New York City: What you can fit into a 4 day weekend…
New York City, the “Big Apple”, the “Empire State” or the “Concrete Jungle”, one of the most iconic cities in the world never made it onto my bucket list, but I have to admit I would love to go back for round two!
Our visit to NYC was very much for the sole purpose of making sure thewelltravelledwoman was a very happy little lady on our wedding anniversary. The frustrating bit about a wedding anniversary is that it falls on a specific date, which doesn’t move, and with work commitments, I could only squeeze in a quick 4-day trip and this was the perfect amount of time to squeeze in the incredible landmarks as well as a bit of shopping!
In a nutshell, here is how we spent our 4 days:
Day 1: Top of the Rock, Ellen’s Stardust Diner and then wandered around midtown to check out the most famous buildings in the world (see below)
Day 2: Woodbury Commons – a day of shopping!
Day 3: New York Financial District, 911 Memorial and Statue of Liberty
Day 4: Central Park – bike riding and shopping along 5th Avenue
Now, let’s just take a moment to enjoy some of our favourite photos from our trip …
Top of the Rock (Rockefeller Centre)
When deciding whether to head to the top of the Empire State Building, or the Rockefeller Centre there are a few things to consider. Do you want to go up the Empire State Building, or do you want to SEE the Empire State Building? We chose the Top of the Rock which has spectacular panoramic views over Central Park as well as the Empire State Building. For us, it was a no brainer!
“Concrete jungle where dreams are made of … there’s nothing you can’t do … now you’re in New York!”
Alicia Keys – Empire State Of Mind
With a massive day ahead of us we mapped out our walking route through NYC and it just happened that the Top of the Rock was first on the list for the day. Honestly, it was the perfect way to start our adventure – nothing will prepare you for the views and the completely new perspective you will have when you stand at the Top of the Rock.
Having been to many landmarks in the past we have been well trained to pre-purchase our tickets to avoid any potential queues, but to be honest, there was hardly anyone there when we arrived and we could have just as easily bought our ticket at the door. We must have spent at least an hour taking it all in, admiring the most incredible view you could imagine (and it was only 4 degrees Celsius!).
People tell you and you read how big Central Park is, but nothing can prepare you for what you see when you’re up the top. Incredible, unbelievable and gigantic – just a few words to describe the view! Not only do you see the park but you can see the Empire State Building and if you look far in the distance, you can also see the Statue of Liberty!!
This building is the actual building where we were able to get the bird’s eye view of the city! The building is also beautiful to see from the ground, and even better leading up to Christmas when it’s home to an ice rink and probably the biggest Christmas tree you will ever see!
One word. “massive”.
The park is a whopping 843 acres, filled with tranquil lakes, bridges, a small golf course and thousands of fitness fanatics jogging or cycling the paths. It is the perfect place for anyone in NYC to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and feel like you’re in a whole new world. It really is just like the tv shows and certainly doesn’t disappoint.
We hired a couple of bikes and rode through central park, it was so much fun! But, a bit of helpful advice – there are specific cycling paths and if you’re on the pedestrian footpaths you’re more than likely going to get fined! Neither of us are keen cyclists, but luckily it’s flat and we had a great time exploring the park!
Take a look at our quick video!
At one point, we (well, Jenna) decided that she wanted to feed the squirrels. They seem cute she said… they look adorable she said… Well, turns out they can be quite aggressive when there is food involved! Jenna learned first hand how sharp their little claws are when it latched on to her hand to grab the nut! Thankfully the ones in Bryant Park were much friendlier (see below!).
Mental. This particular intersection in mid-town is by far the most happening place in New York City! There are swarms of people, street performers and hundreds of neon-lit billboards, Piccadilly Circus in London has absolutely no chance of competing with it. It seems each billboard is trying to compete with the ones above, below and to either side of it. There was even a live cam billboard where I have to admit, it was pretty cool seeing ourselves on the screen in the middle of Times Square! Admittedly, right now, I have no idea what it was advertising (but it was definitely related to makeup)!
Times Square was originally named after the New York Times, although they have since moved to eighth avenue.
