I recently had just a day in New York city, but surprised myself by how much I managed to fit in. If you’re looking for a varied itinerary that takes in the main sights, you might like to try something similar, but psyche yourself up for an early start and aching feet by the end of the day!
6:30. KIPP School
My sister and I stayed in Harlem with a friend she’d met while teaching in India. Her regular job was to teach in a Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) school. It was a privilege to see how differently the education system is run there compared with regular state schools, and especially British education. They focus on preparing students from underserved communities for success in college and in life. During assembly, the school leader projected his student’s funniest Facebook posts and embarrassing photos! The friendly approach is intended to give a college vibe and encourage students to get involved more with school projects, and it’s very effective.
8:00. Catch the Subway to the Rockefeller Center
After grabbing a cream cheese bagel, we bought tickets for $22 per person to Top of the Rock. Although smaller than the Empire State Building, it’s slightly cheaper and has better views of Central Park. It also means that you can get some great photos of the Empire State Building as well as posing for a mock up of Charles C. Ebbets’ iconic Lunch Break image of workmen during the building’s construction. Already on a high from the fantastic views, we were also taken aback to randomly bump into two friends from London who we had no idea were even in the States!
10:00. Walk Around Fifth Avenue, Broadway and Times Square
There are plenty of recognisable sights in this area of Manhattan, not least Fifth Avenue, its main shopping street, which Forbes magazine ranked as the most expensive street in the world in 2008. Broadway runs the full length of Manhattan Borough and continues into the Bronx, but is most famous as the heart of the American theatre industry. If you have more time, it’s well worth returning to see a show one evening; you’re likely to be accosted in Times Square by people flyering for shows and comedy nights.
11:30. Catch the Subway to Brooklyn
Emerging in Brooklyn, it took us a moment to get our bearings. There’s plenty to do here, but our intention was to use Brooklyn as a base from which to view Manhattan. It’s not immediately obvious which direction to head in, especially if you’re interested in viewing Lower Manhattan Island from the Brooklyn Bridge Park before crossing back. We passed the end of the bridge and headed downhill, along quiet side streets, eventually emerging on a grassy mound to the scene that has been immortalised by so many movies and TV series.
1:00. Walk Back to Manhattan Over the Brooklyn Bridge
Perhaps it was because we took so many photos but this took a lot longer than anticipated! Experiment with photos incorporating the bridge’s architecture, with the skyscrapers behind. You will also get a great view of Manhattan Bridge from here.
1:30. Ground Zero and the Memorial Museum
This is a short walk from Brooklyn Bridge. I can honestly say it was the most harrowing place I’ve ever visited. No matter how many images you’ve seen of 9/11, there’s nothing like standing a few feet from where the towers fell to make the enormity of what happened really sink in. The museum has incredibly emotive recordings by relatives of the victims as well as a moving collection of artefacts, personal effects and memorabilia. The memorial fountains, which mark the footprints of the towers, were not finished when I was there, but are due to be turned on today – the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks. Inscribed around their walls in bronze are the names of every person who died.
2:30. Lunch and the Docks
With heavy hearts, we strolled south towards the docks in Lower Manhattan and ambled eastwards until we came to the Ferry port for Staten Island. With so much still to see, we grabbed some snacks from a supermarket to eat on the boat. The walk is quite far, and you may prefer to take the subway for this section. While the boat journey itself takes about 15 minutes each way, you should allow about an hour in total. Passing close by the Statue of Liberty, the boat is free and acts as a great alternative to the Liberty and Ellis Island excursion if you’re short of time. Try to board before other passengers as the sides of the boat get very busy with tourists. It’s also worth checking which side will give you a view of the Statue!
4:00. Subway to Central Park
It’s a strange feeling to step from the hectic city streets into Central Park. Perhaps it’s the sheer size of it, or the beauty of the lake in the setting sun, but its impact is much greater than any inner-city park in London. The backdrop of skyscrapers around the park’s edge serves as an exciting reminder of everything the city has to offer and in no way ruins its appeal as a tranquil escape from fast-paced urbanisation. Watch baseball on the Great Lawn, take a boat out on the lake or step inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Guggenheim. The reservoir serves as a great running route and there is even a castle and a theatre dedicated to Shakespeare. Other activities include ice skating, carriage horses, rock climbing and a zoo!
From the west side of Central Park, walk along W 79th street until you reach the Hudson River and the Boat Basin Cafe. With a large outdoor seating area, you can buy traditional American food here. Be warned that chips, whatever they come with, means crisps. We met our friends here for dinner and drinks followed by takeaway ice cream and a cab home.
• To reach Manhattan from JFK, you can either take a cab (about $50 and definitely the least stressful option) or, if you’re on a budget, the sky train followed by the subway is only a few dollars and quite simple to follow, but it will take much longer.
• Consider stopping off in NY on your way to another destination. If your long-distance flights stop there anyway, it is often the same price to just book them as two separate returns and stay for a few nights. It breaks up the long journey and saves you spending another few hundred pounds on flights another time.
• If you’re British, be prepared for locals to take the piss out of your accent constantly! We had a man in the subway ticket booth pretend he wasn’t able to understand us and I lost count of the number of people who said ‘Good day’ and ‘Cheerio’ as though all English people speak like the Queen!
• Speaking of the Queen, they can’t get enough of the Royal Family! Yes, I went to sit in Green Park in London and watched the wedding on a big screen. No, it wasn’t that amazing!
• Airport security is brutal! I thought a four-hour stop-over in Miami would be long enough to grab some lunch, seeing as AA doesn’t provide food. Seems it takes that long just to queue to have your fingerprints done and be so grilled by security you start to doubt your own identity!
• If you disobey the rules on an AA flight, you will be reprimanded! One poor soul desperate for the bathroom stood up when the seatbelt sign was on and got shouted at over the intercom in front of all the passengers.
• On the way home from a night out, New Yorkers don’t get cheesy chips or a doner kebab. They have giant cookies and massive pots of ice cream, with the most amazing flavours to choose from! I’m not sure what’s worse for the BMI…
• If you’re the type of person who doesn’t have the most impressive sense of direction, this city is designed for you! Sure, quaint English streets with names like Honeypot close and Whip-ma-whop-ma-gate add character, but if you’re new to a place and navigating without a map, a grid of parallel numbered streets makes it incredibly simple to find your way.
• If you want to see the Statue of Liberty close up but don’t have the time or money to take the guided tours of Liberty and Ellis Islands, hop on the Staten Island ferry. It’s free and takes less than an hour round trip. Note that you will have to disembark and re-board at Staten Island!