itinerary, New York City, Reviews, usa

New York City – The City that Never Sleeps

New York City, the city that never sleeps… literally

E&J’s Travel Tips:
Yellow cab from JFK to Manhattan fixed fee of $52 (+taxes and tip)
Rockefeller centre at night is best view
Eating out can be pricey, but there’s plenty of cheap healthy options
Thinking of climbing to the crown of the Statue of Liberty? Don’t bother
Expect to pay a gratuity tip a lot of the time. It’s expected
Walk across Brooklyn bridge

Read on to see what we got up to

Flight with Virgin Atlantic
First of all, I want to say that our flight with Virgin Atlantic from Heathrow to JFK was unbelievable. With us being used to short haul flights in Europe, crammed next to strangers, this long haul was an absolute treat! We did pay a slight extra for leg room too, but the service we received was second to none. The food options were great and regular, free drinks and the large selection of on board entertainment made the flight extremely enjoyable. So, kudos to them. Now on to our trip…

We arrived at JFK airport as refreshed as could be after a 7 hour journey and grabbed a yellow cab straight from the airport to our hotel, The New Yorker Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. All of the yellow taxis are on a set fare from the airport to anywhere in Manhattan for $52 but this doesn’t include taxes or a gratuity tip. It worked out around $70 which we thought was reasonable for the 45-60 minute journey.

Our Hotel, The New Yorker

The New Yorker Hotel

The hotel’s exterior first caught our eye – it seemed like an iconic building. As we stepped inside, the 20s vibe of Art Deco stood out. For the modern hotel lovers, this could seem a little dated, but it seemed to suit the hotels personality. We were shown to our room and our first impression was “okay, we can work with this”. It was large enough to fit a double bed, a desk, an en suite and a small closet. Barely room to store luggage or for two people to walk around the room. But workable. We were told prior to our trip that the rooms in NYC are generally a lot smaller than other cities, purely because of the price of square footage in the city. However, due to a disturbance complaint from us (oops, guilty) we were moved into another room, and a much larger one at that! Props to Michael the night manager for acting swiftly and sorting us out. The room was extremely clean and the housekeeping made sure of that throughout our stay. One small downer however was the noise. We discovered on our last night that the window was potentially broken, and so the noise was extremely noticeable from down below in the streets.

The hotel is located in Midtown Manhattan on 8th Avenue, around a ten minute walk north to Times Square and ten minute walk east to The Empire State Building. For us, a great location as we planned to walk a lot during our stay. Check out the hotel here

Getting Around
Walking around Manhattan is really easy and pretty impossible to get lost. Avenues runs North to South and Streets run East to West, so it’s essentially a massive grid. If The Empire State Building is located on 34th Street West off of 5th Avenue then head along either 5th Avenue until you reach 34th street or visa versa. The whole of Manhattan is made up of blocks, extremely useful.

Our First Full Day
Times Square
Empire State Building
Grand central
Rockefeller centre

Our first full day exploring The Big Apple felt like it was never ending. Due to the time difference, getting up early wasn’t a struggle at all. We headed out the hotel and of course the first thing we do is head the wrong way. We ended up in Times Square by pure accident instead of the Empire State Building. Not to worry, seeing as it’s one of the main attractions in New York City! The buzz at 9am is what stood out to us. There were hoards of people in and around Times Square grabbing breakfast, buying tickets for shows, exploring the attractions. There’s plenty going on. Many ticket sellers were out in full force as well as people collecting for homeless shelters. We preferred to see it at night, so once here, we didn’t spend too long taking it in, knowing we’d be back plenty more times throughout the trip.

Times Square
Times Square, never quiet

We then ventured down 34th street till we got to 5th Avenue and decided we wanted to go up to the top of the Empire State Building. We wanted to go up the iconic towering beast to get a real feel for the size of the city.

Downtown Manhattan

Wow, it didn’t disappoint! With blue skies and warmish weather for February, we were reluctant to come back down. We could have spent a age up at the observatory. The view of the East and the Hudson Rivers, Downtown Manhattan and the skyscrapers was everything we thought it would be. The crispness and clarity of the view was impeccable. After half hour of ogling, we decided to come down. $34 each for a trip up to the open air observatory.

Grand Central Station is another iconic building and is only a ten minute walk from the Empire State Building. We thought we’d venture there next. Upon arrival, we spent 10 minutes inside, tops.

Grand central terminal
Grand central terminal

It’s great to look at, but unless you’re taking a trip from Grand Central Station, there’s not much else to do here!

After grabbing a $1 hotdog from a street vendor and a trip back to the hotel to recuperate, we turned to our itinerary to see what else we had planned and sure enough it was a trip up the Rockefeller (TOP OF THE ROCK) before grabbing a bite to eat. Seeing the skyline on a clear day from The Empire State Building was unreal, but could a nighttime skyline top this? …

Rockefeller view
The view from Top of the Rock

It sure could! Wow, just wow. We’ve never seen anything quite like it. It’s a slightly different view than the one we’d seen earlier in the day, this view obviously now includes the Empire State Building in your eye line, and if I had to chose one to do? I’d choose this. Extremely romantic. $28-34 per person.

