I have a bad habit of rushing when I go to a new place. I tell myself ‘no it’s fine, you can definitely see an entire city in one day, why use two days when one will do?’ and ‘why choose which museum to go to – you definitely have time for all three!’. I rush myself from place to place, desperate to see everything and I inevitably end up in an exhausted heap by the end of the day. This, however, has taught me to prioritise and organise with the best of them. So this is my plan for one (hectic, crazy, wonderful) day in the Big Apple.
8:30am – People watch in Times Square
It’s best to get an early start where New York is concerned, particularly if this is your first visit and you want to see all of the classic tourist destinations. Times Square is great first thing in the morning before the crowds are out in force. Personally I think Times Square is definitely over-hyped as a tourist spot, but it’s worth a visit if only to see the huge Toys R Us store – complete with ferris wheel – and to buy cheap Broadway tickets from the TKTS booth by the red steps. My recommendation: sit on the steps and people watch, while eating a classic New York bagel (you can’t go wrong with a pastrami bagel from Pick a Bagel on 8th Avenue!).
9:30am – Lose yourself in Central Park
Central Park is an absolute joy whatever time of year you decide to go, but nothing beats the colours that can be found there in October and November. Your options of things to do in Central Park are endless, but I think it’s worth the expense of getting a short rickshaw ride (at around $25 per person) to ensure you hit all of the main attractions in the park. Make sure to check out the Imagine memorial and definitely don’t miss the boating lake! Even if all you do here is wander round aimlessly, I can guarantee that you will stumble upon something exciting. I once spent an hour completely lost in Central Park and ended up finding everything from the famous Bethesda fountain to a peewee baseball game to a man making beautiful artwork from leaves that had fallen off the trees.
11:30am – Ride the Roosevelt Island Tramway
I know, I know – the suggestions so far are possibly two of the most obvious things you can do in New York City, but tourist destinations become tourist destinations for a reason. This next stop however, is a little bit more off the beaten track. The Tramway is an aerial cable car that takes you to Roosevelt Island across the East River and (BONUS) it only costs the same as a regular subway ride. Although originally a commuter journey, New York natives and visitors have caught on to the fact that the Tramway is a beautiful and cheap way to see the city from a new perspective. The views across the water are stunning and it’s a dizzying feeling to glide down from a height of 76m through the maze of buildings on the Upper East Side. Roosevelt Island itself is also a nice place to take a walk – it’s incredibly quiet compared to Manhattan and of course there are wonderful views of the city skyline.
1:00pm – Eat a slice of New York pizza
Yes I get it, we are back to the obvious – but New York pizza is, without doubt, some of the best in the world. Usually very thin, and often sold by the slice, it’s the perfect light lunch for a busy day of sightseeing. You could ask every single New Yorker where to get the best slice and you will get approximately 8.7 million different answers, but in this city you can’t go too far wrong! Whether you decide to go for Joe’s in Greenwich Village, Patsy’s in East Harlem or just a $1 slice from a hole in the wall, you are probably in for something delicious.
2:00pm – Walk the High Line
The High Line park may well be, at this point, the worst kept secret in New York. Once an abandoned railway, the High Line is now a mile and a half long park running down the west side of the city from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street. It’s a tangled mess of wild plants, sunbathing spots, public art pieces and artisinal food stalls and it’s probably one of the best places to relax on a sunny NYC afternoon. Although busier now than it’s ever been – with approximately 5 million visitors a year – it still feels like a quiet escape from the bustling city. Grab yourself an ice cream sandwich from Melt bakery and walk from end to end, or check out the High Line website for classes, art installations and community programs.
3:30pm – Cross the Brooklyn Bridge
I could talk about Brooklyn all day (and I may well do that in another post) but for now I will just say that I think a trip across the river is definitely worth the time, and there is no better way to get there than by crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. Built in 1883, it is without doubt an iconic symbol of New York as well as being a really interesting architectural structure. On a clear day, you can also see the Statue of Liberty as you cross the bridge! Once in Brooklyn, your options are limitless: why not visit Rough Trade to buy some new (or old) vinyl and catch a live show, or watch the bean to bar chocolate being made at Mast brothers chocolatier by the Hudson River? If you have a bit more time, Smorgasburg in Prospect Park also offers a wonderful range of things to see (and eat) and I highly recommend a visit to the Brooklyn Flea (in Williamsburg every Saturday and Dumbo every Sunday) for any and all of your vintage needs!
6:30pm – Grab dinner at Panna II
If you watch Netflix’s Daredevil, you might already recognise this East Village restaurant as the one where Karen and Matt have their first date. Completely covered in chilli-shaped fairy lights, neon lamps and various other ornaments; this is easily one of the most colourful restaurants in New York. You could be fooled into thinking that the decor is the only selling point of Panna II, but in fact the food is excellent and it is very fairly priced for the city. Get a couple of dishes to share: the butter chicken and mushroom saag are especially good. One thing to be aware of though, is that Panna II is right next to another very similar restaurant, so the staff can sometimes try and give you a very hard sell to get you through the door. Don’t let this put you off – once you are inside the restaurant the food, service and atmosphere are all absolutely wonderful.
8:00pm – Watch the sunset from Top of the Rock
The argument between the Empire State Building and the Top of the Rock is never-ending, but having tried both I would always choose Top of the Rock. For one thing, the open-air and glass sections give much better panoramic views than the fenced off portions of the Empire State, and also the Empire State building is an important part of the NYC skyline that you want in your photographs. Believe it or not, it is fairly difficult to see the Empire State from inside the Empire State… My advice is to head up around 30 minutes before sunset: you can check your weather app for accurate times. That way you get to see the city in daylight, then you experience the sunset before watching all of the lights switch on as the sky turns dark. Give yourself at least an hour up Top of the Rock, and accept that you will take a thousand photographs – none of which will do justice to the breath-taking vistas you will see.
9:00pm – pick up a cupcake from Magnolia bakery
By this point you will probably feel exhausted, and there is no better cure for tiredness than a sugar-high pick-me-up from the Magnolia Bakery. Yes, it’s overpriced and yes, it’s overcrowded but you will be hard pressed to find a red velvet cupcake that can match one from the Magnolia. Plus, it’s perfectly located on Avenue of the Americas meaning it’s a prime spot to buy a snack post Rockefeller Center.
10:00pm – Drink the night away at Rudy’s
If I had to sell Rudy’s bar to you in one sentence this would be it: where else in New York City can you get a pint of beer, a shot of whiskey AND a hot dog for $5? The answer is, of course, nowhere. In a city of overpriced cocktails, Rudy’s (in Hell’s Kitchen) stands out from the crowd. It’s the best place I’ve found to meet New Yorkers, drink cheap alcohol and listen to excellent music. Usually incredibly busy, you will be lucky to get a seat in the bar, but the beer garden out back tends to be less crowded (and you can get even get married there if you so desire). Famed for their celebrity clientele and free hot dogs, it’s unashamedly grotty and proudly proclaims itself to be a ‘dive bar’, but you would struggle to find a more interesting crowd for a cheaper price. Get yourself down there, take your photograph with Baron the pig mascot, and treat yourself to a $5 round – I promise you won’t regret it.
This would be a perfect first day in New York for me, but would you do anything different? Let me know in the comments!