First timer or return visitor – This ultimate guide to NYC explains how to experience the best of some well known attractions and an insiders guide to what’s new. New York is christened “the city that never sleeps”, and in our opinion, neither should you!
You’re considered a New Yorker as soon as you’re sharing the sidewalks with the locals and they’re usually only too happy to help. This city is completely inclusive, that’s why everything on our list is wheelchair friendly. It’s busy, noisy and often exhausting, but there’s an intoxicating energy that just leaves you wanting more.
People don’t come to New York to relax, whilst it’s cocktails by night, it’s definitely comfy shoes by day – we guarantee you’ll need them!
There’s only one way to start 48 hours in New York and that is…
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Holly Golightly’s dream of Breakfast at Tiffany’s is now a reality with the opening of their Blue Box Café, on the fourth floor of their Fifth Avenue flagship store.
Everything in this small restaurant is Tiffany Blue (yes, it is a patented colour) and feels like a special experience, partly because it’s so hard to get a reservation.
Breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea are served all day. Look out for the miniature Blue Box Petit Fours, fabulous just to look at!
Reservations open 30 days in advance at 9am New York time and are only available via www.resy.com (or the Tiffany website will re-direct you here). Tables sell out in a matter of minutes so attempt to make a reservation early in your trip and if you’re unsuccessful, you can try again the next day.
Black dress and tiara are not required.
After a fabulous start to the day, it’s time to visit the iconic Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
This colossal statue, and internationally recognised symbol of freedom, is spectacular in both size and beauty.
To access the statue’s pedestal level and museum, you must pre-book pedestal tickets in advance or you will only have access to the Statue of Liberty grounds.
There’s 195 stairs to the pedestal (about ten stories high) but if you’re concerned about the climb, there is a lift, or should we say elevator? Lockers are available to rent if you want to ditch the extra weight.
Limited numbers of crown tickets are available each day and must be pre-booked. It’s a strenuous climb of 375 steps from they lobby so check out the health recommendations at www.nps.gov.com.
After Liberty Island, ferries stop at Ellis Island and the Museum of Immigration. Make sure you book an early ferry departure if you want to visit both islands in one day.
Retrace the steps of 12 million immigrants who passed through the halls of Ellis Island in search of a new life in a new land. Free tours are available and there’s a handy guide at www.nps.gov.com or download the App.
Ferries depart approx every half hour from Battery Park Ferry Terminal on the southern tip of Manhattan. Nearest subways are South Ferry (1 train), Bowling Green (4 & 5 trains), Whitehall Street (R train). Statue Cruises is the official ticket provider www.statuecruises.com
Saturday afternoon can only mean one thing… Time to Shop NY Style!
Shopping in New York is the ultimate retail experience, here’s our none-stop-shop guide:
Flagship designer stores and exclusive jewellers line the ‘luxury corridor’ at the top of Fifth Avenue and along the streets than run between here and Madison Avenue. Step into another world and wander in awe at the likes of Chanel, Gucci, Cartier and Tiffany. Head further up Madison to Ralph Lauren at E.72nd, with distinctive ladies and gents styled interiors on opposite corners of the street, it’s Upper East Side architecture at it’s best and simply stunning.
Midtown is home to many famous department stores; Saks, Bloomingdales, Bergdorf Goodman (ladies on one side of Fifth Avenue, gents on the other), Barney’s and Macy’s. Some of these stores offer 10% discount to International travellers and it’s a great way to make your shopping fund go further. Remember to bring your passport, as you may need it to check in at the store’s customer service desk first.
Huge high street brands have multiple stores all over the city, so you’ll never be far from a retail opportunity. Century 21, the famous discount store, has seven floors at it’s latest store near the new World Trade Centre Complex.
Our favourite shopping haunts are downtown in the less touristy, uber cool areas of Soho, Meatpacking and West Village.
Luxury brands line the cobbled streets of Soho, with the likes of Stella McCartney, Prada, 7 for All Mankind and Mulberry housed in the cast iron buildings of this historical district. There’s also plenty of independent stores, unique stockists, high street names and quirky boutiques to explore too.
Start with a power snack to top up your shopping stamina at Dean & DeLuca on Broadway and Prince Street. Starting on Prince, walk grid like, up and down the streets of Mercer, Greene, Wooster and West Broadway (until you reach Grand) and pick up the streets of Broome and Spring in between. Finish in one of Soho’s many cool eateries, such as Sanctuary T on West Broadway, near the corner of Grand.
