NYC itineraries



NYC 101 - how to plan your sightseeing in New York City

I'm stupidly fortunate in that I've visited New York City so often in the past six years that I've lost count. Sometimes for a few days, at other times for a fortnight or longer. There's so much more of the world I haven't seen, but my heart absolutely belongs to this city. So a small part of my soul withers away when I see 'guides' to exploring NYC in a weekend or travel writers churning out the same braindead lists of must-see attractions. There are thousands of them and whether they're written for the sake of a pay cheque, hipster credibility or linkbait, very few are helpful to the first time tourist. If you're planning your first visit to New York City, all you really need is to chat with friends who have visited, a decent guidebook (I'd recommend Time Out in this instance) and the few words of friendly advice below. 

You won't see everything worth seeing in one visit

New Yorkers can't keep up with everything going on in their city, so you stand no chance. Just accept this and don't pressure yourself to see everything in one go. You can't.

Don't be a slave to an itinerary

New York City isn't like other cities; Manhattan in particular compels you to explore it on foot. The grid system makes it easy to get your bearings and navigate through the streets - because of that, you're always likely to stumble across something interesting - a store, a show, a shoot for a movie. In fact this will always happen, so a tightly packed itinerary will fall apart very quickly. That, or ignore all these impromptu experiences that make a trip unique and special to you - in which case, go back and read previous point. 

Choose two points and explore the in between

My favourite tip for experiencing New York City is to simply pick two attractions that you're comfortable walking between, check the maps to see what else there is along the way or nearby - and start walking. I took a friend to NYC for his first visit recently. On the third day, we chose two attractions on his list as our start and end points - we began the day at the Empire State Building (8am til 9am is best during daylight hours for this; queues are non-existent) and planned to end up at The High Line (a wonderful stretch of grasses, plants and pathway along a former elevated railway). Importantly, we didn't care much about how long it would take. If we finished early, we could always do something else.

We spent six hours walking just four miles, but our day took in the Empire State Building, Madison Square Park, The Flatiron building, Gramercy Park, lunch at Pete's Tavern, Union Square, the Strand bookstore, Washington Square Park, Bleeker Street and the West Village, the Meatpacking District and finally the High Line. Picking pairs of attractions can work really well; hit the Statue of Liberty or the Staten Island ferry in the morning, and walk across the Brooklyn Bridge in the afternoon - in between you have the WTC site, Wall Street, City Hall and South Street Seaport, as well as Brooklyn Bridge Park for afters. 

Don't be afraid to be a tourist

There’s an odd snobbery that sets in once a person visits New York City. Watch for it when you ask for advice about visiting the Empire State Building. 'It’s not as good as Top of the Rock', they’ll invariably tell the New York newbie. They're not telling you this because they've necessarily compared the two, but because they were told the same and followed the advice, or because they don't want to feel like a tourist and appear to have some New York smarts. 

Both offer impressive views - how can they fail to? The Top of the Rock has the advantage of the Empire State Building in your photos, but you'll have to take them through glass panels. Both experiences have pros and cons - but only one of them is the Empire State Building. I love the ESB because of its place in New York history, the art deco fixture and fittings, the 102nd observation platform that began life as an airship terminal. You might want to visit because of Sleepless in Seattle. In fact you don't have to choose - whisper it, but you're allowed to visit both.

In other words, don't worry about being a tourist.

Choose your own adventure

Some guidebooks and travel writers also feel the need to spurn popular attractions to maintain their ego and credibility among other writers. In other cases, it's a matter of perspective. For example, will advise you to skip Times Square but can't recommend London's Big Ben highly enough. Why rubbish an iconic location in one city and not the other? It might be because the offices for Concierge overlook Times Square - they see it every day.

Have in mind the sights you want to see and tick off your list, but otherwise enjoy the city at your own pace, in your own time. So you don't get to that specific cupcake store or the Jewish bakery that the guidebook writer obsessed about - it doesn't matter. Go another day if it matters, but don't there's no mad rush. The Big Apple will always be around for you to take a bite the next time. 



"Twitchhiker – How One Man Travelled the World by Twitter" is Paul's book about his social media adventure around the world, published by Summersdale and available on Amazon.
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