Each year, the flight route between New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and London’s Heathrow Airport handles around 2.9 million passengers – and this isn’t counting the other airports around London and New York that fly direct to each other.
Safe to say, it’s a popular flight path – which also means it’s never been easier, and more financially viable, to pop over to the other side of the Atlantic for a long weekend.
This is largely due to the introduction of Norwegian’s cheap flights from London Gatwick to JFK – which can start at just £275 return, sometimes even less.
New York City is a bucket-list destination for many, but sometimes annual leave can limit how long you can spend there. Yet, with the aforementioned cheap flights, visiting New York for a long weekend is now more feasible than ever.
Below find our guide for the ultimate and unashamedly tourist long weekend in NYC.
Either take an early-morning flight from London or, preferably, the night before so you can prolong your visit. If you are flying Norwegian, make sure you upgrade to their premium economy cabin which includes two pieces of checked luggage, priority boarding, wide chairs with leg rests and delicious in-flight meals – basically business class for a premium economy price.
One you land in New York and you have checked into the hotel, your first day will be spent visiting lower Manhattan.
Make your way to the 9/11 Memorial – a sobering start to the morning but an important place to visit. Take your time looking over the names carved into the sides of the fountains – and look for the names with the white roses in, as these are placed in names when it is their birthday.
From there, it is just a short walk to Wall Street – and then to the Fearless Girl and Charging Bull statues, be sure to get there early as this small stretch of pavement can be packed with visitors in the middle of the day.
A short walk from there, you will find the Staten Island Ferry terminal. These free ferries depart every half hour and in the summer months they can get quite packed. The reason for this is because on the short trip to Staten Island, you sail past the Statue of Liberty, meaning the ferry is a great way to see the statue free-of-charge.
When you get back to Manhattan, take the R train to Prince Street and walk through SoHo and the Lower East Side to get to Katz’s Delicatessen, more affectionately known as Katz’ Deli, for lunch. This New York institution was famously featured in When Harry Met Sally (during that orgasm scene), but their pastrami sandwiches live up to the hype. You will need to be eagle-eyed for a seat as this place can quickly fill up around lunch.
With a full stomach, it’s time to go on a walk through the East and West Village. Head north from Katz’ Deli to Tompkins Square Park where you can bathe in the sun or dog-watch. From here head west to Washington Square Park and sit on one of the benches near the fountain to read a book or swap the dog-watching for people watching. Keep heading west and you’ll enter Greenwich Village – home to both the building from Friends and Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment from Sex and the City, both just a short walk from each other. After you gaze in awe at Carrie’s brownstone building and wonder again how she could ever afford it, walk around the corner to Magnolia Bakery for one of their iconic banana puddings – and sit on the bench outside to eat them like Carrie and Miranda did two decades ago.
It’s now late afternoon and you’re likely knackered. After a quick power nap at your hotel, head back near Washington Square Park to the Comedy Cellar. One of the best stand-up comedy clubs in New York, the Comedy Cellar is where many comedians like Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman and Chris Rock go their starts and famous comedians pop in from time to time. To get in you need to buy at least two items from their menu so this will double as entertainment and a meal. Shows can be as late as 12:15am so even if you do extend your nap, you will be able to make one of these.
You wake up, your feet are probably still sore after walking over 25,000 steps yesterday, but you’re geared-up and ready for day two in this sprawling metropolis. Today is focussed around midtown and the Upper East and West sides of Manhattan.
Starting on the Upper West Side, make a pit stop at Levain Bakery for one of their double chocolate peanut butter cookies, buy two just for good measure. Store these in your bag before walking to Central Park. On the way you will pass by the John Lennon Memorial and also the Natural History Museum where you can stop and have a look inside. Afterwards, go through the park, as you will find the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the other side.