Meatpacking is also home to flagship stores, Zadig & Voltaire and DVF (their headquarter’s are above so you may even spot the lady herself) plus many other unique brands. It’s not just about fashion, major technology names are here; the Apple store is an impressive space with a three story, glass staircase and you must try the amazing Virtual Reality experiences at the Samsung store.
Meatpacking’s fabulous shopping scene offers something just a little bit different, head to Washington Street, West 13th and 14th Streets.
West Village has everything to offer from international brands to beauty and vintage finds. Wander peacefully along Bleecker and Perry Street, among the quaint West Village town house scene. In need of a rest? Pop into Magnolia Bakery for a cupcake (on Bleecker & West 11th). Whilst there are other Magnolia locations in the city, it’s this original little store that featured on Sex and the City. Their deserts and cakes are definitely worth the calories.
Bring an extra suitcase; you won’t be travelling home light. Check out this handy link for lightweight, cabin bags: https://www.antler.co.uk/cabin-luggage
Head to the Empire State Building to see the city lights
One of the most evocative images of New York is the iconic Empire State Building, with it’s Art Deco design and colour changing tower that’s visible all over the city.
For an entirely different viewing experience, visit the Empire State Building at night when the city comes alive with lights. The 86th floor observatory is the famous setting for dozens of movie scenes – King Kong, Sleepless in Seattle, An Affair To Remember, just to name a few. Quite magical (and just a little bit romantic).
VIP/Express tickets can be expensive, so if you only intend to buy for one attraction, make it this one, as the Empire State does get very busy. The added bonus is, tickets are valid any day for 12 months, handy if you need to plan visibility around the weather during your trip.
The entrance is now at 20 W.34th Street, between 5th & 6th Avenues. Open 8am to 2am. www.esbnyc.com
Kick off Day 2 with some culture at one of the many fabulous Museums
Whether your interest is Art, Science or History, there’s a museum for everyone in this city and here’s our top picks:
Guggenheim (Solomon R Guggenheim Museum):
It’s hard not to focus only on the amazing architecture of the spiralling rotunda of Frank Lloyd Wright’s controversial design, but the collection of modern art works is certainly impressive too. Walk this museum in reverse; take the elevator to the top floor and follow the gentle slope down. With spectacular exhibits and contemporary artists, their permanent collection includes works by Picasso, Cezanne and the largest selection of Kadinsky in America.
Fifth Avenue & E.89th www.guggenheim.org
The Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art):
Taking up 13 acres of Central Park, The Met is the largest museum in America and the most visited museum in New York.
With over two million square feet of exhibition space and 5000 years of art from across the globe, one visit is not enough. However, it is relatively easy to negotiate with their handy maps and guides for kids and families.
Only a few places in the world contain such a treasure-trove of masterpieces, it’s impossible to select just a few must-see works of art. Explore the stunning architecture and grand entrances as you wander through the galleries. Visit the Egyptian temple, with a soaring gallery built specifically to accommodate it, and in Summer, there’s an outdoor showcase project on the Rooftop garden.
The Met offers free Public tours, lasting 60 minutes. Private guided tours can also be arranged but you must request these at least 3 weeks in advance.
1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street, www.metmuseum.org
MoMA (Museum of Modern Art):
Visitors flock to the MoMA to view one of the world’s finest collections of art from the 18th century to today.
Around Christmas and other holidays, the MoMA does get crowded; particularly surrounding the more well known masterpieces, such as Van Gogh’s Starry Night. If possible, visit on a weekday when it’s usually a little quieter.
There’s almost 200,000 works of modern or contemporary art and a great sculpture garden to grab a breather. Even though it’s busy, because it’s not as vast as the Met, you feel like you can cover a lot of ground in just a few hours.
W53rd between Fifth & Sixth Avenues, www.moma.org
American Museum of Natural History:
Thank goodness security guard, Ben Stiller, managed to save this fabulous place in Night at The Museum!
Fans of the movie will see that this Upper West Side gothic building (including Theodore Roosevelt’s statue at the entrance) is just as stunning in real life.
With four floors filled with thousands of artifacts, there is so much to explore; the Dinosaur Exhibit, the Space Show at the Planetarium and not forgetting a giant T-Rex and a 94ft Blue Whale. Check online for dates of the popular annual exhibition – the tropical Butterfly Conservatory.
A lovely museum for families, but get here early as it could take all day.
