seem to categories their floors by department types, so the women’s were spread out over multiple floors in different regions and every time you reached a floor, it was near impossible to find a map to tell you were you were and what else was available. Coupled with a distinct lack of signage to point you in the right direction, we definitely wandered round for an hour. It felt like we’d wandered into Narnia and there was a conspiracy to prevent us from leaving.
1 new handbag later, we emerged onto the streets to discover it was snowing!
Snow in New York! What a dream!
Price: the place is chock full of designer brands so can get pretty pricey.
Recommend? If you’ve never been to a Macy’s then it may be worth popping in for half an hour.
Having already consulted our list of places to eat, we decided to head over to &Pizza for a quick bit. I’d asked for food recommendations in the Travel Insider Bucket List Facebook Group before the holiday, hoping some New York enthusiasts or NYC locals would be able to give us a few hidden gems.
Boy was it good.
For $11 you get a huge, hand-made to order pizza with a great selection of toppings. We both opted for the Maverick; tomato base, mozzarella, salami, pepperoni, Italian sausage, basil pesto and Parmesan. It was delicious, and so affordable. You can customise the pizza any way you like for no extra charge and the staff were super friendly.
Price: $11 per pizza (circa £8)
Recommend? Definitely! Great pizza and a great atmosphere
The Flatiron Building
Considering we were in the area, we thought it was worth swinging by the Flatiron Building to tick another landmark off the list. It wasn’t overly impressive, especially as there were a lot of other old buildings in the city that had a similar shape and architecture. However, back in 1902 it was one of the tallest buildings in the city and was an architectural marvel of its time.
If you are in the area, Madison Square Park is just over the road and is a great place to take five minutes while you admire the Flatiron. It was a cute little green space in between a huge number of tall concrete blocks. And as it was still snowing, was completely white.
Recommend? Hmmm, if you’re into your history and architecture then sure.
Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum
It turns out, Lee has a knack for finding quirky things to do, and this is one of the best we did. It took us ages to get there as the nearest subway was a 20 minute walk, so getting the bus may be easier if you don’t fancy the walk.
By the time we arrived at the museum, it was about 3.30 and fast getting dark. We upgraded our tickets for an extra $7 to include a tour of Concorde at 4pm and had a brief wander round the inside exhibitions before making our way over to Concorde.
There were just the two of us on the tour, probably because it was so late in the day and the weather was so bad. We sat in 2 of the 100 passenger seats while our guide told us all about the history of Concorde and its origin; $7 well spent, if you ask me.
We then raced up to the top deck of the aircraft carrier to look at the fighter jets on the main deck and then explored the inside of the control tower before heading back down to where a submarine was moored alongside the pier.
Surreal, right? An aircraft carrier and submarine in Manhattan – not something I ever thought I’d be doing in New York.
The submarine – USS Growler – was really cool. There was a museum exhibition set up at the start to tell you all about the history of the sub and how it was used as a nuclear deterrent. Launched in 1958, the USS Growler participated in training exercises at Pearl Harbour before being sent on 9 deterrent mission patrols before being decommissioned in 1964.
We then got to climb through port holes, explore the walkways and wind our way through the submarine, getting an insight into what life must have been like.
We just about made it round before the museum closed for the day and kicked us all out, leaving just enough time to pop back to the hotel to freshen up before our evening show…
Booking agent: Expedia
Recommend? Yes! This was such a hidden gem, which is hard to believer considering the size of it!
Impractical Jokers at Radio City
Boy oh boy was I excited about this one.
We realise we’d just missed out on tickets at Bournemouth International Centre but then their New York show went live the same week and what do you know – their dates matched ours! So we quickly snapped two cheap(ish) tickets at the back of the hall.
The boys were great. I didn’t really know what to expect and it was more of a stand-up conversation between the four of them but it was still really entertaining, peppered with never-before-seen footage from behind-the-scenes of their show.
If you’ve never seen/heard of Impractical Jokers before, I’d recommend looking them up on Netflix. Their show always has me in stitches and is such a feel-good watch.
