I have to be honest; if only I had more time in New York City this list would look totally different! I would have loved more time to be a culture vulture or explore some of the weird and wonderful things going on in the city, but with just 4 days I was drawn to the Big Apple’s main attractions. Here, in this blog, I will share my top 5 highlights and recommendations for a first time visit to the city that actually does sleep- just a little more than Shanghai.
I first visited New York City as a young art student in 1996 and it literally blew me away. I was so inspired that I built my whole student portfolio and degree study on what most excited me about the city - the architecture, the scale, the repetition of windows and the reflection of blue skies and neighboring buildings in the vast glass towering skyscrapers. 18 years later (wow, how did that happen!), I was filled with excitement to see how the city had changed, especially in the wake of 9/11.
Highlight # 5 The 9/11 Memorial and World Trade Center
It is with great consideration that this ‘highlight’ has reached #5 and is meant with absolutely no disrespect. It is difficult to refer to a memorial as a highlight or to list it in 5th position of a 1-5 pole; but my reasons are clear, it is an absolutely unmissable but heart-wrenching experience.
Visiting the site gives you a true perspective of the enormity of this tragedy and those affected, as well as giving an insight to how something so horrific can bring a sense of solidarity and unity to a city as large as New York.
The memorial is a poignant and beautiful testament to honour those lost on that fateful day. Each and every name of the fallen victims of 9/11 (as well as 6 people who lost their lives in the 1993 terrorist attack) are inscribed in the bronze surround of two reflecting pools which sit within the footprints of the Twin Towers.
Expect your emotion to run deep but don’t let this put you off visiting. I walked away not only with a feeling of great sadness and empathy, but also with a real understanding and appreciation for the sense of resilience and humanity that many New Yorkers have found in the aftermath of the event.
As you look up you can see the One World Trade Center (also unofficially known as the Freedom Tower) towering almost infinitely into the sky.
The observatory deck offers incredible views of New York Harbour, Midtown Manhattan and New Jersey. I’d highly recommend a pre-arranging express pass to save time queuing.
Highlight #4 The High Line
The High Line concept was introduced by the non-profit organisation Friends of the High Line, which was founded in 1999. Residents of the area sought to transform the disused elevated railroad into a public urban garden similar to the Promenade Planteé in Paris. The project was supported by Diane von Fürstenberg, which gave it great momentum from the early days, and later encouraging other high profile backers.
The walkway runs from the historic Meatpacking District at Gansevoort Street and Washington Street, (it’s most southern point) to the Hudson Yards on 34th Street. Along the High Line you can enjoy a new perspective of NYC taking in the incredible views of the Hudson River and Manhattan whilst admiring the urban landscape design.
The project is a perfect example of taking something old and rundown and transforming it into something beautiful.
There is always something new to see and do here including market stalls, food and drink venues, live performances, pop up events and interactive art installations.
Visit the official High Line website for details for upcoming events.
Art appears all along the elevated walkway offering great viewing points of famous urban artworks from artists such as Banksy and Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobras.
The linear garden route also passes through Chelsea’s Gallery District, therefore making this a great hop on, hop off point for those wanting to explore the city’s art scene.
Left- Banksy's Einstein- Love is the Answer
For more on where to find Banksy’s work click here
Bottom right- Eduardo Kobra mural based off the iconic 1945 photograph V-J Day in Times Square by Alfred Eisenstaedt www.eduardokobra.com
For a map of other galleries in the area visit www.chelseagallerymap.com
Highlight #3 The Empire State Building at sunset
With pre-arranged express tickets visitors can choose to access the Empire State Building at any time during the opening hours of their selected day.
The outdoor viewing platform on the 86th floor was pretty crowded so it is well worth the extra dollars to get a VIP express ticket that will accelerate you to the 102nd floor. Although still a little busy and with a much smaller viewing area, it was miles better than the lower deck and has panoramic views that are unrivalled in the whole of NYC.
By aiming for sunset you can take advantage of seeing the city by day, watching the sunset over New Jersey, view the city light up and then enjoy it as it sparkles at night.
For more information about advance ticket booking visit www.esbnyc.com
Highlight #2 Walk the streets and bike the bridges.
