New York is a great city. There are no two ways about it. It’s packed with everything you’d expect from a major city. Shops, restaurants, parks, hotels and museums. Many of the world’s most famous brands also have their flagship store here. It’s an all round fantastic city so if you’re thinking of visiting New York the following information may be of interest to you.
Visiting New York by air
We flew to New York from Heathrow Terminal 3. There are a few airlines that fly non-stop from there to New York. British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines, Air France and KLM. We flew outbound with American Airlines and inbound with British Airways after checking Skyscanner for the best current deals on flights.
We try to book flights which depart early in the morning to make the most of the day at the other end. For this reason we usually stay at an airport hotel the night before our flights. This way, we start our travels a day early and make sure we are close to the terminal for departure.
The night before our flight we stayed at the Heathrow Sheraton Skyline. We’ve stayed here a number of times which says a lot in itself. We usually book through Holiday Extras and purchase return Hoppa Tickets to the airport at the same time. We like the fact that you park your car yourself and keep your keys. Breakfast is available to pre-book but we were able to pay at the hotel and it cost £24 for all four of us.
In our experience Holiday Extras offer unbeatable value for pre-flight accommodation, parking and transfers. We have no hesitation using them and you can also book extras such as airport lounges.
Timing can make a huge difference when you book with Holiday Extras. We have found prices changing significantly over a six week period, sometimes saving as much as 33%.
Transfer to Terminal
We used the Heathrow Hoppa bus for our transfer to the Airport as we usually do. The buses can get quite full, but it is an efficient service which runs regularly from outside the hotel.
You can get a taxi to and from the terminal which cost approximately £12-£15 each way. The Hoppa cost £11 per adult for a return ticket (when bought in advance) with children under 15 travelling free.
From the Holiday Inn to Terminal 3 you need to get Bus H1. It takes approximately 20 – 30 minutes and runs from 4.42 a.m. to 11.47 p.m. Buses run every 20- 30 minutes to Terminal 3. Remember to ask your driver where your bus departs from for your return journey as signs for the buses/stops have been an issue for us in the past.
The flight to New York takes 7 hours 55 minutes. We hadn’t flown with American Airlines before but found the flight to New York comfortable and the crew good. There was plenty of entertainment to choose from and we enjoyed the food and drink.
Transfer from Airport
We flew into John F Kennedy airport in New York. There are two other airports serving New York City. Newark and La Guardia. John F Kennedy airport is approximately 26 km from New York City Centre. Transfer time to the city centre depends on which way you choose to travel to your Hotel. In normal traffic it will take 45 minutes by car. A yellow cab will cost around £50. You can also use the subway which you can get to by using the AirTrain at JFK. A cheaper option is to travel by bus but will take longer.
As we travelled to New York as a family of four we decided to transfer by the iconic yellow cab. The cabs charge a flat fee before tip and tolls of $52.
We always transfer by cab. They are easy to find and the journey to the city centre allows you to take in the Manhattan skyline. You also get dropped at the door of your hotel.
Where we stayed when visiting New York
Before we went, we did a fair bit of research on where to stay in New York as a family. We wanted to be close Central Park and Fifth Avenue, but somewhere quieter than Times Square.
Fairly early on we decided we wanted to stay at the Intercontinental New York Barclay for a number of reasons. It ticked the boxes in relation to the location, being close to Fifth Avenue and Grand Central Station. The hotel also has great heritage and history and was the residence of Ernest Hemmingway when he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls. We were not disappointed with our choice.
The Barclay has an opulent feel throughout. The lobby and rooms are very well designed and decorated and staff were friendly and informative. Our room had two double beds and both were very comfortable. We booked the hotel through booking.com
When to visit New York
A year-round destination, our preference for visiting New York is during Winter. We absolutely love it there in the run up to Christmas but February was really good too. It’s one of the cheapest times to visit but can be cold although we had great weather. Temperatures reached 21 degrees on one of the days. It was dry and mild to warm except for one day which was misty. We didn’t find any need for the thermals we had brought!
How to get around
Where we could, we explored New York as a family by foot. We think this is the best way to see most cities. Especially where they are compact enough to do so. This guidebook helped with the planning.
In our opinion New York City is one of the easiest in the world to navigate. This is because it’s streets and avenues are built on a grid system. Streets run East-West from 1st to 228th and Avenues run North-South 1 to 11 although some are named instead of numbered.
We did buy tickets for the Big Bus Tour, choosing the 2-day Deluxe ticket online before we went. This included a night tour, entry to the Museum of the City of New York, 1-hour free bike hire from Blazing Saddles and tickets for the Empire State Building. This did turn out to be good value for money and cost $284.40 (£214.12) for four. Entry to the Empire State Building alone would have cost us $142.
You have to visit the Big Bus Tour office in Times Square to collect the tickets and validate the 48 hour pass. We arrived at the office just before 3 p.m. and had our tickets validated. Unfortunately had we got there after 3 p.m. the tickets would have been valid for a whole 48 hours but the tickets only provided us with transport for the rest of that first day and the following day.
