How to Spend 24 Hours in New York
New York. The Big Apple. The City That Never Sleeps.
What traveler doesn’t aspire to someday roam the streets of Manhattan, soak in the beauty of Central Park and the majesty of the Statue of Liberty, catch a show on Broadway, and do a little shopping in Times Square?
Well, when life gives you one 24 hour window to make New York City happen – you grab it with both hands and you run with it. We might not have seen everything or done it all to the level it deserved, but I reckon we crammed in a whole hell of a lot of New York into one 24 hour window. What do you think? How would you recommend spending 24 hours in New York?
Step #1 – Pit Stop in Philadelphia for Philly Cheese Steaks
With a very limited time frame to do everything while I was in the United States, Heather suggested that we include a pit stop at Philadelphia on our trek to New York. With eating a Philly Cheese Steak in Philadelphia sitting at #272 on my bucket list, I was quick to say yes.
Who makes the best Philly cheese steak? I couldn’t tell you. After trying one from each of Geno’s and Pat’s (and thus shortening my life by approximately two years), I know which of those I preferred – but after putting the question to the people on Facebook, I had a whole bunch of alternate suggestions.
Clearly a return visit (and triple bypass surgery) is required to answer that question. Hit me with your suggestions in the comments so I know where to go!
Oh, yeah. Which did I prefer?
You know, aside from the polish that makes Geno’s look like the real deal – I found their sandwiches to be a tad bland. The onions overpowered the mediocre taste of the steak, whereas Pat’s tasted like (to use an oft used adage) ‘there was a party in my mouth’.
Between that and an ice cold root beer, our road trip was off to a hell of a start. Nothing could go wrong!
Step #2 – Needless Trip Through Lincoln Tunnel at Rush Hour
With bellies full, a room in New Jersey booked on AirBnB, and tickets booked for a midnight showing of Sleep No More; we got back on the road. While I did my best not to let Jaime Lannister distract me from my job as navigator, Heather and I listened to some tunes and let the world roll by.
But entering New York City on a Friday evening was, perhaps, not the best time for us to do that. Traffic slowed to a crawl as we got closer to the city, and then the worst happened…
Our accommodation was in Union City, New Jersey and I’d put us in the Lincoln Tunnel to Manhattan at rush hour. Yeah, I suck. I suck hard.
I’d been so busy reading Games of Thrones and fucking around on my iPad that I’d misread our directions and put us in the Lincoln Tunnel. I’d had nearly six hours to confirm we had the right route and when did I check?
About ten minutes after we’d finally emerged from our ninety minutes in the Lincoln Tunnel.
Ninety infuriating minutes later, we emerged at the heart of Manhattan and I was too terrified to break the news to Heather, who had somehow managed to maintain her composure amidst the bumper to bumper traffic and the ceaseless honking. But it was 6pm and we still had to get back to Union City, check in, and then make our way back across the Hudson and into the city.
I felt like eleven year old Chris in the principal’s office, except the office was inching slowly back through the Lincoln Tunnel and my principal didn’t have any pesky laws telling me that she couldn’t beat me. This was, without a doubt, the longest of our 24 hours in New York. Instead of being able to have a relaxed evening in the city, we were still rushing around at 7pm.
We checked in, made up, and braced to renew our assault on New York City. But this time there was no Lincoln Tunnel to worry about; it was a surprisingly quick and remarkably picturesque ferry trip – the perfect thing for cooling frayed nerves.
Step #3 – Catch an (Off) Broadway Show
Getting into the city at 10pm, we were quite happy for the whole ‘never sleeps’ part of New York as we went in search of a pre-show meal. But despite being in one of the biggest cities in the world, damned if we could find so much as a McDonalds to satiate the hunger that only a long drive and a skin blistering argument can muster.
It was 11pm by the time we managed to find something open: a trendy little pizzeria only a block from the McKittrick Hotel, where our show would take place. While I baulked at the idea of paying $30 for a pizza, item #16 on the bucket list called for taking a pretty girl to dinner and a show on Broadway. I had the pretty girl, I had two tickets to a well reviewed show, and pizza at Pizzoteca would have to be the ‘dinner’ portion of the show.
And in the restaurant’s defense, the pizzas were remarkably good and the atmosphere – though noisy on account of it being Friday night – wasn’t too shabby either. I’m sure I’d have enjoyed it more if I weren’t constantly glancing at my watch to make sure we didn’t miss our show.
Then it was time for the show, and what a show. I can’t possibly do justice to Sleep No More in this entry – so expect a review style entry in the next couple of weeks. Suffice to say that as a theatre major, Shakespeare fan, and lover of all things theatric – it was a stunning experience.
