My recent travel blogs have all been written about warmer climates or my visits happened to coincide with the summer months. This New York Travel Blog is a departure as I delve into history and style of New York City!
In this latest travel blog I head across the ‘pond’ to the east coast of America and my first ever visit (5 days) to New York in early Spring. Early planning ensured a trip to Broadway, a view of the Statue of Liberty, a walk round Manhattan’s iconic buildings and a sunny afternoon along the remarkable reclaimed rail line and now a public park called High Line.
So the question is!
Is it New York, New York City, the Big Apple or simply NYC amongst a host of other names?
The answer is all of the above and with over 8 million of a population it is the United States’ most populous city. It’s also the most densely populated city in the US with the population crammed into 300 square miles (778 km2). Located in the most southern tip of the State of New York, the city also has over 58 million people living within 250 miles (400 km) of its boundaries. Due to its size, its importance in business, politics, research & technology, fashion, sport and being home to the United Nations Headquarters, New York is regularly described as the capital of the world.
History – How it all began.
New York City traces its origins to a 1624 Dutch trading post founded on the southern tip of Manhattan Island and named New Amsterdam. In 1664 it was renamed New York by the British after Charles II – King of England gave the land to his brother, the Duke of York.
In 1673 the Dutch regained the land for 15 months renaming it New Orange. The English took the land back again a year later and the city has been continuously named New York from then on. Since 1790 it has been the United States’ largest city and previously (1785 – 1790) was the capital of the United States.
The city flag is a vertical tricolour in blue, white, and orange, some also have the City seal in the white centre. The design is derived from the flag of the Dutch Republic as used in New Amsterdam in 1625.
Why The Big Apple
This nickname originated in the 1920s when journalist John J. Fitz Gerald, referenced the term used by African American stable hands in New Orleans. He wrote a New York Morning Telegraph article about the many horse races and racecourses in and around New York. He noted that the jockeys and trainers who aspired to race on New York City tracks all referred to the significant money prizes as the ‘Big Apple’. At the time the prize money was the biggest and best around, where winning would change their lives forever.
The term was later reinvented in the 1970s by the New York tourist authorities.
New York Tartan Week
Arriving in New York just after Tartan week was disappointing however, on day one I didn’t expect to see people still wearing kilts on 5th Avenue. America is home to around six million people of Scottish descent. It seems they celebrate just as enthusiastically as any other diaspora, although remember, no matter where you are in the world too much Scotch Whisky may give you a very sore head. In New York, Tartan Week rivals St Patricks Day. Unfortunately, we missed the last of three Tartan Week performances by our local band, The Laurette’s by a day!
Arrival – Day 1
Accommodation – Hotel Kixby 45 West 35th Street.
Situated in the heart of New York City’s vibrant Herald Square in Midtown West just off 5th Avenue. One of the newest independent boutique hotels in Herald Square, minutes from the city’s favourite attractions such as the Theatre District, the Empire State Building, Bryant Park, Madison Square Gardens, Macy’s, Penn Station, Grand Central Station and Times Square.
On first impression the hotel easily blends past and present with inspiring design, vintage influence and local art. The 195 guest rooms and suites mirror the relaxed sophistication of the New York City lifestyle, with compact but well layed out interiors that reflect its unique heritage and present day New York.
Black Tap’s Lot 15 is the bar and cocktail lounge connected with the hotel, it’s bursting with the charm of old-world New York City. Decorated in black and gold, a nice place to enjoy a drink especially the locally named Manhattan cocktail which originated in the late 1800s on Manhattan Island. Traditionally, it consists of rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, and a dash of angostura bitters.
Unfortunately the hotel’s Lookup Rooftop Bar only opens July to September. It is a highly recommended though as it provides breathtaking views of the Empire State Building, it looks so close, just ‘Lookup’ and take in the spectacular sight. The positive is you can still access the terrace even when the bar is closed.
Iconic Buildings – Self Walking Tour
Empire State Building
St Patrick’s Cathedral
The Chrysler Building
Grand Central Station
Macy’s original flagship store
The Flatiron Building
Looking to view the top iconic buildings in Manhattan we decided on a self walking tour. Our walk took nearly 3 1/2 hours and we managed to see nine magnificent sights and develop sore feet as well as very strained necks from looking high up into the skies above!
Since the late 1800s Manhattan’s skyline has been shaped and developed into today’s picture postcard view. Even during the Great Depression of the 1930s, the world’s tallest buildings were still being built in Manhattan and it certainly challenges the rest of the world in skyscraper architecture. These include the Art Deco masterpieces that remain part of the city’s iconic skyline, probably the most well known being the Empire State Building, the Rockefeller Plaza and the Chrysler Building. To this day and despite other buildings throughout the world having passed them by in height terms, these New York icons are as popular as ever and remain worldwide attractions.
