New York! The Big Apple! It’s usually one destination on everyone’s bucket list. We visited New York just after my 21st birthday, appropriately timed so that I could drink while we were there (The legal age for drinking alcohol in Scotland is 18). It also meant we would be visiting in December so we could experience New York at Christmas time.
We landed at Newark Airport in New Jersey state late morning, following an 8 hour flight. Our transfer didn’t turn up so we decided to take a taxi to our hotel which was around 28 miles away. The taxi driver we had was thoroughly entertaining and helpful. He explained the street grid system in New York which proved useful as we barely got lost during our time here. The car had a sunroof so the entire journey was pretty much spent looking up, we hadn’t seen buildings so tall before.
Our accommodation was the Gotham Hotel conveniently located on 46th street, close to many tourist attractions. The hotel was modern and comfortable, and next door to a coffee shop and Dunkin Donuts.. Score. With a LOT to see in a limited time we headed out straight away. The first stop was the Rockefeller Centre to get a view from the Top of The Rock. It was SPECTACULAR. The Rockefeller Centre gives you a great view of the city and looks directly on to Central Park and the Empire State Building. The view really lets you understand why New York is known as the concrete jungle.
Next we headed to Times Square which is bustling with people, shops and neon lights. We opted for Bubba Gump Shrimp Co for an early dinner, where we got a great table overlooking the street. In the evening we headed to Madison Square Gardens to watch an ice hockey game that we had purchased tickets for before we came. Tampa Bay Lightning were playing New York Rangers. It was a great atmosphere and a new experience, totally different to any sporting event we had attended in Scotland. The match was very interactive and it was almost a show within a show, there were lots of breaks and the audience were involved in winning t-shirts.
We were up early the next day, which was easy with the mix of excitement and jet lag. Our first stop was Battery Park to catch the ferry to the Statue of Liberty. We chose this first because queues can get very busy later in the day. The Statue is a UNESCO World Heritage site and an icon of New York City. We went into the statue and onto the viewing platform which gives a stunning view of Manhattan skyline. You can also go onto the crown but as there is a few months waiting list, and we hadn’t booked previously, we were unable to do this.
After some lunch, we headed to Ground Zero. The spot where the Twin Towers once stood before they were subject to a terrorist attack on September 11th 2001. The memorial consists of two pools, one for each tower and each is inscribed with the names who lost their life that day. It is a very moving and sad place. The 9/11 museum is also located here and it was excellent, it has hundreds of items that have been recovered, including pieces of the towers and many personal items in remembrance to the victims. It gives you an insight of the tragedy that happened that day. If you are planning on visiting this area, then I highly recommend spending some time in the museum.
The Financial District is near by, so we headed to find Wall Street and had a few drinks before heading back to our hotel. Later in the evening we went to Grand Central Station. The main area of the station is beautifully decorated. Complete with shops, restaurants and markets we could have easily spent a few hours here.
When I was younger I was a fan of A.A Milne’s, Winnie the Pooh stories. New York Library has the original bear, along with other recognisable characters on display, so we headed there for a wee look. If you aren’t interested in this, the library itself is a stunning building so it is worth popping by to see the inside.
In the afternoon, we had a walking tour planned taking us off the beaten track a bit and into the Soho, Little Italy and Chinatown districts of Manhattan. The guide we had was fantastic, she explained the history of each area and was very informative but kept the tour interesting at the same time. We also had the opportunity to try some Chinese Dim Sum. These districts are very fascinating and completely different from each other, we could have spent a whole day exploring each one. During the tour, it hadn’t stopped raining so we were soaked. We warmed ourselves up with Italian pizza and gelato.
This evening the lights on the Rockefeller Tree were getting switched on, this event lasts a few hours and is usually accompanied by celebrities performing. We headed out early to get a good spot.. we obviously didn’t go early enough because we could only get close enough to see a branch! Instead of standing in a crowd of people we took this opportunity to visit the Empire State Building instead. We attempted to visit the night before but were advised not to as it foggy and we wouldn’t be able to see much. Tonight was perfectly clear and even better there was no queue (everyone was watching the tree), which is usually very long. When you visit any of these attractions in New York City, like the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building you need to go through airport style security. The view from the main deck, the 86th floor was BREATHTAKING. The sky was completely lit up by all of the lights of the city. If you are visiting New York for the first time you CAN NOT miss this. There is also a virtual reality experience you can do at the Empire State Building which was good, but not an essential thing to do.
Afterwords, we headed to Times Square, which if you visit at night you could be mistaken into thinking it was day. There are so many lights that the street is lit up so brightly. We had drinks in Jekyll and Hyde, which I highly recommend. It’s a fun bar, decorated in a spooky style with lots of props. If you try and find the bathroom make sure you aren’t desperate to go as you have to find a secret entrance!
