New York hardly another place knows how to thrill us so much that its name alone lights up our eyes. From the very beginning, this city has been associated with so many dreams. “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere …” So sang Frank Sinatra, and countless people have followed this motto, bringing stories to life and making New York what it is today. The stories have been filmed, sung, and have made the headlines – or why hardly another city seems so familiar as New York, with its skyscrapers, its streets as straight as an arrow, and its grand Central Park, all of which we’ve probably already seen in lots of series, movies, and shows. We know New York before we’ve even been there.
But it’s not that simple to plan a trip to New York, because the possibilities are endless. On Pinterest alone, you can find tons of travel tips and lists on the best parks, romantic restaurants, exclusive rooftop bars, famous film sites, and and and … You’d need weeks, not days, to see everything.
For our trip, we had five days and no definite plans. It was only towards the end of our vacation, on a sunlit meadow in Central Park, where the skyscrapers wink at you with their untold glass windows, that I understood what the perfect trip to New York would look like: an ingenious mix of classic sights, local events, and personal interests, because that allows each individual to experience their own personal New York story without missing anything important.
So this was how we put together our own story:
Classic New York Sights No One Should Miss
There’s a reason why you can find them in every travel guide. Whether it’s your first time or you’re seeing them again, these sights are breathtaking and worth the trip.
Whoever says New York means Manhattan, and whoever thinks of Manhattan also thinks of Central Park, a huge green expanse with lakes and hills, surrounded by gleaming skyscrapers. Everyone goes there, and the mix makes it what it is: film stars jogging on the same path as tourists riding in their coaches, families playing baseball next to affectionate couples, newspapers doing their photo shoots, friends picnicking in the warm sun.
The atmosphere is very pleasant, and in spite of all the people, you don’t feel the hectic pace of the city. Even wildlife feels at home in this park in the middle of a metropolis. We saw geese, storks, and racoons. It’s also impossible to imagine Central Park without its sprightly squirrels. We made use of our jetlag on the first day to take some pictures there early in the morning – and we had the whole park practically to ourselves! Afternoons are a good time to take along a picnic blanket, make yourself comfortable, and enjoy the amazing activity all around.
Top of the Rock
The best view of New York is from the 70th floor of the Rockefeller Center. No other observation deck offers a better vista of Central Park and the Empire State Building. Whether in the mornings or evenings, the outlook is spectacular. One alternative is the Rainbow Room Bar, located at a lower level on the 5th floor. It also offers a panoramic view along with fine cocktails, though it’s closed on the weekends.
Times Square and Broadway
Even on the darkest night, the giant signs of Times Square brighten the surroundings with their dazzling lights. Huge billboards advertise the most successful brands (the others simply can’t afford the ad space). To me, Times Square feels like the heart of Manhattan, a hub that no visitor can bypass – not least, because of the world-famous Broadway shows that happen right nearby. Those wanting to see a show can buy their tickets online or right in Times Square itself at half the price for same-day performances.
Everyone has their own special things that they like, since tastes are different. For some, their hearts lie with the film sites for How I Met Your Mother or Sex in the City. Others might absolutely want to catch a Yankee’s game. Our personal highlights were definitely these:
Pictures from the Brooklyn Bridge
For this vacation, we wanted to take a closer look at Brooklyn, so we visited the Dumbo (for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) section of town. Of course, the Manhattan Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge form a grand setting, and together with the Manhattan skyline, they provide a perfect place for photographers, who could also be found in droves. By sundown, you could definitely count more tripod legs than human legs. Here you’ll also find popular restaurants – advance reservations are strongly recommended.
Sailing Tour on the Hudson River
As a big fan of sailboats and motorboats, I booked a trip on the Hudson River. A lot of people want to see the Statue of Liberty, so they book special tours for that. And a lot of blogs also recommend taking the ferry, which is cheaper and gives you a better view from the water. I have to say, though, that the sailing tour is worlds apart as an experience. Bring along your snacks, cozy up in a comfortable blanket, and have your glasses filled with champagne as the sails transport you to the Statue of Liberty. The Manhattan skyline passes slowly by, all aglow with the last rays of the setting sun. I don’t know if it’s because of my love of boat travel, but the return to the harbor during the blue hour of dusk was definitely among the high points of the trip.
Shopping in SoHo and High Line
While the Soho district has long been considered a shopper’s paradise and convinces you of that with its mix of great brands and cozy cafes, the area around the High Line is just beginning to blossom. Apple shops, Google’s offices, and a Samsung social hub have all settled here. We spent over an hour in the last place, riding on the Virtual Reality roller coaster and going inside a room like the one in The Matrix. Girls can also leave their guys behind a little longer, happily playing with the free wi-fi while they themselves go off and hunt down those choice items at rag & bone or Anthropologie. Then they can both talk about their adventures over a good meal at Chelsea Market.
Visit to the U.N.
During the trip, we had the chance to visit the U.N. headquarters and catch a glimpse behind the scenes. From funny stories about curious gifts like the elephant statue, whose lower parts were way too realistically portrayed so that it had to be surrounded by plants, to an infographic that showed daily military expenditures, you see the world presented to you from a different side.
World Trade Center
High above the skyscrapers gleams the new One World Trade Center. But the site comes across as more reflective than respectful. That’s especially true of the 9/11 Memorial, where two pools of cascading water call up memories of the falling twin towers.
Do as the Romans Do
To feel less like a tourist and more like a native New Yorker, you can include routine activities that are more related to normal city life. Because you’d be hard pressed to find a New Yorker who spends every weekend going to the top of the Empire State Building or watching a Broadway show.
Go to Meetups
Where do New Yorkers meet when they don’t go to bars? Meetups have long been a good option for getting to know like-minded people and also for learning new things. We went to a Travel 2.0 meetup and learned a lot about new trends in the travel industry.
Getting a New York haircut sounds very tempting. For us, it happened spontaneously because of bad weather. We were really happy with the service! Another option would be the well-known Aire Ancient Bath, with its beautifully designed baths, its massages, and its other spa offerings.
Book an AirBnb
There’s no better opportunity to get a glimpse behind the scenes of native life than to book an AirBnb. Whether it’s a luxury or a simple residence, a pleasant or oddball host, this is a genuine experience and gives you a glimpse into life as it really is away from an anonymous hotel room.
Our Bad Experiences
No trip is exclusively made up of positive experiences, and this time, too, we had some experiences that we’d rather not repeat.
The Park Lane Hotel
For our first night in New York, we treated ourselves to a night at the Park Lane Hotel, a 5-star hotel with a magnificent view over Central Park. A room of this class cost us CHF 400, which we wanted to spend so that we could admire the sunrise right from our window, take time lapse photos, and get a bird’s-eye view of Central Park. In spite of our timely booking made two months in advance as well as an additional email confirmation from the hotel, by the time we arrived, there was no longer a room with a view over Central Park. We were stuck in a lower-grade room, which should have cost quite a bit less. We received no rebate – only apologies. At this point, I’ll spare you the discussions we had with the hotel, but it’s just these types of hotels like the Park Lane that are the reason more and more people are switching to AirBnb.
Yes, we made diligent use of Uber to get from A to B, because Uber is fast and cheaper than a taxi. We could have also taken the subway, except that they were working on the line by our AirBnb, which would have made the trip for us tourists more trouble than it was worth. Uber is great, just not during rush hour, when the price shoots up to three times as much. It’s true that the high rates are only for a limited time, but you can easily wait up to half an hour for the prices to drop. Bottom line: it wasn’t always that fast and cheap.