The city that never sleeps: for a tireless traveler as me, this sounds too promising to pass up.
After having been to San Francisco, we decided to spend another week in New York city before heading back home.
Might as well make the most out of having crossed the Atlantic, I guess!
But where to even begin in a city that has so much to offer? My list was so long and we didn't even get to finish it - and boy did I try to fit everything in! So here's a short list of things you must absolutely do or see, and I don't think any on this list will come as a surprise.
My top 5
Empire State Building
Here's where you'll get that classic downtown New York shot. The view is stunning. The admission fee is $34 for a standard adult pass, which will grant you access to the main deck on the 86th floor. If you want to go all the way to the top, you'll pay $54 to be taken to the 102nd floor. You'll be stuck behind window glass on the 102nd floor, but that ticket will also get you in to the 86th floor main deck, where you can walk outside and get a nice 360 degrees New York City panorama!
Keep those prices in mind when you want to visit the Empire State Building. You may be able to buy tickets elsewhere (e.g. from your hotel), though they'll probably cost more. But at least you won't have to wait in line to buy them, although you'll still be waiting before getting into the elevator.
Also on the 86th floor: trivia about the Empire State Building's history & appearance in media. And a memorabilia shop. And there was a man-sized pluche King Kong that scared us half to death when it started moving: we had not realized there was actually someone in there!
A great alternative to the Empire State Building would be the Top of the Rock, the observation deck at the Rockefeller Center. While the observation deck is not as high, and the building less iconic, you do get to look at the Empire State Building from here. Or get a neat view of Central Park.
Central Park is a whopping 843 acres (about 3.5 km², or 1.3 mi²) oasis of peace where you can escape the busy city, and easily one of - if not the - most famous parks in the world. Take a walk, jog, or ride a bike. Or go on a carriage ride. Or visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the small Central Park Zoo. Or simply enjoy the street performers, sunbathe at the Great Lawn, get a selfie at the Bethesda Fountain or eat at the Tavern on the Green. There's a lot you can do in the park!
You may want to start by taking a quick look at the map instead of wandering around aimlessly - like we first did. After a few hours of walking, relaxing and enjoying the beautiful park, we had reached the end, or so we thought. Turned out we'd barely seen a third of the park, and had ventured to the side instead of the other end.
Because our hotel was very close to Times Square, we'd usually end up here at night. In a city that never sleeps, you just don't go back to bed right away! Especially if, like me, you went for a cheap accommodation and are wary of the hygiene in your hotel room.
Times Square is where the traditional ball drop happens on New Years Eve. Times Square is where the broadway musicals perform (I wish I'd been able to go see one!) Times Square is where all the neon lights & advertising displays light up the night. But above all, Times Square is where we'd keep coming back to at night because this is where all the tourists come, the costumed street performers try to score a buck, and where you can spend hours sitting back to enjoy the colorful parade of people.
The High Line may be the least known on this list (it is a pretty recent New York attraction) but possible the nicest gem! This city park used to be an old railroad that got abandoned in the 80s. Since completing the last phase in 2014, it is now a 2.33 km (1.45 mi) elevated, walkable stretch of green within the city.
It runs through the Meatpacking District & Chelsea, 2 mostly residential neighborhoods without too much high-rise. It'll let you wander through the streets of New York without ever having to wait for traffic lights or watching out for cars, while you enjoy the plants or rest on one of the many benches. And because it's elevated, you'll be treated to nice scenic views of the city & the Hudson River throughout the course of the park.
I wish this one didn't exist, but alas. After the 9/11 attacks, which destroyed the World Trade Center buildings and changed the world as we know it, New York City built a monument to remember the victims: the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. The new One World Trade Center - the tallest building on the American continent whose roof has the same height as the original twin towers - now overlooks the memorial site. At the former location of both WTC towers are now 2 square pools with the names of the 2 983 victims inscribed on the edges surrounding the waterfalls.
I'm not a very emotional person, but this really got to me. It's intense, and I can't even begin to think what it must've been like for the families of these victims.
Bonus: Grand Central Station
Grand Central Terminal is one the biggest railroad station in the world, with 44 platforms and 67 tracks. Because of its beauty and function - symbolic for arriving in New York - the station and the Main Concourse, in Beaux-Arts style, has often been featured in popular media.
Hidden away in Grand Central, in front of the Oyster Bar (the oldest business within the station) is the whispering gallery, where you can stand at 2 diagonal arches meters away and whisper sweet little nothings into the walls.
Because of how this gallery is constructed, your whispers will be
reflected by the walls & ceiling and carried over to the person on the other side of the gallery, where they'll be able to hear them perfectly.
3 biggest disappointments
While New York and its attractions amazed me in many ways, some just didn't live up to my expectations. But don't let that discourage you from experiencing these - they are New York classics after all!
Statue of Liberty
Visiting the Statue of Liberty (and Ellis Island) will cost you $18.50 (as an adult) for the ferry & the audio tour, although you may as well get a pedestal reserve ticket at the same price if you want to climb the statue. I wanted to climb the statue al the way up to the crown ($21.50), but access is very limited and I didn't manage to get such ticket. Plan ahead!
The audio tour disappointed. Then again, I could've expected that. Even though it's on the UNESCO World Heritage List, there's not too much history here, and I didn't really care too much for all the details on how this was built. I guess the excellent Alcatraz tour I'd been on in San Francisco had given me unrealistic expectations.
On the other hand, the view from here is downright spectacular! In fact, you don't even need to climb the statue: my best NYC skyline shots were taken from the ferry ride over. So if you're only looking for that amazing skyline view and aren't necessarily interested in climbing the statue, you could consider doing one of the many other boat tours on offer.
The Charging Bull is a bronze sculpture on Bowling Green Park, and is symbolic for Wall Street's power. Legend has it rubbing the bull's balls (as you'll see from the discoloration) will bring you (financial) prosperity. We rubbed them but we're still waiting for that winning lottery ticket!
There's not much more to say: it's a sculpture, it's terribly crowded, and there's really nothing else to it.
Coney Island is an amusement park at the south end of Brooklyn whose main attractions are the Cyclone - a 1927 roller coaster - and the ferris wheel. It 's right next to the Brighton Beach boardwalk.
It's pretty seedy (although I've heard that's part of its appeal) and the surrounding area is probably not the safest. Unless you're actively looking for an amusement park, you may want to skip this one if you're based in Manhattan, as it takes some time to get to.
I liked the Santa Cruz boardwalk a lot better!