The City of New York has so much to offer it may be a little daunting trying to plan out only three nights in New York and feel like you hit all the necessary items. The real key is to try to focus your efforts around some physical areas each day so that you do not spend most of your time in the subway trying to get around the city. Plan ahead and figure out what sites you want to see and try to group them together on a map prior to your trip. Then figure out if you can do them in half a day or if you need to dedicate a whole day to the area. Get tickets or a city pass before hand for any attractions that offer them because it will give you a set time, or allow you to skip the lines versus just trying your luck on getting a ticket for the time you happen to show up. This was our second trip in New York we had already checked off most of the major attractions on our last trip. This time we wanted to spend more time in the Brooklyn area as well as seeing some choice sites around the city for the holidays before heading up to Boston during our week in the northeast.
As usual, Hotels.com provided a nice instrument for seeing all the hotels across New York for the time period we were wanting and also a quick way to compare the prices. Hotel 91 at 91 E Broadway in China Town received the selection this trip because it was in a part of town we only saw very little of last trip, was cheap, close to public transportation, and provided everything that we needed. The expectation for the hotel was pretty low considering some of the reviews that mentioned being very noisy right next to the Manhattan Bridge.
The noise of the subway and other bridge traffic was obvious, but was not unbearable. The noise level seemed to cut down a bit at night and would not wake us up from a sleep. Even if you were already awake the trains acted a bit like a sound machine and lulled you back to sleep. If sound is a huge issue while sleeping, then earplugs would have done the trick and Hotel 91 would have been just as noisy as anywhere else in a populated part of Manhattan. On our last trip we stayed in Times Square for one night. We were absolutely miserable even up in the air away from the street you could hear constant traffic and noise. The staff at Hotel 91 were very friendly and quick to address any issues that we had during our stay. The beds are comfortable, bathrooms are clean, and the Hotel is located just a few blocks from multiple subway lines. We even found a bakery around the corner to start our day each morning with some baked goods and coffee.
Being across the river from Manhattan can provide some stunning views of the iconic skyline and bridges. Aside from the vast parks in Brooklyn that you can soak up the views of Manhattan, there is also more of a small town feel to the area due to the lower buildings and lower noise level. Granted there is still a lot of traffic, people, and buildings everything seems more peaceful in Brooklyn. You can easily explore most of the riverside park in half a day so plan on doing this before or after lunch. There is plenty of food options down by the river as well as sprinkled throughout Brooklyn.
On the first night in New York we enjoyed a Hanukkah festival for the celebration of the third night in which they light up the worlds largest Menorah. There was some dancing, food, friendship and comedy. The people were very nice and welcoming even for a couple of folks who obviously did not belong, but just wanted to see what the celebration was all about. Before the ceremony we were able to see the parade of the Menorah in which a caravan of RVs blaring music and many cars with tiny Menorahs on top circle the city to celebrate the holiday. It was very neat to see the celebration and see how happy everyone was around the holidays.
One night in Brooklyn we enjoyed some Mexican food at Bar San Miguel, a restaurant that the stock man Jim Cramer has an investment in. The restaurant being related to Jim Cramer is really the reason we wanted to go since I love his books. The food was actually very good, but could have been a little spicier. Being from Dallas, I don’t think I would ever find a place that is spicy enough outside of Texas. Since the staff were so friendly, we stayed for drinks and got to enjoy some of the locals to Brooklyn who were very nice and welcoming to visitors from the south. I would definitely frequent this place for food and drinks if we lived in New York.
Also in Brooklyn is The Sketchbook Project by the Brooklyn Art Library. Admission is free/pay what you wish and you could easily spend the whole day in the place, but an afternoon will suffice. People from around the world can purchase and submit a sketchbook to the library which will catalog and store it. While there in person you can select some to check out and the staff will find them for you. There is some cozy seating areas to sit and enjoy some of the great sketchbooks from around the world. They also have select pieces for sell and you can request any sketch be printed and sold if you find something you like that is not already printed and ready. They also have a robust online catalog for viewing the sketchbooks online.