E&Js travel tip; if you have a budget to stick to, choose to go up the Rockefeller centre at night for a city view.

Second day
Statue of Liberty
Ellis island
Downtown Manhattan
9/11 memorial and museum

The next day, we went on an adventure to see the Statue of Liberty. A taxi from midtown to Battery Park in Downtown Manhattan cost us around $20 and from there it’s short minutes stroll through the park to where the ferry sets off from. If you wish to go inside the statue, this must be pre booked before hand (luckily we did this) otherwise you’ll be taking a trip to Liberty Island and denied entry inside. Even though we pre booked tickets, it’s essential to still allow time to queue to retrieve your ferry tickets. You’ll be given an allocated time which suits best the time you booked for the Statue of Liberty. For example, we pre booked a 12pm slot to go into The Statue of Liberty. We got to battery park for around 10:30am, queued up for around ten minutes, grabbed our ferry tickets and was told to then start queuing for the ferry at 11:15am. The ferry across was free as we had already booked tickets.

E&J’s travel tip: We’d recommend getting to battery park for around an hour and a half prior to your allocated time slot in order to make it on time.

Statue of Liberty
View from the ferry

The ferry to Liberty Island takes around 20 minutes and you get to see some great views of Downtown Manhattan. Once we reached the island, we headed straight inside the famous landmark and first of all, up to the pedestal of the Statue. The view here was pretty cool, but it doesn’t compare to the views from the Rockefeller or the Empire State Building. We then headed up the 354 steps to the crown of the statue with high hopes. We spent around 2 minutes at the top and didn’t find it pleasing at all. Definitely not worth the energy we had to exert. The view was disappointing as there’s a messy Perspex glass covering the opening in the crown which makes the sight a little bit worse. It was more cramped than a tin of sardines, 5 people tops… We then descended the narrow staircase and by the time we got the bottom our legs were jelly like!

The view from the crown

Once at the bottom, we strolled around the island to gain some feeling back in our legs. In doing so, we thought that the experience from the bottom is much more enjoyable than climbing to the top. The ferry trip to Liberty Island all in all is well worth it.

Looking over to Manhattan from Liberty Island

Along with the trip to Liberty Island, the ferry also stops off at Ellis Island – the gateway for millions of immigrants and was the nation’s busiest immigration inspection station for over 60 years and now hosts the museum of immigration and has done since 1990. The USA has an expansive immigration history from the late 1800s to mid 90s and it’s extremely interesting to find out the variety of people which set foot in New York looking for a new life in the States. We spent around an hour in the museum gaining knowledge on their past vetting procedures for new arrivals. Worth looking around!

Once back on the mainland of Downtown Manhattan we decided to have a walk around then visit the 9/11 memorial museum and ground zero. What a truly moving experience this was.

9/11 memorial
9/11 memorial

The majority of people in their mid-twenties and up will remember September 11th 2001 quite well. Ellis and I fall in that category and it was an extremely moving couple of hours that we spent in the museum. Emotions aside, it’s an extremely interesting museum and well laid out. The information that is put on display definitely takes you back to the morning of the awful terror attack. Well worth a visit in our eyes.

Third day
Applebees for breakfast
Central Park
Museum of Natural History

This casual dining restaurant was our location for breakfast. The food itself was great but the service was dire (which we’d actually read online too).

Bacon and pancakes
The bacon and pancakes were great

As soon as we sat down we waited too long for our order to be taken. Getting their attention was far too difficult. They forgot drinks. The woman on the front desk didn’t even say goodbye as we walked out the restaurant. Sub par service yet they still expect a 15%+ service charge. Still, we didn’t allow this to put a downer on our day.

Today was the day where I had booked for Ellis and I to take a trip around Central Park in a Horse and carriage, and because our legs were in pain from yesterday’s trip up the Statue of Liberty, it was nice to sit back and relax in the sun whilst on a leisurely journey around the park.

Central Park carriage ride
Central Park

I was slightly sceptical of booking this as you’d imagine horses being worked under cruel conditions, but after meeting Frankie from NYC Horse Carriage Rides, you can tell right from the off that he took care of his horses. Throughout the park, there’s plenty of running water into concrete troughs where horses can rest and hydrate. For the 40 minute journey, we saw plenty of well known sights from Home Alone 2 and many other movie scenes. I couldn’t recommend Frankie enough – a local New Yorker who knew his stuff. Kudos.

From Central Park we walked up the upper west side of the park towards the Museum of Natural History. There’s a recommended gratuity fee of $24 per person which we obliged to pay however if you’re on a budget, you can pay whatever you like. We didn’t spend as much time in here as we could have. The excessive walking and jet lag started to take a toll on us and we left after exploring what was probably less than half of the museum. From what we saw, it’s quite similar to the Natural History Museum in London with a hint of Science museum. Very interesting but we were extremely tired and bailed after 1 hour (could spend 3 hours in here).

E&Js travel tip: if on a budget, pay only a small gratuity fee to gain entry to the Museum of Natural History. 

