Have you been to New York City? If you plan to visit, there’s probably one thing you should know. You don’t ‘do’ New York, rather in a sense, New York ‘does’ YOU! We discovered this when we recently got a chance to indulge our never-ending fascination with this incredible city. Allow us to explain…

 

Let’s start with a list shall we?

Social media constantly screams out headlines listing ‘Top 10 Things To Do In (insert your dream city of choice)’. We certainly find some of those (SEO grabbing) lists useful when planning trips, especially when visiting locations where following a curated list is literally all there is to do.

New York City | NYC | Manhattan

However, by attempting to limit any place (especially a leviathan city like New York) to a list of five or ten things to do, or any list at all, the reader limits themselves to someone else’s narrative rather than creating their own. World renowned author Chimamanda Adichie describes this trap as ‘the danger of a single story‘. Simply put, New York is a beast that refuses to (and in fact cannot) be constrained into a list.

Additionally, our uniqueness as human beings means that each of us defines our sense of fulfillment rather differently. It is therefore unrealistic to expect that one itinerary can satisfy every taste. Regardless of this caveat, we do accept that sometimes, a structured itinerary can often be the most efficient way to squeeze the most out of limited time; a situation we recently found ourselves in when we had just under 24 unplanned hours to spend in the city nicknamed ‘The Big Apple’.

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Having both been to New York a few times, we wanted non-scripted ideas for current, one-off activities; the sort of insider, on-the-street knowledge which only locals can provide. So without having made any prior arrangements, we stuck a wet finger in the air and reached out to the Twitter universe to see what direction the wind would blow. The response was almost immediate.

 

“Hey there Delilah, What’s it like in New York City?”

Lyrics from ‘Hey There Delilah’ by Plain White T’s

We are advocates of slow and conscious travel but sometimes on our trips, all we get is the opportunity for a quick injection of activity to get the adrenaline pumping. New York is perfect for that. On this occasion, some unforeseen free time and hints of spring weather were all we needed to ignite our wanderlust.

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With the best intentions, we pieced together an ambitious itinerary from our Twitter recommendations which looked something like this:

  • Check into hotel in Queens.
  • Take the N or Q train into Manhattan and have a quick breakfast around Times Square.
  • Head to 96th Street (West Side) and take a walk through Central Park, heading East Side toward the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  • From the museum, head towards 10th Avenue and W.30th Street to join the High Line and walk towards Chelsea Village.
  • Nearing lunch time, work up an appetite while exploring art installations/galleries in the Gallery District.
  • After lunch, head towards the World Trade Centre Memorial to visit the 9-11 Memorial before joining the Staten Island Ferry at South Ferry just before sunset.
  • Ride the ferry over to Staten Island, find a cafe for a quick coffee and then catch the return ferry to Manhattan.
  • Head back to Astoria/Queens for dinner, get to bed by midnight and squeeze in some sleep before our early morning crazy-o-clock flight back home.

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What we ended up doing…

  • Getting on the N train from Queens to Manhattan;
  • Getting off at Times Square; and
  • Getting blissfully LOST!

Like a kite floating off into the sky, we let go of our plan to ‘do’ New York and rather, allowed ourselves to be seduced by its vibe and character; embracing the spontaneous and allowing the city to unveil itself to us.

New York City | NYC | Manhattan

HDYTI Tip: Thinking of doing a 24 hour NYC challenge? Some basic tips include: Find a hotel in or close enough to Manhattan (Queens / Astoria has some good options); Buy a Metrocard (cheapest is a 7-day pass; sadly there are no 24 hour passes) – this provides more flexibility and will work out cheaper than taxis or point-to-point fares; Download a subway map or app to your device, get your bearings and head off! Oh…and wear comfortable walking shoes! 20 blocks make a mile. Sometimes it may make sense to walk between attractions rather than take the subway.

 

“Street lights, big dreams all looking pretty”

Lyrics from ‘Empire State of Mind’ by Alicia Keys

Sonny Kleinfield writes in The New York Times about what he calls ‘The New York Values“. He says, “There is an ambition — king-size. There is an edginess. Chips on many shoulders. There is a tolerance, too, because everything imaginable is here, all day, every day. There is a resilience and collective muscle…

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In our opinion, New Yorkers are the best exhibit of the character of their city. From the loud and eccentric to the stately and immaculate, they come in all forms and guises, proudly wearing their New York identity like the initiated members of a select club. These ones, with their individuality and idiosyncrasies and with their big American dreams were the face of New York.

Having decided to abandon our ambitious itinerary, we simply went with the flow of the city, unleashing the power of observation along the way. New York obliged our curiosity and provided ample opportunities, on its streets, on the subway and from more vantage positions (cue coffee shop at 34 Penn Street Station) to admire its architecture and watch the ‘Humans of New York‘ do their thing while we tried to deduce these so-called New York values.

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Amidst the general chaos, we noticed a smartly dressed, tattooed person embracing their androgyny. Complete with fez hat, tweed jacket, matching bag and shoes so well polished we could almost see our reflection in them, this dazzling being seemed to make it their mission to out from the crowd and show his/her individuality. It was almost as if he/she was making a statement saying, “My sexuality may be ambiguous but I demand to be recognized”.

