A New York City Break – Two and a Half Days in the Big Apple

I grew up visiting the magnificent city of New York. My mom was born and raised in Brooklyn. Se took me many times to visit my Grandmother and my Aunt.  I consider myself lucky to have spent time visiting the many incredible museums, riding the subways, going to Broadway shows, gazing at the lights, playing in the parks and simply being surrounded by the sounds and feel of a the city that never sleeps.

I remember one of my last visits to New York like it was yesterday. It was the week before the towers fell. My husband and I rode the Staten Island Ferry. We enjoyed the beautiful New York City skyline on a perfect September day.  The skyline that unbeknownst to us would be forever changed.  So it was time, time to go back and re-experience the city.  Time to show my children the magic this city has. Time for a New York City break.

We spent 2 1/2 days in New York city during our Thanksgiving break.  So if you have limited time in the city like we did here is a good sample of things you can do to make the most of your visit:

 

New York Day #1

9-11 Museum and Memorial

Priority number one for us was to visit the 9-11 museum and memorial. We wanted to pay our respects to all those who lost their life on this day. Including the many heroes who rushed in to save others and lost their life in their efforts. Also to show our girls in person something that they have only read in their history books.

We purchased our tickets online and in advance to make sure we had the first morning slot.  It was perfect in more than one way.  This was the day of the Thanksgiving parade. While the tourists flocked to stand in line around midtown Manhattan, we headed south towards the financial district.  Our reward was the entire Lower Manhattan area to ourselves.  We also did not have crowds in the museum and were able to explore at leisure.

The area includes the reflecting pools, the museum and the One World tower and observatory.  We then walked through the financial district encountering the famous Charging Bull of Wall Street.  The bull is a symbol of the aggressive financial optimism and prosperity.

An interesting fact:  At the height of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, barricades were put up around the statue to protect it from protesters. The barricades also symbolically protected the values that the Bull stands for.  Financial prosperity and capitalism.

 

 

Staten Island Ferry/ Statue of Liberty

If you ask any New Yorker, they will tell you that the Statue of Liberty was meant to be seen from the water. Many New Yorkers do just that each day on their commute from the Staten Island Ferry.

You can pay to take a boat to the Island and spend the entire morning there. We chose to ride the Staten Island Ferry.  Not many things in New York are free, but this is one of them. And I promise the views are worth more than the price of admission.

China Town and Little Italy 

One of the best and least expensive meals you will have while in New York City can be found in China town. We walked Canal Street and Mott Street and stopped in many places to eat small things.  Our favorites were Bhan Mi Saigon and The Golden Steamer.  The kids really enjoyed shopping for candy and treats at Aji Ichiban.  And we had a blast walking through the markets with fresh and dried fish, vegetables, fruits and all type of spices and teas.  And if you are looking for a bargain on purses or watches you have plenty of vendors to choose from.

To the North of China Town is Little Italy.  The neighborhood has changed a lot and while it used to be predominantly Italian it no longer is.  You can still find a few good Italian stores and restaurants but it is mostly in my opinion a tourist spot.  And since I was a tourist in New York City I had to take a walk though the neighborhood. Unfortunately we were way to full to sample any food there.

Check out this sample eating tour you can do with some great spots to stop at and eat.

 

Flat Iron Building

On our way back up towards midtown we made a stop to see the famous Flat Iron building. Built in 1902 it was originally called the Fuller building. And at 22 stories this was one of the original skyscrapers in New York. Many believed that the strong winds in the area would knock the building down. Many even placed bets on when it would fall and which way the debris would blow.

The Flatiron with its triangular and flat looking shape is one of the most photographed buildings in the city.  The name Flatiron derives from its resemblance to a cast-iron clothes iron.   They have now built some hammocks in the middle of the intersection and you can lounge there and enjoy the views.  It is also right across from Maddison Square Park. One of my favorite views of the building is from the park.

 

Top of the Rock

After spending the entire day in the city and seeing it from the ground level, we were ready to see some views from the top of some of its tallest buildings. New York has plenty of choices that offer views from the top.  The 3 most popular are Empire State, Top of the Rock, and One World Observatory.

If you want the classic midtown views then the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock would be your best choices.  Empire State building is taller but I prefer the views from the Top of the Rock. The main reason being they include the Empire State building as part of the view. The Central Park views are not to shabby either.  And they have several levels of observation decks all of which offer unobstructed views.

 

Tip: Best time to go is right before sunset so you can see the city change in front of your eyes. They offer timed tickets to get in but you can spend as much time as you would like once you are on top.

Times Square 

This is a bustling destination any time of the day. But it is after the sun goes down that you can really appreciate it. Every square inch is illuminated with light coming from the large screens above. And while locals will advise you to avoid it, I think it is worth catching a glimpse of the lights and the activity at least once during your visit to New York City.

 

 

New York Day #2

The High Line

The High Line Park is built on the disused southern portion of the West Side Line. It is a bit over a mile long from Gansevoort Street through Chelsea to Hudson Yards on 34th.  I love how they have turned this place into an urban park and playground for all ages.

