There is nothing quite like booking a spontaneous transatlantic adventure to a city at the top of your bucket list. All the better when you get to go with your cute Momma for the ride.
We booked our spontaneous trip to the concrete jungle where dreams are made at the start of 2020; January was one hell of a month and the prospect of finally getting to go to New York City together was just too good to pass up.
So we found a very good deal with British Airways, applied for our visas, packed all the layers (NY in February can be particularly temperamental) and before we knew it, we are flying out of Heathrow drinking complimentary chardonnay and sobbing while watching JoJo Rabbit during the in-flight entertainment.
As someone who had never been to New York before, I thought I’d share a few titbits on the tomfoolery we got up to, as well as some hints and tips for your first time in the city that never sleeps. I must admit, it was a little daunting initially making our plans. It was a mammoth task to narrow down everything we wanted to do and see into five days as well as trying to get to grips with how we would get around, how many pairs of socks we should take and realistically how many cheesecakes and bagels we would get through (spoilers; we dun good).
1. Plan, plan and plan again.
I really cannot emphasise this one enough. I took a good few days before we went swotting up on the city, figuring out how close attractions were to one another and drew up an itinerary which I am pleased to say we nearly completed in its entirety. It is definitely worth investing in a good guide book and buying tickets in advance. We ended up buying a City Sightseeing Pass which served as admission for museums like the Met and the Guggenheim, as well as providing the optional Hop-On, Hop-Off bus tours of Uptown, Downtown, Brooklyn and the city at night which was fantastic to see all the lights come on, if not rather chilly. It was hella touristy but we didn’t care and those passes served us really well. Definitely worth it just for the money you save on ticket prices alone.
We bought our tickets for the Empire State Building in advance (you must go up to the 102nd floor, your knees will wobble but for that view, it is worth it) and the Statue of Liberty. We forked out a bit more to go up to her Crown (oo-er) which included a hair-raising scramble up a very spindly spiral staircase but it was so worth it. Looking out of the window and seeing her flame right beside you was pretty special. Lady Liberty looks majestic AF but she must have one heck of an achy arm.
2. See a show on Broadway
The actor in me could not leave NYC without seeing something on the bright lights of Broadway. We knew we wanted to see a show and we didn’t mind which but finally settled on Come From Away which was just breath-taking, even more phenomenal for seeing it in New York.
The show is based on the island of Newfoundland where hundreds of planes were diverted following 9/11. The small island communities embrace those off the planes with open arms and the 1hr40 show reminds us all about the power of human spirit and that we have far more in common than that which divides us. We laughed, we cried, we felt alive.
It was incredible and has just opened in the West End. If you get a chance, please go and see it. I will forever be chanting ‘I am an Islander’ until my dying day.
Again it is worth doing your research on ticket prices and TKYS in Time Square have some good deals on same day tickets for loads of different shows.
We also ended up eating in Ellen’s Stardust Diner (be still my stagey heart) where your food is served to you by singing table staff, all of whom are aspiring performers. It was loud, it was colourful and so incredibly New York, with huge burgers and shakes to match. Not the cheapest but we had a ball in there.
3. Get Outta Manhattan
The skyscrapers are massive, Times Square is so bright and everywhere is jam-packed. Manhattan was awe-inspiring but can be a little overwhelming so I’d recommend definitely seeing other areas of the city if you get the chance.
We both loved Brooklyn, such a different vibe with its low rise buildings, ground breaking music venues, historic cafes and the walk back over Brooklyn Bridge gives fantastic views of the skyline. We hopped on the bus for a tour with our guide and local Brooklyn-er, Marty, who knew so much about the area and pronounced dog as ‘d-awg’ so I was completely made up.
We dined in the famous Junior’s café and had some incredible pastrami Reubens and re-fill coffees. Not sure I have ever felt so much like a Yank.
We then walked the bridge which was a feat of human engineering, even in gale force winds. Whether you get to Brooklyn on the bus or subway, (we bought a weekly Metrocard which worked really well and we only got shouted at by New Yorkers for swiping the ticket the wrong way once, which I was pretty pleased with) make sure you get over to one of the city’s most famous boroughs.
We also adored our last morning exploring Greenwich Village. You really feel like you’re in another world, wondering through the zig-zagging, tree-lined streets, walking in the footsteps of so many famous poets, writers and musicians of years gone by. As a huge Bob Dylan fan, Mum was particularly excited to see Café Wha? and to stand on Jones Street to have her very own Freewheelin’ moment. Safe to say, she rocked it.
We could have spent a lot longer there if time had been permitting and it is so worth a visit just to wander and take in all the Village has to offer.
4. Bagel Me Up, Scotty.
Surprisingly, we didn’t actually find ourselves eating huge meals every day. It’s weird how your body powers through with the adrenaline and excitement of being in such a special place.
Our hotel came with an buffet breakfast which served us really well every day. We started each morning with a three course meal which meant most days, we would find we weren’t hungry until teatime. Of course, we partook in the odd bagel (a personal fave was the mini bagels of Bantam Bagels in Greenwich) and had a huge slice of pizza pie from a place just down the block from our hotel.
That along with the odd visit to Dunkin’ Donuts and a slice of Junior’s famous New York Cheesecake made our culinary experience of NYC complete. And don’t even get me started on the coffee. As someone who thought I didn’t like the stuff, I think I am now officially a coffee convert. Does this make me an adult yet?
5. Breathe It In.
In all the hustle and bustle of the city, the early mornings and thousands of steps walked each day, it is very easy to not take it all in as you rush from one spot to the next. I’m really pleased that every now and then, we managed to just pause (usually with a latte in hand) to realise where we were.
Every morning on our walk to the subway, we would pass the New York Times building on our left, the spire of the Empire State would be on our right and it would sometimes hit you when you weren’t expecting it; a moment of wow, I am actually here. The five days passed in a surreal, jam packed blur.
I am so pleased Mum and I got to experience this special trip together. Whether that moment of reflection is at the Top of the Rock observatory, sat on a bench in Central Park, looking up the rotunda of the Guggenheim museum, sitting in the peaceful quiet of Ground Zero, or seeing the echoing halls of Ellis Island where history reverberates off the walls, just take a second for yourself in the city that never sleeps and feel the buzz of the place all around you.
Whether we found ourselves queueing for tickets for Jimmy Fallon, standing in the art deco lobby of the beautiful Chrysler building (always a special one for me after once playing Miss Hannigan in Annie many moons ago) or drinking coffees in Grand Central Station, I’m pleased to say I feel we did New York justice.
Our five days there flew by and despite being in the place a little longer than planned as we spent a night in JFK (darn you, Storm Ciara) we really had such a fabulous time.
Personal highlights for me were walking the Highline down through the Meatpacking district in the sunshine, going up the Empire State Building fearing all we would see would be cloud and instead the sun came out over the Hudson just for us and of course, spending some quality time with Momma P who is just the coolest.
I am pleased to confirm NYC really is so good, it deserves to be named twice.
New York, it was a pleasure.