The very first time I headed to New York was back in September 2009. It was one of those must do items on my bucket list. I had wanted to go for years and the skyline, buzz and vibe from the city did not disappoint. On returning home the word 'magical' came up in conversation many times months later. 

3 years later I dropped myself back in the city with an old friend and in 2017 I paired up with my partner in crime Brigita for another trip to the lively Big Apple. If you haven't checked it out, you can see what we got up to in Barcelona here. Another top recommendation on my list if you're wanting a European city break. 

The Flatiron, New York
Flatiron from The Hop On Hop Off Bus

If NYC has been on your to-do list for a long time (once lock down is over and it is safe to travel,  however long that may be), I urge you to go. New York is incredible, everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime to see for themselves the magnitude of this city; everything is super-size.

Just think of it like this, I give you all the info, you have months to plan and save and you will then have the best time and be fully prepared.

We will travel again one day, of that I am sure. Writing this post was a way to re-live memories and for a little escapism, a hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did putting it together! New York I need to come back and see you sometime! :)

The flight
The times I have been to New York I have always flown with Virgin from Heathrow to JFK. The flight takes between 6-7 hours. By the time you've had a natter with your flying buddy, eaten a meal, watched a film and read a few pages of your book you will land on American soil before you know it.

I've always flown around 9am, by the time you've made it through the airport, hailed a cab and checked into your hotel it will be around 2.30pm (New York time).

If you're a nervous flyer (I seem to get more anxious the older I get), pack yourself a lavender scented heated eye mask. A self-heating mask is the perfect partner on a flight. The scent of lavender is calming, the mask warm and soothing on the eyes and of course it blocks out the glare of the lights in the cabin. 

Any flight I board in the future I will be sure to pack these in my carry-on. I would normally buy these from Optrex (around £9 for 8) however they are currently out of stock online. There are a tonne of alternatives to buy and personally essential when hitting the skies.

Getting from JFK to the city
Take a licensed yellow cab from the airport to the city. The fare is fixed around $60 and includes the toll charges. When you leave JFK there is a taxi rank which always has an abundance of cabs. I have never waited more than ten minutes to plant my bum on the cab seat.

Even now after driving into the city and suddenly catching sight of that skyline I get the biggest butterflies flying around my tummy. The sheer scale of the buildings is jaw-dropping and still impressive. I literally have to catch my breath, waiting in anticipation of that famous view. I doubt the excitement will ever fade.

Taking the earlier flight means you will have most of the afternoon. After a quick change of underwear, a clean top and a teeth brush it's time to use that first afternoon in the best way possible and find your bearings.

What to do on arrival
Buy a ticket to board a Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour. After the flight, the fresh air of sitting upper-deck leaves you feeling refreshed and even wakes you up a little. If it's cold just wrap up warm. The first time I went to New York, this was the very first thing Tony and I did. It took between 3-4 hours to complete one loop. If I'm going to a new city this is always top of the list on my agenda.

We boarded at Times Square and opted for the Downtown Tour, this took us past Macy's, The Empire State Building, Flatiron, World Trade Center, Battery Park and the Rockefeller Center. 

The Uptown Tour is also worth doing if you have time, after seeing many museums from the outside, you'll also whizz pass Central Park, see New Jersey from the bus and the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

Hop On Hop Off Bus NYC
Credit:Hop On Hop Off Bus

Where to stay
Times Square is a pretty great base. Tony and I stayed at the Flatotel back in 2009, which sadly no longer trades. It was almost like an apartment with a massive bedroom area and the biggest bed you have ever seen to fill the space. 

Brigita and I also stayed at Times Square on our last trip. I cannot remember the name of the hotel, however I had issues with my credit card, more about this in my top tips later.

The Empire Hotel was the only place to stay on my second visit (one block away from the west of Central Park). At the time I wanted to live the glossy life of a Gossip Girl. I dreamed of drinking cocktails where Chuck Bass had been propping up the bar with Blair and Serena and we did it. We booked a few nights, gatecrashed a gay wedding reception and drank an array of tipples from the cocktail menu named after characters and places from the hit show. 

The Empire State Building

10 Things To Do

01. View the Empire State Building from the Top of The Rock
The views are iconic. Better than the views from the Empire State Building, If you have time, visit one at night and one in the day. The viewing decks from Top of The Rock are spectacular. Book tickets in advance to avoid the queues. 

02. Eat a grilled cheese at Junior's
I only discovered Junior's on my last trip to the Big Apple and boy, did it make an impression. If you are a cheese fiend and love nothing more than a grilled cheese toastie, then I highly recommend. Once Brigita and I discovered Junior's there was no stopping us! Their grilled cheese was mouth watering. Thick doorstep bread with hot melted cheese. Delicious. Junior's cheesecake was pretty tasty too and the number to choose from overwhelming!

Brooklyn Bridge NYC

03. Walk across The Brooklyn Bridge
It was an extremely wet and blustery day. Tony and I got soaked through our coats to the skin. The rain poured, it was cold and droplets dripped from the end of our noses, but it was so worth it. We finally found a dry spot just off the bridge in a toasty Starbucks. The perfect place to dry off and refuel.

