Welcome to New York
As a Massachusetts resident for the majority of my life, it may come as a surprise to some that I’ve only been to New York City once. Well, until now. Despite having traveled half of Southeast Asia and many other locations around the globe, my own country and those surrounding it remain largely unseen. Canada…Mexico…South America....haven't touched 'em. Vietnam, Malaysia, Australia, Italy, Spain…those I have seen. It makes no sense. But- I’m sure many can attest to this phenomenon that takes place when we carry out our lives in our comfort zones. We are very much aware that there are travel-worthy places nearby, but we’re in no rush to see them. Why would we be? They’re easily accessible and RIGHT THERE. We have all the time in the world to see them, right?
It’s not until I left the US that I started to regret not seeing more of my own country. Thus, when I returned home for a quick 2-week vacation, I was determined to get over to NYC. The first time I made it to the Big Apple, I was 16 years old, watching a Macy’s Day parade, and getting my umbrella flipped inside out by torrential rain. I needed a new impression of NYC, and over a decade later, I had 2 days to make it happen. I’d like to share an itinerary of my 2 days in NYC (and additional suggestions) as I think it’d be of some benefit to anyone else swinging through and trying to make the most of limited time.
Before I get into things to do- a few potentially helpful tips:
Travel Hack #1: Instead of driving into NYC and paying frightening amounts of money on parking, we took a train in from New Jersey. Downloading the NJ Transit App from iTunes was a huge help- it allows you to search schedules and book your tickets ahead of time. All you have to do is activate your electronic ticket when you get on the train. Even if you miss your train, the ticket is valid for 2 ½ hours. We left from Convent Station on the Morristown Line, which took approximately an hour, and arrived at Penn Station. Tickets were $24.50 RT from this location, to give you a rough idea. The parking fee, had we used the station lot, was $5 a day (we just left our car at a hotel parking lot though, shhh.) But if cost isn't an issue and driving in NYC doesn't sound like the worst thing ever, disregard me.
Travel Hack #2: Use Hotwire.com to book your hotel room. If you’re anything like me, the sea of hotel options that come up in a search is beyond overwhelming. Sorting through them is a tedious task, and I know I certainly don’t have a personal assistant. So this is where Hotwire’s secret rates come in. You're given enough information (# of stars, amenities, and a shaded area that the hotel will be located within) so you know you won’t get totally screwed- but it takes the stress out of picking one and you get a killer deal on the room rate.
Day 1. Manhattan.
We arrived in NYC around 12:30 PM, and headed straight to our hotel, The Row NYC (700 8th Ave, New York, NY.) We were happy to find that the 4:00 PM check-in time wasn’t strict, and were promptly granted access to our room at 1:00 PM. The quirky, boutique-style hotel was perfectly located just a 5 minute walk from Times Square. On recommendation, we headed out for lunch at Ellen’s Stardust Diner (1650 Broadway, New York, NY) En route, we stopped to check out Times Square during its midday bustle, and vowed to return at night to see the famous screens and lights in action.
Now I'd be lying to you if I told you Ellen’s wasn't the most tourist-filled restaurant I’ve ever seen; but nonetheless, I was completely amused. The two-story diner features your typical American food (at a higher than typical rate, of course) and a staff of waiters and waitresses that are aspiring Broadway performers. Not having time to see a proper show ourselves, this was a happy substitute. Show tunes and milkshakes, my friends. One moment your waiter is jotting down your order, the next he’s standing on a table, microphone in hand, belting out “A Whole New World” across the diner to his Jasmine-impersonating counterpart. What more could you want?
From Ellen’s, it’s less than a 10 block jump to Central Park, or a quick 1-mile cab ride. Central Park is considerably more massive than I’d ever realized- 843 acres, and man-made to boot! Being accompanied by my dear sweet mother and an unfortunately gimpy foot, we decided to splurge for a pedicab ride and a tour through the park. Much to her disappointment, we couldn’t take a horse-drawn carriage, as they aren’t permitted inside. Being one of the most filmed locations in the world, I was quite thrilled to have the various films and scenes described to me as we went around, even if I felt like the most touristy tourist on earth.
From Central Park, we made our way over to Rockefeller Center. Having a bit of time to kill before our 7:30 PM reservation at Top of the Rock, we opted for a snack and some wine at Morell. Try the pulled pork tacos! For other suggestions in the area (and there are many) take a look on TripAdvisor.
