A festive weekend in New York City

In New York City, the price of a pizza slice and a ride on the subway are, bizarrely, usually the same, and this has been the case since the 1980’s. You can therefore eat in, and make your way around, this amazing city on a fairly modest budget. That said, it would take approximately 24 hours to navigate the entire New York City metro system, so how are you supposed to see the best of this city in less than 72? Last December, I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days in the Big Apple. It was my first time there so I wasn’t sure what it would be like. New York in the week before Christmas wasn’t quite what I pictured (I had unrealistic expectations thanks to films like Elf), but it is still an amazing city and it’s a place I wholeheartedly recommend you visit. Here are some of the things I got up to and any tips I can offer, because hopefully you’re planning to see the city too.

We booked our flights and hotel with British Airways as they were having a ‘package tour’ sale. We flew out of London to JFK and we stayed in the WestHouse Hotel. A few things to note about the flight and hotel:

  • Check out my guide on long-haul flying. The tips in my guide would be really helpful for someone doing the 8 hour flight to NYC. Please check them out!
  • BA cancelled our flight home.  We found out via text the day before we were due to leave that our flight to London was cancelled, and we never got told why. I have never had an airline do this to me (except once when there was a typhoon – long story). I tried to call them but no one answered for 40 minutes. An hour after the first text, we got a second text about being booked on a new flight taking off 3 hours earlier than our original one. It was just bizarre and not what I expect for the money we paid. I probably wouldn’t fly BA again for this and other reasons.
  • The hotel location was amazing. We were about 4 minutes’ walk from Times Square and the nearest underground station served as a great base from which to explore. Central Park was also only a 5 minute walk up 7th Avenue. I would definitely recommend staying around 45th-55th streets along either 5th, 6th, or 7th avenue. I guess this would capture a lot of Midtown o may not be all that helpful! I just think that you’d be perfectly located to explore from any hotel in this area, but if you have specific interests (e.g. you want to spend a lot of time in Soho), then of course stay in whichever area best suits your needs.
  • I never book ‘package’ trips or holidays so I wasn’t sure what to expect from BA. The flight and hotel bits were seamless, but when it came to the transfers, everything got messy. There is no communication between BA and the transfer service (Go Airlink) so despite coming out of the arrivals gate with our bags at around 8:30pm, we weren’t on a minibus to the city until 9:30pm. It seems BA don’t tell the company that you’re coming! I had also assumed I could just get my transfer confirmation email up on my phone and show Go Airlink that, but this is not the case. For whatever reason the company must have a printed copy, so be sure to print that off before you fly (we didn’t need to print anything else, just the transfer stuff).

CONCLUSION: don’t book a package with an airline. When planning city breaks, you’re almost always better off sorting the flight, hotel and transfers yourself (and it’s often cheaper!).

We did our NYC trip backwards and I would do it differently a second time around. We didn’t get on a hop-on-hop-off tour bus or a subway train until our last day. This, it turns out, is a mistake. The tour bus sales people we spoke to (who are always advertising on sidewalks) gave us a 2-day tour bus ticket including a Liberty Island ferry and Night Tour bus for $30 each person (but we only had enough time to use the buses for one day). This is really good value even just as a mode of transport, let alone with the tour bit. They have a person on the top deck of every bus giving commentary throughout the trip (even in the cold and rain) which we found super helpful – we’d have passed by so much without realising what we were looking at without the guide! If you do a bus tour day one, you’re sure to spot areas you’ll want to return to during your time there, and this can be a huge help in planning your itinerary. Some great areas to explore that we spotted include Dumbo, Noho, Korea Town and Hell’s Kitchen.

One of the biggest disappointments was how festive NYC wasn’t. Some stores were decorated nicely, but there was a real lack of twinkling lights and Christmas music to really get you in the mood. That said, the Christmas market at Bryant Park had some amazing stalls and products!

We spent our 3 days in NYC walking around Central Park, browsing for Christmas gifts in Macy’s and Bloomingdales, skyscraper spotting at the Top of the Rock, eating pasta on 6th avenue, watching the Lion King at the Minskoff Theater on Broadway, taking in the neon at Times Square, catching subway trains to Grand Central station and hailing cabs around the Empire State Building. In 3 days, we only scraped the surface of this amazing city. I think my biggest tip would therefore be to plan ahead.

Research where you want to go and how you will get there, and then diarise your itinerary. It seems a bit overboard (and, some would argue, not much fun) but you really do need to organise how you will explore NYC. It’s huge, and it has so much to offer. A good place to go for any experiences would be Airbnb. There are always cookery classes, walking tours and photography trips in cities like these, and who best to experience the city with than a local New Yorker?! I’ve used Airbnb for experiences in Japan and they have been some of the best things we’ve done.

And that’s a wrap! Hopefully some of these tips will help you plan your trip to NYC. I loved the city and will definitely be back soon because I definitely didn’t explore it properly the first time round. That said, if you have any questions, please let me know via a comment or get in touch on social media.

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