As a Brit who lived in the States for a bit I can count the number of times I’ve visited New York City on two hands. I can count the number of times I’ve enjoyed visiting New York on one hand.
My most recent trip was a good one though so I thought I’d do a Fiskal Policy episode on some suggestions of where to visit when in the Big Apple.
1. Go up a tall building
New York City has more skyscrapers than Croydon and, although I’ll always be sad the Chrysler Building doesn’t have a public viewing gallery, there are plenty of places to see the sights from a height.
This time I went to Summit at One Vanderbilt and it was the most “ouch” moment of my trip at $69.
Not just this but the best views of quite a lot of New York to be honest, especially at night when all the lights twinkle and make you realise just how much nicer the city’s skyline is compared to the ugliness of London’s Walkie Talkie and other buildings from the past 30 years.
2. Go and see a show somewhere
If you love the theatre and have the cash then there are definitely a lot of good things to choose from on Broadway – including family friendly affairs like Aladdin, and I hear The Music Man is very good.
My main reason for being in the city was to go with a friend to see David Byrne’s Utopia and I’d definitely recommend it.
But if the bright lights of Broadway aren’t your thing then fear not because every area of New York has a great nightlife scene – with Time Out New York probably the best place to start looking to see what will be on when you’re there.
I was hoping to be able to see some great comedy while I was there, but after some truly terrible stuff above a shop in 2012 I was wary of paying $25 for the same quality you could get in London for free or £5.
Also, sadly, I didn’t get to see any bands during my trip. It wasn’t for lack of trying but the only ones of interest at Bowery Ballroom were sold out and Covid seems to have removed a lot of the other venues, at least for the time being.
3. Eat in some historic places
Don’t do what I did and not question where Google is trying to send you. With my mind fixed on a world where I’d have a great bacon cheeseburger in my hands I led my friends to the head office of P.J. Clarke’s.
A quick recovery (also known as hailing a yellow taxi) led us to the company’s original restaurant, dating back to 1884.
This place had great desserts on the board, but sadly after filling myself up on raw clams (don’t worry – they were supposed to be like that) and the burger that Nat King Cole described as the cadillac of burgers I just didn’t have any room.
In the world of rooms, the men’s room had the prettiest ceiling I’d ever seen. My pictures don’t do it justice.
Keeping up the theme of traditional American foods I highly recommend a trip to a diner.
My choice for this trip was Hector’s Diner which is apparently busiest at around 4am when all the meatpackers treat themselves to some great food.
Thankfully though it is open in the daytime too so people like me can enjoy delicious blueberry pancakes before going to the Whitney Museum, which is just a few moment’s walk away.
Nowadays no-one seems sure who Hector was, but it’s a great location for lunch/ brunch/ lunch/ linner/ dinner/ breakfast for hungry walkers who have done their 10,000 steps on the High Line or for the art enthusiasts.
4. Get out of Manhattan
When I say ‘get out of Manhattan’ I mean for more than just the time it takes to go to Staten Island.
Similarly to all big cities, to get a true sense of how the place really ticks you need to leave the brightly coloured M&Ms World and saturated Times Square behind you and travel to some of the city’s other boroughs.
Williamsburg in Brooklyn is a great place for a cocktail or two and the Queens Museum in – you’ll never guess where – Queens will give you a very different perspective of the city with panorama of the city of New York from the World’s Fair in 1964.
Set in the city’s second biggest park (no prizes for guessing which one is the largest), the museum is also a rarity in New York because it is free, unless you’re in a group of 10 or more people.
The park also has a real musical statue, which plays tunes, and a massive globe which is also from the World’s Fair (and officially known as the Unisphere).
5. Go to the beach
For me Coney Island is the best part of New York City but it is sadly all too often left off tourists must-see lists.
In the summer it is full of sun worshippers and funfair enthusiasts strolling down the boardwalk clutching a Nathan’s Famous hotdog.
