This spring, I finally fulfilled traveling to one place that has been on my bucket list for a very long time – New York! For as long as I can remember this is a city I have wanted to visit. I genuinely think the writer in me felt a sort of calling to venture out and explore the city streets, maybe get inspired by something over there. Or maybe it was Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada that grabbed my attention, but, either way, I was determined to go, and it did not disappoint.
Read on to see exactly what I did while in New York and how you can do the same if you’re planning to visit the big apple!
Where we stayed: Crowne Plaza Times Square Manhattan
This was such an awesome hotel for the fact that we were right in Times Square! We were steps away from Broadway shows, comedy clubs and an array of amazing restaurants and night life. Hell’s Kitchen and Restaurant Ave (two popular neighbourhoods that host row after row of restaurants, pubs and bars) were a mere 10-15 minute walk away. Even hotspots like Rockefeller Centre, the Empire State Building and Central Park were a close walk away.
I loved being right in the hustle and bustle of everything, and I loved the freedom of being able to go out at night without having to take a lengthy subway ride to get back to my hotel. If you’re looking to do more “touristy” things, as well as want easily accessible activities and eats, I highly recommend staying somewhere like this.
Throughout the trip, I’d often hear people complain how the hotel rooms in Times Square were small and cramped. This was the opposite of the experience that I had at the Crowne Plaza. Our room was a decently large size with a large bed, bathroom and sitting area. I have definitely stayed in much smaller hotel rooms throughout Europe!
Another bonus of this hotel is the fabulous restaurant/bar that overlooks Time Square, accompanied by a cafe that was great for quick snacks and coffee in the morning before heading out to start our day. All of the staff were also fantastic. Overall, an awesome stay!
Day One: Downtown Manhattan
Throughout the first full day of the trip, we spent our time exploring Downtown Manhattan via a Hop on Hop Off Tour Bus. We used this bus when we visited Athens, Greece, and it was great because it took you to all of the hotspots throughout the city. My one comment about this bus in New York is to be aware that it’s about 100x busier than anywhere else – no joke. So, that being said, you need to be really early to the stops and be attentive because these things fill up fast, especially on the Downtown loop.
So, we embarked on our tour, and sat and listened to our live tour guide talk about Times Square and other parts of the city as we began to venture out into the Flatiron District and SoHo. We eventually got off at SoHo, taking some time to walk around the cobblestone streets and admire the amazing buildings and architecture. If you’re into shopping, this area is the place for you, although be warned, everything you find here is going to be extremely expensive.
After SoHo, we made our way over to Little Italy, and I was thoroughly impressed. Being half Italian, and having traveled through much of Italy, I’m always suspect when it comes to places that claim to “be Italian.” Little Italy in New York is made up of blocks of restaurants and shops. Many of the owners, and people who populate the area, were clearly from Italy as they spoke to me in either thick accents, or the language itself. It really did remind me of walking down the street in Rome or Florence, where people would engage you in conversation and try and convince you to eat at their restaurants. Admittedly, the food here was delicious.
Next up was a visit to Ground Zero. The area itself is beautiful, completed with interesting architecture, street art and, of course, the touching memorial for the victims of the 9/11 attack.
It was very clear throughout my short stay here just how much 9/11 had affected this city. We saw a firehall with a memorial in front of it honouring the firefighters that had died in the tragedy (more than any other firehall in the city). We heard one of our tour guides tell the story of how he had worked in one of the buildings, but the day that the attack occurred, he was out-of-office, taking an acting class.
The memorial is quite beautiful and serene. In place of the two towers are now two fountains, shaped as large, lifted cubes. Around the inside walls, water runs down and falls below into what looks like a groundless bottom. We were told that the architect who designed the memorial created it this way to symbolize “the void that would never be filled.” Around the mantle of these fountains are all the names of the people who died in the tragedy, and above them looms the new One World Trade Centre.
There is also a 9/11 Memorial Museum as well. Although we did not go inside of it (honestly, it would have been a little too sad for me to read everyone’s stories, see pictures, etc.), I have heard it is really great to check out.
After this, we wandered through the area and eventually found ourself at Battery Park. I loved walking here because you get a view of the water, buildings across the way and the Statue of Liberty. While New York is known of its skyscrapers, there really is a ton of parks and other areas to do outdoor activities! Battery Park is great for kicking back on a bench and enjoying the view, playing volleyball, or even checking out one of the many patios that line the boardwalk.
In the evening, we made our way over to Hell’s Kitchen which did not disappoint. The blocks were littered with everything from pubs to Italian and Mexican eateries. New York is not a city you could ever go hungry in. Eventually we settled on a charming joint called Uncle Mario’s, run by an Italian woman who reminded me so much of my Nonna that it was uncanny.
Afterwards we made our way back to Times Square to explore which can really only be explained as such an intense vibe. It is so crowded and wild with lights flashing here and there. It really is one of those places you have to see if you’re in New York. Street performers are at every corner, and a major variety of different food trucks and stands could be found as well. The best part of New York is that you can eat a delicious hot dog from a food truck for $3 and be satisfied, or you can go all out on an expensive dinner just down the road. There really is something for everyone!