 

We actually walked it in the opposite direction from north to south. We got off by Chelsea Market to see the market then back on to the end of the line by the West Village.  I love how they have re-purposed this railway. I especially like how different parts of the city collide and you can see the old meeting the new. It seems like this park is simultaneously removed from the city and an inextricable part of it.

The Highline also provides fantastic views of the city as well as the Hudson River.  No mater the time of the year you visit, the Highline is a must on your city break.

 

Roosevelt Island

Roosevelt Island and the areal tram is not one of the most popular tourist spots which made it the perfect thing to do.  We decided to take the Roosevelt Island Tram to Roosevelt Island and see the city from a different perspective. The ride is only about 5 min and I love that we did not encounter crowds and got unbelievable views of Manhattan.  You can view a copy of the tram schedule here.

 

Once on Roosevelt Island we chose to take the walkway towards the Franklin D Roosevelt memorial on the south point of the park.  The walkway along the East River is beautiful and offers good views of Manhattan with many benches along the way where you can rest.

Before arriving at the southpoint park you will encounter the ruins of the weed covered small pox hospital. The structure appears more like a medieval ruined castle than a hospital. It was definitely a highlight on the island.

The area is undergoing renovation and the hospital grounds and building are currently not accessible.

At the end of the 10 minute walk and right next to the abandoned hospital you will find a modern structure that leads into the park and ends in a memorial to President Roosevelt.

We did not explore the northern part of the Island, but if you have the time it is still worth going north to see the lighthouse.

 

Central Park

No visit to NYC is complete without going to Central Park.  But the park is enormous and you could spend an entire day exploring its 843 acres. So if you only have a few hours I recommend you pick a section of the park and explore that.

The southern area has the majority of the “must see sights”  with popular options such as the Zoo, The Mall with its literary walk, Bethesda Terrace and Fountain, The Pond and boat houses, Alice in Wonderland Statue, and Strawberry Fields with its memorial to John Lennon.

You can always use the Park Conservancy mobile app which includes maps and audio to help you navigate the park.

I did not use the app as I was lucky to have a friend show me around.  I was so happy to meet my friend Angela a fellow Instagrammer and blogger at the park for a few hours. It is so fun to meet in person people you have gotten to know on social media.   She took time from her busy life and away from her family during the Thanksgiving weekend to meet me and my family and show us a little bit of NYC. So thankful for her friendship and to have had the opportunity to meet her.

Go check her out on Instagram or read her amazing blog she is very well traveled.

Tip: If you are in New York City during the Fall or Winter seasons don’t forget the park offers outdoor Ice Skating with an amazing city backdrop.  This is where we chose to ice skate. The price was reasonable, especially when compared to the high charge to skate at Rockefeller Center, and they do not limit the time you can spend on the ice.

 

New York Day #3

Brooklyn Bridge 

For more incredible views of the city and an experience like no other take a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge and into Brooklyn. It is only a 1.3 mile walk with very gradual incline and many places to stop along the way.

While the walk from Brooklyn into Manhattan affords the “better views” I like walking into Brooklyn. Then spending time in a part of New York which to me is like no other.  Just make sure to stop frecquently and look back to see the views of the city.

Brooklyn offers so much. One of the things I love about this area is the neighborhood feel and all the different styles of architecture that you find.  I really love the brownstones with intricate plaster work, staircases and iron work.

Other great areas to explore while in Brooklyn are Brooklyn Heights and the Promenade. You can also explore the very popular area known as DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass).

Tip: If you like walking tours you can join Free Tours by Foot as they provide a nice guided tour over the Bridge and of Brooklyn.

DUMBO 

This area has recently become pretty popular with tourists and photographers. It offers great waterfront views, has a renovated childrens carousel and many places to eat including some pretty famous pizza and ice cream places.

If you look closely you can see the Empire State building peeking through the Manhattan Bridge – pretty cool right?

If you are looking for a place to eat all the locals will tell you that Juliana’s is the place to get the best pizza in town.  Keep in mind that to eat at this well know establishment you will be waiting in line for a long time. But if you still want to eat great pizza and avoid the lines my BEST TIP is to stroll inside Julianas and order your pie to go. It will be ready in 15 min. Then you can eat it on one of the benches or tables along the waterfront.

For More great Pizza places check out these 10 Best New York Pizza Places as recommended by a NYC local.

After a yummy lunch, I recommend having some of the freshest ice cream in town. We had ours at the Brooklyn Ice Cream factory.  We tried a few of their flavors and each one was creamy and delicious. Trust me it is worth the calories.

Brooklyn has so much more to offer. If you have the time I would recommend a full day here. But our time was up and we needed to take the train back into the city to collect our luggage and head back home.  The 2 1/2 days we spent in New York City were filled with adventure.  I hope I have given you some ideas of things that you can do during your visit to the Big Apple. You can see many more pictures of my travels on Instagram and feel free to contact me should you have any questions.

