- Central Park Bike Ride
Manhattan can be tricky to navigate, just when you think you’ve conquered the Avenue/ Street conundrum the numbers turn into names. From 1st Avenue, you make it to 2nd and over to 3rd and would only ever expect to next bump into 4th. But you don’t, you get Lexington Avenue and then the numbers get all messed up and you should just go home.
What I’m saying is grab a bike and take refuge inside Central Park. Everything in here is far more chill, there are no letters missing from the alphabet, no numbers omitted from reference and everything’s just simpler. Except for the minor fact that there is a one-way system and the odd park policeman riding round to keep you inline (just follow everyone else and you’ll be fine).
Bike hire is available from all around the park and as such you’ll have accumulated hundreds of flyers from each company. To be honest, I can’t tell you where’s cheapest and I’m so sorry for that, but nobody helped me so I’m slightly bitter. In general, most places offer an hour for $15 or 2 hours for $20 and you shouldn’t be paying anymore than this.
There are loads of different routes round the park itself but a full loop is roughly just over 10k and can be done well under 30 minutes. I’d suggest hiring the bikes out for at least 2 hours though to give you plenty of time to explore the lake and surrounding gardens. The sheer size of the place is surreal and you completely forget you’re in the middle of a concrete jungle. It’s a great, and necessary, break from the madness.
If you’re like my friend, Jess, and have a life long ambition of rollerblading around Central Park (kudos to you) then there’s a store called ‘Blades West’ over on 156 West 72nd Street that hires them out cheap. And, if you’re really like my friend Jess, you’ll break your wrist about 5 minutes into the skate (I won’t be there this time to offer hot dogs and icepacks to ease the pain, sorry).
After your Zen ride around the park its time to re-enter the mayhem of the streets. The best way to get around the city is by subway, though still terribly confusing you do eventually get the hang of it. The rail company sells a 7-day unlimited pass to use around the city for $30. Even if you’re there for less than 7 days it’s more than worth buying. Having it alone makes you able to make unlimited mistakes for free (I can’t tell you how many times I took the F train in the wrong direction). It lets you be a subway rat, hopping on and off care-free and pretty quickly you almost, almost, start to understand the system.
*Side note if you’ve bought the 7-day pass and leave the city after 4 days, be a star and pass your ticket on to some new arriver in the city.
2. Magnolia Bakery, West Village
Yes, we’ve largely come here because everybody knows this is where Carrie and Miranda sat and ate cupcakes whilst discussing their love lives in that one episode of Sex and the City, and yes we are shameful.
The original store, where they filmed the scene, is over at 401 Bleecker Street and W.11th Street and, though New York has since felt the demand and expanded its stores, I’d recommend this one wholeheartedly.
Putting Sex and the City aside this is the quaintest, daintiest little bakery this side of Manhattan. Any reason to visit the West Village is a good enough reason for me. Quite like Central Park the West Village has a calming sense to it, where you can actually almost imagine people successfully living here, and raising kids, and not getting hit in the thigh daily by a cab. It’s noticeably an affluent area full of beautiful brownstone buildings and, coincidently, it’s the home of many low-key A-listers hiding from the madness (though personally, I think Alaska would be a stronger hiding place).
With your cake slice under arms, I’d head back outside and cross the road into Bleecker Park, sit back in the sunshine, enjoy your treat, and keep an eye out for Sarah Jessica Parker (because I genuinely think she lives here, maybe).
* If you’ve ever seen anybody, ever, at all, ever riding a bike down the street in a romantic NY movie, they were most definitely riding their bike down a street in the West Village
** Whilst you’re here run over to the corner of Bedford & Grove St to see the building used in Friends for the exterior shots of the apartment
3. New York Loft Hostel
New York Loft Hostel is set out in Brooklyn, far better than any of the YMCA’s over in Manhattan you’ve been contemplating, and slightly cheaper than The Plaza Hotel over on 5th. The closest subway station to the Hostel is Morgan Avenue. From Manhattan take the L train (grey line) and jump off here, roughly only a 15-minute journey east. From Morgan Avenue head out of the station and turn right, the hostel is only a few blocks up on the right-hand side. Bingo, check in.
From the outside, the building itself looks more like a rundown office block, but don’t be put off, inside it’s clean, cool and right up your street (don’t test me). Most of the rooms come with a locker at the end of the bed, a pallet coat rack (its the little things) and a quirky brick wall (how flipping New York is that), psyche! The bathrooms are out in the hall and are shared between the floor, though there are loads so this isn’t a problem. Each bathroom has a bath. A bath. When was the last time you had a bath? Ages right, but you’re not going to take one now because that’s disgusting it’s a communal bath, but it’s nice to know that you could take a bath if you wanted to. I appreciate that gesture.
