5 years ago, on Feb. 6, my husband and I got married just months after we came back to our hometown from almost a full year living in Tahiti and Bora-Bora. Most people would actually first get married and then only spend their honeymoon in the islands. We seem to like it the other way around and have a unique way of doing certain other things, but this is all fine by us. Our honeymoon was a two week-long trip in USA and Montreal (Canada), several months after our wedding. One of the most exciting moment we had was our chance to visit New-York City together for our first time in the Big Apple. The city had been on our wish list for ages. We had specifically arranged to be there during the week of Thanksgiving in November, as my husband had long dreamed about attending the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, and I personally had long dreamed about attending a typical American Thanksgiving dinner party.
As first timers in New-York, there were of course a number of things we wanted to do and lots of places we wanted to see, and we only had 3.5 days to make the best out of our stay. We planned to visit most of classic touristic attractions worth of interest to us during this first trip, so that our next trip (that we already knew we would do a few years later) would allow us more time to try more local “NY insiders” occupations. You will soon read about our second trip here (in a quite different type/form of post with many more details because the trip was waaaaaay better prepared!), and about my third (and solo) trip here (links are upcoming, come back soon to check them out).
The key word if you want to get the most out of New-York city on a short trip is to get ORGANIZED. The city is so wide and filled with the most interesting attractions that you better wear a good pair of shoes on your feet and have a map all day long in your hands. Actually a map and a guide book, like me during my first trip. A map, a detailed plan, pre-written before the trip along with a precise road map for each day, a MTR card, like the better me during my second trip. A map, a detailed plan, a precise road map for each day, a MTR card, the super deals and the opening hours of everything, like the best of me during my third trip! A girl’s got to learn how to do things right at some point in her life, this is what experience is all about, isn’t it?!
Anyway, given the thousands of posts over the Web on this topic, the content of this post of mine will be no news to most of you folks who have already visited or lived in NYC, but I’m sure first-goers will be glad to read about my selection of nice attractions and strolls around Manhattan. You also have to know that going there without a plan is going to make you waste a lot of valuable time; the counterpart of that is that if you get confused or even disorganized at some point during your day (yes it can happen, you’re human and you’re on vacation, so your mind is functioning on a different mode), you might miss the places and activities you originally aimed for, but chances are good that you find your luck in doing something else that is nice too, because NYC always have so many nice things to offer at every corner! It might not be the attraction of your life, but it might be worth being seen still. This is what happened to us during our honeymoon trip. We had some touristic attractions in mind, and we had some “districts” to visit, but that was it. And for 3 days, when you don’t know your way in NYC, that was not enough of a good preparation to optimize our stay (we had focused on other cities), but we still managed to have an amazing time overall. There were some hours where we found ourselves wandering around with no real goal other than finding a metro station (meaning= we got lost pretty bad, even with a map), and there were some other hours where we were purposelessly strolling around nice neighborhoods and suddenly coming across an unexpected nice attraction or two that we would have missed if we had actually planned our day differently.
In this post, I will first list up what was our initial plan for the 3.5 days that we had in New-York City. And then I will make a list of all the things we actually did that were planned and unplanned, in no particular order. My next post will show a totally different way of exploring the City, but we’ll come back to that.
WHAT WE HAD PLANNED TO DO
- Go to Times Square at 7th Avenue and 42nd Street, first thing to do upon arrival after our hotel check-in. I mean, what could we want to do more than that, especially when we specifically booked a hotel located about 40 meters away from Broadway at 43rd Street!
- Walk on Broadway up-north and check out all the options for famous Broadway shows, while starting our first navigation through the city (of my dreams)!
- Actually go to a Broadway show.
- Wander around the Rockfeller Center.
- Go up the Empire State Building and get stunning views of NYC.
- Take the free ferry to Staten Island and pass by the Statue of Liberty. We heard a lot that Ellis Island and the long line to get in the Statue was not worth the time spent when you’re only on a short trip, so we took the advice.
- Walk back up Manhattan (well, a part of it) through Wall Street and the 9/11 Memorial area.
- Have a hot-dog and a falafel at one of the many street carts, and a large NY American-Italian pizza for two.
- Go to Central Park.
- Go to Soho with no specific purpose other than to feel the artsy atmosphere while walking up towards Greenwich Village.
- Go to a basket-ball game at the Madison Square Garden and get an inflatable hand with a hot-dog or a beer.
