Manhattan by Bike and from the very Top

One of my final activities in New York was a 3 hour “Bike & Roll” cycle tour of Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn – this ended up being the highlight of my time in NYC. Departing from Battery Park, we cycled about 12 miles through lower Manhattan & Brooklyn, crossing both of those bridges and through Brooklyn Heights, TriBeCa, Chinatown & Battery Park. Cycling in one of the most congested cities in the world might seem a little nuts, but there’s a good network of cycle lanes, there’s plenty of shade from the tall buildings, it’s flat and offers a unique perspective. Some of the intersections are a little tricky but our excellent guide led us through them calmly, and our confidence quickly increased. Stopping for a breather on the top of the Brooklyn Bridge was highlight – now I know what the ‘panoramic’ function on my iPhone camera is for!

I figured the best time to try the ride to the newly finished One World Trade Centre Observatory (colloquially known as “Freedom Tower”) without queues was late at night, and so it proved. The US$32 entrance is quite steep, but they lay on the pre-view drama and sense of occasion thick. When you buy your tickets, they ask you “where you are visiting from”, then when you enter the atrium, a 3D graphic pops up in NZ on the gigantic world map to announce your arrival! It’s almost worth paying the entrance fee for the 30 second spaceship-like ride up 102 stories alone as the walls of the elevator change to reflect the growth (mostly upwards!) of New York over the centuries. The view is even better than from the Empire State Building and a great way to finish the trip.

Here’s just a few of the things I’ve learned from my time in New York City:

  1. Carry lots of US$1 & US$5 bills. America is still a cash economy, tipping is running at 15-20{03e17260731feebda54b271abff347b773c0107003202e8eeba7d379e6644aef} in NYC and definitely expected everywhere. People rely on their tips and you’ll also get much better service next time if you tip well.
  2. The NYC subway is great, it’s safe, easy to use although if you’re not big on walking miles it definitely helps to have a hotel close to a subway station. Buy a $40 metro card when you arrive then you don’t have to keep stopping to reload.
  3. Staying as close as possible to Midtown Manhattan definitely helps for getting around quickly, but hotels can be pricey. We know a few well-priced hotels so be sure to ask us for recommendations! If you are on a tight budget, there are now two ‘Pod hotels’ on West 39th and West 51st that offer quirky pint sized high-tech rooms. Alternatively, you could consider staying in Brooklyn – it’s only one stop on the subway from lower Manhattan after all!
  4. Take at least one yellow cab ride, it’s great fun watching the cabbies as they scythe across the Manhattan street grid; perhaps the quintessential NYC experience.
  5. Bring a really comfortable pair of trainers as you’ll also end up walking miles every day. Walk through as many different different neighbourhoods as possible for the real NYC experience – each one has it’s own unique flavour.
  6. If you are a shopper, add another 3 days to your intended time here. Macy’s Department Store on 34th Street takes up an entire city block and is 12 storeys tall.
  7. Yes, Times Square is a huge tourist trap, but there’s nothing on Planet Earth quite like it at night. I dare you not to end up with a big goofy grin on your face from gawping at all that neon.
  8. Check your telcom provider’s roaming plan – for example, Vodafone currently only charge $5 per day to roam in the U.S. and having Google maps on your phone is incredibly useful when trying to locate stuff. Oh, and every single New Yorker has a smartphone.
  9. Be assertive and know what you want before you order. New Yorkers aren’t patient people, they are brash but often very funny!
  10. it pays to plan ahead & make reservations for evening meals, Broadway shows and sightseeing and accept you’ll never have enough time here. A week would be nice, longer even better!

Oh, and you’ll need a holiday when you get back from NYC, some time to ‘come down’ – It’s definitely not a relaxing ‘R&R’ kind of place, rather a crazily exhilarating one that’s very addictive. You’ve been warned!

Follow in Ian’s footsteps and take the Great Cities of the East Coast coach tour