After seven years of pining and getting FOMO from all the Instagrams, I finally went and booked a flight to NYC. Just in case you’re not au fait with my relationship with the city, I lived there for seven months back in 2010 as a knitwear design intern. Casual, huh? It may sound glamorous, but in reality I was working crazy hours, getting lost and attempting to survive without air con when the weather hit 30 degrees.
A lot has changed since those days of hunting down Pantone cards and discovering brunch. I look a bit different (thank goodness I ditched the gappy fringe), think differently and the blog I had for fun is now my full-time hustle. I also had to accept that I probably wouldn’t be able to move back again, as much as I wanted to initially. I was scared of starting from scratch and got a little too comfy in my London flatshare. Still, I was determined to visit again and live the pretend GIRLS again for a week or so with Supal.
I know that t’internet is awash with NYC guides but I thought I’d start mine (yes there’s a few) with some basic tips, just in case you haven’t been before. I did a few of the touristy things again, ‘cos I’m sentimental like that and it’s quite fun to tick off any locations you may have seen in the movies. I can’t walk past the Met without thinking of Gossip Girl!
Dress – Oasis, Espadrilles – Zara
Step 1: If you have to stay In Midtown…
It seems like there’s approximately 2435 hotels around Times Square, which is a bit overwhelming when you’re searching. If you want a bit of the convenience without the crazy crowds, then CitizenM is your best bet. I’d stayed at their London branch before, so arriving at their West 50th Street location felt really familiar. There’s the same quirky multifunctional lobby and you can check in within minutes using their self-service machine. Perfect, if you’re feeling a little bleary eyed from the flight.
The rooms are pretty snug but functional, with most things like lighting and air con being controlled by an iPad. Beds are seriously comfortable and if you ask the staff at check in, they can help you find a room with a view (I couldn’t stop opening and closing the blind as if I was in the Devil Wears Prada or something). Breakfast is optional, so you can go for the all-you-can eat affair downstairs or head further afield. In terms of location, it’s a few blocks from Central Park, Rockefeller Centre and the Hell’s Kitchen area, so there’s plenty in the vicinity.
I immediately felt a little nostalgic when I arrived as it’s not too far from where I used to live. Did I ever tell you about the women’s hostel that seemed straight out of the 1920s? I remember seeing the souvenir shops, yellow taxis and immediately feeling the energy of the city. Midtown isn’t for everyone of course, so I’ll have some alternatives coming up if you fancy living like a local.
We were guests of Citizen M
Step 2: Wander Through Central Park
Ah Central Park! This background of many a rom-com is a bit like an oasis in the middle of the city. There’s a lake complete with boats you can hire and even things like Alice & Wonderland statues to spot. It all feels rather cinematic being in such a lush green space, but surrounded by skyscrapers. Anything is possible, I remember one friend once spotted Jay Z on a bike!
The park spans over 800 acres, so once you wander away from the entrances, you’re bound to find a quiet spot. Even though I’ve been here quite a few times, there’s always something new to discover and I realised that I hadn’t wandered around Bethesda terrace properly. Inside the arcade, there’s a beautiful ceiling made up of ornate Minton tiles. Next time I’d definitely like to hire a bike a whizz towards the Harlem end, which has a completely different vibe.
Step 3: Get All The Photo Opportunities
OK, so I also really wanted to capture bits of New York properly this time, as back in the day I was using a temperamental point and shoot camera. I knew that Washington Street in Dumbo was the place to head to for that oh-so-perfect bridge shot, but I didn’t envision the bus-load of tourists who were waiting in line. Cue me shouting at Supal ‘Am I in focus?’ and hoping that I was twirling enough to cover the engagement shoot in the background. Definitely head there early if you want to try and recreate this composition. It’s also worth heading to Main Street park nearby for some different angles of the Bridge itself.