Fourth day
Brooklyn bridge walk
Juniors cheesecake factory
Cirque du Soleil Paramour

After a well earned rest, we decided that today was the day we’d venture to Brooklyn. I’d really wanted to see a side to New York that wasn’t Manhattan and Brooklyn delivered that to me on a plate. Ellis was sceptical but her mind soon changed!

Quiet streets of Brooklyn

We’d figured that we could just jump on a sight seeing tour bus from Times Square and be on our way, but we couldn’t be further from the truth. That morning I went down to the Tourist information desk in our hotel at 7:30am in order to bag some tickets for a sight seeing bus destined for Brooklyn. We were told that the only way that was possible was to make our way downtown and to grab one from there ” if they were even running” she said. I then went directly to the open top bus offices ten minutes walk from the hotel and was told “I’m afraid the only Brooklyn tour buses that operate, operate only in Brooklyn” meaning we’d have to make our own way across the river to then jump on a bus. This sounded long winded and perhaps not worth the $50 each for a bus tour. We took matters into our own hands…

So we walked!

We knew that we could get a cab downtown for around $20, so that’s exactly what we did. We got the driver to drop us at Brooklyn bridge and we walked the rest. It could turn out to be one of the better decisions we’ve ever made! On an irregularly sunny day, we made the 40 minute stroll across the iconic Brooklyn bridge, watching the convoys of yellow cabs and cars under us also make the journey. Once in Brooklyn, the views looking back at downtown Manhattan were spectacular but we were itching to get into Brooklyn and have a little explore of our own.

View of Manhattan
The view from Brooklyn

We literally walked into Brooklyn heights looking to get lost and we did just that. We stumbled upon a middle eastern pizzeria and paid the extremely steep fee of $11 for a whole pizza and two cokes, including taxes. Can you spot the sarcasm? This was the cheapest meal we’ve ever paid for! And the pizza was unbelievable, just so flavoursome. After filling our stomachs, we walked some more through the neighbourhood of everyday New Yorkers and decided to make our journey back to Manhattan.

A sketch we bought

Walking back across the bridge we bought a sketch of Brooklyn bridge from an artist for $10. What a piece of memorabilia to have from this trip.

E&Js travel tip: instead of paying $100 for 2 people for Brooklyn bus tour, why not get yourself to Downtown Manhattan and walk over the bridge for free?!

We hailed a cab from downtown Manhattan back up to Times Square where we had planned on grabbing a slice of cheesecake from Junior’s Cheesecake Factory.

Devils food cheesecake. Photo doesn’t give it credit!

We’d heard great things about this place and knew we had to try it out being the absolute foodies we are. $7.50 got you an extremely generous slice and the menu was as diverse as European culture. From red velvet to devils food chocolate, there was something for everyone.With out stomachs full, we headed back to our hotel, relaxed and got ready for our evening ahead.

Striphouse – a New York Steakhouse and Cocktail bar. We we’re recommended this restaurant and seeing as we had previously bought tickets for a show for this night, we thought we’d treat ourselves to a nice dinner beforehand.

16oz New York strip

We kept some money aside for this meal as we’d seen the prices online. $49 for a steak – more than what we’re used to paying, that’s for sure! However, the food was absolutely incredible (a nice 16oz New York strip, or sirloin as we know it!) great wine, and the service was extremely attentive.

We ended our evening with a visit to the Lyric Theatre to see the Cirque Du Soleil’s Paramour. A very awe inspiring show set in prohibition era Los Angeles. It follows a director’s hunt for his perfect star to lead his films which soon turns into a love interest. The show is filled with acrobatic displays and fantastic performances. Well worth a watch!

Fifth day
Grand Central
Pershing square

Our final full day was spent mostly shopping. You can’t come to New York City and not treat yourself. But first off, we couldn’t shop on an empty stomach!

Brunch here 👌🏼

We headed to Pershing Square, a restaurant directly opposite Grand Central Terminal for some brunch. We paid around $40 for an omelette, eggs benedict and a couple cups of coffee. Some may say it’s steep but we say compared to other breakfast joints in NYC, it’s well worth the money. Great food and great service!

An Apple Watch was the first thing bought in Grand Central Station, about 20 seconds walk from Pershing Square. Next on, was Macy’s. Macy’s is a massive department store, much like a John Lewis but with 8 floors and each floor is endless! This department store definitely suited Ellis’ tastes – perfumes and make up galore! There are some bargains to be gained too, but do remember, tax isn’t included in the price!

The evening was spent up Times Square grabbing a bite to eat in Hard Rock Cafe. Surprisingly, we were able to book on (usually, hard rock cafes don’t take bookings) and we’re glad we did as when we arrived we were told straight away it’s an hour wait! Our last dinner out was spent eating typical American food. Burgers, fries and chicken strips. Go onnnn.

Final Thoughts
All in all, our trip to NYC most definitely didn’t disappoint. It was by far the most jam packed trip we’ve ever taken, but my word is it worth the extra planning. We walked pretty much everywhere, only took a cab downtown twice, and the sights we saw on our walks to attractions made it all the better. To walk towards the Empire State Building and casually stroll past New York Public Library remains with us. It may sound strange but the little things make it unique. The hotdogs, cheese pretzels and the locals. It’s what we thought New York City would be, and much much more.


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