Hi, we are Suzanne and Joe, a Belgian couple from Antwerp, and this review is about our 1 week vacation in New York City in August 2009. We hope you find here some useful insights to plan your own trip. I could not find the time until now in December to post this review, and some of the exhibitions and shows are not current, but you can easily replace them by similar events at the same locations.
NYC is really wonderful!!! Most of the things we did, we planned thru reading our travel guide (we used Trotter), or by browsing the magazine Time Out NY (“TONY”) and the NYC free weekly magazine The Village Voice (“The Voice”). The latter can also be consulted via their excellent website http://www.villagevoice.com. TONY also has a website (http://newyork.timeout.com), but in their case, the paper magazine seems to have more information then the website. By using these 3 sources, we were able to spend our time at a mix of the classic tourist spots, and at things the New Yorkers would do (or at least we thought they would do…).
Overall, we had a super great vacation, and we would certainly recommend that you follow our footsteps. But don’t forget your credit card and cash!!! Some things like shopping and eating are really cheap compared to Europe, but some of the fun stuff, cost a lot of money... :(
Most of our time we spend in Manhattan, one of the 5 NYC boroughs, and where most of the action is, but we also set foot ashore in Queens, one of the other NYC boroughs. We will indicate with *’s what were the high points. *** means “not to be missed”, ** means “worth the detour”, and * means “worth of noting”. If there is nothing, well… then don’t bother ;). Success, and enjoy the reading!
Wednesday August 5
Arrived in Newark Airport around 12.30 PM. Newark Airport is much more convenient then JFK, closer to Manhattan and faster to get there. Customs are a pain in the [--]: mug shot, finger prints, questions about what you’re coming to do,… Luggage came relatively fast, waiting lines for taxis were none when we arrived, and there was almost no traffic, so we were in Manhattan at 2pm! For the first 3 nights, we had a room booked at Hotel Gansevoort (***). The main reason we took this hotel, was that we saw in the guide it had a swimming pool at the rooftop. This indeed turned out to be a lovely spot. We were lucky with the weather, every day a nice 25ºC and sunny. Around happy hour, the pool and bar next to it, attracts a wide range of people, and is one of the hot spots of the Meatpacking District (***) where the hotel is located. This continues to be thru the rest of the night, to the extent that every night a waiting cue forms at the hotel entrance. Which gives you as a hotel guest a nice VIP feeling because you can bypass the cue when you show the hotel key .
After a shower we walked from the hotel (on 14th St & 9th Av) toward Union Square (**) following 14th St (*), one of the busiest cross streets of Manhattan, on the way lot’s of smaller shops, bars etc. on Union Square there is a fresh market 4 days a week, great atmosphere and good shopping on the market and the shops around. Barnes & Nobles (**) is a great bookstore there, you can take a book, take it with you to the café and read in it, and as long as you do not damage it, just bring it back where you took it…
From there we took the subway to 6th Av & 43rd St to live a first cultural moment on our trip and see the exhibition Avedon Fashion (***) in the International Center of Photography (**). Great pictures and I couldn’t resist buying the catalogue. Obviously as you read this review, the exhibition will have changed, so check TONY what’s on, but the place is recommended. Time for, so we headed towards 6th Av between 43rd & 44th St to the International Center of Photography (**) for one of the exhibitions there.
From there a walk to 8th Av and back to the hotel by subway, just in time to join the crowd at our rooftop for aperitif. For dinner, we had made reservation in Markt (*), a Belgian restaurant that serves great moules with Belgian fries, just to not feel to far away from home on the first night ;). After dinner we walked back to our hotel and had a last drink in one of the many bars in Meatpacking, and by 12 we were ready for bed, tired from the long trip. A promising half day to start.
