Exploring New York: if you only have 4 days

So, I did it. In a time-span of around three weeks, I quit my job, took my remaining days off and booked a flight to New York. As crazy as this may sound, quitting a job that wasn´t making me neither happy nor proud any longer was the best decision I could make at this point in my life. And taking advantage of the shamefully cheap last-minute flights to New York I saw on the Internet just seemed the perfect way to unwind before starting with a new challenge.

This has been my very first time in the City. New York has always been on my list (together with thousands other entries 😉 ), but for some reason – may it be the distance, may it be the lack of someone to visit and meet up with – I have always chosen some other place over NY, telling myself that “one day I will have the chance to go”. Well, here was my chance. In a time-span of around 72 hours, I bought a city guide (I really recommend this one, it´s just great! – link), went through the ELSTA process, found a room on Airbnb and packed my suitcase for NY.

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New York is exactly as you would expect it to be: huge, fast-paced and extremely diverse. It is a really vibrant and exiting place to be in, but it might still look intimidating at first. In this post, I would like to share some of my newly gained impressions and experiences, some tips and, on top of this, a four-day plan to explore and enjoy this amazing city at its best.

 

Getting there and getting around

There are three airports in New York: John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), LaGuardia Airport (LGA) and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), which is where my flight landed. In spite of being the nearest to Manhattan, LGA is actually the least accessible by public transit. On the other hand, JFK and EWR are both well connected through AirTrain and subway. In both cases, it will take around an hour to get to Manhattan.

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Getting around in New York by public transportation is – in contrast with other American cities – possible and very convenient. The subway will get you virtually everywhere in Manhattan and Brooklyn, so having a closer look at the map and figuring out how it works is crucial on your first days. When I say “a closer look”, I really mean it. In comparison with the subway systems in most European cities, the subway in NY has some idiosyncrasies you will want to be aware of. First of all, if you are in Manhattan, each and every subway line only has two directions “Uptown & The Bronx” or “Downton & Brooklyn”. Pretty easy, yes. Still, you won´t be able to take any direction from a given station – or, in other words, more often than not there will be two separate entrances for two separate directions. In most cases, the right entrance for the direction you want to go to will be on the other side of the street. Or like four blocks away.

More crucially, it is important to notice the difference between local trains and express trains. In fact, express trains will not stop at every station and local trains will not go until the end of the line. My tip: have a look at the numbers written on the map, not only at the colors. 😉

 

Breathing New York

When I first arrived at my Airbnb accommodation in lower Manhattan, I stopped for a second and breathed in the fresh, early spring air of New York City. Well, NY has surprised and fascinated me since that very moment. Maybe because of its rebellious creativity, or maybe because of its international flair and diversity, NY somehow reminds me of Berlin and there is something in the air of New York City that makes me feel at home.

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Be it the street art in Brooklyn or a musical in Broadway, be it the MoMa or the man singing at Time´s Square, New York has so much culture to offer. On my first day, I felt overwhelmed and excited, and, having only a very limited amount of time to visit this amazing city, I laid out an actionable plan for the next few days.

 

Four days is NYC

 

Day one: Downtown

Well day one here is actually day two. My sister and I arrived to NY on a Friday at around 3 PM (which felt so much like 8 PM). On our very first day (or what remained of it), we decided to take our time to settle in our Airbnb accommodation and have a look around the neighborhood and look for an organic supermarket or something like that. In fact, there had been no gluten-free and lactose-free meals on the plane, so I was literally starving.

So our actual day one was a Saturday: New York was still cold, but the sky was clear and sunny, so we decided that we would want to have some amazing views of the city. First thing we did was getting the subway all the way downtown and get off at Bowling Green. After going through Battery Park and having a look at the squirrels (OMG they are so sweet!), we went on to catch the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Now, the whole tour is not very cheap, but, believe me, it is worth it. We paid around 18$ – the visit to the Museum and Crown of the Statue of Liberty was excluded. Here comes my first, crucial insider tip: if you want to get up the Statue of Liberty on a Saturday, don´t show up at the ticket office at eleven o´clock. Instead, you will want to either wake up really early or buy your tickets online. 😉

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The Statue of Liberty is amazing, but, you know how it is, you have seen it so often on TV and in travel magazines that you almost have the impression that you have been there already. What, on the other hand, surprised me was the visit to Ellis Island: Ellis Island has been a doorway to the States for so many people from all over the world. From 1892 to 1954, 12 million immigrants passed through these now quiet halls, getting their passports checked and hoping for a better life. The museum is really nice and a super interesting and multilingual audio-guide can be borrowed, too.

