A First Timer in New York

New York is one of those bucket list destinations that everyone I know either wants to go to or has already been and wants to go back. There is something about The Big Apple that draws you in: its size, its romance, its culture, its food, its shopping. It might only be seven hours on a plane from London, but it is a world away.

Empire State Building from 34th Street

We spent five nights staying in the Double Tree Suites on Times Square in November, during which we simply didn’t stop. There was so very much to see and do that we were on the go all the time – the cliché of “the city that never sleeps” is so true. And we only touched the surface of what New York had to offer. We were English tourists in New York, spending our time looking up at the vast skyscrapers in awe, wielding our camera snapping away constantly, walking miles and miles along the busiest streets I have ever experienced. We explored, we ate, we wandered around department stores, we ate some more. We were so busy we didn’t have time to arrange to meet up with friends or bloggers or anyone else. But it was a good busy, a very inspiring busy; we did our best to cram in as much as possible.

Old vs New in New York

The Hotel and Getting Around

We chose the Double Tree Suites on Times Square as we wanted to be right in the middle of everything as well as have a little space and luxury. The entrance to the hotel is on the corner of 7th and 47th and the reception is on the third floor, where they present you with warm cookies on arrival – nice. Our suite was up on the 15th floor (of 43) and we hit the jackpot with the view; we overlooked Times Square and could see everything that was going on.

Double Tree Suites, Times Square

Our suite had two rooms – bedroom and lounge – plus a massive bathroom which was as big as most hotel rooms I’ve stayed in London. There were two large TVs (yay, I got to watch rubbish American TV without having to make LincsGeek watch too!), a little kitchen area with microwave and fridge, and plenty of space for us to spread out and relax.

We would definitely recommend this hotel to anyone wanting to be in the midst of it all. With the exception of the taxi ride from and to the airport, and one return trip on the metro to get to the financial district, we walked everywhere. We didn’t bother with expensive taxi rides as the traffic was so snarled up all the time (with much beeping of horns – so noisy, so unnecessary!), it would have taken longer than walking. Times Square is within very easy reach of both edges of Manhatten, Central Park, all the shopping areas and museums, and we could have walked down to the 9/11 Memorial too if we had time (about four miles).

View of Times Square from the Hotel

Times Square, New York

Me in Times Square, New York

The Sights

There are literally hundreds of things to see and do in New York. Hundreds. We bought the New York City Pass before we went over to make sure we had a means to get into at least a handful of attractions, which worked out well for us. We also took a walking tour guide book borrowed from a colleague which gave us ideas for directions to head on foot, including great descriptions of what we were looking at.

Empire State Building at Night

The view from the Empire State Building was simply awesome. We went up to the Observation Deck first thing on the Friday morning when the sky was beautifully clear. Being over 1,000 feet in the air we could see for miles, with the glass on the buildings glinting in the sunshine. Our City Pass got us up to the 86th floor where we could have paid the extra to go up to floor 102, but the view was just fine and we didn’t see the point of going further when you can’t go outside right at the top. The City Pass included an audio tour which gave us lots of information about what we could see from each side of the building. Going first thing in the morning was worth it as we didn’t have to wait in a long queue for either security (all attractions have airport-style security checks) or for the lifts, although it was still very busy at the top. We spent ages up there, working our way around the balcony, admiring the view and taking photographs. We felt like we could see absolutely everything – it might have been cold and windy up there but it was definitely one of the trip highlights.

View from Empire State Building

View from Empire State Building, including its shadow

One of the biggest highlights of the trip for me was the Semi Circle Cruise with Circle Line Cruises. Included in our City Pass, this tour started and finished at Pier 83 on the east side of Manhattan, taking us around the bottom of Manhattan, under the Brooklyn Bridge and back again. The boat ride, which started at 4pm, gave us an opportunity to see Manhattan from the water in the daylight and in all its brightly lit glory. Who’d have thought skyscrapers could be beautiful? The commentary on the boat was clear and very interesting and we got to see lots of things we simply wouldn’t have otherwise. Of course we saw the most famous lady in the world, the Statue of Liberty, but also things like the first neon sign to be made, and the UN building. It was very very cold outside on the top deck, but we braved it for the views and to get some photographs. An excellent way to spend a couple of hours, we are very glad we did it.