A little about my decision to visit Top of the Rock (30 Rockefeller Plaza.) I chose this over more popular buildings (ie: Empire State and One World Trade) because of the view. I’d rather have a view of the sprawling cityscape including the Empire State Tower than be in it (see photos below.) It's like going to Paris and taking a photo from the Eiffel Tower rather than of it, and missing an iconic piece of the skyline. See what I'm saying? So a visit to the Top of the Rock is $32. To compare, the Empire State (350 5th Ave) is $32 to visit just the 86th floor, or $52 to visit both 86 and 102. Included in the Top of the Rock ticket is access to three indoor and outdoor viewing decks on the 67th, 69th, and 70th floors. Open from 8am-12 am, (last elevator goes up at 11PM) 7:30 PM was the perfect access time for our June visit. Being quite particular about photos, I was able to capture daytime photos, sunset photos, and a nighttime shot all in one visit.
My constant photo taking worked up quite the appetite, and prompted our next mission, which was to return to Times Square and find the best pizza in town. After some researching we opted for Patzeria Perfect Pizza, (231 W 46th St) a hole in the wall shop that served huge slices of truly delicious pizza (try the three cheese!)
From there, it was time to see Times Square in all of its nighttime glory. Prepare yourself for sensory overload. Taxis, horses, soccer fans, restaurants, shops, lights on lights on lights, and bizarre costumed characters fill the area. Prime example- I witnessed a topless, body-painted blonde Statue of Liberty chatting up Spiderman. Evidence of this unfortunately disappeared with my day's Snapchat story. In any event, it’s a must-see (Times Square, that is) and a perfect end to an evening.
Day 2. Lower Manhattan.
Having already covered the main highlights in Manhattan, our next focus was to spend the day in Lower Manhattan. Before we left, we checked out and left our bags with the concierge. Luggage storage is a wonderful amenity, and Row NYC was willing to hold our bags up until late evening (8 or 9 PM if I’m not mistaken.) We were now able to enjoy our last day of sight-seeing, baggage-free. A good breakfast was also a necessity before heading out for the day, so we hit Times Square Diner and Grill (807 8th Ave.) For such a touristy area, the diner was very well-priced. Portions were substantial, and our total for breakfast for two came out to roughly $30 (keep in mind I was also ordering everything in sight to get my American food fix before heading back to Bangkok.) Overly stuffed and happy, we then hailed a cab to take us to the lower end of the city.
A trip to NYC wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum (911 Greenwich St.) While it is free to browse the memorial sites, general admission into the museum for adults is $24, seniors (65+) $18, Children (7-17) $15, and $18 for veterans and college students. If you intend on doing a lot of sightseeing, it might be worth looking into the New York CityPASS, which can save you money on a number of top New York City attractions, including Top of the Rock.
Words don't suffice when trying to describe the museum. All I can say is that it’s a moving experience that is unique to everyone, and in my personal opinion, is best prepared for with a pocket full of tissues. For example, I couldn’t handle listening to the voicemail recordings received by loved ones of passengers on the planes. Completely losing it in public is something I personally prefer to avoid. It’s incredibly emotional, but it’s also an inspiring reminder of the strength and unification of the people of my country. It is quite educational as well, and shed light on a lot of details that I didn’t even realize I didn't know about the attacks. So take the time to check it out- it's a beautifully designed space and an amazing tribute to all involved.
If you got up early and have an entire day, you’ll have plenty of time left to do the two things that I unfortunately wasn’t able to. About a 3 minute walk from the museum you'll find Battery Park. From there, you can wander the 25-acre space and view the Statue of Liberty from land, or hop a ferry and do a proper tour of the statue and/or Ellis Island. Afterwards, you could head back towards Times Square and end the trip with a Broadway Show. The TKTS discount booth located in the heart of Times Square has been referred to me on several occasions- and so this might be a good place to scoop up some last minute tickets to a show, for up to 50% off (they recommend visiting earlier in the day.) If you started your day early enough, you could possibly catch a 2 PM show. If not, there are typically 7-8 PM showings.
As with most big cities- there's never enough time to see it all. Even having lived in two big cities for two years each, I feel like I've hardly scratched the surface. Hopefully, this is a helpful guide to hitting some of the major spots in NYC if you're short on time (or even if the city is YOUR comfort zone and you haven't stepped out to see the "touristy" things yet!) Would love to hear any other comments, must-sees, or suggestions in the comments below.