48 hours in New York

48 hours in New York
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Visit the 9/11 Memorial, walk down Broadway, see the buzz at Times Square and try the Big Apple's cheesecake

Nayantara Patel
June 21 , 2014
17 Min Read

Like all great cities of the world, New York needs no introduction — you know it intimately, through a thousand Hollywood images, through pictures that speak a thousand words, through thousands of words, through your own visits both real and imagined. Yet, like all great cities of the world, New York can be interpreted and reiterated endlessly. A classic eternally poised on the precipice of change, the city is both ode and threat to itself.

You can’t fully ‘do’ the greatest city in the world in 48 hours (okay, okay, I think it’s the greatest city in the world, though Paris did shake my conviction briefly). But you can certainly take a fair bite of the Big Apple, enough to know that you need to come back for more later. New York is a city on the move, so much of its energy is about what’s noo, but don’t forget its status as preeminent modern classic. An ideal way to spend 48 hours in the city is to mix and match the two. It might reassure you to know that I followed my own advice on a recent trip, and returned deeply gratified. But then, gratification for the visitor to NYC was ever instant and assured; leave the whining to New Yorkers.

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The first 24 hours

8am–12pm Before you embark on your city sightseeing tours, do acknowledge that the city is itself an attraction that must be ‘sighted’. The classic vantage point for views of this dazzling piece of urbanisation is from the top of New York’s second-tallest structure, the Empire State Building. Ride the elevator up 1,050 feet to the main observation deck on the 86th floor and soak in the scenic splendour ($23 adults; open 8am–2am; book ahead at esbnyc.com to skip the queues). If you’ve managed to get in around opening time, you should be out in an hour; hop into a cab and make it to Pier 84, on West 44th St, before 10am. Climb aboard the New York Water Taxi’s Hop-On/Hop-Off service (adults $26; nywatertaxi.com) for a 90-minute ride along the Hudson river which gives you lovely views of the city skyline, this time from sea level. A guide with a microphone will talk non-stop about the history of New York, about the various city landmarks that you will glide past (the Empire State and Chrysler buildings and other key sights in Lower Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty and the historic Ellis Island, the Brooklyn Bridge, etc). In good weather, make sure you clamber up to the open deck above for the best views and photo ops. If you haven’t already breakfasted, snacks and beverages are available on board. Since this is a hop-on/hop-off, you can choose to disembark at one of four stops (Greenwich Village; Battery Park, for the 9/11 Memorial; South Street Seaport for the financial district; or the Fulton Ferry Landing for Brooklyn) and hop on again for the reverse journey when you’re done. Or stay on board, and return to West 44th St for explorations of Midtown and Upper Manhattan.

12–3pm Back on land, there are a million directions you could head to; the taxi I hopped into pointed its nose west and upwards, because I had an appointment at the legendary Lincoln Center. In a land of excess, this is the ultimate waystop for the eager cultural consumer: the Lincoln Center is the world’s largest performing arts centre, with 29 indoor and outdoor performance venues, including the Alice Tully concert hall, the Metropolitan Opera House, the Avery Fisher Hall (home to the New York Philharmonic) and the David H. Koch Theater (for the New York City Ballet as well as major Broadway productions). Evenings are reserved for grand performances, but visit in the day and you could opt for a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse of what it takes to put out those performances. Each tour is potentially fraught with excitement — depending on what’s in the works, you could sit in on a dance rehearsal, watch stage crew in action, even perhaps encounter Broadway stars. The day I took my backstage tour, the stage crew motioned us to seats and advised that we cover our ears with our hands: they were testing the elaborate sets required for the evening show of War Horse and gunshots (sound effects only) were involved. Backstage tours are available daily 10.30am–4.30pm (adults $15; lincolncenter.org/atrium).

About an hour of walking through the innards of the Center, and you’re going to be as hungry as I was. That’s good, because the nearest, newest, loveliest place you could dream up is just a few steps away: celebrity chef Daniel Boulud’s Mediterranean-themed Boulud Sud opened last summer to acclaim, completing along with the adjacent Epicerie Boulud and the slightly older Bar Boulud, his ‘Lincoln Center trio’. Dishes arrived without invitation and I dazedly picked at outstanding items from la mer (octopus a la plancha and saffron linguini with clams), la ferme (spiced duck leg and capretto orecchiette) and la jardin (a platter that featured simple, fresh classics such as falafel, hummus and babaganoush). The slight intoxication caused by superbly pretty, superbly tasty food finally abated with the master creation, the grapefruit givré, a dessert made with grapefruit sorbet with a topping of what I was told was ‘halva’. But you don’t have to be a haute cuisine snob to enjoy a good thing when you see it. (20 West 64th St; à la carte lunch main courses from $18; danielnyc.com). Before you leave, step into the Epicerie for some high-quality food souvenirs (the chocolate pecan brittle manages to be both elegant and nostalgic).

