First Time Guide to New York City: An Englishman's View

Sunny S is a fellow ChicagoNow blogger whose blog Sister City Love: From Birmingham to Chicago focuses on the relationship between the Windy City and Birmingham, England, Sunny's hometown. He also writes frequently about local music in and around Chicago, including bhangra and South Asian artists. 

We did a bit of a blogger exchange program recently- I wrote a post about my experience living in London and Sunny shares his first time guide to New York City here:

First Impressions:

IMAG0550[1]I’ve always had a fascination with America growing up, from its culture and its history and metropolitan cities. So finally getting the opportunity to visit for a vacation was one I couldn't pass up.

I landed in Newark airport in New Jersey. From there we caught a cab to New York, marking my first time in the famous yellow cab (yay) with a not so talkative cab driver. On the way to New York, I took in the sights of the Garden State, passing industrial factories. All I could think of was Thomas Edison. Anyway...

I have a fascination with skyscrapers since geography class in high school. I wish my city of Birmingham had them, so whether it was staring outside my hotel window or walking through Times Square and Manhattan, my head arched upwards each time, being amazed at how high they stretched out into the heavens.

In fact, even though I knew this already, it’s amazing to think, as you are actually walking in a city as big as New York, just how BIG it is! I did so much walking each day I was there and one day wasn't enough to see even a portion of it (to be real, you could walk through the heart of Birmingham within an hour, tops).

Trip Highlights:

IMAG0702[1]One of the things I was aching to try once I got the States was the food! I always heard the portions were big in the States, and Man v Food only reinforced that. I had awesome meals at Nectar restaurant on Madison Avenue (burger and chips, and the plate was the size of a tray!), and Shorty's close to our hotel.

Even the McDonalds there is better than England. I didn't know a double quarter pounder existed but I had to choose that once I saw it. And the strawberry milkshake I ordered came with whipped cream and a cherry on top (I've only ever seen ‘just’ a strawberry milkshake in England).

The most interesting place I visited to eat was Ellen's Stardust Diner. Firstly there was a queue just to get in. People were waiting outside in the freezing cold just to eat breakfast! Another thing was, it was not just a place to eat, but entertainment was provided by what I presume were the waiters/waitresses themselves who sang. From what I hear, some of the staff go on to star in Broadway plays.

Speaking of Broadway, I also saw Cinderella on Broadway. You can’t visit New York without watching a Broadway play!

I got a different view of New York, as we had tickets booked for the observatory inside the Empire State Building. As I stood during the night outside on the 86th floor, staring out to bright lights across the city, I thought to myself, this is the most romantic city in the world. The view from up here was spectacular, and it gives another reason to be in awe of this great city.

I also visited the World Trade Center site. I remember watching the tragic events that happened there as a teenager. The memorial that is located on the site of the former Twin Towers was beautiful to look at. It was a surreal experience being there. In view was the new trade center building that’s nearing its completion, which looked amazing.

One of things I enjoyed most during my vacation was talking to the locals, especially the cab drivers.

Advice for Fellow First-Timers:

  • Don’t forget to tip waiters/waitresses.
  • Do not spend too much time in your hotel room, get out there and explore! There is so much to see, and once you leave New York, you’ll never feel like you’ve done everything you could have.
  • Even though like us, you’d end up catching a cab ride, try to avoid when you can as it can become draining on your wallet. Try instead to catch the train, which can get you from point A to B faster and much cheaper!
  •  Wrap up warm. Unless you want to try braving the freezing weather like I did.

A Final Thought:

New York is known as the city that doesn’t sleep, and it definitely feels that way. I don’t think at one point I saw the city not busy with people or yellow cab taxis (and I could definitely hear it throughout the night). There is always the sense that something is happening, that New Yorkers are always busy. Which I think is awesome.

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