New York

City break in New York | skyscrapers and the Statue of Liberty

New York is the archetypal concrete jungle that’s every inch as awe-inspiring as the movies make out. Here’s how to make the most of its screen-worthy charms....

The glowing Manhattan skyline grew as we soared along the expressway from JFK and it hit me — I was finally fulfilling a travel dream I’d harboured for well over a decade. And New York City was just as exciting and atmospheric as I’d hoped: from zipping up the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and admiring the dreamy painted ceiling in Grand Central Station, to strolling along streets where rustic brownstones sit side-by-side with futuristic skyscrapers.

In a city this huge, there’s almost an obscene amount to see. Whether you want Hollywood romance in the Empire State like An Affair to Remember or to explore the cool Upper East Side à la Gossip Girl, here’s just a glimpse of the classic and contemporary experiences you cannot miss on your big city break in the Big Apple.

SEE | Art Deco architecture and spectacular viewpoints in New York

From the beautiful Beaux Arts design of Grand Central Station to the glitzy window displays of high-end department stores, there’s ample sights in NYC that showcase its ever-changing history and culture.

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Fifth Avenue

As a city that’s only been standing for a few centuries, New York’s older attractions aren’t exactly ancient. Many do, however, echo the city’s love affair with Art Deco and Neoclassical design.

Fifth Avenue is where many such treasures lay — from the sharp edges of the narrow Flat Iron Building to, my personal favourite, the rather grand New York Public Library. Once the highest point in the city, the Empire State Building remains the pinnacle of the city’s Art Deco architecture offering glamourous vintage interiors and stunning cityscape views from its iconic 86th floor observation deck.

Any fashionista will no doubt know that Fifth Avenue is a hub for both modern clothing brands and classic department stores like Bergdorf Goodman. You’ll also find the same street is home to the Museum Mile, which runs all the way up the east side of leafy Central Park and boasts no fewer than eight museums. Most people opt for The Metropolitan Museum of Art but don’t skip smaller El Museo de Barrio’s vibrant, and often provocative, works by Latino artists.

Contemporary

One World Trade Center

The city’s most modern and mammoth structure is found near Wall Street in Lower Manhattan. Completed in 2014, the One World Trade Center is a towering glass skyscraper that’s a stone’s throw from the poignant 9/11 Memorial & Museum.

While I found the tower pretty impressive simply standing at its base and looking up, for just under $30, you can speed up to the 100th floor One World Observatory for views of Manhattan and beyond that will genuinely take your breath away. Afterwards, it’s worth going into the adjoining Oculus — a space-age shopping centre designed to look like a dove in flight.

Times Square

And finally, you can’t visit New York without witnessing the craziness that is Times Square. The most impressive time to see the bold and brash flashing billboards is at sunset; I found around ten minutes was enough to soak up the ambiance.

Hotels in New York

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STAY | grand Victorian hotels and modern pod style rooms in New York

Whether you’re after a chic chain complete with rooftop bar or prefer something with a little more character, you’ll be spoilt for choice by the hundreds of hotels in New York.

Classic | grandeur and gastronomy at the historic Beekman

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If you’re keen for a little old-school glamour when it comes to your accommodation, the gorgeous Beekman is a great choice. Located opposite City Hall Park, it’s housed inside one of the city’s first skyscrapers — built in 1881 — and was used as office space for decades before being transformed into a hotel in 2016.

The Beekman’s interiors are undeniably elegant, and has stylishly infused doses of period charm into all its rooms thanks to high ceilings, oak flooring and bespoke wooden furnishings. Its spectacular nine-storey atrium reception is also dripping in vintage-style velvet furnishings and antique lamps. Head to one of The Beekman’s two fabulous restaurants — run by two of the city’s best chefs, Tom Colicchio and Keith McNally — for sumptuous American and European fare.

The Beekman, A Thompson

New York, 0.5 km to 911 Memorial
8.9 Excellent (463 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 9.5 / 10
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Classic | vintage warehouse styling in Williamsburg at the Wythe Hotel

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Located across the water in trendy Williamsburg, the Wythe Hotel manages to be chic and rustic, simultaneously. It’s housed inside a former factory building that dates back to 1901, meaning it boasts the authentic industrial interiors that have become synonymous with trendy Brooklyn loft apartments.

Floor-to-ceiling windows offer views of the city’s famous skyline, and funky wallpaper and furnishings (largely made from reclaimed materials) are sourced from local artists and craftsmen. On the 6th floor you’ll find The Ides, the Wythe’s rooftop bar that serves unique cocktails – like the Diplomat’s Club that’s made with honey-infused gin – and regularly hosts cool DJ sets.