It’s slightly more subdued in winter with the rides mostly closed and hardly anyone on the beach but you can still buy a hotdog and sit on the sand, listening to the waves gently crashing on the shore.
6. Expect the unexpected
Walking through Koreatown trying to navigate our way to a restaurant where you wouldn’t have to remortgage your home to afford the all-you-can-eat barbecue my friends and I got a tip off from a man who advised us to try a place a short walk away.
Instead of being a pushy restaurant owner like those in Brick Lane, East London, the guy seemed a genuine tourist and genuinely excited by the tofu soup he’d just had.
To me tofu doesn’t scream excitement so I was considering a Korean omelette – but in a twist similar to when I was asked to be best man for a friend’s wedding but was then relegated to just being invited to the evening do – I then plumped for the raw crab (yes raw).
Plumped because I was presented with a plate piled high with halved blue crabs which had been smothered in a spicy chilli sauce, along with a bowl of rice and then a bowl which was lukewarm water mixed with rice.
It would have been a nice touch if the restaurant staff had given me any clues about the best ways to eat it. Instead my friends got to enjoy watching me try to master a technique of squeezing the meat out of the shells and puzzle about the watery bowl while a man behind me ate his perfectly.
7. Get a hot sandwich
Unlike British delis where someone sells you a slice of pork pie and a pot of spicy hummus, in New York they are a place where you can buy great hot sandwiches.
But sometimes, rarely, there’s a time when even the best New York sandwich won’t do.
If you’re experiencing those times then you need to do what I did and travel to New Jersey to get a sandwich.
Not just any old sandwich but one from Wawa.
Some friends have questioned why I travelled an hour on the bus from Port Authority Bus Terminal to go to a convenience store in Hackensack and then an hour on the bus back to Manhattan.
The answer was summed up by a friend on Facebook a few days ago, quite simply “Wawa is life”.
I don’t get excited about too many things these days but I was very excited as I approached my destination (with the Google blue dot helpfully ensuring I didn’t get off the bus in the wrong town).
If I had my time again I wouldn’t have added lettuce to my Philly cheesesteak and I wouldn’t have chosen the wheat bread. But other than that it was a great trip back in my memory to the Wawa in College Park in 2001.
8. Visit some old buildings
With the New York skyline being a blend of the old and the new there are a lot of old buildings to choose from.
Dating back to 1913, Grand Central Station is obviously a must see with a feeling of grandeur you simply don’t get at most public transport hubs.
But it is also good to travel to those less-well trodden by tourists to quietly contemplate the city, while also potentially ticking a box of a high school homework project.
It had a slightly remorseful atmosphere when I stopped in to take some photos of the building where the Pop Art supremo worshipped because it seemed everyone else there was going to confess their sins. So if you do visit, maybe avoid it at 5.20pm-ish.
If you haven’t heard of Walt Whitman then my next recommendation probably isn’t for you but if you have then you would definitely enjoy visiting his birthplace.
There everything is set out as it would have been during that time, and there are also very knowledgeable guides.
It felt great to get out of the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, see the water, and learn more about one of the people I wrote essays about in 1999.
My one warning if you do make the trip to Huntingdon is that the trains back to Manhattan aren’t very frequent, running approximately every hour, so check your timetable and be prepared to run so you don’t miss one.
9. Visit Central Park
Hopefully this was on your list way before you started reading this piece.
It’s a massive park and you’ll probably not manage to walk round it all but you can definitely spend quite a few hours there walking, running, cycling or boating, and just enjoying the tranquility of your surroundings as the looming tower blocks look on.
I wasn’t sure if my friends and I truly found the Ramble Cave but we definitely found the Alice in Wonderland sculpture so I did my best to recreate a pose from 2012.
Sadly I’m not as thin as I was back then but maybe there is hope for the future.
I’ve left enough things to see in New York that if I do go back again in ten years I could write a completely different piece.
Maybe by then Wawa will have spread to the UK so I won’t have to travel so far to get a nice sandwich. Who knows?
Stay safe for another week.