Fall is the most pleasant season to visit New York. The crowds have dispersed from the searing heat of Summer and the Christmas bargain hunters are still saving up their cents. Leaves begin to fade and transform into tones of deep blood red and bright bursting orange, creating a collage of colour in the tree tops. A cool windy breeze freshens the city, clearing its cobwebs, whilst the clear blue sky and beating sun still tempts New Yorkers to don dresses and reveal skin. It is the last few momentary gasps of sunshine before the depths of winter succumbs to the city, blanketing New York in chill and snow.
Coming on a short whirlwind trip for my Mums birthday meant that I left my large bulky backpack and that lifestyle behind; for a week of lovely large meals, cheeky shopping sprees and the sightseeing highlights of New York. Trying to see the entirety of Manhattan on a short time frame is idiotic. With a city full of gems on every street corner, it is hard to try experience all of it, in one chosen time period. Similar to London, the city is filled with areas that encompass their own style, culture and livelihood. However, as if kids in a sweetshop, my mum and I decided to try and experience our personal highlights of New York, during our stay.
Neighbourhoods tell the real multicultural diverse story that the city has to offer. We previously booked a hop on hop off tour bus that allowed us to easily access areas of Mahattan, whilst learning about the history and growth of the city. Although, traffic in Manhattan is ridiculously awful. Whenever, wherever you are, expect there to be traffic. It could be due to the fact that the lay out of the city is of a grid like structure, creating the environment around you as if to be a giant spreadsheet of buildings. Or it could be the sheer number of people that live on this tiny island, jostling for living and breathing space. Or it may even be the influx of yellow cab drivers, driving bumper to bumper whilst grinning with delight when you compliment them on their country of birth. Either way, expect to wait to travel even the shortest distances. Thus I advise when visiting, to buy a subway pass. Not only is it cheap, but distance time will actually be much quicker and you can experience true New York, as New Yorkers do.
Staying at the southern entrance of Central Park meant we essentially were in the centre of Manhattan, 10 minutes away from Times Square and easily able to venture in any chosen direction of the city. Central Park is a must see whilst in Manhattan. Not only is it aesthetically pleasing as well as the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of Manhattan life, but it is also the most visited urban park in the United States due to its ever recurring role in a number of major films. Wandering the labyrinth of paths, one can recognise certain scenes from popular movies, as well as notorious landmarks such as Cleopatra’s Needle or Strawberry Fields Forever, in memory of the legendary musician, John Lennon. We hopped onto a tricycle tour which included an interesting running commentary to the surrounding area, however I would recommend walking around the park yourself, to fully explore the natural beauty that is on offer.
Harlem is on the opposite side of Central Park and Times Square, and is a happening neighbourhood. Rooted in African American culture, the society is built on the very foundations of community. With resounding roots of jazz, expressive art and delicious food, there is no surprise that Harlem has recently overseen a large over gentrification to encourage more people to visit. Tourists now come from all over to the taste the home cooked soul meals at Sylvia’s, or pay homage to the birthplace of some of the most talented comedians and artists in the world, the Apollo. Harlem gospel choir tours are increasingly popular on a Sunday, where tourists can embrace the “happy clappy” services leaving their inhibitions behind and joining the fusion of song. Due to the increasing number of tourists that visit, many of the churches (over 400 of them) are specifically used for the sole purpose of tourists, undermining the authenticity of the service. So do keep this in mind when thinking about visiting.
Times Square speaks entirely different volumes to both Harlem and Central Park. Contained in one area, Times Square has transformed neighbouring buildings, which are now disused, to an advertising haven. Adverts hang from all various buildings, some moving, some static, some focus on retail, others on food and drink. Street performers do erratic moves for entertainment whilst others don costumes to gain spare change. The result is overwhelming. A collision of loud brash colours and noise which pinpoints commercialism and marketing to the T. Yes it was a breathtaking sight, but for me, I could not call it visually pleasing. In fact, I found it a bit of an eyesore. I love modernity, the new world and technology, but I can only state if its aesthetically stunning when it creates an effect through innovative ideas or structure, this just indicated to me, the new age of advertising. Of course it is a sight to see, but if similar to me, don’t spend too long here and end up enraptured in this world.
