The first time I decided I wanted to live in New York was probably when I first started watching Gossip Girl about 3 years ago (yeah, I was kinda late to the GG party). I lapped up GG, Sex and the City, the Devil Wears Prada, Confessions of a Shopaholic. With each show I watched, I became more and more convinced I wanted to live there – even though I’d never even visited it! Then I decided I wanted to work in journalism, and NYC is basically the journalism capital of the world. I became convinced that I not only wanted to live there, but needed to live there, to ‘make it’ as a journalist. I finally managed to visit the city in November. But – it wasn’t quite what I expected. Here’s what I really thought of New York City, as well as my New York Travel Guide.
Don’t get me wrong, there was some amazing sights there that I absolutely loved. From the gorgeous boutiques lining Fifth Avenue to the view from the Top of the Rock, there were some really beautiful places. But what I loved the most about the city was its pure energy. I’ve lived in London for the past 3 years, and before then, I grew up in Manchester, so I’m used to the big-city ‘buzz’. But I’ve never felt a city come alive at night like New York. Even the people are filled with energy – everyone is so loud, friendly, fun – which is what set it apart from London for me, and what set it apart as a city.
Still though, I think my expectations were way too high when I went there. Not only had I seen the city look so nice in the movies, but I’d heard such amazing reviews from most people I know. It quickly became clear to me that all the glitz and glamour of the movie version of NYC was faded and a little shabby in reality. I was shocked by the price of everything – I honestly have no idea how people afford to live there. Before I went, I was told that it’d be expensive – but I was also told that before I moved to London, and I ended up doing just fine there.
We were a bit lazy and didn’t want to go too far, so there were probably some cheaper places to eat that we didn’t get to, or find. But honestly, I was completely shocked. All the tourist attractions, from museum entrance fees to the observation decks, cost a minimum of $25/$30 dollars (while in London, most museums have free entry). At all the places we ate, I didn’t see a single course for less than $20, and some of the places were fast food places where the food was kinda terrible. I’m used to paying a lot of money in restaurants having holidayed in nice areas of Italy – but at least I always love the food there.
In contrast to these displays of extreme wealth, I also saw so much extreme poverty. The gap between rich and poor was greater than I’d ever seen – again, even more so than in London. I remember walking past the Louis Vuitton boutique on Fifth Avenue and then, seconds later, turning down a side street and seeing so many homeless people, too poor to afford a place to live.
Many people are forced to work 2 or even 3 jobs just to survive there. And as soon as you descended underground to the subway, it was like a different world – in many of the stations, there were no times, so you didn’t know when the next train was coming. You just had to stand and wait. And the stations were filthy – I saw literal mould dripping from the ceiling – right under the centre of the city.
I was shocked that a city that I thought was the height of modern technology was actually quite far behind – not only did places not have contactless payment (the norm everywhere in Europe and something I rely on as I generally use Apple Pay), some places didn’t even have chip and pin; and a lot of places didn’t have wifi (whereas in London, wifi is literally everywhere. Shops. Cafés. Bars. The tube). I know these sound like pretty ‘first world problems’; but I’m just going off my expectations that the city would be ultra-modern.
So, let’s just say that I felt pretty underwhelmed, seeing as I’d expected to fall in love with the city. I will say this – that I’m not sure whether I genuinely didn’t really like the city that much, or whether I just had a bad experience. I had created an itinerary (ME – the least organised person ever) and spent so long planning it I was genuinely upset I didn’t have time to do a lot of things I’d wanted, I was still suffering from bad insomnia (coupled with jet lag – NOT a good combo), and I went with my mum who had never been interested in the city and didn’t want to do that much, which led to us arguing a lot.
So, I admit that my experience could have been better. I think I’ll visit New York again – to try to decide whether it’s just not the place for me, or whether this was just a fluke. Still, though, there were some beautiful places that I loved, so I thought I’d put together a New York travel guide with some tips…
NEW YORK TRAVEL GUIDE
1. Expect queues everywhere
I recommend planning ahead for all the biggest attractions and buying tickets in advance – even if you have a ticket, the queues are a nightmare.
2. Don’t eat at the tourist attractions
We did this at several of the places – from the Statue of Liberty to the United Nations. Not only is the food ridiculously expensive, it’s often fast food aimed at families, and tastes pretty awful (unless you really love fast food – but I eat quite healthily, so I really don’t.) Apparently there are healthy places to eat (including a few vegan joints) but they seemed to be out in Brooklyn or further out from the attractions.
3. Plan places to eat according to your budget
If you don’t and just try and wander in to restaurants without knowing all the best places (like we did), the food will probably be crazy pricey.
4. Leave time for shopping
As a blogger, this was probably one of my favourite aspects of New York. It’s a mecca for great shopping (and I definitely didn’t leave enough time for this). As well as all the high street shops, there’s discount department stores like Century 21 and amazing designer sample sales every. single. day. Our hotel was in the Garment District, and literally every day when we left the hotel (around 9am) there was already a huge queue outside because of sample sales being held next door.
5. Save up before you go
Seriously. It.’s. Hideously. Expensive.
6. Plan your travel route
If you do number 5, you might just be lucky enough to get a cab everywhere. If not, plan your subway route well, and be prepared for it to be more than a little grimy.
7. If you go in winter – wear layers!
So I cannot stress this enough. Dress as warm as you can because it’s FREEZING there in winter (even for me, and I’m from North-West England…), and wear layers so you can whip them off when you’re inside. For some reason, everyone and their mum seemed to be wearing a Canada Goose jacket… although I think I’ll stick to my Matthew Williamson faux fur (pictured below) which helped me beat the cold.
New York Travel Guide: My must-dos
1. Take in the view at the Top of the Rock
2. See a show on Broadway (I watched Anastasia, it was amazing)
3. Go shopping on Fifth Avenue
4. Take photos in Times Square
5. Visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art & the Museum of Modern Art for some of the best art collections in the world
6. Have a walk through Central Park (although it’s surprisingly hilly with a lot of winding paths, so allow time)
7. See the Brooklyn Bridge
8. Visit the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island Immigration Museum
9. Have Breakfast at Tiffany’s (seriously, this is actually possible at the Blue Box Cafe, Tiffany & Co, Fifth Avenue)
10. Tour the UN Building – so inspriring
11. Have milkshakes at Serendipity 3
12. Have a latte at Cha Cha Matcha
13. Take photos outside of Pietro Nolita (the most Instagrammable place – ever)
– Visit the Christmas markets at Bryant Park
– Go ice skating at Wollman Rink (Central Park) or at the Rockefeller Centre
– See the holiday window displays at all the major department stores – from Saks to Macy’s