- Go out to the streets of NYC to see the famous Thanksgiving Day Parade
- Try to find a place to eat out our first Thanksgiving dinner somewhere in the city or on a cruising boat.
WHAT WE ACTUALLY DID
- We did go to Times Square within the half hour upon our arrival. We arrived in NYC from Atlantic City by bus in the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Knowing our location on the map, we didn’t want to ruin the surprise of the impressive Times Square and find ourselves struggling among other tourists with our luggage to carry, so we came around our hotel from “back streets”, dropped our things and got out at once. We walked a few meters towards the 7th Avenue, and then WOW!!! Here we were, in Times Square. I think we, almost like everyone who comes here for the first time, got literally stuck. Amazed and stuck by the craziness of lights and ads and crowds and constant turmoil there is on Times Square, at any time of the day. I’ve rarely got as impressed as in this place in my life (and I can’t say I haven’t traveled), but there really is something very special in that particular area. You’re right, this is a total touristic cliché attraction, but still, it got to my guts, I almost cried (I’m sometimes getting too emotional about things, and I probably felt what I felt because I had expected this trip for very long time and finally got to doing it. Well, excuse me).
- We did walk on Broadway. Lots of blog posts tell people how this also is too cliché and worthless because NYC is not only about the big streets names. They tell how much of a tourist I am if I go to these places, while real New-Yorkers know better. Well, of course they do! And of course I am a tourist, this is a reality too! But wandering about on those streets also is a big part of discovering a city for the very first time. I couldn’t picture myself visiting NYC and not see Broadway, come on! All the signs for the shows are amazing, huge, shiny, sparkling, competing with each other. I mean, there are so many shows, and when your heart is very much into all forms of arts, how can you just pick one?
- We picked Sister Act. I already loved the movie with Whoopi Goldberg, and this show on stage was absolutely outstanding! I didn’t expect less, but I certainly didn’t expect that good either! I mean, Broadway is neither a myth nor a legend!
- On the way to the ticketing office, we came by the recording studios of the Late Show by David Letterman. We TRIED to find a way in with other people who already had queued up outside for hours, but at some point someone told us that only half a dozen people would probably get in if other people with reserved seats won’t show up on time. That’s how we understood that the people queuing up outside had no reservation, and were trying their luck for last minutes seats. Reservations were mandatory, 2 days in advance at least, through a ticket booking website. So, obviously we sadly dropped the idea, but it would have been nice to do it.
- We hung out around the famous Rockfeller Center. Man, those buildings are gigantic! I’ve lived in China, so I know what a skyscraper looks like, but honestly, the Rockfeller center rocks! The Christmas decorating process was undergoing on the side facing the Radio City Music Hall at the time we were there, and we could already feel the magic that will rise from this place when December comes. Some shops and malls were already starting to set up Christmas themed decors too. I think this is the very moment of our trip that we made the decision that our next trip to NYC will have to be around the Holidays season.
- We went up the Empire State Building and got a stunning view of the City from above. I especially loved taking pictures of the city’s grid from atop, trying to catch the turmoil of cars and pedestrians interacting in the city that never sleeps (Okay, that’s probably because it was around 10.30 am when we went there, so of course nobody was sleeping anymore…). That is from up there that we got the chance to see from afar the Statue of Liberty for the first time.
- Everyone traveling to the US has got to see once in his life the Statue of Liberty. It is such a symbol, and with such a rich history around its building process, that it cannot be just seen as a simple statue. As we were recommended to do, we took the free ferry to Staten Island and went for a return journey around the Statue. It’s actually worth the tour so that you can unwind from your day during the short cruise, which isn’t bad at all.
- We went to feel the business atmosphere of the legendary Wall Street, looking for the Charging Bull that we somehow managed to miss out. Probably we took the wrong street at some point but were too tired to turn back, as we had not finished our tour for the day yet.
- Then we went to the 9/11 Memorial. At the end of 2011, the Towers were re-built at about 1/3 of their final height. Still, the whole site was really impressive, and just imagining what happened in 2001 has left a very strong impression on us. We just stood in the middle of a sidewalk, turned around and looked at the site for the first time for real (not on TV), and I can still remember my body shaking… Worth a visit if you’re in the area, but on a too tight schedule, you might want to go there another time if that means making a special detour.
- We had plenty of NY hot-dogs and falafels that tasted as good as the original ones made in Israel, and our large pizza for two with loads of cheese, yum! Please do not roll your eyes thinking “Hey, what, this Frenchie never had pizza before?!”. Well, she never had a NY-style pizza because pizzas in Europe or in Asia are just different, okay?