Broadway is incredibly close to Times Square and is a large stretch of street that is consumed with theatres displaying various shows to the general public. Catching a Broadway show in New York is a must do, it would be a sin not too whilst visiting. Broadway in New York is the cherry on top of the cake for the theatre world, the stage where all aspiring actors aim to end up on, after packing their bags and leaving their own worlds behind, to try and succeed in. Whilst visiting, my mother and I saw the performance of “Carole King, The Musical“. Not being an avid fan of musicals, I did expect the worst to be honest. However, this performance was a delight. Revolving around the true story of song writer and musician Carole King and filled with hit songs from my favourite era of all time: the 60’s, made this show a wonderful experience. I do recommend watching this performance if you are a fan of the theatre, musicals, or the 60’s, this production will not let you down.
Other memorable sights near Broadway are the Empire State Building and the MoMA Art Gallery. The Empire State Building is the 5th highest skyscraper in the US and is well worth a visit to the top because of its prominence in Manhattan culture, as well as on the skyline. Trying to not run around the door as if Will Ferrell in Elf is hard, but entrance to the top was easy. I advise pre booking tickets in advance which allows you to skip any queues, and leaves some tourists queuing for at least 5 hours. We visited the popular 86th floor, where tourists are herded up and are overwhelmed by the staggering panoramic views of the city. Buildings encompass the skyline, all standing for attention and varying in size and height as if preschoolers lining up for break. The Hudson River snakes through the city, dividing Manhattan from the neighbouring boroughs of New York City, whilst roads lined with bright yellow minuscule cars zigzag around the city. If you pay a little extra, you can visit the full height of the Empire State Building, on the 102nd floor, which allows less crowds, and I am sure, offers a more enthralling experience.
Seen as the most influential modern art museum in the world MoMA, I could not surpass a trip to Manhattan without forcing my mum into this well walked building. The museum shares an overview of modern and contemporary art, and whilst we were there, a Piccaso Exhibition was on, which meant I was finally able to see the infamous “guitar” piece, as well as other unusual sculptural masterpieces. MoMA also had exhibitions on Andy Warhol’s tin soup work and popular Parisian posters. Although MoMA is a busy art gallery, it is most definitely worth seeing such valued pieces of art.
Other neighbourhoods to explore are Hells Kitchen, with its abundance in choice of food and long standing reputation for the home of NYC gangsters, this neighbourhood is interesting to say the least. Pizza slices for a dollar? Come here. Chelsea is an up and coming area, with the industrial landmarks nearby, the grittiness of Hells Kitchen and the emergent of new glossy structures of hip bars, Chelsea is a diverse neighbourhood, and I was told, is where all the cool kids hang out. We popped into the Chelsea Market, a traditional factory that has been renovated to house gourmet food shops and plush designer stores- but without the superior attitude of Upper West Side. Greenwich Village, otherwise known as “the village”, is a suburban neighbourhood we decided to stop by and have lunch in. Filled with sweeping tree lined boulevards and large houses that ooze rustic charm, Greenwich Village is a beautiful neighbourhood to take a stroll through with your pet chihuahua and pretend that you live there. Chic big names brands like Prada, nestle next to quaint houses and vegan cafes, this neighbourhood is for the rich, but not the opulent (that’s Upper West Side duh).
However, my favourite neighbourhood in Manhattan has to be, Little Italy. Passing through the manic swarming masses of tourists in Chinatown; I saw the sticky floored restaurants with fluorescent lights, the red beaded hanging garlands, and the large community that push you to to buy their fresh fruit. Chinatown in Manhattan was of no interest to me, yes it was massive, but compared to London or Sydney, it had no charm, and compared to Bangkok’s Chinatown, there was no essence of reality behind the facade for tourists to see. Thus, when reaching Little Italy, I was overwhelmed with joy. Why don’t more cities or countries in the world have a Little Italy? With incredible street art donning the walls and passionate Italian visitors flooding the streets and conversing with restaurant owners, I was swept back into the warm embrace of the country of Italy. Wine flowed, ruddy faced men played the accordion and fresh pasta is served on square checked table cloth, what’s not to like? Neighbouring Soho as well, means that whilst leaving Little Italy behind with a gorgeous home made ice cream in your hand, you can begin to peruse unique shops with pleasure. How content is that?
