New York City has been at the top of my travel bucket list for years and finally, after turning 21, I got to tick off my first milestone on the list! I’ve written an account of our 8 days in New York City, what we think is and isn’t worthwhile doing and hopefully offering a few tips and bits of advice while I’m at it.
Unfortunately, my photos don’t do New York justice thanks to my poor quality camera (I have just bought a new one though, so things should improve from now on), so apologies for the rubbish photos.
We flew from London Heathrow, about 6:30am with British Airways and arrived at JFK at about 11:10am (NY time), which was great as we had plenty of time to make the most of our first day in the city. It was just as well really because getting through customs was a nightmare, queueing for over 2.5 hours. The bonus of having queued so long was that our luggage was waiting for us for once (and not the other way round!)
We made quick time into Manhattan and we were soon outside our hotel – The Wellington Hotel, on 55th and 7th. We got given a free upgrade to a suite on the 7th floor and were shown to our room straight away, once we’d checked in. We had a cute kitchen area, lounge (which we never used), good sized bedroom and bathroom. It was perfect for the two of us, we loved it! The location is also incredible. Central Park, 5th Avenue and Times Square are all within 5 – 10 minutes walking distance and there’s a subway right on the corner. It’s a perfect location!
Our first evening
By the time we’d sorted a few bits out and got ourselves sorted it was getting dark. As we went in March, it started to get dark around 5:00pm, so we made our way straight for Times Square, which is without a doubt, one of the main places in New York I miss the most. I loved how it hectic it was, all the hustle and bustle and the lights. The place is completely breath taking and you can’t help but gawp up at all the lights and advertising surrounding you.
Our first stop was Planet Hollywood, where we picked up our New York passes (which I highly recommend) for the week. We then had a wander round the shops, making our first stop in Toys R Us, before finding The Olive Garden and having our first meal in there. I know Olive Garden has a horrendous reputation for being a tourist trap, but I don’t care. We both had the most incredible meal in there, every course was delicious, the staff were lovely and very attentive and we got a fantastic window seat overlooking Times Square. Beautiful!
We spent our last hour admiring Times Square some more, sitting on top of the TKTS booth, before heading back to our hotel to get some sleep, ready to feel refreshed and energised for our first full day in New York!
The original plan was to catch the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty, but it was a really overcast day, so we decided it would be more worthwhile to wait for a clear day (a little tip there for you.) Instead, as our spending money was burning a hole in our pockets, we decided to head straight for 5th Avenue for a day of shopping instead.
The shops don’t open till 10:00am, so we went for a Starbucks inside Trump Tower (opposite Abercrombie) while we waited and planned our day out. We still had a bit of time to kill so we headed straight for the Apple store, which is open 24 hours a day. An added bonus is that it’s opposite the Home Alone 2 hotel (The Grand Plaza) and for those ‘Friends’ fans, the building Chandler works in.
We went inside The Grand Plaza for a nose, hoping to relive some of the movie, but we didn’t stay in there long. We spent the rest of the day shopping and hot chocolate drinking. I’m not a McDonalds lover. At all. But their hot chocolates are amazing! I spent more time in McDonalds, during those 8 days, ordering hot chocolates than I ever have done in my whole life. We spent our shopping day in Abercrombie, Saks, Lacoste, Victoria Secret and Macy’s. We got very lucky with Macy’s as they were holding one of their famous one day sales. We also got a further discount because we presented our NY Pass to the visitors desk in store.
By late afternoon we were feeling exhausted and well and truly shopped out. We headed back to the hotel to dump our bags and freshen up before going back out for dinner. We had a little bit of time to kill before our meal, so we decided to take a walk up to Dylans Candy Bar – by far one of my favourite places we went to. I have a huge sweet tooth so this was perfect for me. We sat upstairs at their bar, where I ordered a White Chocolate Martini and my boyfriend, Oli, ordered a Tuti Fruiti Cocktail (both were delicious!) The bar staff stopped and chatted to us while we had our drinks and even made us a Pina Colada, on the house.
