Falling in love with New York is easy and for me, it was love at first sight! A sensory overload with its awe-inspiring skyscrapers and everything racing at 100 miles an hour, it is a city that truly lives up to the hype.
This was my third visit and I realised that I find myself more spellbound with New York on each trip. We planned our visit to coincide with the holidays, hoping to arrive in a snow-blanketed New York straight out of the movies. As luck would have it, the weather was unseasonably warm and we found ourselves wandering around wearing light jackets usually reserved for the infamous British summer.
Since this was not our first trip, we opted to skip many of the tourist attractions and spend our time exploring other parts of the city as well revisiting some old favourites. Our hotel was located in east midtown Manhattan making it the ideal base for venturing around most of Manhattan with ease. You can find all the important info you need on visiting New York through a Google search or a travel guide so rather than rewrite the guidebook, I have put together my personal recommendations for making the most of a short visit to New York.
Walk as much as you possibly can
New York, and in particular Manhattan, much like most other small cities is best seen by foot. New York, a small city? I was intrigued to find that the island of Manhattan, where we spent the bulk of our time is actually tiny, measuring only 21.6km by 3.7km. Traffic in Manhattan can be unbearably painful and blocks are pretty small so walking twenty blocks is often a timesaver and not an especially long walk. I find that walking around the city allows me to see so much more and discover little bits of the city that I would otherwise have missed. It makes for tired feet but the upside is that I feel I earned all the calorific food I am likely to consume while away.
When you can’t walk, use the subway
If you’re familiar with public transport systems anywhere else, the subway is easy to navigate with clearly marked directions so you’re less likely to go downtown when you mean to go uptown! To make it even easier there’s an app you can use which will plan out your route when you enter your starting location and destination.
Spend some time people watching in Grand Central Terminal
Grab a coffee and your confectionary of choice and head up the stairs in the main concourse of Grand Central Terminal for one of the best people watching spots I’ve come across. I am partial to the double chocolate fudge brownie from Magnolia Bakery but you are spoilt for choice in the central market. The terminal itself is a work of wonder that makes you feel as you have been transported back in time and if you can spare a couple of hours I highly recommend a tour.
Big City Lights
You can’t go to New York and not pay a visit to Times Square, arguably the most famous attraction in the city. The area, home to the city’s theatres and Broadway shows, is everything you imagine – bright city lights and billboards, leaving you in absolute awe. Worth a visit but be warned that it is chaos at the best of times filled to the brim with tourists dangerously armed with selfie sticks.
If you happen to visit over the Christmas holidays as we did, you are in for a treat. New York is a city that takes the festive season very seriously, evidenced by the spectacular Christmas lights adorning the city. My personal favourite was the incredible show at Saks Fifth Avenue and I loved the details in the windows at Lord & Taylor.
Take in the view
The view of the Manhattan skyline amazes me every single time. While you can visit the Top of The Rock and Empire State Building for some phenomenal views, my personal favourites (which do not require you to queue behind a very long line of tourists) are Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park and the spectacular view from the ferry to Staten Island.
This time, we ventured out to Brooklyn heights on the promise of brilliant views from the promenade but the weather did not play its part and, to my disappointment, the Manhattan skyscrapers disappeared into the clouds. I guess it means I have no choice but to visit again (as if I need much convincing!)
The High Line
We didn’t make it here on this trip but as I loved this park built on an old elevated railway line, I have to recommend a visit. An unusual concept, the High Line has some great views, an urban theatre and is the perfect place to take a break if you’re visiting New York in the warmer months.
All the guide books will tell you to visit and there’s good reason why. While you are likely to stumble across several other lost tourists in the park, much like London’s Royal Parks, it s also frequented by locals. A walk around the park with its incredible views and areas you may recognise from well known movies, will leave you wanting more. In the winter, an ice rink is set up in the park too so you can try your best not to fall over against the magical Manhattan skyline backdrop.
Shop till you (almost) drop
There’s no denying that London has some of the best shopping in the world and I could happily visit Selfridges every day; however the US has so much more on offer and it tends to be cheaper too!
If your visit happens to coincide with sales (by which I mean, it is best practice to plan your holidays around the sales), make sure you stop by and allow yourself a few hours at Macy’s. Formerly the world’s largest store, it can be overwhelming and your bank balance might pay for it later, but it is definitely worth a visit. America is the land where the customer is always right and I have yet to come across better customer service anywhere else.
A stroll down the famous 5th avenue and browsing the stores there is a must but be warned that it has been ranked as the most expensive street in the world. Instead, go bargain hunting at Century 21 for discounted designer items.
Eat the food
As a Muslim, when travelling I either seek halal options or if these are not readily available, I go vegetarian for the duration of my trip. New York has so much to offer in terms of great bakeries, those famous hot dog carts and some really great restaurants but finding suitable halal food can be tricky. Interestingly, I discovered on my first trip to the States that when seeking halal food, you should enquire as to whether the food is zabiha (slaughtered in accordance with islamic principles). Whereas my understanding has always been that halal is synonymous with zabiha, I have found that in the US, often halal means that the meats are not forbidden or are kosher. If you are after food that is Zabiha halal where no alcohol is served, it can be a bit of a struggle. Watch this space for our guide to halal in Manhattan.
Remember you don’t have to be lost to wander
While I do like to plan my days in a city for the most part so that I can maximise my time and make sure to tick off all the must-do’s on my list, I always leave a little wiggle room to spontaneously visit an interesting looking building, grab a coffee and a cheeky cupcake in a tiny coffee shop in an unassuming side street, or stop and find a spot to people watch. I find that these are the moments of a trip I usually enjoy the most and recall later. New York is one of those cities I could never tire of exploring – walking around little side streets, taking detours and ditching a guided tour when something more interesting comes along. Ask a local for recommendations, check tripadvisor and venture out beyond what the guidebook tells you to do. All you need a little pocket map of the city or Google maps and I guarantee you will enjoy it!
My sister sent me this quotation that sums up New York perfectly, “I get out of the taxi and it’s probably the only city which in reality looks better than the postcard: New York.” – Milos Forman
For me, the sign of being a city I truly love, is that I never quite feel ready to leave. New York always leaves me wanting more and I am already thinking about when I could squeeze in another visit!
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