Paying a visit to at least one viewing platform is a must. At the Rockefeller Centre we took the forty three second lift to the sixty seventh floor to ’Top of the Rock’ and took in the magnificent 360 degrees views across the city. Simply breathtaking views.
As you will also see on these walking tours, Manhattan’s renowned architecture is not only about skyscrapers. Intricate planning and building control over the years have helped create buildings such as Grand Central Station. This stunning sight sits with high-rise buildings all around it, with the main facade, a Roman triumphal arch, seen as the gateway to New York City. A wander inside the various levels of the station is highly recommended.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a stunning neo-gothic Roman Catholic Cathedral tucked away amongst the modern buildings of Midtown Manhattan. Building commenced in 1858 and although situated across from the Rockefeller Centre and Radio City, it couldn’t be more different in style and design. It is the largest gothic Catholic cathedral in North America and is also known as America’s Parish Church. An international historic marble landmark as well as a fully functioning church that opens its doors to more than 5 million visitors each year.
The original Macy’s Building on Herald Square was its flagship store and covers an entire block, limited to only nine stories high. Architecturally, it is a stand out and grand history staring right back at you! The old wooden escalator on the Broadway side just oozes class and tradition. Built in 1902, Macy’s was the first building in the world to have an escalator.
Standing proud on Broadway and 5th Avenue is the unique wedge shaped Flatiron Building. Tourists gather all day long in the oasis which is Madison Garden park opposite or at outside tables on nearby street cafes just to photograph or simply gaze in awe at this sight!
There are various self-guided walking tours which take you to the most famous buildings in Manhattan, most importantly you can dictate your own pace.
Dinner – The Harold
1271 Broadway On 32nd Street between Broadway & 6th Avenue.
We stumbled across The Harold Bar & Restaurant whilst finishing our iconic building walking tour. We were a bit jaded after an 8 hour flight and a long walk however we had dinner seated at the bar, where the food and service by bar tender Evelyn Jack were great. Would recommend visiting this restaurant at any time of day even just to have a refreshment and watch Evelyn mix cocktails in her own imitable style.
Day 2 – The High Line
West 30th Street, West side Manhattan.
This is a remarkable public park built on a historic freight rail line running 30 feet above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side, it also provides fantastic views of the Hudson River and New York City skyline. Local residents successfully petitioned to save the line from demolition with the public space opening in 2009. It opens daily between 0700 and 2200 hours when visitors can walk the 1.5 miles (30 -40 mins) and experience nature in the city, some cool artwork and stunning city views.
A wonderful walk through this area of Manhattan and away from the hussle of the city streets below.
A stress lowering and relaxing experience in what is a very busy city.
Vessel – 20 Hudson Yards, Manhattan
On approach to the High Line we literally stumbled across this very strange but interesting architectural piece at Hudson Yards. What I can only describe as a bronze spiral staircase which is a relatively new City landmark. Designed by British designer Thomas Heatherwick, the structure rises 16 stories and consists of 2,500 steps, and 80 viewing platforms.
Vessel is the main attraction at the Hudson Yards Public Square and when open to the public it will the provide incredible views of the city, the Hudson and surrounding area.
Lunch – Chelsea Market
75 9th Avenue (between 15th & 16th St)
Standing a short walk from the end (or start) of High Line on 10th Avenue is the 1850s old bakery (where Oreos were invented) which now houses the impressive Chelsea Market. I usually try and avoid markets but the sound and smells of the food hall came calling!
The building also hosts a shopping mall, offices and a television production facility and the complex takes up an entire city block.
This gem is always listed in the top attractions or lists of things to do in New York. Once you take a stroll through the market you will understand why. Meal times can be exceptionally busy but there are some fantastic options to choose from.
The place was packed out on our visit and the queue at Los Tacos No. 1 was very long, however it did move fairly quickly. Being so busy we opportunistically grabbed two bar stools at an adjacent bar which didn’t appear to have a name! I now know it’s called Mayhem.
This turned out a real winner as the New York speciality sandwiches (Dragon & Binger Jnr) we had for lunch were outstanding. A couple of glasses of rose wine while watching the world go by was just what the Doctor ordered after walking 15 thousand steps before lunch! A gem of a find in a bustling market, watching the excitement of both adults and kids line up for tacos was amusing!
Mayhem only serves food Wednesday to Sunday so be aware plus if you’re in line for tacos you can order a take away drink while waiting!
Washington Square North.
The Washington Arch is an impressive marble arch standing proud on the edge of Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village. The arch commemorates the 1789 inauguration of George Washington as President of the United States. Washington was sworn in on the balcony of New York City’s old City Hall during the city’s period as the first capital of the United States.
