It happened! I went to New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of, there’s nothing you can’t do. It’s the liveliest city in the world, regularly featured on screen and immortalized in songs, the home of so many global icons and pop cultures. It’s also one of the most economically powerful and influential city in the world. They say if you can make it it New York, you can make it anywhere.
Those who have gone to the city speak so fondly of it, that they would return over and over again. In recent years, New York became the city that’s of high importance in my bucket list. Despite that, it never really made it into our plans, because it’s, well, literally, so far away. Fate has it that I was given the opportunity to go the Unites States recently and it sounded just right for me to take this chance to visit New York.
So here’s what I’ve gathered from my experience.
1. Places to go
New York is the largest metropolitan in the United States. It’s birth began in 1600s, when the Dutch famously purchased what is today known as Manhattan from the Native American tribes for 60 guilders. Back in the 1800s, millions of people all over the world left their cities and sailed to New York to begin their lives at the land of opportunity, where people were free. This created a melting pot of cultures. Over the centuries, the city also went through different phases — its boom and bust shapes the city to what it is today and because of it, you get to see and experience different things as you explore different neighborhoods in the city.
New York’s made up 5 boroughs — Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten Island and is home to 8.4 million people of diverse backgrounds. Here, I’m going to put my focus on Manhattan, the city’s trade, economic and financial center. It’s where it’s at and it’s where I went (also it seems like a city where people get emotionally involved and heartbroken, case in point Norah Jones and Sara Bareilles). Manhattan is small in size and a well-planned borough, so going around is easy. It can be divided into 3 sections — the Uptown, Midtown and Downtown. If you’re going to create an itinerary, consider breaking them up according to this:
So up in the north there are relatively good areas:
- Nice residential neighborhoods at the Upper West Side.
- Wealthy residential neighborhood with fancy brownstones with doormen at the Upper East Side (that’s the Gossip Girl neighborhood!).
- The Central Park, in the middle!
- Also where some of the best museums are e.g. Museum of the City of New York and The Met.
If you go even further up, there’s Morningside on the west, where University of Columbia is and Harlem on the east, the place where African American culture was born (it’s where you go if you want to listen to jazz music at night).
Midtown is the business, commerce and entertainment district — where the party’s at! It’s the location of:
- Entertainment like Broadway Theater District, Radio City Hall and Times Square.
- Landmark buildings like the New York Public Library and Grand Central Terminal.
- Department stores like Lord & Taylor and Saks on 5th Avenue.
- Iconic buildings and skyscrapers like the Empire State Building and the Chrysler building and other notable buildings on Park Avenue Madison Avenue (neighborhood of Mad Men!) and Lexington Avenue.
- Hell’s Kitchen (neighborhood of Daredevil and Jessica Jones), the place to be for foods of all kinds.
Downtown is most known as Manhattan’s administration, business and financial district. Downtown’s got a couple of lively neighborhoods and historical areas worthy of a visit, too. At Downtown, you can see:
- Soho, homes and galleries of artists, also good shopping location for street and upscale shopping.
- Chelsea, which has the Chelsea market, good place for dining and shopping for hip things (it’s like Publika!).
- Chinatown, like any other Chinatowns in the world.
- Business and financial icons like the Wall St., the New York Stock Exchange, Federal Hall and the Charging Bull.
- Administrative buildings like the City Hall, District and Supreme Court.
- The Battery Park and the ferry terminal which brings you to Staten Island.
- The majestic Brooklyn Bridge.
I’ll be covering the places I’ve visited in subsequent posts!
2. Accommodations in New York
Where should you stay in New York?
- Uptown: Residential areas, but a distance from the many attractions. If you had to choose Upper Manhattan, go for the the Upper East Side, facing Central Park, since there’s where the Museum Mile is.
- Midtown: Good for proximity to the city’s attractions and plenty of subway stations. That said, it can get crowded. For easy access to major attractions, choose Midtown; for easy access to food, head to Hell’s Kitchen and for posh hotels, head to the areas at the tip of Central Park.
- Downtown: Still close the city’s attractions and cool neighborhoods like Soho and Tribeca. Surprisingly nice and affordable accommodations can be found at Lower Manhattan.
Book early online! Be prepared to spend $150 minimum a night for a room at a proper hotel.
If you’re booking at the last minute i.e. the week before, check out the HotelTonight app. I got my room there at a better of rate than most sites.
There are thousands of New York Airbnbs listed! I stayed at the Upper East side and stayed on the couch of a New Yorker’s apartment for 5 days for only $55 a night. She kindly let me use her smart TV and wrote a list of things that I should do in the city. I had the chance to explore neighborhoods and experience life as a New Yorker and that was a good experience.
3. Commuting in New York
The city’s well planned and it’s not that big, so going around is easy.
Getting in and out of the city
From JFK, I took the train to the city. Bought the Metro ticket, got on the JFK AirTrain to Jamaica station before transferring to another line, the whole trip taking 1+ hour for $8.75. It’s not a pleasant experience at all because the stations only had stairs — we had to carry our heavy luggages to go up and down.
- Get on a bus to the Grand Central Terminal for $16.
- Book a shared shuttle to and from the airport for around $25 per person.
I rode on the GoAirlink shuttle to get to the airport.
For other alternatives, read here.
Walking is easy, especially if you’re staying at the center of Manhattan. To cross over different neighborhoods that’s more far apart though, you may want to use the subway.
Train tickets prices usually depends on the distance of travel, but in New York you pay $2.75 per trip, regardless where you get off or stop — $2.75 per swipe. Make sure you buy the weekly pass, $30 for unlimited rides.
Subway stations are usually within reach, trains are frequent and the commute is not that long — going from one end to the other can take as short as 30 minutes.
You still have to study the system though. There are many lines and stops, that unless you’ve got the hang of it, commuting with the subway can be confusing. At times I wasn’t sure which stop I was at or where I should go to take another line. There are apps that could help you navigate the subway system, but most of them don’t come for free (Kickmap can be purchased at $3.99), but I relied on the FOC subway map that I have on my phone.
(I have to also add that getting on the subway is scary as the stations and trains are dim and dirty. Some look like a murder scene 😆 I’m aware this is a contrast effect since I’m living in a city with a subway stations and trains that are bright and spotless.)
If you don’t feel like taking the subway, there are cabs. Fare starts from $3. You can pay by cash or credit card and add on at least 20% to the driver as tips.
Well, there’s also Uber, but Amanda says cabs are more reliable.
New York is also known as the capital of food, where you can find fusion food from all over the world. Look around. If there’s something you’re craving for, use Google Maps to look for the nearest options near you.
To give you an idea on prices:
- Proper meals at an average cafe/deli/restaurant can cost around $10 to $15.
- Light meals like wholesome sandwiches from $8, greek yoghurt from $5 and fresh juices from $5.
- Cart food like ice-creams, hot dogs, burgers and kebab are available at almost every junction in the city centre (many halal options including The Halal Guys and Sabrett) from $5.
- Coffee starts from $3.
- Pizzas (a massive slice!) can be as cheap as $1.
The tax rate there is 8% for everything (well except things bought by the roadside). Also, if you’re eating in, you’re expected pay 20% for tips — so if you want to save, taking away is a good idea.
5. Going online
The easiest way is to get a T-Mobile prepaid. So I did. Cost me $40 for talk time, texts and 3GB worth of data that lasts for a month. You can go to any T-Mobile store and get it. Just make sure that your phone’s compatible with US bandwidth, else you won’t be able to take advantage of their 4G.
Else, you can get internet at Starbucks or major shopping malls.
This post will be refined whenever I feel like it 🙂