The place is huge, there’s loads of room, a zillion floors and some really neat outdoor areas (considering its just an ugly city building). There’s a sun deck upstairs with a ping pong table and a huge back garden eating area donned with canopies that extends out of the kitchen. The hostel hosts free BBQ nights out here and this is where the magic happens, it’s also where most people will just be chilling. Just when you thought this hostel couldn’t give you anymore you accidentally took a wrong turn to find yourself in a basement, a basement bar, with live music and happy hour. Brilliant. Also, breakfast is free. Enough said.
The local area is your cool kind of artsy, hippie area, don’t be put off by the graffiti – it’s positively cool and the people are grade A. If you’re not going into the city one night, then you don’t really need to leave the block for food and entertainment. Opposite the Hostel is TuTus a neat little burger joint that’s always busy on the weekend with people flowing outside with drinks. DJ nights are hosted here Friday and Saturdays too and the place fills out. Round the corner is Robertas Pizza which definitely just looks like a hole in the wall, where homeless people would nap, but inside it’s this really cool hippie joint with art hanging from the ceilings and another cool outside drinking area. They also serve booze to the people on the street through a wooden hatch, I’m not really sure what was going on here, but I’ll assume it was legit.
Also round the other corner is a neat little organic grocery store to pick up odd bits. It sells an array of olive oils, cured meats and vinaigrettes, it’s really quite wonderfully middle class. But it’s super nice. Sarah Jessica Parker would probably shop here if she ever made it out of the West Village.
* Prices per night are around £30 unless you book in advance, and obviously the more you share with the cheaper the price
4. Broadway Show
You guessed it, Broadway baby. I always forget how much I love the theatre. Even right after I’ve left having thoroughly enjoyed myself I forget how much I enjoyed it. Literally straight away, thus leaving years between my theatre experiences. I know, I know, you’re thinking “how are you going to review your experience if you’ve forgotten your experience, you nonce?” and quite frankly I don’t know. But I can tell you that I’ve had the Matilda playlist on loop for the past four days to try and resuscitate some feelings. Now, on with the show *throws back curtains*.
Broadway can be pricey but there’s a great hack to it. I learnt this sneaky tip from a guy I met in Miami and I’m eternally grateful for it (see, if travelling teaches you nothing you at least may learn how to beat the system). This beautiful hack is known as the ‘lottery system’. First off, all you have to do is pick a show; which is actually really hard. Once you’ve done that you want to turn up to said show 2 hours and 30 minutes earlier than the start time (here me out). Next, you just stand outside the theatre doors and wait. Wait for two people to come out with paper and pens and a bag, these people will take your details and enter you into a lottery draw (at this point you should be counting how many people are entering and sussing your chances). They usually give away 20 discounted tickets. This is all you have to do, enter your name and then go run off around Manhattan for two hours and come back at the set time to find your fate.
Everyone crowds around the man pulling names out of a hat, sweat dripping from our faces, nerves through the metaphorical roof. He shouts a name and that person cheers, they cheer so loud, they whoop, they holler, they punch the air, they’re American and they’re celebrating. Later that person probably doesn’t get to actually watch the show because his girlfriend didn’t win a ticket and she made the ultimatum that if he went in without her she’d leave him for good. Anyway, if you’re lucky enough to have you AND your friend’s names called out (quick tip – go alone) then you get to go collect your tickets whilst the Americans applaud your brilliance, for winning a lottery, a complete game of chance, that you have zero control over, but yes thank you America, I am fabulous.
Next, you get ushered inside to pick up your ticket (make sure you have your ID on you). The ticket is $27. You just won a ridiculous amount of discount, this ticket is worth $200 and you just got it for $27 by putting your name in a hat. I won front row tickets, FRONT ROW, I don’t care about craning my neck, look where I am, front bloody row on Broadway!
I chose to go see Matilda at the Shubert Theatre, and it was mind-blowing. There were 8-year-olds up on stage with far more talent than I could ever even consider mustering up in my rusty 21 years. My love of theatre was back and nothing could stop the front row seal-grin spreading across my face as I eagerly clutched my Playbill pamphlet.
I learnt two things from this front row experience. Firstly, that stage actors literally spit all over each other whilst projecting their voices, just 2 hours’ worth of spittle all piled up on their faces. And, secondly, that the little girl playing Matilda wasn’t actually giving me cheeky side glances throughout the musical numbers (as I first thought) but was in fact directing them at her mother, who was sat behind me. I truly believed I’d just made besties with a 12-year-old Broadway actress but not to worry, I’m sure her mums a real hoot.
