New York is the ultimate city, the world’s top metropole, the Big Apple and if you can make it there, you can pretty much make it anywhere someone once said. For us New York is rock n roll, punk rock, movie sets, history, iconography, and skyscrapers all wrapped in one bag of epicness. It is a city that has inspired numerous songs from favourite New York bands like the Ramones, Blondie, and the New York Dolls. Central Park is the most filmed location in the world, around town other movies like The Godfather, Taxi Driver and Do the Right Thing have been shot. Around every corner there is a sight that is embedded in the popular psyche of the world, it might be Empire State Building where King Kong swatted biplanes, it might be the magnificent Chrysler Building with its iconic metal gargoyles used in movies like Men in Black. Looking south on Manhattan island and seeing the sheen of the One World Trade Center reaching for the heavens at the site where once two towers stood.
The sound of New York is the whooping of the police sirens, the wailing of the fire engines and the roar of the subway running under your feet. New York changes every time we visit, always something new, a new neighbourhood blooming, new art and building constructed like The Wessel at The High Line. Not to mention concerts, sporting events and city celebrations that seem to be happening on every occasion they have an excuse to throw a party. New York has gone from a crime ridden cesspool of doom, via virtual bankruptcy to a clean-up and revitalisation still going on, to a city that everyone wants to visit. On our first visit to New York in the late 90s, we were told to not visit Bowery and Alphabet city, and certainly not wander around DUMBO. Now those areas are cleaned up and make up the tapestry that is the greatest city in the world, New York.
We have mostly landed at Newark International Airport in New Jersey west of Manhattan. The decent into Newark is exciting if you are seated at the left side of the plane (most planes land from the north) where you will have magnificent views of Manhattan on the final approach. You will have to wait in the normal hour’s long immigration queue like any other US airport, so it will take some time to clear immigration. Grab your bags and head for the exit. There are public transport options at Newark, there is a train that will take you to Penn Station in Mid Town Manhattan, you will have to change trains once for this service. The train ride will be around 1 hour, maybe less if you get lucky with the connections. We have always either taken a taxi or pre ordered a chauffeur service to pick us up. A train ride to Penn Station will cost approx. 13USD plus further transport with subway or taxi in Manhattan. Taxi fare will end up at around 100 USD including taxes, tolls and tips. The fare depends on traffic of course. The ride from Newark to central Manhattan will be around 40 minutes with light traffic. When departing from Manhattan to Newark in rush hour in the afternoon/evening it could take anything from 1 hour to 2 hours to get to Newark by car. We have used Blacklane a few times both in New York and other locations in the US for airport pickups and a driver to pick you up at the airport and delivering you at the doorstep of a Manhattan hotel will cost approx. 110 USD including fees and tips. And we think that this is worth the price for comfort and leisure.
John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) is the other international airport in New York, located in eastern New York and the borough of Queens. JFK is the busiest international air passenger gateway in North America and handles more than 90 airlines and around 60 million passengers from all 6 continents of the world in one year. The public transport to and from the airport is more or less the same as on Newark, there is an airport train connecting the terminals with New York’s subway system at Jamaica and Howard Beach stations. You can also board the Long Island Railroad at Jamaica; this will take you to Penn Station. You will use about an hour on the trains from JFK to Manhattan, and it costs around 11USD. A taxi will cost about 70USD depending on traffic, the ride is typically around 45 minutes long to central Manhattan.
For hotel suggestions and tips, check our post on New York Hotels.
Getting around Manhattan and to the boroughs surrounding Manhattan is easiest by the very efficient subway system of New York. Opened in 1904 it is one of the oldest public transport systems, one of the most used public transport systems and it has the most stations of any rapid transit system by 472 stations in operation. It averages 5,6 million rides on a weekday, and it is estimated that in a year there are around 1,8 billion rides on the subway system. The underground in New York is busy and sometimes a bit bewildering and overwhelming. We remember the first times we ventured underground via the stairs to the platforms, some stops are easy with just one line and trains going uptown or downtown, some stations are like badger holes with tracks stacked on top of each other and navigating all the platforms requires a local’s knowledge and skill. You will get on the wrong train, going in the wrong direction, we have done this many times, just get off at the next stop and switch tracks, no big deal. There are express trains running many of the different lines, these only stop at intermittent stations (you will see them roaring past on the middle tracks of stations where the express does not stop) and if you get on one by mistake, you might get a bit farther down the line than you expected, but as we have mentioned, just switch tracks, and backtrack on the next train going the other way. The subway of New York is like a movie set, just hanging at a station feels like you are an extra in some gritty New York movie scene. To ride the subway (and buses overground) you need to buy a Metro Card, a credit card type card that you fill up with credits, almost all stations have vending machines that sell cards and for filling up your card. A card costs 1USD and you can reuse it on your next New York trip. Riding the subway costs 2.75USD for most rides. You can buy unlimited ride Metro Card that gives you unlimited rides for a certain length of time. The 7-day card is perhaps the most usable for visitors, it costs 33USD for 7 days. If you use the card more than 12 times in 7 days or less, this is maybe the best option for you. Please go to the MTA site to check out option for rides, maps, and what Metro Card to choose. You could also utilize the New York taxis if you can hail one on the street, they seem to always be on a mission to somewhere else. More popular later years is of course Uber, download the app, state your destination, and choose a car, within seconds you have your own private driver. Works great in New York and tends to be cheaper than taxis.
