NYC: Uptown & Midtown
"New York is Always a Good Idea"
I've been to New York 14 times and still long to go back! There's so much to do and the different seasons bring different activities (from a day at the beach to a walk in the snow!). I've split this into several posts; this post will focus on the areas of Uptown / Midtown while the next will focus on Downtown / NJ / the Boroughs. I have also written previous posts on where to stay and food/brunch spots that I like in NYC.
FINDING YOUR WAY AROUND
Areas of Manhattan
Manhattan is broken up into several different areas (such as Midtown, SoHo, Chelsea, Greenwich village). Click here for a brief overview of how these areas are split up. Some of the prettier neighborhoods, smaller art galleries, boutique stores, the great nightlife, cute cobbled streets, and impressive townhouses are found outside of the Midtown area. However, as a first-time tourist, you are likely to spend the majority of your time in Midtown / the Financial District as these areas are where many of the main tourist attractions are found. Midtown is the busiest area; it is where you will find Times Square, numerous subway stations and a lot of shopping areas. It is thus where the majority of tourists find themselves. Midtown is easy to navigate as the streets and avenues are in a gridline order.
The quickest way around the city is the subway. Subway cards can be bought at most subway stations and topped up as you go. All subway stations have free wi-fi; this is great as you can search google maps for your point of destination and it will highlight to you which subway you need to take!
If you are landing in JFK and on a budget then the Airtrain / subway is the best option as a taxi to the city is VERY expensive (though it's not so bad if you are splitting the fare between several passengers)! The Airtrain leaves from inside of the Airport and it will drop you straight to a subway station from which you can take all the way to the center of Manhattan...all for under a tenner!
As a first time tourist who is intending to visit several attractions then it is advisable to check out some of the available passcards / online deals. Many pass cards include a selection of Museums, The Empire State Building, Top of the Rock and some even include a return bus ticket to Woodbury Common Shopping Outlet (which can be pricey to buy separately). Groupon NY often has good deals on bus tickets to Woodbury too. The majority of passes also include options to skip queues at many of these locations. Below are some of the websites that provide deals:
WHERE TO STAY / DINING
Click on the below to read my prior posts on:
(1) CENTRAL PARK
In such a busy city, with a huge demand for space, Central Park is very impressive in size and it acts as a peaceful relief from the chaos that surrounds it. However, every so often you are still reminded of the hustle and bustle happening close by when you catch a glimpse of the towering skyscrapers above the trees. The Park stretches over 3 avenues in width and from 59th street to 110th street in length. It is a must for tourists! I've been lucky enough to see the Park both during Summer and Winter. It was especially magical when I was there early one Winter morning and it was covered in a blanket of snow!
Check out The Central Park website for events that may be taking place during your visit. As well as the below list of activities, wandering through the Park you may find games of tennis, volleyball, softball, basketball, a carousel, playgrounds, Model Boat Sailing, Bow Bridge, Strawberry Fields (memorial to John Lennon who was murdered close by at the Dakota Building), Delacorte Theater and Swedish Cottage Marionette (where theater, concerts, and puppet shows take place) and several places to dine. Also, during the holiday season the Wollman Skating Rink and Columbus Circle Holiday Market open in the Park.
TO DO / SEE IN THE PARK
Loeb Boathouse & Bethesda Fountain (Square)
The hugely popular Loeb Boathouse restaurant is found close by the iconic Bethesda Square. It is possible to take boat rides on the lake from here.
Horse & Carriage Rides
These are lined up along the southern entrance to the Park (opposite the Plaza hotel and Apple store). Note that these rides mainly only touch through a small section of the Park.
I would advise anyone who wishes to see a large portion of the Park to rent a bike. Walking tours are also available, or, just grab a map and walk the Park yourself. If you want to see a lot of the Park then I would strongly advise on pre-planning your route and having a map at hand as it is vast and can be difficult to navigate.
Free entry into this pretty castle. It has some great views of the Park from its observation deck.
