Welcome to New York: A Beginners Guide to New York City – The Ginger Abroad
City Guides, New York, Travel, USA

Welcome to New York: A Beginners Guide to New York City

New York is without doubt my all time favourite city in the entire world (though ask me again in a week and I’ll probably say differently), as with most people that visit NYC I instantly fell in love with it, it just has something about it that is indescribable, a certain atmosphere that you can’t help but sink into. While I absolutely do not consider myself a New York expert (yet), having only visited 5 times, for no more than 10 days at a time, I just feel at home when I touch ground in this kaleidoscopic city, and so while I have visited much of those talked about sites, I try to also encompass myself within the locals and their neighbourhoods, pretending to be a real New Yorker for at least a couple of minutes. Manhattan is such a small island, yet it has sooooo many things to do and see that you could easily spend a straight month there and not see everything, however for first timers to the city, these are the things that I recommend.

Central Park

A trip to New York is not complete without getting lost in Central Park, and running from 59th to 110th street, this park is huge! With popular sections being Strawberry Fields (a favourite of John Lennon fans), the Bethesda Fountain, and of course the Lake, there is so much to keep you busy or to just relax and enjoy some people watching. From hiring a paddle boat and imitating the animals at the zoo in the summer to ice skating and making snow angels in the winter, this park could keep you entertained for days on end, and so you definitely need to leave quite a lot of free time on your itinerary for Central Park if you truly want to appreciate it.

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Times Square

Times Square is one of those see once in your lifetime kind of places. With bright lights, the infamous naked cowboy, and stores opened all hours of the night, it is a sight to be seen. Yet once you have seen it, there isn’t much left to be said. Yes, the street performers and costumes are entertaining, but they’ll charge you a hefty sum if you want a picture, and the shops are usually so crowded that you’ll be pushed up against a wall and have to wait an extremely long time in queues for the same stores that can be located elsewhere in the city. Having said that, for first timers, it is a cool attraction that is worth a stop, especially at night.

Greenwich Village

Probably my favourite part of the city is Greenwich and the West Village. With fewer crowds and a home like feel, the Village is a great spot to catch some shade in one of the many squares and parks, or eat at one (or two, or three) of the endless restaurants offering every cuisine imaginable that line both sides of Bleecker. Greenwich is also the home to one of the best bakeries in New York, Magnolia Bakery, where you can try their famed banana bread pudding, or just stick to the delicious cupcakes.

See a Broadway Show

Is it cliche? yes, but it is well worth it. New York is the home of Broadway and theatre, and so there is always something new and exciting hitting the stage. Of course you have the classics that are always running, like Phantom of the Opera and Chicago, but newer productions like Hamilton and Aladdin, have seen some of the highest ratings received for any performance. Broadway is not the only entertainment in the city though, off Broadway shows, comedy, burlesque and cabaret clubs are scattered around the city and are understandably a lot cheaper than the flashy stage productions.

The High Line

Standing tall above Chelsea and offering some alternative views of the city skyline and the water, the High Line is a (usually) quiet escape from the goings on down below. During the colder months it is considerably less populated, yet almost as equally beautiful as the warmer months. While in spring and summer you can enjoy the blossoming flowers and overflowing green flora, which is undeniably gorgeous, the autumn and winter months present the deciduous plants in an abstract beauty that in some ways I think I prefer. Needless to say, the High Line should be on everyone’s NYC bucket list anytime of the year.

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The Empire State Building

Classic, empowering, strong, the Empire State Building is probably the most recognisable building in New York, and it is no wonder why, it is an impressive building! Standing in the middle of midtown on 5th Ave, it is kind of hard to miss this building, and being so centrally located, it arguably offers the best observation decks in the city. I am particularly partial to the Empire State views, and try to go up it on most of my trips. For the best views though, I would highly recommend going just before sunset, to get both those glorious golden rays before seeing the town transform into the starry city that comes alive after dark.

Staten Island Ferry

The easiest way to catch a glimpse of the New York skyline is of course the Staten Island Ferry, and the best thing about it is that it will not cost you a cent because it is completely free! Staten Island was of course the main immigration station for the United States for people coming in from Europe and Africa, and thus has a lot of history to it, which can be explored in the museum located on the island, and with free transport to and from the island there is no reason to not tick this off your list.

The Brooklyn Bridge

Another of my favourite pass times when in New York is to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, especially at either sunrise for both a unique opportunity to be one of the few people on there, or at sunset when the city glows as if on fire and Manhattan is electric with the energy of the end of the day rush. The Brooklyn Bridge also offers some amazing photo ops from almost any angle of the bridge. This route will of course take you to the edge of Brooklyn which is coincidentally another outing that is worth checking out.

