I have never been a city person. As a kid the tall structures and heavy population made me anxious and I always preferred the countryside. I was intimidated by the honking of the cars throughout the night, the narrow sidewalks filled with people, the dozens of different scents from the restaurants that lined the streets, and the sounds of various street performers. Going to the city was a sensory overload for me and I often left a little bit spooked.
My recent trip to New York City, however, changed my mind. NYC is an excellent place to travel to and there are activities and beautiful spots that are always within walking distance of you. I am fortunate enough to have friends who share a passion for travel and adventure, but as college students we often find ourselves limited by money. We found plenty of activities to do to fill our three days in the city without spending hundreds of dollars. NYC is an enormous city and I only got to experience some of it, but based off of what I saw, the Big Apple is a place you should add to your bucket list. Below I have outlined the highlights of my trip, and things you should know before you take on the city.
We started our journey in Jersey City which is where we stayed overnight. After sleeping two nights in this city, I realized it is a great place to both escape and experience NYC. Many younger people who work in Manhattan often stay in Jersey City because of cheaper rents. Just across the street from the apartment complex we were staying at was a beautiful view of the city. The streets in Jersey City were a lot quieter, and only a trolley would pass every once in a while. In comparison to NYC’s crowded sidewalks, Jersey City is a lot quieter. Those individuals who are out seem to be heading to the subway to get to the city and are not looking to walk around. NYC is just a short subway or ferry ride away, so if you need to escape the busy city life at night, Jersey City is right next door.
During our trip we only took the subway and walked in order to save as much money as possible. The subways were usually very crowded and at one point we had to run along the platform to find a car that the three of us could fit into (we made it though!). The subways were fairly affordable but after going back and forth to Jersey City every day and other locations in NYC, the costs added up. A one-way fare from Jersey City to Manhattan is $2.75. We bought our tickets at the station’s PATH vending machine with both cash and cards and only ran into trouble when one of the vending machines didn’t work (to learn more about the PATH fares click here). The subways are very clean and efficient and we took one in every day from Jersey City to The Oculus. The Oculus houses the World Trade Center Transportation Hub in Manhattan for the PATH system. The Oculus is located right next to the 9/11 Memorial, and subways depart from and arrive at The Oculus from multiple locations. Of course in the city in addition to the subway there are taxis, Ubers, and Lyfts, but we opted to walk instead.
MY FAVORITE PLACES
Opened in 2016, The Oculus has the most interesting architecture I have seen. The Oculus is located in lower Manhattan next to the 9/11 Memorial and serves as a hub for Manhattan. I took the subway into The Oculus from Jersey City every morning and departed from there every night, so I got to experience a lot of the cool features that the building has. The subway ride between the two cities took around 7 minutes and flew by. It is a very open concept with beautiful lighting at night. It is entirely white which felt like the train station straight out of the last Harry Potter movie. The Oculus has a variety of small stores for visitors to go to. For the most part, my experience with the building was getting in and out so I didn’t get the chance to shop, but I did take the stairs to the top level of the structure which provides a very beautiful view of the building’s entirety. From the outside, the building looks even more unique as it contrasts against the black, tall buildings that surround it.
At over 1.1 miles long, the bridge makes an excellent walk with a view on both sides of the city as it leaves Manhattan and crosses over the East River to Brooklyn. The bridge is typically very crowded as it is a tourist attraction, so be aware that there will be people on either side of you at almost all times. Don’t be like me and wear heels to walk across this bridge, as you will be much more comfortable in sneakers or tennis shoes. There is the option to bike across the bridge as well but it may be difficult considering the amount of people walking on the bridge. Make sure to bring your camera because along the bridge are some beautiful views – you can even see the Statue of Liberty if you look closely (it looks tiny from the bridge). While walking the bridge you’ll see almost everyone stopping for photos and climbing (safely) on the rails to get the best pictures. Just be aware of your surroundings so that you do not bump into anyone!
