Like many globe-trotting enthusiasts, it has always been my dream to escape the dull British skies one winter & take a trip to the livelier city of New York. Now the weather might not be too dissimilar to that of England’s, but with skyscrapers aplenty, shops with bargains that will instantaneously send your bank balance plummeting and delicious eateries on every corner – who really pays attention to the weather?!
I’m usually quite safe when it comes to my travels and stay within my European comfort zone, but I didn’t let my reservations get in the way of experiencing some classic Christmas magic, so off I ventured not really knowing what to expect, but incredibly excited to cross a destination off of my bucket list.
If you too, are a bit of a culture vulture and feel yourself uhming and ahing about the concept of a lively cosmopolitan city opposed to the traditional short break destinations such as Rome & Paris, you have nothing to worry about! I wasn’t expecting the vast array of sightseeing opportunities and entertainment options available, other than the staple must-see’s such as The Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty, so I was pleasantly surprised with the range of things to keep myself busy. So much so, I’ve compiled my own top 5 bucket list for New York goers who, like me, are slightly clueless with where to go and what to see!
See Frankie Valli and the rest of the Jersey Boys on Broadway
Seeing a show on Broadway is a must, and the choice is quite frankly overwhelming! I decided to stick with a New York classic, and I was far from disappointed. Based in New Jersey just a short journey away from NY, this show is a great cultural fit for anybody wanting to experience Broadway at its bets, the atmosphere is just electric.
Go Ice Skating at the Rockefellar Centre
Visiting the Rockefeller Centre is an experience in itself, especially at Christmas time when the widely known ‘Home Alone’ tree is decorated and in pride of place, and the streets are tastefully lit with fairy lights. But to get the full magical New York experience, make sure you take a trip to the ice skating rink and skate up to the tree itself (perfect photo moment!). You’ll also find Magnolia bakery a few minutes away, the Red Velvet Cheesecake made the perfect après-skate treat!
Visit the Empire State Building at Dusk
A truly iconic experience for your break, one of my biggest challenges was deciding when to go! A colleague suggested going at around 4pm and that way you can see New York by day and night, which was a fabulous idea! It was great to see the sheer size and spot the landmarks by day, but seeing the city come alive at night, a flood with lights and colours was truly a spectacular experience.
Stop by the Penn Station for a bite to eat
I know what you’re thinking…’Why would I go to a train station to eat?’, but seriously don’t knock it until you’ve tried it! The basement is full of mouth-watering eateries from classic hot dogs to oysters, and from delicious baked goods to authentic sushi – they have everything you could possibly want, and more! What’s more…check out the food market outside as you venture back out into the city.
Take a full day to explore Central Park
I may have been slightly ignorant in my understanding about the sheer size of Central Park, and thought I’d only need an hour or two to explore – boy was I wrong! It’s hard to believe there’s such a large area of unspoilt natural beauty behind the layers of sky scrapers and hustle bustle of everyday life, but in Central Park – you kind of forget it all exists. I of course would recommend seeing the iconic fountains, but I was more impressed by what I found beyond the outskirts of the park. Make sure you spend a few hours venturing through to the park to the Upper East side, where’s there’s lakes and wildlife aplenty!
Trying to get a week full of excitement was not easy, therefore for those of you not so keen on the concept of breaking a leg on the ice or sitting through a musical, I’ve managed to squeeze in a few top tips below (which I wish I’d known in advance!)
– The Natural History Museum is actually free; they charge you about £15 on the entrance, but this is only the recommended donation, so you don’t have to pay the full amount if you don’t want to. I’d recommend saving some of this for the additional exhibitions within the museum, which have an additional charge.
– Get a bike or walk around Central Park; Central Park is full of Rickshaw drivers charging variable amounts, which can really add up! They also only take you to the spots which are jammed full of tourists, meaning you don’t get to see the natural beauty and hidden wonders of Central Park.
– Visit a Diner for breakfast; I was told by many about how expensive food was, and I agree somewhat for main meals. However many traditional Diners have great breakfast menus (traditional NY pancakes and waffles, bacon and maple syrup of course!) with refillable drinks for the equivalent of about £6, an absolute bargain!
– Dress Sensibly!; It sounds silly, but if you’re visiting the Empire State / Ground Zero there any plenty of security measures in place, it’s likely going through an airport, I’d suggest giving those heavy boots and belts a miss if you can avoid it. It also gets very windy and cold on the boat tours, particularly out towards The Statue of Liberty where there’s no buildings to shield the wind, wrap up warm!
– For any shopaholics out there make sure you give ‘Century 21’ a visit, it’s a discount shop selling all your favourite designers. There’s one close to Central Park and another one near Ground Zero, a real haven for designer bargains!
– Visit Times Square on an evening; Not only do the lights and billboards become even more prominent, but Times Square is littered with super talented street acts from spray paint artists, to violinists and break dancers! There are plenty of street cafes where you can sit back with a traditional Manhattan and enjoy the buzz of Times Square.
Lastly, New York is not as big as it first seems, if you consider yourself quite fit make sure you try to walk everywhere, if you’re staying in a hotel in Manhattan you can more or less get everywhere (perhaps not Ground Zero and the financial district). The amount of unexpected shops, restaurants and cafes I accidentally stumbled upon on my journey was unbelievable!