Angels of the Waters is one of the most famous sculptures in the Park; it sits on top of the Bethesda Fountain. One of the other 29 sculptures which is very popular is that of Alice in Wonderland. It can be found north of the Conservatory Water Pond (where the Model Boat Sailing is found); I love this area! As an Irish person, it is worth mentioning the sculpture of Victor Herbert (an Irish born German raised in America) who was a composer, cellist, and conductor. Balto (Alaskan Sleigh Dog) and Hans Christian Anderson are two more popular sculptures. Click here for a list of all sculptures.
There's even a small zoo found within the grounds of the Park. You can stroll through its gift shop for free and buy some lovely animal teddies and memorabilia of the Central Park Wildlife Center.
(2) CLOSE TO THE PARK
Below are some more popular spots close by Central Park.
Located opposite the entrance to the Park at The Pulitzer Fountain (59th street). The Plaza provides free tours several days a week, however, they book up well in advance! If you are unable to book this tour then you can still stroll through the dining and shopping center within The Plaza to view the impressive interior of this hotel.
Barneys is located a block from the Park (60th & Madison Ave.) while Bloomingdales is just three blocks from the Park (59th & Lexington Ave.).
Located at the corner of the Park (59th & Eighth Ave.) at Columbus Circle. This is a popular spot which you are likely to have seen shots of on t.v. as it is an iconic landmark providing stunning views of Central Park. Here you will also find a statue of Christopher Columbus sitting on top of a monument in the center of the square.
Also located at Columbus Circle. I very much enjoyed my visit to this museum and would recommend it if you enjoy Modern Art & Design.
Located a block from the Park (64th & Columbus Ave.).
Located two blocks from the Park (57th & Seventh Ave.).
Located along the West side of the Park (79th street). Another beautiful, large building that consistently receives great reviews and an abundance of visitors. It contains more than 30 million artifacts! If you are a fan of astrophysics then you are sure to enjoy the impressive Rose Center for Earth & Space. Another popular section of the Museum is the Butterfly Conservancy (Nov-May) which contains more than 600 butterflies. (Note: the Museum is very big so if you are a science lover then you may end up spending a couple of hours here! I spent a lot longer than I expected to here when I visited it!)
Surrounding the Park are some of the most expensive properties in New York. Billionaires Row is located by Central Park (57th Street) and you will find luxurious residential skyscrapers along here. Museum Mile is also found beside Central Park. It is located in the section of 5th Avenue which runs along the East side of the Park.
(3) MUSEUM MILE
The below are all found along Museum Mile:
El Museo del Barrio 105th St.
The Jewish Museum 92nd St.
Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum (part of the Smithsonian Institution) 91st St.
The Guggenheim Museum 88th St.
Neue Galerie 86th St.
Metropolitan Museum of Art 82nd St.
Of the above, I have visited The Guggenheim, The Met, and The Frick Collection. I loved the Guggenheim and I have even returned here for another exhibition! I enjoy this museum as I am a huge fan of contemporary and modern art, however, the building is beautiful too and even my mam enjoyed walking around its impressive interior though she is not a big art lover.
The Frick Collection made for an interesting insight into how the mansion houses were lived in during the 20th Century and it holds an impressive collection of old master paintings and fine furniture. The Met is very big and so you may need to allocate a lot of time when visiting here. It not only holds some very famous paintings, but it also exhibits other artwork such as ceramics, jewelry, musical instruments, and costumes & accessories. A roof garden bar can be found on the top floor of the museum and there is a beautiful view of Central Park from here.
(4) ROOSEVELT ISLAND TRAMWAY
If you are on the Upper East side (not too far from the East Side corner of Central Park and very close to Bloomingdales) then it is worth noting that you can take a cable car ride over to Roosevelt Island for just the cost of a subway ride. I wouldn't go out of my way to take this ride but it is worthwhile if you are in the area and for the cheap cost of this trip (you use a subway card to hop on the cable car).
If you are in this part of the city, close by you will also find Dylans Candy Bar. Sweet lovers will definitely want to visit here!
