New York is probably the most famous city in the world. It’s not easy to write about it, as everything has been already written. On the other hand the city is constantly changing and keeps surprising everyone. I spent six days in Manhattan and Brooklyn. I found the city magical, unique, and a must-visit. One of my favourite trips ever!
Of course NYC has good and bad sides, its pros & cons. Every city has. Some people may hate it. The truth is that much depends on your planning, mood, preferences and your expectations, budget, weather or even good or bad luck. Surely, you’ll be reached by the experience one way or another.
I’ve already written two articles about New York City. This is my final one, about the biggest surprises and disappointments, advantages and disadvantages. I recommend the top places and mention those not worthy. In the end there are some useful and practical tips.
My Biggest Surprises in New York City
New Yorkers can be really nice! Every time I needed to ask about something, they were always kind and helpful. I’ve seen police officers posing for pictures and they didn’t mind giving me directions when I asked for them several times. Random people were greeting me when I was sitting in parks having snacks or coffee. Also, I loved when almost everyone told me “Have a nice day” in the end of the conversation, although it’s probably an American thing!
The food in New York is truly delicious. I’m talking about an enormous choice of world cuisine which can be bought in restaurants, bistros or cafés on every corner. More importantly, it seems that most neighbourhoods have food halls or farmer markets with plenty of yummy street food, cakes, pastries, drinks, you name it. I must admit that the best places are expensive and crowded during lunchtime, but always tasty!
The New York City Subway is not that bad. Yes, it’s kind of dodgy in many stations. Yes, it often smells like urine. And it’s not that difficult to see some rats. But it wasn’t as crowded and busy as I expected. I never felt unsafe or had any kind of trouble. And the key point for me is that it’s very easy to navigate! All you have to know is whether you go North or South and you shouldn’t get lost. Obviously using the designated app is recommended. I was very happy with Citymapper, but even Google Maps worked well.
It’s extremely easy to move around New York. First of all, except for Times Square, it’s not as busy as you may expect. Secondly, as everyone knows Manhattan it’s divided with numbered streets and avenues. This seems like a good idea, but only when you’re there you realise how practical it is! If you know the address, no navigation is really needed. If Google Maps is messing with you again, you can put the phone to your pocket and just check whether streets numbers are descending or ascending. Genius idea!
NY is a green city. Besides the fact that New York has plenty of public parks, there are flowers and trees everywhere. I visited the city in May during the blooming season and it was so colourful! Cherry blossoms and bunch of tulips everywhere made me think what is blooming there in different months… Also, there are plenty of animals, from smaller and bigger birds to hundreds of squirrels that are not afraid of humans at all!
Cycling in New York is a nice thing. There are plenty of cycling lines in the city and greenways around Manhattan and along some parts of Brooklyn (with further plans of extension). City bikes cost $15 for a 24 hours (if you don’t exceed 30 minute ride) and can be found everywhere in Manhattan. The City Bike app is really reliable. If you’re not a beginner, cycling in New York is definitely recommended.
The Most Unpleasant Experiences I Had In New York
This city is very expensive food-wise. You’d pay around $25 for a breakfast in the diner, minimum $20 for any kind of pasta, $15 for a burger and $8-9 for a beer if you’re not buying during “happy hour”. Most shocking for me was a mineral water (on average $2.5 for a 1L bottle). Therefore if you’re on a budget vacation and you don’t want to eat in fast food chains, it’s good to do some research at home to find the cheapest spots. If you’re thinking about getting food in delis or shops like 7Eleven, it will still cost you about 6-8 for the bagel with plain cheese or a simple sandwich. Food tracks are another option, but I found them quite disappointing compared to Europe. Moretti food trucks dominate New York but their food didn’t look appealing to me (except for pretzels). Often you won’t find prices on food tracks or kiosks. Better ask for them before ordering, or you’d end up paying $9 for a small hot dog or $8 for an ice cream!
New Yorkers are not flexible at all in regards to their rules. You just won’t convince them to make an exception. And the rules may be bizarre or inconsistent. For example, in regards to cameras and tripods, in some places such observation decks and museums they’re not allowed, while in others they don’t mind them or it depends on the size. Another example – they’ll not let you go to the place which is about to close, even if the door is still open and you insist that all you want to do is stand in the doorway and take a look or a picture. They may actually close some popular places sooner than they should “just because”. Not to mention that plenty of parks have meadows and picnic areas closed in random times for the strangest reasons. In some parks or cemeteries cycling is not allowed, while you can go through by car. To be fair I must mention the world class customer service – when I was calling or emailing before my trip, all my enquiries were quickly and fully replied in the best possible manner.
