A Weekend in NYC

Grand Central Station

My best friend since kindergarten, Jenna, and her husband, Jake, made their way to the east coast for their very first time while Adam and I were living out in Massachusetts. We’ve always wanted to check out New York City at Christmas time, so down we went to light up our weekend full of city activities! We weren’t feeling quite bold enough to brave the NYC traffic, so we opted to park at a ramp in New Haven, Connecticut and hop on a 2-hour Metro North train from Union Station to Grand Central Station. This is technically a commuter train, so it was way cheaper than taking the Amtrak. Our tickets were about $35 roundtrip. One of the main reasons we picked this version of transportation is because we thought it’d be fun to arrive at one of the most well-known train stations in the world, Grand Central. And it sure was! I felt like we were in a movie as we tried to navigate the fancy archways in this bustling place. I was secretly hoping a flash mob would bust out like in Friends with Benefits. The flash mob never happened, but we were able to spot the black rectangle in the corner of the ceiling left from all the smoke that used to fill this place.

Union Station in New Haven, Connecticut.

Trying to find our way into the city!

Grand Central Station

Union Station in New Haven, Connecticut.

Trying to find our way into the city!

Grand Central Station

Westgate Hotel

Our other challenge was finding a place to stay in this huge and expensive city. At first, we were hoping to find an Airbnb, but most of them in our price range were outside of the city, and we really wanted to find a convenient location so we could walk or use public transportation just about everywhere! We ended up choosing the Westgate New York Grand Central because it was only three blocks from the train station, and it was a decent price (per NYC standards) at ~$200/night. The rooms were small but nice enough, and the hotel had a great location which was our number one priority.

Westgate New York Grand Central

Small, but nice room.

Another shot of our fancy but old hotel.

Westgate New York Grand Central

Small, but nice room.

Another shot of our fancy but old hotel.

Christmas in NYC

As cool as our hotel was, we didn’t come all the way to NYC to stay in our rooms. We quickly escaped for our first night out on the town! And it was absolutely pouring… Immediately upon exiting our hotel, we found the Chrysler Building glowing like a misty Christmas tree up in the sky. Our first stop was ROLF’s German Restaurant because they are known for completely decked out Christmas decorations! We knew we would probably have to wait in line for this place, but we had no idea the line would be more than a block long! It is a tough ticket to get. We didn’t figure it was worth the wait in the rain, so instead we found a window to snag a glimpse of the overwhelming Christmas haven. We were bummed we weren’t able to eat at ROLF’s, but there are plenty of other food options in NYC, so off we went to find some!

The Chrysler Building, conveniently looking like a Christmas tree in the sky!

This restaurant might have the longest wait we’ve ever seen.

Certainly no shortage of Christmas decorations!

The Chrysler Building, conveniently looking like a Christmas tree in the sky!

This restaurant might have the longest wait we’ve ever seen.

Certainly no shortage of Christmas decorations!

Food

There are several famous pizza places in NYC, but we decided to start with Joe’s Pizza. They are located all over the place, so you’ll probably accidentally run into one, but we opted for the one on Broadway on our way to Taqueria Diana. The pizza was delicious, but the nachos at Taqueria Diana were spectacular. There’s always a line at Joe’s Pizza due to the popularity (as seen in Spiderman), but we didn’t have to wait for a single person at Taqueria Diana. Oh, and did I mention the huge platter of nachos that fed all four of us was only $7.50?! We were already pretty full after these first two stops, so our plan was to walk off our food in Little Italy. We didn’t do any prior research for a good place to stop in Little Italy and it was downpouring, so we did the naive tourist thing and entered the first place we were summoned to by a man advertising to us from across the street. We didn’t get more than a beer here, and we weren’t even impressed with that. This is when we remembered that many restaurants in NYC post a grade in their window for cleanliness. The place we chose didn’t even have a grade… If you can, try to stick with the grade A/B restaurants. We found more of these grades in the other microcosm of NYC we couldn’t miss- Chinatown. After our mishap in Little Italy we searched way too long for a decent spot. Finally, we opted for a rice noodle bowl for the table to share but didn’t really know what to do with it! So that also was a bust!

Joe’s Pizza

Delicious nachos from Taqueria Diana!

Little Italy

Chinatown

A traditional rice noodle bowl to share!

