I was thrilled even as I approached the concept of USA. This is a land whose people embrace you even before you say hello. This is a land which although savvy from the outside is enduring enough to rise after 9/11 and hurricanes that hit it every second year. New York, a city where world’s most popular TV shows are set and the fandom sends people on quests in search of Central Perk and MacLaren’s Pub and Hell’s Kitchen.
During our 3 day stay in New York City, I saw my friends fall off the kayak in the Hudson, did tandem cycling in Central Park, chatted with an NYPD police officer for an hour at midnight, got handcuffed, saw half nude women in Times Square, went to the top of One World Trade Centre, listened to enthusiastic harpists, guitarists and violinists at subway stations, tried out Mexican, Mediterranean, American food, sailed past the brightly lit Statue of Liberty at night on Staten Island Ferry, saved a friend from almost drowning in a lake somewhere in New Jersey, rode the world’s tallest roller coaster, got bored to death at the Museum of Modern Art, posed in SRK style in front of the Brooklyn Bridge.
These are the top things to do (in no particular order) in New York and each one of them has a unique offering:
Times Square is famous for its gigantic ad screens and for being THE goto place for every tourist who visits New York. Some websites list Times Square in the ‘NOT to do things in New York’, but this place deserves to be visited for its carnival-like atmosphere. And the latest addition to the carnival is the infamous desnudas. ‘Desundas’ are semi-nude women eager to click photographs with tourists (nothing more!) and expect a nominal fee in return. When we arrived at the square, we could see a parade of desnudas, but it soon became evident that these manifestations of flirtation in the human spirit had nothing to do with our advent. New York was just being New York.
ONE WORLD TRADE CENTRE
Standing on the top floor of the 5th tallest skyscraper in the world is an experience in itself but the icing on the cake is the interactive graphic presentation shown right before they let you go inside the observation deck. I would have paid the entire entry fees ($32) just to watch that presentation. There were lot of loud “Oooooo…..s” and “Wows!” from the audience when the presentation ended. Needless to say that the view from the top is amazing. So much so that then and there I called up my family in India and told them where I was. It’s a moment to see the assortment of lights beaming from other skyscrapers and tiny buildings placed neatly on the Cartesian plane of Manhattan Island.
I would recommend to visit One World Trade Centre at night for 2 reasons – no crowd (we had tried coming here in the afternoon but there was an hour long queue to get to the top floor) and the view at night is awe-inspiring. If you are visiting NYC then you might get stuck in deciding which skyscraper to visit – WTC, Empire State Building or Rockefeller Centre. I am guessing that the view from the top is almost similar in all three of them but WTC would get my vote because of their graphic presentation and the high speed elevator which was so fast that it made our ears pop.
KAYAKING IN HUDSON
Yes, one of us did fall off the kayak in the Hudson River. First off, there are multitude of piers on the west side of Manhattan that offer free kayaks. You need to know how to swim, sign a waiver and off you go. With the One World Trade Centre in the backdrop, it is the perfect setting for a ride along the river. Fair warning – do not lean out of the kayak if you don’t want to taste the Hudson. Visit their website – www.downtownboathouse.org/pier26/ to know more about free kayaking in New York.
BIG APPLE GREETER
Big Apple Greeter is a program that lets you admire the city through the eyes of a true New Yorker. They have a vast network of knowledgeable and enthusiastic folks (read volunteers) who are more than keen to give a tour of the city or at least a part of it. The program allows volunteers to show pride for their city and give back by enhancing the tourist experience. AND IT’S ALL FREE OF COST! Visit them at www.bigapplegreeter.org. I highly recommend this.
CYCLING IN CENTRAL PARK
Central Park is a haven of people/families from within the city – chilling out, playing kickball, running, cycling. We even spotted a group of couples performing salsa. We were a group of 4 and rented 2 tandem cycles. I gave my personal best of 60 km/h and we did a complete loop of the park. It was fun racing two against two. That was our first-hand experience on tandem. Bikes can be rented from nearby cycle stores, usually on an hourly basis. Do lookout for discounts.
STATEN ISLAND FERRY
We were told by a dozen people NOT to visit the Statue of Liberty. A paid ferry takes you to the Liberty Island (where the statue actually stands) and there isn’t much to admire. Instead, Staten Island Ferry was recommended which is a FREE ferry service that runs between Manhattan Island and Staten Island. The ferry runs close to the Statue of Liberty and gives enough time for shutter bugs to have ‘the New York trip photo’ with the statue in the backdrop. It runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
MANHATTAN YOUTH – PIER 25
Ever thought of playing beach volleyball (or golf) with the Hudson River on one side and One World Trade Centre in the backdrop? As classy as it sounds, New York makes it possible.
THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART
We did not get a chance to visit this museum. If only we had known that it has an awesome collection of paintings and sculptures and artifacts and much more; and that it has been rated ‘The Best Museum of the World’ by Tripadvisor, we would have made a priority to pay it a visit. Instead we chose to visit the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). I wouldn’t recommend MoMA unless you think you understand art more than an average human mind would. I regret the decision of opting MoMA over Metropolitan Museum of Art.
SIX FLAGS GREAT ADVENTURE
Six Flags Great Adventure is a roller coaster theme park which is home to some of the scariest and fastest roller coasters of the world. It is a one and a half hour trip from New York City. Read my post SIX FLAGS – HOME OF THE BEST ROLLER COASTERS.
Although USA has introduced the concept of burgers and fries to many parts of the world through KFC, McDonalds, Burger King and Subway but one that it has still kept a secret is Shake Shack. You can’t come to USA and not try one of their burgers. Burgers are just one of their many delicious offerings; frozen custard and “shake of the week” are equally mouth-watering.
There are many more places in NYC which had good enough reviews to lure us in visiting them. But time is never enough. Since I didn’t visit any of them, I don’t have any personal opinion about these places. They are on my list for the next NYC trip:
- High Line
- Museum of Natural History
- Blue Man Group
- Rockefeller Center (skating rink in winters)
- Flatiron Building
WHERE TO LIVE IN NEW YORK CITY?
The primary concern while looking for accommodation in New York is safety. Places to stay on Manhattan Island can be pricey. Most parts of Brooklyn that are fairly close to Manhattan are safe and quite nice. Brooklyn Heights deserves a mention because of the iconic view of the Manhattan Financial District that can be seen from here.
After consulting a couple of local New Yorkers and friends who had been to NYC we figured neighbourhoods west of Prospect Park are quite nice, and the areas east of the park are not so nice. Areas to avoid include Bushwick, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, and East Flatbush. Neighbourhoods east of these areas should definitely be avoided. Harlem (upper Manhattan) is another area which we were told to keep away from. We rented a room in Bay Ridge (South Brooklyn) on AirBnb. It was a good deal that we got; the only down side being the 1 hour metro ride to reach Manhattan which was fine for us since it gave us an opportunity to experience the local New York life.
NEW YORK CITY SUBWAY
New York has an expansive network of underground metro rail. With the 4th longest metro rail system in the world and 7th in terms of ridership, it’s a wonder in itself. Subway is the best option to commute within NYC. 7-day pass is available at $31. The subway runs 24 hours.