Thursday August 6
We got up early around 8 and from the hotel took the subway downtown, to spend the morning in the Financial District (**). We started with a breakfast in one of the many bars you find there. Around that time, business people all over that buy a coffee, breakfast or lunch to take to their office. We continued at Ground Zero (*), the spot itself is just a construction warf, and nothing special, except that being at the place itself and the memory of what happened there, makes it worth of passing by. Right next to the construction, in Liberty St you will find the Tribute WTC Visitor Center (***), an impressive collection that testifies of the tragedy of 9/11. It opens at 10am, and count at least on one hour of visiting time.
From Ground Zero and Liberty St, we walked and headed for Wall Street (**), heart of the Capital Markets. Note the security all around, especially the anti-bomb-vehicle walls in the pedestrian zones! If you think about well in advance, and if you are an extremely organized planner, then think about requesting to take part in the Federal Reserve guided tour and visit the Gold Vault (**). There is typically a 3-4 week wait for tickets, so call once you've finalized your travel dates to secure your tickets, something we (unfortunately) did not do…
From Wall Street, we continued further down to cross Battery Park (**), the southern tip of Manhattan and a lovely place to take a cool breeze on a hot summer’s day. Note the monument The Sphere (*), that originally stood at the WTC, and was moved to Battery Park after being damaged but not destroyed in the 9/11 attack. In Battery Park, we walked to Clinton Castle (*) to take the ferry to the Statue of Liberty (**) and Ellis Island (***). It is one and the same ferry that stops at both locations, but because of the long waiting lines and our limited time, we decided not to visit the Statue of Liberty Island. The views from the ferry of Statue and the skyline of Manhattan (***) are impressive. The missing WTC is like a scar on a beautiful face… The museum at Ellis Island is a wonderful place to be and learn about the immigration of so many millions of people that arrived there in the past 2 centuries from all over the world! Count at least 2 hours there because the amount of information is overwhelming. The ferry goes like every 20 minutes, so easy to adjust the visit to your own needs.
Back at Battery Park, we took the subway to Canal St (*) to arrive in the middle of bustling China Town (***). After strolling for some time around the typical Chinese streets east of Columbus Park, doing some occasional shopping for sporting goods, shoes, electronics, sun glasses etc, we decided to take lunch there in one of the many Chinese restaurants. Most of them serve excellent food, for low prices. We lunched at Fuleen Seafood (**) in Division St, and had a great meal for not even 25 USD. We finished lunch around 4, the right time to move from China back to the old continent, by simply crossing Canal St at Mulberry St to arrive in Little Italy (**), the place to be to enjoy a latte or cappuccino on one of the terraces.
Walking further uptown we entered the area known as Lower East Side (*), once one of the less nicer parts of Manhattan. It has traditionally been known as a lower-class worker neighborhood and often as a poor and ethnically diverse part of NYC, there is also a Jewish community. Nowadays, the area offers a surprising mix of fancy boutique stores, small bars and restaurants, nice hotels and art galleries, as such making it one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Manhattan.
From Clinton St, we took a taxi back to the hotel, just on time to get there for the happy hour at the rooftop swimming pool. There couldn’t have been a better place that afternoon then at The Gansevoort’s rooftop (***), to enjoy a margarita in the setting sun, overlooking the Hudson River.
Since we had a quite heavy lunch earlier in China Town, we decided to skip dinner. We decided to go to a musical, and were lucky enough to secure tickets for Jersey Boys (***), the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Because – one again – we did not plan well in advance, we could only get very expensive premium tickets. You have excellent seats then – we were on row G – but with a little upfront planning, you can tickets a lot less expensive with still good visibility of the stage. The show itself was worth every penny, what a great spectacle, and certainly a recommendation and a first absolute top moment in our city trip.
After the show, we had a drink at the Marriott Marquis on Broadway. The hotel is famous for its high-tech elevators and atrium lobby rising 45 stories to The View (**), New York's only rooftop revolving restaurant.
From there we took a taxi back to our hotel area. We had some more drinks in one of the bars across the street, before getting back to the hotel. To find out that the swimming pool had now turned into a trendy club packed with party people!!! Quite a pleasant surprise :). We were able to escape around 2am, totally exhausted after a wonderful day and evening!