Manhattan from the River

Statue of Liberty at Sunset

Manhattan from the River

Manhattan from the River

We’d been told that while the Rockefeller Centre in New York is not as high as the Empire State Building the view from the top is still one not to be missed, and is best at night when New York is lit up. We went up to Top of the Rock, as suggested, in the evening, and were greeted with the most amazing views of New York – including the Empire State Building – looking rather wonderful. I have to say I think the set-up at the Rockefeller Centre is actually better than at the Empire State Building, it seemed more organised and less busy. The one ticket gets you all the way to the roof, with three levels of open air views across the City. We were blessed with clear skies and so could see for miles, and because it was Veteran’s Day the Empire State Building was lit up in red, white and blue rather than the plain white we’d seen from the boat earlier in the trip. It was absolutely awesome and definitely makes me want to go up the Shard in London when we’re next down there.

New York from Top of the Rock

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) contains some well-known classics and was firmly on my list of places to visit in New York. Works by Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, Andy Warhol, and many others feature on the walls. We spent an hour or so exploring the various rooms on the upper floors before the more unusual (more modern) pieces go the better of LincsGeek and we decided it was time to leave before he went into melt-down. It is quite expensive to get in, I thought (although it was included in our City Pass), but is worth it if you appreciate art.

We decided to spend a day at the Intrepid Museum (not included in the City Pass), mainly because we wanted to see the Enterprise Space Shuttle that is now based there. USS Intrepid is (was) a massive aircraft carrier, now permanently located on Pier 86 as the New York Sea, Air and Space Museum. It celebrates military and related history, and includes the aircraft carrier, the USS Growler submarine, and of course the Enterprise. There was also some sort of televised barbecue cook-off going on too, but sadly that was out of bounds for the likes of us!

New York Financial District

PJD 911 Memorial Bike

9/11 Memorial, New York

Located on the site of the World Trade Centre, the 9/11 Memorial consists of two large fountains dedicated to those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks back in 2001 as well as in 1993. We wanted to go and see the space that has been created for ourselves, and being Remembrance Sunday (Veteran’s Day) we felt it was a suitable way to spend a morning. I found the yellow roses placed in some of the engraved names rather poignant, and the noise of the water falling into the building foundations was quite spectacular. The setting is a very large plaza, which I really hope will become much more open once all the surrounding building works are completed to allow people to use the space as a place of remembrance without having to queue up or go through that airport-style security.

Central Park, New York

Central Park, New York

Craning the Rockefeller Christmas Tree into Place

We explored various other parts of Manhattan on foot including Fifth Avenue, the financial district, Chinatown and Little Italy, Central Park, the New York Public Library (wow, what a building!), Grand Central Station (again, wow!), Broadway, and all sorts of other places. We naturally visited Macys and Bloomingdales, and partook in a spot of shopping in the surrounding streets – although I wasn’t allowed to go in Tiffany’s! We know we missed out lots of the sights, but we only had a few days.

New York Car Park

Driftwood under Brooklyn Bridge, New York

Brooklyn Bridge, New York

The Food

Oh the food! We ate so much of it! There are three particular restaurants we would whole heartedly recommend to anyone heading to New York:

We booked Blue Smoke while still at home so we had somewhere to eat on our first night in Manhattan. We were so glad we did – we had a brilliant meal there. Apparently credited as the founder of the New York “barbecue movement”, the menu is full of American slow smoked classics. Located on East 27th in the Flatiron district, the restaurant was heaving, but the service was still good and the food excellent. I had the North Carolina Pulled Pork Platter, while LincGeek went for ribs. We ate very well.