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After getting back from our ferry trip, my sister and I went to Ground Zero and visited the rest of the Financial District. Ground Zero is impressive, sad and awe-inspiring. The names, the flowers, everything is moving and incredibly real. Directly in front of Ground Zero is the brand new One World Trade Center. My sister and I got a ticket to go up the tallest building of the Western world. The ticket is pricey, but, in my opinion, worth it. The levels 100, 101 and 102 of the building are dedicated to an observatory, where you can get stunning views of NYC and the Empire.

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Day 2: Midtown

After exploring Downtown on our first day, we decided to spend the whole Sunday in the heart of Manhattan. We got in the subway and got out at the Grand Central Terminal, which was fun to visit as I felt a lot like Serena van der Woodsen in the first episode of Gossip Girl. From there, we had a nice walk down to the Empire State Building for a couple of pictures, and went then up again to visit the New York Public Library.

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I loved the architecture of the library, and the audio-tour was pretty interesting. After that, we walked to Times Square, had lunch (more on where to have a healthy and maybe even paleo lunch in NYC in my next blog post 😉 ) and dedicated the rest of the day to some well-deserved shopping. Before going home, we stopped at the impressive Rockefeller Center, which is – with its elegant and inspiring architecture – undoubtedly worth a visit.

 

Day 3: Central Park & MoMa

On or third day, we took decided to have a walked around the Upper East Side (feeling like Serena van der Woodsen again 😉 ) and entered, at some point, Central Park. Probably because of the season, Central Park was not nearly as green as I would have expected it to be, but definitely bigger. The Park is huge, with some breathtaking view near the lakes and more squirrels than you can imagine. If you have the chance, go to the Strawberry fields, where you will find the beautiful mosaic memorial to John Lennon.

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After spending so much time outside, we decided it was time to pay a visit to one of New York´s major museums, the MoMa. If you only spend four or five days in New York, I advise you to choose carefully and visit only one museum, in order to have enough time to enjoy the rest of the city. Being a big fan of modern art, I would have liked to see both the Guggenheim and the MoMa. It was a hard decision for me to make, but, in the end, probably the right one. The MoMa is beautiful, and my visit was incredibly inspiring. I enjoyed both the collection (the 5th floor is absolutely amazing, go straight there if you are up for some Picasso, Mondrian, Pollock and other major modern artists) and the temporary exhibitions. If you are even just a bit interested in art, go to the MoMa and be ready to discover a new side of yourself.

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After spending the whole afternoon at the museum, my sister and I went for some more shopping on 5th Avenue. My tip here is: do not pay with your credit card 😉

 

Day 4: Brooklyn and back

On our last day, we decided to head out of Manhattan and took the subway towards Brooklyn. First off, we explored some street art in Williamburg and Bushwick. Then, we had a walk around the Brooklyn Heights, a place I totally fell in love with. From there we headed towards the Brooklyn Bridge Park where we had a sort of small pick-nick lunch and some great views on Manhattan.

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After lunch, we went back to Manhattan and explored three extremely idiosyncratic districts located Midtown: China Town, Little Italy and Soho. We went to China Town first: it was fun to have a look around the small shops and streets and I was amused at noticing that everything, even the ads on the walls, is written in Chinese. The shops are not one of a kind, but it is definitely worth buying this or that souvenir for your uncle here as everything is much cheaper here (and it gets even cheaper if you are good enough at negotiating). If you go to China Town, do not miss the Mahayana Buddist Temple, which was actually my favorite part. On the second floor, you will find a small gift shop and library with some great books about yoga, zen practice and mindfulness.

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After leaving China Town, we quickly walked through Little Italy, which – with its restaurants and bars – has a fascinating Napoli flair. Walking down Grand Street towards Broadway, we got to Soho and stopped for a drink in a smoothie bar with flair and decent-looking guys called Joe & the Juice. I fell in love with Soho. Soho is the place I would like to live in if I lived in NY. It has the flair of Paris and Milan, and still some amazing bars and cafes, and unique shops. Just next to Joe & the Juice, there is a shop called Tierra, siempre una flor selling jewels made in Spain, where my sister and I spent like half an hour and bought the nicest necklaces. Soho was the perfect conclusion to the perfect trip: New York is, for me, a great city with great vibes, which brought to me a lot of inspiration and some brand new experiences.

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