Hotel Wythe

Brooklyn, 16.5 km to Coney Island
8.5 Excellent (82 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 9.1 / 10
WiFi in rooms
Gym
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Contemporary | affordable pod hotel with rooftop bar

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For those visiting NYC on a smaller budget, you can’t go wrong with the slick design and well-thought out amenities at Pod 39. Located just minutes from Grand Central Station, it offers a mix of compact yet contemporary singles, bunks or double rooms with ensuites fitted with rain showers.

Perhaps Pod 39’s best feature is its cool rooftop bar complete with metallic furnishings, exposed red brick walls and views across Midtown. For the more playful traveller, there’s even a games room with a ping pong table, plus a vibrant taco restaurant.

Pod 39

New York, 5.2 km to 911 Memorial
8.3 Very good (22538 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 9 / 10
WiFi in rooms
Car park
Pets allowed
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Contemporary | modern hotel suites and a rooftop pool downtown

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Another contemporary option is the five-star Conrad located in Downtown Manhattan. Spacious suites sport huge beds and luxuries like espresso machines and complimentary slippers. Many rooms feature brilliant views of Battery Park, while all are decorated with some of the hotel’s 2000 pieces of fascinating modern artwork.

The roof of the Conrad plays host to a stunning infinity pool as well as Loopy Doopy, one of New York’s most popular alfresco bars. It’s a sublime spot to watch the sunset in the summer and keep cool with a specialty (although quite pricey) popsicle prosecco cocktail — the strawberry and lemongrass one is divine but flavour selection changes regularly.

Conrad New York

Top rated
New York, 0.5 km to 911 Memorial
9.1 Excellent (4557 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 9.6 / 10
WiFi in rooms
Car park
Pets allowed
Gym
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EAT | classic bagels, tasty street food and new eats in New York

From classic New York bites to brand new restaurants with globally-inspired menus, the city’s culinary scene is as eclectic as its history.

Wayan, Noah Fecks

Classic

Bagels, all-day breakfast and beef pastrami

You can’t go to New York without tucking into a bagel — and few are better than the homemade ones at take-out spot, Absolute Bagels near Columbia University. The classic choice is lox (smoked salmon) and cream cheese but they also offer a number of vegan options; perfect for a cheap yet filling lunch while on the go.

There’s no shortage of diners whipping up huge stacks of pancakes dripping in syrup and sweet or savoury toppings. I’ve tried both George’s in the Financial District and Tom’s Restaurant in Morningside Heights and both had excellent (and huge!) all-day breakfast options. Katz Delicatessen is also essential if you’re keen to try its famous pastrami Reuben sandwiches (although go early in the morning to avoid the crowds).

Street food and sweets

While hawkers selling hot dogs and pretzels are found on every street corner, there are a handful of mobile restaurants definitely worth a trip. Uncle Gussy’s (on the corner of Park Avenue and 51st Street East) specialises in Greek grub like gyro and tzatziki-stuffed pitas, while The Halal Guys’ famed dish is chicken and rice topped with a tantalising chilli sauce.

If you fancy a dessert, many pop into a Magnolia Bakery for their heavenly cupcakes. An equally as good option is Molly’s Cupcakes in Midtown that has a huge menu (you can even design your own cupcake) and a bar area with cool swing stools. The seasonal pumpkin spice muffins filled with melt-in-the-mouth mascarpone are sensational treats if you’re visiting during the winter months.

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Cutting-edge cuisine

New York’s more contemporary dining scene is constantly changing, with new eateries opening up every week. Asian food is big, with fuss-free noodle houses found in Chinatown and slicker sushi joints, like Shuko in NoHo, providing incredible Japanese feasts for a steeper price.

New kids on the block in 2019 include TabeTomo in the East Village, who cook up thick noodle soups and rice bowls, and Wayan, an Indonesian-French fusion eatery with exotic decor and a fragrant menu of satays, curries and sauteed seafood.  

Italian food is huge in NYC and pizza joints serve the classics by the slice on almost every corner. But for a more modern take on the classic trattoria, try out one of the two Eataly food markets in the city that boast amazing deli counters and pasta bars.

You may be shocked at New York’s steep prices for alcohol. Keep your wallet healthy by checking out one of the city’s brilliant bottomless weekend brunches that start at around $30 for food and unlimited drinks.

DRINK | underground drinking establishments and amazing coffee shops

In the city that supposedly never sleeps, there’s no shortage of great drinking venues with endless stream of coffee shops, speakeasies and rooftops bars.

