New York the city that never sleeps
New York, New York, what can I say..a city that never sleeps and every visit is a different experience…I’ve been to the City about 7 times now. I’ve been going there many moons ago when I would save like crazy for flights and stay with my lovely friend Lena or venture with hubbie before and after we were married and long before kids came along, I’ve gone in Winter, Spring and Summer and every time its been different.
The sights never get old and are as exciting as the first day I laid eyes on them!! Its a fast paced city and at times New Yorker’s are so straight, they ll say what they think, which may come across as rude, but make no mistake its a likable city.
The last time I visited was 2 years ago (2017) with my girls (then 3 and a half and 6 yrs old) it was quiet different, it was a hot summer and places were busy, the city was the same but with two kids I was more aware of things I wouldn’t have noticed with girlfriends, I left New York that summer almost disliking some parts of it. But with a returned visit last week with my sisters, the city charmed me again, making me fall head over heels in love with it, even making me reconsider bringing the kids again but not during summer!!
A good time to visit
Anytime is a good time to visit New York, for the most part I’ve visited in November, October, late February, March and July but this time around I went last week the end of January early February. Summer can be hot and at times very busy. Hand on heart end of January is the best time of the year to go!!
Why? Well for one it was cheaper to book flights from Dublin to New York, or Shannon to New York for my sister (working out at roughly €360 return flight with Aerlingus!! Now that was a great price!!) For me it was irrelevant as I was flying from Austin, and although it can get very cold around this time of the year (dropping to -9 degrees last week), it is worth it to avoid the crowds at most tourist attractions. For us there was barely any queues at “Top of the Rock” and we didn’t even need a reservation at the beautiful “The Loeb boathouse” at Central park, there was ample seating!
Accommodation is easy come by at that time of the Year and pricing is quiet reasonable!
Where to stay
As its just after Christmas and the new year, New York is a lot quieter at the end of January and the 1 st week of February, (don’t go 2nd week of February as its fashion week, everywhere is booked out and you cannot get cabs etc) For our accommodation we stayed in The Courtyard by Marriott Fifth avenue, it was a nice clean hotel, (although there was no bar or restaurant) but it was an ideal location, right around the corner from The New York public Library, Bryant Park, 3 min walk to Grand Central station and 15 min walk to Madison Avenue, along with Rockefeller Center and Times square! It was also about a 10 min walk from the Empire State building. It was one of the best locations I stayed in, and the price for a two double bed room for 4 nights was $725 roughly , $276 each (that is 3 people for 4 nights!) I stayed in the Fitzpatricks Hotel Grand central previously, again a lovely Irish owned hotel with a great bar and restaurant and they are currently charging $138 a night for a double room this time of the year.
I also stayed in a bit more of a trendier hotel than the other two, completely different experience and a very modern New York hotel, it was called the W New York on 524 Lexington Avenue , whose next door neighbor was the Waldorf Astoria (which is currently closed down) again situated right near Grand Central Station and the Chrysler Building. The price per night at this hotel at the moment, for this time of the year, is $135.50 for a double room, again a fabulous hotel in a great location.
Air b&B is another good option if you are staying longer than a few nights and its nice to be able to have amenities to cook breakfast etc if you don’t feel like eating out, eating out can be expensive!! A side note on accommodation, New York hotel rooms are known for the tightness/compact area of the rooms so don’t expect anything large!
What to Do
Where to start, New York is a big city and there is a tonne of hotspots. The best advice/Tip before going is plan your days out...I am not kidding time just flies and you get easily distracted with things all around you…so plan your day..
Here’s one suggestion where it’ll get you around the city and see all the sights in two days. Big Bus Tour NYC ,this is by far the best to use getting around the sites of New York city, most of the time we used it as a taxi to get us to our next point. Its kid friendly too, my kids loved the hop on/hop off tour and it saves their little legs from falling off while walking the city.