3–6.30pm You’re on Broadway now but the curtains aren’t going to rise for a few hours. Depending on how much you loosened the purse (and pant) strings at Boulud Sud, you could choose to be soothed either by nature or culture. First-time visitors to New York, walk down Broadway to Columbus Circle, along the southern edge of that great urban oasis, the 843-acre Central Park and turn left at Fifth Avenue. Now head north on Fifth Avenue, shopping or window-shopping — or get off the Avenue and walk through Central Park. Either way you’re headed to ‘Museum Mile’, the stretch along Fifth Avenue which is packed with some of the world’s most famous museums. You’ll encounter The Frick Collection first (adults $18; frick.org), set in Henry Clay Frick’s beautiful mansion and displaying his famous collection. Don’t stop too long, because coming up is the great Metropolitan Museum of Art (Tuesdays–Thursdays, Sundays 9.30am–5.30pm, Fridays, Saturdays 9.30am–9pm; adults $25; metmuseum.org). A few blocks further up is the iconic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, better known simply as The Guggenheim (Sunday–Wednesday and Friday 10am–5.45pm, Saturdays 10am–7.45pm; adults $22; guggenheim.org). Walk up its unique ‘ramp gallery’, which extends from the ground floor to the top in a gentle spiral, but don’t take it too easy, because it’s time to head back to Broadway.

If, however, you want to continue on your mission of conquering NYC’s museums, you’ll have to haul yourself down to the extraordinary Museum of Modern Art, or MoMA, on West 53rd St, and pray that it’s a Thursday or Friday (adults $25; Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays, open 10.30am–5.30pm, Fridays as well as Thursdays, up till August 30, open till 8pm; moma.org). For more cutting-edge art, head to MoMA PS1, housed in an abandoned public school in Queens. Do also stop at the fascinating Museum of the Moving Image (adults $12; movingimage.us). More news for NYC’s museum-lovers: the city’s oldest museum, the New York Historical Society, is back in business again (adults $15; nyhistory.org).

6.30pm onwards By now you’ll certainly feel like you’re done with walking for the day, so give yourself some time to find that difficult thing, an empty cab in NYC rush hour. Head to your Broadway show of choice. You will of course have researched current shows (at theater.nytimes.com/venues/broadway.html) and booked tickets in advance (at nycgo.com); else you will have to take whatever goes — I wanted to watch Anything Goes (on till August 5) but, bowing to the imperatives of a group, ended up watching half of Spiderman (which acrobatic affair everybody else stayed to see the end of and enjoyed thoroughly).

Curtains usually rise on Broadway at 7.30pm, so early eaters should have grabbed a hot dog off the streets before showtime. But everybody else (most of us Indians) will now want dinner. If you’re on a budget you can grab that hot dog (or Big Mac or Whopper) now, but if you’d like to sample some more of New York’s famous dishes, try any of these restaurants, all conveniently located for a post-Broadway meal: Trattoria Trecolori for Italian (133 West 45th Street/Broadway & 6th; from $12; trattoriatrecolori.com), Angus McIndoe for classic American, porterhouse steaks and the like (258 West 44th St/Broadway & 8th Ave; from $15; angusmcindoe.com) or try yet another Boulud, the db Bistro Moderne, which does American with a French twist (55 West 44th Street/5th & 6th Aves; entrées from $27; danielnyc.com). Now off to bed.

The next 24 hours

7–11am If you truly only have 24 hours left in this city, you need to be up bright and early. And a lovely way to begin the day is to take a walk (yes, to be in New York is to walk!) and watch the city-that-never-sleeps rouse itself. Transport yourself either to Gansevoort Street, in the Meatpacking District, or to West 30th Street, and climb up to that fabulous thing called the High Line (open 7am–7pm; thehighline.org). This is a public park that runs along an old elevated freight line above the streets on the West Side, and was created wholly through community action in the face of a demolition threat. By the time you’ve taken a relaxed stroll either up or down the park, you’ll be ready to descend to earth and settle down for a coffee and bagel at any of the coffee shops that will now be fully buzzing with that peculiarly New York energy. Tank up, because it’s time for yet another walk!

11am–1pm Since virtually all of your previous 24 hours were spent in Central New York, it’s time to head south to the historic heart of Manhattan. It’s hard for a first-timer to choose between its characterful downtown neighbourhoods — Greenwich Village, the East Village, SOHO, Chinatown, and many more — which might make taking a guided walking tour a sensible plan. I heartily recommend Big Onion, which run walking tours all over the city and especially in the historic areas, on a rotating basis. This means that not all tours are available on all days; you need to check beforehand at bigonion.com for the day’s schedule, but it’s likely that at least one of their Lower Manhattan tours will be on (‘Historic Lower Manhattan’ or ‘Financial District’; most tours are $18). Big Onion’s guides are typically highly educated New Yorkers, voluble, knowledgeable and energetic (my tour was led by an earnest but entertaining Columbia history grad student).