Dyaln’s Candy Bar is opposite Bloomingdales, so on the way to the restaurant we’d picked for dinner, we thought we’d stop in there first. Even at about 7:00pm it was still packed. I went to the Chanel counter and bought a bottle of Coco Chanel where I was served by the most well groomed, eccentric Frenchman. His customer service was an experience in itself, Oli and I still talk about him today.
We started a slow walk back towards Times Square and decided to have dinner at Tony’s Di’ Napolini. The food was amazing, huge portions too, as they’re described mainly as a “two person meal”. We both had Mozzarella in Carrozza for starter and shared Spagetti and home made Meatballs for our main. The restaurant was also packed full of New Yorkers, so it’s always a good sign if the locals eat there.
Of course, staying the city that never sleeps, the night was still young so we went in search of somewhere for drinks. I’d been told previously to go to The Waldorf Astoria for a cocktail (so not worth it). The bar was small and very dark, not quite what we had imagined. We’d been hoping for a rooftop bar, where we could admire a view. We saw a sign by the elevator with “The Starlight Room” written on it. We thought maybe this was the bar we’d heard so much about, so up we went. It’s not a bar, but it’s so worth a visit.
The elevator opened up half way down a huge hallway. To the left was a huge window with a grand piano in front of it. To the right, down the other end of the hallway, were a set of very grand, open, double doors. We walked into the biggest ballroom, lined with windows. I cannot put into words just how impressive this room is and the sheer size of it! The Starlight Room definitely made up for the lack of decent bar.
However, we still wanted a drink from a decent rooftop bar. Using the TripAdvisor app on my phone, we found our way to Top of The Strand. This place is incredible – my favourite New York bar. With nothing but low lighting, it’s a small, intimate bar, but has the most incredible views of The Empire State Building. The roof is retractable, so in the summer people can sit outside, but they can still use it in the winter for people like Oli and I. We got a seat right by the window and admired the views for the rest of the night.
We woke up to a miserable, rainy Saturday morning. We thought we’d wait out the rain, so we made our way to Madame Tussauds, just off Times Square, as we had free entry and fast track thanks to our NY passes. I’m thankful we did have our passes as we were out within an hour. It’s probably one of the smallest Tussauds, so it doesn’t take long to get around. However, by the time we came out it had stopped raining.
We found ourselves a Dunkin’ Donuts nearby (whilst passing the NY Times Head Office, which was pretty cool), before catching the subway up to the Natural History Museum – definitely worth a visit! We did of course make the mistake of going on a Saturday, so there were kids everywhere and the queues were huge, however, thanks to our NY passes again, we managed to jump ahead of the queue. The museum is incredible. The highlight for me was the Planetarium on the ground floor and the dinosaur exhibits on the top floor, there is so much to do and so much to learn.
About four hours later, the sun had made an appearance so we took a walk across Central Park and headed for Madison Avenue. We spent a few hours nosing around the shops and slowly strolling back towards our hotel. By the time we got back it was late afternoon, so we dropped our stuff off and made our way to Top of the Rock to catch the sunset.
I am so pleased we chose sunset to go up Top of the Rock. We saw some of the most incredible, breathtaking views of the city, which will stay with us forever. It’s amazing to watch New York transform from afternoon to evening, watching the buildings illuminate themselves and the office lights coming on. It was beautiful. It was also a really clear evening, where we had views across the Hudson River, towards Queens on the other side, Central Park and beyond! Again, we used our NY passes for Top of the Rock, where we had free entry and fast track.
We spent over an hour on the viewing deck, trying to take all of New York in. When our tummy’s started rumbling, we made a slow walk towards Angelo’s Pizzeria, just around the corner from our hotel. We had a delicious, home made white cheese pizza, sitting at a small table for two by a window overlooking the busy New York streets below. It was perfect.
