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.
Along the same strip are a few theaters. We landed tickets to a show courtesy of my partner's boss. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, we made it our evenings event following BB King's. Once again, check production schedules prior to your flight & book well in advance.
Side Story: During the intermission whilst taking a piss I noticed a familiar "presence". The hair, stature. At first I thought impossible, but then thought, I'm in New York so of course it was Danny DeVito in the urinal next to me! Completely surreal! Made even more weird by the fact guys were walking past saying "hey Danno" & "hi Danny". Poor was trying to piss! Twins was one of my favourite childhood movies so of course i wanted to thank Mr Devito for memories, but given the circumstances, the toilet experience was enough. Between the Blues, the show, the hive-ish buzz of time square & Broadway and my company, New York delivered.
G r e e n w i c h V i l l a g e
Greenwich Village is a pilgrimage for modern bohemians, hipsters, creatives & shoppers. It's home of New York's 60's counterculture with a host of venues that allowed for Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen and long list of poets, comedians and activists to cut their teeth in front of unassuming audiences who probably had no inclination of the success these icons would later have. For me, a proud Hendrix fanatic this was an opportunity to get a little closer to my inspiration and see through their eyes. Bleeker & MacDougal Street are two notable walks you may want to take as you'll find places like the San Remo Cafe famous haunts of writers like William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg & Jackson Pollock. Or the Cafe Wha where the aforementioned musicians all featured regularly & backdrop to the famous Bob Dylan album cover.
We picked up some books and souvenirs here then stopped off at a shabby chic café straight out of gangs of New York with heavily aged period decor, lop-sided melted candles, elaborate distressed mirrors, tiny stools and 30 people crammed into a space meant for 15. The staff holding trays well above their heads and squeezing sideways through whatever space they could to bring patrons their beverages. Despite pre-dating the term hipster, the village is where you’d probably gravitate towards if that scene is your forte. A student's haven with excellent outdoor spaces like cultural way-point Washington Square Park. The area has also seen an influx in money owing to its trendy nature and timeless aesthetic. So my partner dragged me to DASH to pay homage to her own modern idols the Kardashians & purchase a jumpsuit with other bits for our trip Sex in the City's featured Buddakan Restaurant later that evening. I found a guitar shop across the road from the end of Bleeker street whose owner said the area had definitely lost some of it's rebel sheen, but of course all bright lights dull with time. The legends only remain as long as their are those around to tell them. So make it to Greenwich asap before that generation disappear and all that's left are name brand stores staffed with people who know nothing of the villages golden era.
As a student of Hip Hop's subculture graffiti, I looked for some the Style Wars tags i'd grown up in awe of. None from that era, but some pretty nice etches, a few tags here & there and an awesome building with painted windows. I guess Manhattan isn't the spot for vintage dubs, perhaps The Bronx, Brooklyn & Queens are better for vintage wild style.
My partner’s a Carrie Fisher fan so we made two stops at Sex in the City references for her sake. Magnolia Bakery along bleeker street & and a Pan Asian restaurant featured in the Movie Buddakan. Buddakan was teeming, very dark & noisy. What you’d expect I suppose. If you've been to Camden’s Gilgamesh you'll know what to expect. Just throw a 16 century parisan vale over it and you have Buddakan. I mention both the above as definitive wins with your other half for both social media fodder & experiences. The pastries at Magnolia Bakery are pretty damn good, & the food at buddakan is also top notch. So plan ahead for anniversaries, birthdays or mothers days.
5 t h A v e
Flagship stores, galleries, landmarks & everything in between. 5th Avenue will not disappoint. As with most of Manhattan, the area is vertically remarkable, you just can't stop looking upwards at the sheer scale of it all. Throw into the mix customer service unlike anything in the UK plus the energy & the accents and you have the makings of a great day's spending. The Avenue has a number of non-retail must-sees like the Empire State Building which you can cram-in if you're smart with your time.
Back to the shops, As mentioned earlier, the customer service experience is exemplary! A front of house staff member at most stores to welcome you in & direct you to what you want. The UK occasionally features front of house, but not like here. In London you don't see this level of enthusiasm, & despite the greetings being scripted I certainly felt uniquely welcome, asking where you’re from, how you're finding "the city", where to eat or things to see. All done relatively succinctly by persons typically easy on the eyes.
I picked up a watch in Guess while my partner was waited on hand & foot. In the UK we're used to staff offering to help one item at a time, but this was one step beyond. These guys were matching items & building outfits. If your considering a city break to spoil your partner, the 5th Ave experience is an easy win when it comes to shopping.
For me the highlight of the day was during a mooch around a split level electrical store. There were these two guys on both levels ground and 1st floor. I can't image you'll ever find two guys so hyped over the selling of tech goods. These guys had rhymes and chants about the deals they had, the weather, the City, & it went on the entire time we were there. "What a day in the Big City"... No One sells TV like New Yorkers Sell TVs", only these guys were bouncing off each other and finishing each others sentences. It may you want to buy items off the back of their efforts regardless of whether you needed stuff or not. A sales technique of positive reinforcement & charm offensive unlike anything I've seen before. I should have recorded it!