Central Park West & 79th Street, www.amnh.org
Whitney Museum of Modern Art:
The Whitney is in hip Meatpacking District and dedicated to presenting the works of American Artists, such as Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol and many more.
Famous for it’s regularly changing exhibitions, this is a great museum to visit thanks to it’s wide open rooms, outdoor patios and free daily tours. Smaller than your average NYC museum so much quicker to get round and there’s a pretty cool gift shop too.
99 Gansevoort St, www.whitney.org
Frick (The Frick Collection):
Henry Frick’s grand residence near Central Park is home to a private collection of old Masters, furniture and other decorative arts. The stunning rooms are masterpieces themselves.
The Frick is centred around The Garden Court and tranquil fountain that gives the museum a very relaxed feel and a bit different from the norm.
E70th between Fifth and Madison Avenues, www.frick.org
USS Intrepid Museum:
A museum on a WWII aircraft carrier is the perfect back drop to take in the size and power of some of the world’s fastest aircraft.
Walk, touch and even step inside some of the exhibits, which include a British Airways Concorde, the Space shuttle Enterprise and a flight simulator. There’s also a guided missile submarine but that one isn’t for you if you’re claustrophobic.
Pier 86, W.46 & 12th Avenue, www.intrepidmuseum.org
For all museums, we suggest pre-booking tickets to avoid queues but check on line for any free of charge visit times first, as well as upcoming exhibits and events.
After a morning of culture it’s a chance to reflect at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum
The 9/11 Memorial is home to the sunken reflecting pools, placed in the footprint of each of the original twin towers. These cubic waterfalls, each almost an acre in size, are breathtaking in their vastness and this contemplative space has a respectful, silencing effect.
The names of every person who died in the attacks are inscribed into bronze panels edging the pools and, on each person’s birthday, the Memorial places a single white rose at their name.
Underneath these pools is the 9/11 Museum, which takes an in-depth look at the story through artifacts, testimonies and first-hand accounts. We highly recommend a 60 minute tour for an expert guide to events of that day and a history of how the museum was created. Self guided audio tours, and age appropriate tours if you’re visiting with children, are also available.
Visit www.911.memorial.org to pre-book tickets and tours for the Museum. Entry to the Memorial is free of charge and tickets to the Museum can be purchased on they day but purchase in advance and there’s no need to queue.
Head to Central Park for an afternoon stroll
Manhattan’s most famous backyard, starting at 59th Street between Fifth & Eighth Avenues, is 2.5 miles long and 0.5 miles wide. Loved by locals and tourists alike, here’s our favourite spots in the park:
- Lace up your skates. Ice Skating around Wollman Rink (open October– April) with fabulous views of the city as the backdrop, is like being in your very own movie scene and a must-do New York experience.
- Head towards Bethesda Fountain and Terrace, with it’s grand staircase, and hire a rowboat on the beautiful lake. Grab a bite to eat at the Boathouse for a stunning lakeside setting, it’s hard to believe you’re in the middle of the city. Pre-book at thecentralparkboathouse.com
- If you prefer your feet on dry land, rent a remote control sailboat at the model boat pond (April – October) and it’s right next to the Alice in Wonderland statue that children love to climb.
- Strawberry Fields and the Imagine mosaic tribute to John Lennon is a special area on the west side of the park.
- A traditional Carousel has been charming visitors to Central Park since 1871. It’s open every day in Summer and a favourite with adults and children alike.
- Stroll along The Mall and Literary Walk, with a spectacular canopy of Elm trees and statues of prominent writers along the way.
- Central Park Zoo is great for families, check out the feeding times at the ever-popular sea lion pool in the centre.
Central Park is beautiful in all seasons but the Cherry blossom in Spring and the golden leaves of Autumn are particularly stunning.
Visit www.centralparknyc.org to download maps, walking guides, playground locations, running and bike maps too.
Still have some energy?! Then enjoy a walk on the fabulous Brooklyn Bridge
This majestic bridge over New York’s East River is one of the oldest roadway bridges in the United States and New Yorker’s have a lot of affection for it.
Start your walk at Brooklyn for spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline over the stately towers of the bridge as you cross. It’s just over a mile to walk (plus another half a mile from the subway at the start) and a good idea to avoid mid-day when it can get very busy.
Keep to the left of the pedestrian walkway to avoid a collision with cyclists on the right. There’s only a line of paint separating you and the bikes don’t seem to stop for anyone.