(5) DYLANS CANDY BAR
Dylan's Candy Bar was founded by Ralph Lauren's daughter and this flagship store has remained on a variety of “Top 10” lists of New York City tourist attractions since its inception, welcoming over 2 million visitors per year. All types of famous people, ranging from Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey to Al Pacino and Tom Cruise, have visited the store and there is even a section of the store dedicated to autographs whereby celebrities have signed their favorite sweets from the store. The decor is very pop art inspired and it also hosts an Ice Cream & Dessert Parlor, Candy Cocktail Bar, and Party Rooms.
(6) TIMES SQUARE
Although New Yorkers may complain about the tackiness and how busy Times Square is, it's still a must-see for a first-time tourist to NYC. I (as someone visiting from Ireland and who had never been to a large city before) found it breathtaking the first time that I visited here! The large flashing billboards lit up in the evening, the tall skyscrapers, the energy, the noise, the advertisements for Broadway Shows - it was exactly how I imagined it would be! Its name came from the New York Times whose building can be found just a few blocks from the main square. It's close to the Port Authority bus terminal (where, for shoppers, is the location you can buy Woodbury Common outlet tickets and catch a bus to the outlet from. Again, you may get a better ticket deal with a city pass card/Groupon deal).
The Times Square official website provides more info on the area. You can buy discounted Broadway tickets (on the day of the show) at the Tkts Booth located at Duffy Square in Times Square. There are more Tkts booths around the city and they are likely to have less of a queue than the Times Square location - click here for locations and opening hours. The official website also provides a list of stores in Time Square; some popular shops found here include M&M's World, Disney Store, and Hershey's Chocolate World.
The popular Revolving Rooftop restaurant, The View, is located in Times Square. Ripleys Believe it or Not and Madame Tussauds is also found here. I visited Madame Tussauds and though I didn't think I would enjoy it, I was pleasantly surprised and found many of the pieces very impressive! Again, be sure to check out ordering tickets online before going as there may be some great deals that include the chance to skip the queue for many of these tourist attractions.
(7) HIGH LINE
If it's a pleasant day then I recommend grabbing a coffee and going for a walk along The High Line. You can enter this at West 34th Street, however, there are several other entry points along the way. The High Line is located on an old railway track and it only opened a few years ago - it's been great to see the changes and improvements to it over the last few years! It stretches from 34th street down to Chelsea and Greenwich village.
Along the High Line, you will find different works of contemporary art. You can stop off and view the art galleries in Chelsea and pop into Chelsea Market for a bite to eat and a wander through its stalls. The track finishes off at The Meatpacking District / Greenwich village which is a lovely area to wander in too.
(8) FIFTH AVENUE
Fifth Avenue stretches from Harlem (above Central Park) down to Washington Square Park (Greenwich Village). The busiest section is that of the Midtown section and so I will focus on it.
After The Plaza Hotel (opposite Central Park), as you walk south along Fifth Avenue you will start to see some famous designer stores (Bergdorf Goodman, Louis Vuitton, and Gucci to name a few) and just two blocks from the Park is where you will find the towering Trump Tower. Tiffany & Co sits beside Trump Tower and it recently started serving breakfast so you can now have breakfast at Tiffany's! Saks, Henri Bendel, Harry Winston, Valentino, Tommy Hilfiger, Cartier, and Versace are all located along these few blocks of 5th Avenue.
There's more to follow on each of the following, however, I will briefly mention them now as they all lie along 5th Avenue: Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is located just off 5th Avenue at 53rd street. The statuesque Saint Patricks Cathedral is close by MoMA (51st & 5th Ave.); with seating of 2,400, it is the largest Gothic-style Catholic cathedral in the country. Rockefeller Center is found right opposite Saint Patricks Cathedral and just a few blocks further from here (42nd street) you will find Bryant Park and New York Public Library (NYPL). Grand Central Station and the Chrysler Building can be found not too far from Bryant Park too.
As mentioned, The Museum of Modern Art is located just off Fifth Ave. along 53rd street. The Museum offers free entry on a Friday (4 - 8 pm), however, I have visited during these hours and must warn you that the Museum can get very busy at this time due to the free entry! Vincent Van Goghs 'The Starry Night' is one of the many famous artworks found here.
