Hey, everybody! It’s me again. Yes, I know, I’ve been writing a lot lately. But hey, I had a whole adventure for four months — it’s only natural that I come back and share it with everyone!
Anyways, this article is about the famous ‘Big Apple’, the one and only New York City! I managed to take a short trip down to NY, and stayed there from the 22nd to the 25th of December in 2023. Based on my experience there, I will give you a brief run-down of the city and make some recommendations. Feel free to consider some of these activities in your planning!
Once again, there is a caveat: first, I was staying in Boston, so travelling there was significantly easier, as Boston is geographically close to NY; second, I was only there for three days, and tailored activities to my personal interests. If you would like to do more sightseeing, go ahead! I will mention some places you can visit (e.g. the Statue of Liberty), but won’t offer an in-depth opinion as I did not go. With that in mind, here is my travel guide to New York!
Step 1: accommodation! Before even heading down to New York, let’s discuss where you will stay. For the States, I would say that a good general rule of thumb is to not use Airbnb. Many regions in the States are not safe, and as a foreigner with little to no experience, you could book an Airbnb at a lower rate than a hotel but end up in an area with high crime. As Singaporeans who are used to constant safety, we are less likely to put up with an area where there are gunshots at night.
For New York, quite a few regions are not very safe (as evidenced by high crime rates), so I recommend that you book a hotel in Times Square. Yes, it will be expensive — I had to pay approximately 380 USD for a three-day, two-night stay. I would rather spare the expense and be safe, than take a risk and go to a questionable neighbourhood. For those still on the fence thinking, ‘maybe it won’t be that bad’, let me tell you that crime is a very real thing in the US. Knowing it is one thing, but staying there for four months and receiving constant alerts about robberies and assaults occurring on campus is enough to make me take safety concerns seriously. Thus, I strongly suggest that you get a hotel near Times Square.
To book my accommodation, I used apps such as Expedia and Trip.com to check for cheap deals. I think Expedia might have better deals for New York hotels, but do compare prices before booking. I stayed at the Fairfield Inn by Marriott in Times Square. It was nearby Penn Station, which was the main station for Boston-New York travel. This meant that I could easily access my hotel upon arrival, and could easily walk to it when I needed to leave.
Overall, the hotel was good, relatively clean, and secure. The only downside is that the elevators can be slow. This wasn’t an issue for me because I stayed on the 6th floor and I travelled very lightly (i.e. 0 luggages), but I remember meeting a family who had brought luggage with them. They were waiting for the lift, and they got angry because they had been waiting for (according to them) twenty minutes and the lift still did not arrive. So do take that into account.
The next step is, obviously, transport. How are you getting to New York? If you are geographically close, you can take a bus or a train. For buses, you should compare between companies such as Peter Pan, Flixbus, and Amtrak. For the train, I do believe there is Amtrak, but I’m not sure of the other options.
If you are coming in from Boston, I advise you not to book the ticket in advance. Instead, travel to South Station a day or two before your trip and enquire directly at the counter. There are often many buses travelling to NY, and you might find better times and cheaper tickets from other service providers. From experience, when doing an online search, I could only find Flixbus and Amtrak tickets. But when I went there physically to buy the ticket, Peter Pan was selling cheaper tickets for better times. Fun fact: I bought the ticket on the day of travel itself! I arrived at South Station around 10am, took an 11am bus, and arrived in New York at around 3pm. So even if you don’t book in advance, you can likely get a decent ticket at a decent time.
If you are not coming in from a geographically close region, you likely have to take a train or a flight. Do check online to compare costs for your date.
For transportation within New York, you can simply use your YouTrip/Revolut card, or a US bank card to tap on public transportation.
Itinerary: Times Square
Now, the itinerary. First up: exploring Times Square! It should come as no surprise that Times Square is one of the most interesting places to explore. Not only is it a relatively large region, but all the lights and screens and the bustle of the place made me come alive after Boston. But after some exploration, Times Square starts to feel less exciting. If I’m giving an honest opinion, it’s more like a budget or B-grade version of Hong Kong, as it’s significantly more expensive and less clean. But nonetheless, it was a nice vibe after the relative emptiness that is Boston.
