I recently returned to New York, almost exactly 5 years after my first visit. By coincidence I entered the city exactly the same way as the first time, driving Interstate 95 from New Jersey, across the George Washington Bridge and then following Henry Hudson Parkway south towards the Midtown Manhattan. It really gave me a strange feeling of a deja vu.
The big difference from the first trip was the fact that back then I didn’t really know what to do or see, I simply followed a random path across the city, while now I had a list of attractions which I really wanted to see.
The first of them was the Roosevelt Island Tramway, located just a few blocks from the parking lot where I left my car. It must be one of the most spectacular parts of the Big Apple’s transportation system and, as a transportation enthusiast, I simply couldn’t skip it. As the name suggests it is an aerial tramway that spans the East River and connects Roosevelt Island to Manhattan. It travels 940 meters in 3 minutes and at the highest point it reaches 76 meters above the water, offering great views of the East Side of Manhattan including the United Nations Building. It is really great fun to ride and I would recommend it to anyone regardless of whether they are interested in strange transport modes or not.
The next attraction on my list was much more mainstream, the Rockefeller Center. To be precise the viewing deck located on the 70th floor of its tallest building. I chose it over the more famous and taller Empire State Building as it is much less busy. In fact even on a busy Saturday it took me less than 20 minutes from entering the building to getting to the top, including lines to the ticket desk and the security check. It is much better than the legendary lines to enter the viewing deck of the Empire State Building.
Now, the view. In short, breathtaking. You can see for miles and miles, the entire island of Manhattan is visible with its regular grid pattern. Not far to the north you will be able to see the green rectangular patch of central park then Harlem and then even further north the George Washington Bridge.
To the south you can see the beautiful shape of the Empire State Building (another advantage of choosing the Rockefeller Center) and then all the way to Lower Manhattan with the rising towers of the new World Trade Center. The weather was glorious and I spent good hour or so on top, taking plenty of pictures and simply admiring the views. It is by far one of the best viewing points I have ever visited anywhere in the world. Only from such a high vantage point is it possible to comprehend the size and vastness of New York City.
There is a lot to see at the Rockefeller Center apart from the panorama from the top. For example in winter there is the iconic ice skating ring which has featured in so many movies and TV dramas. It had just opened for the season during my visit in late October. Then of course there are all the Art Deco details including murals and statues. The two most famous of them are the bronze gilded statue of Prometheus (located at the sunken plaza where the ice rink is) and the statue of Atlas on Fifth Avenue.
From the Rockefeller Center I headed towards Times Square. There is no other way of describing it than as spectacular. It is a sea of humanity surrounded by a cornucopia of neon and LED signs.
But I wasn’t lingering there for long as I was on my way to the next stop on my list, the High Line. It is a 1.6km linear park built on a section of the former elevated New York Central Railroad spur called the West Side Line. It opened in 2009 (with extension in 2011) and as soon as I heard about it I knew that I would want to visit it at some point. I simply loved the idea.
So here I was, finally walking along it, and I wasn’t disappointed at all. It is a really cleverly designed as well as meticulously planted and maintained park. To be honest, the word park might not be the best description, I would say it is more of a footpath or urban trail. However you call it, it is a great place to stroll away from the city traffic but at the same time one can still admire the heavily urban environment and some great architecture along the way. Apart from being a nice place the park also changes the whole neighbourhood which has gentrified very quickly. For anyone interested in architecture, design or urbanistics it is a must visit.
From the south end of the High Line it was only a short subway ride to Whitehall Terminal at the southern tip of Manhattan. Here you can experience one of the best bargains of NYC, the Staten Island Ferry. It is a 24 hours, 365 days a year, commuter service to the borough of Staten Island. It offers great views and it is absolutely free.
I boarded one of the afternoon services and started taking photos as soon as the ferry departed the terminal. From the open decks you can admire the amazing skyline of Manhattan getting more and more distant with every minute. You won’t have much time to reflect on it before you notice the Statue of Liberty on the starboard side of the boat. Before arriving at Staten Island terminal you can also see the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge on the port side of the boat. Once the longest suspension bridge in the world it is still the longest in the Americas and a magnificent site indeed. In general during the 25 minute journey you can admire the vast New York Harbour from many different angles.
I was lucky in a way that my outbound journey let me experience sunset over the harbour while on my way back I was able to admire the New York’s skyline after dark. It is a view which you won’t forget for a while.
By the time I got back to Manhattan it was getting rather late so I had to abandon my plans of visiting Brooklyn and headed straight back to Midtown where I had left my car. Before departing the city I wandered a bit around Times Square which after dark is an absolutely mind blowing experience. To fulfil my experience I ended the day with a slice of New York pizza and buying some gadgets in one of the countless gift shops surrounding the square.
I have to admit that I had fallen in love with New York. Somehow it didn’t happen during my first visit but this time it got me. I will definitely visit the city again and this time I promise myself to finally make it to Brooklyn which annoyingly has eluded me so far.