For most of my teenage and adult life, I had dreamt of the day I would finally visit New York City. I imagined looking up at the Statue of Liberty, spending a day shopping up a storm in Soho and I wanted to stand in absolute awe, in the middle of Times Square and never leave. I wanted one of those ‘I love NYC’ t-shirts, and every other cliche tourist souvenir you could imagine. Yes, I was (and still am) that person. But that’s okay. It’s okay to dream – in fact, I encourage it! Especially when it comes to seeing the world. Having a dream, got me to my favourite place in the world.
I’m sure you’re wondering why I wanted to visit New York so badly. Well, to be honest, I don’t have one specific answer! I simply wanted to. I had grown up watching dozens of TV shows and movies that were filmed in New York and seen photos online and in stores. Then eventually, New York City made it’s way to the top of my bucket list. It wasn’t until June 2015 that I finally ticked it off that list. I took the plunge and booked my first solo trip. Although it was a Contiki tour, I had still never traveled solo before, so it was an exhilarating feeling. The lead up to my departure day was super exciting, and my last day at work was even better!
So what were my favourite things about New York City? What is there to see and do? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. I’ve come up with a guide to NYC, including what to see and do, where to stay and more!
*Note: TONS of photos!
AIRPORT TO MANHATTAN TRANSPORT
If you’re planning a visit to New York, I assume you’re either road-tripping around the United States, or flying into one of the three main airports. In regards to airports, your choices are: John F Kennedy (JFK), Newark or La Guardia.
I suggest catching a taxi to Manhattan, no matter which airport you fly into. Taxis in New York are fairly cheap, compared to other cities around the world. JFK airport is the furthest away from Manhattan, and at one hour travel time, but a taxi will only cost you around $45 (not including tolls and a tip for your driver). A taxi from Newark will cost up to $60, and around $30 from La Guardia (again, not including tolls and a tip).
Another great option is public transport. Considering traffic can be super busy in New York City, being able to catch a train between any airports within New York and Manhattan, is another affordable and convenient choice if you decide to opt against catching a taxi! It all depends on your situation and preferred method of transport, of course!
NEW YORK CITY ACCOMODATION
Unfortunately, the rumours you’ve heard are true: New York City can be an insanely expensive place to stay. But you can also do it on a budget. Like anywhere in the world, New York has cheap hostel and hotel options. It all depends on your style, and what type of accomodation you prefer!
I personally will never stay in a hostel. Never have, never will. This is partly to do with the fact that I travel with my partner, but even if I traveled solo, hostels aren’t my thing. You can get a last minute budget hotel (or hostel) for around $100 per night – you’ll obviously pay less if you book ahead! If you prefer to live it up, the most expensive last minute hotel will cost you anywhere up to $1,200 per night. Again, it all depends on your preference!
I recommend Hotel Beacon on Broadway, for decently priced close-to-the-action accomodation. The rooms are excellent, staff are fabulous and the location is perfect! This is where my Contiki group stayed, and I was very happy with their choice.
You can search for hotels in your desired New York neighbourhood by clicking here. Hotels Combined will, well, combine hotels for you! That way, you know you’re always getting the best deal. Which is especially important in an expensive city like New York.
PUBLIC TRANSPORT AROUND NEW YORK CITY
New York City is probably one of the easiest cities to travel around using public transport. Their Subway system is fantastic, with 468 stations and 24 different lines! Talk about convenience. The trains run on average, every 10 minutes (every 2 minutes during peak hours throughout the day). If you’re traveling to Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx and Brooklyn, the Subway is definitely your best option!
If you’re planning to travel quite a bit using the Subway, I suggest purchasing a MetroCard. Load some money onto it, and not only is your fare cheaper, but it’s also a lot easier! The lines may seem confusing at first, but it’s pretty simple: you’ve got uptown and downtown. It took me a few shots to get it right, but I was a natural in no time! Grab a city map and it’ll be a piece of cake.
