“Again?” “Weren’t you there less than a year ago?” These are the usual responses I get when friends find out that I’m heading to New York City. How can I fault them when I’ve visited the Big Apple every year since 2007?
But beyond the usual touristy obligations such as the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building, New York City has so much more to offer.
Where to sleep
After a 23-hour flight, the last thing you want to do is to roam around Manhattan like a zombie from the Walking Dead. Hence, my advice is try to arrive after 12noon as early check-ins are rare, even if you’re a premium hotel guest.
Due to their convenient locations, hotels near Times Square and Broadway are highly sought-after by tourists although they are not usually my choice. However, if you are willing to move slightly downtown towards Wall Street, there are hotels that offer better value.
Conrad Hotel New York
The luxurious Conrad Hotel situated at Lower Manhattan’s Battery Park City is my favourite. This stunning hotel overlooks the Hudson River and is within walking distance to a few metro stations. I like its spacious suites, and the pristine and quiet neighbourhood. Art enthusiasts will love this hotel for its note-worthy art pieces that are scattered around the property. The most eye-catching artwork is Sol LeWitt’s Loopy Doopy, a wall-mounted painting that rises 13 storeys from the atrium. Do subscribe to the hotel’s newsletter so that you can be informed of their promotional room rates.
The luxurious Suite at Conrad
Where to eat
A self-confessed foodie, my New Yorker friend, Amy, plans my culinary itinerary whenever I visit her.
Recently, Amy brought me to Bohemian, an elusive Japanese fusion restaurant. To make a reservation, you need a friend who has dined there and whose name is in the registry. You won’t find the contact details online and the restaurant doesn’t even have a shopfront. The owner is adamant that Bohemian will retain its original intent, which is not to operate as a restaurant but a homely environment for friends to gather over good food and drinks.
Bohemian, an elusive Japanese fusion restaurant
Gato, a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant, is one of the latest additions to New York City’s vibrant culinary scene. Located at Lafayette Street, Gato is the latest brainchild of celebrity chef Bobby Flay and has proven to be a huge hit with the New Yorkers. When there, you must try the Porterhouse Pork Chop. Cooked to perfection, the succulent meat is extremely juicy and flavourful. Do make a reservation if you want guaranteed seating.
Gato, the latest brainchild of celebrity chef Bobby Flay
Where to shop
The best times to shop are during the major US holidays such as Memorial Day and Thanksgiving when retailers will slash their already-discounted prices further to entice shoppers to spend.
Even if you’re not out on a spending spree, it’s quite a feast for the eyes to see how retailers dress up their displays to attract walk-ins.
Besides the famed Fifth Avenue, Madison Avenue is another prime shopping belt for luxury brands to house their standalone boutiques. This is also probably the best place to spot Hollywood celebrities having their Sunday brunch or afternoon tea.
Don’t forget to check out the famous Woodbury Common Premium Outlets where budget conscious fashionistas get their fix on designer labels. To make the best out of your limited time there, prioritise and plan your route on a map from its website. Again, register as a member to get discount coupons.
What to see
Besides gastronomic and retail therapy, New York City is also known for its rich cultural heritage. One museum that touches my heart is the National September 11 Memorial Museum, which was opened about three months ago. Before I went, I thought that the museum would be a painful reminder of the innocent people who perished on that fateful day. Instead, what I saw was a very factual representation of the terrorist act and a triumph of the human spirit. Despite the fallen innocents, it is a robust reminder that we should never take peace for granted.
The damaged fire engine within the National September 11 Memorial Museum
Last year, I was giddy with excitement when I managed to catch my screen idol, Bette Midler, playing Sue Mengers in her one-woman show, I’ll Eat You Last: My Chat with Sue Mengers. The Divine Miss M delivered the 80-minute show (without intermission) with such flawless conviction. But the surreal part was when she stopped outside the theatre to sign playbills for her fans! Just three months ago, I managed to catch the talented James Franco and Chris O’Dowd in the acclaimed Of Mice And Men on Broadway.
Bette Midler, playing Sue Mengers in her one-woman show
There is an endless list of things to do in New York City. Like Amy always tells me before I leave for Singapore, “There are so many more places that I want to bring you to but there’s just not enough time.”
Most international airlines fly to Newark Liberty International Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport. Taxi fare can range from a flat-fee of US$52.50 (S$66) (departing from JFK) to a metered fare of US$60 to US$75 (from Newark). In addition, you will need to pay tolls and bridge charges and gratuity. For more information, visit www.nycgo.com
Unless stated in the bill, it is customary to offer at least a 15% tip when dining in restaurants and cafes that provide service. There are many free apps that help you to calculate the gratuity amount based on different percentages. Try The Best Tip Calculator.
Get a local SIM card. It’s great for checking Facebook, browsing the internet, GPS navigation and uploading pictures to Instagram! The fee starts at US$3 per day.
Before leaving Singapore, download the subway map app on your mobile phone. Stored-value metro cards are readily available in the subway but get your credit card ready as not all the machines accept cash.