Step one on the official Ungraceful Guide world tour… New York City. A short hop from Dublin to Copenhagen, followed by a six hour flight saw us arrive starry eyed (if not a little tired) in the city that never sleeps!
We arrived in at stupid o’clock in the morning and after a good night’s sleep we awoke to a view I will never forget as long as I live, the Manhattan skyline is unreal. It made me feel like a fresh off the boat farm boy, and I loved it.
We had a crazy mix of weather while we were there, ranging from torrential rain, to beautiful sunshine to, what can only be described as a the day after tomorrow style snowstorm. We were however, thanks to the scarily accurate weather forecast (take note here Met Eireann), prepared for all of them!
What followed was a week of eating, drinking and touristing (I’m aware that’s not a real word) the likes of which I’ve never experienced in my life. The city literally NEVER sleeps, and there’s something magical about this concrete jungle and it’s inhabitants that will find its way into your heart and build a skyscraper that will never be torn down.
We booked or flights from Dublin to JFK for €200 on JetCost.ie. Generally flights are cheaper if you’re prepared to stop off somewhere instead of flying direct, we stopped in Copenhagen, which made the journey longer, but knocked a sizeable chunk off the price (when we were researching). We also highly recommend Kiwi.com to search for the cheapest international flights available.
If travelling from Europe, Norwegian Airlines now operates a number of low cost long haul flights, from the likes of UK, Ireland, France Sweden with new routes being announced all the time.
Travelling JFK airport, we been warned that the tout taxis at JFK would try and herd us into a cab and nail us on price, so we called ourselves an Uber and headed to Manhattan. This really was a great idea as the taxis were looking for $90 plus, whereas an Uber only cost us $49 (plus tip).
If you do hail a cab, get a yellow cab, it’s a $45 flat fee plus tolls and a tip will bring it to about $60. You can get a train and subway combo, but to be honest it’s like an hour and a half, plus transfers….and a MASSIVE pain in the ass if you land at late o’clock in the morning.
Hop on, Hop off Bus Tour:
If you plan on doing a lot of sightseeing (and let’s be honest, there a lot to see) we highly recommend a hop on hop off bus tour, especially for the attractions that are out of walking distance from Times Square ( Ground Zero, The Statue of Liberty, Chinatown, Little Italy, Harlem etc). After you get these out of the way you’ll easily walk the rest.
There are a lot of touts selling these tours on the street ranging from $49+ but note this is included in the New York City pass, an investment we highly recommend.
— Katie Hogan (@UngracefulGuide) 8 febbraio 2017
Manhattan itself is quite large but easy to manage. The city is (mostly) built in a grid formation where the avenues (spanning the length of the city) and the streets (running the breadth) are (again mostly) numbered. So for example if someone tells you something is on 42nd and 5th, find the point where 42nd street meets 5th avenue and you’re there. It’s always street first then avenue. There are an unholy amount of attractions within walking distance of Times Square.
Let’s face it, you cannot come to New York and not ride the iconic subway. Definitely a must do, if for no other reason than the people watching. We saw some awesome stuff on the subway including a beef between two homeless guys ( I know it’s weird that that would be something cool to see, but it’s so typically New York, we loved it).
A single ride journey will cost around $2.75. Depending on your plans, you may want to invest in a $1 Metro Card, a travel card that allows you to apply credit. You can also purchase a 7 day Metrocard for $29.
Stick to the yellow cabs and Uber, anything else you run the risk of being overcharged. Yellow cabs are regulated and metered so you can see your fare on the meter, what we love about uber is you can see the amount on the app before you even hail one. As well as your driver’s name, photo and license plate. So download the app, and get Ubering. Also worth noting you can hook Uber up to your credit/debit card, PayPal or have the option to click and pay in cash.
The New York City Pass:
New York City Pass:
OK, if it is your first time in NYC, no doubt you have a long list of those iconic places to visit. We all want to jump into the movies, eh? So let’s take a look at the New York City Pass, an expensive card that gives you access to over 80 of the city’s top attractions, as well as discount in numerous outlets.
