D a y s i n t h e w o r l d ’ s m o s t f a m o u s M e g a C i t y
Most of us have a personal relationship with legendary silver screen moments set somewhere across the island of Manhattan. With all the special fx and unoriginal scripts thrown at us these days it pays to purchase blue-ray editions of hits from the 80’s & 90’s like Wall Street, Big, Ghostbusters, Home Alone 2, Crocodile Dundee, Taxi Driver, the list is endless. Watching these movies prior to a visit to Manhattan is a great way to hype your excitement to visit a city so ridden with modern history, culture and diversity. The only city to rival London as a melting pot of countless languages within it's metropolitan area. So with the means to get there as a young adult, my partner & I whipped up an itinerary for 5 days and booked the tickets. We pitched up at Columbus Circle's renowned Empire Hotel, where the show "Gossip Girl" was shot across the road from the Lincoln Center, Hell Kitchen & Central Park.
In this iteration of the travel guides/reviews I'll cover Broadway, Greenwich Village, 5th Ave, the Upper West Side, The Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park, Times Square, Little Italy & The Liberty Island ferry. We'll be returning for a part two to explore the upper east side, the meatpacking district, Wall street, The Bronx Zoo, Coney Island, China Town, Brooklyn & Harlem. Which will hopefully be 7 days or longer & during the summer!
T h e E m p i r e H o t e l
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Not just the home of Gossip Girl, the Empire Hotel hosts a rooftop bar littered with aesthetically pleasing Mahanttanites of an evening. The queues for the elevator start in the lobby and lead out the door & round the corner but as staying guests you can rock up as you please. We ventured up there twice to see whats what and can say it's a definite "must do" during your stay. In a city that never sleeps its worth adding a few decent after-hours spots to your itinerary, & with one on your doorstep its a no brainer. This rooftop also features a pool, but as we visited in April it was closed for the season. So go during the summer for the full Empire experience.
The hotel itself is stunning. Quintessentially New York with dark & rich colours beige, brown, orange, blacks & whites all presented in Art Deco design with large pin punched sofas & reflective surfaces throughout the lobby & lobby bar. A notable feature is the wide winding staircase leading to a mezzanine with internet access & further lounge capacity. Have your partner make her way down the staircase in her evening wear for a memorable tik tok or insta clip. Prices are reasonable for the city & a hotel of this pedigree. The rooftop bar serves food, so make use of the excellent views of over the adjacent Lincoln Center & Broadway. The perfect setting for making plans.
Its worth noting New York hotel rooms are generally quite compact, almost like Japan. So finding something affordable that gives you space & class may take an evening or two on trip advisor. If you're anything like me you'll want to make 100% certain your holiday goes precisely as planned and there are no disappointments when you finally arrive at your destination.
So by my word, I can safely say if you request & book a "Non Smoking - Corner Junior Suite King Room" facing Broadway & the Lincoln Center. Not only will you have a room that's spacious by New York standards, but you'll have the above views, a comfy sofa & coffee table to relax & sip mini bar stock whilst your partner gets ready, with a decent sized flat screen TV and a modest bathroom with a standing shower.
For a reasonable price this is the best your going to get for your money. Especially in this location, which is a HUGE factor to consider when staying in Manhattan. Book the wrong hotel & room and you'll end up with a view of a brick wall, an alley way, placed next to an air-con regulator, or worst still, have the noise of the city that never sleeps right outside your window making it impossible to get a good night's sleep. The empire is positioned perfectly away from the hustle & bustle of mid-town, but within walking distance of Central Park, 5Ave, Times Square, numerous landmark buildings and it's opposite the Lincoln Center. Plus you're walking distance from the quaint coffee shops & boutique stores of the upper west side with it's famous brownstone houses & dutch architecture.
Further practical benefits of the Empire's location is the very useful bank & cinema 2 mins to the left of the entrance & the very convenient Columbus Circle Shopping center The Time Warner Center, with a massive Whole Foods store in it's basement. You couldn't wish for a better location! As we checked out my partner & I decided The Empire will be our Manhattan home each time we visit New York.