Once off the bridge there are plenty of spots that make for excellent views from afar — all you have to do is walk around! We found Soho House, a tall brick building near Main Street Park, where we climbed to the top floor where we discovered an outdoor space with beautiful brick arcs that framed the bridge perfectly. In front of the house is a picture-perfect walkway with a stunning view of Brooklyn Bridge on the water – a great spot for photos without crowds of people in the background. There are various parks surrounding the bridge such as Main Street Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park that have carousels and gorgeous views of the city and bridge.
STATUE OF LIBERTY
I did not get the chance to actually go to the Statue of Liberty, but while crossing the Brooklyn Bridge I was able to see it. I used my camera to zoom in on the statue to get a better view and I was able to take the photo below. Next time I go to NYC I will be sure to visit the statue as it holds such historical significance for our country.
One of the best photo spots for the Brooklyn Bridge is at a place called Dumbo; and no, it has nothing to do with the elephant that can fly from Disney. Dumbo is actually short for “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass” – cool, right! Dumbo is located in Brooklyn, and the iconic photo spot is located at the intersection of Washington and Front Streets. Influencers, bloggers, and tourists all love this spot for the perfect framing of the bridge between two brick buildings. Your photo may not come out picture perfect as there are crowds of people and cars, but it still is a great spot to see.
I visited New York City right after Christmas which was the perfect time to visit the Rockefeller Center. Rockefeller Center is located in Midtown Manhattan and has many places to shop, eat, and see the city. Because of the time of year, the center was packed with people almost everywhere. The Christmas tree is bigger than any Christmas tree I have seen before – It’s hard to miss! Additionally, right near St. Patrick’s Cathedral there was a light show that lasted only a few minutes but went along to different songs. We grabbed Ben & Jerry’s ice cream at a complex located right next to the tree for a yummy desert before we headed back to Jersey City.
ST. PATRICK’S CATHEDRAL
I was astounded when I first saw this cathedral because the beautiful architecture and color stood out in the midst of black skyscrapers and the dark sky. St. Patrick’s Cathedral is one of the most interesting buildings I have seen and I was only able to experience it from the outside. The white, rigid structure has beautiful sculptings and patterns within the windows, and archways exaggerated the older yet polished exterior. The cathedral is very long and its brilliant design is not just visible in the front. I was able to walk along the outside of the cathedral and though I did not get the chance to go inside I can only imagine that the inside matches the beauty of the outside.
Despite only experiencing Times Square from afar, I could tell that it was a hub of the city. Times Square is only an 8 minute walk from the Rockefeller Center and even from afar you can see that people are crowded everywhere. Electronic billboards and neon signs lined the streets making for some great photographs. We didn’t go to the center of Times Square, but I was able to experience it at a glimpse at the intersection of W 49 St. and Broadway. I plan to return to Times Square in the future in order to truly experience the beauty of all of the buildings and shops that surround the area.
Located right off of the Brooklyn Bridge and outside of Main Street Park in Brooklyn sits Cecconi, a higher-end restaurant that has a beautiful view. The interior of the restaurant is extremely luxurious with white brick walls, different colored comfortable seating, and beautiful art that lines the walls. We were given the brunch menu and I decided to go out of my comfort zone and try something new. I ordered the eggplant parmigiana which was delicious, but also super filling – I couldn’t finish it! I also decided to treat myself and get a juice as well (which was on the pricier side), but the customer service that came along with it was excellent. A waiter came out with a glass and opened the juice and poured it in for me, and gave me the rest in the bottle for later. I got the watermelon juice which had a very strong gingery taste which I could only drink a little at a time, but for experienced juice-drinkers (if that is a thing!) I think this juice would be delicious. I am not a coffee drinker, but my friends absolutely adored their lattes, and they even came with a little biscuit on the side. Overall, this restaurant had great customer service once we sat down and our food was made swiftly. The only issue we had was our wait time even after making a reservation; the restaurant was incredibly busy when we went and even though we made a reservation we had to wait around a half hour to be seated. I think the food and quality customer service made up for it though! I would recommend this restaurant to anyone for a nice meal in a beautiful spot as long as they make a reservation ahead of time.
