Like all major cities, New York City is renowned for bringing Christmas magic to life during the holidays. If you are going to NYC for the first time, you are in luck! Fear not for here are the top things to do in the Big Apple on your break....
There are a number of ways to get to New York and have your share of that vibrant city life. While the article focuses on giving you tips to arrange your trip by yourself, you might want to consider alternatives such as planned trips (such as Vacances Sinorama) that offer transportation, lodging and a full day of activities. No need to break a sweat when everything is already arranged! Some companies offer great deals during the holidays and you might even get lucky and find discounted tours on Groupon!
To: If you are like me and plan on driving down to NYC from Quebec, I suggest you cross the border at Lacolle to avoid the long line-ups. Although it might be a bit of a detour, we were the only ones there and quickly made up for lost time. All in all, it took us 7h to get to the city. Alternatively, companies such as Greyhound and Megabus offer quick trips to NYC from almost anywhere. I recommend you book in advance to secure a spot and keep in mind prices spike for the holidays. Another great way to travel is by train: Amtrak offers multiple trips to and from NYC at a fairly reasonable price.
Driving in New York is not recommended, while it takes you up to 30 min to get from Greenpoint to Manhattan, taking the car can take up to 50 min! Taking public transportation is a quick way to get around the city: you can buy a top-up card, which you can fill at any station, and purchase single fares or weekend passes. A single fare is 2.50$. A useful tip when trying to purchase a subway card with a debit or credit card is entering "99999" as a zip code (or else the machine won't let you buy a ticket).
The downfall of the subway system is the organization: information is not easy to find, some trains change routes depending on the time of the day and you can find multiple trains leaving from the same platform which leads to confusion. I have never had so much trouble finding my way around and have seen rats on many occasions. While there is a sign announcing oncoming trains and you can find a map inside every station, the schedules are very hard to find. This led us to wait 30 minutes for a train who was no longer in service in the evenings, and to take 2h to get home! I'd say the only way you could find your way around is by being a local, however, we asked four people including a police officer and received four different suggestions on which routes to take. On the upside, you can find free wifi in all metro stations so Google Maps is your friend!
Taxis or Ubers are an alternative to public transit. Taxis can be cheaper than the subway on short distances and can get you there faster.
The safest bet would be an Airbnb. Most hotel (and hostel) prices increase (almost double) during the festive season. Our Airbnb was located in Greenpoint, 30 min by subway from Rockefeller Center and 4 min from the subway by foot. We had an amazing time and I highly recommend our host, Ethan, as he was attentive and knowledgeable. The room was a bit dusty but nothing too serious. The apartment itself, was nice and clean: A+
Click here to get 50$ off your next stay!
A fun way to visit a city, hang around and meet new people while learning new fun historical facts is going on a free tour. Now tours are not for everyone, as some people might find a quiet stroll in a new city more pleasurable than a faced-paced tour, but I do suggest taking a look at this 6h "All day" tour. The "All day" tour lets you get to know the city, find the best places and attractions, and offers you the possibility to visit different areas within New York, which might take a bit more time to reach on your own. I find tours allow me to discover a new city and map the places I really liked and would like to visit again later in the day (or the next). This is the best tour I could find, which really takes you all around New York in a relatively short amount of time.
Things to see:
Dyker Heights: this residential neighborhood is filled with festive lights (check out 11th and 13th Avenue and 83rd to 86th Street). You can take a bus from Central New York and enjoy a nice stroll around this colorful area.
Frank Sinatra Drive in New Jersey: no need to search any further for an amazing spot to see the New York skyline. Drive by Frank Sinatra Dr. for a magnificent view of NYC.
Brooklyn Bridge: Early in the morning or in late afternoons, head to the Brooklyn Bridge and walk to NYC (or Brooklyn) while gazing at the river, the sun and the city. A definite must and worth the 30 minutes walk!
Bryant Park: You grab a bite at the mini Christmas Market while visiting Bryant Park. Additionally, you can bring your skates and show off your moves on the ice rink, open from November to March 4th, from 8 am to 10 pm!
Grand Central Station: A truly breathtaking station, allowing you to travel back in time and imaging yourself in a romantic movie, running to tell your partner you love them or in an action film, late for your interview for your dream job!
central park and museum
Rockefeller center: Rockefeller Center is not only impressive but it serves as a great meeting spot! It is centrally located in Manhattan, close to subway stations and easy to access. While over there, have a look at the world-renowned Rockefeller Christmas Tree!
Empire State Building: To quote Alicia Key's "In New York...Concrete jungle where dreams are made of, there's nothing you can't do". The empire state building is New York's icon, an emblem that you cannot miss while on your trip to New York.
Times Square: One cannot go to NYC without heading to Times Square. The lights, the massive buildings, the world's largest store make you feel like you've entered a different world: one where everything is bright and big!
Grand Central Park: Central Park is amazing, spanning for miles on miles, it is a peaceful place to take a stroll, go biking and skate. Skating in Central Park is free and open until 10 pm.