There s Big Bus Reps absolutely everywhere that will try sell you tickets, which is great, but you will only get the best prices by booking online, you can use your phone to do this. Prices start from $89 plus tax for a 1 day pass + 1 attraction and increases in price for 2 attractions, you can also do a 2 day pass (which I did before, well worth it) and its $129. You will get to absolutely everyone of the attractions and they sometimes include a cruise as an attraction. Include the circle line cruise as its a lovely way to see the city. Its about an hour and half long and gives gorgeous skyline views of Manhattan midtown and lower, not to mention getting so close to the Statue of Liberty. (we took the kids although it might be a little long for younger kids)
City Pass If you don’t want to do a hop on/hop off but want to see some of the sights in New York, then the city pass is a must, you can get good deals on this. Attractions are expensive to get into, but the city pass gives you a better deal for entry and you even skip the queues. There are two options City Pass which is 6 attractions which include….
If you feel that’s too much for you and you don’t have much time you can do a C3 Pass where you pick 3 of the attractions above.
Prices for the main City pass is $126 but they always do special rates today’s is $96 (book online) and the C3 pass is $86..the best thing about these passes is they last for 9 days once in use!
(Tip: Be prepared to walk absolutely everywhere!! Bring practical shoes!!)
Top of the Rock Versus Empire State Building Both top of the rock and Empire State building are super with excellent views. Everyone knows the empire state building as being the most iconic, but for me Top of the rock is a little better, mainly because the top viewing is all clear windows so your view is not obscured…The reason I choose Top of the Rock is the queues aren’t as long or as slow as the Empire state building. Although the Empire is a higher building, I still think Top of the Rock is better as you also get to face and see the Empire Building in your viewing line when up there. You also get an amazing view of Central park from Top of the Rock. But if you have time Id do both, however if you are short on time Top of the Rock is great and right in Rockefeller Center!!
Rockefeller Center Everyone knows Rockefeller center , mainly due to that Home Alone 2 movie, and that amazing Christmas Tree. Its beautiful to see it and its always buzzing!! This time of the year you can go ice skating and there is plenty of shops and restaurants surrounding it. Kids will love it as there is a Lego store right there at the center (although it can get pretty busy) You can also get the Radio City and NBC Tours here.
The American Museum of National History is a must especially for kids, I took my two girls when they were 3 1/2 and 6 and we literally spent hours there it was excellent, they loved it and its massive. (its $23 for adult and $13 for kids general admission but they do have shows on every day which may be extra)
The Tenement Museum The tenement museum, my New York friend told me about, it can only be seen by a guided tour, and it tells the story of how immigrants started their lives in on Manhattans lower east side. visitors take guided tours of apartments that recreate immigrant life in the 19th and 20th centuries. Along with a glimpse of the past. Ticket prices are $25 for an adult.
9/11 Ground Zero and Freedom Tower museum …At the time the observatory wasn’t open when I went to visit it in 2017 but I have since learnt the observatory is now open giving you 360 degree views. The memorial grounds itself is very impressive. You’ll enter the 9/11 Memorial, where you can pay your respects to those who lost their lives in the World Trade Center. Michael Arad’s “Reflecting Absence,” a man-made waterfall that symbolizes the void left behind by tragedy is stunning and also somewhat saddening.This part is free to all to wander around.. 9/11 ground zero tour and the museum entry is so sad and a great reminder of that day, it was an experience but its also very sad so be prepared for that. Entry is $69 but there is also another tour for $35 which is a 90-minute guided tour of Ground Zero, led by New Yorker’s with personal connections to the events of 9/11. It includes a visit to St. Paul’s Chapel, Firefighter’s 9/11 Memorial Wall, and the 9/11 Memorial.
St Pauls chapel is worth going to see and I remember going to see it in February a few months right after the whole tragedy happened. At that time they were only starting to clear away the debris, all the names and photos of missing people were still hanging on the gates of St Pauls chapel along with flowers etc, but they have since been moved and preserved into the chapel and it is a museum now.
