Here it is: the New York City travel guide I’ve been talking about for weeks now. It feels so good to finally have it published and share all this fun content with you! New York City is such an incredible place; there’s really so much to explore, so many people to meet, and so many new experiences to try. If you haven’t ever been, I really hope you get the chance to see this iconic American city. It’s not overrated at all.
First impressions: Before going to NYC, I was a little nervous. Of course you hear horror stories of the traffic and getting mugged and constantly being surrounded by a million people. I don’t know about you, but that didn’t sound pleasant to me.
I was very surprised and excited to find the city didn’t feel like that at all. Sure, there was traffic and a lot of people, but you can easily avoid driving. In terms of the people, that’s what makes New York interesting. There are so many different kinds of humans to see and languages to hear, you don’t really notice the crowds. Plus, it becomes a fun game to learn to weave through all the people without crashing. 🙂
We arrived in town early Saturday morning and stayed for four nights. We realized arriving on the weekend helped us ease into the big city feel. There weren’t nearly as many people on the sidewalks or in the streets until Monday came, which gave us a chance to gather our bearings and adjust to New York.
From the JFK Airport, we took the Long Island Express train all the way to Penn Station. My dad and brothers sat by an old man in a button down and tie who turned out to be the best story teller. He had the thickest New York accent and regaled my family with tales of his time in the NYPD before opening a French fry chain followed by a healthy smoothie chain. My mom and I sat by the cutest old woman with a New Jersey accent who was visiting the city for a baby shower. She had the most darling apple cheeks smoothed with blush, and the way she sat and chuckled revealed her sweet nature. These two people really started our trip off on the right foot. They were so kind and unforgettable, so I really encourage you to not be afraid to strike up a conversation with someone. You never know what kind of interesting person you could meet. 🙂
The old man recommended we do something called the Circle Boat Cruise; he said it’s so great he does it once a year. Because we didn’t have any plans for the day, we decided to check it out. Thank goodness for this guy’s recommendation! The Circle Boat Cruise is, obviously, a boat, and if you pay for the full 3 hour ride (which we did, under the man’s instruction) it takes you all the way around the island of Manhattan. I couldn’t recommend it enough. The tour guide was so full of helpful and interesting information, and it gave us a great sense of how to get around town and what we wanted to explore further. We saw landmarks like the Statue of Liberty, Pier 54 (where the Titanic was supposed to land and the Lusitania took off), the Brooklyn Bridge, the One World Trade Center and entire city skyline, Ulysses S. Grant’s tomb, and many, many more. If you choose to do this boat tour, I suggest you do it at the beginning of your visit to NYC. It established a sense of direction, plus it was really cool to notice things the tour guide discussed as we walked around Manhattan the rest of our vacation.
The tour guide also discussed food which, obviously, is extremely important. Here’s the need-to-know takeaway: the city requires all restaurants to post a menu and an inspection letter grade in the window. If a restaurant has a blue A, then they passed all their inspections and the food/facilities are good to go. If there’s a green B, it means the eatery could be a little sketch, or they could’ve had an off day during inspections. Eat at your own risk. But if there’s a red C, it stands for “C-ya later” as the tour guide explained because you should not eat there. I thought this was super informative, and after that I noticed all sorts of grades around the city.
The next day, we took a boat to tour Liberty Island, followed by Ellis Island. They provided audio tours as part of your ticket, and I highly recommend listening to them! We walked the entire perimeter of Liberty Island, listening to our audio tours and learning so much about the history of the beautiful Statue of Liberty (like how her full name is Liberty Enlightening the World and her copper shell is only two pennies thick). I’m much more likely to listen to information than to read it on a sign, so I really enjoyed the audio tour. We didn’t pay for tickets to get into the bottom museum of the statue, but I don’t really think it’s necessary. We felt completely satisfied listening to the facts and touring the outside.
We then took the boat over to Ellis Island and listened to one of many tours. This was also super fascinating, and there was much more to explore on this island, since you could enter the main building without paying extra. I think the coolest part was how many different languages I heard while walking around the building; it was like time travel—I felt like an immigrant myself trying to navigate my way through all the languages! While a lot of people like to search for family names in the building’s directory, we didn’t do this. It cost extra and required a complicated sign-in for a timed session. I don’t really feel like we missed out though.