For breakfast we went to Ellen’s Stardust Diner. This is a really cool place as the waiters/waitresses are aspiring Broadway singers and they perform while you are eating. Sorted for the day, we headed to Central Park. This is a huge area of green space in the middle of the city. With a lot of ground to cover we opted for a bike round tour around the park. We stopped for many photo ops at famous sites featured in Home Alone 2, Ghostbusters and Friends and the John Lennon memorial in Strawberry Fields.
At the edge of the park sits the American Museum of Natural History. Inside there are hundreds of exhibitions, including many dinosaur bones which was really cool to see. The museum is absolutely massive and we could have easily spent more than a day there but we didn’t have enough time. We grabbed some lunch at Dylan’s Candy Store which was a fun and sugar filled experience.
On the list of must do’s while we were in New York City was to go to a show on Broadway. We booked the tickets before we arrived but decided on Matilda. The show was fantastic and the actors in Matilda were amazing, particularly the children. The drinks here were super expensive though, a vodka and 3 beers cost $80. It’s safe to say we left here sober. When the show was finished we grabbed a “bite” to eat near by, at Virgils Real BBQ. It wasn’t really a bite, as the portions were ridiculously big but very tasty. Tired and stuffed after, we rolled back to the hotel.
We dedicated this day to shopping, which we don’t usually do when we are away and afterwards I remembered why.. But this is something New York is amazing for and at the time the £ was strong against the $ so we were getting good deals for our money. We visited dozens of different stores including Disney, M&M, Toys are us, Ugg, Michael Kors, Nike, Tiffany’s and department store Macy’s – which absolutely MASSIVE btw. Tired and with sore feet we took all our shopping back to the hotel. Just as well our cases were almost empty when we came or we wouldn’t have had room to take it all home.
In the evening we headed to Madame Tussauds, a waxwork museum full of celebrity replicas. It was ok, don’t get me wrong the figures were amazing, but I had been to one before in London and once you’ve been to one before it’s not really worth going again.
While we were walking to a bar, we walked past a car that had a “Slice of Life” sticker on the rear bumper parked outside a theater. This is the name of Dexter Morgan’s boat from the TV series Dexter which we love and also shamelessly binge watched. His actor Michael C. Hall had been performing in a show there, and a small crowd was gathered round this area waiting for him to come out. We stood in the pouring rain waiting and eventually he appeared, we were able to get photos of him as we were really close. This is probably the norm in New York City and celebrities are everywhere, but it was definitely a novelty for us coming from little Inverness in Scotland, we aren’t used to seeing anyone famous, especially an actor from our favourite series. We were delighted!
Before we travelled to New York City we got in contact with The Big Apple Bears. A supporters club in the city, of Scottish football team Glasgow Rangers. We headed to their pub that they are based in to watch the game that was taking place in Scotland. Due to the time difference of 5 hours the match kicked off at 10AM. It was fun and good to meet some locals and also meant it was a good excuse to get tipsy at that time in the morning.
Later, in the afternoon we popped into FAO Schwarz Toy Shop. They have a great sweetie selection and a big piano keyboard on the floor. Then finished a little sightseeing at Radio City Hall. They had fab Christmas decorations around here, including giant red Christmas tree baubles.
For our last dinner we treated ourselves to a nice meal at the New York Yankee’s Steakhouse. The restaurant has it’s own butchers located on the ground floor, meaning the meat is fresh and great quality. They also serve crabs legs which are caught and transported from the area where the TV program, the Deadliest Catch is filmed. Our meal was fantastic and the service was second to none. Our waiter was great, even though I spilled my glass of wine all over the table and then later knocked my glass over again breaking it. Sorry!
We ended the evening, looking at the marvelous window displays located on the street back towards our hotel.
This was our last day but our flight wasn’t until the late afternoon. We ate breakfast at Pershing Square cafe, which we had done a couple of times already that week. They serve traditional American breakfasts including pancakes, bacon and maple syrup. I highly recommend trying here at least once. It also features in a few films, notably Friends With Benefits.
Then we headed to Bryant Park, where we decided to have a go at ice skating. Having only ice skated once in my life, when I was a child, it didn’t go well. Kevin managed just fine but I couldn’t get my balance so clung on to the side for dear life. I managed one lap of the ice rink, looking like Bambi, before hanging up my skates for good. On the plus side I managed not to fall!
Later, we collected our cases from the hotel and got a taxi back to the airport. And we waved New York City good bye with a broken heart, but at least I had no broken bones! WE LOVED NEW YORK.
For us New York City lived up to the expectation.. and even more. Visiting at Christmas time and seeing all the lights and decorations was magical. However, because we only had time to visit Manhattan we feel like we only scratched the surface. We hope to return one day, next time possibly during spring or summertime and to experience other districts. This year it was announced that budget flights may be becoming available from Scotland to NYC so this might be happening sooner than expected.