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Old-school drinking holes

New York is home to some of the world’s most famous speakeasies, from the swish Campbell in Grand Central to the stately 21 Club. For something extremely atmospheric head to The Back Room, a Prohibition-era bar tucked away in the Lower East Side. You’ll need a password to enter (revealed on their website), and expect your Old Fashioned to be served in a teacup, just like they were in the 1920s.

Rooftop glamour

Penthouse bars are rampant in the Big Apple, whether they’re at the top of a chic hotel or a commercial skyscraper. A spot that is open all year round is the Refinery Rooftop (part of the Refinery Hotel) whose cosy wooden furnishings and glass roof lend it the feel of a large greenhouse.

For something quirkier, head to Gallow Green at the McKittrick Hotel. It’s not a real hotel but the venue of an amazing immersive theatrical experience run by Punchdrunk. The rooftop bar is designed to look like a train station surrounded by a slightly ramshackle garden. It’s particularly special in the winter when it morphs into a lodge with cosy blankets and belly-warming drinks like whisky infused mulled cider.

Contemporary

Hand-roasted coffee venues

Like in all big cities, New Yorkers run on coffee — and there’s certainly no shortage of amazing venues to get your caffeine fix (although, sadly, Central Perk doesn’t actually exist). Casual Ost Cafe in the East Village serve up rich and creamy cappuccinos and great iced chai, in addition to having amazingly colourful tiled interiors that make the perfect Instagram backdrop.

For a quieter option, Oslo is wonderful. It’s a Scandi-run roaster with a handful of venues and impossibly smooth coffee made from sustainably-sourced beans. The original — and largest — Oslo is in Brooklyn on Roebling Street. As well as having a friendly, fuss-free vibe, they also sells bags of coffee to take home.

It’s customary to tip everywhere in New York, including bars. 15-20% is the typical amount (or roughly $1-2 per drink).

DO | bridge walks and park jaunts in New York

There’s so many ways to spend your time when in New York. Here are a few things you simply cannot miss…

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Walk the Brooklyn Bridge

The iconic Brooklyn Bridge is one of America’s most beloved bridges that dates back to the 1880s. Walking across its elevated pedestrian path to admire its symmetry and river outlook was my favourite thing to do while in New York, but I’d definitely recommend planning your jaunt in the morning for fewer crowds.  

If you’ve got time to cross the bridge, you’ll reach Dumbo where you can enjoy a slice of pizza at Grimaldi’s, get a photo of the bridge from cobbled Water Street and then catch a performance at St. Ann’s Warehouse (a tobacco factory turned arts centre).

Catch the free ferry to Staten Island

Most people hop on the ferry purely to sail past the Statue of Liberty — but it’s also worth spending a few hours exploring Staten Island, too. Head to Snug Harbor Cultural Center for the botanical gardens and cobbled streets lined with Tudor and Victorian Revival buildings or visit Fort Wadsworth for a dose of war history.

Cycle around Central Park

Central park is an urban oasis that’s formed the heart of Manhattan since the 1850s. You can meander through it on foot, but I suggest hiring bicycles to ensure you can see all 800 acres at your own pace. My highlights have to be discovering Bethesda Terrace with its decorative ceiling tiles and fountain, the romantic Belvedere Castle, and the tree-lined Mall littered with sculptures of literary legends.

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Head to the High Line

Located on the raised tracks of the old New York Central Railroad in Chelsea, this community-run public park is ideal for a stroll, no matter the time of the year. It stretches for over 2km and passes key sites like the Whitney Museum and Chelsea Market. You’ll also find dozens of bars and cafes beneath its arches, including Biergarten at the Standard High Line hotel — perfect for a pint and a pretzel!

NYC movie pilgrimage: Museum of the Moving Image

Located in the famous Kaufman Astoria studios, this quirky museum is a must-see for all movie fans. You’ll get a glimpse into the fascinating history and technical aspects of movie production, including the chance to do your own voice-over in a mini recording studio. The Jim Henson exhibition is brilliantly nostalgic for any 80’s or 90’s kids who grew up watching The Muppets, complete with interactive video sections where you can try out puppeteering. There’s even a guest appearance from Miss Piggy herself!

If you’re keen to see the Statue of Liberty but are short on time, head to Battery Park, on the southern tip of Manhattan Island, to view it from afar across the harbour.

Jemima Forbes Author

The sheer size and energy of New York left me feeling pretty exhausted by the end of my trip, although in an incredibly satisfying way. Every hour had been filled with once in a lifetime sights and experiences. So my last piece of advice: be prepared for sore feet but expect to leave with a full heart (and an even fuller camera roll).