I’ve been to New York a few times now but Miles had never been. Having spent time there with family I knew that Miles would absolutely love it so we always kept our eyes peeled for decent air fares. Luckily enough Norwegian Air started up at Gatwick-JFK charter and released flights at an introductory price of £300 return – we were in! We booked almost a year in advance which gave us plenty of time to plan (and save!) for our big trip to the Big Apple!
On previous trips to New York, I had always stayed in the Midtown area of Manhattan. Miles and I however wanted to stay somewhere with a bit more life – somewhere where people our age actually lived rather than being surrounded by hotels. We therefore settled on the trendy area of Williamsburg, Brooklyn where we rented our own apartment through Airbnb. Williamsburg was not just a base for us, we actually spent quite a bit of time there – I’ll do a completely separate blog post on our favourite spots in the neighbourhood – it really is a fantastic place to stay.
On our first morning in the city we grabbed bagels from a Bagelsmith in Brooklyn before hopping on the subway at Bedford Avenue and heading across to Grand Central Station. You could literally spend hours in the main concourse of the station watching the world go by. We did exactly that – we stood on one of the balconies eating our breakfast, people watching and taking in the surroundings. Tip – if you visit Grand central, make sure you look UP at the amazing painted astronomical ceiling. It’s completely beautiful.
Having spent some time in the station we wandered down towards the riverfront and started queuing for the Circle Line Cruise. We thought taking a cruise such as this would be the perfect first day activity, particularly for a first timer such as Miles as you literally get the most amazing views out across the island from the boat. Touristy – yes – but the hour or so boat ride is the perfect activity, particularly when the sun’s out (little tip – sun cream needed, I of course got burnt). The commentary from the skipper is actually really interesting too!
That afternoon, after our tour around the bay, we wandered up towards the Highline. The Highline is a public park in the sky, built on top of a historic freight rail line so you can see over all of the buildings surrounding you. I think because the weather was so warm when we were there it was lovely to just take a step out of the loud, yet fantastic, atmosphere that is New York and be calm for a little while. It’s one of those places where you could walk up and down for hours but keep noticing new things. There are cool look outs where you can sit above the road below and look out over the traffic, there’s amazing plants lining the old tracks and there’s pop up food stalls serving all sorts of delicious treats whilst buskers fill the air with a range of different music.
The even better thing about the highline is that you can hop off in Chelsea and take a look around the trendy Chelsea Markets which is the perfect stop off for lunch. Miles and I did exactly this. The Chelsea Market is a collection of eateries, gourmet delis, pop up shops, sample sales and drinking spots. The thing to do here apparently is to grab a whole lobster at the Lobster Market, you see countless people sitting out tucking into a lobster for one. Miles and I however forewent this option and grabbed delicious tacos at Los Tacos No 1 before sipping on craft beers at the Filling Station and treating ourselves to mini doughnuts at the doughnuttery. Doesn’t everyone just come to New York to eat and drink?
Stuffed and satisfied we decided to walk off our lunch, and headed towards 5th avenue en route to our next stop of the day – the Empire State Building. We spent a fair amount of time up at the top of the tower admiring the amazing views out across the city – the only slight negative about heading up the Empire State Building is that it’s just so rammed! You have to constantly wait for a space to become free at the viewing grates. After a while it can become a bit tiresome but it’s definitely one the things you have to do when visiting the city!
Having admired the views we headed back down to earth before wandering a little further down Fifth Avenue to pop into a cocktail restaurant called 230 Fifth which had been recommended to me by my friend Rose. The bar is located on the roof of an office block and literally has the most breath-taking views back across to the Empire State Building. It really was amazing to sit with a cocktail in hand looking out across to the incredible vista. We stayed at the bar for a couple of drinks before heading back to Brooklyn for the evening.
The next morning, after grabbing coffee and croissants in Brooklyn, we hopped back on board the subway and made our way across to the Guggenheim Museum. I’m not the biggest fan of spending too much time inside museums, I’d much rather be out treading the pavements, but the Guggenheim is one of the few museums that I’ve absolutely loved. The art work is just breath-taking
Our next stop off for the day was the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Again we spent a couple of hours here at least admiring the incredible exhibits. I particularly enjoyed this museum as there’s such a range of pieces from all periods in history – the museum even has its own Egyptian temple, the Temple of Dendur, which is incredible to walk around. A little tip – if you do decide to visit the Met make sure you head up the roof! The museum lets different artists create their own installations up on the roof space which means it’s constantly changing. The roof is a great place to grab a beer and enjoy the views out across over the city.