There’s a lot of fancy shops and places for you to explore, so I won’t give too much detail. I just walked around, and if any shop interested me I would walk in and look around. I went to Hard Rock in Times Square, then walked around the Broadway musical region. I went into the Broadway Museum and bought myself Broadway playing cards. Finally, I acted like a tourist and took pictures of the big fancy lights.
One final note: be careful of the people dressed in costumes around the square, or anyone asking for photographs or a hug. It might seem innocent, but my friends living there told me that these people will demand money from you after the interaction.
Another huge thing on my itinerary was Broadway musicals! I love Broadway, and musicals are something that I love to watch live. For me, having access to so many musicals was insane. I watched two musicals, Wicked and Chicago, and loved both of them!
At the time of my trip, Wicked was having its 20th anniversary, so they had special 20th anniversary merchandise. I bought a really cool long-sleeve t-shirt that says ‘defy gravity’ and has a ‘20th anniversary’ phrase on the sleeve. I also bought a Chicago musical mug from the theatre. In summation, I bought a lot of merchandise.
Of course, there were other musicals that were showing at the time, and if you are planning a trip you can consider watching some of them. For example, Moulin Rouge, Hamilton, Hadestown, Book of Mormon, Six, and Back to the Future were all showing.
In terms of how you get the tickets, I think it’s better to just go to the box office and buy them. New York is organized like a grid, so if you don’t want to watch a particular musical, walk one additional street to the next one. You can also just use Google Maps to find your preferred musical. Also, you can technically buy the tickets online, and it is cheaper if two of you share the cost. But for a solo traveller (or an odd number), just go directly to the box office. It is significantly cheaper, and websites can often charge an excess fee.
Itinerary: Brooklyn Bridge
I also walked the Brooklyn Bridge! Don’t ask me why, I didn’t really have any rhyme or reason. I just wanted to walk it. It was a nice walk, although I did go during the December period so it wasn’t the most photogenic. But it was a nice walk, and it does offer a relatively decent view of the city.
If you like sightseeing or bridges, you can also walk the Manhattan bridge. Or if not, at the end of Brooklyn Bridge there is also a park (literally called Brooklyn Bridge Park). You can walk around, see the city skyline, enjoy the ocean breeze, and just take a nice stroll.
One final recommendation I have (based on personal experience) is Chinatown. And yes, there is a more ‘commercialized’ version of Chinatown in NY. But there is also a more authentic version in Queens. I believe it has been nicknamed ‘Flushing’, and you can go there and enjoy nice Asian food.
I went with a friend, so she brought me to eat hotpot. We went to Xiang hotpot, and it was great. Very authentic, approximately 30 USD for all-you-can-eat, and they give you a bear that melts when you pour the hot water in the pot. It doesn’t do anything special to the flavour, but it is very cute. Also, all-you-can-eat is very worth it because the things you can order include seafood. Would 100% recommend it to everyone who misses Asian food!
Of course, there are other shops and restaurants you can go to. There are even some people selling things on the streets, which is reminiscent of Asian street markets. And you can never go wrong with a bubble tea store.
Since I only stayed there for three days, those were all the things I managed to do. Of course, there are alternatives. One of them is to buy a tourist bus pass. The bus essentially takes you to all the major tourist spots in New York. You can choose where you want to alight, spend some time exploring the area, and then hop back on to the bus. If you are interested in doing all the tourist-related things, it is quite worth it. I personally had no interest in sightseeing, so I didn’t pay for it.
Another thing you can do is to go visit the Statue of Liberty. You can take public transport to the Staten Island Ferry, and from there it is a free ride to the Statue. I have heard that it is very windy and cold in December, so if you plan to go there during that period, please pack winter clothes. And make sure it is wind-resistant.
Well, that’s all from me! Have fun on your trip!