Art,  Food & Drink,  Photography,  Travel

Getting the most out of your first NYC trip

Recently it was Steph’s 30th and to celebrate the start of her 4th decade I knew expectations would be high; a trip to Nando’s and a new top wasn’t going to cut it this time! Steph’s love of travel and exploring makes things a bit easier, but where to go?! It’d felt like a long Winter so a bit of sun was considered, but in the end I decided on a trip to New York. We had a full week out there and packed a heck of a lot in, but I thought rather than give a blow by blow account of our visit, I’d share some of our key learnings. So here goes; if you’re thinking of a visit to NYC this might just help you, or at least let you get a little more out of your trip.

1. Skip the queues

First up is a piece of advice I was given by a colleague who travels to the US regularly to see family: I assumed we’d be best off flying direct from a London airport, which from Bristol would mean a two hour drive, followed by expensive parking. But it would mean no changes and surely that would be the most efficient way, right? Well, maybe not! If you hop over to Dublin on a short connecting flight, you can put the hour or so between flights to good use by going through their satellite US immigration checks. These are the same as you’d otherwise have to do when you arrive in the States, but because far fewer people go through Dublin to get their than arrive direct, you can sail through, as we did, in 15 minutes, rather than the many hours it can apparently take in the US. It was all very efficient, it didn’t feel like a bad thing to have the long flight broken up a bit, and I think it was also a fair bit cheaper than flying direct. Depending upon where you fly from it might not work for you, but it’s worth considering the option as it could work out well.

2. Pack all the thermals

In Winter it can be really cold in New York! That night sound like an obvious thing to say- it’s cold in Winter, but I mean really really cold! We experienced -15 degrees centigrade, which with the wind chill factor apparently felt like -23, according to the weather forecasts. That’s considerably colder than I’ve ever experienced and it was really biting, so make sure you check before you go and really prepare well. Fortunately the city is geared up for it and unlike here where a stiff breeze or dusting of snow can cause things to grind to a halt, it seemed to be business as usual over there. The cold didn’t have a huge impact on our trip – we went everywhere we’d planned to go, but I suspect we would have enjoyed getting around more if it’d been less cold, and we certainly would’ve made more of the impressive outdoor spaces like Central Park.

3. Take boots made for walking

If you’re not afraid of a bit of walking and pick a good central spot, you need never get a taxi. I found a reasonably good value hotel a five minute walk from the South side of Central Park. The* is in a great location to get around – only a few minutes walk from some of the big attractions like the Natural History Museum, the MET, and Central Park itself. And it was less than half an hours walk to Times Square. We only got taxis from and to the airport, and otherwise didn’t feel the need for them (even with the cold). *I suspect the photos on the Hotel Belleclaire website were take quite a few years ago; nowadays it doesn’t look quite as fresh as that, but it’s comfortable and the staff are very good.

4. Save up for eating out

Eating out can be very expensive! We rarely got change from $100 for a sit down lunch or dinner (some were considerably more expensive than that) and the quality of the food wasn’t overwhelmingly good. There also wasn’t that much of it: I was expecting to find giant portions of food and an army of morbidly obese people. Not a bit of it! I suspect that was largely a Manhattan thing, and if you went out of town things might change. On the whole I was a little disappointed on the food front, and their tipping system was crazy to me; you were expected to pay a minimum 15% tip (up to 25%), even for the most average service; they add up quickly! There were a couple of exceptions, which oddly were the less expensive places. One was a burger place Steph had read about, called JG Melons; they did great food (again- not massive portions, but enough) and really good cocktails. The other was a bagel shop, ( did the best bagel (and sandwich for that matter) which I’ve ever had!

5. Culture yo’self

There’s a lot of galleries and museums! And the good news is that New York does them well! I thought the London one was good, but the NY Natural History museum blew my mind! It’s a vast building but the breadth and depth of the collections are incredible, and many of the artefacts must be the best examples in the world. The dinosaur collection in particular stood out for me and I can’t imagine there’s any better (if you’re reading this and have found one please let me know!). Likewise the galleries have some of the most famous pieces of art you’ll come across, from Picasso to Warhol, there’s something for everyone. The MET, Whitney, and MoMa deserve particular mentions and I wish I’d worn my Fitbit as I’d like to validate my bet that we walked many miles each day taking in countless famous sights.  

6. Take time out

There are peaceful havens, even in the heart of this bustling city. Central Park is the obvious place to escape the madness – it was certainly quiet in the Winter, although no doubt when it warms up it gets harder to get away from the crowds. Another good find was the Highline, an old raised railway line running through a few mile section of Manhattan which is now planted with shrubs and trees. It made for a great walk and an unexpected alternative glimpse of part of the city. 

7. Be a tourist

Clichés are clichés for a reason. Whilst we were in New York I felt we had to see a show on Broadway and a game at Madison Square Gardens, and I’m very glad we did – they didn’t disappoint. Broadway’s home to dozens of theatres and there must be a show or play for everyone. It’s worth wandering around and going into the theatres to see if they can do any offers (apparently some do same day/last minute offers – something I didn’t learn until after I’d got tickets, but we did at least save on the exorbitant booking fees some third-party booking sites charge). We saw Kinky Boots and loved every minute of it. And we went to see the New York Knicks basketball team play at home to the Houston Rockets. It was a fantastic event to see – non-stop action, even during the many breaks when they have all sorts of entertainment, from dancers and singers to competitions and audience participation; it was a real whirlwind night. We also felt we had to experience the fantastic cityscapes and took these in with a trip up the Rockefeller building, along with a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge and a ride on the Staten Island Ferry – a free trip past Lady Liberty! It also felt like a must to visit the site of the Twin Towers and the 9/11 Memorial. It was a heavy few hours but the museum is a well executed tribute to the shocking events and those who lost their lives. You will be touched by the stories and it will leave a mark on you, but sadly it is now an integral part of the story of this incredible city.

Over the course of the full seven days we only had a handful hours of downtime; there was so much to see and do and we were definitely left wanting more. If you go (which we’d highly recommend) make sure you budget properly – it is an expensive city, but it’s well worth it. A city pass will help with budgeting – these pre-pay passes cost quite a lot up-front, but if you plan on visiting certain venues anyway they will save you money. If we go again we’ll strongly consider an AirBnB (or similar); the food’s so expensive and average so self-catering wouldn’t be a bad option to have. We’d also like to go back in the Summer to enjoy the park in full bloom and be able to make more of the outdoor spaces. The location was ideal though – South Central Park is a great base.


  • Danielle

    Have to agree that Staten Island ferry was a highlight we we went last December. Sorry to hear you didn’t find such great food. We fared much better! We rented an Airbnb near the top of Central Park – ideal for getting around

    • Steph

      I think we could have tried better to find great food places but it was so cold, we opted for the nearest restaurants/cafes. Your Airbnb sounds great, I think we’d go for one of those next time!

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