New York Citytrip • Part one
Fifth Avenue, the Chrysler Building, the Brooklyn Bridge... Not only are these quintessential New York landmarks, they're also Sex and the City icons, the relationship narrative centered around Carrie Bradshaw (also known as my hero) that is responsible for my fascination of the City. For years I've been fantasizing about the Big Apple from my couch and now I finally got to experience it myself and it was exactly the way I imagined it! Let me take you on a fabulous 8-day journey, starting with Midtown and the Upper East Side.
FRIDAY | THE ARRIVAL
After the 7-hour flight and the trip to the hotel, you'll surely be in the mood for a little treat, which is why I suggest heading to Black Tap (136 West 55th Street). Their burgers are supposedly delicious but it's their over-the-top milkshakes that made them famous on Instagram! Now either you equal the American appetite and have one on your own, or you can just share one with your travel buddy (and spare yourself a diabetic coma).
Black Tap actually has four locations in New York, but I recommend the one in Midtown because this way you're just a 5-minute walk away from the Museum of Modern Art, aka the MoMA (11 West 53rd Street). This is the museum with the richest permanent collection of modern and contemporary art in the world. And on Friday night (between 16:00 and 20:00) the entrance is free thanks to Uniqlo! Because of this benefit it does get very crowded, just so you know. It is recommended to arrive after 18:00 and do avoid any large bags (it will save you the lines at the mandatory cloak room). Of course there is plenty of contemporary art for you to admire, over multiple floors, but my favorite section was the one dedicated to the 1880s through the 1950s with world famous masterpieces by Monet, Picasso and Warhol.
For dinner head to Jams (1414 6th Avenue) a restaurant with a beautiful industrial interior featuring floor to ceiling windows to further enjoy the urban vibe. Their menu is small but the few dishes are amazing. I had the gnocchi with goat cheese and asparagus and it was divine! To end your first night in New York, a rooftop bar with panoramic views is an order. The terrace of the Hudson Hotel (358 West 58th Street) on the 15th floor is especially cosy with its plants and candles.
SATURDAY | FIFTH AVENUE & THE UPPER EAST SIDE
To experience sophisticated New York there is no better place than Fifth Avenue with its luxury boutiques and shimmering skyscrapers. The Rockefeller Center (45 Rockefeller Plaza) was the city's first urban complex and is composed of 13 buildings in Art Deco style (you'll quickly discover there are many more buildings of that style in the area). Just a few steps further stands the majestic Saint Patrick's Cathedral (5th Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets), the biggest catholic cathedral of the United States. You can enter freely but actually I found it to be more impressive from the outside than from the inside. The contrast between its Gothic architecture and the urban jungle surrounding it is mesmerizing. The St. Regis (2 East 55th Street) is one of those legendary New York luxury hotels. It is characterized by its opulent gold and marble lobby and its themed suites inspired by Dior for example. Do enter and explore the lobby, it's perfectly fine! Another magical thing about New York is that "any night of the week you can go to Paris". Well, not actual Paris but the Paris Theatre (4 West 58th Street), a historic cinema opened by Marlene Dietrich in 1948 (seen in SATC's 'Anchors Away' S5E1).
More opulence can be found at the Plaza Hotel (768 5th Avenue). With its beautiful halls and glass canopies, it's no surprise it was the location of Mr Big's engagement party with Natasha ('Ex and the City' S2E18). Going down one level you'll discover the Plaza Food Hall with many delicious options for lunch and more. I suggest having a seat at the counter of the Tartinery to enjoy one of their French-inspired tartines.
After lunch, you can continue your exploration of Fifth Avenue. A walk around and inside Tiffany & Co. (727 5th Avenue) feels very familiar if you've seen 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' (if you haven't, shame on you). Bergdorf Goodman (754 5th Avenue) will also be familiar to all the fashionistas, as it is one of the most important department stores, renowned for its artful windows. A little further stands the Four Seasons (57 East 57 Street) a luxury hotel with gorgeous Art Deco lobby where Mr Big is a regular guest. And finally Barneys (575 5th Avenue) is another fashionistas' favorite where our Belgian pride Delvaux is sold exclusively.
You can spend the rest of the afternoon wandering the quiet streets of the Upper East Side, dreaming about life in one of those luxurious apartments, being part of the New York bourgeoisie, but make sure to be at the Guggenheim Museum (1071 5th Avenue) further up North by 16:45. Indeed, on Saturday between 17:45 and 19:45 it is 'pay what you wish' for the entrance and of course word gets around about these kinds of things so you should go stand in line one hour in advance. In the Guggenheim Museum you'll also get to see modern and contemporary art, yet the experience is very different. The collection is smaller but the architecture of the building makes it really pleasant to discover. It was designed by Frank Llyod Wright in 1959 and consists of a spiraling gallery of 800 meters (remember Carrie finding herself in front of its closed doors in 'Anchors Away' S5E1?). For dinner I suggest heading to Sant Ambroeus (1000 Madison Avenue) where you'll get a taste of real Italian food. It's a little pricey but the food is delicious and the atmosphere is intimate.
