The Scoop: New York City
...big lights will inspire you!
Loud, glitzy, sprawling and relentlessly busy, New York is the ultimate megalopolis...the city of cities that never sleeps! Made up of five boroughs, of these Manhattan conjures up the primary iconic images most people think of.
Situated where the Hudson River meets the Atlantic, with so much to see and do you’d be hard-pushed not to be wowed. But a word of warning… you may feel like you need a relaxing holiday when you get back!
English: Phrases to practise (before you go – unless timing and delivery are perfected): “Fawget aboutit” and “Get outta hea!”
When to visit
People love New York for countless different reasons, with spring, early autumn and Christmas the busiest tourist periods. Weather-wise, best times to visit are April to June or August to October when the weather is generally milder and you’re less likely to need to carry a coat. Peak daytime temperatures in September are about 25°C, decreasing month by month to February. Summers are warm and humid and winters can be extreme, often with snow and biting winds. On the plus side, the bitter chills of NYC winters do feel dryer and somehow less harsh than the British cold. And even after the heaviest of snowfalls, New Yorkers are adept at clearing it up and carrying on!
Early September is fab for Fashion Week, with New York hosting the opening week before it all moves on to London. Keep your eyes peeled for A-listers and their entourages visiting town, along with the great and the good from the world of fashion – and learn what’s hot for next season!
Hallowe’en (October 31st) is a sight to behold in NYC with a night parade attracting more than two million people, many in costumes. Some of the parade puppets are so enormous that they tower alongside the buildings on Sixth Avenue.
Christmas in New York is nothing short of spectacular. With the endless twinkling lights, shopping opportunities and festive attractions, in combination with that distinct wintry chill in the air, it really does feel like the ultimate winter wonderland, recalling countless feel-good festive movies.
Top Tips for Christmas in New York:
Eat at Rolf’s German restaurant (3rd Ave) for a true Christmassy dining experience.
Head over to Dyker Heights in southwest Brooklyn to be dazzled by an entire neighbourhood decked out in Christmas lights and competing to be the biggest and best. Think ‘Home Alone’ multiplied by 10,000! If this doesn’t get you feeling festive, nothing will!
With up to 60 million visitors a year, New York flights are frequent and popular and it is best to spend a little time searching for the best deal to suit you.
Air travellers to New York City may arrive at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) or LaGuardia Airport (LGA), both in Queens, or Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) in neighbouring New Jersey. LaGuardia is the closest to midtown Manhattan but not served by trains so a car or taxi ride will get you to Manhattan in about 35 minutes depending on traffic. JFK and Newark are both served by the AirTrain which can take up to an hour but are relatively simple to navigate.
My Top Tip from JFK: Get the AirTrain from the airport terminal to Jamaica Station, and then the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) to Penn Station. Then marvel in utmost awe as you emerge from the station elevator into the instant overwhelming hustle and bustle of New York.
Flight times to New York are around 8 hours from London and Manchester, and roughly 7 hours 40 minutes from Glasgow.
“Off-season” (January to March) can usually bag you the cheapest flight deals. A week in mid-October flying direct to JFK from London Gatwick will typically cost you from £400 to £600 if you hunt around, however new budget carriers are often releasing promotional fares, with Norwegian recently offering seats at £240 return (read our guide to booking low cost Norwegian flights to New York). If a deal isn't on, London Heathrow direct to Newark with Air India icomes in at £418 return. From Manchester, Thomas Cook come out cheapest for a direct flight to JFK at £420 return. And from Glasgow direct to Newark, Lufthansa’s £493 return is the cheapest option. If you are happy for an hour and a half stopover in Dublin, Aer Lingus work out as the cheapest deal from Glasgow to JFK, at £378 return. Keep your eyes peeled for discount fares. An easy way to do this is to subscribe to the Travelscoop email newsletter, and remember to use Momondo before booking to double check that you can't beat the price.
While you’re there
With so much to see, do and eat in New York, costs can easily spiral out of control. It’s best to work out a rough daily budget (with some contingency) before you go and adhering to it where possible.
In a few days, and especially for a first trip, most travellers will want to do the iconic touristy stuff which is largely based in Manhattan where nothing comes cheap. So with this in mind, an average daily spend per person can set you back around $150, not including accommodation. This estimate is mid-range and takes into account eating out, entertainment, attractions, public transport and tips. This price will obviously increase if you plan to add in some serious shopping. NB: Tips in New York are not optional and should only be refused for exceptionally poor service.
Of course, you can still have a fab time in New York for less than that if you plan your days in advance a little. Adding some free stuff to your itinerary, like Central Park and the Staten Island Ferry, are almost a must anyway and will ease the budget a bit.
If you love to tick off all the big tourist attractions, the New York CityPASS might be good for you. Around $122, it includes 6 top New York attractions and valid for 9 consecutive days after first use. This equates to around a 40% saving on the attraction prices, and you will often get to skip the queues with a CityPASS. Attractions you can visit include: The Empire State Building Experience; American Museum of Natural History; The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Top of the Rock Observation Deck; Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island; and 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Or, there are alternative options to some CityPASS attractions.
