New York – A handy guide to Manhattan & surrounds

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New York City Skyline view from Central Park

The big apple, city of dreams, the location of almost every other sitcom, there are too many things that have been said about the big city. Yes, it is magical, it is mesmerizing, loud, noisy and dirty, all at the same time, but you still want a piece of it. So did we! And off we went spending the last week of 2015 in New York. There are a gazillion things you can do in the city depending on what your interests are. We had five days and decided to concentrate our time in Manhattan. New York City is made up of five boroughs namely Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Staten Island. There is something unique to do in every borough depending on your tastes, time and budget. Packing it all in one trip is probably not practical and you won’t end up experiencing the city. You have to walk down it’s many iconic and famous streets made popular by pop culture sitcoms like Sex & the City, Friends, How I met your Mother , etc., to feel the pulse of the city. It is amazing and I always love it whenever I go. This was my first time visiting it in the winters, around the holiday season, and although it was freezing, being packed in layers helped.

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Strawberry Fields- John Lennon Memorial

We had 5 days and we focused our time in Manhattan and a little bit of Brooklyn. The city was packed to the brims with people from all over to visit NYC during the holidays and it was overwhelming at times trying to make our way through the madding crowd. There was a lot happening at this time too. All the shops on 5th Avenue had brilliant window displays, with Saks 5th Avenue’s doing a grand light show that was beautiful, the Rockefeller Center Tree, and the famous ball drop on Times Square. We had decided beforehand that we were going to avoid the craziness of Times Square on New year’s eve and decided to drop (pun intended) the ‘Ball drop’ from our itinerary. All the reviews I read online seemed discouraging, and unless you were willing to spend a significant amount of dollars getting a NYE package at one of the Times Square hotels, it was not a worthwhile effort.

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Christmas light show at Saks 5th Avenue

New York has a lot to offer so pick and choose your itinerary depending on what you like to do. My focus was art, food and culture, so I made my itinerary trying to explore all the NYC pop culture hot spots, a few must visit food stops, and the art museums. I am a Pop-culture fiend, and I was walking down the streets exclaiming at every point about how this was in this movie, or sitcoms, blah, blah. By the end of it, AS was so tired he pulled his ear-muffs down to drown out my voice. I don’t really blame him, I might have done the same! I have put down a list of my favorite New York spots in this post, places that I can spend hours in just ambling aimlessly and soaking the spirit all in.

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Stroll through the many bridges of Central Park

Central Park: Whether you are visiting in summers, fall or winter, you have to take a walk around the park. Keep a couple of hours aside, to just amble on aimlessly along the many bridges, underpasses, museum, famous John Lennon memorial ‘strawberry fields’, etc. It is beautiful and the Manhattan skyline looks gorgeous from there. There are many spots that you would recognize from movies and that’s exciting. You can also download an audioguide and listen to it as you explore the park. It’s gorgeous in summers when you can picnic by the lake, or row your canoes, but even in winters it’s magical with slightly grey tones and smell of toasted nuts wafting through. There are horse drawn carriages and pedicabs you could take, or rent a bike, or like me explore it on foot. I love being able to stop everywhere, take my time and then move on. I would however, add that it is still just a park, so don’t go expecting fireworks and unicorns! It is a very beautiful park in the middle of the busiest city and you would be surprised by how many quiet corners you can find to eat a peaceful lunch.

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Walk down Brooklyn Bridge for stunning views

Shopping, Window Shopping and the likes: No trip to New York can be complete without a bit of retail therapy. If you haven’t walked with shopping bags down 5th avenue in your heels, then girl you are missing the fun! You could also walk down with  no bags in flat boots but a fabulous dress and indulge in window shopping like me :). All the names you ever heard and dreamt of are there and it’s fun walking down the street looking at the opulent shop displays, that are over the top and oh so glamourous. You can have your own ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ moment outside their gorgeous iconic store, or feel the riches with the most luxurious fashion brands at Bergdorf Goodman. Their shop displays are usually over the top and around the holidays they had taken it up a considerable notch. Saks 5th Avenue, Barney’s New York, Macy’s are all good to browse in if you are looking for some high end shopping. And if you are like an Apple Inc fan, then a visit to the iconic Apple glass showroom on 5th avenue is a must. Unless you are serious shopper it’s fun to just take it all in. Walk around languorously stopping at every display while the world is zipping past in a hurry. All this shopping would surely make you hungry, so drop into The Plaza on the 5th. The Plaza hotel is the site of a dream wedding in almost all chick-flicks, and it also has an affordable yet gourmet food court in its basement. If you want to sit and absorb it all in then try getting a place in their cafe in the lobby which serves some nice cocktails as well.