Friday August 7
Despite the jetlag, we did not make it to breakfast until 10am. It was a beautiful, sunny morning, so excellent conditions to have breakfast at Pastis (**) across the street from The Gansevoort at 9th Av on the corner with Little West 12th St. Around 11, we left to walk up to 6th Av to take a subway to get to midtown Manhattan. We got off at Penn Station, and made a short visit to the building right behind Penn Station, the NYC Post Office (*). Our main goal that day however, was to visit the Empire State Building (***). The 102nd floor observatory offers breathtaking views of NYC. You can visit during day and night, and while both moments offer spectacular view, the day views are unbeatable when the weather was as clear and sunny as we had. Once again, planning well in advance can save you the long waiting times, we spend more then 1.5 hours in the queue, so we did not finish until around 3pm.
From the Empire State, we took a taxi downtown to SoHo (**). Originally an industrial area, the neighborhood became associated in the 80s and 90s with arts and galleries. Since then, it became increasingly more famous for both shopping and restaurants, mainly clustered in the northern area of the neighborhood, along Broadway and Prince and Spring streets. The sidewalks in this area are crowded with tourists and with vendors selling jewelry, t-shirts, and other works. The southern part of SoHo, along Grand Street and Canal Street, retains some of the feel of the earlier days. There are even a few small factories that have managed to remain. Canal Street at SoHo's south boundary with Chinatown, contrasts with the former's posh shopping part in offering cheap imitation clothing and accessories.
From SoHo we started walking back to our hotel, crossing Greenwich Village (**), another Manhattan district, famous for its 60s hippie scene. The Village is still a lively area, although it lost its bohemian character. Second hand record shops and some bars are practically the only links where you might find some remains of that spirit. We passed by lovely Washington Square (**) where there is always some street performers entertaining the crowd.
Because it was getting late, and we did not have anything significant to eat since breakfast, we decided to pick one of the restaurants in our hotel area to have dinner. We were able to make late reservation at Paradou (**) at 8 Little West 12th St, to enjoy a superb French cuisine dinner. Without much energy left after another great day, we left the rooftop party in our hotel for what it was, and went to sleep around midnight.
Saturday August 8
Day 4 started around 9 at the Chelsea Market (**) on 9th Av between 15th & 16th St. Chelsea Market is an enclosed food court and shopping mall built within the former Nabisco cookies factory. The urban architecture is amazing, and so are the food stores especially the many exclusive bakeries and the impressive fresh fish and seafood market.
We then checked out from our hotel, to move from there to the Grand Hyatt (*) in midtown. We had decided to spend our 6 nights in 2 different hotels, mainly because of budgetary limitations :(. The Grand Hyatt is decent, well located, but there is hardly anything fancy about it, and the Gansevoort by far was the better hotel of the two (for a rate twice as high of course…).
After check-in, we visited Grand Central Station (***), right next to the Hyatt, NY’s main train station with an impressive architecture, famous from a.o. the shootout scene in The Untouchables and so many more movies. We then decided to spend the day dedicated to some “Sex-in-the-City”-style midtown shopping. We started at Bloomingdales (**) on Lexington Av between 59th & 60th St, and then walked west to famous 5th Av (***). We first walked up to the end on Central Park, at the corner is the beautiful Plaza Hotel (**), the ideal moment to take an early lunch in the hotel’s top restaurant The Oak Room (*). After lunch we continued in the downtown direction to stroll over 5th Av passing hopping in and out the stores. On a Saturday this is a great experience as many of them have DJ’s that bring you in the right mood. Some of the places can get quite crowded however, that’s a clear downside. On the way, you pass famous landmarks like Trump Tower (*), Rockefeller Center (*) and St. Patrick's Cathedral (*).
To end the afternoon with some culture, we visited the Museum of Modern Art, better known as the MoMa (***), at 11 West 53rd St. This is one of the top museums of the world, and besides the great permanent collection, there are always interesting exhibition that usually last a couple of months (at the moment of our visit, we could admire the works of James Ensor).
