Way back in August of 2015, Colin and I went on our first trip together. We started it off by meeting all of my friends and family in Toronto and then exploring New York City. It was both of our first trips to New York so we wanted to see as much of The Big Apple as August humidity would allow. Below is a list of some of the main spots we went to, why they were awesome, why they sucked and what we would do differently next time.
*Disclaimer: there was a lot of New York City we missed so this list is by no means comprehensive!
**Another disclaimer: despite not being comprehensive, it’s still a fairly lengthy list. You may need to break for water while trying to get through it.
Grand Central Terminal (not Station)
PROS: Grand Central Terminal (only tourists call it Grand Central Station) was our first New York stop. The building itself is gorgeous and so iconic from all of the movies it has featured in. There is also a cool room with “whispering walls” that is worth checking out and a pretty sweet food court in the basement.
CONS: I had this overly romantic idea that I would pull Colin into the middle of a throng of busy commuters and kiss him passionately as if we were getting on two different trains. Only, the throng of commuters ended up being a bunch of overtired tourists staring at maps and busily snapping photos.
VERDICT: Definitely an easy stop to check off your New York bucket list but at the end of the day, it’s just a train station.
Shake Shack & Magnolia’s Bakery
PROS: Shake Shack and Magnolia’s are two of New York’s most iconic food chains. And they definitely produced solid food. We enjoyed our burgers and cupcakes.
CONS: But we didn’t enjoy them that much. Maybe all of the hype had raised our expectations or maybe we visited the wrong locations but we weren’t blown away or rushing to visit either place again soon.
VERDICT: If you happen to be passing a Shake Shack when you’re in the mood for a burger, sure, head in and grab one. Or if you’re a cupcake connoisseur and want to scope out the original Magnolia’s Bakery location, why not? But if you visit New York and don’t make it to either, I don’t think you’re missing much. (Native New Yorkers, please don’t kill me! I also don’t think much of California’s beloved In-N-Out, if that helps.)
Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum
PROS: Full disclosure, the sweet frigid air conditioning wafting out of this place is what initially drew us in. But it ended up being a really fun time! We loved posing with all of the celebrities and sipping on the frozen margaritas we bought (in souvenir cups, of course). And there’s actually quite a bit to see!
CONS: It’s definitely not the cheapest place to visit. You get a very clear feeling that you’re walking right into a tourist trap as you hand over your credit card. And I assume the original Madame Tussaud’s in London, with the never-ending line to get in, is way better.
VERDICT: If you visit New York City in August, this is an amazing place to get out of the heat.
PROS: Um, it’s Time freaking Square! The most iconic landmark in New York! Our first visit to Time Square was actually in the middle of a downpour. You’d think that would make it on the cons list, but it actually was a huge pro. Firstly, it helped break the disgusting humidity. And secondly, we got to watch crazy tourists do cartwheels through puddles and huddle under a yawning with local mascots Batman and Spiderman. After it was all over, the Square had pretty much cleared out so we could snap pictures and marvel at the signs to our hearts’ content.
CONS: Because it’s so iconic, you know it’s going to be packed. That’s part of the magic, so you just have to embrace it. Also, everything within eyesight is marketed to tourists and you’ll be paying way more for it. We had the pleasure of overpaying for a pretty gross Italian meal just off of the Square.
VERDICT: You definitely need to see it. You don’t, however, need to eat anywhere near it.
Alice’s Tea Cup
PROS: You’re probably wondering what this is. It’s not a New York City landmark. It is a hidden gem that Colin found for us one morning. It’s tucked between some adorable brownstones on the Upper West Side and features the most extensive list of teas. It’s an adorable place for lunch, brunch or high tea. Also, if you bring a small child there, they will offer her fairy wings to wear during her meal.
CONS: No one offered me wings 🙁
VERDICT: If you can get there, I definitely recommend it for a brunch date. It’s a great local spot and nearby to all the museums and Central Park.
American Museum of Natural History
PROS: This museum is INSANE. Honestly, if we had actually stopped to read every plaque and check out every exhibit, we would probably still be there. The place was fascinating. Bonus: it’s pay-what-you-can so is definitely affordable. Double Bonus: their air conditioning game was real strong.
CONS: It is A LOT to take in. I get museum-ed out after about an hour or two. I think we lasted three hours in this place but I was definitely feeling it by the end.
VERDICT: If you’re into museums, it’s a great one to hit. Plus, you can pretend like you’re Ben Stiller and co from Night at The Museum!
PROS: Again, so iconic! And maybe the only truly green space in the whole city. I love how huge this park is and that there’s something for everyone. We really loved the John Lennon memorial (across the street from the hotel where he died and where Yoko Ono still lives), Bow Bridge and Bethesda Fountain (the fountain from Friends!).
CONS: It’s highlights are it’s downfalls – the park is just so big! We were there for quite some time but we barely saw any of it. Also, it’s very hard to explore a park in gross weather, especially when you’re coming from a beautifully air-conditioned museum.
VERDICT: Definitely go to Central Park. And if you can go when it’s not sweltering or freezing out, all the better.
