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We just recently returned from New York City, well in March 2013 and thought it would be good to share our top ten things to do, see or experience in New York City. This is our opinion and there will be sites and experiences not included that were great but they will be mentioned at the end of the post. As all travellers are aware, we all have different tastes in what we prefer to do and I’m sure we will agree to disagree on our compilation.

Would just like to say, whilst we did get engaged in New York City on this trip, the place where I proposed (Trump Tower) is not on the list. It was by far the biggest highlight and one that will never be forgotten, but not everyone can experience this on a regular basis if visiting. Mind you, if you plan on proposing to a loved one, there is no better place than in New York City and multiple places where one can do it.

With no further delay, here is our top ten, starting the countdown from Number 10 down to the Number 1:

Number 10 – The City Architecture

One thing you should always do in New York is look up. The architecture in the city is something to behold, from the classics such as the Empire State Building, the Flatiron Building to the modern architecture of the yet to be finished Freedom Tower (at the old World Trade Centre site).

We saw this unique style of architecture when walking across the Brooklyn Bridge towards Manhattan. It really caught our eye, even though we do not know the name of it.

The top of the Chrysler Building is a very unique style which most people recognise upon seeing it but having it combined with the sculptures from the front entrance of Grand Central Terminal made an interesting contrast.

Number 9 – The Staten Island Ferry

The best thing about riding the Staten Island Ferry is the price. When something is free, it’s always good. Unfortunately due to the damage caused to the city by Hurricane Sandy, some of the attractions in the Hudson River, such as the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island were closed for repairs, so to make the best of the situation, a ferry cruise to Staten Island and back was the best alternative. There are also Circle Line cruises but at this time of the year, the weather was very cold and icy, so this was the best option to see the Statue of Liberty at the best possible price. There are options on Staten Island if you wish to sightsee there including the Historic Richmond District and the Staten Island Botanical Garden if you have the time. We chose to head back to Manhattan on the next ferry which was a wait of no more than 15 minutes.

The Ferry in dock at Staten Island waiting to head back to Manhattan

With a little bit of zoom on your camera, you can obtain a beautiful shot of Lady Liberty in all her glory.

Number 8 – The Highline

The Highline is a relatively new feature of New York. It was opened back in 2009 and it was previously a disused train line next to the Hudson River. Along here, there are sun beds overlooking the Hudson River, small cafes and interesting street art and views of the city you would not expect to see. If you want to sit above traffic on 10th Avenue and watch the vehicles go from under you, you can. From when I first visited it in 2009 there has been significant development in terms of apartment buildings, however these buildings are not blocking any views and are tastefully designed.

This was the view towards the Hudson River to the Pier where the Titanic was due to arrive at but never did. It also gives you the view over to New Jersey.

Some of the more decorative and colourful New York Street Art which can be seen from the Highline

Number 7 – Union Square Farmers Market

This one is a personal favourite of mine as I love farmers markets wherever I go. It must also be mentioned we were staying at a hotel only 3 blocks away so it was the closest attraction to us. From sampling the local produce, wines and beers from Long Island providers, tasting locally made baked goods and spreads as well as various types of ciders, it is definitely the place to go. It is not on everyday of the week but when it’s on, it’s on rain, hail or snow. Yes, I did some wine tasting in the snow. It is not an experience I am going to get down in Adelaide, Australia that is for sure. Also around the square there are a great selection of shops and eateries.

Looking down over Union Square and the Market from the Designer Shoe Warehouse (DSW) on 14th Street.

Number 6 – Shopping

For Australians travelling the USA we are getting quite a favourable exchange rate which makes shopping something that MUST be done. This is where my lovely fiancee was in her element. If you want high end fashion, head to 5th Avenue from about 48th Street towards Central Park and you get all the designers as well as department stores with amazing collections such as Saks on Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman. If you are looking for genuine bargains, head to places such as Century 21 (Opposite the World trade Centre site) and Nordstrom (Union Square). For all your sporting goods, you will find everything you desire at Paragon Sports (off Union Square) and lets not forget all the other shops you will encounter in between. Customer service in the 5th Avenue stores is at another level compared to Australia. They really know and understand what they do and actually want to help you. At the general department stores, the customer service is average but still better than in Australia.

The Prada Store on 5th Avenue with my fiancee deciding whether to go in. Yes, she did!

The shoe section within Saks on Fifth Avenue. We can only dream of such luxury and service in Australia

Number 5 – Central Park

What more needs to said about Central Park that has not already been said before? The open space, the feeling of getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city, the monuments and the attractions within and just outside the park. For an open space it has it all. If you are lucky enough as we were with the weather, you get to see multiple personalties of the park itself. On this occasion we saw it covered in snow and again after if thawed on a clear day. You can pay tribute to the musical genius that is John Lennon at Strawberry Fields, watch the squirrels do what they do, wander around Belvedere Castle, Delacourte Theatre and Turtle Pond or even go ice skating at the Wollman Rink. For the museum minded travellers you can visit the Met, one of the best museum worldwide or cross the road a bit further north and visit the Guggenheim Museum.

After a snow fall, there is no better sight.