THE STANDARD GRILL
The Standard Grill is attached to The Standard hotel in the Meatpacking District which is located in the west side of Manhattan. We went to the grill for brunch and we were met with a surprisingly extensive menu which can be seen here. We struggled to pick our food with so many delicious options, but we were able to make some good choices in the end. While we were waiting for our food we were able to admire the beautiful space that let in a lot of natural light and was lined with green plants that made the atmosphere welcoming and comfortable. I got the Smoked Salmon Platter which was TO DIE FOR. The food was so yummy that we couldn’t fit in room for dessert. My platter was arranged very nicely as I was able to construct my own sandwich, and the customer service was excellent as well. In the downstairs of the grill (where the bathrooms are) there was a small photo booth that we felt like we had to take advantage of and we were even sent a digital copy afterwards. I’m no restaurant connoisseur, but this restaurant was a little more on the pricey side for a brunch meal, but the quality of the food definitely lines up with the price – you get what you pay for! The grill wasn’t nearly as popular as the Cecconi restaurant so we had no wait time at all which was a huge plus especially after walking a few miles through the city and wanting to sit down.
While walking around the Meatpacking District, we stumbled upon this perfect rooftop view located in Restoration Hardware, an interior design store. We walked through the store and saw some stunning furniture (which we definitely couldn’t afford) and we climbed the stairs to the top level where there are sliders that open up to an open view. We weren’t even sure if the sliders opened, but we decided to give it a try. No one else was on the overlook giving us the freedom to enjoy the view and take photos on our own. This store was a great place for some classic city photos without the crowds. Remember to keep your eyes open for spots like these when you’re exploring the city, you never know what you will find!
During my visit we stumbled upon a bunch of very artistic walls located outside of The Oculus that made for some excellent photos. There were neon colors, different patterns, black and white, and overall a great place to snap some pics with a cool backdrop. These walls were a part of The Reflection Project by Yoko Ono in which the walls aim to invite people off of the streets to engage with their “personal reflection.”
Because we wanted to save some money, we walked almost everywhere through the city. Every day we walked at least 5 miles (one day we walked 7!) which was totally worth the sore feet. If you choose to walk, make sure you dress comfortably with sneakers that can help you get to your destination painlessly. We got to see the city from the ground level and walking allowed us to find some great photo spots along the way. During our stay we totally lucked out with weather being almost 50° every day which made my experience so much better. Traveling on your own two feet gives you the ability to adventure a little bit and go off the roads to find some pretty unique spots. Now, you don’t have to walk 5 miles, but make sure to walk around when you’re in the city to find some great places for pictures with stunning views.
New York City definitely surprised me. I was able to walk throughout the city freely and I saw some pretty amazing art, views, and architecture all the while getting some great exercise. The child who was once scared of skyscrapers and crowds had disappeared. I found myself in the crowds looking at all of the families trying to scramble together and take a picture, couples that were hugging underneath the christmas tree, and photographers yelling out to strangers trying to take their photos. I was able to see all different types of people and rather than anxiously pushing through crowds to get some fresh air as I had when I was a kid, I took a step back and observed my surroundings. Instead of getting dizzy looking at tall buildings, I glanced inside the windows and saw beautifully arranged apartments, people partying, and individuals looking out telescopes. As a photographer I found the city to be photographable at almost any location, but I realized the importance of retracting my eye from the viewfinder of my camera and taking in the city life. Being with my two best friends made this adventure infinitely better as I had people I could trust and make memories with for the duration of my stay. I highly recommend traveling to NYC to experience the stunning architecture, unexpected discoveries, and delicious food. Now go find some friends and schedule a trip to NYC!