There was no way for us to go to New York City without seeing or doing these must-see attractions that we have all seen on television hundreds of times such as the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building. Because we only had a week to explore New York city, we chose to visit them the easy way by getting ourselves New York City Passes before going there. Simply because it matched more our expectations and budget than the New York Pass and it mainly helped us to save some time on those pretty touristic visits. To get more details regarding the differences between the 2 check out our New York City handy guide. In the meantime here’s an overview of the New York City’s must-see places we went to…
Metropolitan Art and Natural History
We’re not really museum lovers but we were pretty amazed by these two, especially the Metropolitan Museum of Art (aka the MET) which was a great surprise. We didn’t really know what to expect with this world-known museum we imagined to be a little pompous, even a little bit elitist, and full of works of art that would be incomprehensible for us. This is certainly due to those red carpet pictures we see every year on the internet of its chic gala only rich and famous people attend. It was actually quite the opposite since it is a very accessible museum that brings together ancient art from all around the world, a real gold mine! Paintings, pottery, jewelry, there is something for absolutely everyone. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is absolutely huge and is divided into several wings for each continent. You’ll have to make peace with the fact that you won’t be able to see it all at once, as frustrating as it is, it is simply impossible! Upon your arrival, we advise you to get yourself one of the free plans available in the entrance hall to figure out what you want to see. We wandered for several hours in the wings of the museum and we definitely were mind-blown by the pieces dating back from ancient Egypt which were absolutely superb and fascinating.
Although it was also interesting, we were a little bit disappointed by the Museum of Natural History. Although the displayed collection of animals was very complete, we were less sensitive to the sight of the many stuffed species. We were also quite uncomfortable with the staging of some animals such as gorillas and lions. Moreover, we were disappointed by the famous blue whale that we imagined to be in a much more imposing room with high ceilings, it’s stupid but it was subsequently disappointing to see it, although beautiful and huge, in this small dark room. Nevertheless, it felt pretty weird to walk under this giant mammal! However, the dinosaur skeletons were absolutely huge and fascinating, we spent long minutes admiring them!
Empire State of Mind
Now let’s take some height to admire the city as a whole from the legendary Empire State Building and the Top of the Rock. Although they are quite close to each other (15 minutes by subway), these two observatories offer quite different viewpoints of New York City and it’s still interesting to do both. We liked the view from the Top of the Rock better because you can obviously see the Empire State Building from up there and it also offers a great view over Central Park. But it’s easier to see the Chrysler Building and the Flat Iron Building from the Empire State Building. It’s quite a strange feeling to dominate the city that never sleeps, you feel as powerful as those imposing skyscrapers looking at tiny people that are running around the city down there. Good to know: the New York City Pass ticket for the Empire State Building gives you access to a second visit the same evening to admire the lights of the city. It can also be nice to go there at sunset to see the lights gradually illuminate the city but watch out for hustles!
“We came in as individuals, we’ll walk out together”
Now let’s move on to places filled with History that moved but also confused us. First, we really liked the Statue of Liberty. We took the ferry after spotting several squirrels in Battery Park, at the southern tip of Manhattan, and the first thing that struck us was the level of security surrounding the boarding of the boat. It was like passing the security at the airport! This is, after all, understandable when you know how this statue is a symbol for New Yorkers and to all Americans. As a symbol of freedom, of course, but also a symbol of renewal and greatness, this huge statue stands out proudly in front of the Manhattan skyline and, just for a moment, we had the feeling of being part of these immigrants who arrived on this island full of hopes and dreams not so long ago. Once on Liberty Island, there was not much to do for us given that we did not plan to get into the statue, which would have meant paying extra. But we still took great pleasure to stroll around the huge statue and admire it from every possible angle and the view of the skyline from the island was beautiful. It is possible to combine the visit to Liberty Island with a visit to Ellis Island, where the immigrants used to be quarantined before being allowed to join the United States. To pair the two, you should plan about half a day against about 2 hours just for Liberty Island. You can also admire the Statue of Liberty by taking the free Staten Island Ferry which passes by it while going to Staten Island.
