Spending almost a week in this incredible city, all the usual clichés came to mind, the city that doesn’t sleep, if you can make it here you can make it anywhere and Frank Sinatra’s famous New York New York playing as the soundtrack to our latest adventure. New York really isn’t a city, it’s a world and we were so excited to be in unique New York.
Our flight arrived in JFK around 4:30pm. We’d booked the Super Shuttle which is definitely the most cost effective and budget friendly way to get to your hotel at $20 per person. We were a bit intimidated to try and navigate our way on public transport first thing. As soon as you have collected your bags, you make your way to ground transportation and they group you into shared shuttles depending on your hotel location. The only disadvantage of this is that you are in a shared shuttle so it can take a while to reach your hotel especially if you are the last to be dropped off. I would recommend this option but if you would like a direct route, the same desk can arrange a taxi and most of them have a fixed fee of around $50 into Manhattan.
We arrived at the Hudson hotel, located on the South West corner of Central Park or W 58th street to be exact. The hotel is uber-trendy and stylish. On arrival you are sent up an illuminated escalator to arrive at the lobby. Exposed brick and ivy decorate the dimly lit room with a great playlist welcoming you to your stay. The rooms themselves are quite small but from our research we were expecting this so there were no disappointments, a good example of why reviews can help decide your stay. The breakfast area is a great area with low hanging light bulbs turning into a bar from 5pm onwards and the hotel also boasts a Library bar and outdoor beer garden for the warmer months. I would recommend this hotel and you can read my Trip Advisor review here for more.
We decided to get stuck in straight away and headed for Times Square. Times Square itself is a bit chaotic and one visit was enough for us. The bright lights are mesmerizing and the energy is exactly as you would imagine it to be. Don’t get conned into comedy tickets like we did, at $10 a ticket, we eventually ended up giving this a skip. Later that week, a friend told us about Comedy Cellar which although we didn’t make it to, comes highly recommended. A great recommendation for Times Square as well is the cocktail lounge in the Renaissance hotel and although our jet-lagged selves didn’t make it to this either, this is our friend Mark’s secret spot (sorry Mark for spilling the beans) offering great views of Times Square away from the excitement and crowds below.
As jet-lag kicked in we walked home finding a typical American diner along the way for a dinner of a burger and a pastrami sandwich. Just a reminder, in the USA tipping is 20% and is definitely expected if it hasn’t already been added to your bill. We found the subway very easy to navigate, you can pick up a map almost anywhere and we bought a 7 day card for $30 which was great value for our stay.
After a good night’s sleep, we started our trip with an unrivaled view at the top of the Empire State Building. We pre-booked our tickets here and opted for skipping the queue which I would recommend as you just never know what the queues will be like on the day. The ticket is also valid for a year from the date of purchase and not time specific so you can use as and when you’d like. We also opted for the observation deck which is on the 102nd floor but even just the 86th floor was enough to get a glimpse of this breath-taking city below.
From here we made our way to the Highline starting at 23rd street. The Highline is a 1.45 mile-long (2.33 km) New York City park built on an elevated section of a disused rail. This was a lovely way to spend the morning, passing Eduardo Kobra’s mural – a bright take on Alfred Eisenstaedt’s V-J Day photo of a couple kissing in Times Square. As you pass other artist installments and glimpse views of the Chelsea pier where Titanic once docked, you can work up an appetite for the renowned Chelsea market. Unfortunately we didn’t time this well, it was peak hour lunch time and the weekend so it was very full. We made a visit to Amy’s bread for the best slice of cake and although we didn’t sample any, the brownies at Fat Witch are legendary. If you’re a fan of Anthropologie like I am, the Anthropologie store next to Chelsea market is one of the best I’ve been to.
Luckily on our walk we’d spotted Gansevoort market which was much quieter and very chic. Tucking into pizza slices from Luzzo’s and chicken schwarma’s we spent some time watching the stylish people of the Meatpacking district go about their weekend. After lunch we made our way to the Spotted Pig for a drink. The Spotted Pig is essentially a gastropub with a great vibe, a casual fun foodie spot (the burgers looked amazing), watering hole with the occasional celeb spotting. From here we made our way along Bleeker Street which is great for shopping and coffee shops including the famous Magnolia bakery which is worth a visit if you can handle the queues.
We finished in Soho which was one of my favourite areas and the place was abuzz with people. We popped into the MoMa design store for contemporary cool items, Saturdays for a bit of a surf fix for Phil, found the most beautiful laser printed map of Manhattan and ended with a coffee from Balthazar patisserie. After a full day exploring we headed home to spruce up for a night on the town.
We’d made a reservation at Locande Verde which came highly recommended. Open table is an amazing online booking system that we hadn’t used elsewhere but booking in Manhattan is advised especially on weekends. Before dinner we popped into Smith and Mills for cocktails, a cosy cocktail bar with enough space for about 20 people but oozing charm and sass, a great find! Locande Verde is Robert de Niro’s restaurant inside his Greenwich hotel.