Getting to the pedestrian entrance at Brooklyn: take the A or C train to High Street station. Take the High Street exit and cross the busy road to the park. Follow the curved walkway thorough the park, leading you to Cadman Plaza East/Washington Street. At the underpass, look out for steps built into the bridge on the left side. Be warned, they’re easy to miss but there’s often a food vendor cart there too! Head up the steps, turn left and enjoy the view.
Note: There is a long ramp approach for wheelchairs and pushchairs at the busy intersection at Tillary Street and Boerum Place, look for the ‘To Manhattan’ sign above the walkway. Nearest subway is Jay Street on the A C & R trains.
Looking for some other ideas?
For a special treat and a birds eye view of Manhattan, book an unforgettable helicopter tour and you’ll be able point out the landmarks you’ve visited from the air.
It’s a good idea to plan for flexibility in case you’re re-scheduled due to weather conditions. Several helicopter operators fly from Manhattan, www.heliny.com offer a great service.
Take a cab to the Downtown Manhattan Heliport, or it’s a five minute walk from the South Ferry subway station (on the 1 train).
Tribeca Film Festival
Co-founded by Robert De Niro in 2002, the Tribeca Film Festival now showcases more than 90 films over 12 days and the festival buzz takes over this entire downtown neighbourhood.
A great opportunity to see a diverse selection of independent films and talks (as well as little bit of celeb-spotting).
Tickets do sell out quick (for big names and newcomers alike) but they’re not impossible to get hold of. Check out the festival calendar and buy tickets from their official website, www.tribecafilm.com
Traveller tips to live like a New Yorker
How to know if they’re free – if only the centre light with numbers is lit, the taxi is available. If no lights are lit, the cab is occupied. When the entire light is lit, the cab is off duty.
Tips – 15% is the norm, but if they’re helpful and their driving doesn’t scare the life out of you, you can add a little more.
Hardest time to find a cab – when it’s raining, take the subway instead (or try an UBER, your UK account works just fine). Also between 4-5pm when many drivers change shift and they’re heading out of the city.
Traffic – during rush hour it’s usually quicker by subway or on foot. This city eats time; don’t underestimate how long it takes to get from one part of the city to another.
Accessible cabs – There’s a large number of wheelchair accessible taxi cabs in Manhattan. They can be ordered on demand but the wait times often mean it’s easier just to flag one down (www.accessibledispatch.com)
It may seem a little daunting at first, download or pickup a subway MTA map and you’ll soon find it relatively easy to navigate.
Local or Express trains – Express trains only stop at stations with a white dot on the MTA map. Local trains make all stops (black dot). Refer to trains by numbers or letters, there is no red line for example.
Uptown/Downtown – once you know your train, make sure you choose the right side of the platform for your destination.
$$ – If you intend to use the subway more than a few times, a Metro Card is cheaper and quicker than buying a single ride each time. Buy these at ticket machines or manned booths in the stations. One paying adult may take up to three children, if under 112cm tall, free of charge.
Note: not all subway stations have elevators, check out www.mta.info for accessibility details and subway maps.
Tipping & Taxes
Tipping is the norm in NYC and wait staff rely heavily upon this for their income, including doormen, porters, room service and housekeeping. In restaurants, a minimum of 15% of the pre-tax bill is the guide, 20% for great service and more if fine dining or exceptional service. Salons and Spas are usually 15-25% depending on the treatment time.
New York Sales Tax is just under 9% and shoppers should remember that most price tags do not include this. Sales tax is applied at the till or on the bill in restaurants. There are some exclusions, such as clothing or footwear under $110 or food at grocery stores
New Yorkers have fabulous hair thanks to Blow dry bars all over the city. Most have walk up appointments but we suggest booking into one of the funky Dry Bar locations (www.thedrybar.com) for the perfect blow out and you’re good to go.
Bend, Stretch & Spin
Yoga, Pilates and Spinning are all part of daily life in New York. Book in at one of the many studio locations all over the city. We love:
Soho’s yogaworks (www.yogaworks.com), for every type and level of yoga, Ommm-mazing.
Real Pilates (www.realpilatesnyc.com), known for their signature classes.
Soul Cycle (www.soul-cycle.com), ride together as a pack, in candlelit cycling studios. Don’t let this fool you, these spin classes will push you to your max.
Most stores open at 10am (some downtown are 11am) but all are open until late. Sunday hours usually open later and close earlier.
Most museums open at 10am (Whitney & Moma are 10.30am) and all other attractions open earlier so plan your sightseeing/shopping combo accordingly.