Here, take out one of the cookies while you sit on the Met steps and have a break before going in. The museum is home to a number of stunning exhibits but the stand-out is always the Costume Institute’s exhibit. There is a new Costume Institue collection each year and the opening of this exhibit is marked by the famed Met Gala . After having a look around, make your way up to the rooftop. Here, you will find a bar along with a stunning view across Central Park and Manhattan.
After taking enough photos to fill your Instagram feed for a month, head back into the park and walk south, past The Loeb Boathouse (where a romantic row on the lake is a must), and through the various laneways until you reach The Plaza. This marks the start of Fifth Avenue, the iconic shopper’s paradise home to the Tiffany’s from Breakfast at Tiffany’s and department stores like Bergdorf Goodman and Saks.
Walk along Fifth Avenue and take a left turn at E 42nd street (looking up at the Chrysler Building) until you find Grand Central Station. Gaze at the ornate fixtures before walking back up E 42nd Street to the New York Public Library. The star attraction of the library is the recently-renovated Rose Reading Room which features an exquisitely baroque ceiling.
Behind the Library, you will find Bryant Park. Surrounded by skyscrapers, Bryant Park is an oasis in the middle of this ever-busy city, and the perfect place to take a break and crack into your second cookie. If you’re keen for some lunch (albeit sans-vegetables) Joe’s Pizza around the corner from Bryant Park serves up one of the best slices of pizza in NYC.
For dinner, head south and walk the 16 minutes to Madison Square Park for an iconic American burger at the original Shake Shack. Located under twinkling lights in the shadow of both the Empire State Building and the Flat Iron Building, this is an ideal spot for dinner on a balmy summer evening. You’re in America, so go the whole hog and get the burger, fries and a concrete shake – the Shack Attack is a mixture of chocolate custard, fudge sauce and chocolate truffle cookie dough so it can double as a (very rich) dessert.
When you can move again after your meal, head back up to Times Square. Like Piccadilly Circus but exponentially bigger, this iconic New York attraction is best visited at night to really take in the bright lights and eclectic atomosphere.
It’s your last day, while it’s gone quickly it also feels like you’ve been there for a week already. Today is all about Brooklyn.
Once up, head down to the Brooklyn Bridge station and walk across the iconic structure. This will give you a number of views across Manhattan and Brooklyn along the East River. Once off the bridge, fight off the other tourists to take the iconic shot of Manhattan Bridge through the buildings with the Empire State Building in the distance. While it has been replicated a million times, it’s still a great sight to see.
After walking back across the bridge, take the 4, 5 or 6 train up to 14 Street and swap to the L train heading towards Bedford Ave. On Saturdays, the food festival Smorgasburg is open in Williamsburg, Brooklyn from 11am to 6pm and is a short walk from this station. If you manage to go, make sure you go sit down by the waterfront after acquiring your meal to see the stunning view of Manhattan across the river. Even if timings don’t work, Williamsburg is a great place to spend the afternoon exploring with a number of coffee shops and eateries.
You can’t leave New York without trying Vanessa’s Dumpling House. This Chinatown establishment is as cheap as it is delicious – and you won’t find better dumplings, pork buns or sesame seed duck pancakes in the city. There are now a number of Vanessa’s across the city and one of these are in Williamsburg – so make sure you pop in for a visit while in Brooklyn.
After you’re sufficiently satiated, there’s only a limited time before you need to get to the airport for your overnight flight back to London – and there’s just one thing left to do: watch the sun set from the Top of the Rock. Make your way back to Manhattan, back up Fifth Avenue and to the Rockefeller Centre. Here, you will get a birds-eye view of Manhattan and the towering skyscrapers that make up its pockets. A Manhattan sunset is like no other, watch as the sky turns from blue to purple to pink before the twinkling lights of the city switch on.
Note: if you have extra time at any point, the High Line is well worth a visit. The elevated walkway through the West Village will take you between skyscrapers and give you great views of the city.
Laura Hampson was a guest with Norwegian. Flights to New York from London start from £159 one-way in economy and £464 one-way in premium economy.
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