In New York the streets are paved with sausages. The ground vibrates with the passing of subway trains just below the surface. The traffic lights robotically shout out their address, “This is West 42nd Street”, followed by orders to, “Wait, wait.”
The city is one giant film set: King Kong on the Empire State Building, the diner where Harry Met Sally, that giant piano in FAO Swartz which Tom Hanks danced on in Big.
Him: ‘Is that the bar from How I Met Your Mother?’
Me: ‘This place looks just like the apartment building in Friends.’
‘Oh they love this place in Gossip Girl.’
‘I remember when Miranda moved to Brooklyn..’
Him: ‘Who is Miranda?’
Me: ‘You know, in Sex and the City.’
The city is one big déjà vu. I’m transported back to my 21st birthday which I spent with friends and family on our first ever pilgrimage to the Big Apple.
“Oh my God that’s Ellen’s Stardust Diner. We went there on my birthday and the all-singing and dancing servers sat me on a stall in the middle of the restaurant and made everyone sing to me. It was awful. I wished the ground would swallow me whole.”
“I recognise that bakery, I think we went there last time. Or maybe that was Carrie? I get confused between what’s real and what was in Sex and the City.”
(The Boy thinks I have lost the plot.)
But the best thing about New York City is being in New York City. Walking the streets, seeing the skyline, smelling the sausages. And the brilliant thing about this is that it doesn’t cost a penny. (Well apart from the flights – I got mine for just over £500 return online with Bravofly – and you’ll need a place to stay – I recommend The Strand in the Fashion District – but you get my point!)
These are some of the places I recommend you go/see/do for free in NYC.
Walking the Brooklyn Bridge was my number 1 highlight of this recent trip to New York. It was a clear, crisp and abundantly blue Spring morning and we set off towards Manhattan from the Brooklyn side. The wooden walkway of this almost 130-year-old bridge runs down the centre of the bridge, in an elevated position from the vehicles below. There are two lanes, I suspect so that locals can easily avoid the tourists with cameras as they make their commute into the metropolis. The views of the Manhattan skyline, the Manhattan Bridge, even the pinprick Statue of Liberty in the distance are mesmerizing. But it’s the walk itself, a brisk 20 minute stroll, the breeze in your face, the outline one of the most iconic cities of the world laid out before you, that is unforgettable.
Times Square is electrifying. During the day the wall-to-wall billboards and endlessly revolving adverts on giant screens are quite impressive. But of a nighttime the area is quite the spectacle. Like a moth to a flame visitors are drawn from surrounding streets and shadowy buildings to stand open jawed in this neon jungle. You will see the lights of Times Square long before you arrive there. Shoppers and their children spill out of the revolving doors of hyperstores long after bedtime has passed. Batman, the Super Mario Brothers and some furry animals from Sesame Street wait for their presence to be requested in your holiday snaps. Even the Subway has its name spelt out in twinkling lights. Sorry Piccadilly Circus but you have literally been outshone.
The High Line is a public park built on an historic freight rail line elevated above the streets of Manhattan’s West Side. It first opened in 2009 with an extension completed in 2011. I had read much about the High Line before this trip, the attraction has gained much praise, but to be honest my favourite part was when it ended, right next to the bars, shops and restaurants of the Meatpacking District. It being a cold Spring there was not much in the way of plant life to admire at this time but I did enjoy the artwork, particularly the giant kiss scene, and appreciate what the park has done for this area of the city. It might just be me but I simply found the walk a great excuse to enjoy a beer at the Standard Biergarten at the end of it!
Another New York site I found fairly underwhelming, but insist you assess for yourself, is the Statue of Liberty. It has to be said Lady Liberty is rather small. And she is currently closed for renovation work so the best thing to do is take the free commuter Staten Island ferry for a few touristy snaps, and then get straight back on the next boat to Manhattan.
This next bit you have to pay for but it’s worth it. My number 1 paid for attraction in New York is Top of The Rock. I’ve done this twice now and each time I have not been disappointed. Even the way this attraction is organised, you are given a viewing time and can leave the building until that time comes, is far superior to the Empire State Building Observatory where we stood in sweaty lines for over 2 hours (at a non-busy time) and the less said of that the better. If you are really smart (like us!) you will have arranged in advance a New York City Pass. This grants you access to 6 top city attractions including Top of The Rock, MOMA and the Empire State Building Observatory (DON’T DO IT!). By purchasing the combined pass for $106 you save 43% on admissions prices and get to jump the ticket queue at each place. So we traded one city pass for a viewing time at Top of the Rock, shot up 70 floors and saw this. Not a bad view is it? The short exhibition on the history of the Rockefeller Centre and its NBC residents is also worth a perusal.
I have to mention the shopping. There is something for every budget in this city but a couple of honourable mentions go to the below. Firstly Century 21 in the Financial District is a hive of cut-price designer goods and I insist you make time for their shoe department. Nearby are also Wall Street, the New York Stock Exchange and the 9/11 Memorial (reserve a free visitor pass online) so you could combine a visit to some or all of the above. Somewhere I spent hours in is Strand Books near Union Square/Greenwich village. Literally miles of new, used and rare books, many priced at less than the e-book equivalent, this store is like a temple for bookworms. One more place that has shops and some fantastic architecture is Grand Central Station. I guess there must be trains there too!
It’s possible to eat on the cheap in New York, those $2 hot dogs they sell on the street are real good and I became obsessed with the New York bagel, but I tried so many epic eats and sweet treats in New York I have a whole post dedicated to them coming next. So watch this space.
What do you think is the best thing about New York? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Thanks to Bravofly who sponsored my flights and made this dreamlike déjà vu possible. Search and book cheap flights to New York using their comparison engine. For more information on things to see and do in NYC visit nycgo.com and if you want to know more about the delicious delis and best cheesecake in New York watch this space (or sign up here to get a reminder by email!)