Washington Arch with a modern day Yellow Taxi
Breakfast – Jack’s Wife Frida Soho, 226 Lafayette St.
Best described as very tasty South African Israeli Jewish Grandmother Cuisine. The menu tells the story of Jack and Frida and how it all began. There are five restaurants throughout the city. The Soho restaurant is a great spot for either breakfast, lunch or dinner. The interesting menu provides delightful options and I’m sure you’ll love what you order. The fresh cantaloupe juice was just incredible. A must try when in NYC.
Staten Island Ferry
Whitehill Terminal, Whitehill St.
Along with thousands of other tourists we boarded the free Staten Island ferry taking in the stunning New York coastline as we sailed on the iconic orange ferry. Absolutely the best way to see New York Harbour, the Statue of Liberty and a very impressive Manhattan skyline. On clear days you can see the Brooklyn Bridge in the distance.
Top tip is to disembark at Staten Island (mandatory) and immediately catch the return service to Manhattan. The ferries depart every 30 minutes (on the hour and half hour) and the sail takes about 25 minutes, this quick turnaround can easily be done and all free!
The Double Bridge Walk
After the Staten Island Ferry we headed for our second round trip of the day. This time it was walking across the East River on Brooklyn Bridge, a quick lunch at Time Out Market and then a walk back across Manhattan Bridge. Both bridge walks took about 20 minutes and provided incredible views of the rivers and city skyline. Brooklyn Bridge was far more impressive to walk but very crowded while Manhattan Bridge had very few people on the walkway.
The Brooklyn Bridge as it’s been known since 1915 was the first suspension bridge to use steel for its cable wire and spans the East River between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Opened in 1883 it was the first fixed crossing of the East River and at the time, the longest suspension bridge in the world. The busiest bridge for tourists by far with impressive stone arches.
The Manhattan Bridge connects Chinatown and Downtown Brooklyn. The bridge pioneered the use of “two-dimensional” slender steel towers and supports seven lanes of vehicular traffic, four train lines, a pedestrian walkway and a separate bikeway. It was completed in 1909 due to the overcrowding of the Brooklyn Bridge and it is the youngest of the three East River suspension bridges. The Chinatown entrance to the bridge has an elaborate stone portal and broad plaza. Walking on the bridge can be extremely noisy with a constant rattling on rail joints and braking from the trains.
Manhattan Bridge stone portal
Bar 54 – 135 West 45th Street.
A truly unforgettable setting 54 floors up in New York City’s highest rooftop bar at the Hyatt Centric, Times Square where you can take in some of the best views in Manhattan and enjoy some slightly expensive cocktails, fine wines and food. Unfortunately, the window booths can only be reserved for three persons or more.
Perched above the city, Bar 54 is an unforgettable location, we visited for drinks and small plates before going to the theatre.
Reservations are a must and you will be asked to show your reservation on several occasions before you are actually allowed into the hotel lift. Rather an excessive feel to the security checks, especially when there were several free tables in the venue. Maybe something for Hyatt to think about!
Moulin Rouge – The Musical
The Al Hirschfeld Theatre – 302 West 45th St between 8th Avenue & 9th Avenue.
Broadway is awash with musicals and theatre productions, our theatre was originally the Martin Beck Theatre. Designed in Moorish and Byzantine styles, it opened in 1924 seating 1,404 people across two levels. Both the Theatre frontage and the interior are New York landmarks.
Moulin Rouge officially opened at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on 25 July, 2019.
Baz Luhrmann’s movie is a favourite in my house and the show expertly brought it to life onstage, the musical certainly hits the mark. The show combines all the glitz and grandeur of the cabaret club inspired by the windmill venue in Paris. A real celebration of truth, beauty, freedom and love! To quote the movie it’s “A story about time, a story about a place, a story about the people. But above all things, a story about love”.
The amazing theatre set, costumes, talented singing and dancing were worth it. The music from Talking Heads, Annie Lennox, Adele to Rihanna was very well produced, so relevant and at times very funny which added laughter to the show. This musical does not disappoint!
I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting New York. It was one of the highlights of our trip. The musical doesn’t win 10 Tony awards for nothing!
Breakfast – Toast Cafe 968 6th Avenue.
This busy food venue is handily located a short walk from the Kixby Hotel, from its name we thought it was a cafe and although there is a seating area on the upper level, it mainly offers a large selection of breakfast, lunch and dinner take away options, appealing to many travellers is a hot & cold food buffet serving various national cuisines. You name it, they will most probably have it.
On our ‘chill’ day, I dropped by to pick up a light breakfast to have on the hotel rooftop terrace. I ended up trying their magnificent freshly squeezed healthy juices.