- My husband and I love eating and love watching movies that take place in New-York City. A lot of movies often include a scene or two in Central Park, and this park really is a must-see. So, on our way to Columbus Circle where there’s one of the main entrances of Central Park, we stopped by the Dunkin Donuts shop and bought our fair amount of American Donuts and Muffins with a coffee for take-out, and strolled about in the Southern part of Central Park, up to the main worldwide known Fountain. Super cliché again, but super nice. It was Fall when we visited the park, and colors were stunning, with orange and golden color tree leaves covering the ground in some areas of the Park.
- I had long wanted to wander the streets of Soho, which architecture I found interesting. My husband and I thought it would be a good idea to walk around this neighborhood from south to north, and eventually reach Greenwich Village which we heard a lot about too. For lunch, we stopped at the Broom Street bar and had, among other dishes, some Nachos, that you can read about by clicking the highlighted word. After lunch, we kept walking around, got lost and never made it to Greenwich Village. Probably took the wrong way again somewhere undefined. We surprisingly ended up in Washington Park in front of the statue of Garibaldi after walking along Nolita (and not figuring it out), then walked up and accidentally reached Union Square hosting the Holiday Market. Both places were really nice and interesting to see, especially because we wouldn’t have seen them if not for our loss of track of the planned day tour. Then we needed a break and a quick nap, so we went back to our hotel, only to figure out that we totally missed out on seeing the Flatiron building that was just a few blocks away from the Union Square holiday market! Aaargh… Will have to be for our next time in the City!
- One day, we bought tickets to enjoy a fun evening at the Madison Square Garden for a basket-ball game. We had the fantasy of agitating an inflated hand like the ones we see in movies, but we saw nobody holding one and didn’t dare to ask where to find some. So we thought we’d have a beer and a hot-dog, but again we didn’t see anyone eating or going to a food stand. Strange. Must have been the wrong night. Or because there were 2 games that night and we only stayed to attend to the first one, maybe all the fun and the food came later on, with the second game?! That will remain a mystery forever now! What we Did see though was a bunch of kids (and grown-ups) having their “moment” on the big screen! And to us, that was a lot of fun to see it in real life, hahaha! Yes, I know, foreigners have crazy fantasies…!
- On our last day, we stood up in the crowd in the streets of New-York City to see the much awaited Thanksgiving Day Parade! The crowd was dense and tensed at times, and we had to wait for long hours before the Parade actually started. We were quite excited about it, and when it began, we got a little bit startled… I mean, the atmosphere was nice and fun, but we did not expect that the inflatable balloons would represent almost only some Disney characters from our childhood. I don’t know, I think we were expecting a mix of things for kids and for grown-ups, so the excitement went down a little. We’re glad we’ve been given the chance to see it once in our lives, but we are probably totally done with this childhood dream! A time for everything in life.
- And finally, as I often say,the most interesting part about visiting a place is to get to share something with the locals, with the ones who live there, eventually with some friends or acquaintances who know the City better than you do and moved there a while back. You always learn so much more and grow from the inside so much faster this way! Thanksgiving dinner with FRIENDS!!!!!!!! Who would have thought we would be given that extraordinary opportunity to be invited in an American family for Thanksgiving, while we were actually searching for the pretty uncommon option of going out for dinner on that special family and friends gathering night? My good friend Perla has been living in NYC for a few years and got married there, and when she read on FB that we were visiting, she instantly invited us to have dinner with her in her in-laws family. It was a blast, I’m still feeling very thankful as of today for this opportunity we had that night. It was really entertaining, we learnt a lot about the Turkey Roasting tradition, the mash potatoes with cranberry sauce (a first time for us!), and for the time as well we heard about Black Friday, a concept that was totally unknown in France at that time and that we had never heard of before. Very instructive!
OMG I can’t wait to go back and see some more of New-York, the city where anything is possible! I hope you enjoyed my first selection of attractions in NYC, and that you will follow-up by reading my next posts about my second and third trip there!
For more insight on a selection of NYC activities, check my previous post 10 things to do when visiting NYC so that you feel like you’re a New-Yorker too.
Now read more about what’s hot in New-York. Follow the Full Itinerary of my Second Trip to NYC, and then don’t forget to read about my latest trip there in 2016 focused on How to Explore NYC on a more Local mode.
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Created and Written by Sophie Rebibo-Halimi, © 2016 All Rights Reserved.