Being a former firefighter/paramedic this stop never gets any easier, but also never becomes obsolete. On our last trip we were able to see what looked like a construction site where the towers fell. Now that the construction in the area is complete, it was much better on the eyes. The memorial ponds are very well done and really show the caliber of the event with it taking the distance around both buildings footprints to put all the victims names. I will never get over how close Engine and Ladder 10 are from the site. They lost two crews in the incident and I am sure some of their station as well. The corner of their station is literally a stones throw from ground zero.
Now that we have a generation that grew up having no idea what 9-11 was like I am glad that the memorial is complete and the museums in the area are so well done. I am assuming the next generations will look at 9-11 like mine looks at Pearl Harbor. Knowing that it was a horrible attack and that it must be remembered, but not having a personal attachment to it. Having a chance to stand on top of the twin towers, see the aftermath, and now stand on the site of the memorial pools that are their footprint, ground zero will always hold a special place in my heart and mind.
Times Square & Rockefeller
We could not go to New York in the holidays and not see the stereotypical sites that were decorated for the season. Walking around in Times Square, or around Rockefeller center was extremely cramped and busy. A mass of people all trying to go different directions on a finite area of concrete. Taking one trip in the daytime and one in the night is necessary if you want to experience the lights and also be able to enjoy the city scape during the day. The crowds seemed to be much worse at night. The increase in foot traffic was probably because of the lights and also the nice weather. While we were in New York the temperatures remained manageable and dry. Had it be freezing and snowing I assume fewer people would make it outside.
Being so late in the year the Rockefeller Tree looked very droopy and almost sad reminding you that the season was coming to an end. Ice skating in Rockefeller Plaza is a mess so we went to Bryant Park Instead. About fifty dollars in Bryant Park will get you two pairs of ice skates and also a bag check the size of a regular back pack. They give you a bag that you can stuff your bag and other things like shoes or cell phone into. There are restrooms on site and it is nice to skate around outside in the middle of the city for a bit. Long enough on the ice and the quality of ice gets so poor that it is no longer fun and that is about the time you have had enough. Make sure to take some time to go skating while in the city, there is also other skating options such as parks in Brooklyn, and Central Park.
While in town we decided to see the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. We arrived about thirty minutes before the doors opened, which we should have just planned on arriving right at the door opening which is an hour before the show because they are strict about that time. The line through security was not bad, and we had plenty of time to grab an astronomically priced drink before the show. The inside of Radio City is a neat experience so be sure to leave some time before the show to explore around and try out the foot lever activated hand dryers in the lounges (bathrooms). The Christmas Show was okay, and I am glad we went. Given the option again I think I would have picked a different show to go see that night. It was not really what we were expecting and seemed like it was trying to offer the Rockettes dancing in with a couple of really bad Christmas plays. If you are not taking in a show, the tours offered of Radio City would be a neat event to catch-all the history of the area.
Rest of the City
While I cannot remember every stop we made we did enjoy some great food from various vegan restaurants in New York. There were many celebrations in various parks due to the holiday so we headed to the music and enjoyed people watching in various parts of the city. We also would stop into random bars to grab a few drinks just to relax and rest our feet for a few hours. On the last night there since the weather was so nice we walked every where instead of taking the subway so we could soak up as much of as the city as we could. During the trip we also had a little bit of time strolling through Central Park with no real agenda except to enjoy the area and how secluded it feels while you are still surrounded by the city. Getting around New York is rather simple either by Subway or foot. The city is one giant grid so knowing your cardinal directions is helpful. Google maps even offers up to date subway information that is very useful.
Uptown or the Bronx bound trains are considered northbound, while Queens, Coney Island or Downtown trains are all considered southbound. Make sure to read the subway signs above ground as some entrances are only for some directions and also make sure to check the signs as you go down into the station to ensure you end up on the right platform for the train and direction you want to travel. A final check is when you are standing at the platform there is typically a sign stating the trains that stop at that station and which end station is their terminus.
We enjoyed our three nights in New York. Had this been our first trip to the city I do not think three nights would have been sufficient, but it was the perfect amount of time for a second visit in which we had some targeted areas we wanted to visit that we did not get to during our first trip. After our three nights we were off to Penn Station to take the Amtrak to Boston. It is no EuroRail, but it allows you to show up just 30 minutes, or less if you are brave, prior to departure and be whisked away at a smooth 100 miles per hour and not feel like you are cramped up like a sardine.