Back in November I set foot in the USA for the first time. For months my two friends and I planned for our week in New York where, just weeks after I had left France, I would be reunited with them for eight days of nights out and new discoveries. I must admit to having had high expectations for New York from films I have watched, TV series, friend’s opinions and my love of shopping. Whilst I did enjoy my week and especially loved the opportunity to spend time with my friends without thinking about work or study, I was disappointed with what New York City had to offer. That is not to say that I wouldn’t recommend it as a place to visit or that I wouldn’t ever be tempted to go back. It’s just not quite the city of flashing lights and endless opportunities for things to do that I had imagined. Perhaps after living in one of Europe’s most beautiful capitals with its striking architecture, literary and artistic history, and exciting nightlife, I have been spoilt.
Highlights of New York
We chose Chicago. This was without doubt the best night out in New York. We bought last-minute tickets from the booths in Time Square so had pretty good seats for much less than the online prices. The acting and singing was excellent – better even than the versions floating around the internet – and I thoroughly enjoyed the show. We did however spend the rest of the week singing And all that Jazz.
The Empire State Building
This was one of my favourite experiences in New York forcing me to appreciate the size of the city. The wind at the top of the Empire State was bitter but we did spend a couple of hours at the summit. We chose to go mid-week at around 4pm so that we could check out the view in daylight and then watch the sun go down, revealing the impressive city lights. I love to get an overview o f new places, seeking out the high spots. The Empire State Building certainly is the only way to really see New York City.
I unfortunately only found the time to visit once but this park would probably be my weekend spot if I were a New Yorker. A truly beautiful retreat from such a noisy, high-rise city.
Museum of Natural History
Somewhere that I have wanted to visit since I was a child. The museum is enormous so be prepared to take up an entire afternoon. The entrance fee is by donation so you do not have to give the entire suggested amount if your budget does not allow or you are a larger family group. The dinosaur bones are almost larger than life and definitely worth the visit.
Being a tourist I am allowed to like one of NYC’s biggest tourist areas. I loved the flashing lights surrounded by small shops selling gimmicky knick-knacks for tourists, the Hard Rock Café and other restaurants and cafés. I finally felt like I was in New York City when I found Time Square.
Most surprising thing about New York
Contrary to their reputation and a huge contrast to the Parisians I had been used to, New Yorkers are very friendly people willing to help anyone holding a map.
Disappointments and set-backs
We were actually in New York City over the Black-Friday weekend (crazy sales) so I had even higher hopes of bargain shopping than ever before. In reality I think shopping in New York (like shopping in any fashion-forward city) requires a much larger budget than the one I posses. I found the stores to have pretty much the same items as I could find in Canada or had even already bought in the UK, and usually the merchandise was at higher prices too. I did not find shopping a pleasurable experience but a stressful and tiring one with too many crowds and the shops to be overwhelmingly large.
Window-shopping on the other hand is far more interesting in NYC than anywhere else I have been, with its intricate and colourful window displays. The stores are laid out with ornate centre pieces that glisten like the products they advertise. Customer service is a clear focus and I quite enjoyed the Lindt tasters on offer.
This was by far my biggest disappointment. Coming from the UK where there are pubs on every corner, even in small villages and having experienced France, Germany and Spain which all have there own variety of bars, clubs, pubs and other night-time drinking and dancing cultures, I had expected more from the giant urban sprawl of NYC. Much of New York on week-nights seemed to be dead by 11pm. We struggled to have dinner and then still find somewhere open where we could dance (and not be the only ones in the place). We used guide books and word of mouth to find some places to go out but even so I couldn’t help but feel that the locals must go to more lively places that haven’t yet made it into the guide books.
We wanted to have a more authentic NYC experience as well as being on a budget so we chose to stay in an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. This meant that especially during the day our main source of transport was the subway. The frequency of the subway and length of time on board meant that it was impractical to go home and then feel inclined to go back downtown again later. It took a minimum of 40 minutes to get to the downtown areas of New York City from our apartment which was tiring and made it essential to plan out the days more than I like to. As a spontaneous person who enjoys exploring on foot, I felt we spent too long underground. Taxis at night were a much better alternative and quite inexpensive.
Free things-to-do in New York:
- Grand Central Station – One of the most famous train stations in the world. Great for people watching. The whisper wall on the lower floor is well worth a visit.
- Brooklyn Bridge – If you enjoy walking it’s not the most beautiful place in the world but you could stop to try out one of up and coming Brooklyn’s cafés on the other side.
- Museum of Modern Art – Thursday evenings with free audio guide in several languages
- Chinatown and Little Italy
- Staten Island Ferry – The Statue of Liberty is closed for repairs so we decided to take the free ferry across to Staten Island to get a passing view of the statue and a great view of the New York Skyline.
- A Harlem Gospel Mass – Very touristy but a good excuse to visit Harlem to taste its culinary delights while you‘re there.