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Like A Virgin: New York For First Timers

The Big Apple. The city that never sleeps. The 212. The city so nice they named it twice.

New York City is known to be the place where dreamers come to fulfil their destinies. The place where you can achieve an Empire State of Mind and a place where you can be anyone you want to be.

It’s true. New York has an energy like no other. It’s people, it’s streets, all five of it’s boroughs are brimming with electricity and inspiration. So having said all that… How do you get the best out of your first time in NYC? Here are some hints, tips and tricks for first timers 0r even some not-so-first timers.

Pick a great airline.

Sounds unrelated to the topic, right? Wrong. From South Africa, the United States is FAR. And by far, I mean KAK far. Jet lag can be a right old bag so my advice is to pick a comfortable airline with great seats and a stopover.

Coming into JFK onboard VS001
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Virgin Atlantic Upper Class is really something special!

I recently travelled to New York with Virgin Atlantic and their service from beginning to end is superior. Booking is easy and fast, their lounges are a cut above the rest and the stopover in London is ideal.

Waiting to connect back home in the Upper Class lounge at JFK
Champagne in the Heathrow lounge with The Fully Packed Bag
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The Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Lounge at Heathrow

Did I mention that you’re also allowed TWO x 23kg bags with Virgin?! I mean, 5th Avenue here I come!

Option: split your journey up.

On the way there, if you choose an airline such as Virgin Atlantic for example, stop over for a night or two to make the journey that much more pleasant. Plod around London for a bit, do some shopping, and then head over to NYC!

With Virgin, an advantage on the way back is you have a day to stretch your legs and head into London before you catch your overnight flight home back to Johannesburg. Catch the Heathrow Express which is a quick 20 minutes straight into Paddington Station and go for a little shop or sight-see.

Tip: if you love decor and prints you have to visit We Built This City in Carnaby Street.

Hop-on, hop-off.

If you’ve never been to New York, or any city for that matter, and it’s your first time do the typical hop-on hop-off bus route. Don’t roll your “ag, that’s so tourist” eyes at me. It’s a quick, efficient and informative way to get to know a city and find your bearings. From there you can also decide where you want to go back to. Tip: make your life easy and pre-book here.

Eat the street food. All of the street food.

New York can be cheap. If you want it to be. To eat like a New Yorker find the back streets, head OFF Broadway and follow the locals. You can get 2 coffees and 2 cream-cheese bagels for $6. A hot dog from a cart next to Central Park is a must.

The famous Nathan’s of Cony Island
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Tip: If you’re a foodie and looking for something a little more sophisticated head to Sadelle’s, as featured on CNN Travel, for an array of bagels that would make the most hardened of Instagram foodie flat-layers envious. Try the salmon and cream cheese. You won’t be disappointed.

Sadelle’s is situated at 463 West Broadway.

Room with a view. Do the skyscrapers.

One thing you MUST do is see New York from the top. Be it the Top of the Rock at 30 Rockefeller Plaza or from the observation deck of The Freedom Tower it has to be done. Because simply put, nothing beats it. Another option is to brave the queues and head up the iconic Empire State Building. Tip: you can pre-buy tickets through the links above which is advisable as queues can sometimes be a bit hectic.

The observation deck of the Freedom Tower as seen from a FlyNYON helicopter

For the adrenaline junkies and Instagram lovers take it one step further.

If you’ve got the budget (and to be honest even if you don’t put this one on your credit card because it’s WELL worth it) take a trip with FlyNYON. This is possibly the single handed most incredible experience I’ve had in New York City. And I wasn’t even IN the city technically.

The FlyNYON 30 minute helicopter flip over Manhattan was a once-in-a-lifetime-bucket-list-pinch-yourself experience. The views were incredible. The images speak for themselves:

1 World Trade. The Freedom Tower and 9/11 Memorial from above
The Empire State Building – A NYC icon
The Brooklyn Bridge heading into midtown New York

You can book with FlyNYON here and seat prices start at $219.

Watch a Broadway show.

Duh. Not too much to say here but go watch a show. You have to. There really is something for everyone on Broadway (and off).

Tip: there is a little-not-so-little ticket office in the centre of Times Square called TKTS, right under the famous stairs, and if you go there early enough in the morning you can nab some seriously discounted last minute tickets. Do this if you’re not fussy about what you want to watch. For matinee performances they open at 10am and for evening performance they go on sale at 3pm. Be prepared to queue. Here is the location.

For the thespians…

If budget isn’t a word in your vocab go see Hamilton. It’s the production everyone has been raving out including the Obamas. Alas I am yet to see it as my purse would not allow but do it for me if you can, see?

Don’t forget that New York has five boroughs.

Now it’s a common mistake to think that Manhattan is the bee all and end all of New York city trips. Don’t be that person. We love ALL the boroughs. Especially Brooklyn!

Brooklyn, we go hard.

First things first, walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s an experience in and of itself. If you’re staying in Manhattan the easiest way to get there is to get off the Metro at the Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall stop. Once you’re there explore Brooklyn and pay a special visit to Williamsburg: the original Maboneng Precinct and birthplace of The Hipster.

Tip: Williamsburg is great for thrift shopping. Check out the Brooklyn Flea which happens every Saturday in Summer and head to Beacon’s Closet, New York’s #1 vintage clothing store, for some exceptionally rare finds. Bring your dollars.

Speaking of shopping…

Fifth Avenue. Always. For life. Here’s the rule: the higher up you go, the more expensive it is. Think Saks, Bergdorf Goodman and the likes of Chanel and Prada. The lower you go the more affordable it gets.

Tip: Macy’s is a must visit for shopping professionals even if just to say you’ve been there. It is, after all, the original of original department stores.

New York City nights.

If you’re looking for a bit of a vibe downtown is where it’s at. The Meat Packing district to be exact. Neighbour to the Chelsea Market (which is a must by the way) and all things trendy.

Head to The Standard Hotel for drinks and a bathroom with a serious view. Another great option is The Gansevoort Hotel.

The rooftop of The Standard Hotel in summer
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The Gansevoort Hotel

Tip: if it’s cheese with your drink that you’re after then why not check out the original Coyote Ugly. Yep, the one from the movie. You can even dance on the bus stop (yep, we did) and if you ask for water you get the “Hell NO, H2O” thing (yep, we’ve done that too).

Here are some other MUSTS when it comes to the city that never sleeps:

  • Take a ferry out to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
  • The 9/11 Memorial Museum is a beautiful tribute to experience
  • Check out a museum or too (there are so many and some are free)
  • The architecture at Grand Central Station is something to behold
  • Washington Square Park, as featured in the movie “I Am Legend”, is superb
  • Head to China Town and eat MacDonald’s where the menu is only in Chinese
  • Little Italy is full of red, green and white and much deliciousness
  • Take a picture at Wall Street and for added good luck rub the balls of the bronze Bull statue!
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