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What are your favorite things to do in NYC? or if you have not been, what are you looking forward to most? Drop me a note below or get social with me on Instagram or Facebook.

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30 Comments

    1. Thanks for the lovely comment. We did acomplish a lot in a short time but I am a planner and my girls are good and don’t complain about the hecktic itineraries. Hope you have a happy new year

  1. Wow! You covered a lot in your 2.5 days. We go to NY a lot because we have family there. My kids loved the Roosevelt Tram too. Before it was a smallpox hospital, that site used to hold a lunatic asylum. After watching AHS I was not going anywhere near it 🙂

    1. Lol I am glad I did not read any stories before I went or I would have been scared to go near it myself. But the tram is awesome. Happy holidays!!!

  2. New York is such a fun city, short break or weeks at a time, there are so many activities. It looks like you guys had a great time. The Statue of Liberty os a must-visit for a first trip.

    1. You are so right it is a great place and you can go back multiple times and enjoy something different each time. Happy holidays!!!

  3. Love this post! I’m currently in NYC, my Mum lives here. All of the things on this post are the things I love to do in the City when I have a tourist day. The Staten Island ferry is the only way to see the Statue of Liberty in my opinion! No ques and you don’t have to pay 🙂

  4. This makes me so sad we didn’t squeeze in a NYC road trip while visiting my family in Ohio! Our time here came and went so fast we never made it happen! I love the photos you took from and of the Brooklyn Bridge!

    1. There will be another chance. It is so hard to fit in all we want to do in little time and you just have to make the best of it. Happy holidays!!!

  5. I’ve been reminiscing over our trip to NYC a couple years back this week and loved this post. I think I need to get back to do more. We did the obvious things but mostly stayed in Manhattan with one trip over the Brooklyn Bridge to eat pizza at Grimaldi’s. It’d be worth a trip back to visit High Line and to appreciate more of The Big Apple.

  6. Agree with you that the Statue of Liberty is meant to be seen from the water! We loved New York City, my favorite was hitting up broadway, and also catching the Staten Island Ferry – I didn’t actually go to Staten Island, I caught the return ferry straight back, it was a great way to see the statue, and free!

    1. Broadway is a favorite for me as well it was sad not to see a show but with it being thanksgiving and only having 2 nights we were not able to fit it in.

  7. I missed several of these things when I was in NYC, but you definitely visited some of my favorites! I love the High Line and I liked Top of the Rock better than the top of the Empire State Building. I really wish I had made it to DUMBO because the photos are always so gorgeous! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Always something new and something great to do in this city. So you know that no mater how many times you visit it will be great. Happy New Years!!!

  8. Awesome, sounds like it was such a fantastic family getaway Jo! We went to NY about four years ago for a few days but it was nowhere enough time. I hope to go again someday soon and check out some of the places I haven’t been to… Loving the family pics by the way! x

    1. New York is one of those cities, like London, where you can spend so much time there and just scratch the surface. Glad you enjoyed and hope you get to go back for more. Happy New Years !!!

  9. Sounds like you all had an awesome few days, thanks for sharing. It’s crazy to think about the 9/11 and how it’s just a thing in history books for most. It’s important to go visit it. I had never heard of the Roosevelt tram and looks like it had some awesome views. Also I’ve seen that photo a dozen times, but never knew you could see the ESB behind the bridge. How cool!

    1. So glad you enjoyed. And yes everyone should visit the 9-11 memorial. The Roosevelt tram is not one of the most popular attractions but it is worth doing which is why I wanted to feature it. Hoping others will be inspired and try it next time they are in NYC. All the best and Happy New Years!!!

  10. I’ve been to NYC once and really liked it. There’s so much to see/do/try, it’s impossible to cover everything in one go. I wish I had spent more time in China Town (if only just for the food!) and done Roosevelt Island – that tram looks pretty cool! Thanks for the great tips!

    1. You are so right there is much to do and see and not all can be done in one visit. Next time you go do the food your in China town you can create your own like I did or join a paid one. Either way the food will not disappoint. Cheers to more adventures.

  11. Oh my gosh I want to do EVERY thing on your 2 1/2 days in NYC! I haven’t been in years and this is a perfect guide to new-to-me things to do. Great tips – I didn’t know the Staten Island Ferry was free, very cool… thanks Joella!

    1. So glad this helped you and I hope you get to visit soon. Would love to connect on IG so I can follow your adventures as well. All the best!!!

  12. Aside from my home here in London; NYC is my absolute favourite city so I always love reading other people’s posts to give me ideas for a future trip! I visited the highline for the first time last year but hadn’t heard about Roosevelt island or the Brooklyn ice cream factory, which I’ll just love being such an ice cream fan! Thanks for the tips!

    1. So happy I was able to provide a few places for your list of to do’s when you next visit NYC. I am also an ice cream fan – it runs in my blood. My dad owned an ice cream factory when I was a child. Hope you like these places.

    1. Thank you Agness so glad you liked it. I am also not a huge fan of touristy places but when taking someone to a location for the first time some of them can’t be avoided and should not be avoided as they are part of the experience.

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