THINGS TO SEE AND DO WHEN YOU VISIT NEW YORK CITY
When I knew I was finally going to visit New York City, I started writing a list of everything I wanted to see and do. Obviously, this list was huge. There was no way I would fit it all in to 5 days, so I had to pick and choose. One of the major upsides to traveling with Contiki, is all of the planning is done for you. So I was able to cross off a lot from my New York City bucket list, without having to do any of the organising or planning. Which was awesome!
Here is my suggested 5 day guide to exploring New York City. Obviously, there is a LOT that I couldn’t fit, so alter this guide to your own liking and preferences!
DAY ONE – EXPLORE THE CITY + 9/11 MEMORIAL AND MUSEUM
Start your first full day in New York, by heading out to do some exploring. Depending on where your accomodation is located, you can see quite a bit of the city just by walking. So choose a direction, and head out! There’s so much to see around New York, and you’re bound to come across some hidden gems. Don’t give yourself too much of a plan, or even anything to tick off a list you’ve made. Just explore as far and as wide as you can!
After you’ve explored some of the city, head to lower Manhattan. The 9/11 Memorial and Museum is definitely something I recommend every visitor to New York City experiences. It’s pretty easy to find, and most Subway lines can take you there. If you’re unsure, just ask at a Subway station, or even ask a local for directions while exploring the city.
The 9/11 Museum has a few different sections to it. In the historical exhibition, there are three parts: the day of 9/11, before 9/11 and after 9/11. Take your time wandering through the exhibits – there’s no time limit once you’re inside the museum. The memorial exhibit commemorates the people who lost their lives on September 11.
You can reserve your tickets to the 9/11 Museum by clicking here. Tickets cost $24 for an adult and $15 for a youth (age 7-17).
End the night on a positive note, and head to Times Square! The bright lights and endless amount of people will put you in awe, and make you realise just how big and popular New York City is. There are a ton of shopping and food options for every taste. Don’t worry about seeing every inch of Times Square in one night. I guarantee you’ll be back.
DAY TWO – THE STATUE OF LIBERTY
You can’t leave New York without visiting the Statue of Liberty. Literally. They actually stop you at the airport and ask if you’ve seen it, then kick you out if you tell them you haven’t. Nah, I’m just kidding (obviously). But in all honesty, it’s just one of those things that you just need to do. Even if you’re not a fan of being all touristy and seeing all the hot spots.
You can purchase tickets from the State Cruises website by clicking here. For access to just the grounds and the first viewing platform, it will cost $18.50 for adults and $9 for kids. For Crown Reserve tickets (gets you to the crown viewing platform!), tickets cost $21.50 for adults and $12 for kids. The fee also includes your return ferry ride. Bargain.
Top Tip: Since it’s probably the most popular and visited attraction in New York, the Statue of Liberty is always going to be busy and filled with people. For photos free of selfie sticks and other travelers, head to the side of the Statue. There are hardly any people (everyone wants that front on shot!), and you’ll be able to get a much better photo. You’re welcome.
DAY THREE – CENTRAL PARK AND TIMES SQUARE
Whenever you hear New York City, Central Park is one of the first things you think of, right? Well that makes sense. Central Park is one of (if not THE) most famous park in the world. Even though it’s essentially just a park, there’s a ton of awesome stuff to do and see. For example, my Contiki group and I did a bike tour around Central Park. It was a cool way to see the park, and I definitely think I saw more being on a bike than I would have if I was walking!
Within Central park, There’s also Central Park Zoo, a carousel, Belvedere Castle, a theatre and much more!
After exploring Central Park, head back to Times Square. Trust me, you’re gonna want to see it more than once. There’s so much to experience. So many restaurants and shops, bars and unexpected things to see. I remember the moment I stepped out of the Subway, and saw Times Square for the first time. It was one of those ‘I can’t believe I’m actually here’ moments in my life. Standing amongst the craziness, thousands of people and bright lights is something I’ll never forget.
DAY FOUR – TOP OF THE ROCK + THE HIGH LINE
I know there are a lot of people who think the Empire State Building has the best views of New York City (and yeah, the views are great!) but I recommend heading to the Top of the Rock in Rockefeller Plaza instead. For absolutely amazing views – and the oh so popular shot of Central Park – the Top of the Rock is well worth the entrance fee. For around $35, you’ll get super clear views of the Park and midtown and downtown Manhattan. This was definitely one of the highlights of New York for me. I know that’s super cliche and tourist-like, but that’s okay!