Our cultural quota for the day filled we grabbed a smoothie out on the steps of the Met and listened to the jazz band which was busking to the crowd. We decided then to dip into Central Park for a quick wander up towards the west exit of the park and headed to the famous Levain Bakery. I’d read about this place whilst I was doing my NY research and I’d heard that they served the best cookies you could find in the city. I’ve never been a real cookie person, but these are INCREDIBLE. First off, they’re huge, and I mean huge – apparently a pound of dough a piece. The inside is gooey and melted as if they’ve been freshly taken from the oven. I can’t even describe them – you just have to visit if you’re ever in New York. Miles and I couldn’t decide which cookie we wanted, so in the end we bought one of each; chocolate chip walnut, oatmeal raisin, dark chocolate and dark chocolate peanut butter. Literally delicious.
From Levain, we wandered down Broadway towards the Shops at Columbus Circle. This shopping centre is located right on the southwest corner of Central park and is great for a little nose. Soon hunger got the better of us and we popped down to the basement to grab something to eat at the biggest Whole Foods I have ever seen. The market has its own little craft brewery in the corner which we grabbed a beer at before picking up our lunch. I had visited this particular Whole Foods with my parents a few years back. The market has counters upon counters of delicious salads and hot foods which you load into the boxes provided. Catriona and I made a bit of an error and thought the prices were based on box size, not weight. We therefore went about stuffing our boxes until they were practically bursting at the seams. It wasn’t until we got to the counter that we realised the error of our ways and were swiftly charged almost £30 for our lunches…. This time round Mile and I were much more cautious with our box filling, and once we’d chosen our food we headed into the park for a little picnic. It was lovely!
After a gorgeous picnic out in the park, and a little snooze out in the sun (on my behalf!) we decide to heads towards Times Square and see if we could grab tickets to a show that evening. The evening was starting to draw in and the square was already heaving with tourists and street entertainers. We queued up at the tickets kiosks and managed to bag incredible seats for that evening’s showing of Les Miserables at Broadway’s Imperial Theatre.
Before the show started we popped up to the View which is a rotating restaurant on the 48th floor of the Marriot Hotel. We were able to grab window seats and enjoyed the ever changing views of the city with cocktails in hand!
Soon it was show time so we wandered down to the theatre and enjoyed the incredible show with seats only a couple of rows from the front. It was amazing.
We grabbed a couple of after show beers at the Heartland Brewery (my dad’s favourite) before heading back towards Brooklyn. It was September 11th and the memorial twin towers of light were a touching tribute visible across the water.
The next morning, we grabbed coffees out on Bedford Avenue before hopping back on the subway and making our way over to Manhattan. We hopped off at City Hall and started treading the wooden slats of the famous bridge. The last time I visited the bridge with my parents we were lucky enough to watch some filming of the first Sex and the City film (the scene where Miranda and Steve make amends on the bridge) unfortunately this time there was no such excitement but we did thoroughly enjoy the views. We asked a lady to take a photo of us, and as luck had it she was a professional photographer so was more than happy to take a few different shots of us which was nice!
After spending a little time on the bridge we headed over to Poco NYC in the East Village for our first ever experience of bottomless brunch. I had the famous Poco Benedict, whilst Miles went for the Lobster benedict. The food was great – as was the endless supply of Mimosas which we happily drank [and drank and drank].
Looking back, I would DEFINITELY not recommend bottomless brunch when you’re on a city break. There’s a good couple of hours after brunch that I simply do not remember – it was crazy how drunk we both got (**cheap wine**). In the end we went to Tomkins Square Park for a lie down. After a little snooze Miles decided to wander across to Tomkins Square Bagels to grab a couple of plain bagels to bring back to the park. Perhaps not my finest hour, but Miles returned to the park to find me still napping, but this time with a homeless man happily snoozing next to me… At the time it was certainly a bit crazy, but now this is one of the funniest stories to look back on and a sound warning for all bottomless brunches going forward!!
The plain bagels must have worked their magic as we soon picked ourselves up and in somewhat of a miracle managed to enjoy the rest of our day. We obviously decided to do an impromptu food tour of the east Village that afternoon and enjoyed delights such as a birthday cake bagel at Tomkins Square Bagel, ice creams at the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop (I went for the Bea Arthur, Miles for the Mermaid), Salt Beef sandwiches at Miles End Delicatessen and incredible Mac and Cheese at S’mac. Clearly we were eating off the hangover…
The next day we spent the entire time in Brooklyn so I’ll talk about that in my Williamsburg post. Swiftly fast forwarding 24 then we started our day bright and early with a visit to the Natural History Museum. We probably spent close to four hours wandering around the museum – it was fantastic. My particular favourites were the dinosaur and the sea life exhibitions – incredible!