I wish we had taken the time even in the dreadful weather to take some snaps on the bridge. An icon with a great view of the skyline. Not to be missed. The photo above was taken from the very top of the new World Trade Center.

04. Take a ride on the Staten Island Ferry
It's free, and another way to take in the incredible views of New York's finest. The sky looks particularly magnificent at night from the ferry, the lights of New York's buildings sparkle and you can dream you are on your very own film set.

05. Visit the World Trade Center Site
Still to this day, I cannot believe September 11th happened. Even now those images of the planes hitting the towers seems like a disaster movie. 

The World Trade Center site has a calming, peaceful aura to it, helped by the massive fountains built in the original footprints of where the towers once stood (dedicated to the fallen) and the trees planted. 

The time we spent here had the most impact on me. The museum dedicated to the victims of 9/11 is tastefully done and very moving. The views from the top of the new Trade Center are spectacular. I won't spoil the surprise if you are planning a trip for the first time, however the view from the top left me speechless. The whole experience was wonderful on so many levels.

World Trade Center

World Trade Center

06. Catch a Broadway show
Head to the ticket booth at the back of the famous red steps in Times Square on your first day. There will be an array of shows to choose from all at discounted prices and with decent seats. I highly recommend Phantom of the Opera, The Lion King and Wicked (being my favourite). Seeing a show is a great way to spend the afternoon or evening (especially on a wet one).

07. Take a rickshaw around Central Park
If you're lucky you'll get one of the locals who will chat away about the cwoffee served in NY. From experience they would be happy to share with you what life is really like living in New York City (expect to hear about traffic jams, litter, queuing and a lack of parking places). 

As well as a moan about real New York life you'll get a guided tour of all the hot spots in the park. Your guide will point out movie scenes and apartments of the very rich and famous. Well worth the money and personally I much preferred this to the horse drawn carriage ride (which cost much more and involved a quick loop around the park).

08. Eat salted pretzels from a street stall
The pretzels are literally the size of your face. You cannot beat a tasty, soft, warm pretzel from a corner vendor. Delicious and under $5. A perfect snack for on the go. Yummy!

09. Walk The Highline
Central Park of course is well know for its lush green spaces, however if you're in the mood to head somewhere a little different, quieter and to get back to nature and away from the concrete jungle then The Highline is a must. Built on a (1.5 mile long) raised disused railway, this is the perfect place to retreat to from the hustle of Manhatten. Head to the West Side (11th Avenue) to enjoy the view points and gardens of the park. Free admission.

The Highline NYC

The Highline NYC

10. Climb the Statue of Liberty
Brigita and I bought tickets prior to flying out to New York to climb the Statue of Liberty. We couldn't get tickets to climb right to the top of her crown (due to limited availability), however we booked tickets to climb to the pedestal. The price is the same (around $20 per adult, $12 per child) as the general admission ticket (Reserve Ticket) but be sure to book to include the pedestal to climb (Pedestal Reserve Ticket). You will need to be feeling energetic and wear sensible shoes.

Statue of Liberty New York

Battery Park New York

Statue of Liberty NYC

My 4 Extra Top Tips

01. Don't guess distance. 
Brigita and I had a Starbucks one morning, typical New Yorkers, ya know, drinking cwoffee! We saw the World Trade Center from the window of the cwofee coffee shop and decided we'd head that way to buy tickets and go to the very top of the latest skyscraper. We agreed it couldn't be very far, a 20 minute walk at the very most. 

3 hours later we were still walking, the buildings increasing in size as the footsteps mounted up. Due to the size of the buildings, everything looks much closer to you than it is. Certainly worth taking note if you are thinking of walking somewhere, I would check the distance on google maps first.

02. Take comfortable walking shoes.
This is not a fashion show. Without comfortable shoes, your days could be miserable (bit of an exaggeration George). Pack your most battered pair of converse/walking shoes/leather pumps. The shoes you really can rely on. The more comfortable your feet are, the more fun you will have.

03.  Don't forget to take the card you used to pay for your hotel.
I made the stupid mistake of paying on one credit card, closing that account and cutting the card up. So when we checked into the hotel, they had no record of the new card. I believe the staff thought I was up to no good and would end up cancelling the transaction through the credit card company. 

It felt like it took ages to sort out after endless phone calls. Something you can do without upon check-in after you feel slightly irritable and tired before you even start your city break. Not a mistake I will repeat again!

04. Eat at independent cafes/restaurants
I've been to the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square a few times and the food is ok. The setting fabulous and the prices extortionate. It's an experience with a buzzy, loud atmosphere. However there are better places to eat. 

I love and highly recommend Ellen's Stardust Diner. The singing waitstaff keen to hit the Broadway stage. The food is fabulous and the diner, everything you believe it to be. Think Grease and you're there. 

Milkshakes, ice-creams, nachos, salads and tater tots (cubed potatoes). Perfect for breakfast, I will definitely head here when I visit again. You get a big plate of food for your bucks!

So there you have it. Have I sparked your interest to head to NYC? If you're planning a trip to New York in the future, I would love to know where you're planning on heading. It really is the most magical and wonderful city in the world and I can guarantee you will have the most amazing time!

Have you been to the Big Apple? Are you love with this magical place as much as me? 

Williamsburg and Brooklyn are definitely on my ever-growing list.