New York has been a distant dream for a long time. I mean, who doesn’t dream of one day seeing famous buildings like Chrysler, Empire State and pre-911 Twin Towers? Do you keep on seeing the iconic Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges (there are more than 20 bridges connecting Manhattan to the rest of NYC), or Lady Liberty, or if you’ve seen the movie Sully, you’d know that a plane landed on the Hudson River, saving all aboard.
To give everyone a background, I wrote below a short description of the boroughs because I went there without really understanding much what they were. I simply thought that Manhattan was NYC downtown. Well, sort of. But here’s a better way to explain it.
NYC is divided into 5 boroughs (or county, or in my country maybe comparable to a big urban barangay). Manhattan is the smallest but most densely populated of the 5, and is known to be “the city” because that’s where you find the most popular places in New York – Central Park, Times Square, the skyscrapers, and popular museums like The MET (Metropolitan Museum of the Arts) and Guggenheim.
The other 4 are: The Bronx, home of the NY Yankees stadium and birthplace of hip hop culture. Brooklyn is the most populous borough and known for its artistic, cultural and ethnic diversity. You will find most startup tech companies here, and the popular Coney Island. Staten Island can be reached from Manhattan via a daily commuter ferry that allows you to see Lady Liberty and Ellis Island. It’s the greenest of the 5 boroughs and due to its “isolation” from the rest of the city, is sometimes considered to be the most “suburban” part. Queens has the most diverse ethnic population and the largest borough in land area. This is also home of New York Mets stadium, JFK and La Guardia airports.
This article, and our trip, was solely in Manhattan because we didn’t have time (I was in nearby Easton PA for work) and only went to NYC before and after the work week, in between flights. Mary flew to and toured New York on her own until my work week finished and we saw each other on the weekend.
So here are what we did and visited:
- TIMES SQUARE – It is the heart of New York and where the New Year countdown happens and the ball drops. I am sure in one movie or the other, you’ve already seen this place numerous times. It’s got one of the busiest pedestrians, most-lit street with all the neon ads and billboards, and really close to Broadway. Admission is free and we visited even in the wee hours of the morning, and it’s still very alive. In the day, it’s too crowded.
- CENTRAL PARK – Mary visited the park alone as I was still at work. It’s vast, and you could easily spend a couple hours here, which frankly, I didn’t have time for, so I skipped it and told her she can go without me.
- HIGH LINE – it is an elevated walkway made out of train tracks that were no longer operational. So instead of completely abandoning the track (think MRT line), they up-cycled it and made it an elevated park instead. It gives you a better view of the streets below, and away from New Yorkers who hurry into the next part of their hectic day.
- THE VESSEL – is one of the newest attractions in Manhattan. It only opened in March 2019, and is sometimes called “The Beehive” because of its structure. It’s near the Hudson Yards and High Line. Admission is free but scheduled and going up the highest level can give you a great view of the Hudson River, especially at sunset.
- GRAND CENTRAL TERMINAL – who would miss this when in New York City? It’s been used in many scenes in movies and TV shows (the one I particularly remember is Friends With Benefits because of its flash mob scene and of course, that’s Mila Kunis!). Its interior design, probably ignored by the busy commuters, is remarkable. It’s like looking into the night sky with all the constellations drawn out for you (though it’s been called out for many inaccuracies). Its iconic clock and the sculpture outside the station’s south facade are crowd-drawers as well. But if you’re not taking a ride, you won’t be spending much time in the main concourse. You can explore the other parts of it – dining concourse, Vanderbilt Hall and its many other passageways.
- FLATIRON BUILDING – it could have looked a lot better in the day, but it was also fun looking at it at night. Named after a flat iron because of its design, its surrounding neighborhood has also been aptly named flatiron district, no less. Do not confuse it with John Wick’s Continental Hotel. Although you’d be tempted to say this was it, it wasn’t. But not very far away is the actual building called The Beaver Building. Very close, though.
- SUBWAY – It’s not a tourist spot in itself but it’s a must experience. It is one of the world’s oldest subway, having opened in 1903.
- BROOKLYN BRIDGE – is one of the oldest roadway bridges in the United States and connects Manhattan and Brooklyn. Its neo-Gothic design attracts visitors to walk the bridge (the passageway is for bikes and pedestrian and most pedestrians get honked or yelled at by bikers for staying on the bike lane for photos). The foot of the Manhattan end has Asian sellers of fridge magnets and other souvenirs, a lot cheaper than any other store we went to. Alas, we already bought our loot.
- PARK ROW AND CITY HALL PARK – which are found on Manhattan’s end of the bridge (we didn’t fully cross to the Brooklyn side), are good places to sit and eat your famous NY hotdogs and pretzels.
- THE CHARGING BULL – on the way to Staten Island Ferry Terminal, we passed by this handsome bronze sculpture. Tourists lined to take turns to have a photo with this angry creature but we didn’t have the time, so just took the photo with all the tourists.
- THE MET – or Metropolitan Museum of Arts, is the largest museum in the United States. So it’s understandable that the $25-admission ticket was good for 3 consecutive days for all 3 Met Museums (The Cloisters and Met Breuer). The entrance itself is already iconic, along with its grand entrance stairs where celebrities walk on red carpet on each year’s Met Gala. It houses Egyptian collection, European, Asian, African, Byzantine and contemporary. I mean, the admission ticket being good for 3 days says it all. It’s vast! I also think I will put up a separate blog entirely for the artworks we saw in The Met.