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Times Square and Broadway: Times Square though a bit overrated is still something you can’t and should not totally avoid. It is a spectacle of craziness and neon flashing lights which is worth seeing at least once. There is a vast difference in Times Square during the day and during the night. Don’t waste your time visiting it during the day, as the lights are not on and that kinda is the whole purpose of Times Square. Also, and I can’t stress this enough, do not get fooled by the many tourist trap restaurants on Times Square. They are all pretty bad, do yourself a favor and walk down to West Village and pick a trendy restaurant there. Broadway is another experience not to be missed when you are New York. Take an evening out to watch a show and it is guaranteed to blow you away. If you are not fixed on your choice of Broadway show and are open to exploring, the TKTs booth at 47th St and Broadway is a good old fashioned way to get heavily discounted tickets for shows.

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The Views: New York has the most stunning and the one of most recognized skyline in the world. Well, it is one of my favorite after Sydney! There are plenty of places to see it from and take it all in. You will have choices of where to see it from, and my honest suggestion would be to do one ticketed one like The Empire State Building, Top of the Rock (Rockefeller Center), One World Tower Observatory, or the Boat Cruises. For more views I would highly recommend walking down the Brooklyn Bridge all the while stopping to strike a movie star pose or two, or, the High Line and reward yourself with a cocktail at one of the many trendy bars in the Meatpacking District at the end of the walk, or if you feel like it then make the trek to Jersey City, The Liberty Park  for some amazing views of the skyline. I have been on the top of Empire State building, and in this trip visited the One World Tower. I loved the experience at One World Observatory, specially the elevator ride and the multi-media show that shows how the city’s skyline has transformed over time. Also, visit the 9/11 Memorial when you are at the observatory, it is a sobering reminder of the tragedy that shook the world. The top of Empire State Building is awesome as well, but going on top meant I couldn’t see Empire State, and for me, I love the New York city skyline with the Empire State Building in view. The walk down the Brooklyn Bridge is also one of my favorite things to do, both during the day, as well as, at the night when the lights come on is a spectacular view.

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Flatiron Building is an interesting piece of architecture

Museums: New York is an art lover’s delight and you can spend hours here one of the many museums. It’s important to pick 1-2 that you really like and spend a good couple of hours going through the multiple levels and the exhibits. The biggest and the most famous one is the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the Met as it’s popularly called. It has a large collection of exhibits and though the entry is free, they ask for a at door donation for $20. I loved the Met and spent almost half a day just walking from level to another. There was everything from classical grecian art to Van Gogh, and pop art exhibits showcasing Andy Warhol’s works. In one word it was fantastic. The other museum I fell in love with was the MoMa or the Museum of Modern Art. A wonderful collection of paintings, sculptures, interactive art installations and the likes. The other one is the Guggenheim Museum of Art. It’s very modern in its sensibilities and can take some getting used to. These three are the most famous ones in New York, but there are many more that you can explore and spend time seeing. Another tip is to visit the St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue, when you make your visit to MoMa. It’s beautiful and very peaceful.

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9/11 Memorial

All other must-do’s: While we are on the subject of walking there are a few more iconic places to walk through and explore on your trip to New York City. During the holiday season Bryant Park transforms into a giant ice skating ring with a medley of shops selling food and unique handmade knick knacks. Washington Square park has the iconic arches that are instantly recognizable from the many sitcoms set in New York. Union Square Park which is a close walk from the Flatiron Building is also a fun place to sit and do some people watching. The Flatiron building itself is an interesting piece of architecture. Lastly, don’t forget to stroll down Wall Street and feel high testosterone in the air. The famous Charging Bull statue is there and it’s basically just fun to walk around and observe the people rushing by. Grand Central Station is majestic and grand as the name suggests, and you feel like you are in the movie Hugo when you step in it. If you plan to take public transport, chances are, you will be passing through the station multiple times. Don’t be in a rush to catch your train, and go marvel at the nooks and crannies, the old world charm that is Grand Central and then prepare yourself to get assaulted by the dirty subway.

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Oldest pub in New York didn’t admit women until 1970s!

Eats: There are a gazillion places to eat in New York and I am not going to list the top ten here. I am just sharing a few places that I went to and really enjoyed. They say that New York city has too many restaurants that you can eat in a new one every night of the year and still not cover half of them. There are options for all budgets, from the fanciest Michelin star restaurants to under $10 meals, you can find it all in this city. My suggestion would be to try one of the highly acclaimed places like Momofuku Ko, Le Bernardin, Daniel, Junoon, etc. if your budget allows it. If not, then don’t fret New York has you covered with a range of cafes and restaurants catering to every cuisine and craving you might have. Some of my favorite ones that I went to were Luke’s Lobster for life changing lobster rolls, Ippudo for ramen, Joe’s Shanghai for some shanghai soup dumplings, McSorely’s Old Alehouse which is the oldest pub in the city for some beer, Magnolia Bakery, Financier’s Patisserie, Bouchon Bakery, and Baked By Melissa for some desserts and coffee. Explore the neighborhoods of Chinatown, East Village, Meatpacking District, Nola, Brooklyn etc. to find hidden cafes and bars that will surprise you with their uniqueness.

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