Impractical Jokers: 4 life-long friends take it in turns to embarrass each other in public by making them do stupid stuff. If they refuse, they lose and the loser has to be punished.
Radio City Music Hall was also impressive, with huge Art Deco style ceilings and grand entrances. If you can find tickets to an event here, I would highly recommend but they also do guided tours to take you behind the scenes.
Price: $60 (circa £45)
Booking agent: Ticketmaster
Recommend? This was by far one of my favourite things we did.
Sunday seemed to be the trickiest day to organise. A lot of stuff didn’t open to 11am or midday which left us a little stuck on what to do. However…Ellen’s opens at 7am.
Ellen’s Stardust Diner
This is a MUST visit for NYC. I’d heard about Ellen’s before but it wasn’t until I’d seen some clips on Instagram did it swiftly make its way to the top of my bucket list. It may have had something to do with the servers singing Disney songs…
I was a little apprehensive about taking Lee because I can categorically tell you he is not a fan of musicals in any shape or form – he’ll tolerate the occasional Disney movie but generally requires a little bit of persuasion.
And he loved it!
I could have stayed there all day.
We both ordered pancakes for breakfast and then spent the next hour being entertained by an endless stream of performers. What a great idea for a restaurant. All the servers are Broadway performers between shows or looking for their big break and man can they sing. So when a show comes to its end, the singers can still earn a living whilst they wait for the next audition opportunity. Last year, they lost 20 serving staff to show placements, and a few weeks before we went, one guy had been cast as Olaf for Disney Cruises.
They sing a wide collection of songs from movies, Broadway and popular culture. And everyone is there to have a great time. You’ve got confetti canons, high energy and a podium for the singers to get up and dance.
Be warned: you’ll have to queue.
Ellen’s doesn’t take reservations, so you have to queue outside in the cold, and you could be waiting for up to two hours for a seat. We’d deliberately got there early – about 8am – and waited for about 20 minutes (the beauty of being up and about early on a Sunday morning) before we got in. We were also a party of two which meant we were fast-tracked in front of larger parties.
Price: $11-$25 per meal (circa £8-£19)
Recommend? Yes! Yes! Yes! Even if musicals aren’t your thing, you will still love it!
As much as I wanted to stay for as long as possible, the queue outside had doubled in size since we’d sat down, so we left to let some other tourists enjoy the entertainment and headed north on Broadway to Central Park.
You could easily spend a whole day in Central Park; there’s the zoo, the Hans Christian Anderson Monument, the Alice in Wonderland statue, Belvedere Castle, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to name few landmarks.
@pyschotraveller posted a photo the day before saying North Central Park is the best spot for locals and you’ll see a lot of dog walkers up that way.
You can also bag yourself a traditional horse and carriage ride, but be prepared to pay about $100, if not more. You can probably haggle a little with the vendors, but they’re not cheap. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time, so we took a leisurely stroll up towards the Alice in Wonderland statue and enjoyed the snow-covered fields.
We exited at Lenox Hill and headed to the subway station so we could go uptown to the Bronx for our next stop.
Recommend? It’s a great green space in the middle of a busy city and you could easily spend days roaming and exploring.
The Yankee Stadium
It wouldn’t be a holiday without at least one behind-the-scenes tour of some kind of sporting stadium. On our travels so far, we’ve done:
- Wembley in London
- The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff
- The Kensington Oval in Bridgetown
- Daytona Speedway in Daytona
So now it was time for a baseball stadium, and where better to do it than the Yankees Stadium in New York?
We didn’t actually get off to the best start; GoPros aren’t allowed in the grounds so I had to make a mad dash across the street and pay $20 for a locker before running back to make the tour in time.
The tour itself was great though and our tour guide definitely knew her stuff and was a die-hard Yankees fan. We went up into the press box where we got a rare sighting of the grounds covered in snow, through the stands to Monument Park where they pay tribute to their greatest players such as Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and finally to their Yankees Museum where they have an impressive signed baseball wall.
Afterward, we decided to stop off at the Hard Rock next door (café number 19) to buy a t-shirt and scan my rewards card – which gets me priority seating and discount vouchers. And with all the palaver with the GoPro at the beginning of the tour, a cocktail was a definite must.