We also visited the 9/11 Memorial, which is obviously another place full of History in New York City. It was our first time there and we were very much affected by its relatively heavy atmosphere. It’s pretty crazy to imagine two huge towers instead of these gaping holes where water now circulates continuously, it’s even horrifying. For long, it was difficult for us to understand the trauma and shock experienced by the Americans from all around the world on the morning of September 11, 2001 and even long after that. Unfortunately the attacks that occured on January 7, 2015 in Paris have helped us put things in perspective. The nation was hit in its heart and is still grieving terribly. It is important to acknowledge and remember this kind of event so it won’t happen again and so, building a museum was entirely appropriate to raise awareness. However, we were not really comfortable with seeing destroyed fire trucks or pieces of twisted steel completions from the original towers displayed like relics, we felt like voyeurs. Moreover, the fact that the museum’s entrance is charged $20 quite baffled us and finally we did not stay long.
To be blown-away for free…
Finally, a lot of New York’s legendary places can be visited for free! You can start with the huge Central Park! At first, we visited it with rented bikes and then we passed though it by foot several times. We even spent an evening there for a free open-air philharmonic concert! If you want to see the park’s famous spots, bike rental seems like the perfect solution, given the vastness of the place! We found a very attractive offer on Tiqets which starts at 10$! Be aware that the park is obviously frequented by pedestrians but also by cars, bicycles and carriages and yet everyone coexists perfectly. It was a pleasure to ride on the paths of the park at our pace and take breaks according to our desires. We had a great time at Strawberry Fields, where an “Imagine” fresco is painted on the ground as a tribute to John Lennon and where a street artist was covering some Beatles hits with his guitar. It was beautiful to sing “Imagine” with him all together with several bystanders who had stopped to listen to him. Check out our short video of this special moment here. A few meters from there stands the Dakota Building where John Lennon used to live and in front of which he was assassinated in 1980. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see the facade when we went there because work was being done on it but we are sharing with you a photo from a previous trip Nath took in 2008. There is also the beautiful Alice in Wonderland bronze statue. You should go there quite early in the morning to avoid the crowds. We had to go there twice before being able to take our photos!
To actively take part in New York City‘s hive of activity we mentioned earlier, there is no better place than Times Square. The crowd, the giant illuminated ads and the incessant sirens all contribut to make you feel insignificant, overwhelmed. It’s a pretty special feeling to walk in the middle of what can easily be considered as the symbol of capitalism in all its splendor and mass consumption. This is also where you will bump into many street vendors. You will be certainly called out by young people who will offer you cheap Stand-Up tickets near Broadway (in a bar where you will be required to have one or more drinks) or people in costumes who will kindly offer you to take a picture with them (before asking you for $5). Stay vigilant and watch out for scams! There is also the impressive Grand Central train station located in the heart of the city. The crowd is sometimes difficult to sustain but it was a real pleasure to stand on one of the balconies and watch the continuous ballet of the rushing New Yorkers and the spectacular architecture of this original train station.
To continue with capitalism and mass consumption, you can take a stroll in Wall Street, where you will see many wolves nearby the New York Stock Exchange and Federal Hall. It’s pretty funny to note the difference of atmosphere with the rest of the city in this district where impressive amounts of money are discussed. You will obviously see many elegant traders with their impeccable tailored suits and you will notice that the street signs, that are ordinary brown or green, are black here, as a mourning sign. Do not forget to greet the famous Charging Bull which represents the ambition and the strength of character and is supposed to bring good luck if you touch its long horns, nose and testicles! A strange tradition that we unfortunately could not do, the place being absolutely packed!
Did you think we had forgotten about the Brooklyn Bridge? Of course not, we’ll just tell you about it in our Brooklyn dedicated blog post later! Now that we’re done with the classic touristic New York City attractions we visited during our stay, we’ll tell you next week about some fun offbeat places scattered throughout the city we’ve discovered!
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