Brooklyn

Just across the bridge, or bridges depending on where in the area you are headed to, sits Brooklyn, a trendy area that once upon a time may have been the cheaper option for New York but has come to rival Manhattan in rent desirability. This is due to its stunning views of Manhattan as well as the many cafes, ethnic restaurants, beautiful olden architecture, endless amounts of shows and gigs, and not to forget, some of the best pizza in New York. Of course every person does have their individual preferences when it comes to the best pizza, but there are food tours of Brooklyn designed specifically to take you to some of the most well-known and popular pizza joints around. Other tours of Brooklyn that can be done are historic walking tours and one of my favourites the Christmas Lights Tour that runs throughout the festive season.

Top of the Rock

The observation decks at the top of Rockefeller Centre have become increasingly favoured recently due to the opportunity of actually being able to view the Empire State Building. Top of the Rock also offers the unique view of Central Park, that can be seen in all of its glory from this attraction. Being so close to the Empire State Building, it does offer a relatively similar view, though it is only personal opinion that truly differentiates the two observation decks.

Soho

One of the coolest ares of New York to be spotted in, Soho is famed for its shopping and street art, with the common pop up boutiques and cafes, and alleyways that showcase some of the most modern art that you’ll find in the city, and best of all it’s free (my favourite kind of art)! Soho is definitely the best place in the city to go for shopping, the thing most girls come to New York to do, am I right? Running along Broadway you’ll find the usual H&M, Zara, Mango, etc., but off on the side streets like Spring and Greene, you’ll come across both the higher end stores as well as up and coming clothing brands like Oak and Fort (an absolute love of mine) that is still reasonably priced. Soho is also only a quick walk away from both Little Italy and Chinatown, the perfect places to refuel with a tasty meal after a hard day of lightening your wallet.

Visit the museums

New York is filled with wonderful museums full of history, art, architecture, and sculptures and so much more that could take you days to wonder through and yet you would probably have only seen half of what is on offer in this city. From the Metropolitans’ impressive impressionist selection, to the more modern American exhibitions at the Whitney, and the other favourites including the Natural History Museum, famous for its appearance in none other than Night at the Museum, the Guggenheim, and the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art). However, if you ask me the best museum of all is just New York City. Walk around and you will see what I mean when I say that is is probably one of the best architectural open aired museums in the world.

Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty is an icon of New York, gifted by the French, and has stood proudly looking upon her city for over one hundred years now. While she is a colossal sight to see from the ground, Lady Liberty is most appreciated from inside her crown that is accessible by a spiral staircase that appears to be never ending (but make sure to mind your head when you reach the top). However, with limited capacity tickets for the crown sell out fast so make sure to book in advance if you want a chance to stand inside someones head.

5th Ave

While it is my own personal opinion that better shopping can be found elsewhere in the city, shops along 5th Ave like Tiffany’s, Prada, Valentino, produce a kind of exhilaration in you when you enter the door and are greeted by strapping shop attendants (even if you can’t afford anything in the entire shop, it is fun to pretend for a little while at least). 5th Ave is also the home to many of those department stores that are seen throughout tv shows and movies including Bloomingdales, Bergdof Goodman, and Henri Bendel. This is definitely the street to strut down if you are feeling in the mood to get into the New York attitude and pretend to be Carrie Bradshaw or Blair Waldorf for a day.

One World Observatory

The newest of the observation decks, the One World Observatory is a major commendatory building standing in the place of the Twin Towers, towering into the sky at 104 floors high, and is as of now the tallest building in the western hemisphere. The building alone is an impressive one but the view is even more incredible. Producing sights like the Brooklyn Bridge and Lady Liberty it is a different experience to the other viewing platforms, yet being so far downtown the city skyscrapers looks so small even though they are some of the tallest in the world. However, while the view is amazing, my personal favourite part of the One World Observatory is the opening exhibit where the windows are covered in a sequence of New York related videos and pictures, before the screen is then lifted to reveal the city.

EAT!

Pizza, bagels, Chinese, hot dogs, and pretzels, it is not a true trip to New York until you have travelled the length of Manhattan and have tried every cuisine that is in some way a staple to the city. Being a massive chocolate and dessert addict, the two places that I never miss when in New York are Magnolia Bakery (mentioned above), and Levain’s Bakery for the gooiest, heavenly, most decadent cookies that I have ever had! Yet for a more salty and savouring place, Sushi Samba is also a top pick for many people, and of course Delmonico’s, famous for their invention of both the baked Alaska and eggs benedict, and is also (the self proclaimed) “America’s first restaurant”.

I am still waiting for the day to hear that someone who has visited New York didn’t instantly fall in love with this magnificent, magical, theatrical city. It truly is hard to find a city that compares to New York, there is nothing else like it, from the enticing atmosphere of downtown to the relaxed yet privileged vibes from the Upper East and West sides, Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs are something that everyone should see at least once in their lives, though be warned that once you arrive you may never want to leave.

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