Booking agent: Expedia
Recommend? I wasn’t wowed by this experience but I’m still glad we did it.
Roosevelt Island Tramway
After the HRC, we headed back into Lenox Hill to the Roosevelt Island Tram. Another of Lee’s finds, this one was inspired by a hilarious Impractical Jokers punishment.
Included in the cost of your 7-day Metro pass, the journey to Roosevelt Island takes about 5 minutes and gives you some great views of Manhattan. There’s not much to do one the island, but it does have a public park and a few things to see. The trams run about every 10 minutes, so we had a brief walk around nearby and then hopped back on.
Price: $4 for a round trip (circa £3) but included in your Metro card
Recommend? This one was such a good find, and well worth the time although it’s a little out of the way.
Grand Central Station
On our way back to our hotel, we went through Grand Central again – this was about the 4th time we’d been through the station, but this time we stopped to test the architecture.
If you find the right hallway – ours led to the food concourse – there’s a particular style of archway that carries sound really well. If you stand in diagonal opposite corners and then talk to the wall, sound will travel up into the arch and back down the other side, clear as a bell.
You might get a few weird looks from passers-by, but this is New York, after all.
Before we left, we hunted down the Transport Museum inside the station. I’m not sure if this a permanent thing or just a pop-up, but it was worth the 5-minute visit. They had an electric train set up in the middle of the room with a mini Grand Central Station, King Kong and the Empire State as well. If you’re into your trains, there’s some pretty cool merchandise you can buy there too, including tote bags and mugs decorated with the gorgeous pattern on Grand Central’s ceiling.
Price: Free (unless you’re getting on a train)
Recommend? It’s a pretty iconic location and would also be pretty hard to use the subway without at least once finding yourself going through Grand Central
The New York Public Library
It was still a little early, so on our way back we stopped off at the New York Public Library for a peep into the iconic reading room. Wow, was that a weird experience. There’s a lot of tourists wandering around the building – a lot more than I expected – and if you’re after the famous reading room you see in all the movies, you want to be on the top floor.
There’s one reading room to the right which is guarded for study only but the one on the left is open to tourists. There are still people in there studying so you’re confined to a small little entryway so as not to disturb them and instructed to be quiet. Probably one of the oddest book experiences I’ve ever had.
Satisfied we’d seen enough, we went back to the hotel to drop off our new purchases, freshen up, change into warmer clothing for the evening and head back out to Madison Square Garden.
Recommend? This was a weird one. It wasn’t as exciting as I thought it would be and if you’re not a huge book nerd, you can probably get away with just walking past.
Madison Square Garden: New York Rangers vs Columbus Blue Jackets NHL
We’d booked ice hockey tickets well in advance and I was slightly dismayed by how expensive they were, especially when I’d have preferred to see the basketball for a lot less. But I absolutely loved it.
Now I’m not normally a sports fan, but the ice hockey was so much fun. Definitely better than NFL, and a lot faster paced than football.
MSG was huge – would you expect anything less from a world-famous venue? – but the process of finding our seats was a lot more confusing than other large venues I’ve been to. There wasn’t a clear entry point based on your seat and so we spent a lot of time wandering round looking for the right section.
We were seated pretty high up but it still gave us a good view of the game. And we could even see those in the press box doing their thing which meant we were perfectly placed for a t-shirt toss.
Price: $95 (circa £73) – don’t let yourself be caught out by taxes and additional fees. The NHL tickets were actually only $73 each before taxes and processing charges.
Booking agent: Vivd Seats
Recommend? This was so much better than I ever thought it would be. Turns out I’m a bit of a hockey fan. If you can fit in the time to see at least one type of sports, I’d say that’s time well spent.
After the game finished, we weren’t all that hungry. But I’d been in New York for 4 days and was yet to experience a NY cheesecake.
We’d discovered Junior’s after watching Eddie Eats America at my mum’s before Christmas. With claims that they’re the home to the world’s most fabulous cheesecake, it seemed silly to go anywhere else.
