Last june, we had the amazing opportunity to visit New York City for a week thanks to Nath’s job. A scientific conference was held at Columbia University for 3 days and it was the perfect opportunity to check out the city knowing that her plane tickets and her (well our) accomodation were paid for! A week is very short to explore New York city! So we had to set up a detailed plan and so we are sharing here all of the infos gathered about the Big Apple in our New York city handy guide, hoping it’ll be useful for you! (N.B. Flag found here)
Before you go to New York City…
If you’re a citizen of one of these countries you will only need a travel authorization to go to the United States for less than 90 days. To apply for the ESTA (Electonic System for Travel Authorizations), you will just have to go on their website to state your identity and answer a few standard questions like “do you have a criminal record?”. If everything goes right, you should receive your authorization within minutes that you will have to print and then show at the admissions office once there. It will cost you $14 that won’t be refunded in case of rejection. BEWARE, this paper does not guarantee you will be able to enter the United States but it definitely helps the procedure. In our case, the airport agent didn’t even ask to see it.
You’ll also need a biometric (or electronic) or an individual machine-readable valid passport issued before October 26, 2005 to pair with the ESTA. If this is not your case, you will need to apply for a new passport or a VISA. How to know if your passport is biometric? It’s simple, there will be a camera shaped symbol on its cover!
New York City Pass or New York Pass?
It’s one of the most recurrent questions when planning a trip to New York City. The New York City Pass and the New York Pass are two systems allowing you to get discounts on many popular activities in New York city while avoiding endless waiting queues. It takes the form of a ticket books (or a smart card) that you must then exchange (or present) in exchange of your entrance ticket at the time of the activity. Be careful not to confuse them, they are very different and offer distinct perks. You should assess which system will be most suitable for your trip and to help you, here’s a comparative chart:
We chose the New York City Pass for budgetary reasons but also because it offered most of the attractions we wanted to see in New York City. In such a short time, these 6 attractions were more than enough and we didn’t want to run around to ensure visiting a maximum of places to hopefully make the New York Pass profitable. The system is very well in place and their website is packed with many practical and valuable information to prepare your visit!
How to find your way in New York City?
New York City is divided into five major districts, called boroughs: Manhattan, Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens and Bronx. Most tourist attractions are located in Manhattan and Brooklyn, but it seems that other boroughs have much to offer. Unfortunately we didn’t have the time to explore them. Finding your way in Manhattan is very simple. A large majority of avenues and streets are numbered. The streets are numbered in increasing order from South to North and avenues from East to West. The famous 5th Avenue is a landmark that separates Manhattan from East and West. Thus all the streets to the east of 5th Avenue will be the East streets and those to the west will be the West Streets.
For instance, the Grand Central Station address can be written as follows: 89 E 42nd St meaning, 89 East 42nd Street. So, to find the station you have to go to number 89 of the East 42nd Street. Knowing all this, you should not have trouble finding your way in Manhattan! The hardest part is knowing which direction to take when gettig out of the subway station. Usually we just looked for the street or avenue signs and if they were not visible, we wouls take a random direction to figure out if they were in the ascending or descending order and therefore adapt our itinerary. Good to know: the avenues are about 2 times more spaced apart than the streets, so when at a crossroads, it is easier to spot 2 following street signs.
Transports in New York City
From the airport
To reach the city center from the airport, we opted for the Go Airlink shuttle which greatly facilitated our life! The taxi is too expensive and taking the train would have kind of complicated with all our suitcases. The private mini van solution to share with fellow travelers appeared to us as the best compromise. This system is pretty handy because we just set our destination address when booking the car so that it would take us directly at the apartment we rented. It cost us $60 per person for the round-trip. Please note that shuttles operate by sector and therefore you should carefully check the zip code you put in. Do not make Nath’s mistake who found herself waiting for over an hour down the apartment the day of departure!
