There can be few cities with as many iconic names associated with them as New York. Manhattan Island, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Broadway, Madison Avenue, the Chrysler Building, the World Trade Center… there are so many famous place names and buildings in New York that I felt like I knew the place even though I’d never been. Of course, being an avid viewer of such shows as Friends, Mad Men and Sex and the City probably helped with my New York knowledge, but I couldn’t wait to experience the place for myself. I booked a three-night stay as a surprise for Lee’s 40th birthday, as he and I are big fans of the New York-based vlogger Casey Neistat, whose videos about life in New York were what inspired the trip. I booked it back in June, so it’s been really hard not being able to talk about it at all!
Instead of giving you a chronological account of everything we did, or writing lots of individual posts, I thought it might be easiest to do one bumper post with all the main things we did, which will be more useful for those of you who may be needing ideas for a trip of your own.
Our hotel – Row NYC – was just around the corner from Times Square, so we went to it many times. Emerging from the subway for the first time, on our way from the airport, we immediately saw why the city’s “bright lights” are so famous – and why it’s known as the “city that never sleeps”!
And here it is during the day – a bit like Piccadilly Circus, but on a much bigger scale!
We really loved Central Park. It’s massive, and we only covered about half of it, so we have plenty more to look forward to on our next trip. We grabbed a Starbucks on the southern corner and set off for a wander.
In the pavilion below the spot where I took the above photo, there was a huge film crew (the dozens of lorries gave the game away!), who we found out were filming a show called ‘Quantico’, which I don’t think we get over here. Anyhow, the director (or the person who seemed to be in charge) let us stand behind the cameras and watch them filming, which was very exciting. We didn’t realise it until they yelled ‘action!’, but most of the people in the photo above are extras. It’s an American show, but the British actor Russell Tovey (of History Boys fame) is in it, and we saw him floating around the set even though he wasn’t in the scene we watched.
Deeper into the park are peaceful trails leading through the trees, where we saw loads of squirrels and unusual birds like woodpeckers and vivid red northern cardinals. It was easy to forget you were in the biggest city in America, except for the glimpses of skyscrapers through the trees.
I loved the reflections of the skyscrapers and trees in the lake. It was all very peaceful, despite being in the middle of such a busy city. We pretty much had this part of the park all to ourselves.
‘Ground Zero’ – 9/11 Memorial
We’ve watched loads of programmes about 9/11, but visiting ‘Ground Zero’ in person was a sobering experience. The square ‘footprints’ of the Twin Towers are now water features bordered by the names of everyone who lost their lives that day. There’s a museum, but we didn’t get time to go in this time and in any case thought it might be a bit bleak for a birthday trip.
Nearby, the World Trade Center has been rebuilt in spectacular style; Wikipedia informs me that it’s the tallest building in the Western hemisphere, and the sixth tallest in the world.
Staten Island Ferry/Statue of Liberty
Approaching the ferry plaza right at the southern tip of Manhattan island, the Statue of Liberty comes into view, along with lots of people harassing you to buy cruise tickets for it. We had heard from a number of sources, however, that the best way to see the Statue is to take the Staten Island Ferry, a free ferry service that operates every half hour to Staten Island and back. You get great views of Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan skyline and, of course, the Statue of Liberty. Some of the ferries, including our outbound one, have outdoor decks that you can access for a better view, as you can see in this video of Brooklyn Bridge on the way out.
This seagull was flying round the ferry all the way to Staten Island – I think he was getting lift from the wind blowing against the side!
It was tremendously exciting seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time. This was the one time I wished I’d brought the big camera with me, as the zoom would have done a better job than my iPhone!
Once at Staten Island, you have to get off the ferry, but you can run round and board it to go straight back again if you don’t want to stay on the island.
This is a very busy deli/cafe on the Lower East Side, often ranked as the best in the city, and it’s where that famous scene from When Harry Met Sally was filmed (you’ll know the one I mean if you’ve seen it). It took quite a while to walk there from the Staten Island ferry plaza, but we went via Chinatown, so there was always something interesting to see on the way.
It’s a lot bigger inside than it looks from the outside.
You take a ticket at the door and there are loads of guys cutting the meat up at the counter. You go up and you can try different meats while they’re preparing your sandwich. We went for the pastrami one, which it’s apparently famous for.
To be honest, the sandwich was obscenely huge, even by American portion size standards, so we were glad that we only ordered one to share! We couldn’t even manage it all even though we were sharing!
Empire State Building
We didn’t go into the Empire State Building, as everyone told us not to bother because the queues are a nightmare and there are better options for good views (see below). But we did enjoy the various views we got of it from different perspectives, like this one from the side entrance of Macy’s, the famous department store. Lots of people go to New York for the shopping, but we are not shopping people so we didn’t waste any time on that. But we did wander into Macy’s, just so that we could experience one New York department store.
The Empire State Building was also a romantic backdrop to the ice rink in Bryant Park. We didn’t do any skating this time, as our feet were killing us from walking so much!
The so-called ‘Top of the Rock’ experience was the one thing I’d pre-booked, as I’d read this was advisable. I booked tickets for around 4pm so that we would be able to see the sunset, and enjoy both day and night views from the top. Unfortunately the weather had other ideas, and chose that exact time to start raining miserably. The views were incredible nevertheless, but the sky was grey without a hint of orange! I’m making this into a canvas print, along with two other black and white photos from the trip.
This is the other way, looking out over Central Park. This would definitely have looked a lot better in good weather, but it was still cool to see how suddenly the skyscrapers stop to give way to the greenery.