We woke up early to a very sunny and crisp Sunday morning, so we took a walk through Central Park towards Strawberry Fields, John Lennon’s memorial. We stayed there for a few minutes, before enjoying a rather chilled out Sunday, wandering through the park and going to FAO Schwartz (where we spent a ridiculous amount of money on pick ‘n’ mix) and Barneys.
About a month before our flight to New York, we bought tickets online for Dizzys Jazz Club, at the Time Warner building. This wasn’t until later in the evening though, so we went for a meal at Landmarc first, also in the Time Warner building.
Without a doubt, this was our best meal during our 8 days in New York. Oli ordered himself a burger – cooked to order – while I ordered a fillet steak – also cooked to order. We had the most incredible waitress, Ashley I think was her name, who was very attentive to us the whole evening and knew the food and wine menu perfectly. Whatever questions we fired at her, she had the answers. When our meal was over, we made our way upstairs to Dizzy’s Club for a night of jazz.
Dizzy’s was definitely the best thing we did in New York. When we booked online, we reserved ourselves a table, which we had all to ourselves, right in front of the stage. Behind it is a huge window overlooking Central Park. We spent the night listening and watching an amazing live jazz band, admiring the views of Central Park and having our orders taken by the waiters who came to our tables, so we never had to miss a thing. I cannot recommend this place enough, everyone who travels to New York should come to this place. Amazing!
We woke early Monday morning and headed straight for the Wollman rink in Central Park. It was a beautiful sunny morning and it had been years since either me or Oli had been ice skating, so we were excited to get going. We had no time limit on the rink, so we could stay on there as long as we wanted. After a few rounds of gripping on to the side of the rink, our confidence spiked a little and we soon ventured further into the rink. We had so much fun, whizzing round and we weren’t as bad as we thought we were going to be (i.e. we didn’t fall over).
By the time we came off the rink we were feeling a bit peckish. We saw a little place round the corner from our hotel called Ellens Stardust Diner, so decided to go there for a milkshake a quick bite to eat. The diner was brilliant fun! It’s a take on a karaoke diner, where all the staff get up and sing. I imagined it to be a bit like the diner Monica works in, in Friends (it’s not far off!)
There were staff members singing whilst filling up peoples coffee and walking on top of booths while singing. The place was really, really good fun. We found out all the staff are properly trained, with singing and acting classes, as most aspire to be on broadway – some do in fact get head hunted there. We both ordered a milkshake and an English Muffin each, which was very yummy indeed!
After this we went to Central Park Zoo, which is a great little zoo. There are probably about 15 enclosures, at the most, but they’re nice and clean and all the animals looked very happy and well looked after. When we got there, we arrived just in time to catch the seals feeding time. We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Central Park some more and a little bit more shopping. I unfortunately don’t remember what we did in the evening or where we went to eat.
Another early start for us, we caught the subway downtown to the Staten Island ferry to see the Statue of Liberty. It was a lovely, clear sunny day and I was so glad we didn’t do it on an overcast day.
I’m glad we got the Staten Island ferry (which is free) and not the ferry that stops off at the statue, (which we also had to pay for). As we went past the Statue of Liberty, the grounds looked completely abandoned. They were overgrown, dirty and it looked like some rubbish had been dumped there. It was a real shame to see, but made me glad we didn’t go for the paid service. I’d have felt really disappointed. However, the views from the Staten Island ferry were beautiful. We got nice and close to the statue, but also had the most incredible skyline view of downtown New York. Such an impressive part of the city.
After our ferry ride, we walked towards Wall Street (which was eerily quiet about 10:00am) and Trinity Church. From there we made our way to the 9/11 memorial. I feel like I should delve into all the detail needed for this place, but in all honesty, I really don’t know where to begin. The memorial left me speechless. The sheer size and magnitude of the memorial pools really helped to put the tragedy into perspective. All around the pools are the names of those who were lost to the towers, from civilians, fire fighters and policemen, to workers of the towers.