SUNDAY | CENTRAL PARK
Central Park is this incredible piece of wild nature in the middle of the infinite jungle of skyscrapers that is Manhattan. We've all seen it on our screens at some point but it's only when you're there that you can fully grasp the immense size of this park that features lakes, wooded hills and perfect lawns.
On the East end of Central Park you'll find the Metropolitan Museum of Art, also known as the Met (1000 5th Avenue). It is the largest art museum in the United States built in 1870 to equal the grand European museums. Its collection is a journey through 5,000 years of worldwide culture with highlights such as the temple of Dendur offered by Egypt and paintings by all the great masters. You can easily spend an entire day inside but for now I would suggest focusing on the sections that attract you the most (in my case that was Greek and Roman Art for example). Also, make sure to visit the Costume Institute's exhibition that is made possible by Condé Nast (the media company behind Vogue) and that is kicked off every year in the most glamorous way with the Met Gala beginning of May.
Brunch is another quintessential New York thing and the one at the Loeb Boathouse (inside Central Park) is one you'll surely remember. Unfortunately there is no reservation possible so you'll have to go and put your name on the list, after which you'll be given a pager that will warn you when your table's ready. The wait was about 1 hour in our case so we went on to discover the park before getting a table on the terrace with view on the lake. And I've got to tell you, the combo crab cake, eggs benedict and mimosa was a perfect one! Take the rest of the afternoon to explore the park, making sure to stop at the Pond and its picturesque Gapstow Bridge, the Sheep Meadow and the Mall among other things.
In the evening you can venture briefly into the Upper West Side, having dinner at Café Luxembourg (200 West 70th Street), a lively American-French restaurant with moderate prices. After that make sure to stop at the Lincoln Center where the Metropolitan Opera and New York City Ballet are located, making it the city's epicenter of music, dance and theater.
MONDAY | MIDTOWN & THE THEATER DISTRICT
Midtown, the central part of Manhattan, is definitely the area you should aim for when picking a hotel. Other than its convenient location, this area has many landmarks too! Start your day by having a late breakfast at The Smith (1150 Broadway), a fabulous restaurant (where even the restrooms are photogenic) that offers pancakes, french toast and eggs in all forms. After breakfast, head to Madison Square Park, a cute little park surrounded by the Empire State and Flatiron Buildings (175 5th Avenue). Take a moment to admire the architecture of the latter. Its characteristic shape was a true prowess when it was finished in 1902. Located a little more to the North, Dover Street Market (160 Lexington Avenue) is a must stop for all fashion lovers. The concept store curated by Rei Kawakubo (the Japanese designer behind cult brand Comme des Garçons) offers a fine selection of high fashion over 7 floors in artful displays. It feels almost as if you're visiting a fashion museum because the merchandising is so inspirational.
In the early afternoon, head to the Empire State Building (350 5th Avenue) for the ultimate skyline views. When it was finished in 1931, it was the highest building ever made by mankind. And it only took 2 years for it to become world famous thanks to the movie King Kong. It is another Art Deco masterpiece on 5th Avenue and its lobby serves as rightful business card for its architectural splendor. The observatory is visited by over 3.8 million visitors each year so you've got to be smart. Before your visit (best when you're still at home), go to the website and buy your tickets for the main deck (86th floor) by picking the VIP EXPRESS PASS. It will cost you 60$/person but it will you give shortcut access throughout the building, ensuring you'll get to the observatory as fast as possible (as opposed to other people having to wait in lines at multiple elevators). Unsurprisingly the panoramic views are breathtaking!
Back on Earth, another park will serve as perfect setting for some refreshing drinks. Bryant Park is really charming with its many chairs scattered across a green oasis. Our Belgian chain Le Pain Quotidien (I was telling you about here) has the cutest kiosk where you can grab an iced tea or a lemonade. After that, make sure to enter the New York Public Library (476 5th Avenue), the building with the signature lions guarding its stairs (where Carrie and Big should have gotten married in SATC The Movie). Inside, the Rose Main Reading Room on the 3rd floor is the undisputed highlight with its pink sky ceilings, though it is worth getting lost in its many marble halls too. Just a couple of blocks away, you'll find Grand Central Terminal, New York's majestic train station that is crossed by 500,000 people every day. (By the way, did you know Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis played a crucial role in its conservation? I just fell a little more in love with her.)
As the sun sets, you'll be drawn to Times Square and its incredible parade of advertising boards and neon lights. Do know that it is very noisy and crowded (unlike what you see in 'Anchors Away' S5E1 when the girls casually strut in the street on their way to the Navy party). This is also where you'll find Broadway, another quintessential New York experience with its sensational spectacles and musicals. You can't go wrong with a classic such as West Side Story, Phantom of the Opera or The Lion King, but it will cost you (about 200$/person). So if you're looking for a cheaper alternative to spend your night, I suggest going to the Paris Theatre (4 West 58th Street). For an early dinner in the area, Victor's Café (236 West 52nd Street) is perfect and it will take you on a culinary journey to Cuba!
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