T r a v e l i n g
We walked most places during the day and rarely took taxis. The subway is best for the longer journeys heading south past mid-town and that’s it really. Waiting for a bus is generally a waist of time as you're better off walking and taking it all in. Manhattan has so much packed within such a small space that if you're savy with your daily plans you can work your way down the city from Columbus Circle and fit in everything you'd want to during your stay venturing north, east, west or south via subway for specifics if need be. You wouldn’t want to drive, The roads are straight owing to the cities adopted grid system, which makes finding things very easy, but uninspiring for any kind of meaningful drive. Traffic is generally a procession of slow moving taxis, buses & trucks. For this reason you're unlikely to see notable sports or super cars about town as they'd suffocate under such conditions. If you have friends in NYC of course utilise their expertise, but with cheap metro ticket prices that allow you to hop on & off at main stations, the subway or the street are an obvious win. We always felt safe, but then again we stuck tourist destinations. Regardless, airing on the side of caution would be advised. Like London, anything could happen at anytime.
C o l o m b u s C i r c l e
As mentioned previously Colombus Circle is a great base for your tour of Manhattan. With it's disability friendly subway station entrance just opposite the southern entrance to Central Park. You'll also find park tour horse carriages at the ready there too if you wish. We should've grabbed a coffee and gone for a whiz around the park but it was far too cold! I mentioned the shopping center at the circle earlier. The Time Warner Center to be precise. Here you'll find a whole range of flagship brands at your convenience . We picked up some True Religion Jeans and my new favourite shirt from Thomas Pink. Yes you could buy Thomas Pink online or via select concessions in the UK, but things seem to carry sentiment & meaning when bought somewhere significant & it just so happens i'd seen the same shirt in Duty Free & swore i'd buy it before the end of the season. Now I think of New York each time it's worn & there also something about wearing an expensive shirt bought abroad? Avoiding fast food in Manhattan is a good idea. For the 1st half of the week I ate for convenience speed & the experience, but did feel the strain on my heart & arteries , so we opted for healthier alternatives to tail off the week. The whole foods store in the basement of the Time Warmer Center is the best source of healthy trail mix for your backpack.
Trump Tower and few other imposing buildings sit at the edge of the circle. There's a dense mix of architecture everywhere you turn. For a design buff with a camera it's visual treat. To the south-west is Hell's Kitchen, a hot spot for aspiring actors & a wide variety of cuisines from across the globe. To the north is the trendy & leafy upper west side where you'd probably want to own a home & raise a family if you lived in Manhattan. To the south is mid town, Time Square & beyond that the financial district and more. To the east is 5th Ave & the start of the wealthy upper east side with its mile of museums.
C e n t r a l P a r k
Possibly the most famous 843 acres of parkland in the world, Grab a park map and stroll through this green oasis & eventually you'll find a scene from a well known movie set in Manhattan. Sitting in the park surrounded by these buildings feels like you're some hapless victim with bullies baring down on you, only you admire these opposing figures. Central park is much larger than it seems. We only had enough time to cover the southern half of the park. With so much to squeeze into one week, we'd planned to see the north end another day but failed to find the time. So if you're visiting and consider Central Park to be a focal point of you visit, allocate an entire day so you're not rushed.
Visiting from October to April means you can skate on any of the three rinks across the park. The most well know and best looking is the Wollman Rink (pictured below). The backdrop is awe inspiring & this rink provides the most space. N.B you can skate in the evening too as the rink is floodlit. Perhaps end the evening here before an early retirement after a meal? If skating isn't your thing and then perhaps a jog early morning before the crowds pickup. The park features plenty of wide roads & side pathways plus a range of inclines & declines which combined with the views, make it awesome place to run too. If you're visiting during the summer and have a wide musical palette then the parks only Neo Classical structure the Naumburg Bandshell with its audio enhancing properties is a good shout. It features its very own orchestra as well as hosting numerous acoustic open mic performers (seen above). As previously stated the park features horse carriages reminiscent of a bygone era. Obtaining a ride is like cabs, first come first serve, but be savy and get a quote from more than one if they're lined up as there's no standard rate. So negotiate sensibly to avoid paying too much. There's plenty more to see and do across the park but those are the highlights for me. Although there was more to see we where quite happy with what we found across the southern region. Photos of favorite movie scenes was what we wanted, & that's what we found....