Our hotel was just around the corner and we wandered through Times Square multiple times both during the day as well as night – but if you’re limited from time and not as close, I would definitely recommend visiting it at night, it has a much more dramatic effect.
And now for a quick architectural tour of NYC:
Empire State Building
The name of the Empire State Building came from the nickname for New York. It is a beautiful building not only because it is so famous, but because it just looks incredible. When you look at it from the Top of the Rock, it is smack bang in the centre of the city, drawing you in.
Empire State Building is the third tallest building whilst One World Trade Centre in the background is the tallest building in NYC.
The Chrysler building is one you should take a wander past and grab a quick snapshot. At the time of completion, it was the tallest building in the world which was overtaken by the Empire State Building just one year later. It is now tied fifth tallest in New York City.
The Flatiron building is probably the most famous because of its triangular shape. It is this shape purely so it would fit the wedge-shaped piece of land it was built on! Another one to grab a snap of.
Statue of Liberty
Besides Central Park and the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty would probably be one of the most famous landmarks around the world. What many people don’t know is that the statue was a gift from France in 1886.
We had originally planned to take the free ferry across, but then decided to on the tourist boat which is faster, less crowded and also allows you to get off on the island. The boats are quite frequent and we didn’t have to worry about rushing so we enjoyed a stroll around the island and a bit of down time in the park.
Fun Fact: The seven spikes on the crown represent the seven oceans and the seven continents of the world, indicating the universal concept of liberty.
This is an incredibly moving memorial, dedicated to the nearly 3000 people who were killed in the terror attacks on 11 September 2001. When you are standing at the base of the twin reflecting pools, which by the way are nearly an acre in size and feature the largest man-made waterfalls in North America, it is a surreal feeling. The pools are actually the footprints of where the Twin Towers once stood.
Surrounding the waterfalls are bronze panels which have the names of every person who died in the attacks.
You can walk around the area for free, but you can also visit the museums if you want for an additional cost. I would suggest purchasing your tickets online to avoid the queues when you get there.
A visit to New York isn’t complete without visiting Wall Street. I must admit, it wasn’t anything like I was expecting. The street was quite small and not very busy in terms of traffic etc. But it is still good to see one of the most famous streets in the world!
And you must line up and get a photo of the famous bull!!
Bryant Park is a lovely park in New York and around Christmas time it is buzzing with Christmas markets and plenty of friendly squirrels (not like the ones in Central Park!!). It is a nice park to relax for a bit and check out your map for where you’re going next!
Ellen’s Stardust Diner
Normally this would fall under the ‘where to eat’ category, but I feel this deserves a section on its own! It’s a multi level 50s-themed diner with singing servers and some proper American food.
Skipping the hotel’s buffet that morning, we decided to on a real American breakfast in Ellen’s Diner and boy am I glad we decided on heading over early. It was first thing in the morning and we still had to wait (in the chill!) for around 25 minutes before being able to enter the Diner. It was jam packed, the serving singers were excellent and the food was alright too!
No trip to NYC is complete without a bit of shopping! Having wandered through the high-end retailers we were told to visit Woodbury Commons, which is one of many premium outlets stores in the US.
If you’re staying in the city, there are two ways you can get there… by coach or hiring a car. It is around an hour north of NYC so not too far away. Given we simply didn’t need a car in the city, we decided on the bus. There were around 40 people in front of us, the majority of whom had large (empty) suitcases… at the time, we laughed at them and wondered why on earth you would bother with an empty suitcase… Well, let’s just say next time – we’ll do the same thing!!
We were lucky enough to get on the first coach, and off we went. It was surprising just how quickly the landscape changes when you leave Manhattan and we very much enjoyed the scenery along the way – there was even snow on the side of the motorways!
Having arrived at Woodbury Common, it’s an outdoor styled shopping centre rather than what I initially expected from America (being those malls!) so I was quite pleased. I was even happier when we walked into the stores and realised just how much cheaper the items were compared to London or Sydney! Needless to say, we bought a fair bit and wished we had both more time and an empty suitcase to fill up!
