There's too much to do and never enough time on a short break to New York – but from choosing the right airport to buying a tourist pass online, you can do the groundwork from home and save hours
New York, New York – the city that never sleeps. It's a formula that works pretty well if you want to see the maximum in the minimum of time. You could spend years in New York and never see it all, but there are some great time-saving strategies that you can plan from home before you leave. Here are my top tips:
Choose your hotel location carefully
Midtown Manhattan provides the perfect base to see the big attractions – and also to shop! It's safe to walk around and, as two female travellers, we got no hassle walking by day or night. There are lots of hotels to choose from, so shop around. This is a quieter area than around Grand Central Station or Times Square.
The Intercontinental Barclay has a great location just off Lexington and 48th Street. The staff are great, treating you like old friends and being happy to answer any questions. For the best rates, check the hotel's internet specials where you can book and pay in advance online, making very good savings.
The hotel itself is comfortable, clean and well maintained. Its restaurant doesn't have a great deal of choice for those on special diets – but there are so many places to eat in New York, it really doesn't matter. Breakfast is overpriced and aimed at the business market. Across the road is a fab little deli where they do hot and cold eat-in or takeaway meals ranging from Thai and Chinese to a salad bar and fruit bar. It's cheap, good and nearly always open – so a great place to grab breakfast or a snack, or pack a picnic. The place is also very popular with locals.
Make the most of a 24-hour city
To see the most in a short space of time, take advantage of New York's unusual opening hours. Why not see the city from the roof of the Rockefeller Centre – Top of the Rock at midnight (last elevator 11pm, Rockefeller Plaza )? Or visit the Empire State Building Viewing Platform at 1am (8am-2am, 350 Fifth Avenue)? Visit Madam Tussaud's (10am-10pm, 234 West 42nd Street) as the commuters go home, or when most tourists are eating dinner at 7pm.
Plan your trip well and you can really save time and money. Remember that some of the museums, too, have late-night opening.
Buy entry tickets before you leave home
We bought a New York Pass (available at www.newyorkpass.com), which ranges in price from $75 ($55 children) for a one-day pass to $180 ($140 children) for the seven-day version. The pass, the size of a credit card, gives you a prepaid ticket into 50 attractions in NY, plus reductions on many other activities. It includes everything from the landmark buildings and Museum Mile to cruises and walking tours.
With adult entry to many attractions costing $20 or more, you can make great savings. Flexibility is the big plus of the New York Pass, especially for outdoor sightseeing. Regardless of the time of year you visit, there will be some type of mist or heat haze. Try to pick a clear day to visit the Empire State Building, the Top of the Rock or the Statue of Liberty – or to do any of the water cruises around Manhattan.
Along with your pass, you receive a booklet packed with visitor information. Some attractions allow you to skip the queue (or "the line", as Americans call it) to get tickets without waiting – which is really helpful in the museums, where queues can be long during holiday times. The booklet gives you clear advice on where to go – "On the second floor, go to the desk marked X". Any directions we followed were highly accurate and very easy to follow.
We bought our New York Pass online and it arrived in the UK four days later via normal post, so you don't even need to be home to sign for it.
See New York from the water
Included in the New York Pass are the excellent and infamous Circle Line sightseeing cruises around Manahattan and the Beast Speedboat tour. These come highly recommended. All of them provide great photo opportunities for snapping the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the Manhattan skyline. The speedboat trip will get you closest to the Statue of Liberty and they even stop the boat so people can take photographs. You can choose from daytime cruises lasting 75 minutes, two hours or three hours (all the way round Manhattan) – or opt for a two-hour sunset cruise.
The best travel tip of all…
Consider travelling to New York via an Irish airport, such as Dublin or Shannon. Not a lot of people know this, but US Customs and Immigration has its own station at these two airports. Departing to the US from either, you are given immigration clearance before you get on your flight – so your passport is stamped, your fingerprints are taken and your iris is scanned before you board.
When you land in the US, there are no queues. You hand your customs card to the man at the door and you are free to go. We travelled in May 2009 on Delta from Dublin to JFK – and from landing, it took just 20 minutes to collect our bags and be in a taxi. Most of that time was spent waiting for the taxi – so it's definitely worth thinking about…