The benches at the end of Big Daddy
The Home Alone 2 Ice Rink
Where Ms Perkins had her membership to the Continental revoked
The main disadvantage of winter in central park is the lack of green. As you can see it's pretty barren. Although the ice rink had its charm, & those who admire natures cycle of death and rebirth may find winter images inspiring in some way, I'd still advise visiting during the summer. You can image the same scenes teeming with people and events to be a greater experience then a brisk cold walk brandishing a hot drink. Nonetheless, it was still a magic experience to cross off the city to-do list.
T i m e ' s S q u a r e
Time Square is pretty damn bright at night! Sunglasses wouldn't be bad idea to observe the neon bombardment from all directions. We took a stroll here the night we landed. It must have been below zero! I couldn't even keep the camera still. The square conveniently has a tiered stage for photo opts & deep views downs the avenue. The cold winds really bite your ears due to the funneling effect between buildings. Note to the wise! pack ear muffs or a trapper hat. In terms of entertainment you're spoilt for choice especially for things to eat. Hotels a lined up & down the avenue, each with bars to sample, snap & immerse yourself in. There are plenty of street performers too, so with good company and your lens you could have a pretty adventurous evening wondering and seeing what the avenue throws in your path. Carnegie Hall, Radio City, Madison Square Garden & more are all within walking distance. Check their sites & plan well ahead for the best rates to make the most of your time.
For food we opted for an authentic New York Diner. We found a busy 50s era place just past the stage. I ordered a house burger and fries. I should have taken pics at the time, but just wasn’t in social media mode. What followed aged my internals considerably! The consisted of long linguine style fries, dripping with oil. The Burger was thick, bubbling, dripping & adorned in bacon, cheese and onion rings coated in batter. Tied together with a fried Bun, also saturated & stabbed with a wooden stick. The milkshake was splendid. Chunks of strawberry, a hint of liqueur, thick as Forest Gump with a straw wide enough to fit a marble, served in large silver tin. Two guys sitting adjacent to us, stared wide eyed at my plate in presumed shock at my plate until they called the waitress over. Pointed at my plate and said “we’ll have two of that please!”. I ate a third & gave up. Notably I had to grip & beat my chest the next morning.
Side Story: We made our way past the bright lights slightly losing our bearings. Whilst I preserved my masculinity and refused to admit we were lost my partner approached a police officer for directions. You know you’re in America when the police officers are strapped with automatic rifles, with huge arms in t-shirts a size too small puffing a 50 gauge cigar! When she asked for directions he ignored the question completely and told her to go talk to his partner on account of his fetish for cut-glass British accents. Wtf! NYPD etiquette? She does as she’s told of course, gets the damn directions, then skips back to me high off her pretty-girl pedestal, sl@g!
B B K i n g ' s
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Built as a mecca for soul food & Blues, BB King's Blues Club & Grill is a must for those raised on Blues & Soul classics from yesteryear. Authentic over-driven blues from local talent paired with choice cuts of expertly grilled meats served in a welcoming environment. Our evening here started sitting close to the stage. Dimly lit with a pungent red spotlight on the resident power trio. We took in the sound whilst waiting for a table to made available. The decor reminds me of a guitar itself. Varnished maple red & beige woods everywhere, the kind you'd find on a Gibson. The atmosphere is extremely casual, ideal for a family evening, with warm vibes across the floor. The prices are affordable so you'll leave BB's with your evening budget still intact. Capture the evening with a recording on your phone. Play it back on the plane home.