PROS: I’m not a huge baseball person but I had an amazing time at the Mets game! I bought a shirt and Colin bought a hat so we could truly support the team. There were tons of fans so the atmosphere was electric. And they won, which didn’t hurt!
CONS: It’s a bit of a ways out of the city. It’s not too hard to get there by transit but it is a long ride. And, of course, it may have been more iconic to see the Yankees play.
VERDICT: If you are into baseball, I would definitely recommend it. I can loan you my shirt 🙂
Staten Island Ferry
PROS: In preparation for our trip, I searched through all of my favourite travel blogs for NYC tips. One that kept coming up was taking a ride on the Staten Island Ferry and I’m really glad we did. First of all, the ferry is FREE! Nothing in New York is free so that in itself was cool. And you get the most amazing view of the Statue of Liberty from the boat.
CONS: Because it’s free, and used by non-tourists for actual commuting, it’s pretty busy. We went early and still had to push through the crowds for a good sightline to Lady Liberty. Also, there is nothing to do in Staten Island (sorry to any natives! But I’m right, aren’t I?). They enforce all passengers getting off the boat so we literally walked off the ferry and then joined the line to walk right back on.
VERDICT: If you have the time, this is definitely the cheapest way to get a good view of the Statue of Liberty. If you have the money and interest to see her up close and personal, I’d suggest a boat tour instead.
PROS: This was probably my favourite part of New York. I love bridges! I don’t know why but I think they are so beautiful and love being able to walk across them. In fact, the only New York City photos I have printed and framed are of the Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge itself is gorgeous but it also offers some amazing views of Manhattan.
CONS: It’s not a short bridge. And there are lots of other tourists, vendors, bikers, etc. on it so expect some crowding.
VERDICT: If you’ve brought the proper footwear for bridge walking, I definitely think this is a must for a trip to New York. Plus, unlike Staten Island, there is actually stuff to do on the other side!
PROS: What’s more New York City than authentic New York City pizza? I did my research on this one too and had us try two different places: Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn and 2 Bros Pizza in Manhattan. Grimaldi’s was delicious! Honestly, it rivals the pizza I ate in Naples (different, but almost as delicious). And 2 Bros was simply known for being tasty and cheap ($1/slice!), which it was!
CONS: Grimaldi’s is an authentic pizza place – right down to their long waits, slow service and lack of air conditioning.
VERDICT: You have to try authentic New York pizza when you visit New York. I’m not 100% sure we went to the very best places, so I would suggest doing some research first.
PROS: If you know me (or have read any of my blog posts in London), you know that I love musicals and Broadway. The greatest allure of New York City for me was the chance to see a show on Broadway. We lucked out and got to see two shows very affordably. We visited the TKTS booth and scored cheap seats to Hedwig and the Angry Inch and then Colin won us two seats to Book of Mormon during the daily ticket lottery!
CONS: There are no cons, it’s Broadway.
VERDICT: I think taking in a Broadway show is an essential part of the New York City experience. Luckily, we got to do it on the cheap. Not everyone gets to win the Book of Mormon lottery (of course Colin wins on his first time meanwhile I lost every time I entered in London). But the TKTS booth is a great way to score cheap seats. They don’t have all of the shows but you can check out the listings online. Also, pro tip: visit their location near Water St and not the one in Time Square to avoid the lines.
Top of The Rock
PROS: After some more careful research, we opted to do Top of The Rock instead of Empire State for our view of the city. I’m really glad we did, though I can’t say we definitely made the right choice since I have nothing to compare it to. But we decided to do Top of The Rock because it was less busy, less expensive and included a view of the iconic Empire State building. It’s sort of like when people go to Paris and go up the Eiffel Tour to see the view – you’re missing the most iconic building in Paris in your view because you’re standing in it! We also decided to do our Top of The Rock experience at night.
CONS: While I listed it as a pro, I think going at night was also a con. Don’t get me wrong, we got amazing views of the city all lit up. But I’m sure we missed out on the awesome sunset view. Also, it’s not such a good time if you’re not into heights.
VERDICT: I really enjoyed the experience and the view but I don’t think I would fork up the cash to do it again.
Places we just saw the outside of (and that was okay):
The following places were only outwardly graced with our presence – aka we stood on the opposite street corner and took a picture. And, to be honest, a picture from the outside was all I needed.
- The MET, Radio City Music Hall, 30 Rockefeller Center, Wall Street (Raging Bull, Trinity Church, New York Stock Exchange), Empire State Building, Flat Iron Building, Tiffany’s
Places we just saw the outside of (because we couldn’t get in):
The following places were places we wanted to see but due to early closures, long lines, expensive admission, etc. we were unable to. Until next time!
- New York Public Library, Serendipity Cafe, Yankee Stadium, World Trade Center Memorial (tour)
And that was our New York City trip! I knew I would get around to posting about it at some point 🙂 We had an amazing time and saw a lot in only a few short days. I would love to go back (and score tickets to Hamilton!) sometime soon. But there are also lots of other amazing places on my list to see!