If you’re really quirky and generally just a straight up good citizen, you might ditch Broadway and head to see an ‘off Broadway’ show. This is where you’ll get your up and coming hits (like Hamilton that started and sold out here), or even some big players taking a back seat simply because they can like A Street Car Named Desire starring Gillian Anderson. The play did it’s run at The Old Vic in London and its huge success led to scheduling re-runs across the pond at St Ann’s Warehouse. If you’re out in New York in April 2016 I strongly recommend you get tickets for this.
*I am totally guilty of plugging Gillian Anderson
5. NBC Studio Tour
God, I’m still so mad about this one. So mad. It’s taken a lot of courage for me to get up here today and try write about this.
I went to NYC in the summer of 2014. The one and only summer in the history of summers that NBC decided to renovate and shut down the tour (I can’t confirm that this was the only summer this happened but it damn near feels like it probably was). The NBC gift store was still open, however (of course it bloody was, capitalism or something) so I spent some time staring at Michael Scott ‘Worlds Best Boss’ Mugs and crying quietly.
I just went on the website which seems to suggest they’ve only just re-opened it this October 2015, which makes me feel way better that everybody else since 2014 also missed out, this is good for my jealousy.
The tour basically allows you to run around the halls of 30 Rockefeller Plaza where some of the best TV in the history of TV has ever been made. The new improvements to the tour now means you get to make your own TV show episode whilst you’re there and take the episode home. Like HELLO. I kind of guess, if we all want to be optimistic, it was a blessing it was shut when I arrived. Patience is a virtue so I’ll just say thank you to Robert Greenblatt for making the executive decision to ruin my summer in order to give me a brighter one in the future. I guess, maybe, I don’t know, it’s still a sore point with me. Anyway, I plan to go next summer because it looks great and I’d quite like to bump into Tina Fey and talk script ideas.
Also whilst you’re in the city and in the NBC mood you ought to try blag yourself tickets here to watch the taping of some of the big American talk shows like The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. If you’re lucky you might land on a night where they’ve got a big A-lister in for interviewing.
*If you land on a Tina Fey interview could you ask her to give me a call
6. Empire State Building
Ah, the most photographed building in the world. But you don’t climb the empire state building to take a picture of the empire state building, like what were you thinking? How are you going to make that work? If it’s a shot of the building you want, then you need to head up to the Top of The Rock for the best view. If you’re just after a killer view of Manhattan, stay here.
From the top of the Visitors Observation Deck up on the 86th floor you get the most amazing 360 view of the city. Tickets cost $32 and you’ll be queuing for ages before being sardined into a triangular lift and skyrocketed to the top, only to be told this isn’t the top, this is the 56th floor and the lifts broke (I knew triangular shaped seemed questionable) so you’ll have to walk the rest.
Once at the top there is literally no room. None. I’m not sure if it’s because I came up here for sunset or if this is just an all-the-time-every-time kind of busy, I presume the latter. You can pay an extra $20 to go to the top deck up on the 102nd floor where I can only presume it would be less crowded. But if you’ve learnt anything from this experience it’s that the lift shouldn’t be trusted and that you should listen to your legs when they say they’re totally done with the stairs. So choose to stick it out with the rest of the rabble on the 86th floor (unless you’re planning to propose to your girlfriend or something then, I don’t know, probably risk the lift).
All you have to do is stand your ground, hold your own and don’t be afraid to elbow a lot of people out of the way violently. If you want that perfect shot, or to get anywhere near the railings, you’ve got to take a good 10 people down. I believe in you; you can do it.
It is, after all is said and done, a traumatic experience, but believe me when I say it’s worth it (despite the above description completely contradicting this point). You simply have to be up there and see if for yourself to believe me really. The view is just purely crazy, it makes Manhattan look like its own little world and it totally puts into perspective how much running around the city you’ve been doing.
7. Bubba Gumps Shrimp Company
Bubba Gumps Shrimp Company is a chain restaurant based on, you guessed it, the movie Forrest Gump. Initially the idea of a movie themed restaurant is tacky, like really tacky, but this place actually does amazing seafood and I don’t even care for seafood but I did have the best Salmon of my life here and I’m well aware Salmon isn’t shrimp.
The restaurant is slap bang in the middle of Times Square and doesn’t stop serving food till around 1am. It’s extremely strange to see families with children queuing to get in past midnight. I understand that maybe you got distracted in the m&m factory over the road by accident, and maybe you lost track of time, but can you seriously justify bringing your 6-year-old child to dinner at 12.05am? YOU’RE NOT EVEN A TOURIST YOU CLEARLY LIVE HERE. Anyway I digress.
