As the saying goes, anything can happen in a New York minute. And whilst our trip now only feels like it lasted a minute, we did manage to make a lot happen. It was a proper girl’s trip; I went with my mum, my friend who I met at nursery, Milly, (@ameliagilmoreblog), and her mum. We both turned 21 this year, and what better way to celebrate than eating, drinking and shopping our way around the Big Apple?
All of us had been to the big city before, so we decided that this time we wanted to do things that were less touristy and find those hidden gems. Over the next few posts I am hoping not only to relive some of the magic myself, but also to share with you some of my favourite sights, experiences and, of course, eateries.
One World Trade
On our first day, we decided to head downtown to One World Trade, which I later found out was the tallest building in the western hemisphere. As you ascend the 102 floors, the digital screens in the lift show the growth of New York, from pre-urbanisation greenery to present day. When you reach the top and get out, a large screen plays a short clip about New York before revealing the breath-taking view behind the glass. We went at night, which isn’t a great time to take photos, but the city looks amazing when it’s lit up. There is a 360° observation deck which allows you to see the whole of Manhattan and the surrounding islands.
Getting the metro over to Brooklyn, we were able to walk back over the bridge with the view of Manhattan ahead of us. It gave a wonderfully different perspective on the city. You’re far enough away to see a plethora of sky scrapers, but at a level where they still feel immensely tall. It was quite a long walk, but it gave more opportunity to take in the spectacular view. This is something that I would definitely recommend; there are lots of great photo opportunities! Just be careful of the cyclists as you are taking in the view.
Despite having been here before, I wanted to see Grand Central again and refresh my memory. This is one of those buildings that definitely lives up to its name. You walk in and are immediately hit with its grandeur, especially at this time of year when it’s decked with beautiful Christmas wreaths. What surprised me was how clean it was. You come in from the very urban and let’s be honest, grubby city, and are hit with an immense marble open space. Everybody is going about their own business; they cross each other heading to their platforms and their conversations echo and bounce off the walls. My favourite part of the building was the ceiling. Looking up you notice its deep green colour which is intricately decorated with a gold pattern. As the tourist, I found it to be a place away from the busy outside noise, where you can just pause and take a breather.
Again, although we had already been, we all felt we couldn’t go to New York without popping to Times Square and taking the obligatory pictures on the steps. It was just as I remembered it: vibrant, constant and manic. The ball was ready to drop for the New Year and the Coca Cola Christmas advert was playing on one of the many advertising screens. There is just so much to look at; you need a good half an hour to take it all in. Obviously, I would definitely put this on the New York must-see list.
We timed our trip quite well in that on our second day, it was Thanksgiving. So we headed to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Despite the crowds of people, we managed to find a good spot on 6th Avenue where we stood for about an hour watching the massive balloons pass by. We saw a large air-filled Chase from Paw Patrol, a huge Ronald McDonald, a giant Pikachu and many more. Celebrities Rita Ora, John Legend and Ashley Tisdale from High School Musical also made an appearance. Joining in the celebrations and watching the parade in real time rather than on TV was a great experience. The only trouble was, with the -9 temperature we were slowly losing the feeling in our fingers and toes. When we couldn’t stand still anymore we made a plan to go and find somewhere for a coffee to warm up. This proved more difficult than expected because lots of places were closed for the holiday celebrations.
With the extremely cold weather, everything in Central Park seemed still and untouched. It was beautiful; the sun shined on the trees and illuminated their multi-coloured leaves and the blue sky reflected on the lake. Again, like the Brooklyn Bridge, it was nice to see the urban jungle from a different perspective. Here, the trees and greenery formed the forefront of the view whilst the skyscrapers were in the background. There was so much to look at and I wish we’d been able to wonder around a bit more, but it was just too cold. We bought some fresh honey roasted cashews from a stall, walked to the next metro station and caught a train downtown to The Highline.
The Highline used to be a railway, but is now an elevated park which runs for a couple of miles on the edge of the city. On the day we went it was basked in sunlight, but still very cold. We got on to it from the far end and walked for about half an hour. There were lots of places which overlooked streets and because of New York’s grid layout, you could see all the way up them and get a really good view. Again, it’s a nice place to get out of the hustle and bustle for a bit; I would definitely recommend having a look.
After coming back down from One World Trade, we decided to walk over to the 9/11 Memorial Ground. There are now two water fountains which mark the shape of the two buildings. The water continuously flows, which we thought reflected the continuous remembrance of the victims whose names are engraved around the edge of the fountain. This was a strange experience and the atmosphere was eerie, but I think it is good to go to pay your respects and also to reflect on the number of lives lost on that horrific day.
- Wrap up Warm
If you are visiting in the winter remember to take some warm clothes and plenty of layers, scarfs and hats. When I say it’s cold, I don’t say it lightly; it really was freezing. You will enjoy yourself a lot more if you head out prepared and wrapped up warm.
- Study the Metro
We decided that for us, it would be better to invest in a seven day metro card. Its $2 dollars per journey or $32 for a card, which gives you unlimited use. Whilst we got on quite well using the metro, it was sometimes quite difficult to see whether the trains were heading uptown or downtown. It isn’t always signposted very well, so make sure you are definitely getting on the right train to avoid going out of your way. Also, the lines don’t have names. Instead, they are marked with colours and then letters and numbers. Google maps should point you in the right direction if you get stuck.
- What’s on when you’re there?
Visiting New York in November/December is great; the Christmas trees and lights are up and the ice skaters are out in full force. We were really lucky because we got to see Macy’s parade, but there are amazing things happening all year round. Be sure to look up what’s on when you are due to visit.
- Ask yourself, is it really cheaper than at home?
When shopping, we found that a lot of things were more expensive than at home in England. This is because the exchange rate isn’t very good at the moment. I don’t know why, but before I went I thought that everything would be a lot cheaper. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case.
- Take an extra bag!
If you are planning on shopping, maybe bring an empty cabin bag so you don’t have to worry about getting it home.
- Time Difference
New York is five hours behind, which takes a bit of adjustment. This can be annoying when you are only there for a short time. On our first few nights we were absolutely exhausted and we were naturally waking up really early in the morning. As much as it’s tempting to just press on and keep going, it can sometimes help to listen to your body so that you can get enough rest to be able to do everything you want to.
Stay tuned for part two in which I tell you all about where we ate, drank and, of course, shopped.