First Time Visitor?
New York is enormous, it is a huge city, most first, second, third- and fourth-time visitors will only see Manhattan, after all this is where most of the major sights are. There are people living in Manhattan that will never leave Manhattan, and why would they, it is the centre of the world. There is so much to see and so much to do in Manhattan, so the need to go anywhere else on your first visit is just not needed. We would recommend to first pinpoint what you would like to see as “must sees” on your first visit, there is no chance to see everything, so concentrate your first effort on what you want to see. We highly recommend for all first-time visitors to do a Hop on Hop off bus experience on your first day, just to get an impression of Manhattan, get your bearings and a feel for the layout of the city. We always do this in any new big city we visit.
We would also recommend booking an experience on one of New York’s skyscrapers. Our favourite is Top Of The Rock on Rockefeller plaza, unprecedented views over Central Park and downtown to Empire State building and further down to the tip of Manhattan island. It is spectacular, in daytime and at night-time with all the lights shining all around you. The good thing is that you can book an exact time for entering, so the lines are not that long, and they have a daytime/night-time option as well here.
Second option for skyscraper epicness is the granddaddy of all skyscrapers, Empire State building. When it opened in 1931 the art deco skyscraper was the tallest building in the world, and it remained New York’s tallest building until the twin towers of World Trade Center were opened in 1970. It stands rather alone in mid-town Manhattan, so it’s a great landmark when you walk around Manhattan’s grid streets and wonder if you are walking uptown or downtown, you can just look for the Empire State Building situated on the west side of 5th Avenue between 33rd and 34th Street. The very cool art deco lobby can be entered from 350 fifth avenue. Like Top of The Rock tickets can be pre purchased for a set time to avoid queues. The views from the observation deck are epic, the only drawback compared to Top of The Rock is that you can not see Empire State building itself, and the views towards Central Park are better from Top Of The Rock.
The last and newest skyscraper observation deck experience is in the new building One World Trade Center and their observation deck One World Observatory. This is the tallest building in New York, and it also holds deep significance for New Yorkers and people of the world since it stands next to the site where the two towers of World Trace Centre once stood. It is a stark reminder of what happened on 11. September 2001 when the twin towers collapsed by the hands of terrorists. On street level before you visit the observation deck, we strongly recommend visiting the 9/11 memorial with the two gaping holes where once the two towers stood.
The observation deck itself is on the 100th floor and gives great views to the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge and north towards mid-town and the Empire State Building. After visiting this site, we would say that the short walk south to Battery Park is worth the small detour. Walk from the 9/11 memorial west towards the Hudson River and walk the genuinely nice esplanade along the river down to the park. From here there is also a great view of the Statue of Liberty and for movie buffs you are not far from the entrance to the Men in Black offices. At the northern end of the park is the huge ventilation building for the tunnel running under the park and East River, this building was used as the entrance to the Men in Black office in the movies. The area to your north east is the financial district, and the oldest part of Manhattan. A short walk and you can have a look at the bronze charging bull on Bowling Green and Wall street a few blocks to the east.
While in the area a great way to get on the water, feel like a local and get up and personal with the Statue of Liberty, for free, is to take a ride on the iconic Staten Island Ferry running from the Whitehall Terminal on the south eastern end of Battery Park. One of the last ferries to run across the river, this is a remnant of when there were no bridges and all crossings had to be done by boat to the Manhattan island. It is a great little freebie in a city than can be quite expensive.