This place is always rammed full and expect to queue for upwards of 45 minutes to get a table, if you’re savvy then pre-book but you’re not so, onwards. Basically you step into the restaurant off Times Square and the bottom floor is just a reception desk and a gift shop (again with the capitalism). The room is tiny and when you get to the desk you’re put on the waiting list for a table. Instead of taking your parties name they ask you your favourite film title. Now if you hadn’t read this article you would resemble me at the time, totally unprepared, all sense of wit abandoned and only able to call to name Forrest Gump (we didn’t actually say Forrest Gump, can you imagine the eye roll to follow?). In the end I have no idea what film we said, it’s all a haze. When your table’s ready they shout out the film title you picked over the tannoy. Now you’ve read this you’ve had ample time to google rude film names for them to holler out across the waiting room. I’m absolutely kidding this is a family restaurant, and you’re disgusting.
The place is full of cosy cool booths and low lighting and overly chipper hostesses ready and willing to take your order. First up is drinks and all I’m saying is Coronarita. Just get lots and lots of Coronaritas. They serve them in cool self pouring little glasses that you’ll steal at the end of the night AND whilst serving them the hostess does a Forrest Gump trivia quiz for your table to pass the time. It’s great and cheesy all rolled into one. Much like the flip license plates on the table used to get your hostesses attention, one side reads ‘Run Forrest Run’ and the other ‘Stop Forrest Stop’, simply flip it to order another Coronarita. See, great and cheesy all rolled into one.
* In no way have I condoned you stealing a bag full of Coronorita glasses
8. Statue Cruise
The Statue Cruise is a company that provides boat tours over to Liberty Island and Ellis Island. This is your best photo op for the Statue of Liberty and any panoramic of the city. The trip costs between $18 and $48 depending on the level of access you want and you can stay on either islands as long as you like. The first ferry leaves from Battery Park at around 8.30am and the last ferry back is around 6pm depending on the day, though I’d say you’d only need half a day or less depending on how keen you are on history.
Battery Park is obviously the southern most point of Manhattan and easy access by subway. Take the 4/5 train down to Bowling Green or the R train down to Whitehall street, from either it’s then only a 10-minute walk to the ferry port. Security here is rife and it resembles that at the airport, which seems mad but then you remember that Lady Liberty is Americas pride and joy. Once you’re through security it doesn’t take long to get on board and set off. The boats work in a circuit with around 3 ferries doing laps of the islands. You’re free to get on and off any of them.
As the ferry pulls out of Battery Park a great view develops behind you of Manhattan slowly growing smaller with the Central Business District breaking up the skyline. Enough of that though, coming up on your right is Lady Liberty. Everybody panics and runs to that side of the ferry for a photo and they’re kind of right to do so, this is the best shot. However, you have loads of time and the ferry gives you plenty of angles to get the shot you want.
Once docked you enter Liberty Island and it feels kind of strange, like you’ve just entered the Tyrannosaurs Rex pen after stepping off John Hammonds helicopter. Or maybe that’s just me, but it’s kind of surreal being trapped on the island. It doesn’t take long to do a full lap of it and there’s a restaurant and ice-cream truck to stop off at on the way. Depending on your pass type you can enter and climb lady liberty all the way up to the crown. Which seems great but Manhattan is too far away to see so the view isn’t all that. I’d stick to the basic pass and run around the island for a while.
Whenever you’ve had enough of the island you can jump back on the next ferry (roughly every 20 minutes) and the next stop is Ellis island. It’s completely up to you as to whether you visit or skip it. Ellis Island was the stopping point for all immigrants coming into America as it hosted the largest immigration station. The Immigration Museum is set on the island and the place is packed with history, the architecture alone is reason to stop off even if you’re not a huge history buff. Again ferries leave here every 20 minutes and take you back to Battery Park at the end of the trip, pat yourself on the back for your cultural morning out and head back into the mayhem that is the city.
9. Shake Shack, Madison Square Park
Madison Square Park is situated in uptown Manhattan and I’d consider it one of the best green areas in New York (so does Meryl Streep) (I made that up). It’s pretty, it’s clean, it has fairy lights hanging from the trees and most importantly it hosts the best burger joint in town. Welcome to Shake Shack. (Tompkins Square Park is pretty rad too I guess but it doesn’t have a burger joint so, sorry Mumford & Sons we won’t be meeting you there).