- ROCKEFELLER CENTER – it mostly appears in movies during winter, where the center becomes a skating rink with the Prometheus statue in the background. When we went, it was obviously the heat of summer. But don’t be confused, the actual Rockefeller Center is a complex of 19 buildings between 5th and 6th avenues. What I thought was the actual center was actually just The Lower Plaza (yup, the one with ice rink, Christmas Tree and flags). In summer and warmer months, the ice rink is used as an open-air restaurant.
- TOP OF THE ROCK – is probably the best place to view New York from up top. Although we went in the evening, we would have appreciated it more in the morning or close to sunset and stayed until blue hour. But then we were still at The Met at the time. Haha. This 360-view of the metro would help if you’re familiar with all the buildings and parts of NY but I could only name a couple – Empire State and Chrysler. So, yeah. Make the most of your time here, it cost us $38 each. Add $10 if you want to visit during sunset.
- STREETSCAPE – I just walked from Times Square all the way to my rented apartment on West 30th, and along the way I saw some of the iconic places as well, but didn’t stop by or enter as it was about 2am. I saw a Jollibee store, Madison Square Garden, Penn Station (the busiest train station in North America) and a huge Macy’s store down at Herald Square. In the afternoon we saw Trinity Church near Wall Street, Columbus Circle, and many other interesting buildings such as the New York Times building.
- ICONIC STATUES – Aside from the Charging Bull, there are a lot of statues sprawling the metro such as Prometheus at Rockefeller’s Lower Plaza, we also saw Maine Monument outside of Central Park, the Columbus Circle or globe, Benjamin Franklin’s at the City Hall Park, Horace Greeley (founder of New York Tribune). We didn’t see General Sherman’s, Joan de Arc, Atlas, American Merchants, or the Cuban Revolutionary but we sure had a grand time walking the streets and unexpectedly finding some of them.
Here is a list of what we wanted to do / visit but didn’t have the time. You should add this to your list:
- DUMBO (with a view of Manhattan Bridge in the background) – no admission; you have to be on the Brooklyn side for this though (means Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass)
- The Guggenheim (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum) – $25
- Stonewall Inn – if you’re big on LGBT and gay rights, this bar is considered the cradle of gay rights and each year, the gay pride parade in NYC and all over the world is celebrated after the riots that happened in Stonewall in June 28, 1969.
- Liberty Island – please note that getting on top of Lady Liberty comes with a cost and a lot of queuing. So, we purposely missed it.
- Koreatown – if you’re big on KPOP, then it’s the place to be.
- Columbia University – it’s an Ivy League university right in New York City
- Watch a musical or show at Broadway theaters. Wicked was still showing, along with Lion King, Harry Potter and many more when we went. Or you can get inside the Ripley’s instead!
- St. Patrick’s Cathedral – a Neo-Gothic Roman Catholic Church located on 5th Avenue between 51st and 52nd.
- 911 Memorial – The memorial is free to visit but the museum charges $24
- Washington Square Park – with its fountain and predominant arch (similar to the one in Paris, and in my experience, India Gate in Delhi). It is accessible via subway and a good place to unwind, see occasional performers and have the kids play and run around.
How much does it cost to be in Manhattan?
Airfare from Manila – Mary booked her ticket less than a month before the flight (because that’s when my business trip was confirmed). It cost around 68,000 PhP via Cathay Pacific on Economy. It would have been cheaper if the dates were open and if we booked farther back. But since we had specific dates in mind, well, that was expensive. I flew on Premium Economy and the company paid around $2,300 which was twice as much as Mary’s personal ticket.
Accommodation – Manhattan is probably the most expensive city we’ve checked in at, and a typical apartment cost about 5,000 per night or a 3-star hotel at around 7,000. These are in the 30th and 31st Streets, which are acceptable in rates compared to the more posh neighborhoods in Manhattan. The good thing is, they’re within walking distance to the popular sites that we went to.
Airport Transfer – I took AirLink shared vans and going back to JFK, Mary and I went together, and it was cheaper buying 2 tickets than 1 for some reasons. Mine was $25.79 and ours was less at $44.30 for 2 passengers. Don’t forget to tip!
Uber and Lyft – well, Mary tried her best to walk and take the subway but she ended up (we ended up) taking Lyft that totaled to maybe more than 10,000 PhP on her days alone in Manhattan and the one day we were together. I know, it’s ridiculous. So, take advantage of the cheaper bus and train, or walk gedemit.
Food – Meal for two with drinks will set you back at $50 on a regular restaurant just like Denny’s (this one was Junior’s along Broadway). Alcoholic beverages range from $10 to $20 on lower-priced bars. Hotdogs and pretzels on stand can be much, much cheaper. That should be your best option when on a budget.
Attractions – the ones we went to that had admission tickets were The Met ($25) and Top of the Rock ($38).
So, all-in, it was an expensively short stay in Manhattan, but it’s one for the books and when we do come back for a personal vacation, we would rather stay in Brooklyn or Jersey. The bus and subway systems are effective so commute should not be a problem. We’ll choose an apartment that allows cooking so we can just go to the grocery and effectively save money. That’s if we HAD time. Anyway, hope you guys enjoyed our crazy itinerary in Manhattan!
All photos were from Gopro Hero7, iPhone X, iPhone 6 and Huawei P30