Sports and Entertainment
New York is the home of iconic teams like New York Yankees and New York Mets in the baseball league, New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets play world class basketball and New York Rangers and New York Islanders play ice hockey. Venues like the legendary Madison Square Garden play host to basketball and the Knicks and ice hockey and the Rangers. Some of the most legendary bands have all played the Garden, from The Beatles to Led Zeppelin and Pearl Jam. We have seen a hockey match on Thursday evening in the Garden, and the next evening we have been seated on centre field watching a concert by Temple of The Dog. Small and big venues have come and gone during the years, read our post about Bleecker Street where among other clubs the infamous GBGBs held fort and nurtured New York bands for years. We have seen the Black Crowes at Hammerstein Ballroom, and in the newly built home of Brooklyn Nets the Barclays Centre we have sung along to Pearl Jam two nights in a row. Not to mention the clubs in New York, they come and go with trends and times, but the most famous of them all Studio 54 laid down the benchmark for all other discos of the world to follow. The Apollo theatre in Harlem has seen every great soul man and woman from James Brown to Aretha Franklin, a true icon in the world of live shows.
To catch a show on Broadway, see a hockey or basketball match in the Garden or a concert, is eyewatering expensive. Most of the sports games are fully booked years in advance, by season ticket holders on the most part, so to get tickets you need to pay the price they ask and use the official resale channels via the venues themselves. We have seen a few hockey matches in the Garden (and they are great! And even greater when we had our Norwegian on the team, the great Mats Zuccharello) we have found that hockey is a bit more lively compared to basketball. Whatever you fancy, New York has something to cater to every need, just remember to use official channels to get tickets, if you don’t you might get hustled by one of the many cunning ticket touts. The most excellent Time Out people have a good calendar of what is going on in New York at any time.
New York City Walks
We love walking around New York and stumble upon hidden gems and small coffeeshops. The streets of Manhattan are perfect for walking and getting a bit lost without any fear of ending up in the wrong neighbourhood. Read about our favourite street Bleecker Street here. Wander around Central Park like we do here. Walk the spectacular High Line with us here. Check out the cool district of Meatpacking here. Walk Brooklyn bridge with us here and shop `till you drop here.
New York City Eats
It is hard for us to recommend places to eat with the Covid pandemic ravaging the New York citizens, businesses, and restaurants. These days so many restaurants close, and we have little information on which place is open and which are closed at time of writing this (February 2021). We will try and update this section as soon as we can based on more “normal” times when they are upon us.
We are crossing our fingers for favourites like Cipriani in SoHo, Eataly complex at Madison Square Park, and our favourite Izakaya Nomad which closed temporarily in December 2020. One of the greatest rooftop bars with grand views of Empire State Building is still open, check out 230-fifth for a drink and food with views to die for.
For breakfast we have in later years always ended up at one of the branches of Le Pain Quotidien, especially the SoHo branch. And for a quick burger there is no place like the Shake Shack. There are numerous blogs about eating in New York, check out The Infatuation for more inspiration. And do not forget to stop at any of the great food trucks parked by parks, sidewalks and in small groups on parking lots. They have suffered greatly during Covid, so support them if you can. The Infatuation has a good and comprehensive guide to what trucks are operating at any time in Manhattan.
Off the beaten path
If you ever get tired of New York, you are basically tired of life. We have been visiting about 20 times since the late 90s, and the city keeps developing. We have only scratched the surface for you, and we want to go back as soon as we can. For the adventurous who want to go outside Manhattan and explore other areas, we would say that these are some places we have been and liked a lot:
- Coney Island: take the subway to Coney island and walk the boardwalk at the beach. Eat a hotdog at world famous Nathan`s, marvel at the old fairground attractions and the vintage rollercoaster. If you dig the Ramones, head up the shore to Rockaway Beach, just because.
2. Brooklyn is also one of those boroughs that have had a regeneration in the later years. Filled with great restaurants, biergartens and the house that Jay Z built, Barclays Arena.
3. Williamsburg rose to fame during the great hipster years of the 2010s. Home to the original hipster brewery Brooklyn Brewery it is worth the trip across East River.
4. Harlem. We strongly recommend to take the trip uptown to Harlem and get a Sunday service at one of the many churches in the neighbourhood. We had a blast with the congregation singing hymns with a big band and the gospel singers in their robes singing the lords praise. After service, get some soul food in your belly at Sylvias!
5. Do a movie tour! New York has been the location of so many classic movies, so if you want to nerd out on the Godfather, Ghostbusters, or Avengers, take a tour!
The pull of New York is constant. We are sad to hear and read about how Covid has affected New York and USA in general, we truly hope that some day everything will be back to normal and tourists can come back to the greatest city on earth, The Big Apple, New York we love you!