Head to the south east corner of the park to find the Shack. The queue here is crazy all the time, always, and it winds right round the park, to the point where you’re adamant it can’t be the actual queue for a burger joint and proceed to go down the line asking everybody their intentions. The shack provides billions (40 tops) of chairs and tables in the park, and whilst in the queue you’ll notice all of them are taken. Right about now you’ll be wanting to turn and run for McDonalds. Don’t. The queue moves fast and I promise that when it becomes your turn to search the abyss for a pew someone will, like clock work, just be leaving.
Many years later (I might have lied about a fast moving queue), when you make it to the front, order the ‘shackburger and cheese fries’. Keep it simple. Upon ordering you’re given one of those electronic food pager things, an exciting toy that bleeps when your food’s ready. I don’t understand how 99.8% of the American food industries relies on these pagers when literally nowhere else in the world uses them and survives. Still, stare at it intently, wait for the bleep and then run to that pick up counter girl, RUN.
The burger comes covered in this crazy ‘shacksauce’ which is some kind of secret blend of cheese and mayo (absolute educated guess), the fries are crinkle cut and the bun is softer than your new found love for Matilda show tunes. Take this little box of coronary prone goodness and park it in that one newly empty seat with your name on it (I literally told you). Tuck into your 100% Angus beef burger and be proud you restrained the desire to leg it to McDonalds for a cow toe and a terrible view of a hobo lined sidewalk.
*The place even serves shackburger dog biscuits in case you’ve acquired a stray from that accidental trip you took up to the Bronx’s that day (told you the 30-day sub pass was ideal)
10. Brooklyn Bridge
This was a lot longer walk than I had anticipated, this I had not anticipated. The bridge does seem to go on forever, and ever and then some, but if you land on beautiful weather it’s a must do. The bridge is packed with people unless you get up at the crack of dawn and then I’m still adamant it’d be full. It gets so busy that they’ve drawn out a cycle lane to try control the traffic, but this lane regularly goes un-noticed by tourist creating multiple opportunities for near death experiences, it gets really quite exciting.
Along with the mad cyclists and the tourists you get an array of other people also on the bridge. Take the serious exerciser, who voluntarily chose to come run on the bridge rather than round any of the other beautiful areas of New York, say like, the parks *eye roll*. You get the odd cute tourist couples (see picture) out for a romantic stroll and then you get the worst kind of tourist, a gaggle of tourists who find it fit to just stop and consult a map. Once you’ve avoided all these the bridge is quite pretty. It’s near impossible to get a nice picture with you and the bridge because there’s no time to stop, its too busy, best to just walk and snap.
Once you reach the middle of the bridge there’s a little more room and space to breath. Take this as your opportunity to look out over the east river and over into Brooklyn. On the bridge wires here people have started putting love locks so take your own if you fancy it, or just take pictures of other peoples love if you yourself are forever alone. Either or.
Personally I’d only say to go half way, otherwise you just end up in Brooklyn and then what are you going to do? Nothing. I mean there is a Panera Bread restaurant just over the other side into Brooklyn but there’s also one on 5th avenue so turn round and get back to Manhattan. When you get back off the bridge I’d head straight down till you hit greenery. This is City Hall Park, where none other than the City Hall building resides. In general, this is just a really beautiful building and I wanted you to see it. Behind the City Hall is the Tweet Courthouse building which is also a grand building worthy of your time. Though only small, the park holds a beautiful fountain too with benches around to rest your weary legs (that bridge is really way longer than you’d expected).
11. Sprinkles Cupcakes
Hello Sprinkles, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again. Sprinkles is the LA based cupcake phenomenon that took the world (America) by storm in 2005, alas we didn’t catch wind of its existence over here (England) for another good 8 years, and sadly there are still some people who don’t know it exists (Australia). There was some talk a couple of years back about opening a store up in London but y’know, its nearly 2016 and I’m still waiting so just forget it.
There’s two stores in NYC but I’d head to the Upper East Side and hit the one on Lexington Avenue, purely because it has a cupcake ATM outside. Each cupcake flavour has specific days that it runs, so if you were a regular you’d definitely know that Banana and Dark Chocolate (I know I’m usually against banana all the way too but trust me here) is only served Friday and Saturday. Some of the boring simple flavours like (you guessed it) VANILLA, run all week but where’s the fun in that. I’d just re-arrange your flight schedule and make sure you get in here early Friday morning.
Sprinkles was founded by a goddess named Candace Nelson, a simpleton from Indiana, who can ice a small cake better than Mary Berry could ever dream. If this purely perfect icing technique isn’t reason alone to come here then the cool simple baby decor will be a treat for your eyes anyway (so.many.circles).
* Fun game – for every soccer mom you witness entering the premise to pick up her pre-ordered batch of 24 cupcakes (her daughter specifically needed them) you have to down your cupcake.