To visit the attractions themselves will add up, so this bad boy can save you a few quid. Note that it is only worth investing in this card if you have minimum 2 days in the big apple.
We bought a two day pass for $189 dollars, steep I know, but totally worth it if you plan and use it to it’s full advantage. Overall, it saved us over $60 each.
You can purchase the cards in Times Square or online via the app. We opted to buy in Times Square as that way we had a physical card. The card activates the first time you use it at an attraction and is valid (for the duration you buy it) from that moment.
This is what we visited using our New York City pass:
#1 Big Bus Hop on Hop Off Tour:
The perfect way to see the city, passes all the cool spots and stops at points of interest too. There’s an uptown, midtown and downtown loop. Unless you skip the hop off part, you won’t manage to see all loops in one day.
#2 Empire State Building:
Absolutely iconic! Two words, King Kong! Without the NYC city pass, entry will set you back $20, worth it of course but with many buildings across the city to see, why not see them all? We would suggest climbing the Empire State Building for those daytime views and picking another tall scraper to visit at night. Also, this lad stays open until 2am!
#3 Statue of Liberty (Liberty Island):
The ferry travels to both Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, delivering some ace horizon-based views of the city as well as a feel of what thousands of immigrants went through across the years.
Both amazing to visit, we suggest visiting Ellis Island first, as once you’ve walked the base of the big girl and taken your snaps there’s not much to do but eat overpriced food and wait for the ferry. Leave the Liberty until last, you might even get lucky with less crowds.
#4 Ellis island (Immigration Museum):
A fascinating look into the history of American immigration. There’s a cool exhibition that gives the point of view of each immigration race and the opposition to them too.
It feels like a giant hospital and I think it’s a must see especially if you have family that passed through (and if you’re Irish that’s practically a given). Also there’s a registry where you can try to find their records and have a peak into your ancestry.
This place is a history buff’s dream.
#5 Madame Tussauds:
Always a favourite! Although not as cool as the one in London, still totally worth a look!! If not only because they have Scarlett Johansson (swoon). The tour itself is quite short and there aren’t as many figures as other Tussauds’.
#6 Top of the Rock (Rockefeller Center):
Another iconic landmark/sky-piercing behemoth, the first observation deck is at a nosebleed inducing 68 stories above the ground and the lift goes from 0 – 68 in 43 seconds.
If you fancy an even better view you can walk up another two stories to the 70th floor. Highly recommended. Also If you can, go at night… DO IT! It’s open until 10pm. Tickets without the NYC Pass will cost $36.
#7 Ground Zero:
At the site of the previous World Trade Centers’ Twin Towers, now stands two reflecting pools (in the exact location and dimensions) inscribed with the names of the tragic events of 9/11.
Also here you’ll find the 9/11 memorial and museum, the new One World Trade Center and The Oculus (an architectural wonder turned subway station and shopping mall).
All in all a sombre visit but again well worth it if only to pay your respects to the memory of the fallen.
Another one of New York’s most iconic neighbourhoods, made famous by many movies and TV shows. It has a bad rep for being a little dodgy, we didn’t find that to be the case at all, although on the advice of family and friends, we did stay below 125th street.
You can take the hop-on-hop-off uptown loop and it will take you through this awesome boro, but even it turns back at 125th (coincidence?).
Since the snow blizzard cancelled our second hop on hop off day, we opted for the subway and it was totally fine. In fact, you will pass 110th street so prepare the pipes for a sing-song.
Things To Do On a Budget:
No trip to New York would be complete without a walk in the park. We were lucky enough to see this beautiful place under 12 inches of snow!!
Complete with sledding children and laughing families. Make this a top 10 on your NY to do list, I promise you wont be disappointed.
Easy to access on foot from anywhere downtown, or jump the subway and note that nearly all lines pass through Central Park station. After a visit to Harlem, we walked back towards the centre through Central Park, a long, windy walk but an enjoyable one. Note the park opens form 6am until 11am and probably best not to try visit after it is closed.