Around 5 we were back at the hotel to take a fast shower, and then took the subway to Long Island in Queens. Located at 25 Jackson Av at the intersection of 46th Av, you find there the MoMa branch P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center (**). Every year in August, they organize the so-called Warm-Up (***) parties, where you can dance in P.S.1’s courtyard to the tunes of NYC’s hot DJs. We had a great party there, great music, ambiance, nice people, really fun to go out there. We took the opportunity to view the exhibition with picture from Jonathan Horowitz during the party.
Around 9, we left for Jackson Heights, one of the most diverse neighborhoods in NYC, and home to large numbers of South Asian, East Asian, South American immigrants, as well as a sizeable gay and lesbian population. At the moment we were there, most activity was closed however, so we did not stay and returned to midtown. We wanted to stay in the exotic atmosphere, and decided to look for a Mexican restaurant. That’s how we ended up in Mama Mexico (**), a great place at 244 East 49th St. Try the tequila shots! No surprise, we slept well that night…
Sunday August 9
What can you do better on a Sunday then go to church? And in NYC, this definitively means to go to a service in one of the churches in Harlem, NYC’s major African-American residential, cultural, and business center. There are various services you can pick from, but some of them are organized to accommodate visitors and tourists. We picked the Canaan Baptist Church of Christ at 132 West 116th St and attended the 11am service (***). Be prepared to arrive on time, say 10am to secure a good spot. You have the option to attend the service downstairs, mixed with the locals, or upstairs on the balcony, a place occupied by tourists only. If you attend downstairs, the condition is that you do not leave the service before it ends, in order not to disturb. We decided to stay downstairs, and indeed the experience was very intense. Great singing, great preaching, socializing with the locals, ... We immediately felt at ease and part of the community. For the first time in my life, I spend 3 (!!) hours in church without being bored a moment.
When we got out around 1pm, we spent some time in Harlem, mainly on Malcolm X Blvd, but there is not that much activity on a Sunday. We took the metro and headed for Central Park (***). At the corner of 7th Av and 58th St, 1 block away from the south side of the park, you can find Central Park Bike Rentals. We both rented a bike for the afternoon to explore the park, which is too big to do by foot. Don’t miss the Dakota Buildings (**) located on the northwest corner of 72nd St and Central Park West, the place where John Lennon lived and was shot dead, and the Strawberry Fields memorial with Imagine Mosaic (**). It’s great to spend the time on a Sunday summer afternoon in Central Park, just lying on your back on the green grass and watching the Manhattan skyline from there, is superb.
After returning the bikes, we walked down 5th Av to the hotel, where we showered and dressed for dinner. From TONY, we picked an Italian restaurant called Lupa (**) at 70 Thompson St in the Village. Great dining experience again, and we returned to the hotel as happy people :).
Monday August 10
Our last full day in the Big Apple unfortunately. We decided to make it a cultural day and headed for Museum Mile, the lovely stretch along 5th Av next to Central Park chock full of museums and other fine arts institutions. Impossible to do all of them in 1 day, so we picked the Metropolitan Museum of Art, also known as The Met (***) and the Guggenheim Museum (***). It is impossible to describe the collection and exhibitions in both museums, but both are top in the world. Consult your travel guide! In between, we took lunch at the Boat House (**) in Central Park, overlooking the lake, and giving you the impression you are in an English gentlemen club of the 19th Century.
For the last evening, we had been able to buy tickets for a concert at Beacon Theatre (*) a couple of days earlier. Steely Dan (***) played that night live their album Royal Scam, followed by a kind of greatest hits. Amazing concert in a wonderfully restored art-deco theatre.
Tuesday August 11
Not much to say about this last day, the morning we spent mostly on buying stuff like sporting goods, electronics, clothes and souvenirs, enjoying the dollars weak exchange rate vs. the euro :).
So this is where our city trip ended. We hope with this review, we can give you some good ideas, and make your visit to NYC as enjoyable as ours!!! Cheers!