This is part 2 of the U.S. 2019 trip post. To go back to part 1, click HERE.
Hello, New York City!
NYC is probably my favourite city in the entire world. I am yet to realise my dream of moving there some day, but I never miss a chance to visit. This wasn’t my first time in NYC, though. Our first family trip to the U.S. was in 2009, so technically, this post has been 10 years in the making. We toured the East Coast, including NYC, Washington D.C., Boston, and Philadelphia. Since I had already covered most of the touristy spots like Liberty Island, the Empire State Building, and even the Niagara Falls, I decided to explore the city like a local this time.
My friend lives on the Lower East Side, where we saw a lot of eye-catching colours everywhere.
Day 1: I was lucky enough to have a close friend living there, who would not only host me, but also show me around the city like a local. My incoming flight with was delayed and I reached at 3 AM. I must say this though: American Airlines’ service was very bad and the delay was handled very poorly (nobody had to pay me to write this!) He waited up for me until I arrived and then we spent the next couple of hours just catching up before falling asleep.
Bagels and pudding!
When we finally woke up the next afternoon, I decided to spend the remaining part of my first day doing all the typical New York-y things I had always dreamed of doing: having an everything-bagel (Tompkins Square Bagels), climbing out onto the fire escape, taking the subway during peak hours, etc. One of THE things to do when in NYC, at least according to my friend, is to try out pudding, which, to my surprise, did not refer to the pudding I am used to in the U.K./Europe. This was almost as if a delicious cake had been mashed into a cup-shaped dessert, and in all honestly, was probably the best thing I’ve tasted in recent memory. We finished a different-flavour cup every day, so make sure to visit Sugar Sweet Sunshine if you are visiting the Lower East Side of Manhattan!
The Oculus with One World Trade Center in the background
10 years ago, during our first visit, we stopped at the site where the World Trade Center stood before the 9/11 tragedy. The site was under construction, and our tour guide told us that if we returned in 10 years, we would see a new tower there. At that spot today, stands the One World Trade Center, a shining new tower with an observation deck. The entrance to the station is via the Oculus, a dove-shaped, dome-like structure. Its insides are particularly beautiful, with the white dome towering over tourists trying their best to get that perfect Instagram shot while dodging busy commuters. We ended the day with superb fried chicken at Root & Bone.
Day 2: I had read about the launch of The Vessel, a public space boasting superb architecture, and it was #1 on my NYC to-do list. It was one of the most aesthetically-pleasing installations I’ve ever seen, and the place to go if you are running out of ideas for your next picture. The best part of the experience, apart from it being completely free, is the reservation system for entry. To avoid over-crowding, one needs to reserve a slot using one of the many kiosks nearby, and arrive at the designated time to enter the installation.
There is no time limit once you are inside, though. We had 1 hour to kill before our time slot arrived, so we explored the High Line. An elevated linear park right beside The Vessel, it was built on an abandoned railroad line and was now lined with green spaces to sit and relax, and a few pop-up stalls selling food and drinks. We finished the evening by making a quick stop at Grand Central Station, marvelling at its elevated main concourse and the magnificent (and famous) clock at its centre.
The High Line
Grand Central Terminal
Day 3: Now that I have Instagram (yes, I succumbed, but more on that later), I had to go check out the DUMBO neighbourhood in Brooklyn, and get my own version of that famous shot of the Manhattan Bridge (from Washington Street).
Because everyone has this picture…
…and this one, too!
Walking back to Manhattan via Brooklyn Bridge
From DUMBO, I walked back to Manhattan via the Brooklyn Bridge. Be mindful of the cyclists and lane separation while stopping for pictures with the pretty arches of the bridge. At the other end of the bridge (Manhattan side), you will find some of the most popular and least expensive NYC souvenirs.
Governors Island Ferry
Next, I decided to explore one of the nearby islands. The most popular choice is Staten Island, and its ferry ride is free. However, on the recommendation of another friend, I went for Governors Island (return ticket for the ferry is just $3). Spend half a day at Governors Island and explore old houses built for families from the military, the old fortifications, cafes, green spaces, and excellent views of Manhattan’s skyline. The ferry ride back also provides multiple opportunities for that classic skyline shot.
The second half of the afternoon was spent at the ever-popular Central Park. Its vast expanse offered options for everything: from water-side strolls, to open-air music and dancing, to boat and canoe rides and souvenir shopping. The park starts from 59th street and goes on to more than 40 streets, so keep ample time in hand if you’d like to explore its entirety. Right next to Central Park is the Museum Mile, known for its multiple, renowned museums.
What a lucky co-incidence that I was in the U.S. to witness the 4th of July fireworks AND the annual ‘Manhattanhenge’ phenomenon. For those who aren’t aware of this, every year in July, the setting sun aligns perfectly between skyscrapers on the opposite sides of the road – for 2 days every year. It is a pretty miraculous sight, seeing the sun almost come down to street level, perfectly positioned between two buildings. However, to get a good look, you’ll have to reach the viewing spot on a bridge (33rd street) and (probably) start queuing from 5 PM, which I could not (sunset is around 8 PM). The place gets packed to the brim; even the street below had been cleared out for the phenomenon, with honking cars and people with cameras jostling for space.
I tried my best!
I ended the night at Times Square. What trip is complete without a visit to this iconic plaza adorned with giant screens and bustling with people making merry. For a good view, go up the TKTS stairs, if you can avoid the crowds. For a better view, although not necessarily a better picture, try to enter any of the hotels nearby and head up to their café/restaurant located on the top floor. We headed up the New York Marriott Marquis, where the restaurant offers a bird’s eye view of the chaos below!
Times Square from street level
Times Square from the New York Marriott Marquis
Day 4: On Saturday morning, my friend and I, along with some of his friends, headed to Brooklyn to attend Smorgasburg, essentially a food festival that took place in an open park in Brooklyn with some of the best views of the Manhattan skyline. The atmosphere is festival-like, with a variety of different food from all over the globe, and a few innovative takes on American cuisine.
After spending a few hours there, I realised I still hadn’t crossed off one thing on my list – The Rockefeller Center, and its observation deck – Top of the Rock. Offering 360-degree, unparalleled views of the city, this is a must-visit. The Center also houses prominent TV shows like Jimmy Fallon’s. I tried asking a few assistants how to get a ticket to his show, but could not get a definitive answer. Top of the Rock is also the place to get the closest aerial view of Central Park, unless you are staying at one of the posh suites of the upper-class hotels on the South End of the Park.
View of Lower Manhattan from Top of the Rock
View of Central Park from Top of the Rock
We spent my final evening riding the aerial tram to Roosevelt Island (regular ticket – works with the MTA card). Although, arguably, there is nothing special to do on the island, the aerial tram ride is definitely worth it, if only for the sweeping views of the city from above.
Taken from the Roosevelt Island aerial tram
Like all good trips, this one ended too quickly, even though, at the end, I realised that I had been travelling for 2 weeks. The U.S. was, is and always will be one of the top destinations to visit for me. Even after my third time, I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface. Here’s hoping to more trips like this in the future.
Where did summer take you this year?
P.S. This year, I joined Instagram on the persistence of my close friend and host in NYC. If you’d like to get in touch, you can find me @adi.in.fr