When we arrived back on Manhattan, we stumbled across the coolest carousel right near where the boat boarded. It was fish themed and lit up in pretty exotic colors—the ride had just recently opened. I really loved this little gem of an activity because it was so unexpected, and it made us all feel like little kids again. 🙂 Afterwards, we walked to Wall Street nearby, saw the famous bull statue, and continued on to see Ground Zero and the new World Trade Center. We didn’t go inside the museum, but I looked up some really interesting facts about the grounds and architecture of the memorial. It was so powerful.
This was the only day we didn’t walk; we took a Lyft to the boat tour and another one back from the 9/11 memorial to our hotel. The traffic didn’t seem too bad, but we were glad we weren’t the ones driving nonetheless. Each ride cost $16, which seemed pretty good to us.
We spent the third day exploring the Empire State Building and Central Park. We bought tickets for the 86th floor, and if it’s anything like the CN Tower in Toronto, I wouldn’t recommend paying extra to go a few stories higher—the view is basically the same once you get that far off the ground. With that said, seeing the city from the ESB was spectacular. Especially after our Circle Boat Cruise, we could spot a lot of iconic buildings and landmarks from the outdoor viewing deck. Not to mention, some of the free binocular/telescope things provided coordinates so you could spot important buildings. The ESB also had a really nice gift shop. Of course it was expensive, but we ended up getting most of our souvenirs here instead of some tacky shop on a street corner.
The rest of the day we spent walking allll the way to Central Park and back. The best way to see the city is definitely by walking; while we were all super sore that night, the exercise was worth it because we got to view all sorts of famous buildings (including St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Guggenheim, the studios where shows like Saturday Night Live are filmed, etc.). Once at the actual park, we were shocked at how large it really is—you don’t fully understand it until you walk around!
We stopped by the MET, Museum of Modern Art, and American Museum of Natural History, but we didn’t go into any of them. While it would have been fun to explore at least the American Museum of Natural History, we just didn’t have time in our schedule. I don’t feel like we missed out though. In the four nights we stayed there, I feel like I did everything I wanted to do in New York—we hit all the major landmarks and at least got to see all the rest of the important things, even if we didn’t go inside. That was enough for me.
Let’s discuss hotels for a moment. We stayed at the Kimpton Eventi the first night on the sixth floor. Pros: the room was swanky and very quiet. Cons: the people weren’t very friendly or helpful, and the communication skills of the hotel management were lacking. The last few nights we stayed at the Casablanca Hotel in the Theatre District. Pros: the people were very friendly and helpful, they provided breakfast and snack hours, and it was located very close to the theatre we planned on attending, which made things convenient. Cons: it was basically in Times Square, only a half block away, so it was very loud at night. Overall, I think we all agreed that we liked the Casablanca much better than the Kimpton due to the hospitality. Just look at the cute note they left me, along with a bottle of Martinelli’s!
On our last full day in New York, we walked to the High Line, which was an old railway turned park/upscale neighborhood. While it’s not a typical tourist attraction, the park did make an awesome addition to our itinerary. Seeing the lush vegetation in the middle of the “iron jungle” provided such a unique city experience. Not to mention, the views were great!
We spent that afternoon window shopping in SOHO. Everything was way out of our price range, but it was fun to look nonetheless. 🙂 That night, we saw a play on Broadway. More on that to come this Friday in its own special post!
On our final morning in New York, we just explored the Macy’s store, where the Macy’s Day Parade takes place, and enjoyed a few hours in Times Square. Every Wednesday Times Square has an event, and they happened to have coloring when we were there. It was so much fun! Just like the carousel, the coloring was something unexpected and unique. I really enjoyed just relaxing for a bit and feeling like a real New Yorker.
That concludes our awesome trip to the Big Apple! If you need ideas for what to wear, I wrote a whole post about dressing for fashion capitals of the world. If you have any questions about where we stayed, what we did, or what we ate, please feel free to reach out! This post is already super long and I can’t include everything, but I’d love to help if you have any questions.
Have a great start to your week!
Miles of smiles,