• Michael Donlea

New York City - What to Do in a Short Week

Updated: Apr 15, 2020

Earlier this month, I was lucky enough to spend a short week in one of my favourite cities in The Americas; New York City. I hadn’t been since I was 12, and all I could remember from my last trip was feeling very dehydrated on a hot summer’s day in Chinatown. Whilst staying hydrated this time around, I really couldn’t wait to head to a proper diner to sample the city’s famous coffee, experience authentic Italian-American cuisine, get myself a nice NYC mug and work my way through Manhattan’s many delights.

In this post, I’ll be giving you a rundown of some of the best things we did on our trip and why. Take a look at the map below to see what’s where.

1 - Central Park

New York City’s pride and joy, Central Park is a pristine area of green space sitting right in the middle of Manhattan. It’s also absolutely vast - the principality of Monaco fits inside it! I remember checking Google Maps after arriving at the park’s perimeter to find out where exactly I was, and couldn’t get my head round the sheer size of place. Never before had I experienced an inner-city park quite like this one.

Upon strolling along the pathways into its interior though, you’ll notice that the wailing of sirens and blaring of car horns is quickly swallowed up by the tress all around, making this a perfect spot to enjoy a bagel or a read a chapter of your book before continuing your sightseeing. Take the time though to just amble through the park without a map as you never know what you might find. We did just this and came across a wonderful saxophonist busking away opposite a set of park benches. Check out iamyoungnomadic’s music here, he really is very talented! I’ve no doubt you’ll find Central Park on any blog posts on New York, but for good reason. Make it a priority on your next visit!

Did you know that Central Park has appeared in over 300 films to date?

Any extra tips?

I’d suggest that you head to the middle of the park to check out the gargantuan Jacqueline Kennedy Oasis Reservoir before making your way to the world-renowned Metropolitan Museum of Art, a wonderful museum that houses an incredible collection of antiquities and paintings from across the world. If you’re looking to gain a sense of perspective, consider heading to the Top of the Rock Observation Deck at Rockefeller Centre for a fantastic view of the park and the city beyond.

Central Park in the Autumn/Fall

2 - Times Square

I couldn’t help but immediately draw comparisons to Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo when arriving at Times Square. Why? The huge electronic advertising hoardings all around, promoting everything from clothing brands and electronics manufacturers to favourite American snacks and makeup. Add the quantity of people who come to visit and that’s your answer. They come for a reason though, and that’s to witness one of the most iconic views of Manhattan’s midtown for themselves.

According to the Wall Street Journal, renting one of the many neon billboards surrounding Times Square costs anything between $1.1m - $4m a year.

Any extra tips?

Approaching from the south, head up the short flight of stairs for a fantastic view of the streets crisscrossing through Times Square. Whilst I was only able to visit during the day, I’d recommend that you come back at night for a different perspective of this busy junction of New York City.

Times Square - the heartbeat of Manhattan

3 - Grand Central Station

What comes to mind when you think of Grand Central Station? For me it’s the thrilling scene from Brian de Palma’s Carlito’s Way, when Al Pacino races around the station in an attempt to flee the clutches of gangsters. This building is an architectural marvel, and one that was a highlight of our art deco tour of Manhattan (check out Tours by Locals here). The vivid turquoise ceiling perfectly compliments the natural light streaming through the windows, and it is essential that if you visit New York just once in your lifetime, that you find the time to stop here for a while to admire the wonderful interior of Grand Central.

In the 1960s, Grand Central Station was nearly torn down. Local residents banded together to save the building however, and it is now designated as a historic American landmark.

Any extra tips?

After your visit to the station, make your way to Pershing Square Bistro for a bite to eat accompanied by a Coney Island Merman IPA (one of the best IPA’s I’ve had in a while).

Grand Central Station (can you believe this beautiful building was nearly demolished?)

4 - Ellen’s Stardust Diner

We frequently passed this spot on the corner of Broadway and West 51st Street and I can’t ever recall a time when there wasn’t a queue out on the street. This well-known establishment isn’t so famous for its food though, but rather the experience. What happens exactly? Waiters and waitresses pass the microphone around, singing a variety of show tunes to the delight of customers in a diner that felt like a 60s throwback. One waitress who warmed up the crowd excitedly announced that the waiting staff are all working at the diner whilst they tried to realise their dreams of acting on Broadway. The number of staff who had since gone on to appear in Broadway shows this year alone was in double figures. Impressive stuff! It’s noisy here, so not a place to have a conversation, but a fantastic experience, and certainly somewhere to try for yourselves if you find yourselves in Midtown and in need a meal. Just be patient with the queue times.

5 - Prince St Pizza

Supposedly one of New York’s most famous pizzerias, this small pizza joint adjacent to Little Italy came highly recommended to my by a friend. Waiting in the queue, you can’t help but gaze at the many photos adorned on the red-brick walls of celebrities who have come from afar to visit this well-known pizzeria. Their efforts were not in vain though, as the pizza here is really very good. The dough is thicker than what we are used to in Europe, but it’s light and airy with the perfect crunch on the base, and a rich topping of marinara sauce and mozzarella. Note that there are no tables here, so either order a take away or eat your slice out on the street like most customers seem to do. Prince St Pizza is definitely worth a visit!