Central Park once thawed

And once it has thawed it looks just as special

Number 4 – 9/11 Memorial

September 11, 2001 was a day that is etched into the memory of millions, if not billions of people. The tragedy that occurred will never be forgotten. I can remember the day I stood on the roof of one of those towers, 31 July 2001, like it was yesterday. To me, it is a symbolic gesture to go to the site and pay tribute each time I visit New York. The transformation since that time is nothing short of incredible and also inspiring. Nowadays you have the opportunity to go into where the original towers were located and observe the memorial. You can do this for free but it is recommended that you book online to obtain a visiting time. The shear size of the tower ‘footprints’ is much larger than you would think and the waterfalls from ground level to the floor level of the reflection pool make such an incredible yet surreal noise. In the background behind the pools is the new Freedom Tower (not yet completed in March 2013, but not too far from completion) can be seen and it is beacon of hope and freedom to not only the New Yorkers but all Americans and those worldwide who lost country men and women on that horrible day. This is a must see memorial if you remember those attacks.

The yet to be completed Freedom Tower. View is from the Entrance to the 9/11 Memorial

The reflection pool of where the South Tower stood.

Number 3 – Brooklyn Bridge

Possibly the most famous bridge in the world or at least in the USA. It would have worldwide competition from the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Brooklyn Bridge connects Manhattan to Brooklyn and its architectural style is very grand. It stands alone as one of the world’s greatest structures. At the time, they were doing repairs to part of the bridge, probably due to Hurricane Sandy. The best way to appreciate the sheer magnitude of it, is to walk from Brooklyn to Manhattan. We caught the subway to Brooklyn, took in the views from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade and then walked to Manhattan. The walk itself takes about 45 minutes, maybe longer, depending on how many times you stop for photos (which will be a lot) and how many of the plaques about the bridge you read. Another must do activity depending on weather. If it is windy on a cold day, the wind chill factor will be something in manner you will never forget. Luckily it was not a windy day for us.

One of the archways and all of the cabling of the bridge you can see along walking across it

Number 2 – Madison Square Garden

I’ll say it from the outset that I am a sports fanatic and this is possibly a biased ranking. The stadium promotes itself as the World’s Most Famous Arena and I tell you what, in my opinion its possibly an understatement. To watch any event in this arena is an experience you will always remember. Getting tickets through Ticketmaster can be hard but they can be obtained through authorised secondary ticketing websites such as Stubhub.com. I have yet to see a concert or show here but its on my list of things to do one day. On this occasion I got to go to the final of the last Big East Basketball NCAA Tournament match between Syracuse and Louisville (who ended being the National Champion) as well as an NHL game between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals. To me, attending sporting events in New York is just a great way to interact with locals and enjoy a complete new York atmosphere. They are some of the most passionate sporting fans on the planet and you can not help but be involved in the game, even if you hardly know any of the players. Even as a Australian, when you hear the roar of the crowd at various points during the National Anthem, you can help but feel the hairs on back your neck tingle. I have only two words to advise people about going to any event here. “DO IT”, I guarantee you will not regret it.

Tip off between Syracuse Orange and Louisville Cardinals in the final of the last ever Big East NCAA Tournament. Louisville won and went on to win the National Championship.

Action between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals. Washington won in a shoot-out after extra time, but what an atmosphere.

Number 1 – Top of the Rock/Rockefeller Centre

This might not be the Number One choice you were thinking of but this was unanimous between both of us. You have the observation deck at the top, known at the ‘Top of the Rock’ which provides the best views over Manhattan and Central Park money can buy. The added bonus is that you can get the Empire State Building within you photo. The most popular time to get up to the top are around sunset as the view is spectacular. Once you have had enough of the view, which you wont, within the plaza at the base of the building is a number of shops and eateries as well as the NBC studios & shop and Radio City Music Hall is just around the corner. The forecourt has multiple purposes and at present it was home to the ice skating rink and this is also the place where they have the the large Christmas Tree over the festive period. I have done the ice skating previously but it was a long time ago and did not want to embarrass myself this time around. Of the eateries on the lower level, we recommend eating at the one right next to the ice skating rink. There is something special about watching people ice skate, as long as they are good, as you eat dinner and day descends to night. After dinner its great to observe the skaters from above when the fairy lights in the surrounding trees are on and providing that romantic feeling. There is a lot more to do here than you initially realise. You just need to spend time here and embrace it. It is amazing and our favourite place in New York.

The view from the Top of the Rock looking downtown towards the Empire State Building and Freedom Tower as the light of the day descends

At the window table for dinner watching the skaters go round and round

Seeing the Rockefeller Centre through the fairy lights on the trees.

Obviously New York City has a lot more to offer than just these top ten places. Other places of interest and activities we enjoyed but were not good enough for to make our top ten were:

  • Going to 102nd floor of the Empire State Building. The general ticket takes you to the 86th but you can pay extra to go higher.
  • Seeing ‘The Book of Mormon’ on Broadway. It is written by the guys who created South Park so you will know what you will get. It is a very funny show.
  • Toys’R’Us and the M&Ms stores in Times Square. Just good fun for adults and kids of all ages.
  • Riding the Subway and taking taxis. It is just such a New York thing to do and you will never know what you will see.
  • Listening to the performers in the Subway stations. Some of these performers are seriously good.
  • Doing to guided tour of Carnegie Hall. Just a beautiful theatre.
  • Sitting in a cafe and just watching the people and world go by. It is very underrated but a great way to get the feel of a city.