It can be noisy, crowded and dirty, but I loves the vibrancy of the Big Apple. Driving across the Triborough Bridge and catching that first glimpse of the oh so elegant Chrysler Building and the majestic spire of the Empire State Building makes Webster smile and fills him with anticipation. Those classic spires have now been joined by the inspiring Freedom Tower, that rises 1776 feet above the ground. A nod to the date that America gained independence from the British.
It doesn’t matter what time of year you come, New York has something to offer 365 days a year and 24/7, after all it is the city that never sleeps. There are literally thousands of things to do, but there are some things you absolutely have to do, and here are a few hints and tips to help you navigate this fabulous city. It can get mighty hot and sticky (July and August) and mighty chilly (Nov to Feb). Whatever time of year, the secret to having a good time in New York is the right wardrobe. Shoes are really key, this is a walking city, probably because it is so easy to navigate with the grid system. They’ve got to be comfortable and well worn in. The other thing is layers and by that I mean in summer, have a wrap, shawl or light sweater or cardigan with you because even though it’s sweltering outside, the air conditioning will literally slice you in half in some stores and restaurants. In the winter, the heating in some place can melt you, whilst the weather outside is freezing.
In the summer lots of New Yorkers head for the Hamptons on the coast with a lovely cool breeze (worth a visit if you have time, but you need at least 2 days). Avoid driving there on a Friday afternoon/evening and back on Sunday evening – it’s a big parking lot! Let the Jitney Coach take the strain or there are special fast trains laid on, on Friday afternoons in the summer. Otherwise, it’s a 3 hour train journey from Penn Station.
If you have limited time, then get express tickets to the top of the Empire State Building. Express Tickets $50 verses $27 regular tickets. Express tickets let you skip the queues – you just have to be a little assertive in showing your express tickets to all the Empire State Building staff who are clearly visible in their burgundy uniforms. The express works on the way up and down and can save you hours. The Empire State Building is open until 2am in the morning. Buy tickets in advance and print them out to save time at www.esbny.com.
If you want to climb the Statue of Liberty (and I do mean climb – there are 354 steps that you need to be able to climb unassisted) then this is one thing you really need to book well in advance. The Statue was only re-opened on 4 July 2013 after a programme of restoration. There’s lots of information on the US National Parks website http://www.nps.gov/stli/index.htm and tickets are available from http://www.statueoflibertytickets.com. You can always avoid the stairs and visit the base of the Statue, where you get a great sense of the size and perspective. If you are too late to book, then the next best thing is to take the Staten Island ferry from the Whitehall ferry terminal to Staten Island and then do the return. It’s free and once you get to the other side, there’s nothing around the ferry terminal to see – you need to go further into Staten Island to see anything, so best to turn around and come back. It runs really frequently. Wander around Central Park and have a coffee, lunch or an ice-cream at one of the cafes/restaurants scattered around. It’s pretty big, and you can get a little disorientated, but here’s a top tip – all the lamp posts have the number of the street and weather it’s East or West stencilled in white at the bottom. Once you know this, things become a lot easier. Also looking up and seeing the huge new skinny skyscraper building (around 1000ft tall) tells you, you are facing South! The Loeb Boat House restaurant (East 72nd St) is great (although if you go in the evening, you won’t be able to hail a taxi outside the restaurant as it’s against the bizarre taxi rules, happily the restaurant runs a shuttle that drops you at 5th Ave around 75th St, where you can get a cab! The Tavern on the Green (West 67th St) that opened in April this year is also worth a visit with some lovely alfresco dining and drinking. If you’re a John Lennon fan, then visit the Imagine mosaic at Strawberry Fields West 72nd St, there’s the boating lake too on the East side or you can watch the roller disco, the couples tangoing or the local New Yorkers taking their dogs for a walk (before 9.30am you’re allowed to let your dog off the leash). Then there’s the zoo, the Wollman ice rink in the winter, cycling etc Early morning strolls are lovely, but best to avoid walking around anything other than the periphery in the dark – it just makes sense! It’s a great place to people watch – you literally get the full spectrum of New Yorkers and tourists, but do keep an eye open for all the joggers, cyclists and horse-drawn carriages that whizz or waddle along the outer roads. There’s lots of information at www.centralpark.com.
That’s probably enough to get you started, but a few other practical hints. Get yourself the app, opentable or sign up to www.opentable.com which is great for booking restaurants and book in advance as New Yorkers love eating out. For tips in restaurants, the easiest thing to do is to just double the tax which will be on your bill or check. In New York, if in doubt, tip, that includes doorman, manicurists, cabs etc. Cabs can be just hailed on the street –
they can be pretty scary as they weave their way in and out of the traffic and hit the huge potholes, but they get you there – best to wear your seatbelt. Really unhelpfully, a huge number of them swap shifts at 4.30pm – always the time when you want a cab, so there can often be a shortage. The subway is often the best way to get around. Get a Metrocard that you can get for a fixed period or on a pay as you go basis, there are lots of machines at the stations and more or less helpful staff in the ticket booths. Bring your drivers’ licence with you as that way you don’t have to carry your passport around with you and you can get the discount cards in the big stores (Macy’s and Bloomingdales).
There’s lots more – so watch this space for Webster’s next Wandering in New York…