The buses are not as frequent and given the distance back to NYC we decided to head back to the bus stop around 20 minutes earlier than the departure time. Ridiculous. Everyone must have had exactly the same thought and it felt like the whole of Woodbury Common was being evacuated. There was no system to the madness and everyone was standing side by side and when the bus pulled up, it was absolute mayhem. We were lucky that the bus stopped where we were standing, we were being pushed and shoved to get on to the bus.. At this point, I was glad I didn’t have a suitcase to try to put under the bus.. if we did, we’d never get on… So we were lucky and got on and away we went, back to New York.
If we were to travel there again, we would hire a car. It would be nice not to have to rely on bus timetables and angry people trying to push you out of the way to get on the bus.
Shopping in New York also wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the usual suspects, Macy’s and Bloomingdales!!
Christmas time in New York
If you go to New York in December, the Christmas festivities and excitement are in full force. All of the shop windows are decorated and there are decorations lining the streets…
Where to stay…
We actually split our accommodation into two different stays. We thought we’d experience the Times Square area and then the Upper West Side as well.
Our first stop was the Sofitel New York. Wow, what a touch of luxury! We even had views of the Empire State Building through our window. We stayed in New York for our wedding anniversary. It was such a nice surprise after a rough trip from the airport, to check in and find a lovely welcome anniversary cake for us. Such a lovely added touch.
The room was incredible and I can tell you, that bed was exactly what you would expect when staying at the Sofitel… the Sofitel MyBed range so needless to say, we had the best nights sleep!
The Sofitel is in a perfect spot, we walked pretty much everywhere from this hotel and found it very central.
We will soon be completing a full hotel blog, so watch this space!
To mix it up a bit, we decided to spend our last night on the Upper West Side at a boutique hotel called Nylo. The hotel is a very hip hotel in a fantastic location. There is a bar downstairs with live music and it was a great place to unwind. It certainly wasn’t as luxurious as the Sofitel, but it was still great. Comfortable bed, great service – what more could you want?
It is very close to Central Park (for those wanting to go for a bike ride) and it has a very different feel to being in the centre of Times Square. I am so glad that we stayed on the Upper West Side, the neighbourhood provided me with a completely new perspective of what it would be to live in NYC.
I would recommend staying at this hotel, should you want to stay in this area! A full blog on this hotel will be coming soon!
Where to eat…
Ellen’s Stardust Diner: As mentioned above, Ellen’s Stardust Diner was a highlight of our time in New York. It isn’t just about the food when you visit, it is about supporting up and coming talent who are trying to make it on Broadway. They are all incredibly talented and made our breakfast extremely entertaining. I would recommend visiting at least once… I would love to go back! We went for breakfast and it was scrumptious.
Virgil’s Real BBQ: We walked past Virgil’s Real BBQ place several times on our way back to our hotel. It looked like exactly what we thought an American restaurant would feel like. So, we walked in, had a drink at the bar before we were shown to our table.
We looked at the incredible looking menu… decided to order to starters (one each) and a main to share. We thought that would be enough for the two of us. Well… it was enough to feed a small army! Little did we know that entres are the main meal… so we had a dozen chicken wings to share… and these chickens were massive.. plus a gigantic plate of nachos with chicken and beef…
We didn’t get through half of it, but it certainly explained the looks we got from nearby diners. We just about rolled out of there – so full.
Magnolia Bakery: So many people told me about Magnolia Bakery and that I had to visit at least once. The place was buzzing, it was so busy with many patrons being locals. It is worth stopping in – the only trouble is trying to pick what flavour you want!
The Meatball Shop: We were recommended this place by a New Yorker. We went to the Upper West Side restaurant and it was fantastic! The staff were super friendly and explained how the menu worked… Yes, you need it explained because you get a pen and fill in the piece of paper! The food was delicious, we were glad we stopped in!
Shake Shack: A visit to New York isn’t complete without a visit to Shake Shack. It is the busiest burger joint going around. The line is out the door and the seating in the restaurant is limited. But don’t let that stop you. We ordered the regular Shake Burger and some fries (you can even get cheesy fries!). The regular burgers aren’t massive, but probably all you need.
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“Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.” – Ray Bradbury