If no Big Onion tours are being operated on the date you want, explore southern Manhattan on your own, starting at Battery Park at the very tip and working in a visit to the 9/11 Memorial (if you didn’t already visit on your hop-on/hop-off ferry ride the previous day). Though the Memorial opened last year on the tenth anniversary of the attacks on the Twin Towers, it’s a work in progress that is scheduled for completion only in 2014. This means that your passes (free but have to be procured in advance at 911memorial.org) will be checked against ID and security is tight. Do make the effort to visit; the ‘twin pools’ memorial is visually stunning and unfailingly heart-wrenching.

1–5pm It’s lunchtime and you have to make a choice yet again. I would do one of two things: head to Brooklyn or head back Midtown. If you do choose to visit Brooklyn, New York City’s most populous borough, brimming with diversity and more recently gentrification, you could take the A or C train and get off at High Street, the first stop in Brooklyn. The truly energetic might want to actually do the half-hour walk across the famed Brooklyn Bridge; they will be rewarded with magnificent views for their pains. Lunch can be had at Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, situated “under the Brooklyn Bridge” and where it’s “No Slices, No Reservations, No Delivery, No Credit Cards”, which might sound fine from where you come from but terribly quaint in this city always ahead of its time (from $12 a pizza; grimaldisnyc.com). Brooklyn is now thrumming with things-to-do: for natural beauty, head to Prospect Park, Brooklyn’s answer to Central Park, and the adjacent Botanic Gardens; for an artsy time out, visit DUMBO, with its reworked factories, avant-garde performing arts spaces and edgy shopping; Brooklyn Heights offers cobblestoned history and picturesque sights… And please do not leave without partaking of the original, authentic New York cheesecake at Junior’s; in fact, you might even forego your pizza lunch for the full monty here (near BAM, Brooklyn Bridge; juniorscheesecake.com).

New visitors to the city might want to soak in Manhattan more fully rather than visit Brooklyn, in which case it’s an idea to take the closest subway train to Grand Central Terminal. A train station, yes, but a beautiful, historic one, fully a tourist attraction in its own right. It now features 68 shops, including the world’s largest Apple store which opened late last year, and 35 places to eat (including a Junior’s outlet!). Pack in lunch here and maybe fill a few shopping bags too (grandcentralterminal.com).

5pm onwards What, the light is fading, you only have a few hours left in the city and you still haven’t made it to Times Square? It’s necessary to visit once in your lifetime, for the bright lights and buzz, the crowds of happy-jolly people, the neon and the noise, the hustlers and the tourists. Family people, there’s a giant Toys ‘R’ Us here, and celebrity-lovers, there’s Madame Tussauds. Wrap up the evening at the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, also in Times Square, where you could catch rock and R&B legends belt out their stuff while you stuff yourself with Memphis-style barbecue ribs (bbkingblues.com). More high-minded types, keep heading north, back to the Lincoln Center for some opera or ballet (this year’s LC Festival will be held between July 5 and August 5 and as usual will feature several star turns; their Out of Doors festival, between July 25 and August 12, will have free performances; see lincolncenter.org for listings). Or perhaps you could visit the recently revivified New York City Center, a landmark centre for dance (West 55th St/6th & 7th Aves; nycitycenter.org).

Before it’s all over, drown your sorrow in a drink or three at the first bar you can find. And then if you really, really don’t have to catch that flight before noon the next day, please head to Norma’s at Le Parker Meridien (119 West 56th St; parkermeridien.com) for the ‘best breakfast in New York’ (I didn’t say that first, but banana-macadamia nut flapjacks, eggs Benedict with artichokes and truffles, bagels with lox and caviar…).

The information

Getting there
There are non-stop flights to New York’s JFK (but on Air India!). Major airlines offer connections via the Middle East or Europe. A great way to fly is on Emirates, because you could do the Dubai-JFK leg on the super-comfy A380. Roundtrip fares start from approx. Rs 61,000.

Where to stay
If you’re new to NYC, staying in Midtown Manhattan will prove most convenient. All luxury hotel brands have an address here, including the Ritz-Carlton, Central Park (from $600; ritzcarlton.com) and the Plaza Athénée (from $790; plaza-atheneee.com). I stayed at the hip Le Parker Meridien, which has outstanding, unpretentious food outlets in Norma’s and The Burger Joint (a great burger for seven bucks in a five-star!); from $300; parkermeridien.com. More affordable rooms are at The Metro (from $200; hotelmetronyc.com). For budget accommodation try Americana Inn (from $65 doubles; theamericaninn.com).

Resources
NYC & Company, the city’s tourism authority, have an outstanding website that should be your first stop when trip planning. At nycgo.com, there’s quantities of information but also interactive tools that list all events for your dates as well as the facility to book hotels and buy Broadway tickets.

Top tip
The New York CityPass offers nearly 50% off on combined admission prices at several major attractions — the Empire State Building observatory deck, the American Museum of Natural History, the Met, MoMA, the Guggenheim/Top of the Rock observation deck, Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island/Circle Line sightseeing cruise. The Pass costs $89 per adult (that’s a saving of $77 if you were to visit all of the above). You also get to skip queues, apart from discounts at select stores and restaurants. Buy at nycgo.com or at any of the sites.

 


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