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One World Trade
I tend to start my visit with all the cool things downtown. The One World Trade Center is so mesmerising, and if you head down there early morning the sunrise reflecting on the glass panels gives it a beautiful shine.
The One World Trade also offers an observatory deck to get stunning views of the city skyline which you can’t miss out on! I grab my ticket online which is the cheapest option. This iconic structure is well worth the visit.
9/11 Memorial and Museum
Whilst you’re downtown, definitely visit the 9/11 memorial fountains. This place really does give you time to think about what happened during the attacks and it’s a place to think of all those who were affected. Take some time out to remember those who lost their lives on that horrendous day and pay your respects to those who helped as much as they could.
Whilst visiting the fountains you should also visit the museum, which is by far the most eye-opening experience I’ve had in my whole life. The objects and items on display in the museum are like they’ve been taken from the disaster, dusted off and put on display. The fact that everything is just as it was and so real makes the visit to the museum a must. You will really appreciate everything in the museum and you can spend a good two-an-a-half hours in there so make sure you set aside the time to see everything.
Staten Island Ferry
Another great thing to do whilst you’re downtown is the Staten Island Ferry. I recommend this because it’s free! I love free things—what more can I say?
Hop on the ferry at Whitehall Ferry Terminal (commonly known as South Ferry Terminal) and sail across to Staten Island. On the way over you'll see amazing views of downtown Manhattan and also great opportunities to snap some pictures of Lady Liberty herself. This option is the best to get pictures of her if you’re like me and tend to find the best ways to do everything whilst spending the least amount of dollars. There are other boats which will take you over to the island and get better close ups but if you’re just wanting to see the statue and get a picture to say, “Yup, I’ve seen that,” then the Staten Island Ferry is for you.
Whilst you’re on Staten Island, why not explore what it has to offer? I found that there aren't a great deal of tourist attractions on Staten Island but I never went there with intentions to have a good look around. I think that if you do a little research, there will be a huge variety of places to see to top off the visit. Don't waste a perfect opportunity! Alternatively, hop off the ferry when it terminates at Staten Island and hop back on the next service back to Manhattan. I don’t know the schedule for sure, but they are frequent—around every 15 to 20 minutes.
Empire State Building Observatory
These next recommendations are all in midtown, right in the heart of all the hustle and bustle. The Empire State Building is amazing. From the views it offers right down to the building blocks and the way it’s decorated, it will blow you away.
Once again, grab your tickets to the observatory online. There are people standing down on the streets who will try to sell you tickets for the ESB—don’t buy them! It’s a bad idea. Buy them online and you’re safe. I visited the ESB on a pretty overcast afternoon but I still had amazing views. I spent around 20 minutes staring out at the magical views. That’s 5 minutes on each side glaring in amazement as the world turned. The ESB also has binoculars. Drop in two quarter dollars and focus on any part of the skyline you like, more of a gimmic in my opinion yet still a lot of fun to try out. If this is your first time in the Big Apple, then this is a must!
Rockefeller Center (Observatory and Shopping)
The top of the rock was actually more appealing to me than the Empire State Building simply because I wanted to see the skyline with the ESB in view, and this gave me exactly that. To top it all off, I visited at night time when I got to see the city all lit up in all its glory and I won’t lie, it actually brought a tear to my eye. If you love Manhattan like I do, then the top of the rock will fulfill your desires to see that glowing skyline like you’ve always imagined it, just like on the TV!
Be mindful, it does get super cold and rather windy up there so make sure you’re wrapped up, cosy, and of course don’t forget the camera! Also, if you enter the Rockefeller Center at street level then head one level down. There is a load of stores, food outlets and restaurants, but most conveniently, the subway station. If you're feeling thirsty or if you're simply a smoothie lover then you have to follow signs to the subway station and find Jamba Juice. Jamba is life! You need to try it if you haven’t already. It won't disappoint you! If Jamba isn't desirable then at least you have multiple trains right in front of you to jump on and continue your exploration of the city.
Grand Central Terminal
Even if you aren’t catching a train, Grand Central Terminal is something you shouldn't miss out on! The paintings on the ceiling and the design and architecture are impeccable. This place is a tourist attraction for a reason—it’s great to look at and has a lot of history. I must admit, I’ve never spent any longer than 20 minutes here but it’s still worth a visit to get some pictures and to admire the work that has gone into making this one of the most famous buildings within Manhattan.