The audience wear neutral masks, speaking is banned, and you’re given free reign of a six storey hotel that has been converted to include ‘outdoor’ gardens, a mental hospital, a candy store, hotel rooms, a small house, and a foggy cemetery. The action takes place in a free flowing, dialogue free way all over the hotel as audience members can choose to follow their favorite actors, explore the rooms that interest them, or go off in search of dark corners for dark deeds.
It’s not technically a Broadway show, but Sleep No More warrants a look if you’re in the Big Apple. It’s a beautiful, thought-provoking, and surreal experience.
Step #4 – See the Statue of Liberty and Battery Park
We woke bleary eyed and not altogether in the mood for travel after not returning home from the city until 3am. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t brief talk of just heading back to Maryland for some sleep, but sanity won out and we were soon on the ferry with the wind tussling our hair and a day of adventure ahead of us.
A quick yellow cab ride from the ferry terminal had us at beautiful Battery Park, a part of New York I had no idea even existed. I’m a sucker for parks in cities, Sydney’s Hyde Park is one of my favorite places in the city, and this place outshone it. With ferries for the Statue of Liberty departing from the park it was quite crowded, but we found ourselves at one of several green eating kiosks for a sneaky sandwich and an organic beer before our ferry ride.
We debated doing the full Statue of Liberty experience, but the lines were just too long. We instead settled on a quick cruise that passed a few of the more beautiful spots on the river and took us close enough to Lady Liberty to snap a few cliched pictures.
Step #5 – Grab the Subway to Times Square
With the Statue of Liberty behind us and a few hours of daylight left in the day, we decided to grab the subway into the heart of the city to take in a few more locations that I’d admired since a childhood of American movies and episodes of Seinfeld and How I Met Your Mother.
Heather had hoped to show me some of the more ‘unusual’ passengers on the subway, but there were no pajama wearing lunatics to speak of – just a horde of tourists who assumed (us being the only white people on the carriage) that we knew what we were doing.
But ride the subway we did – and now I’ve just got the London Underground and the Metro and I’ve hit the three most iconic subway networks in the world. Yes, that’s a weird thing to care about.
Step #6 – Roam the Streets of Manhattan and Do a Little Shopping
We emerged from the (admittedly stinky) New York subway system and out into the fading light of the late afternoon with bellies rumbling despite the ham & cheese melts we’d eaten earlier. McDonalds, Mecca that it is, was on hand with ridiculously unhealthy McFlurries to ensure we’d have the energy needed to make it through the day.
If I’d had more time, I’d have loved to spend an entire day exploring the stores and sights of Times Square and its surrounds. As it was, we stopped to get a quick caricature of us done, spent a bit of time nurturing our inner children in Toys ‘r Us, and spent entirely too much time in the Disney Princess store.
Step #7 – Tandem Bike Through Central Park
The last stop on our tour would be Central Park, which we’d originally aimed to just have a quick walk through before returning to Union City to pick up our car. But an eastern European spruiker had other ideas, and soon we’d paid for an hour’s rental of a tandem bike and were wobbling our way towards the iconic stretch of park. Ironically, that bit of happenstance let me check off bucket list item #291 as well!
If the Everglades had reminded me how much I loved riding a bike, speeding through Central Park with a screaming girl hanging on for dear life behind me confirmed that love. The wind in my hair, the sweat cooling on my skin as soon as it had forced its way through my pores, and the world zipping by… I can’t imagine many better ways to take in Central Park than at speed.
Of course, controlling a bike with a largely hapless girl behind you isn’t conducive to taking photos – so you’ll have to make do with a few post ride shots.
My last memory of Central Park is perhaps my favorite from our 24 hours in New York. Lying in the grass as the sky turned from orange to a deep blue and stars began to dapple its expanse, I caught sight of my first ever firefly. First one and then dozens lifted lazily from the grass with their sporadic flashes of light every bit as beautiful as the starry sky and the twinkling lights of the Manhattan skyline.
Step #8 – Farewell New Jersey
One last ferry ride took us back to New Jersey where it was time to pick up the car and grab one last bite to eat before the four hour drive back to Annapolis. With Heather at that point unaware that Cake Boss was in Hoboken, we instead stopped off at the Sushi House and ate our fill of delicious Japanese delicacies. If late night pizza hadn’t quite felt like the fancy dinner my bucket list item required, then some expensive and delectable sushi certainly did.
Thoroughly exhausted and sick to death of Hoboken’s countless one way streets, it was time to put the Big Apple behind us and drive on through the night until we were home.
And there you have it! 24 hours in New York and we managed to hit most of the big spots. If I ever get to go again I’d love to spend more time in both Central Park and Times Square; catch an official Broadway show; head out to Coney Island; tour some of the Seinfeld and How I Met Your Mother spots; and ride across the Brooklyn Bridge.
Is there anything else you can recommend?