We saw Juniors featured on a television programme which claimed it had the best cheesecakes in New York, so we looked it up and off we went! We chose the one in Grand Central so we were a little bit away from the busiest part of New York, and we got a table straight away. We’re talking diner style with paper plates and disposable cutlery, but the food was really excellent and it was a nice informal place to eat. My Swissburger was very good – cooked well and served with plenty of onion rings and steak fries. And then there was dessert… oh my goodness. Best cheesecake in New York? At that point in our trip yes absolutely! I went for the Strawberry Shortcake Cheesecake, which was cheesecake and cake layers with an amazing flavour. Juniors offered great value for money, too. If we had time we would have gone back to Juniors for more cheesecake – they have a bakery in Grand Central Terminal too where you can pick up something to take home.

Cheesecake at Junior's

A colleague had recommended Trattoria Dell’Arte on 7th Avenue (opposite Carnegie Hall) as serving the best pizza in Manhattan, and so we went there to celebrate my birthday. What a lovely restaurant, with a server who was the epitome of an Italian American. The tables were rather close together, to be honest (you couldn’t get between them without moving one along a bit), which was a shame as this always makes me feel like I’m sharing my dinner with the people I don’t know either side of me. The food was fresh, well cooked and very lovely, and I have to say my calamari starter and pizza main course was incredibly good. By far the best bit of the meal, though, was the dessert. We had the lemon cream pie, which was quite simply the best lemon tart/pie/thing I’ve ever eaten in my life. It will take some beating. We discovered when we got home that the Trattoria are rather famous for their lemon pie, and quite rightly so. Delicious.

There is no need to bother with the big chains as there are plenty of other places to choose from. We made that mistake with TGI Fridays, somewhere we like to eat in the UK. We went there because we were cold and hungry one evening and didn’t have the time or energy to search somewhere else out. Sadly it just wasn’t up to scratch in food quality or service and was way more expensive than at home. What a shame!

"Wicked" Cake from Ellen's Stardust Diner

Getting an honourable mention is Ellen’s Stardust Diner on Broadway at 51st Street. We had a late lunch here on our last day, and while the main courses were pretty average the service from the Broadway-wannabe-servers was fantastic. We really enjoyed their performances of show classics and pop songs, and had a very happy meal there. Oh and the Wicked cake we shared for dessert was so very nice. Don’t bother getting a slice each, the world’s biggest dessert lover couldn’t finish one to themselves, but make sure you leave room for one of their cakes. Fantastic. The Tick Tock Diner on 34th Street did a good breakfast (quick service but with brevity) had the stereotypical shiny metal facias, but sadly it was also covered in scaffolding so no photo.

Eileen's Special Cheesecake, New York

Eileen's Special Cheesecake, New York

As for cakes and snacks, we did plenty of that too! My favourite cheesecake of the trip came from Eileen’s Special Cheesecake, a tiny little bakery on Cleveland Place close to Little Italy. We hunted this one out specifically as we were told it had the best cheesecakes in New York (yes, another “best cheesecake in New York” award), and we weren’t disappointed. The little round individual cheesecakes come in all kinds of flavours – I could have eaten my Raspberry and White Chocolate cheesecake at least a couple of times! It was a pleasure to sit in the window of the bakery, eating cake and watching the world go by. The desserts we had from Magnolia Bakery came a close second to Eileen’s for me (we used the one on 6th (Avenue of the Americas) and 49th Street) – a massive choice and a massive queue for deliciousness. We didn’t try any of the plethora of food carts along the streets as we’d always either just eaten or were planning to eat very soon. I am certain that food smells much better than it tastes anyway!

A Return Visit

I guess one of the things that is the sign of a good trip or experience is when you start saying “next time we will…” the second you head for home. And that certainly happened with New York. We had an amazing time, and will return one day to spend another few nights in the Big Apple. And what of those “next time” things? Well, see a show on Broadway for sure, and some hockey at Maddison Square Garden (we were unable to get tickets to this time – the game was sold out). The Natural History Museum, Guggenheim and Metropolitan are all also on the list, and maybe next time we’ll ice skate or go on a horse and carriage.

New York is definitely one of those places everyone should visit at some point.

LincsGeek and Splodz and the Statue of Liberty

There will be a follow up post to this with lots of my hints and tips for your first visit to New York. Watch out for that in the next few days.

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