After first trying their location on West 45th Street, we quickly learned that everyone in New York had had the exact same idea and it was crazy busy. Instead, we headed up to the one on the corner of West 49th Street which looked to be bigger and got lucky; we got a table in less than 10 minutes.
We ordered one chocolate brownie explosion and one of the originals to share between us.
The chocolate brownie one was delicious, yet huuuuge. And the original wasn’t as good. Where we love a biscuity base, this one had more of a very thin layer of cake that just didn’t taste the same. And it was a little plain for my liking. It was super sickly and by the time I was half-way through, I could barely manage a few bites of the chocolate brownie – sorry Junior’s, you’ve got nothing on the Cheesecake Factory.
Price: Slice of cheesecake about $8 (circa £6)
Recommend? For the experience, yes, but don’t order the original.
Our final full day in New York meant we had one last day to squeeze in all the must-do activities we hadn’t had chance to get to yet, so we were on a mission.
Let’s face it, it’s not a trip to New York without visiting the Brooklyn Bridge. So our first stop of the day was to walk to the first archway. Ideally, I would have got the subway to Brooklyn, explored DUMBO and then walked over the bridge back to Manhattan. But we just didn’t have the time.
Recommend? Of course!
One Police Plaza
What an odd place to visit, you might think.
If you’re a crime fiction lover, like me, then you’ll know that One Police Plaza houses the NYPD headquarters and often features in New York crime fiction, the kind that’s written by James Patterson and Jeffrey Deaver.
It’s a weird building, tucked round the back of the New York Supreme Court and some other very impressive buildings.
Recommend? Only if you’re a crime fiction nut like me as there’s not a lot to see.
CW Pencil Enterprise
From here it’s then a short walk into Chinatown where you’ll find CW Pencil Enterprise on Orchard Street.
Way back in 2015, I read about a pencil store in a trending article on Facebook and have wanted to visit ever since.
I’m a writer by trade, so it seems silly to not visit a shop dedicated to writing implements.
This cute little shop is tucked out of the way a bit but is gorgeous. Primarily more for designers and artists, it has every kind of pencil you can think of with some quirky and collectable items too. Of course, I bought myself one in NYC taxi yellow. But I especially loved how each type of pencil was labelled with where it was made; Tennessee, Utah, Tokyo, China etc.
Price: $1-$10 (circa £1-£8)
Recommend? Another quirky stop off for us, only worth it if you’re interested.
Museum of Ice Cream
At this point we were pretty close to the bottom end of Broadway where you can find the Nike and Converse flagship stores. They’re a little out of the way compared to the rest of the flagship stores you can find on 5th Avenue but being the Converse advocate I am – currently owning 5 pairs – I was keen to have a look.
It was only then we saw the Museum of Ice Cream next door.
Having discovered the museum about two days before our trip, I was sorely tempted to book tickets, but couldn’t justify $39 per person on top of all our other costs – it just seemed a bit steep. Instead, we decided to have a look around the shop where they had their own ice cream bar and a really long admissions line. It was certainly popular and a little part of me really want to splash the cash to get us inside and in the pool of sprinkles, but the next available time wasn’t until 7pm that evening.
Price: $39 per person (circa £30)
Recommend? We didn’t go in the actual museum as I thought it was too pricey.
It was time for a bite to eat, and where better to eat than in Little Italy? My love for the Godfather put me in my element and we soon found the cutest little eatery (called Amici Ristorante) that did the best meatballs I’ve ever had.
Be aware that most restaurants have someone outside looking for customers and will encroach on you ‘just looking’ at the menu. It can be a little off-putting sometimes but during the slow season, it can make or break a business.
We were lured inside by a small Italian man wrapped in a thousand layers and wearing earmuffs. The staff inside were very good, and really friendly. The whole place probably only had about 15 tables but it was perfect and really reasonably priced.
Price: $12-$40 per meal (circa £9-£30) some dishes were really affordable but some were a little on the expensive side.
Recommend? Yes, I think any of the restaurants in Little Italy are probably worth it
We hopped back on the subway and headed uptown to another great Lee find; spy school.