Day Two: Uptown, The Met and Broadway
During our second day in New York, we took on the Uptown tour included in our Hop On Hop Off package. I enjoyed this tour a lot simply because we got a lot of historical information about the city, which I always enjoy learning about.
“Uptown” basically includes everything around the outskirts of Central Park, and let me tell you, the buildings there cost millions of dollars to live in. We saw everything from where Alex Rodriguez and Denzel Washington live, to where Jackie Kennedy lived and where John Lennon was shot. We eventually got off the bus at The Met, which we spent much of the day exploring.
I’ve been to many museums and galleries throughout my travels, but The Met was really something else. I would say that it has something for everyone. Stepping throughout the different galleries of The Met transports you not only to different times, but also to vastly different places. In one room you will find yourself in Ancient Egypt, surrounded by towering remains of pyramids, while in another you become exposed to texts and scripts from Iran.
In all honesty, I mostly avoid museums and galleries when I travel because I have seen so many, and the majority blend together as very simpler. But, The Met was a cultural trip and I can see why it is so popular. Although very exhausted after walking and exploring the massive building, I was glad that we had the chance to do so.
One of the absolute highlights of this whole trip was getting the chance to see The Lion King on Broadway. Anyone that knows me well enough knows that I am a major Disney fanatic, and when choosing a Broadway show to see in New York I knew it had to be this one! Another major benefit of the hotel we picked was that the Lion King Broadway Theatre was only three-four blocks away from us!
We sat in the Orchestra, right in the middle, which I would say is some of the best seats. I did some research before purchasing, and it was between the Orchestra or seating in the higher level, but I was glad that we went with the Orchestra. It really does make you feel like you are right in the action of the show.
I was blown away by all of the stunning vocal performances in this show, as well as the sheer amount of props and beautiful costumes they used throughout the show to accomplish the idea that they were all animals in the jungle. Seriously, I teared up watching this show. That’s how good it was! A must-see if you were ever a fan of the Lion King as a kid.
On a spur of the moment, after Broadway, we ventured over to Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House, an acclaimed restaurant that, again, was only a ten minute walk from our hotel. Let me just say, this was one of the most amazing meals I’ve ever had in my life! Perfectly-cooked steak, smooth mashed potatoes and amazingly seasoned green beans – my mouth is watering just thinking about it again. I would say, if anything else, pick at least one fancy restaurant to try when you are in New York because they do not disappoint. Treat yourselffffff (specifically with a meal from Del Frisco’s if you are in the Times Square area).
Day three: Brooklyn and Caroline’s
The third day of our trip was one that we bit off a little bit more than we could chew. Nonetheless, we still made the most of it!
A side note: There are so many cute cafes and coffee stops throughout New York. On this day, early in the morning, we went to one called Bibble & Sip which had great cappuccinos and morning pastries.
Part of our Hop on Hop Off package included a ferry ride, so we made our way over from our hotel to Pier 28 to hop on the ferry. Unfortunately we didn’t read the times correctly, and didn’t realize that after 10pm, another ferry would not come pick you up from the pier until 12pm. By this time is was almost 11, so we decided to wait until the next ferry came, and left the pier to explore a bit.
We came upon the High Line, which was actually really cool to see. The High Line is a park in New York entirely built on an old railway track from the 1800s. It is suspended above the city, and you get great views of the street below, as well as all the buildings around the city! We didn’t walk too far along it, but I did hear that there are some cool restaurants and shops at certain points on the track.
After finally getting on the ferry, we decided it was worth it! The views of the islands were great, music was playing, and the cool breeze as we chugged along was just what we needed on the super hot day. We got off on the first stop the ferry had, as we wanted to hop on the bus that would take us on the Brooklyn Tour.
Brooklyn was cool to see, but if there was one part of the trip that I wouldn’t do again, it was this tour. I loved crossing one of the major bridges to get to Brooklyn, all while seeing a view of the Brooklyn Bridge, and the neighbourhoods themselves were extremely nice, but I really did get more of a thrill from being in Manhattan. That being said, New York is the place that has something for everyone, so if you’re into chiller vibes and cool architecture, Brooklyn is the place to go!
Sadly our bus broke down near the end of the tour, so because of that we missed being able to hop back onto the ferry and circle around the Statue of Liberty. The New York traffic really hit us that day, and we ended up getting of the new bus that had come to get us and bring us back downtown near China Town, and walked the rest of the way back.
Although it was hot, I enjoyed the walk for the fact that you see a lot more of New York, and really any city in general, when you’re right there in it. We came across the Flatiron District, with the iconic Flatiron Building, and I was glad to snap some shots there. We also went inside of Eataly, a popular Italian market in the district. Overall, we were still able to see and do some cool things on this day, but it was a reminder that sometimes things just don’t go as planned – and that’s okay.