The terminal does get rather busy and crowded with people so 20 minutes is more than enough time. Try to find the whispering gallery. If you and someone else stand at opposite sides of the arched ceiling and whisper something then the person on the other side should hear your whispers loud and clear! I tried it but it didn't work for me. Was I doing something wrong? Give it a go and see if you can hear the whispers!
Honestly, I’ve been to Manhattan five times and I’ve still not seen all of Central Park. It’s unfathomable. This park is so huge that it would probably take weeks to explore everything. Don’t let that put you off though. If you wanted you could easily spend a whole day in the park, although you would be exhausted from all the walking.
There is so much to do here other than exploring on foot. Horse and carriage rides are available from the edges of the park. They are very pricey though so be careful. The operators are good at making it sound reasonably priced then after your ride they squeeze every spare cent from your wallet. Food stands are also everywhere around the park perimeter, try some authentic NYC street food, like a pretzel or hotdog. It’s great, keep an open mind.
Hire a bike and cycle around the park's cycle pathways and take in the fresh air and astonishing views. In the winter there's an ice rink to skate on. I’ve never done the ice skating but I’ve watched and it looks super fun, and if all of that isn’t for you then Central Park zoo is great also! I spent two hours at the zoo and if I was to visit again, it would definitely be on my to do list again. Don’t be fooled, though. There are no talking hippos, zebra, lions or giraffes.
As much as I enjoyed the wax works, it wasn’t overly exciting. Don't let me put you off though as I still think it’s something worth experiencing. It surely is fascinating how real some of these wax creations can look and the exhibitions are great.
The Ghostbusters exhibition was by far my favourite, with a self-playing piano and lots of other interactive items, such as a telephone that you can answer when it rings and a hologram of a ghost which appears to scare you. I shall leave it there now as I don't want to spoil too much for you!
Maybe visit here on a cold day or when you have some downtime. It’s the "go to" place to kill some time when you have no plans for the day or a few hours to spare.
No trip to NYC is complete without riding the subway. Don’t get me wrong, the subway isn’t for everyone. Lurking under the streets are a whole bunch of shifty, strange, and weird characters. If you stick to the main stops, they are mostly trouble free and have a good amount of law enforcement present to keep you safe during your journey.
I tend to use the subway to get from midtown to downtown and back. It’s the cheapest and quickest way, much more cheaper than using a taxi. At the bigger stops such as Pennsylvania Station, there are usually some kind of subway musicians or entertainers and dancers etc, which are fun to stop and watch. Don’t forget to tip them!
The truth is, if you don’t try the subway, you’ll never truly experience Manhattan for what it is. Don’t skip it out, try it and love it!
Why have I left out Times Square?
If you’ve made it to the end of this you’re maybe thinking, "Wait... Why did you miss out Times Square?" Well, Times Square is certainly something to visit while you’re there but for me it’s just not great. Maybe if you’re visiting for your first time then it’s a good place to see but for me, it’s just way too touristy.
Firstly, it’s far too busy. You can’t move around without dodging through groups of people or getting some kind of sales rep trying to sell you a map or a CD or an excursion of some type. Avoid the guys in the red coats. They will try to sell you tickets for the hop-on hop-off busses which are a total waste of money. Save the money and use the subway or a taxi. These methods of transport are much more convenient and cheaper.
I don’t recommend spending a long time at Times Square; it’s one of those places that once you’ve seen it, you’ve seen it and there’s no reason to see it again. Venture out into the neighbourhoods and the lesser explored places. That’s where you will get a real feel for the city.
In my opinion, New York is well and truly excellent and it’s one of my most favourite places in the world. I love the city and I love the atmosphere. There is a quote I heard, "One belongs to New York as much in one minute than they do in one year." This is absolutely true as you really do feel at home in this city from the moment you arrive and I promise you, you’ll never want to leave. It makes you want more and more and that feeling never goes away.
So please, enjoy your trip if you decide to go. I hope this article has inspired you and given you a head start for planning. Finally, I hope you love the city as much as I do. Thank you for reading this, and safe travels!