If you’re going to pay for one big tourist attraction, then seeing the breath-taking views from up high is a must. I’ve seen many cities from skyscrapers in my time as a traveller, but none have been quite as awe-inspiring as seeing NYC laid out beneath me. There are so many famous landmarks to spot, and you really get a sense of the enormous scale and relentless busyness of the City. I did the Empire State Building purely because it was the one I knew most about and it’s supposedly “the world’s most famous building.” But there is some debate as to whether this or the Top of the Rock (Rockefeller Center) offers the best view. And then you have the added quandary about whether to do it during the day, at dusk, or in the evening when the views will be vastly different (but always exceptional). I did the Empire State Building on a weekday and went in and straight to the top without the need to queue at all. But there will inevitably be queues at busier times. The view from the 86th floor was phenomenal, with the wind rippling through the hair. But it was busy with tourists all vying for that perfect selfie! If you’re feeling the need for even greater height and want to empathise with King Kong, you can pay extra and keep ascending to the 102nd floor, a smaller enclosed space. Cost of admission to the Empire State Building per person without the New York CityPASS is $34. Of course, you will still get to see the Empire State Building from all over New York even if you don’t fancy visiting it.
The shopping – You have the potential to seriously max out your credit cards in NYC. Often regarded as the “shopping capital of the world”, every famous brand is here. Even if you manage to withstand the constant desire to spend, window shopping alone is a wow factor experience in New York. Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and Tiffany (you can’t have breakfast there anymore, sadly) are tourist attractions in their own right, but the mammoth stores on Times Square are something to behold, with no expense spared to impress the crowds. Even Toys ‘R’ Us has a ferris wheel inside it!
A fun thing to do is watch Good Morning America in person outside the show’s Times Square studio. All you have to do is pick the dates you want to be in the audience and request tickets online. The audience gathers from 7am, and the show airs from 7am to 9am every weekday.
High Line Park (20th Street) – Not so much a hidden gem, but easily overlooked in amongst the huge array of things to do in NYC, is this abandoned railway which has been turned into an elevated linear park, greenway and rail trail. A former New York Central Railroad spur on the west side of Manhattan, it is 2.33km (1.45 miles) long and opened in 2009. Its premise has been to “reimagine obsolete infrastructures as public space”, and it has become an icon in contemporary landscape architecture.
My personal highlights
The Staten Island Ferry is brilliant. If you don’t harbour a desperate urge to go to Ellis Island and get as close as possible to the Statue of Liberty, the Ferry is the next best bet for seeing it. It transports visitors 8.4km (5.2 miles) between Manhattan and Staten Island, 24/7, in at least half hour intervals, and affords fantastic views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island from the deck. The view of the New York skyline as the Ferry departs/returns is also superb.
Brooklyn Bridge – Getting up close and personal with the architecture and the traffic, and getting to see the marvellous views made the long walk over the Bridge to Brooklyn an unforgettable experience. Adding in a return trip over the Manhattan Bridge (not nearly as interesting, but still worthwhile) was really satisfying.
Broadway – A great experience and not altogether different to seeing a West End show in London (except for the nice added touch of complimentary programmes, called ‘playbills’). There are probably cheaper ways of getting tickets (such as the TKTS booth in Duffy Square), but I chose and bought my Broadway tickets online before I went to New York via Attraction Tickets Direct. The whole process was professional and hassle-free and I received my tickets in the post in plenty of time and took them with me to New York. They sent me a handy travel wallet, lots of money off coupons for New York attractions and restaurants, AND offered me email advice on fun things to do in NYC even when they weren’t going to be profiting from it (in response to a query!) It felt like a very personal service, and I would gladly recommend them. As I mentioned, there WILL undoubtedly be cheaper alternatives, but I was pleased to get this booked up, the seats in the stalls were still great, and I didn’t need to worry about budgeting for it when I was there.
Staying and breakfasting a bit farther out of Times Square will be less costly and sometimes a more pleasant experience.
It is also easy to navigate NYC, and you can pretty much walk to anywhere, and will often see more if you do. But buy a guidebook to take with you to ensure that you don’t miss any of the countless sights as you go, and make rough plans for your days of sightseeing if you need to cram a lot into a few days.
The Perfect Book
But my recommendation for a really good and different New York read is The Ruby Slippers by Keir Alexander:
Old Rosa the bag lady shuffles along the streets of New York, stinking, silent and shunned by society. Every attempt by her nephew, Michael, to get her to talk - or even just to take a bath - has failed, so when Rosa is accidentally knocked down by a parade float he gives up all hope of ever finding out why his aunt and mother fell out when he was a child. As Rosa lies in a coma, Michael visits her squalid flat and, hidden amongst the monstrous piles of junk, he stumbles upon something that will change his life forever: an original pair of the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz!