My First Trip to New York City (And I Wasn’t Carried Away By Sewer Rats)

Arriving in New York City for the first time, I thought I was going to be overwhelmed. I felt like it might be reminiscent of the chaos of central Athens, but I was pleasantly surprised. The city is an easy grid system with no hills (at least that I encountered) and I found it incredibly easy to navigate and figure out the subway. So first off, if you’re worried about being carried away into the bowels of the earth by a pack of wild sewer rats (I think Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles did something to my brain) – fear not. Although, after all the walking you’re about to do, you might wish they did.

I’ve grouped my highlights into neighbourhoods/sections, although admittedly I still have so much more to see on another trip. Here we go!

The Met + Central Park

The first thing I did was walk up Broadway from my Midtown hotel towards Central Park. En-route I stopped at Rockefeller Center and did a 20 second box-tick of Times Square before heading further North to Central Park. It was a gorgeous day, which worked well to counteract the worst busker I have ever heard blaring his music at the Bethesda Steps. I walked over the Bow Bridge, and decided that I was so close to the Met that despite the beautiful weather – and having already walked 3.5 miles to get there –  it was probably best to go in. 

Upon entering the Met, I connected to the free wifi, and promptly Googled “famous art at the Met.” And oh man there is a lot, including Renoir, Monet, Manet, Degas, Van Gogh, Warhol, Pollock, and Homer. I quickly jotted down the gallery locations on the museum map, so I could strategically see the big hits within a few hours. I did laugh when I entered the “British” section, nearly joking to the security guard “Are we sure it’s theirs?” Highly recommend if art is your jam and you have 3-4 hours to spare. This was probably the highlight of my trip.

The High Line + The Whitney

Appropriately, the High Line was highly recommended to me – and for good reason. This elevated public park is built on a historic freight rail line that spans 1.5 miles on the West Side. It contains art, plants, and sculptures, and is a very calm and serene experience to walk along. I walked it during the day, twilight, and into evening and each experience was unique and held its own charm. Plus, it’s ultra convenient for getting North/South without having to wait for street lights even if you visit for this utilitarian purpose alone.

At the southern end of the High Line in the Meatpacking District is The Whitney museum, which features American art.  I had intended to do the MOMA, but the rainy Saturday I attempted to go drew flocks of people; it was its own modern art project the way the waiting line snaked multiple times around the building. So I peaced the scene pretty quickly and cabbed to The Whitney from Hudson Yards. The Whitney was much smaller than the juggernaut Met, and I enjoyed having a more chill experience that I could do in just an hour given I was heading to the airport that day. Plus, I squeezed in my first Shake Shack experience at the location nearby before I left. Greasy meat burger. America. Boom.

Brooklyn Bridge + Dumbo + Juliani’s Pizza

On my second exploration day, I took the subway down to City Hall and walked over the Brooklyn Bridge. Be warned that the many photographers-for-hire along the walkway have Alicia Key’s “New Yooork” chorus from “Empire State of Mind” looped every 15 seconds, so steel yourself for that. I read before I left that when the bridge opened in 1883, the public didn’t trust it. To solve for this, they had P.T. Barnum march 21 elephants across the bridge along with 17 camels. A fun thought to consider while I walked across and considered the great weight it was currently carrying. Also, from here I glimpsed my first sighting of the Statue of Liberty, which was another box-tick for me. 

After arriving in Brooklyn, I went to the Water and Washington St. intersection in Dumbo to get the iconic “between the buildings” view of the Brooklyn Bridge – which you will be enjoying with an upwards of 50-100 other people. From there, I headed to a rooftop patio I had found on the internet at Times Out Market for another look at the cityscape before walking along to Brooklyn Bridge Park. The rooftop patio stairs and elevator are well-marked if you walked towards the entrance of the Times Out Market.

But, the highlight was Juliani’s Pizza where I got seated right next to the pizza making station. Here I watched three workers collectively knead, stretch, toss, and top the pizza before putting it in the wood burning oven. I asked and each one of them has an assigned task and they do that one task all day. No kneading for the topper and no topping for the kneader. I very much enjoyed this lunch and a show. This would have been an amazing place to go with more people, as I had to stick to one small margherita pizza since it was the only thing I could easily devour on my own.

Greenwich Village + West Village + Washington Square Park

I absolutely adored walking through Greenwich Village and West Village. Someone described it as being very European with people dining “al fresco” and after going there I would agree. Lots of nice restaurants, bars, and cafes fill the intersections of brownstone-lined streets. Comedy Cellar is also here if you want to go to a show (but reserve ahead of time). Also in Greenwich is Washington Square Park, which was my favourite city park of those I visited. It features a fountain and the picturesque Washington Arch (kind of like a mini Arc de Triomphe). I could have spent a lot longer here basking in the sun and chilling to the great buskers in the park, but alas, THINGS TO DO, PEOPLE TO SEE.

Battery Park + Wall Street + Hudson River Park

Taking the subway down to Battery Park and the Staten Island Ferry area from my hotel, I enjoyed walking northward up to Hudson River Park, which offers a view of Hoboken, NJ across the Hudson and a closer look at the Statue of Liberty. En route, I stopped by Wall St, One World Trade Center, and the Charging Bull. I opted not to do the 9/11 museum, but I did go up to the adjacent Liberty Park, which overlooks the 9/11 memorial ponds. In the park, there was a steel sculpture – the Koenig Sphere – that had been morphed by the pressure of the building collapse that I found particularly moving. In the serenity of the space, it seemed hard to fathom such a horrifying event having taken place there. 

Broadway + Trattoria Trecolori + Times Square

I had the good fortune of seeing two very different Broadway shows while in NYC – Hadestown and The Book of Mormon (I know – I’m late). Not only was I impressed by the calibre of these performances, but also how quickly and efficiently they hustled people in and out of the theatre. It’s a very well-oiled machine, with even an incredibly long ladies bathroom line-up moving through patrons with remarkable speed. 

Plus, if you want a good meal where you won’t get completely fleeced, I really enjoyed Trattoria Trecolori, which is conveniently located near the theatres. I was skillfully upsold on a delicious espresso martini whose beauty rivaled anything I saw in the Met. Another thing I enjoyed about NYC was the many conversations I had sitting next to people at the bar. I found everyone much more friendly and open than Vancouver as a solo diner, which made restaurant experiences much more enjoyable.

Following BoM, I walked back through Times Square and the Midtown Fire Station Hall on Friday night, which was fun to see for a few minutes before I hit my chaos-quotient and slipped back onto some less busy streets. 

Those were my highlights of my first trip to NYC if they can be helpful to you! I can definitely see why it is one of the most highly regarded cities in the world, and I look forward to my next trip back.