If you’re returning to the Big Apple for a second or third visit, take time to really savour the sights, sounds and atmosphere, says Ruth Brindle…
“If we’re in Boston already it would be easy to take a train down to New York,” I told my son who was travelling with me. And not only was it easy, it provided me with a fresh perspective on this amazing city. So after being deposited right in the centre of the city at Penn Station it was a short taxi ride, or could even have been a short walk to our hotel The Tryp by Wyndham Times Square South.
Now anecdotal evidence of much of the accommodation in New York is that it will cost a fortune and be the size of a small cupboard. But, keen to get a little privacy between mother and adult son, we chose the Tryp because of its enormous family rooms with bunk beds and sofa beds that can sleep up to eight, some of the largest in New York with up to 455 square feet to spread out in. There were also two bathrooms, a fridge and tea and coffee making facilities as well as a TV each! Luxury indeed.
TripAdvisor gives this Spanish-owned hotel a great rating and as soon as we arrived we were aware of its friendly and lively vibe. Plaza Central, the hotel’s social hub has free high-speed WiFi internet access, Google laptops and televisions, as well as a virtual business center. There’s a Gastro Bar where many guests take advantage of Tapas and designer cocktails while watching the world go by. The concierge will ensure you make the most of your NYC experience and the fitness centre is open 24/7.
It’s centrally located in Midtown Manhattan and after dropping our bags we immediately went off for an easy walk to explore Times Square with all its eye-popping night-time bustle. It was my son’s first time in the city and I felt he had to see some of ‘the sights’ but he was also on a mission just to soak up the atmosphere, walk the streets and not feel he had to tick every tourist box. We were both keen, however, not to spend too much money, so on our first full day a free excursion was a welcome first port of call.
The Staten Island Ferry takes you on a 25-minute (free) ride out to Staten Island with superb views of the Statue of Liberty and the breathtaking Manhattan skyline which I never tire of. If you want to head straight back, just queue for the return ferry or stay to explore the island which has its own beach, zoo, botanical gardens and great restaurants.
Arriving back in Lower Manhattan, Wall Street and the 9/11 Memorial and Museum are nearby, as is the iconic Brooklyn Bridge. After a short subway journey to Brooklyn we were again treated to some stunning views of the city skyline before enjoying a short chill and drink in a cool coffee place before taking a taxi ride over the bridge up to another iconic location – Katz’s Deli for a lunch of Jewish-style delights.
Even if you don’t eat here, it’s a must-see. Of course it’s where Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal’s memorable scene in When Harry Met Sally was filmed. (There’s even an arrow pointing down from the ceiling to the exact spot!). Get ready for queuing and paying in cash as you leave. It’s really crowded and I inadvertently pushed in causing a bit of a stir among the very polite New Yorker customers.
It turns out I am the rude one. But while the menu is a bit confusing – the signature salt beef is called pastrami here – plus corned beef, brisket, matzo ball soup, knish (savoury dumpling), latkes (potato pancake) and a whole lot more choices, it’s delicious. After a quick test tasting I chose a towering brisket of beef sandwich. No need to eat for a week after that! www.katzsdelicatessen.com From the Lower East Side it’s not too far to go to explore Little Italy, Chinatown and trendy SoHo, where there’s some great shopping. But I felt the need to conserve some energy.
So after a well-earned rest at the hotel it was time to head to the Rockefeller Center and its Top of the Rock Observation Decks on the 67th, 69th and 70th floors, www.topoftherocknyc.com To have Manhattan laid out before you in all its night-time splendour is mesmerising. I’d recommend booking your tickets beforehand however or buying a City Pass, www.citypass.com/New-York with cut-price offers on lots of attractions, as visits are timed and you don’t want to hang around too long downstairs. Although at Christmas time it’s fun to watch the ice skaters in Rockefeller Plaza and admire the Christmas tree and lights. Tired but happy we took a short taxi ride back to the hotel and sleep.
The next day was our chance to visit a brand new attraction – the National Geographic Ocean Odyssey also near Times Square. It’s a gentle and educational walk-through collection of stunning visual exhibits and interactive experiences. Giant Humboldt squids battle it out in the deep, a bioluminescent coral reef lights up before your eyes and I had fun playing with an interactive sea lion friend.
Within the 60,000-square-foot space you also see and learn about rays, dolphins and humpback whales, great white sharks and hundreds of different sea creatures in state of the art animated exhibits. But, for me, the biggest value of the encounter is the chance to learn even more about the oceans and how we can all fight to save them from decline, NatGeoEncounter.com
So on from here the destination was another great free New York sight – Grand Central Terminal. It’s vast entrance hall was revamped 10 years ago and is a beautiful sight. Leading off are walkway tunnels leading down to a big choice of dining outlets from sandwiches to Italian or Chinese meals to the famous Oyster Bar and Restaurant. On the way stop at a spot where four arches meet to experience one of the clever secrets of the building. As I stood facing the wall on one side of the tunnel speaking normally into the bricks, my son could easily hear what I was saying on the other side, 10 metres away – hence the Whispering Walls of Grand Central.
Outside there were too many enticing fashion shops to ignore, so I took advantage before collapsing once again back at the hotel for a well-earned rest and cuppa. Meanwhile my son with the vitality of youth set off to explore another free highlight.
A walk along the High Line, a disused elevated railway and now a charming green space running along the west side of the city from the Meatpacking District to the new Hudson Yards development is a welcome respite from the city streets. Great for people-watching while slurping an ice cream or having a coffee.
One of the entry points is at Chelsea Market in the Meatpacking District – a huge collection of foodie outlets that will keep you engrossed for hours.
And talking of food, our last meal in the city was a great but simple one in a small Thai noodle house on 9th Ave a couple of minutes from the Tryp called Zoob Zib. Simple, totally authentic dishes exquisitely presented at reasonable prices. I’d recommend it.
It had been a fairly busy but non frantic two days in New York a city you can visit again and again and always find something new. We’ll be back!
Fact box With the Wyndham Rewards scheme you can earn 1,000 points for every qualified stay and for just 15,000 points, can a redeem a free night at any of nearly 8,000 Wyndham Rewards hotels across the globe, with no blackout dates.
Member Levels brings perks at four levels – Blue, Gold, Platinum and Diamond. When redeeming points in one of the programme’s top 25 redemption destinations, you can now receive a first-of- its-kind bonus reward, such as a Manhattan pizza tour, indoor skydiving in Orlando or a cooking class in Shanghai.
For more information or to join visit wyndhamrewards.co.uk For more information on the Wyndham portfolio visit wyndhamhotelgroup.com How to get there Norwegian offers low-cost fares from London to New York starting from just £149 one way in economy and premium starts from £419 one way in winter, norwegian.com More information on everything New York at nycgo.com