You cannot go to New York without catching a show on Broadway, this is definitely one thing you should do. It is amazing and so much fun, the production is nothing like you’d see anywhere, I’ve seen Wicked before (An excellent musical) and this year we went to “The phantom of the opera”, which was spectacular. I loved it. We got our tickets online from Broadway.com it was definitely the best price starting at $55 plus tax and even though it was high up and at the very back our views were still excellent, so you don’t need to be right up at the front.
You can also get tickets at TKTS by standing inline on the day of the show. You’ll find exactly where the booth locations are here, their flagship is in the heart of Times Square. Be warned though you could be queuing for a long time and when its cold that’s not the nicest!
It has been known that you can go to the theater on the day and go to the Theater box office of said show, and they offer cheap tickets if its not sold out. If the show you want to see is a big hit, you probably won’t be able to secure a discounted ticket, but there are still ways of minimizing the amount you’ll pay.
Buying tickets directly at the box office will let you avoid cumbersome service fees, and you can sometimes find very good seats—formerly reserved for house seats or premium sales—that have only recently been added back to the ticket pool and have not yet been scooped up and marked up by scalpers on the resale market. (Be nice to the box office attendants and they may give you some tips.)
And speaking of the resale market: You can sometimes snag tickets at great prices if you are willing to go to the theater right before the show begins. Even for very popular shows, prices on sites like StubHub (Stubhub is good too and there is a store in Times Square but we found tickets cheaper on Broadway.com) and VividSeats can fall dramatically right before curtain time, as vendors scramble to unload their unsold tickets. If you’re in the right place at the right time, you might get lucky.
Attractions that are free
We all know the main attractions but I’ll pop them down here, these are all free or only about $3 and definitely landmarks of the city you want to see, so here it goes….
Central Park ..it needs no introduction, the cities park is massive and beautiful and well worth a stroll through, watch street performers, pick up some artists pictures or just people watch or admire the sky scrappers, it is amazing. My kids loved it too and there was plenty of kids playgrounds scattered around, so take your kids, they also have tiny turtles in the lakes that kids will love. Not to mention Central Park Zoo but more on that below on the kids section.
Go skating in the winter, its beautiful. Another great find for us on this trip was we went to “The loeb boathouse”. We wanted somewhere nice to eat with an unreal view, and this did not disappoint, but on entering the restaurant we discovered you don’t have to spend half your salary to go there, they have two options!! The main restaurant and the express cafe. The express cafe has the same view as the main restaurant but better prices for snack food such as burgers ($6.50), soup ($3.50), french fries ($3.50) Wine ($6.50) to name a few and it was perfect for us. The boathouse also has a bar so if you don’t fancy eating and just want to soak up the atmosphere with a drink, you can do that too. As it was early February we didn’t need any reservation and there was ample seating, summertime is another story, but you can find more details here
New York Public Library All us girls know that Sex in the City scene where Big left Carrie on the steps of the New York Public Library, definitely go in and see it, its a beautiful architectural building and the library itself is fascinating. A must see (even if your not a SATC fan) and its free!!!
St Patrick’s Cathedral Its free and inside is beautiful, worth a visit just to pop in for a look as its pretty impressive and its on 5th venue which in itself is a mecca for shopping so its not out of your way.
Grand Central Station Another wow building, its just stunning and even with the hustle and bustle of commuters you’ll still gasp in awe!! Well worth it, and have a glass of wine while your there and people watch!! There’s two options to eat, an expensive one (Grand Central Oyster bar ) and an inexpensive one (Dining Concourse), so plenty of choice!
Times Square It needs no introduction, you’ve all seen it,its fun, crazy busy but definitely a must see, its so much better at night and so much fun to just wander around.
