New York. The Big Apple. The greatest city on earth.
It doesn’t matter what you know it as, New York is one of the few places in the world that is familiar with everyone and as such comes with a reputation. The excitement of visiting can be so overwhelming that you seriously doubt if it’s possible for it to reach the lofty expectations you have placed upon it. So, on my recent trip to this grand old city, I set out to tick off as many of the sights and sounds as I could in order to help determine what was actually worth doing and what was overhyped.
In theory that sounds like a sound plan, but I am incredibly easy to please. I like things because they are nice, not because I have performed deep analysis on the subject. That’s the way travel feedback should look. Was it fun and affordable? Yes? Then recommend it. Did you want to bash your head against a brick wall and storm the register to get your money back? Yes? Probably don’t endorse it to your friends then.
With that in mind, after visiting some of the places and activities in New York that are on top of everyone’s travel bucket list, including my own, I’ve tried to be as constructive as possible.
To say Central Park is iconic is probably a bit of an understatement. Every movie or television series based in the city has at least one reference or scene dedicated to it. Hollywood has a knack of either depicting it as a crime magnet or a place of romance. Kevin McAlister in Home Alone 2 and John McLane in Die Hard with a Vengeance spend quality time there, for example. I realise these films are not cinematic masterpieces and there are probably better examples, but that’s what I think of when I think Central Park.
The truth is it’s beautiful. You can lose significant time easily by simply strolling around aimlessly, revelling in the fact you are there. It is such a vast place that is in stark contrast to the rest of New York; placed in the middle of an island city with a population of 8 million, where people live on top of each other and stand shoulder to shoulder every day. It’s spaciousness in comparison to the rest of the city makes it all the worthwhile.
Hotdogs from a street vendor
One of the first things I wanted to do was to buy a hotdog from a bloke with a street cart, smother it in ketchup and mustard and walk the streets. To be fair, I set the bar pretty low. A hotdog is a hotdog. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.
While I can vouch for the deliciousness of said hotdog, there are some things in life that you are better off dreaming about than actually getting. Paying three dollars for a piece of processed meat that is far too small for the bun it’s in, is a bit of a stretch. It’s a three bite experience. A dollar a bite. And no mustard (admittedly I didn’t check if there was any, he just threw some ketchup on and went about the important task of rearranging his assortment of drinks).
For the record, as I have been told nearly 1000 times since, hotdog carts in Central Park are not where you buy your New York dogs. Papaya King in the city is where you want to be. Lesson learned.
Times Square is the bustling heart of New York. With flashing neon lights and bright billboards lining the streets it is a sight to behold. People move around at pace, with the exception of visiting tourists who are busy taking happy snaps and looking around, awe struck.
While we visited during the day, missing the typical night-time atmosphere that is so popular amongst visitors, we still managed to experience the frenetic energy this part of town has. Retail outlets, Broadway, Hard Rock Café, crazy spruikers abusing people; the place has it all. One particular spruiker persisted in telling everyone to “f**k off” from her city although I’m still not sure why. It didn’t detract from the experience but rather added to it- I don’t encourage laughing at deranged individuals, mainly for safety, but it was an eye opener none the less. There is so much going on that it is difficult to properly take it all in.
No smart arse statements or jokes here. I haven’t been to many places in major international cities as sombre or contemplative as Ground Zero. The infinity pools at the sites of each tower and the names of each person who died inscribed around those pools makes for an emotionally reflective experience.
Empire State Building
It might set you back a good forty bucks, but going to the observation deck of the Empire State Building is a no brainer. With 360 degree views of the city, it is well worth shelling out the cash. A museum details the construction of the building, giving you a real appreciation of where you are and the effort that went into making one of the most recognisable buildings in the world. Even the lift has an interactive display as you ride to the top. I’ve been in a few elevators in my time and none of them have ever tried to give me a history lesson. Forced learning as you are trapped in a little box full of strangers, heads cranked up as you stare at the roof, is a unique way to get your message across.
I know this seems like a strange entry on this list but every person I hit up for information on cool places to visit mentioned Katz’s Deli. It is famous for the orgasm scene from the movie When Harry Met Sally and has a plethora of photos of celebrity visitors adorning the walls. Usually the queue is out the door, and with good reason; the food is delicious. Brisket that melts in your mouth in a sandwich that is as big as a lunchbox. Top that with homemade gravy and some fries. Your arteries won’t love you for it but by the time you take that first bite, you could die happy and not even care. Wash it down with a cold pint of local beer and you’ll think you have already died and gone to heaven. For a short amount of time you actually lose the ability to speak as you chew slowly, eyes closed, savouring the flavour- it’s that good.
Be warned though; if you are of the vegetarian persuasion, this place is probably not for you. Delicious meats are the order of the day here.
Statue of Liberty
Nothing says ‘I’m a tourist’ like catching a ferry out to the Statue of Liberty. There are more long lens cameras and people taking selfies here than any other place on earth. If Cannon decided to open a store on Liberty Island, they would triple their profits almost immediately. When setting off to walk around the big girl, it is impossible not to inadvertently get captured in the background (or foreground, if you’re not paying attention) of at least five different peoples photos. Somewhere in Europe, a person is showing their friends pictures of their time at the Statue of Liberty and there I’ll be in the background, staring up in the air, dumb look on my face, awkwardly trying to walk past.
All jokes aside, she is well worth the visit. From the moment you set foot on the ferry to the moment you get back, you’re treated to amazing views of the harbour. You get the Brooklyn Bridge, the city skyline, the statue itself and an American history lesson all at once. That is value for money. Yes, the crowds are large, but it’s something that has to be ticked off the list- it’s your obligation as a tourist.
When you arrive here you want visit all of the cliché New York City attractions you can think of. And why not- it’s New York! Calling these attractions clichés is not a subtle dig at New York’s tourist attractions or the city itself, either. Far from it. If you think about it, you can name all the major attractions off the top of your head with little effort. Obviously it’s not possible to see absolutely everything- money and time are always factors- but New York is one place where you can’t afford to skip attractions where you can help it. Everything is worth it. Why? Because it’s New York.
1. Download the phone app. for the New York subway system. Don’t be a hero and decide you can figure it out by yourself. Don’t be proud. Just do it and thank me later.
2. Avoid buying tickets to attractions from random people at the exit of subway stations. I think that is self-explanatory. A lot of people are trying to crack the tourism market here and a lot will attempt to rip you off in the process.