Of all the places I craved visiting during the peak of lockdown, New York was initially nowhere on that list. It’s not that I dislike the place, but as a Londoner it’s quite easy to take the Big Apple for granted. When I finally got a chance to return to America, however, I felt compelled to head to the east coast and see what had changed in the last few years. New York, it turns out, really does live up to the words of Ol’ Blue Eyes and hasn’t been sleeping while I’ve been away…
One of the reasons we tend to become blasé about New York on this side of the Atlantic is the fact that on the surface it’s quite similar to major cities in Europe. Liberal values, large shopping areas, a variety of restaurants, impressive hotels and convenient public transport don’t have much appeal for tourists if it’s something they can experience every day at home. Likewise the arts scene in most cities usually boast of new openings and exhibitions, so what exactly can New York offer?
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Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
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I’m being flippant, obviously, but you can see why after years of being unable to travel people are perhaps looking for enriching experiences as part of their initial forays abroad.
Let’s start with an unexpected bonus from my recent visit at the tail end of 2022, and one which set things off on a positive note. Flying into the US can be a daunting prospect as its not always quick or easy to get through border control. We got off our United Airlines flight from London to Newark and ended up with our luggage in hand in less than 20 minutes. We breezed through in virtually no time at all and it was all a pleasant change from previous arrivals. Travelling on the airline’s Polaris class certainly made the journey easier, but the real bonus was the proximity of the airport to the centre of New York.
Where to stay in New York City
It’s tempting to try and do as much as possible in New York, but in reality you’ll enjoy your visit more if you narrow down what you want to experience and pick a convenient place to stay around a set itinerary. With that in mind, and knowing that this would be an arts themed trip predominantly around Manhattan, I was delighted to learn that I would be staying at The Langham on Fifth Avenue.
Located a few steps away from The Empire State Building, the hotel is a luxury option in the heart of the city. Even if you’re new to the grid layout of New York roads, you’ll learn very quickly that Fifth Avenue is literally at the centre of everything. Rooms on the upper floors give you outstanding views of the iconic skyline but you’ll also want to spend time here just relaxing. Check out the hotel’s fancy restaurant Ai Fiori for an Italian/French menu infused with local style.
Things to do in New York
The first thing to do is make sure you’ve downloaded your New York CityPass to gain access to some of the most popular attractions in the city. You can book in advance via the website to secure a specific time slot, which saves a lot of time for places like The Empire State Building. Some attractions let you buy tickets on arrival, but if its on CityPass it’s much more convenient to have the entry already loaded on your phone ready to scan. Pair this with a 7-day Unlimited Metrocard to get around with ease.
Broadway is only a 15 minute walk from the Empire State Building, so you’ll definitely want to catch a show while you’re here. For the most popular productions you’ll need to book in advance, but you could also take a look at upcoming shows and take a chance on something new. I’m pretty basic though, so I got to experience Hamilton with a particularly rowdy local crowd. Its fair to say this show is as popular as ever, and some of the people I spoke at the interval were there for the fifth time!
New York has a number of viewing platforms and observation decks, but you might have missed out on two of the newest if you haven’t visited for a while. Over by Hudson Yards you’ll find The Edge but closer to where I was located there’s SUMMIT One Vanderbilt which is part art installation and part multisensory viewing experience. Social media feeds are full of images from here, and its an even better destination in person.
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is always popular with a regular rotation of exhibitions and installations. Try heading out to Queens to see MoMA PS1 if you want a more relaxed view of New York’s art scene in unassuming surroundings. Another highlight is the Whitney Museum of American Art in West Village, an area which has seen incredible renovation in recent years. From here you can get a closer look at Little Island, a new public park and art space on the Hudson River. Most people walk to and from here along the High Line, a public green footpath on an elevated rail line that New Yorkers have been raving about since it opened in full in 2019.
Two other museums to explore are the New York Historical Society and the American Museum of Natural History. Leave plenty of time for both as there are a number of unique exhibitions here that cover both the history of the city as well as America’s turbulent past.
If you have a little longer, be sure to visit the revamped David Geffen Hall at the Lincoln Centre. The home of the New York Philharmonic has undergone a facelift and only reopened in October 2022. The new entrance is now a more welcoming space with a huge video wall that will stream performances to a much larger audience than can fit in the main hall.
One final tip if you want to try something different in the city is a morning yoga and bike ride through Central Park. Yes, you heard that right, you can now do both and learn more about the biggest green space in New York.
See, I told you the city had changed…
Return fares from London Heathrow to New York/Newark start at £499 (Economy), £1208 (United Premium Plus) and £3188 (United Polaris business). All fares include taxes and checked baggage. United currently runs six daily flights between London and New York/Newark, and will be adding one more in the summer of 2023.
CityPASS is available from $119 per adult and $101 per child.
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