Speaking of shopping, I found fantastic shops in Soho, my favourite haunt for updating my wardrobe. Mixing independent boutiques with the cross section of Broadway street in Soho, meant that you also had access to good quality high end well known brands, such as Banana Republic. My mother and I did shop in and around Broadway and 5th Avenue, where blue boxed Tiffany’s awaits, the gigantic Saks, and the major department store Macy’s are based (which are all by the way, tourist attractions in themselves), however shopping in and near to Broadway is stressful. I say this, due to the gulf of people that swarm the streets whether local or not. Head to Soho to shop at your own pace.
The Financial District is at the very tip of Manhattan and is exactly what you would expect from a Financial District. Suited and booted workers buzz around the neighbourhood as if honey bees collecting for their queen, occasionally stopping for breaks in coffee shops and dimly lit restaurants. There is a nice park in the area, as well as the 9/11 memorial is based here, however we mainly used this neighbourhood as an access point to reach Brooklyn. Brooklyn is another neighbourhood of New York City, as Manhattan is one itself, and so is a fantastic way to see more of the state. Quickly, I fell in love with Brooklyn and decided if I ever lived in America, Brooklyn would be where I would be based. The community was of everyone and anyone, all living in peaceful harmony and shouting welcome to us visitors (how sweet, I know) and the area was jumbled together as if a jigsaw, vintage stores and hippie hangouts on one side, antique shops and cheap shawarma eateries on the other- my type of heaven.
Our time in Brooklyn was short yet sweet, as we spent most of our time at the Brooklyn Art Musuem, which hands down is my favourite art gallery I have visited in a long time. I know that NYC is filled to the brim with a number of interesting and individual art galleries, but with our time here short, I had to be selective. Unlike the massive gallery at MoMA, the Brooklyn Art Musuem had no lines and allowed you to spend time with each piece, personally connecting and exploring the work that was featured. Art here was shown for a purpose, not just to inspire, but to educate, enthuse and shock. Exhibitions highlighted themes of sexuality, gender equality, and racial equality. This was my type of gallery, and would love any who enjoy the exploration of social themes through the medium of art, to also visit here. You will find it an important element in your visit to New York.
The Financial District also offers an important access point to one of the most well sought out landmarks of all time, the Statue Of Liberty. Catching a boat from the tip of Manhattan (arrive before they open as queues are still horrendous) it is easy to pop across to the Statue Of liberty and to be astounded by the sheer size of the lady. Visits can be made to the platform, however visits to the crown must be booked months in advance before visiting. Near is Ellis Island, an interesting historical landmark to trace your ancestors or learn about immigration in Manhattan. A must visit for any native American.
Food and drink vary in Manhattan dependent on where you are and what day it is. I would advise when visiting, to pre plan where you go each day, trying to limit your time on journeys as much as possible, so you can spend more time enjoying the city. We ate in a number of different places, including myself trying a famous New Yorker hot dog- no it wasn’t as good as it thought, yes it tasted similar to rubber- although two dollars is a bargain! Our favourite places to eat were: Il Cortile in Little Italy (the food as was good as Italy- believe me), Mercer Kitchen in Soho, Morton Steak House (the portions are massive, as they are in most restaurants but here was exceedingly big), Saju Bistro, and Ellen’s Stardust Diner (which is filled with unemployed aspiring Broadway actors who practice singing throughout the evening, which makes a truly enjoyable evening). Meeting with a friend from my volunteering days in Tacloban, (to read more on this click here) meant I spent an evening sipping Manhattan’s at the cocktail bar In The Attic. Watering holes are a plenty, so I would advise, spending as much time as you can exploring Manhattan after dark, as most locals don’t even leave their apartments until after midday!
Judging by how much I have written, you can tell just how much there is to see and do in Manhattan. Be smart with organising your time, and try not to do everything (like us).