Step 4: A Spot Of Culture
Another thing I love about New York is the diversity and breadth of the museums. There’s always decent exhibitions on and the most democratic thing is that many galleries accept ‘suggested donations.’ This makes it affordable for different socio-economic groups (I remember being a cheeky intern and paying $2 for the Met once) or reasonable if you just want to pop in quickly. Some places also allow free entry on certain days of the week, so it’s worth investigating.
I went to the Met for the Rei Kawakubo exhibition as well as the Whitney Biennial. The former is a great chance to see some of the Comme Des Garçons pieces up close (a version of Rihanna’s Met gala dress is there) and it’s grouped into overriding themes. Personally I find the business really interesting, conceptual catwalk designs challenging the female form yet a strong commercial side with the spotty wallets you’ll find in the gift shop. Speaking of shopping, there’s some great finds such as some Nike CDG exclusives.
The Whitney Biennial is also pretty topical, with plenty of artworks around gentrification, identity, the economy and #BlackLivesMatter. Make sure you allow a good few hours to wander around the six floors and pop outside to see amazing views of the Meatpacking District. The Highline and Chelsea Market are also nearby, if you fancy a bite to eat.
My Practical Tips
I’ll assume that you already know about the tipping situation (15-20% seems the norm) and the fact the tax gets added on when you pay. Always fun to play the guessing game whenever you get to the till.
- Consider when you arrive. I know that arriving or leaving during rush hour may be unavoidable if you’ve booked a bargain flight, but just note that the traffic to and from the airport can be a little crazy. It took us almost two hours in a taxi to get to CitizenM from JFK and I started to get pretty hangry. Bring plenty of snacks.
- Cheap Travel – A weekly Metrocard is probably your best bet if you’re going to be doing more than 12 journeys. You may feel enthusiastic and like you want to walk everywhere in the first few days, but this is handy to have if you need to get to places quickly. It’s about £25 for a weekly all zones travelcard, so you can head to the beaches of Coney Island using the same ticket. If only London were this reasonable!
- Speaking of subways, you’ll need to familiarise yourself with the lines. Each line has a letter or number, which tends to be grouped with a few others that go in the same direction. The origins and destinations do vary, plus the express trains skip certain stations. Citymapper is probably your best bet to make sense of it, but be sure to check whether the subway says ‘Uptown’ or ‘Downtown’ at street level, as you may not be able to access the line you need. I lost count of how many times I wasn’t paying attention and ended up going in the wrong direction.
- Uberpool is a networking tool. If you need to get a taxi, it’s well worth pooling up to save a bit of money and meet some interesting people (we got chatting to an Aussie guy who worked in advertising). Lyft is also a popular app, which can work out cheaper sometimes (plus you can have profile pictures and everything). Get $10 off your first ride with KRISTABEL60615.
- If it’s your first time in NYC and you want to do ALL THE THINGS, then a Citypass might be your best option. You can save about 30-50% if you want to see key attractions like Top Of The Rock or the 9/11 Memorial plus there’s tips on the best times to visit. With Top Of The Rock, you buy your ticket and it gives you the next available time, so it may be best to get it earlier in the day. There’s only two lifts that can take you back down, so beware of queues at peak times.
- Accept that you won’t see everything. It’s something I had to keep reminding myself, especially when on the last day I wanted to try and fit in more attractions, as well as meetings and shopping. Even though I’ve technically spent 7 months there, I still haven’t walked down the Brooklyn Bridge or been up the Statue of Liberty (plus you can see it for free if you take the Staten Island ferry). I know all the guides may seem overwhelming, so it’s important to go at your own pace and just soak up the atmosphere. It also gives you a reason to come back. Next time I definitely want to go to the 9/11 Museum and parts of Queens. I definitely won’t leave it another seven years.
Have you been to New York before? Now we’ve ticked off the basics, I’ll be sharing all of the other things we got up to in Harlem, Brooklyn plus all the things we ate. Watch my vlog for a sneak peek!