The Observation Deck
The Observation Deck found on the 70th floor of The Top of the Rock is well worth a visit! It holds a spectacular 360-degree panoramic view of NYC and possesses a 20 foot wide viewing area (there is a coin-operated telescope found here too). Many argue that it is better than the views from The Empire State Building. I would agree with this - one main reason being the fact that the view you get from Rockefeller will include the iconical Empire State Building as part of the skyline... which you obviously don't get when you go up The Empire State Building! Also, Rockefeller is comprised of more levels and space to walk around than The Empire State. Rockefeller is also located closer to Central Park which thus means that it provides some beautiful views of the Park. I would advise visiting on a bright clear day and watching the sunset from here so that you gain views of both day and night.
The Today Show and the NBC studios (where Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon are filmed) are found in Rockefeller studios. The popular tv show 30 Rock gained its name from its fictional take on Saturday Night Live! Tours of the NBC Studios are available and start at the NBC Experience Store - click here for details of this tour.
The Rockefeller Center is a national historic landmark comprising of over 8,000,000 square feet on 22 acres. Inside you will find a shopping center, dining, office space, The Today Show and the NBC studios. The building consists of impressive artistry and you can take a tour of the building. This is provided by a historian of the Rockefeller building and gardens. Particularly popular artwork found at Rockefeller is that of the famous Statue of Atlas and the stainless steel bas-relief 'News' which sits over the main entrance to 50 Rockefeller Plaza.
Christmas Tree & Ice Skating
The lower plaza of Rockefeller is where the famous ice skating rink and large Christmas tree is on display each holiday season. The sculptor Paul Manship created Prometheus which is the central piece of the plaza and sits under where the spectacular Christmas Tree stands each year. This area can get VERY crowded over the holiday season (especially at the weekend).
The popular and pretty Bryant Park is found just off Fifth Ave. (42nd St.) and is just a 10-minute walk from Times Square. The beautiful New York Public Library is located just inside of this park. Bryant Park is one of the most popular parks in the city and contains some nice seating areas, a fountain, greenery, a cute French classical style 'le carrousel', an art cart, an outdoor reading room, ping pong, pétanque, chess boards, backgammon and several eateries (such as the Grill and coffee kiosk).
During the Holiday season, you will find a market, ice-skating rink and large Christmas tree in the park. It is one of my favorite spots over the Holiday season - though it can get quite crowded at this time of year. You will very much get into the festive spirit wandering around these markets with some hot chocolate and admiring the decorations and arts & crafts for sale! Check out the park's website for festivities that may be happening while you’re there as it also hosts, for example, yoga, poetry and an outdoor cinema & theater at certain times throughout the year.
New York Public Library
As mentioned, NYPL is located along Bryant Park (42nd street). Two iconic statuesque marble lions, 'Patience' and 'Fortitude', stand at the entry to the library. There are free daily tours of the building and these leave from the Astor Hall information desk. Click here for more information on the building tour.
This building tour remains on my NYC to-do list! We had previously arrived to participate in the tour, however, we stumbled upon an exhibition tour instead by a mistake. The lady providing the tour was absolutely lovely but I found the exhibition (which was about food in NYC) quite long and not to my taste (pun intended 😂). This was likely a personal choice and as a result of our lack of planning. Exhibitions are varied and so there may be one of interest to you happening during your trip; click here and select 'exhibitions' for more information on these tours.
(Just off 5th Ave)
Located just two avenues from Bryant Park / NYPL (42nd St. & Park Ave.) is the famous Grand Central Station. It is the largest such station facility in the world by its number of platforms. Architecturally it is beautiful with the interior luster of the Main Concourse elaborately decorated with an astronomical ceiling (though some of the constellations are inaccurate). It is a popular tourist destination and thought of as a somewhat romantic location due to how its iconical four-faced clock, located by the information booth, is frequently used as a meeting place in films and tv. The exterior of the building possesses a four-meter clock, the world's largest example of Tiffany glass, and it is surrounded by the sculptures Minerva, Hercules and Mercury. There is also a statue of an eagle perched on the exterior of the building.
