Kelly and I recently returned from our trip to the Big Apple. In fact, I am writing this on the flight back to Calgary. Our trip was amazing. I wanted to make a few notes and recommendations, not only for our future reference when we return to New York (one day), but also for anyone else planning to visit there. I will include some of our favorite experiences, along with stuff to avoid.
- Learn the difference between downtown and uptown, and the approximate direction of all the burroughs
Subways run in two directions (duh). You need to make sure that you hop on the train heading in the right direction, or you will end up at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem instead of a gelato shop in Little Italy.
It’s pretty easy. Manhattan island runs northeast to southwest (north and south on the subway map. Downtown is the south part of the island (financial district, statue of liberty). Uptown is the north part of the island. I don’t know what goes on in uptown because we never explored north of central park, I’m guessing houses?
All the subway stations will have signs explaining where to go to catch either an uptown or downtown train. The trains will also show which burrough they end at. Bronx is uptown, queens is uptown and east. Brooklyn is just below queens, and pretty much just across from the financial district.
- Don’t stay or eat near Times Square
Times Square is one big tourist trap. Don’t get me wrong; the lights and crowd at night is electrifying. The location is pretty central in the Theatre District. However, it is not what I would consider a “true” New York experience. All the shops in Times Square are what you would find at any local mall (Gap, H&M). The area is also filled with divey tourist shops that all sell the same coffee mugs, tshirts, and refrigerator magnets.
Also, all the restaurants here suck. You didn’t come all the way to NYC to eat at an all you can eat Sbarro buffet (did you, fatty)? We at twice around the Theatre District and both times we were disappointed.
I recommend sleeping and eating in places like TriBeCa, Soho, or the Village.
- Definitely rent bikes in Central Park
Cycling Central Park was probably the most fun we both had in New York. Pack a picnic lunch, grab some bikes, and find yourself a scenic place to eat. We rented two bikes for 2 hours on 57th street and 9th avenue for $40 (we got a discount for booking online). You probably don’t need to worry about a lock; it seemed like everyone in the park left their bikes unlocked.
- Go to the rooftop lounge at 230 Fifth
This was the second coolest thing that we did in in NYC. I’ll admit that the thought of going to a bar in New York intimidated me at first. I was worried about $50 cover charge, $15 drinks, and a crowd of college kids grinding against me. I could not have been more wrong.
The lounge is on the 20th floor of the building on 230 5th avenue. There is an enclosed lounge with a heated open garden on top. There was no cover charge, and the drinks were no more expensive than in Calgary. The crowd was completely mixed; tourists and locals of all age groups chatting and having a good time. The dj was spinning some fantastic downtempo loungey beats. And, oh my god, the view.
The view was phenomenal. As soon as you climb the stairs and walk onto the open garden, you are staring directly at the Empire State Building, all lit up in the dark. You can even see the Chrysler Building about 20 degrees to the right. Many folks pay $25 to go to the top of 30 Rock. Save your cash and come to 230 Fifth instead (and spend it on drinks).
- Bring a subway map, and a tourist map
My dad picked me up a motorist map of the city from AMA. Unfortunately, it was way too big for our needs. We were only interested in manhattan, so it was overkill. Also, it did not show all the subway stops. Had we based our subway travel on this map, we would have been walking many extra blocks.
Get yourself a good size map of manhattan, and any other burrough that you plan on visiting. A detailed subway map is also important. If you don’t get one before you arrive, pretty much every convenience store and tourist store sells them.
- Download the Ulmon City Guide to NYC app
This app saved our bacon countless times. Firstly, it has a very detailed offlinemap of all five Burroughs. You can zoom and scroll over the entire city. Secondly, it has a massive database of locations. Everything from hotels, restaurants, buildings, and tourist points of interest. It will even show you the nearest subway station to your selected destination. Lastly, it has a built in compass which shows you (roughly) which direction you are facing. Extremely handy when you climb out of a subway platform onto a street that you have never been on and have no damn idea if you go left, right, straight.
Oh, and did I mention this app is free on the App Store? God bless these navigational wizards!
- Hu Kitchen is amazing if you like healthy eating
On 5th avenue north of Washington Square, is the Hu Kitchen. It’s run by a bunch of hippies who live by a very strict creed for food. Organic, local produce, low carb bread, and free range meat. Because of their focus on quality ingredients, the food here is fantastic. The restaurant is also a little market & cafe where you can buy take-away food and espresso/coffee.
- Come to Brooklyn for dinner, stay for the view at night
We wandered into Brooklyn after a disappointing dinner in Little Italy that was only redeemed by some kick ass gelato. We were very impressed with Brooklyn Heights and Dumbo (which must be the dumbest name for a neighborhood ever). Both were cool neighborhoods with restaurants, stores, and little bars in brownstone brick buildings. The townhouses here were also very trendy.
The coolest thing was walking down to Brooklyn Bridge Park. You will get a great view of the bridge, the manhattan skyline at night, and even the statue of liberty (although pretty far away). From here, follow the signs to the Brooklyn Bridge stairs. They will take you up to the bridge deck where cyclists and pedestrians can safely walk across the bridge.
- New York Penn Station is chaos
We got totally twisted around in Penn station as we connected from the subway to the NJ Transit train to Newark airport. Signs marking the track locations are not very clear. The signs indicate where tracks 1-12 are, but fail to clearly point out where tracks 13-24 are (down the stairs below tracks 1-6). Also, there is a lack of signage indicating which trains stop where. But don’t sweat; most NJ Transit trains stop at the airport. Check the signboard next to the entrance to each individual track. It will list each stop that the train makes.
- Newark Liberty International Airport is even more chaos
You know when the airline recommends that you arrive at the airport at least 3 hours before your flight? Well, come 4 hours early at Newark. Nothing there runs smooth. The staff don’t know much and give you confusing information (maybe that’s just United). Worst of all, there is only one place to buy booze at past security in terminal A, and it reeks of mass produced roast beef.
Ya, first world problems…
That’s all I can think of for now. Will post more if something comes to me.