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Next, we ran into a body builder type. Despite the slight chill in the air, this dude was optimistically dressed in a sleeveless top, shorts, bright red Adidas shoes and had his sports cap turned backwards. Eyes closed, headphones on, bobbing his head side to side Stevie Wonder style, we watched him massage his muscles; each movement deliberate, like he wanted to be sure we knew he regularly worked out and had in fact just finished working out. He was already macho but wanted us all to know it. To each their own.

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Anyone who has been on the New York subway will be used to seeing the good, the bad and the ugly. However, there is also the weird! We weren’t prepared to see a mobile cart full of churros on the platform. The little lady who tended to the contraption guarded her goods, calmly ignoring the curious glances from everyone around her and daring anyone to question her right to have a fully loaded churros cart on the New York subway. Capitalism on wheels.

Back on street level, near Grand Central Station, we narrowly avoided being run over by an old man whizzing past in a mobility scooter. Oblivious to everyone around him, he blasted loud salsa music from speakers hidden somewhere on his scooter while he sang and danced with an unseen partner in time to his own beat.

By observing these New Yorkers and many more, we got a hint of New York’s values; values that suggest that in a city the size of New York, it pays to be bold, full of character and to dream big.

 

“I’ll make a brand new start of it”

Lyrics from ‘New York! New York!’ by Frank Sinatra

We found the most poignant representation of the spirit and character of this great city during our visit to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum (popularly known as the 9-11 memorial).

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The sun had shed its heat and winter’s chill slowly displaced spring’s optimism. Following the ferry ride to and from Staten Island, we got on the R-train heading up town, hopped off at Cortlandt Street and walked to the memorial. Along the way, it was impossible to miss the spectacular new World Trade Centre Transport Hub, an architectural masterpiece built to connect PATH commuter trains from New Jersey to the New York subway system and the trans-Hudson ferries.

Designed by Swiss/Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, its wing-like design seemed to depict a dove rising from the ashes of the ruins of the old World Trade Centre.

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The calmness of the North and South Pools seemed like the perfect invitation for a moment of reflection at the memorial. Solemnly, we walked around both pools, pausing frequently to consider the names of the victims engraved in bronze lettering against dark grey slabs.

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Our reflections triggered thoughts of the lives cut short by the tragic events of 9-11 and their unfinished stories. These were not random names. Each person had meant something to someone at some point. These New Yorkers, in their death, seemed to call out to us who were alive to never forget them and to remember lives all over the world cut short by man’s inhumanity to man.

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By transforming the site of such monumental tragedy into a befitting memorial, New York highlighted to us its ability to make a bold and brand new start of things; to look forward to the future while respecting its past. The 9-11 memorial signified hope and embodied strength and character of this city.

 

We’ll be back New York!

Pauline Frommer, author of Frommer’s EasyGuide to New York City 2015 says, “What’s really important is that you get a feeling for the immensity of the city, with its wonderful order of the grid system of streets (which plays off the chaos on the streets themselves), and the dizzying variety of building types (many of which can’t be adequately seen from the sidewalk)…

After leaving the 9-11 memorial, there was only so much walking and subway hopping our poor feet could endure. New York City had swallowed us, chewed us up and spat us out. We were exhausted yet elated. New York had unfolded herself to us.

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We got back on the subway and opted to have dinner near Union Square before heading back to our Queens hotel. We only managed a few hours of sleep before our early flight back to London but we didn’t care.

In 24 hours, we failed to check of a ‘must-see’ list. However, New York had inspired a range of emotions in us. In the end we learned that: You don’t ‘do’ New York…New York ‘does’ you.

There's so much to see in #NewYork. The best thing to do is to find your spot, STOP and OBSERVE Click To Tweet

 

Are you a New Yorker? How would you describe the ‘New York values’?

 

HDYTI Tip: According to Pauline Frommer (a New Yorker who has lived in the city all her life), when attempting to ‘see New York’, you have to create an itinerary that makes sense geographically.

Listen to this podcast from Chris Christensen of Amateur Traveler where he interviews Pauline. You’ll hear some great insider tips on how to plan your New York itinerary; from downtown, working your way uptown. In the interview, Pauline drops nuggets like the best and worst times to visit New York, how to do Broadway, how to navigate the 9-11 Memorial and how to eat great food at not-so-famous restaurants run by soon-to-be-famous chefs.

Feeling adventurous? Take a look at this MASSIVE list of 101 things to do in New York. You’re bound to find something for everybody!

Recommended reading: To get a feel for all things New York, we recommend these inspiring blog posts from Danielle Des titled: Things we love the most about New York City Parts One and Two. We also love this piece from Penny from hte blog ‘Our Suitcase Adventures’ titled: In A New York Minute

NYC in 24 hours | @dipyourtoesin Pinterest

Co-Founders & Curators at HDYTI

Eulanda & Omo Osagiede are London-based freelance writers and award-winning social influencers who run the popular travel, food, and lifestyle blog HDYTI (Hey! Dip your toes in).