I confess I adore New York. The prospect of a trip there, no matter how brief is always thrilling because there is always something new to discover. Winter is a particularly good time to go – hotel prices drop dramatically post New Year, there are sales aplenty and the Tourist Board, nycgo.com run several incentive weeks with cut price deals at restaurants, attractions and tickets for Broadway shows. The sun does shine (if you are lucky) but this is a city that works in almost any weather and when it does snow, it can be magical.
Having stayed in Manhattan on previous trips, on my latest visit I wanted to see more so we spent our first two nights in Brooklyn where there is a wide choice of mid range, affordable hotels. We stayed at one of the latest openings, the Hilton Brooklyn, an uber modern refurb of an old rope factory. Easy to get to from JFK via the Airtrain and subway A line the journey from the airport took about an hour and cost just $7.75. Staying in the boroughs has the advantage of being slightly cheaper, usually quieter and also opens up the possibility to spend time exploring the neighbourhoods where ordinary folk live. In recent years Brooklyn has become more of a destination in its own right – a thriving hub for creatives and entrepreneurs who can no longer afford to be Manhattan based. As a result, there are endless choices when it comes to hip bars, restaurants and cool places to hang out.
Through TV and films, if Manhattan seems instantly familiar to first timers, Brooklyn too has had its fair share of the limelight. Famously, John Travolta strutted its streets in Saturday Night Fever and more recently, the box office hit ‘Brooklyn’ followed the fortunes of Irish immigrants arriving there in the 1950’s. You know its Brooklyn when you spot the backdrop of the distinctive Brownstones – most likely the scene will be somewhere around the Park Slope, Clinton Hill or Prospect Heights neighbourhoods.
Although much of Brooklyn’s appeal is outdoors – the green spaces of Prospect Park, music festivals, markets and the spectacular views to be had from Brooklyn Heights – The Brooklyn Museum is a winner at any time of year. The vast building is home to close on 1.5 million art exhibits and can easily swallow up the best part of a day.
Less high brow a different kind of fun can be had Brooklyn’s craft beer breweries. There are dozens of micro breweries but the Daddy is the Brooklyn Brewery on Northside – a group tour (free at weekends) is a perfect way to warm your cockles if its chilly outside. Another thing I always like to do when I’m in the States, especially if the weather is not great, is to catch a new film and Brooklyn has the best choice of movie theatres. We liked the one on Grand St in trendy Williamsburg – a great selection of movies, classic plush seats and the biggest buckets of popcorn I have EVER seen.
Great though Brooklyn is, sooner or later, Manhattan’s magnetic grip takes hold. From Brooklyn, its just a 10 minute subway ride or you can walk it and drink in those incredible skyline views as you cross the famous Brooklyn Bridge.
For the second half of our trip we stayed at the Roger Smith Hotel, which proved to be a perfect choice in midtown Manhattan. One of the few remaining family owned hotels in the city, it is a quirky property, full of character as well as being something of an art gallery to boot. I’d describe the style as homely. Best of all is its location, just across the street from Central Station with easy access to the subway and within walking distance of several major attractions. After checking in, we strolled the four blocks (around 4 minutes!) to the Rockefeller Centre. Romantics opt for the Empire State but I think the Top of the Rock observation deck is better for its unobstructed sweeping views from Central Park over the skyscrapers of midtown and downtown. And when you are done with the views, the outdoor skating rink at the base of the building is one of the city’s iconic winter venues.
Sightseeing is fun but another way to keep warm on a winter break is to spend your time testing some of New York’s 24,000 eating establishments. By fluke, our February visit coincided with the nycgo.com’s ‘Restaurant Week’ – this is a fantastic bi-annual promotion across around 400 restaurants. To participate they all come up with a 3 course set menu to showcase their food and its a fixed price no matter where you go – $29 for lunch and $42 for dinner. Not cheap but its a chance to dine in some of the city’s finest for roughly half the normal price. Our top meal was at Morimoto (Chelsea Market). For foodies, its definitely worth timing your visit when its on.
For more culinary indulgence, I’d also recommend Urban Adventures ‘Tenements, Tales and Tastes’ guided walking tour. The three hour tour took us off the beaten path through some of New York’s best known immigrant districts. Our guide, native New Yorker, Josh shared all sorts of fascinating insights and pointed out details that we certainly would have missed. Better still, as the name implies, there were generous tastings involved along the way – pork dumplings in Chinatown, prosciutto and mozzarella in Little Italy, Knishe in the Jewish Quarter and finally pretzels and beer in a German beerkeller. No lunch needed after that!
Back on the tourist trail, there are always new things to see and do in New York but in recent years all eyes have been on the redevelopment of the World Trade Centre site. Even now its still ongoing but three major sites are once again drawing crowds downtown. The haunting 9/11 Memorial and Museum is one that we felt had to be done but, be warned, it’s truly harrowing to relive the events of that awful day. Right next door is the dramatic Oculus Centre – what is basically a shopping centre would feel out of place here were it not for the staggering architecture of the building. From the outside it’s design suggests the wings of a dove, inside its dramatic, bone white arched ‘ribs’ make you feel like you’ve been swallowed by a gigantic dinosaur. The jewel in the crown though, and a must on any visit to New York now is the One World Observatory occupying the 102nd floor of the glass clad One World Trade Centre. A lift whisks you up there in less than a minute and then you are ushered in to a multi-screen room for a powerful tribute film to the city and its people. As the film ends, the screens slowly roll up… cue an audible collective intake of breath as one of the most incredible views in the world is revealed.
Our trip to New York was prompted by the incredible low cost air fares (from $149 each way) available through norwegian.com and the even more incredible add on fares for their New York/Martinique route (from as low as $79 one way). This opened up the possibility of an unusual but, highly recommended City Break/Caribbean combo.