Prince St Pizza, one of New York's best pizzerias

6 - Chinatown

No visit to a city like New York is complete without incorporating a bit of history. This quaint little district is only a short walk from Manhattan’s Little Italy, and was once a haven for mobsters exploiting Chinese immigrants as they made their way to the United States in search of a better life. Back in the modern day though, having spent a year in China after university, I can tell you that I was impressed with Chinatown’s authenticity.

If you choose to visit, then just like in Central Park I’d suggest arriving here without a plan and seeing where your feet take you. I purchased a bubble tea from a local Taiwanese eatery before finding my way to the charming pavilion in Columbus Park, a lovely spot where little old Chinese ladies gathered their tiles to play games of Ma Jong and play the Chinese violin in the afternoon sunshine. I felt a strong sense of community spirit here, and I’d encourage all who planning on making the walk across Brooklyn Bridge to stop here a while and soak up the atmosphere.

New York’s Chinatown is home to the largest Chinese population in the United States.

7 - Brooklyn Bridge

Heading southwest from Chinatown, you’ll quickly see the pathway leading to Brooklyn Bridge. It’s true that many tourists have the same idea and flock here for selfie shoots, but it’s a wonderful walk across the East River, and the slow moving queue of people means you can actually take the time to appreciate the old-fashioned boardwalk and its rugged steel framing. Feel the boarding rumble beneath your feet as hundreds of cars on either side travel across this beautiful bridge.

Any extra tips?

Once you arrive on the other side of the river, go for a stroll through the leafy residential neighbourhood of Brooklyn Heights. It’s nice any peaceful here, and certainly a desirable place to live. You’ve also got the New York Transit Museum in the south, housed in a 1936 subway station that features interactive exhibits in the form of vintage trains. Sadly we didn't have the time to visit, but were told it was very good.

Brooklyn Bridge

8 - World Trade Center

On the site of the former twin towers sit the 9/11 North and South Pools, two poignant memorials that pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks, and those who played a part in the heroic rescue efforts. With the names of the victims etched into the dark granite and the calming rush of the water collecting in the middle, I thought this was a beautiful memorial and one that all everyone should see. The museum is equally well done, though shocking and difficult to bear. However it’s absolutely worth visiting when you find yourself in Lower Manhattan.

Any extra tips?

After your visit, incorporate a bit of history by heading for a drink at Fraunces Tavern in the far south of Manhattan. This was a favourite watering hole of George Washington, the first President of the United States. Our tour guide even informed us that he used to rent a room upstairs. Even if you don’t fancy a drink, this lovely red-brick colonial building on the corner of Pearl & Broad Street is made all the more fascinating by the skyscrapers in the backdrop. I’d highly recommend a quick look if you find yourself in the area. Note that whilst part of the building is now a museum, you are still free to enjoy a drink in the bar downstairs.

Any history aficionados will enjoy the trip to the graveyard at St Paul’s Chapel. Here you will find the grave of Hercules Mulligan (great name, right?), a tailor and spy during the American War of Independence. Counting many British officers amongst his clientele, any useful information he learnt from his clients he fed back to George Washington. Though never being a serving soldier, the risks were great and efforts like his were invaluable in the war effort.

The 9/11 Memorial

9 - Barclays Centre

I was desperate to watch an NBA game whilst in NYC, so our first port of call was to check out the playing schedule of the New York Knicks. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any home games scheduled during our time there so we sought out the Brooklyn Nets instead, the team co-founded by rapper and Jay Z before he sold his shares back in 2013. All I knew about American sports is that the experience would be entirely different to the many games of football and rugby I’d watched back in the UK, but nothing could prepare me for what was in store that Friday night.

Barclays Centre is a beauty! With its curved facade dominating and lighting up the surrounding streets, it makes for an impressive sight when walking up the steps out of Atlantic Avenue Subway Station. The interior is just as impressive, with the 4-sided scoreboard hanging above the court displaying an endless array of statistics a particularly impressive feat. The constant background music, cheerleaders, beers and hotdogs, the dance cam, and the way that the team’s executives had obviously made it a priority to engage with the younger fans left me very impressed. Whilst much of this wouldn’t work in the UK, I nevertheless loved the experience and would encourage any visitors to watch an NBA game whilst in New York City.

New York is the only city in the United States to boast 2 teams from each of the 5 major sports leagues (the National Basketball Association, National Football League, Major League Baseball, National Hockey League and Major League Soccer).

Brooklyn Nets vs. SESI Franca Brasil

As you can see, we packed a large amount into the short time we were here. We didn’t even get the chance to venture beyond Manhattan and Brooklyn (plus Staten Island for the day) so a return one day is most definitely on the cards. This is a wonderful city with a whole lot to offer though, and if you subscribe to a website like Jack’s Flight Club (a team of flight gurus who inform you via email of sudden sale fares) you might find that a set of return flights to the Big Apple is far more realistic than first thought. Also, if you feel like hitting all the major sites, consider purchasing a City Pass, as you’ll make quite a saving over paying for each ticket individually.

What are your must do’s in New York? Let me know below. Thank you for reading and if you’ve enjoyed my content, please hit the heart button underneath and subscribe. I’ve got lots more exciting content on the way, so you’ll be the first to hear!

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