If you plan on staying for several days in New York City, the subway seems like the most economical means of transportation, the iconic yellow cabs are simply overpriced! Know that a subway ticket costs $3, the 7-day package costs $32 and the 30-day package costs $116.50. We opted for the 1-week package and were pretty satisfied with it! You can buy it directly from the machines and to use it, you will just have to pass it through the reader before each trip. Finding your way on the subway is a bit more complicated. First there are local trains that stop at every stop of the line and express trains, which only stop at selected stops. There are two directions for each train: Uptown (from Brooklyn to the North of Manhattan) and Downtown (from Manhattan to Brooklyn). The good part is that the subway stops are simply called after the streets they are at. Keeping in mind that the street numbers are in a certain order, you just have to know if you have to go to a higher number street to figure out which way to go. Careful, sometimes the platforms for the opposite directions of one train aren’t facing each other. So don’t forget to check the irection of the train before going into the subway station. Another perk of the subway, it is full of very talented artists that will make your trip much more enjoyable!
Accomodation in New York City
During our stay, we rented an apartment on Airbnb to limit costs, hotel rooms are very expensive in New York City! The most affordable and accessible boroughs in terms of prices and transportation are Manhattan and Brooklyn. We couldn’t find an accomodation that met our expectations in Brooklyn, THE cool borough, but we still managed to find a very good deal at the north of Manhattan in Washington Heights. To be honest, it is not the most chic neighborhood of Manhattan and Seb was unpleasantly surprised when he witnessed men being arrested when he got there! However, the area was really nice, friendly and lively and after getting over our bad first impression, we had a great time! We felt very safe there, we even came home pretty late one night all the way from Brooklyn, at around 1am, without any trouble! And above all, our apartment was located at just a 5-minute walk from the subway station which was pretty convenient! Clean, well maintained and fully consistent with the description given on Airbnb, we totally recommend Klaudija’s apartment, which turned out to be a very friendly host, available and full of good advice. Her apartment is perfect for couples or solo travelers! Beware: since 2012, renting an entire flat from a local for less than 29 days is illegal in New York City. However, we were able to rent our apartment without trouble but know you taking a risk by doing so. If you’re feeling frisky about it, you can always just book a regular hotel.
In a much welcoming and warmer fashion, we advise you to go check out Debbie’s B&B in Brooklyn where we spent an absolutely exceptional jazzy evening! Her Victorian 19th century brownstone home is quite typical of the borough and still has a lot of a charm. Debbie will welcome you with open arms, you will feel at home very quickly and these small intimate concerts that she throws on the weekends in her living room are just the icing on the cake! Unfortunately we couldn’t visit the rooms, all of which were occupied during our visit, but we really think it’s worth thinking about it if you’re looking to meet locals.
Where to eat in New York City?
Very famous for its monuments and activities, New York City is also known for its eclectic, varied and absolutely delicious food. As good foodies, we decided to test several specialties in the area and have had the great pleasure of discovering the best burgers in the world at Shake Shack, nothing less! There are located all around Manhattan and although the wait can be hellish (up to 45 minutes between your arrival and your first bite!), it is really worth it. You will not regret it! The famous Coney Island Nathan’s Famous hot dogs were also a big favorite as well as the generous Five Leaves brunch in Greenpoint or the crispy homemade Homefrite fries we tasted at Smorgasburg. The list of all our desires and discoveries is quite long and, for more details and our impressions, we advise you to take a look at our article on the subject that contains all our good addresses to wriggle your taste buds in New York City!
To see/to do
– Statue of Liberty
– Empire State Building
– Top of the Rock
– Times Square
– Wall Street
– Brooklyn Bridge
– Central Park
– 5th avenue
– Grand Central Station
– One World Trade Center
– Saint Patrick Cathedral
– Flatiron Building
– The High Line
– Une messe gospel au Brooklyn Tabernacle
– Free kayaking
– Coney Island
– FAO Schwarz
– Having a drink at a speakeasy
– Private jazz concert in Brooklyn
– A burlesque show at Duane Park
– Socrates Sculpture Park
– New York Public Library
– Metropolitan Museum of Art
– American Museum of Natural History
– Morgan Library & Museum
– Guggenheim Museum
– Museum of Modern Art (Moma)
– Brooklyn Museum
– Museum of the Moving Image
– Whitney Museum
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