Having spent most of my childhood imagining I was Bond, and repeatedly asking my parents for a spy kit every Christmas, I was like a kid in a candy store. Just call me Ethan Hunt. Or maybe I’m more of a hacker and should join Anonymous…
The whole place was pretty clever; they’d taken FBI and MI5 history and displayed them in exhibitions combined with interactive games and activities. We were given personalised wrist bands that needed to be scanned at each station so we could build a profiles.
There were four games throughout; an encryption game where you had to send and receive coded messages, a deception test where you had to take part in a lie detector and then determine whether someone was telling the truth, a surveillance game where you had to answer questions based on 30+ CCTV screens, and a special ops exercise where you had to hit as many buttons as possible whilst avoiding the lasers.
At the very end, you get a full debrief where you’re shown how you did and what kind of spy you’ll be. I’m 86% Intelligence Analyst and 78% Hacker…say no more.
In theory, the place was amazing, but it had some major drawbacks. It wasn’t even peak season but it almost seemed like the place couldn’t cope with the number of visitors it had and there were queues for everything, everywhere.
Booking agent: Expedia
Recommend? I loved it! But Lee wasn’t as wowed and there were some definite drawbacks.
We’d been on our feet for 4 whole days without a rest, and had clocked 110,000+ steps so far. It’s safe to say we were truly knackered and needed a quiet evening of food and sleep.
We found Johnny Utah’s round the corner from the Rockefeller Centre – I always want to eat in new, local places when we go on holiday but a lot of the time it just doesn’t work out that way. It’s often a convenience vs hanger thing and we just end up in the nearest/easiest place we can find. So we’d made a concerted effort to find somewhere nearby that wasn’t a chain we’d heard of/eaten at already. Some of the food recommendations we’d been given fell through just because they were a little on the pricey side, so Johnny Utah’s was a glorious Google find.
I’d been warned that oftentimes, New York restaurants are down some rickety stairs into a dodgy-looking basement, but we were yet to experience this…
We came down the steps to Johnny Utah’s and it was unnaturally quiet. There was no-one around and nothing to indicate the place was open other than the lights overhead. We opened the huge, red, metal doors and were greeted by an amazing Texas-themed bar, complete with mechanical bull.
It was really empty, with only about 5 tables being served but there were a few locals at the bar which was reassuring. It turned out the place was great; friendly stuff and amazing food. A definite recommend.
Price: $8-$38 (circa £6-£29) but the burgers were about $15 (circa £11)
Recommend? Yes, some of the best burgers we’ve had in a long time
Our final day was dedicated to The High Line and swinging by all the shops we wanted to revisit and purchase from.
The High Line
Starting near West 33rd Street, The High Line is an old railroad that’s been converted into a public pathway. It’s free to walk along and gives you some of the best views of the city, and in the summer, it’s budding with beautiful flora and fauna. It’s 1.45 mile long and a great way to take a break from the hustle and bustle.
Part of The High Line was closed when we visited (at the very top) so be sure to check their website for updates.
If you get off the subway at Hudson’s Yard, you’ll also see The Vessel, an incredible piece of artwork that’s a spiral staircase you can climb. It’s made up of 154 inter-connected flights of stairs, with 2,500+ steps and provides some unique views of the city.
You can then join The High Line at Hudson’s Yard if you don’t fancy walking to West 33rd Street.
We only walked about 5 or 6 blocks in total before heading back towards Times Square – we had a flight to catch that afternoon so we didn’t want to be running too late.
Recommend? But only if the weather’s good.
Thanks New York
Wow, what a trip. I don’t think I’ve ever walked so far in my life. I was definitely grateful for the reprieve of sitting still on a flight for 7 hours…and you’ll be glad to know our flight home was definitely less eventful than the one on the way out.
New York was such a blast and I can’t believe we managed to cram in so many activities. I don’t think there was a single thing we missed out on!
If you’ve got any NYC questions, drop them in the comments below.
And also…if you managed to make it this far, bravo. You might need a reading medal. Head over to my Insta and send me an NYC-related GIF so I know who my champions are