We used the subway to travel to Battery Park and tickets were easy to buy at the station. It was a tight squeeze on the subway station as we had to travel at rush hour. However, it offered the chance to interact with some of New York’s commuters who we found very friendly and helpful.
We found the subway easy to navigate, straightforward and not dissimilar to the London Underground system. For us it was another opportunity to get a real sense of how this city works. It was also efficient and well-maintained.
We have used the Staten Island Ferry in the past. It’s warm, free and you get a great view of the Statue of Liberty without going to Liberty Island.
Money when visiting New York
The currency of New York is the US Dollar. At the time of our travel the exchange rate was $1.35 to 1GBP and we got ours from the Post Office. We found that cards and cash were widely accepted.
New York may be a little more expensive than the UK but we like to sample as much street food as we can and this option turned out to be quite good value. We got breakfast for $5 each. A three course meal at Trump Towers came to $28 per adult which we thought was very reasonable.
Entry to the Empire State Building was $37 for an adult and $31 for a child. Ferry and entry tickets to the Crown of the State of Liberty (and also Ellis Island) for 3 adults and one child totalled £104.50 which we thought was amazing value for such an iconic and interesting place.
We got in to the Natural History Musuem for free as we arrived after 4.30 in the afternoon. Admission to the Musuem is $23 for an adult, seniors and students $3 and children 2 – 12 $13. There are loads of things to do for free in New York as a family such as strolling through China Town, Little Italy or Central Park.
Food and Drink in New York
We enjoyed everything we ate in New York. Trying as much of the local cuisine as we can is a big part of the experience for us. We wanted to sample hot dogs on the street, Pizza and Doughnuts.
Having opted to stay on 48th Street we were really fortunate to come across Mama Jo’s Breakfast Cart. Serving breakfast from about 4.30 a.m. for New York commuters, the breakfast special deal was an egg roll (which could include bacon or sausage), a doughnut (or pastry for a little extra) and a coffee or orange juice all for just $5. We’d grab a few of these and take them back to the hotel room. As well as the money it also saved us a lot of time which is pretty important when visiting NYC.
There are small street vendors, coffee shops and bakeries all over the city. As this a tourist hot-spot some can be quite expensive and sometimes do not list their prices so take heed.
We did see a very disgruntled American lady buy an ice-cream cone from a vendor at Central Park who was charging $10. She was not happy. We got ice-cream for $5 each further along the Park.
We had Pizza from 2 Bros Pizza, a small independent chain of take out pizzerias. There’s no frills here but the deals were amazing and the pizza was delicious. Many construction and office workers as well as Police Officers eat here so you know it’s going to be good. You can buy pizza by the slice or as a whole.
We went to Little Italy with the intention of having lunch but Instead had coffee and cake from a Patisserie. This was, we thought, overpriced but very nice just the same.
We had a table service meal at Trump Towers Grill and really enjoyed the whole experience here. From the security at the main door, to the restaurant staff to the Trump Campaign Store.
The restaurant served a set menu (with a choice of three starters and mains) for $28 per adult. A kids pasta dish was $12. We plumped for Brownies as our desert. All in all our meal and drinks came to $108.29 excluding gratuity. We though this was a great price for a 3-course meal for 4 on 5th Ave.
Must do's when visiting New York
Empire State Building
Heading up to the top of a skyscraper is kind of a must do when visiting New York. There are lot’s of options now but our favourite has always been the Empire State Building.
At over 840 acres Central Park is huge. Probably bigger than you think. It is open every day at 6 a.m. and closes at 1 a.m. but you would a lot of time to get around it all. It’s a must do in our opinion though.
Even if you don’t like shopping, Fifth Avenue is still very interesting. Most of the world’s biggest brands have their flagship store here. Apple, Microsoft, Nintendo there all here! It’s also home to the original Tiffany’s store which is worth a look around, even if just for the history.
Central Park, the Plaza Hotel and Rockefeller Centre are all within a stone’s throw from here.
Statue of Liberty
As iconic as it comes this is absolutely a must do when visiting New York. It’s not easy to organise but well worth it. Check out our Things to do in New York post for more information on how to do it.
Ground Zero / 9/11 Memorial
Ground Zero is a quiet, peaceful and poignant place. The memorial is open 24/7 and free to visit but there is an entry charge for the museum. Amongst the things to see here are St. Paul’s Chapel, a memorial to the survivors, the Sphere sculpture that survived 9/11 and One World Observatory.
Probably no visit to New York is complete without a visit to Times Square. It’s usually busy but not too bad early in the morning. You’ll probably find yourself wandering through on the way to somewhere else even if you don’t make a point to see it.
We loved visiting New York as a family and particularly enjoyed it when we went in February. We think it’s a great time to visit. The weather was much better than we expected and better than the UK at that time! Prices are lower and queues shorter than other times of the year, meaning you get more for your money and the most out of your time.
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