Last month, after a whole lifetime of dreaming about it, I finally got to pack my bags and head transatlantic to the Big Apple. Anyone who knows me would know this has been at the very top of my bucket list, and oh my goodness it was worth the wait! On our first day there, we happened to meet some lovely locals who gave us the low-down on what to do and what not to do which was soooo helpful as it meant we beat the crowds (most of the time) and didn’t spend half as much money as we expected to. I thought Id share some of the tourist hacks with you, as well as letting you in on what we got up to!
My top tip would be to book a mid-morning flight! (if travelling from the UK, obvs.) We departed at around 1pm and our flight happened to only be about 5 hours and 40 minutes, but we didn’t actually manage to get to our hotel until 7pm! If I was to book again, Id definitely find either an early morning or a mid morning flight.
When booking the hotel, It was a massive toss-up between whether we wanted to stay in Times Square or not. Virtually every blog post I read recommended to stay out of Times Square and branch out to places like west village or soho, but we bit the bullet and ended up booking the Hotel Edison, right in the middle of times square on 47th street. We both had mixed feelings about it whilst on route, but when we got there we were so glad we had made that choice! Our room was cozy and modern and the service was great too. Being in the middle of Times Square was a good choice too as it meant we could walk to a lot of things, rather than having to pay for transport! The Uber eats was also insane FYI. One thing I would note is that there was a lot of hidden charges (things like using their “complimentary” services etc) On the last day, we had a bill of $480 come through our door- luckily this had already been prepaid as we booked through booking.com but I feel for all of the other tourists that would of been caught out!
Once we got through passport control and collected our bags, we had to decide wether we wanted to take an Uber, yellow cab, or the subway to the hotel. A guy at the airport told us that there had been so many tourists that had been scammed because they walk out of JFK, get in an unmarked taxi and then they’re charged 3X more than they should be, he even warned us about getting an Uber. He basically said the safest options were to get the subway, or get a yellow cab. We ended up going with the yellow cab as it was a lot more convenient for us. It was 17 miles From JFK to our hotel, but ended up taking us nearly 2 and a half hours because of traffic, so do bare that in mind.
Once we were settled in, we decided to go and explore- we were a bit nervous about using the subway at first, It seemed quite daunting if I’m honest. You’d think it was the same as the tube, but it’s definitely not the same! We bought a 7 day subway ticket which was $35 each and I can’t recommend them enough; we definitely got our money’s worth. After getting on the wrong subway a few times, and ending up about 45 minutes away from where we needed to be, we kind of got the Hang of it… We just used our phones mainly, although the locals were more than willing to offer their help which was really nice.
A few little tips on visiting the tourist attractions…
I am a really stressy claustrophobic, so the thought of being in a massive crowd inside a tourist attraction just wasn’t going to end well. I knew that we had to do the tourist attractions otherwise I’d of kicked myself when I got home. It was obvious that New York was going to be MANIC in the week before Christmas, so I tried to miss the crowds as much as I could.
On the first morning, we woke at 4AM (thank you jet lag!). We took advantage of this and got out as soon as we could. First, we grabbed a Starbucks and went for a wander around Times Square. This was really nice as there was hardly anyone around so we got to take it all in properly. We then took a walk around Central Park. This is one of my favourite memories of the trip! Central Park was empty, there was snow on the ground, and everything just seemed so fresh. We must’ve walked around for about an hour and a half all whilst the sun was still rising. We passed a couple of people walking their dogs, but that’s about it. I would really recommend going to Central Park as early as you possibly can!
The Empire State Building
So here’s the thing, I wasn’t too bothered about whether I went up the empire state or not, I actually wanted to go to the Top of the Rock a lot more. We could of done both, but it was just such a waste of money and everywhere was really crowded. Instead, we were told about a roof top bar called 235th street next to the Empire State that had just as good a view, but unfortunately I am not quite the legal age to drink over in the US so we didn’t get to try it out.
Top of the Rock
I loved the rocker feller centre! We got tickets for the Top of the Rock for about $41 each. I’d highly recommend going here. I bought our tickets on tiquet.com, you just have to trade in your token for a viewing time. Im not too sure how busy this gets (I’m guessing VERY lol) but we traded in our token and were able to get a viewing time for 10 minutes later so we were not waiting that long thank goodness! There’s also a Ben& Jerrys right near the entrance that we got the most AMAZING milkshake from (800 odd calories, mind, but who’s counting when you’re in New York?).
The Statue of Liberty
To get the official ferry to the Statue of Liberty costs about $40. Getting the Staten Island ferry is FREE. A local told us if you catch the Ferry from manhattan and sit on the right side, you get just as good of a view. We actually decided against both, and instead got as close to it as we could from the building (it was veeeeerrry cold). But if you are bothered about a close-up, then definitely consider the Staten Island ferry!
Grand Central Station
Any Gossip Girl fan will know exactly why I wanted to visit Grand Central Station. I didn’t really know what to expect at first, but the architecture is something else! Every wall is so picturesque. There is also a massive food hall within the station, with sooo many options to chose from! I ended up having a hot dog and Brad had a donut (proper New Yorkers!).
Brooklyn Bridge was another fav of mine. The weather was so beautiful too! After a nice walk over the bridge, we then had a wander around DUMBO and found a cute little cafe called Bluestone Lane. We both ordered our signature Avo-Toast and we also picked up a pressed juice each; A tad pricey but definitely worth it! I also got a cute picture in the well known spot (the intersection of Water Street and Washington Street) which is a MUST for the ig!
9/11 memorial- Ground Zero
This is definitely a must when visiting the city. To get to the memorial, we just popped the location into the maps app and it told us exactly what subways to get. The ground was so surreal and just such an emotional tribute. We spent around an hour walking about looking at all of the name plaques – such a chilling experience. There is also plenty to do around the memorial, with lots of food places and a big shopping mall too!
Some other little tips…
Get tickets for The Rockettes Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall
My absolute favourite thing I done was go and watch the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. The most Christmassy thing EVER! From start to finish I was in such awe! I bought tickets for $80 per person but boy were they worth it. We booked the 7pm show, and it lasted for around 2 hours. We then went home and ordered an Uber Eats (when in New York am I right?)
I got all of my souvenirs from chinatown because they were 5X cheaper! We got I love NYC shirts, NYPD shirts, and little magnets etc all for under $20. There was lots of Chinese food places to eat, but we decided to go for a Popeyes because we both fancied fried chicken (let me tell you… I’ve been dreaming about it ever since).
Visit Woodbury Commons for some good deals
We bought a bus ticket to visit Woodbury Commons Outlet Village whilst we were there. It’s about an hours commute from manhattan, but definitely worth it! We done this on day 4, so it was actually quite refreshing to get out of the city for the day; The whole journey was a scenic one so time went by really fast anyway. There’s lots of different outlets from Lululemon to Calvin Klein, and you can actually nab some really good deals as well.
The street food is insane!
I’m not going to lie, the street food can look a little intimidating at first, but we had so much that we wanted to fit into 5 days, that we actually didn’t manage to have a sit down meal anywhere (unless you class inhaling a Panda Express Uber Eats at 2AM in your hotel room as a sit down meal). As we were on the go constantly, we just grabbed the odd meal here and there. My go-to was the hot dogs (still dreaming about them. YUM) but the bagels and donuts were also 10/10. Breakfast was probably the only time we stopped to eat, and obviously we had avocado toast every time.
If you’re debating wether or not to go to NYC, book the ticket!!! It was one of the most magical places I have ever been.