Brooklyn Bridge This bridge is beautiful and definitely worth the walk even just to walk a little bit and the views of the cities skyline is spectacular. (The hop on/ hop off bus stop is near here and you can walk to it, also the subway stops (4 5 and 6) stop at City hall near Brooklyn bridge so its fairly easy to get there)
The High Line This one is worth doing but not with kids, I did it with the kids but its far too long and I didn’t enjoy it as much as maybe I should have. Truth be told I found some of it a little over rated and it was extremely crowded so much so you could not stop for a rest or look at some of the landmarks without being in someones way. Granted that was summertime and very busy, so had it been a different time of the year and without kids maybe I may have a different opinion, but check it out as there is some parts that are beautiful.
Flatrion Building I saw this from the BigBus tour nice to see it, its a pretty impressive shaped building and memorable from the Batman movies. Its very near madison square too which is so nice.
Street Art Bushwick in Brooklyn If you like street art then this is the place to go, you can also get walking tours. Its pretty cool
Roosevelt Tram Myself and my sister spotted this as we were leaving and it is definitely something you should do. Its public transport for commuters but apparently it gives you unreal views over Manhattan. You can grab a tram from 59th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan to Tramway Plaza on Roosevelt Island. (You must exit and repay to get on again but tickets are $2.75 for adults and Kids are free they’d love it) It runs every 15 mins and goes from 10m to 2am in the morning!!
Staten Island Ferry This is a great way to get a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty and its free, the ferry runs 24/7 and leaves every 30mins its fun and the kids will love it. Its a short ride to and from the island. Now just to warn you, it doesn’t get really close to the Statue, so the view isn’t as great as the Statue is still a good bit away. However if you want to be closer to the statue then I suggest getting the circle cruises, which are much better as they go much closer.
230 Rooftop Its a bar/restaurant but a bar not like any other!! See details here Its based in the Flatrion area very near Madison Square gardens and has amazing views of the Empire State building, its free no reservation needed and you can grab a drink sit in igloos if its cold and soak up the atmosphere, kids are welcome too but not after 7pm. Definitely worth a visit!
Greenwich I love this area, its great to potter around. Nothing beats Greenwich Village. Terrific shopping and restaurants as well as parks for hanging out and enjoying the outdoors on a nice day. Washington Square Park and The Triumphal Arch is fab too!!
Things to do with Kids
Apart from the few things mentioned above, Central Park, Empire state building, Top of the Rock, The American Museum of National History, Staten Island Ferry, BigBus Tours, Times Square (they’ll love the M&M store) but there is a few other things you can do.
Bronx Zoo It is fabulous and Wednesdays are free admission or discount day so definitely worth a visit. (Adults are $28.95 and kids are $20.95 so a bit pricey on normal days) If you buy a family pass you can also use that for other New York zoos and the Brooklyn aquarium. It has lots of sections and its quiet large actually its huge, prepare to spend 4 hours there (Bring good walking shoes, lots of snacks for the kids and buggies although you can rent strollers for $15 :)). In the summer I have been warned that it gets very hot and there isn’t much shaded spaces so be careful of that!
Central Park Zoo This is a smaller Zoo than the Bronx but still just as good, its better for smaller kids as less walking around compared to the Bronx Zoo. You can buy tickets at the Kiosk but go early in the morning so avoid queues. Adults is $13.95 and kids are $8.95 general admission (kids under 2 years are free)
New York Aquarium This is based on Coney Island and I haven’t been, although I have asked around from friends of mine who lived in New York and there is mixed reviews, it is very small and will only take an hour to go around. The shark experience is good so I’m told but entry fee is expensive at $24.95 for Adults and Kids are $19.95. They recommend you buy tickets online as queues can be very long.
Now onto my favourite bit SHOPPING!!!!
Where do I even begin, New York shopping is unreal. Every street is better than the other but if you are looking for bargains then there is a few places you can go……lets start!!!
