Sure, the more time you have in New York, the better! But even if you only have a couple of nights available, you can still see so much! For my first visit to the Big Apple, I tried to pack as many of the city’s highlights and icons as possible into every waking moment. In a city as iconic as New York, you really can’t see everything in just two days, but I sure tried! I committed to embracing my jetlag and powering through the ache in my feet and it was so worth it! Here’s my ultimate guide to 36 hours in New York.
The Ultimate Guide to 36 Hours in New York
This guide covers some of the highlights you can cram into 2 nights in the Big Apple. I splurged on centrally located accommodation and Ubers to and from the airport to save time. I got a cheap flight from Johannesburg to New York on Travelstart so I decided to spend my leftover flight budget on a sunset helicopter flip over the city, which meant I could see a whole lot in just 30 minutes. It was really expensive but I have no regrets. Then I hit the streets, camera in hand.
TIPS: Travelstart often run amazing specials so sign up for their newsletter to stay in the loop – I got my return ticket to New York for R6500! I also bought my helicopter ticket on special – sign up for the FlyNYON newsletter if this is on your bucket list because they often offer up to 40% off! Uber Pool is your cheapest option when it comes to taxis – especially getting to and from the airport! I found Airbnb and even hostels in Manhattan to be pretty pricey, so I opted for some privacy and booked a room at the Hudson Hotel, which was tiny but perfect for what I needed – a bed, a shower and an easy walk to everything. I found a great deal on Secret Escapes, a booking website that offers up to 40% off!
Day 1 in New York
As soon as I landed, I grabbed an Uber, checked into my hotel, had a quick shower and headed to the Gershwin Theatre for my first Broadway show! I like to hit the ground running when I travel and I only had 4 hours between touching down in New York and sitting down in my theatre seat, so I had to hustle! I’d packed all the stuff I needed to get ready for the show at the top of my bag, and I booked a hotel just a couple of blocks from Broadway. It was tight, but I made it!
See a Broadway show & walk through Times Square
For my first Broadway experience, I couldn’t decide between Wicked and The Book of Mormon, which both have rave reviews! What I really wanted to see was Hamilton, but with ticket prices starting at $500 (yikes!) I decided on Wicked, since it’s been going for 15 years and is still full every night! After doing some research I found HeadOut to be the best ticket booking website – you can grab your ticket at the venue from a HeadOut representative who will be very easy to find. Wicked was INCREDIBLE and I cried like I was the mother of one of the stars during the standing ovation at the end. After the show I met up with my friends and we took a walk through Times Square, which was bright and loud and absolutely buzzing at 1am! We ended the night with a classic New York pizza slice.
TIPS: Definitely carry a pair of flat shoes with you! I didn’t and I suffered the consequences! I ordered a glass of wine at the show, which cost a whopping $22! But it did come in a Wicked travel mug, which kind of softened the blow. I ended up spending another night in New York on my way back to South Africa, and saw Mean Girls on Broadway while I was in town. I would definitely recommend it if you’re a fan of the movie!
Day 2 in New York
Sunrise walk in Central Park & breakfast at Ess-A-Bagel
I was wide awake by 5am so decided to make the most of my jetlag and take a walk through Central Park. Spring had just exploded in New York and the early morning sunshine was creating a bright green glow as it shone through the fresh leaves.There were beautiful flowers everywhere and I ended up walking for almost two hours! When I was ready for breakfast, I walked to Ess-A-Bagel, which I’d seen on the Milk Bar episode of Chefs Table a couple of weeks before. It was about a 40 minute walk, but I loved seeing New York wake up! It paid off. That bagel was by far one of the most delicious breakfasts I’ve ever had. The coffee was terrible though.
Take the Subway
Confession! I actually hate taking public transport when I travel. I’ll do it when I have to, or when I’m sightseeing and don’t really have any luggage with me or a plane to catch and it’s too far to walk. But after seeing the New York subway on tv and movie screens throughout my entire life, it was exciting to be able to experience it for myself!
Top of The Rock
Any 30 Rock fans out here? I had already planned to see New York from high above during my helicopter flight, but we decided to go up to the top of the Rockerfeller Centre anyway for views of that beautiful New York skyline. It’s pretty pricey at $34, but the views from the 70th floor are pretty breathtaking! It’s always easiest to buy tickets online.
Grand Central Station & have a cocktail at The Campbell
Another classic tv and movie location. Grand Central station is just around the corner from the Rockefeller Centre and it is what it says on the box: pretty grand! Kiersten recommended a drink at The Campbell, a beautiful speakeasy-style bar located hidden in plain sight at the terminal. A 1920’s concert hall converted into a fancy cocktail bar is well worth a visit if you ask me.
Cereal Milk Ice Cream at Milk Bar
About 3 minutes into the Christina Tosi episode of Chefs Table I was Googling the distance from my hotel to the nearest Milk Bar. There was no way I was leaving New York without trying that cereal milk ice cream and crack pie. It was so worth the effort (and I was probably in negative calories after all that walking)! Ice cream that tastes like the milk at the bottom of your Saturday morning cereal bowl? I’ll take thirds!
I’m not quite sure why this is such an iconic spot, but it is, so we had to visit. Did you know that DUBMO stands for “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass”? I thought it was the name of that Insta-famous bridge, but it’s actually a trendy neighbourhood with cobblestone streets, converted Brooklyn warehouses, independent boutiques, high-end restaurants and trendy cafes. And Instagram shots.
Walk across Brooklyn Bridge
At your own peril! Just kidding, but it was pretty frantic! There were a couple of times when I saw my life flash before my eyes as a cyclist was speeding towards me.
Sunset Helicopter Flight over the Statue of Liberty, Central Park and Manhattan
On of the biggest highlights of my trip! Seeing New York from the seat of a doors-off helicopter as the sun turned the sky pink, bouncing gold off the skyscrapers below was an absolute dream come true! The image of that perfect Central Park cutout in the middle of the city was breathtaking! And I got to see Lady Liberty in all her turquoise glory too!
*Base yourself centrally to save time. If you only have a couple of nights and you want to see the sights I’ve mentioned in this post, staying out in Jersey or Brooklyn to save money isn’t really worth the couple of hundred rand you’re left with.
*Wear sneakers. I cannot stress this enough. On my one full day in the city I walked over 35 000 steps! That’s almost 23kms! I was wearing what I considered to be comfortable ankle boots, but half way through the day I had to buy a pair of sneakers, a bottle of Tylenol and a pack of blister plasters.
*Take a water bottle. There are lots of taps around and the city’s water is so good! This will save you anything from $1 to $5 per bottle!
*Grab a SIM card at the airport. Trying to navigate the city relying on wifi is a total pain. A $30 SIM comes with unlimited data.
*Book tickets online. Because why would you stand in line when you don’t have to?