I’d imagine that New York is on many people’s ‘bucket list’ of places to visit. It certainly was on mine. Not so far off the scale that I’d probably never get there, more like somewhere I just hadn’t made it to yet.
That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with being a tourist in New York. You get a very warm and friendly welcome when you are. But deviate away from the ‘must see’ highlights and you will quickly find a richer and more memorable experience - and the pull of wanting to return to see even more.
So, what recommendations could I give first-time visitors who are keen to see the sights but are also interested in delving a little deeper into what this great city can offer?
The first thing I’d suggest is staying in a location that locals like to live in. If staying close to tourist-laden Times Square is your thing, by all means carry on, but I know I’d rather experience a little more of what the real New York is like.
We enjoyed fabulous accommodation at the Hotel Beacon in Manhattan’s Upper West Side which is a great area to explore on foot with sites like Central Park and the Museum of Natural History within really easy reach, but also shops, bars and eateries that are frequented by locals rather than visitors. It is also right beside the Beacon Theatre, where big names like Ringo Starr, King Crimson and actor / comedian Nick Offerman appeared on the bill board while we were there.
The Hotel Beacon is a rare find in New York as one of just a few remaining residential hotels it offers spacious rooms and numerous two-bedroom suites. Another big bonus is that a fully-equipped kitchenette is provided in all rooms and suites which means that you can nip into one of the numerous local food stores or delis and really enjoy life as a local. Free tea and coffee is also provided in the room which is particularly welcome on returning after a day out.
Our corner suite on the 21st floor provided fabulous views over the Manhattan skyline and streets below and as we arrived in New York after sundown, gave us an instant “wow” moment as we gazed out of the windows for the first time at the amazing city nightime skyline.
Tastefully decorated in restful pale green shades, the living and bedroom areas were furnished with every comfort you’d need to make our suite the perfect “home” to return to after a busy day. Every last detail had been thought of - large flat screen TVs, free wi-fi, the most comfortable beds imaginable, lots of storage space and even a torch and umbrella for unpredictable occasions.
The hotel staff were incredibly helpful, offering advice on how to make the best of our stay. The one time we wanted to hire a taxi from the hotel, the concierge was swiftly out in the middle of the road blowing his whistle to attract the next available cab for us.
Handy as they may be, in my view taxis are not at all necessary for most trips and you can learn a lot more about your surroundings - and get your bearings easier - by going on foot and subway train or bus.
Located on the corner of Broadway and W75th, the Hotel Beacon is within two minutes walk of one subway station and about five of another. Between these two you will be able to get to just about anywhere you’d want to. We found the seven-day unlimited Metro pass was just the ticket for $32 and took us on subway trains and buses all over the city.
Another useful piece of kit which I’d definitely recommend is the New York CityPASS booklet.
The CityPASS provides free (and often priority) entry to six of the city’s most iconic attractions and museums - the Empire State Building Experience, American Museum of Natural History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Top of the Rock Observation Deck or the Guggenheim Museum, Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island tour or Circle Line sightseeing cruise and the 9 / 11 Memorial and Museum or Intrepid Sea Air and Space Museum.
We found the CityPASS a really convenient way to map out what we wanted to see and found the booklet very easy to use and accepted without a blink of an eye at each venue.
A top tip if you want to see the magnificent Manhattan skyline from the Top of the Rock (the Rockefeller Center) is to call in and book your time slot, even for several days ahead. We chose an hour before sundown meaning that we got the best of both worlds - daylight and that truly magical view as the sun sets and the twinkling lights of Manhattan switch on just for you.
And if you plan to visit the Intrepid Sea Air and Space Museum, don’t miss the opportunity to check in for a guided tour of the BA Concorde which is part of this fascinating museum centred round the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier. You can sit inside the supersonic jet, learn about its history and some of its famous passengers and even get into the cockpit and be amazed at how tiny it is.
I’d also highly recommend the Circle Line’s Landmarks cruise which takes you on a 1.5 hour trip to see the most famous NYC landmarks while giving you magnificent views of Midtown and lower Manhattan. You’ll cruise under the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges, past Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty and learn about this fabulous city from an informative and entertaining guide.
Enjoy being a tourist in New York - you certainly won’t be alone. But also make sure to take time to wander, looking and listening at the sights and sounds of one of the most vibrant cities on earth.
Enjoy asking those who know the city what they recommend. A chat on the plane with a friendly chap from Sixmilecross in Co Tyrone who has lived in New York for 30 years led us to sample THE best lobster roll in a restaurant close to our hotel.
Take a stroll through Central Park, where no doubt a busker will be playing a song by John Lennon close to where he was shot outside the Dakota apartment building.
Go on a foodie walking tour in the unique Greenwich Village district to discover speciality food shops and charming restaurants. We booked ours with Food Tours of NY and would highly recommend it for sheer good fun - and lots to eat.
The thing about New York is that you can create your own ideal first-time trip - and know that you’ve only just scratched the surface. Enjoy!
For more ideas, including shopping, dining, tours, museums, sightseeing, green spaces and more, see www.nycogo.com
For CityPASS details check out www.citypass.com/new-york
For details on the Hotel Beacon, go to www.hotelbeacon.com