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Okay, so this isn’t going to be a traditional travelsandmore blog post. In fact there isn’t going to be much budget travel advice in this post at all.
Reason being, I visited New York as part of a work trip with colleagues so much of my regular style of budget exploring wasn’t required whilst in the Big Apple.
With 4 days in total to see as much of New York City as possible in between meetings, I was as determined as ever to see as much of New York as I could in the short time II’d have.
My first time visiting New York was magical and the fast-paced nature of my trip has only made me want to visit again to see more. Here’s all the things to see in NYC, including where to eat in New York!
New York City
Manchester to New York
With Thomas Cook going bust earlier in the month, we booked our flights with Air Canada – operated by United Airlines.
For the first time in my travelling history I got to experience WiFi at 30,000 feet and felt like a hero. The flight with United was pleasant enough and thanks to my extra extra leg room and the entertainment onboard the flight seemed to go quickly.
United aren’t an airline I’ve flown with before and I’d rate the service and overall experience as fair but average in this instance. The WiFi obviously improved the flight and the entertainment was better than competitors I’ve flown with.
We flew into Newark, which initially I was a bit concerned about because it wasn’t JFK and I had no idea where it was.
But thanks to a private transfer we were in the city in no time having already passed famous sites like the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge on the journey to the hotel.
Arriving in New York
As someone who has NEVER visited New York, I was fortunately travelling with 3 colleagues that had all visited NYC at least once before.
As the NYC virgin, I was pretty much in control of the agenda and things we’d be seeing and doing in between our meetings during our time in New York.
With a suitcase of Carrie Bradshaw and Blair Waldorf inspired looks and a pre-planned agenda I was ready to take New York, well for four days anyway.
Often before arriving in a new destination I put together a Google My Maps to plan out places to see and go. This is definitely the budget explorer in me.
I’ll add my New York my maps below for reference, but I’d 100% recommend doing this prior to any tip and saving the map as an offline version.
Whilst in New York we’d be staying close to our clients office on Madison Avenue for ease so our hotel was located conveniently on East 42nd Street, in the Murray Hill borough of the city.
The hotel was located in a prime area of the city for both work and exploring, which was ideal in such a short trip.
New York Planning – Google My Maps
Jump straight to;
Westgate New York Grand Central Hotel
As hotels go (especially ones for business) this was average at best. The budget traveller in me tries not to judge given the fact I’ve slept in $5 per night 12 bed dorms.
However, considering the price and the catfish photos online you’d expect a little more for your money.
The Westgate New York Grand Central isn’t a hotel I’d be in a hurry to recommend considering the price tag, but I do believe some areas of the hotel have been refurbished and hence the catfish photos.
Needless to say, I wasn’t one to complain. I was essentially in New York for free so that alone softened the 1970’s style decor in my room.
If you are looking for a budget option in New York I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to find a nicer hotel with better facilities located in a similar area for better value.
Where to stay in New York
I can’t fault the location of this hotel just a minutes walk from the Chrysler Building and on to Madison Avenue where most of my meetings would be taking place.
The hotel is located in the Murray Hill area of the city, close to Kips Bay, Koreatown and Midtown. You’ll find the United Nations visitor centre, Grand Central Station and the Chrysler Building all less than a 5 minute walk from the hotel.
I guess a trip to the UN visitor centre would probably be on a list of unusual things to do in New York.
The hotel was also in a prime location for us who would be exploring the city on foot mostly. Hotels in New York can be expensive, even for the most basic so make sure you book in advance and check out options such as AirBnb for budget finds.
Getting around New York
Despite the size and scale of New York we actually did the bulk of our exploring on foot. With large open walkways and so much to see it almost feels silly taking the subway or a cab.
If you can plan your route and stay in a central location you’ll find walking around New York City in awe of literally everything.
You’ll spend most of your time looking up at all the buildings or Google Maps, for me I’m more than happy to get lost in a city as exceptional as this one.
Note: Before arriving we had planned most of the things we wanted to see, when I say we I mean I did all the planning. I recommend this if you are short on time.
I had already scoped out everywhere I was hoping to squeeze into our small trip and already started to figure out how best to get around New York City.
For most The Subway and it’s extensive network of routes and stations would be the most budget friendly and easy way to get from area to area in the city.
There is a subway station on almost every block of the city and providing you are happy to travel underground you can happily explore the city this way.