It’s sometimes necessary to book your visit for a certain hour. For example, I had to book a specific time to enter the Empire State Building and American Museum of Natural History. This may not be a typical New York thing, as in the post pandemic world tickets are limited that way in many cities. Nevertheless, it’s very frustrating because it’s such a big city full of attractions and while you visit few of them every day it’s hard to tell where you’d be at a particular moment.
My Personal New York City Highlights
1. Brooklyn Bridge – I’ve heard before that walking the Brooklyn Bridge is one of the NYC highlights. To be honest I didn’t really believe it because how exciting a bridge can be, right? But this structure is truly amazing and overwhelming. The size, the shape, the whole architecture behind it. Also, the stunning view on Manhattan is the cherry on the top. This is what I call a photographer’s paradise!
2. SoHo – it may not be the prettiest or cleanest neighbourhood in Lower or Midtown Manhattan, but it’s arguably the coolest. The most authentic, vibrant, full of life. There are countless interesting cafes, shops, bars and restaurants, as well as colourful corners and interesting people. Wandering in SoHo gave me loads of joy and fun.
3. “Top of the Rock” – the skyline view from the observation deck in the Rockefeller Center was my favourite in New York. Probably all the famous buildings and spots are visible from there, including World Trade Center, Empire State Building, Chrysler Building and Central Park. Additionally, I was there after dark, so New York with all these lights was even more impressive. Read more about observation decks in New York.
My Personal Least Favourite Attractions In NYC
1. Central Park – except for the extraordinary views to surrounding skyscrapers and the very nice southern part of the park, the rest of Central Park is in my opinion mediocre. Randomly closed meadows and recreational areas and very limited cycling routes are disappointing. I prefer Phoenix Park in Dublin, twice as big as Central Park, where you can freely relax or cycle wherever and whenever you want. But obviously if you live in NYC, that’s a great place to chill and get some nature.
2. American Museum of Natural History – don’t get me wrong, this magnificent, very interesting museum is really worth visiting. The gigantic number of artifacts is really impressive. Regrettably the whole experience is spoiled by hundreds of other visitors. Perhaps there are more quiet hours, but when I was visiting it was too crowded, too noisy, too stuffy. It was hard to focus on the displays and almost impossible to take a good picture. What’s the point of booking the time of entry, if they let in too many tourists at the same time?
If I Had More Time, I Would…
If I ever visit New York again, I’ll take a Manhattan Bridge sunset walk and then wander in the Financial District in Lower Manhattan after dark. I would definitely visit more museums, which I gave up as it’s too time consuming. And I would rent a bike to cycle the whole Manhattan Greenway. Also, I regret that I didn’t have more time (and money) to wander a little bit longer in SoHo and most importantly, to visit more cafes, restaurants and shops there. Last, but not least, I’d love to see more Brooklyn; to be specific Queens and hipster areas in Williamsburg. I was delighted with my trip, but 2-3 more days in New York would be even more spectacular!
Tips: Do and Don’ts In New York
- Don’t presume that you’ll see everything as planned. Even if you have enough time, some places will be under construction, closed or not accessible.
- Don’t bring Chinese phones to the US. Most likely they won’t work and you’ll damage your budget. New smartphones are expensive in the US and a second hand market doesn’t exist. Also, prepare yourself to buy a sim card due to a different system.
- Don’t just tick one famous place after another. Give yourself some time to soak it up. Relax in one of many parks, eat some local food, enjoy some cafés, restaurants, shops etc. Feel the New York style!
- Select good dates to visit NYC. Try to avoid national holidays and days when popular sport events or other celebrations happen. Check on which days museums you want to visit are closed and avoid visiting the popular attractions at weekends or during the lunchtimes.
- Book the tickets for the biggest attractions well in advance. The demand is big, especially at weekends and in the peak of the season. Many places of interest will be sold out fast, others require online booking, anyway.
- If you decide to visit several buildings, museums or other paid attractions, buy one of the New York City Passes. As you can see on this linked website, there’re variety of options so choose wisely the most suitable one for you! You will save some money that way and avoid queueing to buy tickets every single time.
- There’re plenty of cultural festivals, free concerts, street markets and other events all over New York, not only in the summertime. Check the event pages a few days before your arrival to not miss out something interesting.
- Before you go, download and try some apps that you may find useful. Make offline versions of them available, if possible. In New York I’ve been using Google Maps and Citymapper for navigation and subway, Radical Storage for luggage storage (it’s useful to store a camera or other things that are not allowed when visiting some places), City Bike for bicycle renting and Where’s Public Toilet? app for obvious reasons.
- Have some change in your pockets for tips and for rare situations when the money is the only way of payment.
- Check out my 6 Days in New York Itinerary for more practical information and ideas!
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