The Big Apple. The City That Never Sleeps. Gotham City. The Empire City. The Melting Pot. Manhattan. City of Dreams. New York City is an absolute dream destination for a literature lover like myself. There are endless iconic places where beautiful things were imagined, dreamed, and written. I have always loved New York City as presented in books. Holden Caulfield’s New York City wanderings in Catcher in the Rye. Holly Golightly’s 5th Avenue obsessions in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The excess and extravagance of 1920’s NYC that F. Scott Fitzgerald detailed in The Great Gatsby. The claustrophobia of Esther Greenwood’s New York in The Bell Jar.
This was my third trip to New York City and this time was to celebrate my brother’s 18th birthday. Liam lives for musical theatre, so he spent ten days absorbing as many shows as his budget would stretch, surviving mostly on $1 New York Slice and free hotel breakfasts. He managed to see Les Miserablés, Wicked, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Book of Mormon, Beautiful, Aladdin, Cabaret (starring Emma Stone), Phantom of the Opera, Kinky Boots, Matilda, Pippin and If/Then (starring Idina Menzel). This kept him busy so I could wander off and explore bookshops, museums, and all the things I love.
New York is fantastic in autumn, or fall as the Americans would say. Central Park is ablaze with fiery autumn leaves, the attractions are not too busy, there are plenty of shows running, and the temperatures are still quite mild. We were there in early November and it ranged from 7 to 17 degrees celsius (44 – 62 Fahrenheit). This meant warm jackets, cosy hats, woollen scarves, hot chocolate, toasted almonds, magical Christmas windows, and twinkly fairy lights everywhere!
We had to stay right in the heart of Times Square so that Liam could get home safely after his broadway shows finished at night. We stayed on West 41st Street at Hotel Shocard. It was a fantastic location on the Garment District side of Times Square around 7th Ave (Fashion Avenue). Hotel Shocard looks just like an old Broadway theatre. It has free wifi and a really cool restaurant and bar that serves free bagels for breakfast.
Just a short walk away is Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Centre, Fifth Avenue, Central Park, and the Empire State Building. The hotel is also adjacent to the Times Square Metro Station, providing direct access to most of the other landmarks in the Big Apple. We certainly enjoyed our stay and appreciated that it was priced within our fairly modest budget. If you are travelling to NYC for theatre, Hotel Shocard is perfectly located smack-bang in the middle of all the action. I would have probably preferred to stay in Brooklyn or in Greenwich Village for a slightly slower pace, but the entertainment district was perfect for Liam’s theatre schedule.
New York City has a thriving cultural arts scene with musicals, live theatre, dance, and sports events on every single night – as well as some of the best art galleries and museums in the world. Entertainment literally never stops and despite the vast amount of options, venues don’t seem to have any trouble filling the seats. You will see costumed people all over Times Square selling last minute tickets and it can be a daunting experience if you are not too sure which show you want to see or where to begin. Not all ticket sellers are legitimate, so be careful when buying from people on the street!
A perfect place to source authentic discounted tickets is the TKTS stand in the heart of Times Square at 1564 Broadway. Most shows will release greatly discounted ticket for same day shows to put bums on seats. Prices for broadway and off-broadway musicals, plays, and dance productions are sold with a discount ranging from 20 – 50% off the full price. There are now four TKTS discount outlets scattered around New York City, with satellite booths at the South Street Seaport, downtown Brooklyn, and a new booth at the Lincoln Center. When you purchase your tickets from TKTS, you are also supporting a non-profit organisation that is dedicated to sharing and sustaining the arts. We used the flagship booth at Times Square, which has two opening times – the matinee performance line opens at 10am for same-day shows, and the evening performance line opens at 3pm (except Tuesday at 2pm) for same-day evening shows. Not all shows will be offered at a discount, as it does depend on availability. For instance, you are not likely to get discounted tickets for Wicked, Book of Mormon etc, which sell out everyday without fail.
Another option is to visit the box office at the theatre you wish to attend to secure any last minute prices and generally very good seats. Another little broadway secret is to investigate if your desired show has a ticket lottery – many broadway shows have a lottery system for heavily discounted or free tickets. All you have to do is show up at your show’s theatre at a set time, put your name down, and hopefully your name will be drawn out of the barrel. If you are, you might get free tickets!
Another of New York’s wonders is SHOPPING. Even if you are not much of a shopper, Fifth Avenue is a fantastic place to window shop and enjoy the decorated store fronts. Fifth Avenue is home to the flagship Tiffany & Co store featured in the Audrey Hepburn classic film. I am a sucker for an iconic Tiffany blue box with a white ribbon. I also love Henri Bendel, a high-end department store that sells the most beautiful headbands alá Blair Waldorf from Gossip Girl, with iconic brown and white striped bags and boxes. You will also find luxury shops like Bergdorf Goodman, Harry Winston, Lord & Taylor, and Saks Fifth Avenue.
We were lucky to see the beautiful Christmas decorations all popping up along Fifth Avenue and beyond. The famous Christmas tree in Rockefeller Place is unveiled around the 30th of November and stays up until around the 7th of January. We were too early for the tree, but got to enjoy the Christmas spirit elsewhere in the city. I loved the sparkling jewels on Tiffany & Co and Harry Winston, and the Bergdorf Goodman windows are always spectacular.
Further along Fifth Avenue from 82nd to 105th Streets is Museum Mile. The MET (Metropolitan Museum of Art) and the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) are my two favourite New York museums. The MOMA is not on the mile, but the MET certainly is! You will cross paths with countless recognisable landmarks as you walk Fifth Avenue, such as the Empire State Building, the Flatiron Building, the New York Public Library, and the Rockefeller Centre.
When we landed in New York it was early November and we found ourselves in the midst of the most colourful autumn foliage. Central Park was afire with vibrant hues of yellow, red, and orange. Central Park is an oasis in the middle of a concrete jungle, there is so much to see and do and you could easily spend a week exploring all 874 acres. We had beautiful weather during our stay, fresh with blue skies and sunshine. In winter the fountains are drained, so we were very lucky to catch Bethesda Fountain in all her glory before she was emptied a couple of days later.
In ten days we scoffed every flavour of NYC cheesecake we could get our hands on, which was balanced by exploring the city on foot and literally walking holes into our shoes. Our time flew by in a New York minute and by the final day I could certainly imagine myself living in a brownstone apartment in Greenwich Village, if only I had some spare millions lying around. I love the noise of New York City, the chaos, and the endless possibilities.