Museum of Natural History: The Museum of Natural History, as some may recognize it from Shawn Levy's movie "Night at the Museum", is home to one of the best preserved and complete Tyrannosaurus Rex, as well as many other artifacts and impressive findings. Entrance to the Museum is by donation, though many tourists are unaware of this and pay the 28$ "suggested donation" fee. This impressive Museum is worth the visit, and visitors may spend 1 to 2 h strolling next to ancient dinosaurs, learning about the birth of our planet and getting lost in a world rich with history and mystic. An important thing to keep in mind is that the Mummy exhibit requires an extra fee (approximating 28$) and you are given a time when you have to come back and visit. The information is not clearly stated and while my friend and I inquired about the process, we were cast aside by a rude museum worker who seemed less than impressed by tourists.
Metropolitan Museum of Art: Another great museum, with entry by donation, is the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Very well kept and filled with great exhibits, this museum is a must.
Washington Square Park: located South, away from the busy Downtown Manhattan area, this park lets you enjoy a quick nature break in the city.
Wall Street/ World Trade Center: busy, impressive and home to "the Wolf".
New York Stock Exchange: A bit disappointing in my opinion, as it felt more like a tourist trap than anything else, the NY Stock Exchange is still a crucial component of NYC, located directly across the Federal Hall Monument (where you can go to the WC as well as take a picture with "George Washington"!)
High Line Park: What happens when you combine a park with an out-of-use train line? Located in Jackson Square Park (W 13th street and 8th Avenue), walking on the High Line Park is a unique experience.
9/11 Memorial: The 9/11 Memorial is an integral part of NYC and beautifully designed. (Please be respectful on your visit.)
Trinity Church: This active Episcopal Church dates back to the 1700s, perfect for those interested in learning more about NYC's history.
Chinatown: located in the South of the Island, you can grab a bite to eat and take a break from walking.
Fifth Avenue (next to Washington Park): shopping, great food, and people watching!
Bushwish Street Art: Great for Art lovers, this hipster neighborhood is home to great street artists. You can reach it by the L train, and walk to Morgan Av.
Things to do:
Dance at one of New Year's hottest parties:
-District Social: this trendy new bar offers great music (remixes, pop, hip-hop...) that you can fully dance to! The atmosphere is lively, you have space for both sitting as well as dancing and their NYE party doesn't disappoint. The only concern would be going home, as the coat check is downstairs and you have to wait in a long line before grabbing your coat...which can take a while. (I personally love this place!)
-House of Yes: say Yes to a 24 h party at one of the hottest clubs: the House of Yes. Featuring flamethrowers, ice sculptures, areal dancers and multiple floors, you won't be disappointed!
-Americano Rooftop: party in style on this rooftop lounge, with an amazing view of NYC. Situated in Chelsea, this rooftop bar is the go-to place for those who want luxury and the feeling of being on top of the world.
-Bar Americano: located in the same hotel, this bar offers a cozier feeling, with the same energy and good music.
Laugh out Loud at a NY Comedy Club: Laughter is great therapy; what better way to start the New Year than in a joyous state, listening to famous stand-up comedians? With a two drink minimum, you can find great prices for some of the best shows. Ring in the New Year with a complimentary champagne and lively atmosphere!
Have a delicious meal at Boon Thai: Right near our Airbnb, we decided to have dinner at Boon Thai and were amazed by the outstanding service, the freshly cooked meals and the nice atmosphere. Say hi to Kwang-Jaruwan while your there; many thanks to her recommendations!
Rock out with the Rockettes: An absolute must when going to NYC is booking tickets to a Broadway show. The Christmas Spectacular musical was one of the best performances I have ever seen, filling the room with confetti, music, balloons and putting on an impressive show. The show, which was first performed in 1933, has been perfected over the years and introduces you to NYC Christmas Magic. Great for kids as well as adults. I suggest you trying to book through different websites, as you might stumble upon great deals (we got great seats, in the Orchestra Section for 70$!)
Ride the Free Staten Island Ferry: This ferry gives you a great view of NYC as well as the famous Statue of Liberty. And the best part....it's free! Passengers can take the ferry and get a glimpse of the Statue while enjoying the cool breeze (best recommended in the summer, as that breeze might become more of an uncomfortable chilly wind during Winter). The ferry comes every 15 to 10 minutes, from morning to evenings.
Information on the Ball Drop:
Planning on seeing the famous NYC Ball Drop once the clock strikes 12? You are in for a long wait! You should get there earlier, as the streets start to close off at 2 pm. While you can stay in your designated area and grab something to eat, you won't be able to get back in the area if you pass the gates and venture too far. Bundle up! The temperature was so cold my finger started to bleed and needless to say it standing in the cold is not the most pleasant of experiences. Go to the bathroom! The Bowtie offers the best view, and the streets start to fill up quickly up until the 20th avenue.
When you are like me and do not necessarily want to freeze waiting outside, alternatives are seeing the ball drop live on TV while attending a party. Most parties offer open-bars, complementary champagne and snacks in addition, but you should always inquire to make sure they offer the live ball drop.