In life it’s hard to beat having breakfast on a bar stool in the April sunshine staring at the Empire State Building!
A view from Central Park.
Central Park stretches from North 110th St to Central Park South (59th St) and from Central Park West (8th Avenue) to 5th Avenue.
It is an urban park and is the fifth largest park in the city. Claimed to be the most visited urban park in the United States, with an estimated 42 million visitors annually and also the most filmed location in the world. It has it all – nature, sport, history, education and restaurant/cafes.
In 1853 civic philanthropists and leaders agreed to build a park to provide locals with green space, moving New York City to a world class destination. Funds were soon raised to purchase the land which was previously rocky and swampy and home to small farms and settlements.
Now a stunning location and well worth a wander through especially in the sunshine. It is certainly the alter ego of the busy streets of Manhattan.
Monarch Rooftop 71 W 35th St.
As it was Saturday night we decided to reserve two standing only places at this rooftop bar. On arrival we confirmed we had a reservation. We were asked exactly what time did we reserve our places. Even on showing an email booking confirmation we were classed as ‘walk-ins’. Initial perceptions should have made us think twice but we wanted to give it a chance. Then came a demand for identification from the two doormen. They were very abrasive and made absolutely no eye contact. It was as if they were doing us a favour allowing us access! A drink each later and after taking in what was a relatively poor skyline view we left but not before being ‘ordered’ to stay in a particular spot for the lift. Found this quite funny as we were the only people leaving. Maybe they should adopt the NYPD motto of CPR – Courtesy, Professionalism & Respect!
Quite possibly a place to avoid.
After a late check out from the Kixby Hotel we set off on a slow stroll to Ground Zero. Stopping on the way for brunch.
Brunch – Westville 88, 7th Avenue.
A great priced central restaurant, which has branches throughout the city. Offers a wide selection of food including vegetarian, vegan with meat options. Packed out at 1100 on a Saturday morning. Colin our waiter was great for advice, sitting sipping a Mimosa and eating fabulous food on 7th Avenue in the morning sun on our last day set us up perfectly.
Pit stop – Greenwich Tavern 399 Greenwich St.
While walking in the heat towards Ground Zero a pit stop was required. The Greenwich Tavern was jumping and a beer sitting in the sun and warm April breeze certainly helped recharge the batteries. Staff (Elani) were brilliant even though it was so busy. Great place for a chilled beer in Greenwich!
Ground Zero – National September 11 Memorial & Museum 180 Greenwich St.
The World Trade Centre site and Memorial is often referred to as ‘Ground Zero’. The original World Trade Centre complex stood on the site until it was destroyed in the September 11 Twin Towers terrorist attacks of 2001, which killed 2,977 people, and not to be forgotten the memorial also remembers the 1993 bombing which killed 6 people.
Having worked in the world of counter terrorism, this really brought it home to me what the continued challenges aim to stop!
They are truly fitting and stunning monuments of reflection and respect, just seeing the thousands of names brings tears to your eyes. Thankfully these very impressive memorials will undoubtedly keep the memory alive of those brave souls who lost their lives and also those families affected by it. So hard to comprehend that this is in the middle of New York City and why extremists would want to commit such an atrocity.
The visit is a real somber moment but very worthwhile to pay respects.
Oculus – 185 Greenwich St.
Right next to Ground Zero stands the mightily impressive Oculus, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Despite its stunning looks, it’s also a transportation hub serving over one million people every week. I understand it is supposed to resemble a dove leaving a child’s hands. However, so close to where the Twin Towers stood I thought it was an angel’s wings. Another stunning and thought provoking reflection on the atrocity of 9/11.
If you’re at the 9/11 monuments you cannot miss this!
It’s a wrap! Or should it be ‘I’m leaving today’!
Well we have come to the end of a 5 day New York City break. A fabulous experience, the ability and opportunity to walk the sights in near perfect weather was a huge bonus. Walking 12.5 miles (20 kilometres) a day does take its toll on you, so our second last day was spent sitting in the sun in Central Park which undoubtedly recharged our batteries and topped off a wonderful experience.
New York is certainly the ‘City that doesn’t sleep’ with its 24 hour hustle and bustle. Once acclimatised you only notice the sirens, car horns and people’s voices when they reduce dramatically, normally between 0200 and 0400 in the morning. The quietness of the streets may then awaken you!
A highly recommended City break.
To conclude, Alicia Keys lyrics say it all for me in the chorus of her ‘Empire State of Mind’ song.
‘In New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of
there’s nothin’ you can’t do
now you’re in New York
these streets will make you feel brand new
big lights will inspire you
let’s hear it for …… New York!’
Gourock’s ‘Avid Traveller’
In Association with Rogues Guide by Rogues in Paradise
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