We were escorted to a romantic corner table by the window. For starters we ordered the lamb meatball sliders and steak tartar although they also brought us sheep’s milk ricotta on the house which Phil devoured and declares this dish his best of the trip. For mains, I had the lamb pasta and Phil the Paccheri. For dessert we couldn’t resist the velvety smooth lemon tart. Intimate and stylish with a heavenly and surprisingly affordable menu along with impeccable service – make this hands down one of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to.
On Monday we decided to kick off where we’d left off-Soho and while we did a bit of shopping and wandered the streets making our way to China Town and Little Italy. China Town was very busy. Sampling Dim Sum is apparently the thing to do at one of the many authentic cafes and restaurants. As you walk into Little Italy, the whole atmosphere changes from the accents to the smells.
We ate at Butcher’s Daughter, not very Italian but rather a healthy California style café serving fresh smoothies and their renowned smashed avo – as Phil correctly put it, “just avo on toast” but nonetheless a great spot for healthy, wholesome goodness. We poked our noses into Lombardi’s in Nolita, the birthplace of the New York style pizza. If you have the time and appetite this is worth a visit although there are so many pizza places to choose from so not to worry if you miss it.
After a morning on our feet, we decided to explore Central Park on bikes. There is a clearly marked cycle trail and it was wonderful to be outdoors, watching the city locals do their thing and stop at all the iconic places in the park. The park itself is a very special place, a real oasis in the middle of this concrete jungle and we decided if we had more time we’d visit it again before we left.
That evening we were lucky enough to meet up with an old friend, Chris Mclean – one of my brother’s oldest and closest friends who spent many a weekend on our farm during high school and was also a fellow UCT student. It was great to catch up and reminisce and more importantly meet his lovely wife Liz. It was useful to hear first-hand what living in the city was really like from the surf – yes surf, to working life, to local spots like Spring Lounge in Soho. We were due to go to the rooftop bar at the Empire hotel which I’d recommend if you are there in the summer months, it looks awesome but it was closed while we were there. We settled for drinks in the lobby of the Empire hotel which had a sophisticated bar and we could have stayed there all night chatting.
Earlier that day, we’d visited the Lincoln centre and seen Jazz advertised at Dizzy’s Coca Cola club. This is one of the best jazz venues in the city, if not the world. Unfortunately they were sold out but if you got there at 8pm for the 9:30pm show you had a chance of getting in which we luckily did. This was a truly memorable experience, watching some of the best jazz musicians with the twinkling lights of Manhattan as the backdrop. Even though my jet lag was kicking in, it was an evening I’ll never forget.
On Tuesday, we’d pre-booked a guided tour of the 9/11 museum here. It was an early start but well worth it, this isn’t something you want to rush and I’d recommend giving yourself at least 3-4 hours here. After our very informative guided tour, we spent over an hour in the exhibition hall which shows some heart-wrenching footage but a trip to the museum isn’t complete without this. The experience is very sombre but despite leaving with a heavy heart, I can’t speak highly enough of the museum only having opened in May 2014. It is a beautiful memorial and tribute to that tragic day and still affects so many. The water pools outside the museum are also a symbolic architectural reminder of where these towers once stood and all that they stood for.
After the museum, we walked around Wall Street past the New York Stock Exchange and the Charging Bull. We grabbed a New York hot dog and sat on some stairs watching the suits walk by. We decided to take the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty. While you can do tours to Liberty Island, these can take up to 4 hours and we had heard that the view of Lady Liberty from the Staten Island ferry was good enough plus the trip was free and only 30 minutes. With limited time, we opted for this and were glad that we did. One piece of advice, if you are in a hurry, make sure you are at the front ready to get off in Staten Island and run around to the returning ferry – you have to get off but if you aren’t quick you’ll miss it like we did and end up sitting in the terminal for 30 minutes waiting for the next one.
From the tip of Manhattan we headed up to Gramercy district and found Eataly. Eataly is any foodie’s heaven, even a non-foodie would love this place – a temple of all things Italian. It is full with wonderful kitchen tools, recipe books but most of all the finest Italian ingredients. I could have filled two suitcases with treats. We sat down for lunch at La Pizza and La Pasta. Part of Eataly is a food hall with a variety of different eating options so once you’ve finished browsing you can curb your Italian cravings with chicken liver gnocchi or mouth-watering pizza like we did. There is also a rooftop beer garden for warmer days. The Flatiron building is walking distance away, an iconic building and great photo opportunity as you now stand on the famous 5th avenue. I couldn’t resist popping into a few shops including Kate Spade and Made well which I absolutely fell in love with.
After a quick trip back to the hotel, we geared up for our New York Knicks game at Madison Square garden. If you can, I’d highly recommend fitting a sport event into your itinerary from basketball or baseball to ice hockey – use Ticket Master to browse what’s on. The atmosphere is great and the entertainment during time-outs alone is enough to give you that all American culture feeling as you snack on nachos and sip on Budweiser waving your foam hand in the air.
On Wednesday, a treat was in store for Phil. One of Phil’s oldest and closest friends Mark Copson had been scheming with me all week to come and surprise Phil in New York. We were due to head to Boston the following day but adding an extra day onto our time with him was very special. As Phil waited patiently for me to ‘get my things together’, Mark casually strolled up and stood next to him while Phil did a double take. It was a perfectly executed surprise if I don’t say so myself and well done Mark!