Justin really wanted to see a comedy show while we were in New York, and I’m super glad that it’s something that we did end up doing. Our hotel was a short distance away from Carolines on Broadway, a well-known New York comedy club that had hosted big names like Russell Peters and Dave Chappelle, among many others. One our second day in New York, we walked over to the box office to ask about tickets, and to see if they had anyone good performing while we were in the area.
We were pretty thrilled to hear that Ken Jeong (think Hangover’s Mr. Chow) was doing shows while we were there. We opted for the dinner + show option which allowed us to sit in the bar and eat dinner, all while getting a reserved table for the actual show. If you opt for only the ticket option, it works on a roll call basis where you need to show up a half hour before the show and get assigned seats. The show was hysterical, and I recommend this club as one to see if you’re looking for a good comedy show. More often than not, the act will be a comedian that you recognize which in my opinion, always makes the show better.
Day Four: Central Park and Yankees’ Stadium
This day was one of my favourites of the whole trip! A good travel trip: most major cities have free tours run by companies like Free Tours By Foot. In my experience, these tours are often much better than a pre-paid, generic tour that you find online. Why? The idea of these tours is that you sign up for one, show up and go through the tour, and then you pay the tour guide whatever you think the tour was worth. This means that the tour guide has to impress and entertain you because they have not yet been paid for their services, and how well the tour goes determines what they get at the end of it.
So, we booked a bike tour with a tour guide named Wanda in Central Park! The cool thing about this is that our bike rentals were only $16 each, because we were with a tour, and the tour lasted almost four hours. If we would have rented bikes on our own, they would have cost $16 per hour.
Wanda met us at the bike shop, only a block away from Central Park, and we biked over to the area which seriously blew me away. Central Park is MASSIVE, and there is something for everyone over the stretch of greenery.
Fun fact: I took a screenwriting class in my third year of university, and our major project tasked us with writing our own screenplay. I developed a story about a writer named Joy who lived in New York City, and much of the story took place in Central Park. In my fourth year of university, I took a creative writing class.
This class involved writing three stories throughout the semester. I went back to my screenplay “Finding Joy” and adapted it into a short story as one of my projects. So, naturally, it was crazy as a writer to see something I had spent so much time writing about in real life.
Everything from volleyball courts, to architectural marvels and tiny beaches can be found here. Street performers and artists line the famous walkways that have been in movies like Maid in Manhattan and Kramer vs. Kramer. Street performers and talented guitarists and singers can be found in every corner of the park. You could spend days here and still not see everything!
I was grateful that this day was so beautiful (+30 degrees) as we had the chance to explore. A few highlights included Shakespeare’s Garden, – a beautifully charming garden complete with rustic cottages, benches and every single flower and plant ever mentioned in one of Shakespeare’s poems or plays – John Lennon’s Memorial (Strawberry Fields), Jackie Onassis Kennedy Reservoir and much more.
Central Park is a must-see if you ever find yourself in New York, and a bike tour is really the way to go if you’re looking to see the majority of it. You can find the exact tour we went on by clicking here!
Saturday called for a visit to the Yankees’ Stadium! Although I’m not much of a baseball fan, the Yankees’ Stadium was definitely cool to check out. The highlight for me was how much crazy stadium food they had throughout all of the levels! I ordered waffles monogramed with the Yankees’ logo to eat at one point in the game – waffles! If you’re a baseball fan there are always tons of games, so be sure to check one out. The stadium is easily accessible wherever you are in the city by the subway!
Day Five: Rockefeller Centre and Shopping
By the time our last day rolled around, we were both pretty tired from all of the walking and general touring. This was a great day to walk on over to Rockefeller Centre, and head up to the Top of the Rock. The view was unbelievable! From one side you can see the Empire State Building towering over the rest of the skyscrapers that adorn the streets, and on the other the stark green of Central Park poking out between more buildings and towers. A great place for Instagram-ready photo, and a stunning view of New York City at a glance.
Our Top of the Rock pass was included with our Hop on Hop Off package, so make sure if you want to do this while in New York you try and get a package deal that includes other things as well! A New York pass could be the way to go if you’re looking to get a package deal.
The rest of our day was spent checking out a few outlet malls. Century 21, only a twenty minute walk from our hotel, hosted five floors of discounted designer brands. I even snagged a Clavin Klein purse well below retail value! The Manhattan Mall is also one to check out if you’re looking to do some shopping while in New York.
We ended the day by wandering around Times Square for a final time, and finding a quaint Italian restaurant (can you tell I love Italian food?) a short walk from our hotel to have our final dinner at before leaving back to Canada the next morning.
Overall, although I was so tired by the end of it all, this was such a great trip! New York really did live up to my expectations, and it’s one of those cities I could see myself traveling to again. The nightlife is fantastic, and the sheer amount of activities to do throughout the day are staggering. The history that runs through the streets, and simply the amazing views and landmarks, make this city a must-see! Have you ever been to New York? What were your favourite parts? Comment below!