Once you’ve finished admiring the beautiful views of New York City from the Top of the Rock, I suggest heading to the High Line. If you’ve never heard of the High Line before, basically it’s an old train line from the 30’s, which was turned into a garden and relaxing place to sit and people watch! There are a few different sections of the High Line, but if you type into Google Maps ‘High Line start point’ it’s super easy to find!
DAY FIVE – SHOP UP A STORM IN SOHO + THE FRIENDS BUILDING!
New York is pretty great when it comes to shopping. You could spend hours in the Forever 21 in Times Square alone (and trust me, I did). But Soho is on a whole other level. It’s crazy confusing to navigate if you’ve never been before, and I definitely gave Google Maps a workout that day, but it’s totally worth it! I spent a couple of hours, and over $250 on my second to last day in New York. Let’s just say, my suitcase was pretty damn heavy after that unexpected shopping trip.
There are a ton of awesome stores and definitely something for everyone. Just make sure you either bring lots of cash or a credit card, because it’s very hard to not buy absolutely everything! Unless of course, you don’t enjoy shopping. In which case, disregard everything I have said about Soho! #lol
If you’re a fan of the classic sitcom Friends, you need to add this to your itinerary. The exterior building used as Monica’s apartment, is actually in Greenwich Village! It’s super easy to find, just put this address into Google Maps: 90 Bedford Street, and it’s at the corner of Bedford and Grove Street. Don’t worry, even if you’ve only seen five minutes of Friends, you’ll know it when you see it. There will probably be tons of tourists snapping photos and having selfies in front of the building. Just like I did! #noshame
I grew up watching Friends, and it’s been my favourite show for most of my life. So I was more than ecstatic to finally see this famous building in person!
OTHER ACTIVITIES YOU CAN DO
HELICOPTER FLIGHT OVER NEW YORK CITY
There are thousands of things to do in New York City. But again, since I only had a few days, and limited free time, I wasn’t able to see everything that I wanted to! But I do have a couple of other suggestions to fill out your time in NYC. As part of my Contiki tour, we had the option to purchase extra activities. One of those activities, was a helicopter flight over Manhattan! I spent quite a bit of time trying to decide whether to spend the money, but eventually decided to go for it.
Considering there is a pretty hefty price tag of just over $200 for 12-15 minute flight time, not everyone will be able to experience the helicopter tour. But at the time, I was living at home, didn’t have any expenses and had saved for quite a while for this trip, so I figured why not! The views from the helicopter are best on a clear day, but regardless of the weather, it’s an experience you’ll never forget!
I’m not entirely sure if this is the tour I did, but it’s very similar!Click for a list of my must-see New York City locations! #newyorkcity Click To Tweet
CATCH A FILMING OF THE AMERICAN TODAY SHOW!
Okay, this was purely fluke. We were exploring near Rockefeller Plaza, and happened to notice that there was a group of people crowded around a window across the road. So being nosy, my Contiki friends and I went to see what the fuss was about. Turns out, they were filming the day’s live episode of the Today Morning Show! How cool. My grandma has watched the American Today show for as long as I can remember, so I knew it pretty well. It was a cool experience being able to see them film it!
Next door is the NBC Experience Store where you can buy a whole bunch of cool souvenirs and TV show merchandise. I left with a Friends mug, which is actually the size of a small bowl, rather than a mug. There’s a ton of different merchandise available, definitely something to interest most people!
Well, that’s about all the tips I have for you about New York! At least that I can think of right now. I’m sure once I hit publish, more will come to me. But I’ll end it at this 2,500 word point in time. New York had been my dream for such a long time. Finally being able to visit, was definitely one of the best moments in my life. I know there are people who dislike the city, and wouldn’t visit New York if someone paid them, and that’s okay!
Have you had the chance to visit New York City before? What’s your favourite part about it? What was your favourite attraction/restaurant/shop/experience? Tell me down below!
If you’re interested in doing a Contiki tour, I’ve published a post about my experience! You can read all about that, here.
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