The station contains a large food court with many eateries, newsstands, a gourmet and fresh food market, bakeries, shopping (there is even an Apple store located here) and a holiday market is held here over the Christmas season. Located near the Oyster Bar & Restaurant, at the dining hall, you will find the whispering wall of Grand Central. Whispering here is known to sound like a shout due to the acoustics of the low ceramic arches!
(Just off 5th Ave.)
Just an avenue away from Grand Central Station, on 42nd St. and Lexington, you will see another famous iconical landmark building of the Manhattan skyline; that of the beautiful Chrysler Building. This is one of my favorite buildings due to the Art Deco–style of the building and the beautifully lit up spire top. Unfortunately you are unable to visit the top of the Chrysler Building as it is used as office space, however, you can enter the lobby during work hours to view the art deco on display in the lobby area (click here for more details). It briefly stood as the tallest structure in the world until the Empire State eclipsed it.
Empire State Building
Further down Fifth Ave, on 34th st., is where you will find the Empire State Building. As mentioned, many argue that The Top of the Rock offers better views of the Manhattan skyline (I am one of the people who would agree with this!), however, it is understandable that people will still want to visit here first as it is such an iconical building of the New York skyline. As of 2017, it was the fifth-tallest completed skyscraper in the United States. It stood as the word's tallest building for nearly 40 years until the completion of the World Trade Center's North Tower in Lower Manhattan in late 1970.
When I visited the Empire State Building they had to section parts of the viewing area off due to the wind and so I didn't manage to see great views. Similar to Rockefeller, you should avoid visiting here if it is foggy as the view will not be great (I would again suggest visiting just before sunset to see amazing views both during daylight and also the pretty lights at night). The observation deck includes a coin-operated telescope. The building famously illuminates different colors to mark different occasions and events (such as green on St. Patricks day!).
You can purchase tickets on the official website, however, you may want to keep an eye out for the city passes/deals available before you go - especially if you intend to do a few attractions while you are visiting the city. You can purchase tickets that will allow you to skip the queue to the Observation Deck - the queue on the day that I visited was VERY long, however, it did move along very quickly.
(9) OTHER THINGS TO DO
The Morgan Library & Museum Murray Hill, Midtown (Close to Grand Central Station). Museum includes rotating exhibits such as drawings and Jane Austen's letters & manuscripts. The Museum is beautifully refurbished.
Radio City Hall 51st & 6th Ave. (beside Rockefeller). A stage door tour is available and this is where the famous Rockettes perform their Christmas Spectacular show each year.
Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum Midtown, Pier 86, West 46th St & 12th Ave. (Hells Kitchen).
Spyscape (Spy Museum) 54th Street & Eight Ave.
Columbia University 116th Street & Broadway Ave.
Macys 34th Street & Sixth Ave.
Riverside Park W72nd Street - W129th Street & Riverside Drive.
The Bronx - just 20 minutes from Grand Central on the Metro. Directions on official website.
We took the Downtown Hop on Hop Off bus tour and it was a great way of gaining a good overview of the different areas downtown. It included areas such as Greenwich Village, SoHo, the Financial District, Chinatown, and the Lower East Side. It was very cold on the day that we took the tour though... so sitting upstairs of the open-top double-decker bus was not so enjoyable!
I have also not been on either of these tours as yet, but they too gain good reviews: New York Tour 1 and Free Foot Walks. Also, as mentioned earlier, there are walking tours available of the Garment District.
Christmas Lights Tours
City Sightseeing provides a tour of the Holiday lights by night. We took one of these tours along Fifth Avenue and it was great as it can be difficult to properly see the lights from the footpaths due to how busy the streets can be and how tall the buildings are. However, we got a great deal on the tour and I would not have paid the full price for it (very pricey). Probably the most popular Christmas lights tour is that of the Dyker Heights Tour.
We took the Sex And the City tour and loved it! It was also a great way of seeing a lot of the city as we traveled to many different locations throughout the tour and our tour guide provided a brief overview of the areas as we traveled.
Cruise & Helicopter
I have not taken either of these as yet, however, I very much want to try out a boat tour on one of my next visits.
** Click here for photo blog of Uptown
** Click here for photo blog of Midtown