We barely noticed the long narrow island that floats along the East City River. For a different perspective of NYC, and a 360 view, allow the city to swallow you up as you drift midair on the Roosevelt Island Tramway. It is easy to explore the island on foot, and the island’s abandoned smallpox hospital was certainly an eerie treat. There is no need to spend too long, as there isn’t a huge amount to do but nonetheless for the views and mini adventure alone, it is is worth it!
Take the subway to Manhattan station and head for the tram-line found at the end of 2nd avenue (near 59th street). Jump on the tram for $2.50 for that sky high view of the concrete jungle. Trams leave every 15 minutes. There is also a subway on the island, close to the tram, the F-line passes through which will link you onwards to Queens or back to the city centre.
At one stage or another, we have all seen that famous Coney walkway splash across our movie screens, or fun-loving scenes from its energetic theme parks. Strolling along, hotdog or candy floss in hand listening to the pings and bings of the the thrill-seeking rides. Well, for us it wasn’t like that but that’s not to see we didn’t have a blast exploring the ghost town adventure parks, and abandoned boardwalk.
Although it was baltic cold and the theme park was closed, we still managed to shiver our way, as quickly as possible, down the boardwalk while slobbering over one of the most popular hotdogs in town.
Still a pretty cool few hours spent, if you do want to take a ride be sure to check the regularly updated park times and know that its schedule is weather depending. Nathan’s hotdogs are pricey but delicious, although despite the whispers may not actually be the best hotdog in town. The takeaway is right next to the theme parks, you won’t miss it and the lowest hotdog available is for $4.50 – so you may want to skip this. However a pizza slice is only $1 – yay pizza!
The subway from anywhere downtown to Stillwell Avenue station (right next to Nathans) takes at least 45minutes, not a boring trip we will add.
The Brooklyn Bridge:
To explore more of Brooklyn, we walked our way from Coney Island through the affluent neighbourhoods to the Brooklyn Bridge. At least an hour walk, it was fairly distracting to watch the usual days of locals in a suburban town that sits so closely to the world’s busiest cities.
But if an hour or so walk doesn’t sound ideal you can take the subway and walk across the bridge back towards the centre. Just make sure to cross the bridge back to the city so the skyline isn’t behind you. We crossed at dusk, which was one of the best ideas ever and we 100% recommend it. A icy cold stroll (even though it was the end of March) we enjoyed the best of both bridges, obviously seeing her lit being our favourite!
You will need to take the subway line A or C to High Street station, the bridge is easy to see, find and cross from here.
Grand Central Station:
Another amazing attraction, the highlight of this stop for me is “the whispering wall”.
In a little atrium just of the main concourse you stand in opposing corners a good 30 – 40 foot away from each other and talk at normal volume and you can hear what the other person is saying…. nuts.
Be warned, you may look like a complete lunatic facing and whispering to a wall but still, mind-blowing!
Not far from the sight of ground zero we came across a cool Irish pub. Like something straight out of HBO’s The Wire or any NY cop show you’ve ever seen.
The walls are adorned with the badges and emblems of various army and law enforcement agencies from around the country and beyond. The Guinness is good, the stew is better but the staff are unreal! Sure you might as well delve into New York City’s Irish history.
This hidden gem is a total must for live music fans, there’s a $10 cover charge, but the shows are totally worth it as the bands are all up and coming or local bands. We had the pleasure of catching the astounding Breedlove and Chew fu. These guys put on an amazing show. Check them out on Spotify if you fancy a dance!! (Shout out to Sean Hogan for bringing us here!)
Take the F-line to 2nd Avenue or the J, M, Z to Essex/Delancey Street station, follow the main road and you will find it. The dingy music venue is packed, busy and bloody mental. You are guaranteed to be entertained here.
Awesome Seinfeld style diner on the upper east side of Manhattan. Food is amazing, free coffee refills, what more could a guy ask for?
Just a note, unless you’re an absolute horse one portion of anything on the breakfast menu is enough for 2 people.
TRY THE PANCAKES!!! (They come served with hot syrup… HOT)
In a nutshell, even if you live here I’d say there’s always something else to see. New York, New York so good, you’ll visit twice (at least).