After about an hour, we left the memorial and walked through China Town and Little Italy, before catching a subway to Grand Central Station. We had a good look around the station, all through their food stalls and in the new Apple store. By this time it was about 3:30pm, so we took a walk towards the Empire State Building. We thanked our NY passes again, for gaining us fast track and free entry. The views were breathtaking. Staring at the Flat Iron building all the way downtown. We could see for miles. We were so glad we picked the afternoon for the Empire State Building views, because you’d lose so much detail in the evening, as it’s placed further downtown than Top of the Rock. It was an incredible experience though.
We left the Empire State Building about an hour or so later and went to a rooftop bar nearby – 230 Fifth. The original plan was to stay for a drink or two, take in the views some more and then go out later for dinner. But as it turned out, we loved the place so much we ordered from their menu and stayed there all night.
The place was completely empty when we first got there as they’d only just opened. The waitress behind the bar told us their roof terrace was open if we fancied sitting up there as it was a sunny day. We ordered our drinks and sat at a table facing the Empire State Building – beautiful. Each table had its own patio heater and they offered snuggies for those who were a bit chilly. Despite this, we decided to go back downstairs to relax on one of the comfy sofas, next to a window where we could stare at The Empire State Building some more. We ordered a couple more drinks and some bar food to share. The manager of the place also came over for a chat and bought us a round.
Sadly our last full day had come around (sooner than we’d hoped). We had another lovely sunny day, which we chose to make the most of. We caught a subway down to the Flat Iron Building and then took a slow walk towards John’s Pizzeria on Bleecker Street. By the time we got there it was about lunch time and it was boiling hot (despite it being March and icy cold the previous day.) So a pizza and cold, refreshing drink were very much needed.
The pizzeria is fantastic. Small, quirky and packed full of locals. The staff were lovely and surrounding the walls are photos of celebrities who have eaten at the pizza place, from baseball players and tv show actors to Johnny Depp.
We then continued walking down, heading towards Brooklyn Bridge, which we walked across. Along with the Jazz Club, this was one of my favourite things we did. The views across the bridge are incredible, I don’t think any other place in the world offers a skyline as beautiful (or as iconic) as New York. Walking across Brooklyn Bridge allowed us to take in the whole skyline from one position.
We’d read some great reviews of the River Cafe, so once in Brooklyn, we made our way straight there. For anyone else considering going, it’s so not worth it. The place looks old before it’s time. The decor is very “oldy worldy” and dated, with awkward classical music playing in the background and staff wearing white penguin suits. Some places can pull this off, however, the River Cafe just looked like it was trying too hard. We’d also heard amazing things about the views from the restaurant. However after walking across Brooklyn Bridge, the restaurant views didn’t even touch what we’d seen on the way over.
We finished our drink in the restaurant and then caught a subway back over to New York, to eat at Max Brenner (a restaurant which specialises in chocolate and desserts – exactly my kind of place!) We ordered a dessert each – we were still feeling full up from our pizza – and a milkshake. Both were very yummy. They also sold huge slabs of chocolate, about the size and width of a table top. I’d have loved to have bought one, but I don’t think I could have
got it back into the UK. We made our way back to the hotel, but first stopping off at the Irish bar just around the corner, for a nightcap.
Our last day
The dreaded day had come round – our last day in New York. We checked out of our hotel first thing in the morning and had them look after our bags for us, while we enjoyed our last day. We had done all the big things we wanted to do and buy, so our last day was just a case of strolling around, grabbing some lunch and spending the last of our spending money.
We spent nearly the whole afternoon walking through Central Park. We walked all around the huge reservoir and then back down towards the hotel. By the time we got back it was about 7:00pm, so we waited for our airport transfer which was coming at 7:30pm. I was so upset to leave New York, it is a city you can fall in love with so easily. I’d go back in a heartbeat (but of course, there is still so much of the world left to explore). I’d urge anybody considering New York to go. Myself and Oli had an incredible time, with memories which will stay with us for always.