Joe’s Pizza

Delicious nachos from Taqueria Diana!

Little Italy

Chinatown

A traditional rice noodle bowl to share!

Radio City Music Hall

When I think of Christmas in NYC, I think of the Rockettes! So, I made sure to get to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular this weekend. The boys did not agree that this was an essential activity, so Jenna and I went to the truly spectacular show while they hit up The Playwright- more of that later. The line to get into Radio City Music Hall for any show is long, so we recommend showing up at least 30 minutes early because the show will still start on time, even if there are still hundreds of people outside waiting to get in! Though we missed the beginning of the show, it was still magical! We opted for the slightly less expensive 10:00 p.m. show for about $60 and it was totally worth it!

The home of the Rockettes!

The grandiose lobby.

The oh so spectacular Rockettes!

We didn’t want to leave after the show!

The home of the Rockettes!

The grandiose lobby.

The oh so spectacular Rockettes!

We didn’t want to leave after the show!

Late Night Activities

We continued to soak in the NYC Christmas magic as we strolled through the lit-up streets on our way to find the guys after the show. We found them at the upper level of The Playwright Irish Pub where live Irish music filled the air! We enjoyed these tunes for several hours, chatted with numerous strangers and even convinced the musician to stay a little longer. It was a great time. Then we needed a late-night snack. So- you guessed it- we tried another pizza spot – Famous Original Ray’s Pizza this time. It was on our path back to the hotel, so the convenience factor was high. But just to be clear, Joe’s Pizza wins!

Christmas decorations fill the streets of NYC in December!

The Playwright Irish Pub

Ray’s Pizza

Christmas decorations fill the streets of NYC in December!

The Playwright Irish Pub

Ray’s Pizza

9/11 Memorial & Museum

When in New York, you have to get a New York style bagel right? So, we found a bagel shop walking distance from the Westgate – Chelsea Bagel in Tudor City. There’s controversy over why New York bagels taste so good, but some people think it’s because they are boiled in soft water before being baked. Regardless, we certainly enjoyed our New York bagels and they were the perfect fuel for our full day. Our first activity of the day was a somber but necessary one; we went to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. We recommend purchasing tickets ahead of time. We opted for the Memorial Tour, which is an outdoor guided tour that takes about 45 minutes. Don’t worry the rain stopped! This tour also includes tickets to the museum and places you in a much shorter line to get in (this is worth it in itself- the normal lines were massive). We wandered the grounds in silence, as well as the very well-done museum for a couple hours, bringing us back to that surreal day in 4th grade. After this heart-heavy activity we needed some comfort food which we certainly found at the Melt Shop.

Found a New York bagel!

There are plenty of bagel shops around, but this one was most convenient for us.

What’s not to like?

A fittingly dreary day for our visit to the One World Trade Center, the tallest building in the U.S.

The 9/11 Memorial

A tree that somehow withstood the collapses.

A day that will never be forgotten.

A glimpse of the 9/11 Museum.

Much needed comfort food from the Melt Shop.

Found a New York bagel!

There are plenty of bagel shops around, but this one was most convenient for us.

What’s not to like?

A fittingly dreary day for our visit to the One World Trade Center, the tallest building in the U.S.

The 9/11 Memorial

A tree that somehow withstood the collapses.

A day that will never be forgotten.

A glimpse of the 9/11 Museum.

Much needed comfort food from the Melt Shop.

The Financial District

Technically, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum are in the Financial District, but it seemed more fitting to make this a separate section. Wall Street is usually a happening place, though not so much on a Saturday! It was still fun to walk by the New York Stock Exchange even though we weren’t allowed to enter. And it was cool to take a picture with the famous Charging Bull. At the tip of the Financial District, you will find The Battery (formerly known as Battery Park) and next to it- Whitehall Terminal- which houses the Staten Island Ferry. We took this free ferry to Staten Island so we could get a good view of the Statue of Liberty! Our intention was to turn around and return right away, but we missed the return ferry by literally five seconds. In hindsight, we should have caught on to why people were sprinting off the ferry. We spent a half an hour or so perusing the Staten Island mall while waiting for the next ferry to depart.

Wall Street at Christmas time.

The New York Stock Exchange

Always hoping for a bull market!

