Two weeks in New York. Instead of ‘doing the city’ we wanted to live there. Have a local’s experience, away from the crazy, hectic, tourist-centric midtown.
That’s how we found ourselves nestled in a teeny-tiny Airbnb studio in the West Village, one of New York’s most desirable neighbourhoods – a bohemian community, the birthplace of the gay and lesbian rights movement and home to New York University.
The village is the perfect mix of New York buzz and neighbourhood charm. It’s full of cafes, delis, restaurants and hole-in-the-wall wine bars, many of which you don’t even notice till they’re lit up at night. The streets are mostly small and treelined yet bursting with history and tales to tell.
In fact, much of the West Village is a protected historic precinct – you’ll notice the brown street signs which signify official historic districts across the city. And it’s perfectly located, close to the Hudson River, Soho, the High Line, Chelsea, Tribeca and the East Village. It’s an easy subway ride anywhere else if it’s too far to walk.
And walking is what you’ll do. Walking, walking and more walking, just like the locals. Our advice – take a good pair of sneakers and head out to discover a new area each day. Soho one day, Lower East Side the next, Financial district the day after, etc. We walked more than 20km some days.
No matter how far you roam though, two months, let alone two weeks, isn’t enough time to discover half of what NYC has to offer. There are so many different flavours of this city, two weeks is enough to give you a taste and leave you wanting more.
Here are some of our favourite things to do in New York.
9/11 memorial and museum
The 9/11 memorial and museum are extremely well done, and a moving tribute to the thousands who died on 9/11. The terror attacks on the World Trade Centre and other locations in the US were a defining moment of our generation and the museum captures the event in considered detail.
The memorial – twin reflecting pools situated in the footprint of the original two towers with the names of all those who died engraved around the outside – is a beautiful open and contemplative space that evokes a sense of eternity and freedom.
After taking the free ferry ride to Staten Island, wander around to Battery Park. On the southern tip of Manhattan island, the park has views straight down New York Harbour to the Statue of Liberty. It’s a very chilled place to sit for a while, have a coffee and pinch yourself that you’re in arguably the world’s most exciting city!
The United Nations HQ
After hearing about and seeing the UN and its peacekeeping efforts on TV so much over the years it was good to demystify this global institution just a little. As part of the organised tour you actually go inside the General Assembly even when it’s in-session.
You need to book the tour in advance and there’s a lengthy security process – you line up across the road from the UN to get signed in and issued with a name badge, then go through the usual security bag and body screening.
The UN is in a great location right on the East River and you’ll be surprised to learn the building is actually owned by all the member nations, not the US government, so it’s an oasis of independence in the heart of NYC.
Cycling in Central Park
Central Park is so large it’s impossible to discover everything in one visit. We hired bikes and rode around the 10km loop track – there’s one hilly part that offers a bit of a challenge otherwise it’s pretty easy going.
You’ll get a great view of the architecture surrounding the park on the Upper East and West Sides and be able to stop at various park landmarks along the way, like the beautiful Bethesda Terrace and Fountain. Refuel at the Tavern on the Green – it’s not cheap but it is Central Park after all.
Harlem Walking Tour
Harlem has a reputation for being dangerous and many years ago it wasn’t safe to walk the streets here. Now once-derelict properties are selling for millions of dollars and it’s a thriving neighbourhood with a vibrant history and culture. Do yourself a favour and do a walking tour of Harlem with Free Tours by Foot. The tours are generally run by a local and our Harlem guide was brilliant and even sang for us!
We’d also recommend eating at the well-known Red Rooster restaurant. It’s famous for its soul food (comfort food) – dishes like waffles and fried chicken, corn bread, dirty rice and shrimp. Sit outside on Lenox Avenue and watch the passing parade.
Smorgasburg in Willamsburg, Brooklyn
Brooklyn is where it’s at these days and Williamsburg is its hipster hub. We joined the throngs on a Saturday morning for Smorgasburg, the weekend Brooklyn Flea Food Markets, held at East River State Park on the Williamsburg waterfront with drop dead views of the Manhattan skyline.
The market showcases more than one hundred local and regional food creators and you can stuff yourself silly on designer donuts, deep fried anchovies and to-die-for ice-cream sandwiches. It’s a gastronomic extravaganza.
Riverside Park on the Upper West Side
On the Upper West Side running along the Hudson River is Riverside Park, a stunning walk and cycle way that runs for miles along the river. We walked more than 30 blocks, from 96th to 59th Streets, but you can wander much further. Head there at sunset in summer when the restaurants are buzzing and the live music pumping.
The New York Botanical Gardens and the Bronx Zoo are the two most popular tourist attractions in the Bronx. It’s also home to Yankee Stadium, home ground for the New York Yankees major league baseball team. If you get a chance, go to a game – we got last minute tickets for just over $20 – it’s a great atmosphere and cultural experience even if you know nothing about the game.
Of course, there’s much more to the Bronx. We wandered up the main boulevard, Grand Concourse, which boasts some beautiful Art Deco buildings, and over the newly-opened High Bridge on the Harlem River to Washington Heights.
See the American Ballet Theatre perform at The Met
Most travellers go see a show on Broadway. If you’re into dance book tickets to see the ballet at the The Metropolitan Opera House in the Lincoln Center. And while you’re at it, book a table at Le Grand Tier restaurant in the Met for the ultimate Met experience. It’s fine-dining in style in a sophisticated, luxe setting. And a good way to spot some seriously established New Yorkers.
Ride around the Manhattan waterfront
Get a bike from the Citibike share bike system and ride around the perimeter of Manhattan. You can start anywhere on the riverfront – we started on the Hudson River side – and ride around the southern tip of the island, past Battery Park, the Staten Island ferry, and under the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges to the East River park. You pay by the day ($12USD) but each ride can only last 30 minutes otherwise extra charges apply, so you need to swap the bikes over along the way.