NYC really is best explored on foot but with so much ground to cover the added help of two wheels will speed things up a little and give the tootsies a break.
Our day started with coffee close to our rented Airbnb apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Brooklyn has been an area of massive gentrification in the past five years. Williamsburg in particular boasts its fair share of hipster bars and trendy restaurants, but there is still a grittiness to the suburb that makes for great exploration and photography.
This amusing article Brooklyn Before and After the Hipsters shares a small collection of photographs by Kristy Chatelain as she documents the recent changes in Brooklyn.
Lovers of street art will revel in wandering Brooklyn's streets; there are literally works to be found on every corner. You can learn more from this great blog and explore the scene with this choice of free walking tours.
New York Graffiti and Street Art Tours
For an alternative to walking or taking public transport you can choose to rent the NY Citi Bikes.
The public bike system is well set up with regular stations however it is advisable to have internet access and use their App to navigate where the stations are and check that there are bikes and parking spaces available.
Riding over the bridge was actually my biggest single highlight of the trip, but that’s only because of my bridge fetish, which doesn’t really count when passing on recommendations!
The bridge is an absolute marvel. When it first opened in 1903 it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. It has been repurposed and rehabilitated over the years to best fit the modern day need of connecting Brooklyn and Lower East Manhattan.
The history of the Williamsburg Bridge.
From the bridge the views downtown look towards the Brooklyn Bridge; looking uptown the Manhattan skyline views are breathtaking, and even more enjoyable as you’re adrenaline pumps whilst riding safely alongside the subway trains with cars and trucks whizzing below.
After crossing the bridge to Manhattan we swung a right, heading into the East Village were we dropped the bikes and picked up a friend who kindly guided us on our freestyle walking tour from the East side to the West side taking in parks, architecture and the NY way of life.
To make the most of the city by foot, put together a to-do-list and plan your walking route in advance. A few diversions along the way will increase the adventure.
To explore Midtown Manhattan, Grand Central Station is a great starting point. From here you'll get great street level views of the remarkable Chrysler Building. Heading northwest you can plan your route to cross 5th Avenue, pass St Patrick's Cathedral and The Rockefeller Center before reaching Times Square.
If, like me, you find the crowds of Times Square way too much to deal with then take a sharp exit north towards Central Park.
Art Lovers can stop at the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) en route or head deep into Central Park to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Admittedly that’s a lot to fit in to one, even two days but you can plan your hit list and customise your route in advance with help from this great list of Big Apple self-guided walking tours.
After working up an appetite walking and biking the city we followed a great recommendation for a BYOB Indian restaurant. Dining out in NYC can get pretty pricey when adding on drinks, tax and tips to every meal, so this is a great spot if you are keen to save a few dollars.
We didn’t expect the Bollywood fiesta that we walked into; a crowded kingdom of bling and sparkling, this place is an absolute gem! In fact, there are four similar restaurants, all at one street address- 93 1st Avenue #2, New York,
We choose the top left restaurant Panna II but I am sure they all offer the same festivities, incredible Indian food and unforgettable atmosphere.
Highlight #1 New York City from a high
Undoubtably the best way to see New York City and an easy choice for my number one highlight.
Yes it’s a bit of an extravagance flying around NYC in a helicopter BUT you only live once! Saying that, I was actually very lucky to be treated to this amazing experience by an extremely kind friend and I would now, without a doubt recommend this to anyone visiting the city.
The helicopter takes off from the southern tip of Manhattan, firstly circling the New York Harbour offering close up views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
The pilot then heads up the west side of Manhattan passing all of the city’s highlights. After reaching the George Washington Bridge the chopper returns along the same path offering the opportunity to view the New Jersey side and gaze miles beyond the city then landing back close to the Staten Island Ferry Whitehall Terminal.
I swear I was beaming from ear to ear for hours after from the excitement and adrenaline.
To enjoy your own helicopter adventure visit www.heliny.com
All photos used on this website are originals captured by the owner Karen Wilson and are property of Casa Karima Ltd. unless marked ©.
Photo credits are listed where applicable.
To buy prints or request to reuse any of Casa Karima's images please contact us for authorisation.
Follow us on Instagram @casakarima