It’s hard to miss the entrance of the Staten Island Ferry.

You’ll be shoulder to shoulder with people, but it’s free!

Great way to get a good view of the Statue of Liberty!

And usually a great view of the skyline, but the clouds didn’t quite cooperate…

Wall Street at Christmas time.

The New York Stock Exchange

Always hoping for a bull market!

It’s hard to miss the entrance of the Staten Island Ferry.

You’ll be shoulder to shoulder with people, but it’s free!

Great way to get a good view of the Statue of Liberty!

And usually a great view of the skyline, but the clouds didn’t quite cooperate…

Brooklyn Bridge

Our next touristy stop on this dramatic weather night was the Brooklyn Bridge – another free activity! There’s a platform halfway across the bridge where you can stop to get some cool pictures of the city at night. After our stroll across the bridge, we caught an Uber to the 169 Bar. What is the draw you ask? $6 for dumplings, beer, and a shot of your choice during happy hour! Woohoo! Happy hour is from 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. every day! The 169 Bar is one of the last original bars in Manhattan, sitting in a historic 100+ year old building. They also have live funk music here!

Brooklyn Bridge

View of NYC from the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge.

169 Bar – an original!

Funky Vibes

And great happy hour deals!

We sure had some fun here!

Brooklyn Bridge

View of NYC from the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge.

169 Bar – an original!

Funky Vibes

And great happy hour deals!

We sure had some fun here!

Rockefeller Plaza

We decided to take the subway to one of NYC’s Christmas staples: Rockefeller Plaza. Taking the subway for the first time this weekend out of necessity, we all realized we should have been doing this the whole time! It’s cheaper than ubers/taxis and quicker because you don’t get stuck in traffic. Who would’ve thought! People were swarming the Rockefeller Christmas Tree as expected. We didn’t want to pay to rent skates, but it was fun to see the Rockefeller Rink and envision Buddy the Elf making a move. While in the Christmas spirit, Adam and I made our way to the Neil Simon Theater for The Illusionists- Magic of the Holidays Show. We were captivated by santas multiplying, stunning card tricks, and crazy mind games. And that’s all we can tell you.

The NYC subway – the quickest and cheapest way to get around.

The Rockefeller Christmas Tree

And the famous, but much too small, skating rink.

Neil Simon Theater

Ready for some magic!

The Illusionists!

The NYC subway – the quickest and cheapest way to get around.

The Rockefeller Christmas Tree

And the famous, but much too small, skating rink.

Neil Simon Theater

Ready for some magic!

The Illusionists!

Top of the Rock

After the show, we hustled back toward Rockefeller to get up to the Top of the Rock before closing. We bought the 2-time ticket for this observatory deck so we were able to see the city lights just before midnight, and then we could return to get an overview of NYC the next day in daylight. After watching the city sparkle for a bit, we rode the elevator back down to make our way closer to the lights- Times Square. What a bright, lively, and overwhelming place! It’s almost too much to handle. If you have any light sensitivity definitely don’t go here! After taking in all of the action, we needed another late-night snack (or two), so we got our second round of Joe’s Pizza – this time at the Times Square location. Adam also grabbed a hot dog from a street cart because he said he had to while in NYC… And it’s really hard to walk by a place with your name on it and not enter, so we ended the night with Jake and Jenna at Megan’s Bar & Kitchen, another fun Irish Pub.

Top of the Rock at night!

Times Square

Street dog

Of course, we had to check out Megan’s Pub!

Top of the Rock at night!

Times Square

Street dog

Of course, we had to check out Megan’s Pub!

Central Park

We had to see one of the biggest urban parks in the world before we left NYC, so after eating breakfast at the Westgate (with the complimentary voucher they gave us through booking on Hotels.com) we took the subway to Central Park. It was calm on a Sunday morning in winter which was kind of nice. We strolled the paved paths maybe a third of a mile in while admiring the extreme contrast between the trees and skyscrapers. Heck, the park is so immense we could’ve made exploring it our whole weekend! Before heading back to Grand Central Station, we returned to the Top of the Rock to get one last bird’s eye view of Central Park and Manhattan.

Central Park

On the edge of nature and city.

Top of the Rock in daylight!

Central Park

On the edge of nature and city.

Top of the Rock in daylight!

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