With my bi-annual trips to New York proving to be my most expensive hobby of late, I thought it was time to explore the core of the Big Apple and reveal what's hidden amongst the skyscrapers
While New York is famed for being BIG on just about every scale, it's often the quirky, off-the-beaten-track little gems of places that prove to be the best parts of this boundless metropolis. So if you're planning your next trip back to the Big Apple but are wondering just what to do next, fear not! This guide should hopefully provide you with some inspiration.
Why settle for a hotel?
First on my list of gems is New York's vast array of apartments available for holiday rental. From a tourist's point of view, apartments appear to be an untapped resource when the likes of travel websites are trying to offer you hotel+flight package deals. If you're travelling in a larger group, an apartment can often work out cheaper than hotel rooms, with the added luxury of having your very own place to stay, rather than just a bed to come back to at night.
The link below is an apartment that I have stayed at twice before and would definitely use again:
http://www.vrbo.com/52524 - The Diplomat Apartments
The central location on East 47th Street is perfect for venturing off to all parts of Manhattan. Although only a one bedroom apartment, up to two fold out beds are available on request so it can sleep up to four people. With rates starting at $165 a night, this can turn out to be a real bargain, given its sought after location. The bonus of having your own apartment is that you can really live like a local - popping down to the deli for some supplies means that you don't have to worry about planning your next meal out.
Contact is made to the apartment owner by email and a deposit is paid through paypal or by credit card. The remaining balance is paid in cash on arrival. It's all above board and very professional and efficient, as you would expect from New Yorkers.
If money is no object, the VRBO website has extensive listings of NYC apartments, some charging up to $1000 a night, but boasting the ultimate in oppulence.
Between and Beyond
Roosevelt Island Cable Car
Located at 60th Street and 2nd Avenue, this commuter cable car is the only one of its kind in North America. Used by residents of the somewhat forgotten Roosevelt Island, the cable car gives you stunning views of the city for the cost of a subway ride (4 dollars return journey). The trip takes seven minutes each way, so can easily be squeezed into your schedule. To get some bang for your buck, take the ride at sunset and feel yourself floating away. EVERY big city needs a cable car.
The High Line
Constructed in the 1930s, The High Line was originally designed to lift dangerous freight trains off the streets of Manhattan. Today, The High Line is a conservation/restoration project, transforming the old line into a public park. Still in its early stages, only Section 1 is complete. However, above the streets of Manhattan this park provides some summer escapism. Lush plants and an abundance of seating and funky wooden recliners make The High Line a unique addition to NYC's wealth of parks. It is the sort of place that is heard about by word of mouth, attracting both tourists and locals.
Check out the website for more details, or look them up on twitter for updates:
Location: The High Line currently runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to 20th Street. Street level entrances are located at various points along the route.
Staten Island South Beach
One of New York's best freebies for tourists is the Staten Island ferry. Yet people do not seem to realise that you can actually explore the island before getting on the ferry straight back to Manhattan. My advice - head to the beach!
Just a 20 minute bus ride from the ferry terminal, South Beach and its Boardwalk is a world away from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. On a summer's day, there are stunning views of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge which connects Staten Island with Brooklyn. An hour or so strolling along the wide boardwalk, soaking up the sun, the wind through your hair...did I mention that we're still in NYC?? After all, you've taken the ferry for free so you might as well get the value!
Location: Take the S51 Bus from the ferry terminal to Father Capodano Blvd. or Sand Lane (approx. 20 minutes) Cost: 2 dollars each way.
St John the Divine Cathedral
Unless you're taking a helicopter ride over Manhattan, this cathedral, reportedly the world's biggest, manages to do the impossible by actually being invisible! OK, so it's not physically invisible, but you're not likely to come across it by chance.
Tucked away on the Upper West Side, this beast of an architectural feat has been in construction since 1892 and it is still not complete. Think of it as a conservative version of the Sagrada Familia, if you will.
The sheer size of the cathedral - at half a city block - knocks you for six as you turn the corner from the street the subway is located on. Once inside, there is a distinct feeling of emptiness simply because of the volume of space that still needs to be filled. Don't be put off though - how often will you get the chance to have nearly a whole block of New York to yourself? Some impressive stained glass makes up for a lack of religious sculptures so be prepared for some serious neck craning! I can't help but think that with a little more promotion, this cathedral could make some real money for the local community
Location: 1047 Amsterdam Avenue. Take the Red 1 subway line to 110th Street. Entrance is free, but donations are suggested.
The Alligator Lounge
It's so easy to find somewhere to eat in New York. But it's even easier to find somewhere a little disappointing. That's why it pays to do your research! I came across The Alligator Lounge online while I was looking for somewhere to get decent pizza on a budget. Located in Brooklyn, it is definitely worth travelling out of Manhattan for.
The selling point of this typical, slightly dingey but cheerful sports bar is: FREE PIZZA!!
For every drink you buy, be it a club soda or a beer, you are also given a token which you take over to the little latino man (the last time I was there) who then makes you a simple yet perfectly delicious Margarita pizza. Fancy another beer? Then get another pizza too! The price of a beer, in New York terms, is relatively expensive at $4, but the free pizza counteracts this. My suggestion is to stock up on as much pizza as you can physically eat so that you get the most value!
With an old school feel, the bar has pool tables, retro games machines and an outdated TV playing all the big sports games. What's more, it's open til 4am every night.
Location: 600 Metropolitan Avenue. Take the G or L subway lines to Lorimer St.
The Empire Diner
I save my favourite restaurant in New York for last. This retro-modern railroad-style diner is located in the quieter side of Chelsea, hence why it has found its way on to my list of local hotspots.
A snug and cozy feel, the diner has a very welcoming and relaxed atmosphere and the waiters are very attentive. The food is good, hearty and comforting and extremely good value for money (they serve THE most delicious turkey). If you're lucky, there will be somebody tinkling the ivories on the piano in the corner. This diner also has a claim to fame: A scene from Men in Black II was shot there.
Check out their equally slick website for menu details:
Location: 210 10th Avenue. Nearest Subway: East 23rd St (C & E lines)
So there you have it - a few ideas for exploring the 'concrete jungle'. If you ever have a chance to try any of them out, do let me know your thoughts.