We had trouble getting our tickets and gave up pretty quickly, I guess if Blair Waldorf doesn’t get the Subway and neither do I. I can’t comment on whether this would be a good option or not. This handy guide on NYC Subway should help.
As mentioned, I was so impressed by the immense buildings and packed sidewalks that it almost felt criminal to spend too much time underground anyway.
Getting an Uber in New York
Getting around on foot in New York is easy however, the city is huge and chances are you won’t always be staying in the same area.
For example it’s a bit of a walk to get from the Chrysler Building to Central Park, and although the route is presently along 5th Ave you may not want to brave the cold in Winter.
For us too, most evenings we ate in the West Village or East Village and chose to Uber there and back. Getting an Uber in New York is actually a lot less expensive than I would have thought. Especially with a group of four.
If you end up travelling solo or as a couple and decide to get an Uber in New York, you can always Uber Pool to save on spends too.
We did take an Uber from Central Park to Broadway on our final day in New York to visit our office located in Broadway. Overall for a 45 minute journey the trip cost $40 which divided by 4 seems a reasonable price.
Things to see in NYC
Okay so let me jump to our NYC itinerary and things to see in NYC. As everything was already so beautifully organised prior to our trip by myself it was pretty easy to tick most of the top things to see in NYC off our list.
Our route and list of must see locations would be as follows;
- Rockefeller Center
- Chrysler Building
- Grand Central Station
- New York Library
- Times Square
- St. Patricks Cathedral
- Central Park
- John Lennon Memorial
- Empire State Building
- Carrie Bradshaw’s House
Although I was cautious on my limited time budget I was lucky enough to see most of the must see things on my list.
My 4 day itinerary also ended up including a walk and pizza tour of Broadway after visiting our New York office and heading to Perry Street for some Carrie Bradshaw worship.
Exploring New York City
As tourists do with limited time to waste once checked in to our hotel the exploring of the city began immediately. On no sleep, and with jet lag creeping in surely the only thing to do is start walking?
From our hotel – the Westgate Grand Central, we were easily able to walk to Grand Central Station, New York Public Library which was unfortunately closed and then on to Macy’s.
I successfully managed not to buy anything in case you were curious. I wish I could say the same for a trip to Sephora in Broadway.
From Macy’s we walked past the Empire State Building, but for perfect reason chose not to stop and head straight to Times Square.
Times Squares is every bit as great as I could have imagined. For someone who loves seeing top tourist sites and also works in advertising it was pretty much the mecca of New York for me.
The bright lights of New York aren’t truly recognised until you step foot in Times Square and get s full on view of the immense metropolis the city really is.
It would be really easy to spend hours in Times Square watching tourists pose for the perfect pic or simply just in awe of the ads being shown.
The Rockefeller Center
From Times Square it’s only a short 10 minute walk to the Rockefeller Center. We seemed to arrive at almost the perfect time of night, just as the sun was setting and the sky was turning a November pink.
For a small period we watched the ice skaters outside of the ice rink below the Rockefeller centre, it’s natural to think about how many times you’ve seen this same spot in movies and on tv.
Although a purely commercial building, the Rockefeller centre is a main attraction for tourists and you can even venture to the “top of the rock” for a perfect photo opportunity.
Most say the views are better than that of the Empire State Building with its obstructive fencing.
St. Patricks Cathedral
Just across the street from the Rockefeller Center you’ll also find the famous and stunning St. Patricks Cathedral.
The Neo-gothic catholic church stands out like a sore thumb and is impossible to miss against the square concrete backdrop of the gridded streets.
Opened in 1878 and much younger than its European counterparts this prominent and must see landmark should be on everyones list of things to see in NYC.
The Empire State Building
We tackled the Empire State Building on our second day after choosing not to on our first day for good reason.
Our clients office on Madison Avenue overlooks the Empire State and a small rooftop terrace overlooking Madison Ave gave us the perfect photo spot and view of the 102 story art-deco marvel.
Like with the Rockefeller Center you can go up the Empire State Building for a photo opportunities if you like, but fortunately for us our private terrace offered all the views we needed.
Along with the other top sights, I was overly keen to see Central Park and head to the John Lennon memorial located at Strawberry Fields in Central Park.
We walked from 5th Ave to the park and thanks to Google Maps (the park is huge) found the memorial with minimal directional errors.