Woodbury Common I’ve always gone here in the past, its about an hour bus journey from New York City and you definitely can get great bargains but be prepared to waste a whole day shopping. Bus is $32 return. There are 220 stores. If there is an outlet, it is here. Up to 70% off big names in luxury (Gucci, Prada, Chloe, Balenciaga, Burberry), and staples (Ralph Lauren, J Crew, Tory Burch, Lululemon). Be prepared to shop til you drop. And no joke bring an empty suitcase you will need it as you won’t be able to carry it all home!! Although it is so good for bargains, since moving here to the states, I’ve since discovered you can still buy designer items for unbelievable bargains in other stores without even having to leave Manhattan (See below)
Nordstrom Rack on Union Square.. If you are not familiar with this store then you need to sort that out asap!! This place is unreal for designer bargains, clothing, shoes, bags, sunglasses you name it. It is unreal and if you don’t mind rooting then you are going to love it!! It has unreal items and you’ll get lost in the place!! The Union square rack is one of the best I’ve been too with amazing designers from YSL, Kate Spade, Marc Jacobs, Prada at jaw dropping prices!!
Century 21 Another good bargain designer shop although not as good as Nordstrom Rack it still pretty impressive, and you have to search a little bit more, but with patience you can definitely find some great bargains! Its right near the world trade center so after you have done the 9/11 museum pop over here to cheer yourself up!! 🙂
Macys Herald Square Some Macys stores over in the States can be hit and miss but not Herald square, it is one of the best Macys, they have every sort of designer you can think off, and definitely good prices, but if you are really looking for a bargain then head for the “Last Act” section, I have got shoes there for prices as low as $21. Coach loafers for $69 and just amazing clothes and bags. The Last act section is definitely my favourite especially for shoes!!
Westfield World Trade center This shopping center is relatively new just off the 9/11 memorial and One world trade center. The Building itself is architectural pleasing and a work of Art, stunningly beautiful. Although you wont find designer bargains here, you will find all the shops you can think of including UGG, Under Armour, Victoria’s Secret, Apple Store, Banana Republic, and Cole Haan. Definitely worth popping into even just to admire the building.
Designer Rival I discovered this just recently through Retro Flames blog, it is a gem of a designer consignment store and you won’t be disappointed. It was larger than I expected and definitely bargains to be had. But bring a lot of cash as most things are $100 upwards, although they have discounted sales on an off, you still need a lot of cash.
SoHo area This is a beautiful area for pottering around and do a little bit of shopping it has great restaurants too. SoHo is a trendy neighborhood, it is easy to run into a celebrity or two as it is in Tribeca, but no-one seems to care much or stare…It has all kinds of shops and little boutiques but definitely a little more expensive. The famous restaurant from Sex and the City where big and Carrie celebrated their engagement party Balthazar is in this area, but it is pricey and very hard to get a reservation. In SoHo expect to see lots of Cast Iron and beautiful cobble streets, its by far the prettiest and trendiest area in New York and shops are very close to each other so less walking.
I purposely didn’t do restaurants as I think there is just way too many good ones that out way the bad ones, plus there is so many price points for restaurants from ridiculously expensive to cheap as chips 🙂 So I’ve decided not to do it, we ate in such random places and I don’t recall any bad meal.
For us to get around the city we mainly walked as our hotel was close to everything, or we got an UBER (uber is used everywhere in the states) You can download the app to your phone add your credit/bank card to your account (handy as you don’t need to carry cash) Before booking an UBER, it gives you the exact fare so you know what you’ll be charged. We got the UBER from the airport JFK (prices were $72 or $65 if its not rush hour)
It is impossible to cover everything when you get to New York, there’s no way you’d do all the above in 3 days. My advice is choose wisely and if you want to see everything in a short space, just book the BigBus Tours you’ll definitely cover a lot. My advice is to plan your days, pick two attractions per day, and if its shopping you want to include then allow a full day for this whether its at the outlets or in the city.
New York is an amazing city, it will charm you and amazing you, regardless of the craziness and fast pace of life!!
Hope you find this helpful and if I’ve left anything out or you have any questions please just ask!!
Until Next time