We then headed across to Little Italy where there was a huge street market underway. It was rammed with all sorts of food stands which we thoroughly enjoyed – our particular favourites were the arancini balls from the Arancini Bros. From there we also wandered through China Town which was rammed but which also came across a little seedy in my opinion; too many people trying to entice you into their stores to see the counterfeit goods…
We made a quick stop off at the Doughnut Plant to sample their famous treats – the carrot cake doughnut was a particular highlight – amazing!
That evening we headed back to Brooklyn – more about that on the other post!
The next morning we headed bright an early across to Spring Street, Soho to pick up the famous cronut from the place it was invented – the Dominique Ansel Bakery. These cronuts (a donut/croissant hybrid) have caused hysteria in New York and people queue over night to put get their hands on these flaky delights. You can however pre order cronuts, which I did prior to arriving in the city, so we managed to beat the queue and get our hands on this month’s flavour which was Bosc Pear & Sage Cream with a mixed citrus sugar – it was incredible, although I’m not sure you would ever catch me camping on the street for one!
After picking up and devouring the cronut we headed to our next stop off – the Rockefeller centre. I actually prefer the Rockefeller viewpoint (known as the Top of the Rock) more than the Empire State Building. It’s much less crowded and open plan which means you don’t feel constantly pushed and shoved. It also, in my opinion, has better views across the city, particularly across Central Park, and what’s more – from here you can actually see the Empire State Building which is such a fundamental part of the New York skyline. If you’ve only got time for one, I would definitely recommend the Top of the Rock more.
Having spent some time at the Rockefeller centre, we came back down to ground level and headed towards Central Park. We wanted to do the most couply tourist cliché in the city (ahem – me not Miles) and walked towards the Central Park Boathouse. This was actually really fun! I soon realised that rowing the little boats was actually quite hard work so in the end I let Miles take us around the lake whilst I sat sipping white wine. Bliss! It really was a lovely hour or so – I couldn’t believe the amount of turtles there were.
We also took a little wander around the Bethesda terrace and fountains which was fantastic for people watching – we saw three weddings going on at one time and we thoroughly enjoyed all the different live music going on in the area.
The next morning – our last day in the city – we woke up early and headed towards Wall Street. It was a working day so the area was abuzz with city workers. We wandered up to the Stock Exchange and the famous Wall Street Bull. From there, we wandered down to the Statue Cruises port (in the pouring rain) where we were taking the ferry across to Ellis Island. The ferry went via the statue of Liberty where you can hop off (we didn’t) but this gave us some fantastic views.
Ellis Island was definitely a highlight of our trip – it was just so fascinating to learn about the immigration to the States and how life was for the immigrants, not only on the boats and on their arrival in Ellis Island, but also about how life was for them as new comers to the country. My biggest tip for anyone who is planning on visiting Ellis Island, don’t just wander around the place on your own, make sure you join one of the FREE tours conducted by the park rangers. This really brought the whole Ellis Island experience to life and we learnt so much more than we ever could have by just going round ourselves!
Unfortunately Ellis Island was quite badly hit by Hurricane Sandy and therefore many of the exhibits were either closed, or had been temporarily removed. This didn’t really affect our experience and there was interesting pop up exhibit which spoke about the damage the island received. I would definitely recommend a morning spent in Ellis Island – the views you get back across to Manhattan are worth it alone!
Back on the mainland we got off the bus and walked towards Ground Zero to visit the September 11 memorial. This visit was particularly interesting for me. I first visited the site in 2007 and it was simply a building site with a makeshift museum on an adjoining street – there were still bits of the buildings wreckage being removed. The second time I visited the city was in 2012 – by this point the memorial fountains were in place and they had started constructing the One World Trade Centre. Now in 2014, the new World Trade Centre was finished, and there was new museum on the ground which was open to the public. Miles and I didn’t visit the museum as we were heading to the airport that afternoon and were therefore pushed for time. We did however take some time to appreciate the fountains which, even on my third visit to the site, was completely awe inspiring and touching.
Unfortunately our trip was now at the end and we were due to head to the airport that evening to catch our plane home. We did however make one quick pit stop at Artichoke Basille’s pizza place, where as always, we had eyes bigger than our stomachs.
New York has always been a favourite city of mine and this holiday lived up to every past experience. We literally had the most unforgettable time.