The John Lennon Memorial is probably one of the more unusual things to do in New York and likely doesn’t make many lists of things to see in NYC.
Things to do in NYC at night
Naturally, a lot of our exploring was done during the day, but given that our trip was for work we were keen to use our evenings as much as possible to get to know the city.
In the city that never sleeps, this wouldn’t be a problem as there are so many things to do in NYC at night. Jet lag aside if the city doesn’t sleep then neither would I.
The East and West Village both have an unrivalled range of bars and restaurants to suit any taste. Whether you fancy Mexican street food, authentic Italian, New York pizza or something a little classier there is something for all.
Both bars are located in Midtown although The Smith has a range of bars and restaurants throughout the city. From our hotel, Midtown is a short 10-20 minute walk and the sidewalks are littered with places to eat and drink.
Where to eat in New York
As mentioned there are a million places to grab a drink in New York, but most nights we found ourselves in the East or West Village where some of the best eateries can be found.
No matter which area of New York you choose to stay, there will be a wide wide choice of places to eat and drink.
On our first night in NYC we ate at Emmett’s Pizza in the West Village, a chicago-style pizzeria in a small intimate room with only 6 tables.
You can’t pre-book in Emmett’s, but once you arrive you are put on a waiting list for a table and can either hang around the bar or head to one of the other bars in the area.
We drank at Bar Veloce whilst we waited, a small wine bar with bags of atmosphere and a happy hour only 2 minutes walk from the restaurant.
At Emmett’s you can go deep dish or something thinner, either way you’re going to be full before leaving!
The West Village itself gave me this nostalgic feeling for New York despite never having visited the city before. I suspect having growing up binging Sex and the City and Gossip Girl among others I really felt a sense of New York life being in the suburb.
We also ate at a restaurant called Hearth in the East Village located at 403 East 12th Street. For this meal we’d be dinning in a private dining area with 16 guests in total.
The food was amazing, albeit portion sizes huge and the service was great. Hearth has the perfect sized private function room available for smaller and more intimate party sizes.
I would definitely recommend for locals or anyone hosting an event in the city.
On our final evening we ate in Midtown at a traditional Mexican place called Blockheads Burrito, the burritos are huge and the margaritas are deadly but its definitely worth a visit and unsurprisingly budget friendly.
There are lots of them all over the city, so check them out if you are staying a while.
Before dinner we had drinks at a pub close by called The Press Box, which is easy to find from The Smith and The Horny Ram referenced above.
Most places in New York have a Happy Hour so don’t be afraid to ask if you are on a budget trip.
Broadway and the New York City Pizza Tour
On our final day in New York, after visiting Central Park we had some ‘work’ to do before our flight.
A covert operation to collect some lost headphones from our New York office would see us end up in Broadway.
Broadway is a great location for shopping, eating and generally getting a different feel of the city away from the tourism of Central Park and Times Square.
I personally loved this area, I felt like a true New Yorker blending in with the crowds and walking past the quirky apartments along Bleecker Street.
The New York Pizza Tour
Since it was out last day in New York and we wanted to make the most of being in a city famed for it’s pizza, we began a small pizza tour of New York on route to Carrie Bradshaw’s Apartment to fulfil my final NYC wish.
As a general all round lover of pizza, exploring with other pizza lovers it seemed like a no brainer to eat our way through all the slices of New York City as we ventured up to Carrie Bradshaw’s Apartment on 66 Perry Street.
From our New York Broadway office to Perry Street we’d walk for about 30 minutes before grabbing an Uber back to our hotel in Murray Hill.
New York & things to see in NYC
Having only spent 4 days in this cosmopolitan dream I can’t really do the city justice with my review or recommendation. Of all the great things to see in NYC I’ve probably only seen a fraction.
Leaving New York I can honestly say in all my travels I have never been so keen to return to a city so badly. I would expect part 2 of this guide to things to see in NYC and Exploring New York City to follow very soon.
Whether you like New York or not, the city is undeniably one of the most interesting places on the planet. With so much to see and so much to do it’s a wonder anyone leaves New York at all.
So on that note, and in true Carrie Bradshaw style I know that there is a fond place in my heart for New York City so, “If Louis was right, and you only get one great love, New York may just be mine.”
A 20-something travel blogger based in Liverpool. Covering all things from Latin America to Liverpool local guides and everything in between.