We headed straight to the Standard Grill for mimosas and lunch before bar hopping for the rest of the day. We came across Tiny’s, something I’d found on Pinterest and was well worth tracking down for craft cocktails in a cosy setting and one of the smallest buildings in Manhattan. We visited Spring Lounge, Chris’s local haunt and the perfect place for people watching in Soho with floor to ceiling windows on the busy Spring Street and finally ending at Grand Central Station. I’d heard so much about this venue and it’s infamous Oyster Bar and it was probably one of my highlights. The entire station is breathtakingly beautiful and I could only look in awe at the hordes of commuters who get to frequent this station every day to and from work. Sampling some of the freshest and most delicious oysters I’ve ever had, accompanied by some sparkling wine and topped off with a piece of New York cheese cake in great company, I was in my element.
After a quick sprucing up, we luckily got to see some more friends from sunny SA in the library bar within our hotel. Jos and Richard have been leaving in New York for a year and did their articles with Phil at PWC. Again it was great to catch up with friends, hear their New York stories and get more of a glimpse into this wonderful city. After a few drinks we went back to Mark’s stomping ground, the Standard hotel for drinks in their beer garden and then popped into the Brass Monkey for a few more before heading home in my final yellow cab ride of the trip.
On Thursday we managed to spend the morning having a quick stroll around Central Park again, visiting the archway which we hadn’t been to before. The archway is famous for live musicians and apparently there is never a moment without some musician, band or talent playing at this iconic spot. We were lucky enough to hear a local gospel choir.
Although we didn’t fit museums into our trip, the MOMA, Guggenheim and MET are recommended. The MET apparently gives fantastic views over Central Park. Other hotels or recommendations for hotels we came across were Ace Hotel, Dream Hotel, Nomad Hotel and the Standard Hotel which we ate and drank at and also offers a great rooftop bar. For more budget friendly stays I’ve heard the Pod hotels are good but be prepared for a small room. Then again, how much time do you actually spend in the room anyway. Shopping was low on our priority list for this trip although we did fit in a few shops. If I return I’d love to visit the famous Sak’s Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman’s plus have lunch in their restaurant overlooking Central Park, Nordstrom for brand names at discount prices, Macy’s the biggest department store, Bloomingdales and Barneys – that might be a trip for the girls.
There wasn’t enough time to fit in all the shops, café’s, restaurants, markets and shows that Manhattan has to offer, I think that’s the thing about New York, it always leaves you wanting more and a second, third or fiftieth visit is always welcome. I’d also love to visit Brooklyn and the surrounding areas of Manhattan, apparently the Smorgasbord market in Brooklyn is a must but it’s only open on weekends. I would also love to return to New York in the warmer months with Central Park in all its glory and the pavements alive with chic city dwellers.
After a busy few days in the Big Apple, it was time to head to Boston. The train to Boston departs from Penn Station and you can buy tickets online beforehand here. The train is roughly 4 hours, there is a faster 3 hour train but we were happy to have the time to put our feet up, catch a quick nap and get a glimpse of the scenery as we entered Massachusetts and the New England area. I’d recommend the train over a flight because you avoid the queues, security, taxis etc. that will end up being probably the same amount of time door to door. On arrival in Boston, we immediately picked up Mark’s wife Tammy and that evening headed to their local haunt, Loco’s for some of the best cocktails and Mexican. The place was buzzing and it was a great welcome to the city. I immediately felt more relaxed in Boston and it is a very liveable city.
On Friday morning we went to L street diner– this is your typical all American diner in the heart of Southie. I had pancakes with bacon and maple syrup (as you do) and Phil had the Irish breakfast, which was the biggest plate of breakfast I’ve ever seen. Mark showed us around his beloved city giving us a tour of all the sights Boston has to offer including; Harvard – which was a novelty for me, the Boston common, the shopping streets and ending with coffee at the Top of the Hub for a 360 degree view of Boston. We ended the day at Legal Harbourside for Boston clam chowder and lobster rolls, a wonderful meal before heading to Mark’s local watering hole, Local for some American craft beer. That night we dined at Bostonia, yet another delicious meal which Boston didn’t seem to be short of followed by a night on the town visiting Liberty hotel – an old jailhouse, the Empire lounge and one or two others.
A great way to begin our last day was a hearty breakfast at Rosebud café with its own Bloody Mary making station. After a bit of shopping, visiting the Quincy market halls and a fresh food market we visited another favourite of our Boston hosts, Stats – an American sports bar where the meal of the day was chicken tenders. Before heading home, we visited the bar from Good Will Hunting (The South Boston Bar). It was sad to bid farewell to Boston, Mark and Tammy and our US trip. It’s always so lovely to catch up with friends and this couple were the ultimate hosts – thank you!
This is a rather lengthy post but hopefully it will give some insight into a wonderful, memorable trip and give a few tips to people with New York or Boston or both on their travel lists. Although there was a lot left to still do in New York – for now I am content with the list we busily ticked off and happy to leave an ellipsis on this magical city.
‘One belongs to New York instantly. One belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years’ – Thomas Wolfe