As night fell, the view turned to this. Photos really don’t do it justice!
No Ingram holiday would be complete without some element of aviation being involved, and we discovered that the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum is a must for any aviation or maritime enthusiasts. The Intrepid is an aircraft carrier permanently docked in the Hudson River, and conveniently it was just 15 minutes’ walk from our hotel. Because it was inauguration day, we got buy-one-get-one-free on tickets, and we actually ended up going again the next day free of charge because there was a power outage that closed off all the indoor bits while we were halfway through our first visit! There’s lots to explore on the aircraft carrier itself, with a selection of aircraft on the flight deck (some are models, but most appeared to be real). We sat on the flight deck to watch the Inauguration of Trump on one of our iPhones.
You can go up on the bridge, and there’s also a museum on the hangar deck below, which has informative exhibits about life on the ship during the Second World War and the Vietnam War.
There’s a British Airways Concorde on the Pier, but you have to pay for a guided tour if you want to go on it.
There’s also the Growler submarine, which you can look round if you’re not too claustrophobic.
And, the piece de resistance, the Space Shuttle Enterprise. It was our second Space Shuttle, as we saw Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center a couple of years ago (only two more to see now!). It wasn’t so impressively displayed as Atlantis, and this particular one never actually went into space, as it was the prototype – the one they used to test whether they could actually land a Space Shuttle. It’s still the Space Shuttle though, and therefore awesome (albeit difficult to photograph from close up!).
Another great recommendation, Chelsea Market proved to be the perfect spot for lunch. It’s not really a market but a selection of artisan foodie shops, with absolutely loads of choice for lunch. I had a lovely bowl of ravioli from one place and Lee had a pizza slice from another. I don’t have any good photos of it, unfortunately!
Right next to Chelsea Market is a set of steps that takes you up onto the Highline, which was once a railway line. After a long time in a dilapidated state, it was restored into a sort of urban walkway/path, with trees and lovely views of the city. We only did a bit of it, but it runs for quite a long way. Up ahead we could see the Statue of Liberty in the distance, and this was the view on one side.
There are lots of places to sit, and had it been warmer we’d have enjoyed a longer sit-down. Down by the river, to the right of where I took the photo below, we even spotted Pier 59, where Titanic would have docked had she made it to her destination (and where her lifeboats wound up after being brought back by the Carpathia). Said pier is now a sort of mini golf course/driving range.
We couldn’t leave New York without seeing this iconic building. Being in its presence feels a little like travelling back in time; it was opened in 1902, and we’d seen some wonderfully evocative old photographs of Edwardian ladies and gentlemen strolling past it.
While we’re on the subject of iconic buildings, here’s a glimpse of another: the Chrysler Building.
It hadn’t occurred to me when I booked the trip back in June that we’d be in New York during the Inauguration of the new president – let alone that the new president would be Trump. It was an interesting time to be in America full stop, but particularly so given Trump’s big presence in New York. We’d already passed his International Hotel and Tower by the southern entrance to Central Park (where there were several news vans parked up and lots of metal barriers, anticipating crowds), but when we happened to spot Trump Tower, which we’d been seeing on the news, we couldn’t resist taking a peek. Security was tight, with armed guards (not pictured) on the door, but it said that it was open to the public during the day so we went right in. We were required to run our bags through an airport-style bag screening machine at the entrance, but apart from that all was quiet. It was all pretty glitzy and gaudy, as you’d imagine. We rode the escalators as high as they went and got this view looking down.
I must say, we never saw any pro-Trump sentiments during our time in New York.
Women’s March past Grand Central Station
On the subject of the new president, we’d heard that on the Saturday – the day after the Inauguration – there would be a big march for women’s rights in protest. We were in two minds about whether to avoid it, as massive crowds of people aren’t a very safe place to be, but we ended up stumbling on it inadvertently on Fifth Avenue, where Trump Tower is located. We couldn’t believe how many people there were, many holding imaginative banners saying anti-Trump stuff like “Keep your tiny hands off our rights”.
We’d actually been in the area in search of Grand Central Station, which turned out to be a good vantage point as the march inched its way through the city.
This video gives you a better idea of the noise.
Grand Central Station
After we left the march, we had a quick look inside Grand Central Station, which was impressive – though we felt we’d have enjoyed it more on a sunny day, when the sunlight famously streams through the high windows.
We flew to JFK Airport from London Gatwick with British Airways, and our journey into the city from the airport only cost $7.75 each, which we thought was a bargain for a generally quite expensive city – $5 for the ‘AirTrain’ connection to the subway, and $2.75 for the subway, which was so much cheaper than getting a taxi. Just about the only thing we didn’t like about the city was the big tipping culture; it’s annoying everywhere we’ve been in America, but it seems that even bigger tips are expected in New York than elsewhere.
We found New York easy to navigate round thanks to the grid system, which makes it simple to work out exactly where you are by reference to which avenue and street intersection you’re on (46th Street and 5th Avenue, for example). Avenues run north-south and streets run east-west, and a block takes about a minute to walk. It’s a bit like latitude and longitude. Manhattan is nice to walk around, as it’s not too big and there’s always something interesting to see; but the subway system is convenient (if slightly confusing at first), and that’s how we made longer journeys when our feet got too tired to walk.
We had high expectations of New York, and it more than exceeded them. There’s definitely a reason why it’s so famous and why there are so many movies and songs about it; being there almost feels like being at the centre of the universe. We barely scratched the surface on our three-night visit, and we’ll definitely be going back for more!
Finally, a huge thank you to our friends Alissa and Al for all their wonderful suggestions for things to do in New York. :)