"It's so good they named it twice!" - Gerard Kenny
...Well, in my opinion Mr Kenny wasn't lying.
On the 15th November 2019 I took my fourth transatlantic journey to the big apple to celebrate the final year of my twenties with my other half. New York - my favourite city in the world. The city that literally never sleeps, and why would you want it to when there's so much to see and do.
Without going into too much detail, hopefully this brief reminiscent encounter will provide you with everything you need to know to be able to plan your first or perhaps even your twenty-first trip to The Big Apple.
I flew direct from London Heathrow over to New York JFK with British Airways. Having previously had a pretty naff experience with Virgin, I promised myself I wouldn't travel across the Atlantic with anyone other than BA (because if it ain't broken, don't try to fix it eh? ). Their level of service is second to none, even as someone travelling in 'cattle-class' as I call it. You're made to feel valued as a customer, traveller, explorer, whatever you are. They cannot do enough for you.
I spent four nights at the recently renovated boutique 3* U Hotel (previously known as Hotel 373) situated perfectly on 5th Ave, only a three minute walk to the entrance of the Empire State Building. Having stayed at this hotel during my first ever trip to New York back in 2015 prior to it's renovation, we decided to stay here again purely for the location factor and the fact that it wasn't a huge overwhelming hotel like some of the others in midtown Manhattan. The rooms are somewhat on the smaller side but are ideal for what we needed and the bed was super comfy so we could get some well deserved shut-eye at the end of a long day getting those steps in. Lucky for me, I was upgraded to an Empire State view room. The hotel is located between 35th and 36th street - If you walk out of the hotel and straight down 35th, 5 minutes later you will end up at the doors of the famous Macy's department store. The perfect location for anyone venturing to the Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales at that time of year (unfortunately my poor bank account can vouch for that too). The hotel is only minutes from all of the other famous landmarks that you can see across the Manhattan skyline - the Chrysler Building is a 10 minute walk (0.6 miles), the Rockefeller Center is only a 15 minute walk (0.8 miles) and Times Square is only a 14 minute walk (0.7 miles). If you wanted to venture a bit further Uptown or Downtown, or even over to Brooklyn or New Jersey, you have the option of embarking the Subway (good luck), flagging down a taxi (good luck) or simply hopping on and off a Big Red Bus Tour (my personal favourite).
Attraction Tickets & Excursions
Every time I have been to New York I have purchased a New York Pass for the duration of my trip. I honestly cannot recommend the New York Pass enough. It saves you SO. MUCH. MONEY. For example, if you're in the City for 4 nights, you could purchase a 3-day pass for around £150.00 which gives you access to all of the top attractions including the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, 9/11 Memorial and Museum, Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Immigration Museum, Museum of Modern Art (MoMa), among many many others. You name it, there's a 99.9% chance that the New York Pass will cover it. By the time you've visited 3-4 attractions, you've got your moneys worth. There is no limit on what you can do and because the attractions are open until the early hours of the morning, you really can cram everything in. One thing to bare in mind is that the NY Pass only provides you with one admission - if you decided to take a trip up to the top of the Empire State Building, you'd only be able to do this once using your NY Pass, you'd need to pay for admission again if this is something you wanted to do for a second or third time around. You can purchase the pass in advance, without having to 'plan' what you want to do or when, giving you the ultimate freedom to arrive in the City and do whatever you like whenever you like. I would not go to New York without one (even if I were to travel to NYC again and do exactly the same things as I have done the last four times which, lets be honest, is definitely going to happen again).
I have also been fortunate enough to see a handful of theatre shows on Broadway - Aladdin, Wicked & Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to name a few. As you would expect, theatre tickets for Broadway can be super expensive, even if you pre-book them well in advance! It wasn't until my third trip to NY that I discovered the TKTS booth which is situated under the famous red steps of Times Square. Here you can purchase last-minute Broadway show tickets for a fraction of the price. If you're not too fussed about what you're wanting to see (or even if you are), I would definitely recommend purchasing tickets for a show from here on the day. You can save an absolute fortune! They even have an app which you can download to see what shows have seats still available and you can set alerts for when you favourite show's have tickets available. As an example, we saw Aladdin the first time we went to NY and paid approximately $130.00 per person for the cheapest seats available, it could've even been more than that; when we purchased same-day matinee tickets to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory we paid $35 per person and the seats were pretty good! We had no complaints at all and the show was fantastic.
Food & drink
New York is without a shadow of a doubt the food capital of the world. With over 10,000 restaurants, there's no wonder it has claimed this title. There's every cuisine imaginable and I often tell people it's as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be. If you want to go out for a 5-course Michelin star meal, you can. If you'd prefer to grab a slice of pizza and a can of soda for $4 from the deli on the corner, then you can. If you want something for on the go then you can stop at one of the many street food stalls and tuck into a delicious freshly cooked pretzel or hot dog. There's a Starbucks or a Dunkin' Donut's situated on every street corner. And of course, you've got your McDonalds, Burger King, Five Guys and Shake Shack's. There is literally something for everyone. I managed to put a huge tick on the bucket list food edition when I went last year, and paid a visit to the freak-shake famous Black Tap. Because, you just have to have birthday cake on your birthday, it's the law.
I don't think I could pick a favourite place to eat in New York because everything is so good. However if you're wanting to indulge somewhere to for a special occasion and you're a fan of asian-fusion then TAO Downtown is the place to go. Without giving too much away, the restaurant is not what you'd expect when you're walking down the small, dimly-lit, wooden cladded corridor. But the food is absolutely incredible and will send your senses into overdrive.
If it's speciality food you're wanting, and let's be honest New York has plenty of those, then walking across Brooklyn Bridge to the famous Grimaldi's pizzeria is definitely for you. You can expect to have a bit of a wait outside but believe me when I say it is worth every second of waiting. Grimaldi's pizza has got to be the best pizza in the world, and I've eaten many a pizza believe me. I've had pizza in Italy and it wasn't as good as Grimaldi's (sorry, not sorry). You must add this place to your bucket list, even if it's the last thing you do.
Finally, anyone who knows me know's I'm a massive fan of a prohibition bar, also known as a speakeasy. New York is absolutely rife with these types of bars, usually hidden behind a fake shop front or cafe, or has an entrance through a telephone box. My personal favourite has got to be Bathtub Gin, situated on 9th Ave between 18th and 19th street. Again, without giving too much away, the entrance is not what you would expect and can be quite difficult to find. But once you have entered, you feel like you're stepping back into the 1920's. With live music from their in-house jazz band, or their incredible burlesque nights, you really can't go to New York without sampling a large glass of prohibition history at this speakeasy-style bar.
I'm pretty sure that whatever you decide to do and wherever you decide to go while you're there, you will have the most incredible time. There's just no way you won't enjoy your time in The Big Apple; The Empire State; The Big Smoke; The City That Never Sleeps. Call it what you will... There's a reason why there are so many songs about New York City and in my opinion, I think Alicia Keys and Jay-Z nailed it....
"Concrete jungle where dreams are made of, there's nothing you can't do, now you're in New York.. These streets will make you feel brand new, big lights will inspire you. Hear it for New York, New York, New York..."