New York: 15 things to do in The City That Never Sleeps

Almost ten months after we started planning our trip, it was coming to an end in New York. This was hands down one of my favourite places that we visited (and we visited a lot!) and one of the few that I feel I could just keep going back to and always see more.

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After our ferry from Provincetown to Boston, we then caught the Megabus to New York. Our quest for relatively central, reasonably priced accommodation led us to Airbnb; our host was fantastic and the listing was incredible. Central Manhattan is relatively easy to navigate: on foot, the grid system makes it simple to navigate; the subway runs 24/7. If you’re staying in New York for a week (or more) and plan on using the subway frequently, I’d recommend getting a MetroCard when you arrive. If it’s your first visit to the Big Apple, and you plan on doing lots of the typical tourist attractions, it’s worth considering the New York CityPASS; we found it saved us a lot of money! Here are the highlights from our trip to New York . . .

Explore (all of) Central Park

It goes without saying that most visitors will want to discover this world-famous urban park. For me, the boating lake was a highlight (only $15 for an hour, so much cheaper that London’s Hyde Park!), especially taking into account the sight of one couple alighting from their boat and standing on a little rocky outcrop in the lake trying to feed the geese . . . ! If you’re a fan of The Beatles visit Strawberry Fields to see the ‘Imagine’ mosaic memorial, a tribute to John Lennon. For Lewis Carroll enthusiasts, there’s also a sculpture of Alice in Wonderland, on the lower east side of the park. Belvedere Castle which overlooks Turtle Lake (which, true to its name, was filled with little turtles) is worth a visit for the stunning aerial views of the park. At the northern end of the park, there are areas of woodland and quaint little bridges for the more adventurous to explore.

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Visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum

The harrowing events of 9/11 have undoubtedly shaped today’s society immeasurably: with tightened security and a heightened fear of Middle Eastern countries and further acts of terrorism. The 9/11 Memorial and Museum offers visitors the chance to develop their understanding of the events that unfolded on September 11th 2001, interact with individuals’ stories and learn about the effects of this event of mass destruction on American society. Though it was a visit tinged with sadness, the memorials, two deep pools of water with the victims’ names inscribed around the edge, represented hope and resilience.

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See a show

The shows of Broadway are such that there’s something for everyone, from comedic musicals such as Mamma Mia! to the melancholy Les Misérables (which I’m still dying to see!), and from reworked Disney classics such as The Lion King to long-running Broadway successes such as Chicago. Most people join the never-ending queues at the TKTS booth in Times Square; without a doubt, the substantial discounts on offer are the only way that many of us can afford to experience a show. However, savvier visitors should head to the TKTS booth in South Street Seaport, where the line is practically non-existent and you’ll still have pick of the shows. We saw Mamma Mia! and I would highly recommend it if you’re in the mood for upbeat Abba tunes!

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Sample some goodies at Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Company

Contrary to what the name might suggest, the one we visited was actually in Manhattan. It was featured on several lists, such as this one, as one of the ultimate bagel places in New York. So, in the quest for Laurence to find a traditional LOX bagel (I’ll never quite understand how a smoked salmon bagel with cream cheese ended up with this abbreviation) we headed here. I stuck by my preferred cinnamon and raison, but there’s lots more to choose from (coconut, rye, poppy and pumpernickel to name but a few), complete with a wide range of fillings.

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Walk the High Line

This was one of my favourite parts of New York. Winding its way through several New York neighbourhoods, several metres above the streets of New York is this incredible (relatively) new park: The High Line. Walking the length of this park just has to be done: there are art installations en route, viewpoints with stunning vistas and plenty of places to stop for a snack if needs be.

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View the city from the Top of the Rock

When in New York, there are several options for obtaining a panoramic view, but for those seeking the ultimate view of the Empire State Building, the Top of the Rock (or TOTR) is the place to go. We had a CityPASS (which eliminated the queues) and went up just before sunset (which we then missed when I developed a horrible sense of vertigo). There’s a fantastic view of Central Park, but if you want to capture the perfect skyscraper cityscape as the lights go on, then head up early before all the space-hoggers get there!

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Ascend the Empire State Building

Once the world’s tallest building, the Empire State Building is an icon of New York. Its location means you get a superb 360° view of Manhattan and the surrounding area: the Top of the Rock to the north, the new One World Trade Centre to the south, the Chrysler building and Brooklyn over to the east and New Jersey to the west. Plus, with the CityPASS you can go up it twice in one day – once during the day, and once at night!

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Sample the delights of Vesuvio Bakery (160 Prince Street)

On the edge of SoHo lies this lovely little bakery, which is a sweet-tooth’s haven. The cookies are just the right balance of crumbly and gooey; if only I could make them that consistency myself!

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Visit Lady Liberty

The Statue of Liberty was a gift to America from France; last year, when I was a language assistant in Colmar, I visited the scaled-down replica of the Statue of Liberty on the outskirts of the town (it was there because Bartholdi was from Colmar). Since then, I was eager to see just how much bigger the real Statue of Liberty was – and it certainly surpassed any expectations I had! As it was included in the CityPASS, we took the ferry out to Liberty Island, followed by a brief stop at Ellis Island to visit the Immigration Museum. From both islands, there were spectacular views of Manhattan. You can even go up into the crown of the Statue of Liberty; unfortunately we didn’t manage to do this, as reservations need to be made a long time in advance.

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Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge

When in San Francisco, you have to cross the Golden Gate Bridge; when in New York, the same applies to the Brooklyn Bridge. Some people walk both ways, some walk half way and then turn back; we chose to walk the whole way across and catch a subway back. There are great views from the bridge, though it would be advisable to avoid the heat of the day to eliminate the chance of melting on the bridge!

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Visit the Earth Room (141 Wooster Street)

Ever been to the Saatchi Gallery in London and seen the room filled with oil? Well, this is a similar concept, except it’s a room filled almost entirely with earth. The Earth Room is an interesting idea; it makes the whole apartment look huge when there’s nothing but earth to fill the space. It’s free to visit, but check their website for opening times; no photographs are allowed inside.

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Get ice cream at Morgenstern’s (2 Rivington Street)

While we were busy getting lost, we stumbled upon this gem of an ice cream parlour. For really unusual flavours, such as “durian and banana”, head here and munch your way through a scoop or two.

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Visit Central Park Zoo

4 zoos in 6 weeks: not bad going, if you ask me. Central Park Zoo was the last zoo of our trip, and though small it’s beautifully landscaped and worth a visit, especially if you’re accompanied by small children. The sea lion feeding session shouldn’t be missed; the sea lions are bound to entertain as they perform their tricks (stand a little back or risk getting soaked!) in reward for fish.

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Treat yourself at Magnolia Bakery

Simply put, this is every cake-lover’s paradise: doorstop-sized wedges of cakes in every flavour, snack-sized cupcakes adorned with frosting, crumbles and more. $6.50 for a slice of cake might seem a little steep, but if you’re not going back any time soon, you won’t want to miss out on the chance to sample some of their delicious concoctions. Be prepared for long queues and a salivating wait. Their hummingbird cupcakes are delicious and the carrot cake (which features chunks of pineapple and plump juicy sultanas) was definitely some of the best I’ve ever tasted . . .

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Check out the National Debt Clock

This was something I’d never have thought of visiting; my sister messaged me asking for a photograph of it as she’d learnt about it at school. It’s located just off Times Square, and it’s a slightly overwhelming sight to see just how much debt America is in! Just looking at the figures made me feel marginally better about my student debt though . . .

 

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