T h e E m p i r e S t a t e B u i l d i n g
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A brief note on The Empire State Building. Wear something warm & for the best shots free from other tourists, the earlier the better. As you can see above the views are panoramic across the entire city. If you can pack a decent lens in preparation you'll be glad you had. Pretty much all other notable buildings & sites can be seen from the open air observation deck. The interior is an Art Deco masterpiece. Bold & striking golds, silvers & blacks with imposing sculptures you'd expect in a building marked as the epicenter of the American Empire. Its like stepping into a full HD 4k Fritz Lang's Metropolis with 21st century add-ons.
L i b e r t y I s l a n d v i a B a t t e r y P a r k
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There are three options were the Statue of Liberty is concerned. You can visit the Island, the pedestal & view from the crown. You can visit Ellis Island & the National Immigrant Museum & see the wall of Honor. Or you can take a round trip tour of the harbor. We opted for the tour that leaves from Battery Park Ferry Terminal at the southern tip of Manhattan. You can see the statue clearly from the deck, the tour passes the financial district (as seen above), I felt like the camera from the beginning of Billions. This way we were able to fit in the Brooklyn Bridge afterwards.
This colossal gift from the French played its part in my childhood crystallising New York's allure as one of the coolest places on earth Disney's “An American Tale” and the Ghostbusters 2. If you wanna prep your kids for New York let them watch both before you announce you're going there for real. It may seem odd, but seeing the Statue in the flesh felt like an achievement. If you're interested in US history and understand the statue's significance as a symbol of America's independence and a place of hope, freedom and opportunity for immigrants arriving by boat to start a new life in the New World. Then seeing the statue should definitely be on your Manhattan itinerary. We sat on the deck of the ferry with a hot drink and took in the panorama. The lower deck was far less crowded and felt almost private. This trip in the middle of the week is well needed. Being constantly flanked by sky scrapers is a novelty but nothing resets the senses better that water & this tour reinvigorates you for another round with the concrete beast.
T h e B r o o k l y n B r i d g e
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The Brooklyn Bridge is a stunning feet of 18th century engineering. The 1.6km long cable suspension bridge looks stunning from all angles. Its almost hard to take a bad photo of it. The walkway is also quite wide at parts. However, this being a main attraction of Manhattan it's best to try and visit when its less busy. Either early or late at night. Its location means you have great views of the City, the nearby Manhatttan Bridge and of course the East River Harbour. A benefit to visiting New York during colder months of the year is that less people are out & about in general, & if you don't go during public/school holidays you're less likely to find large groups or even families. As this is when we went, the bridge was pretty calm. Like the Statue of Liberty & the Empire State, this pilgrimage felt like another tick box event. Heroes like Nas & Wyclef have featured the Bridge in iconic videos so standing & touching it brings you a little closer to your idols, in a sentimental way. Or perhaps that's just me. The journey here is one for the subway. Not too long a ride either. Although travelling through mess ridden underpass is an event in itself. So perhaps a walk across the bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn for a day followed by a taxi ride back across in the evening might be an idea. This way can achieve both Photos of the walkway and a video of the mesh for a Vlog post or just the private memory.
L i t t l e I t a l y
We didn’t really see much of little Italy, We walked the streets for a while & took in the atmosphere. I didn't do much research prior to going there so we didn't know what to look for. So being foodies it made sense to eat at a quaint little Italian restaurant. It was nice to see real family photo’s on the wall as opposed to the Hollywood carbon copy mobster pics you see in Frankie & Benny’s.
The food was great! rich in flavour & typical of home made meals most likely perfected over generations. I love Mediterranean food in general, my partner’s Greek Cypriot, so by default she's made me adept in well served Lamb, Steak, Sauce, Olives & then some. I had the feeling Little Italy was more a place you need to be introduced to rather than somewhere you can simply wonder into and establish a connection with. Regardless, the warmth from the restaurant staff was heart felt. They loved the English accent and made the afternoon. I chose not pull out the camera, it would have been disrespectful. Better to focus on the experience.
C o m e d y C e n t r a l
On the 2nd to last night we bought tickets to a comedy central night on Broadway. It was brilliant! everything you’ve seen on the DVD’s. Only thing I’d suggest is not sitting close to the front. The comedians will scan the crowd for prey and you’d be surprised what will trigger an onslaught at your expense. My partner & I had a good 5min “assessment” (let’s call it). Which is cool, but at some point you stop laughing with everyone, get saw cheeks & think, OK dude, time to move on. But you can’t look pissed of course! thats more fuel. A good night though. Purchasing a drink is mandatory btw.
S u m m a r y
Manhattan lives up to the legend. There's an energy about Manhattanites, a confidence & positive self reassurance. But like anywhere in the world, you’ll enjoy it from a completely different angle if you’re shown the city's secrets by a native. With so much more planned for NY part two, I simply can't wait to return.
Thank You Manhattan
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