New York: Off the beaten track in NYC

Updated: Sep 30, 2020

If you follow my journey, you’ll know that I’m just home from a week in New York. The time passed in the blink of an eye, but my inner explorer made sure I squeezed the most out of every second.

It was easy because it is my favourite city in the world to visit. It’s like I plug into this great source of energy that fills my soul and resets me when I’m there.

The atmosphere makes you feel like you belong – it almost feels like it’s YOUR city and never do you feel like you are on someone else’s turf. It’s a city that belongs to everyone and no one needs permission to be there (once you have an ESTA of course! Lol).

The people who live there are like nowhere else. They have this vibe that says don’t mess with me/I’m here if you need any help. It’s both terrifying and welcoming all at the same time.

If you haven’t been, you would be forgiven for thinking it was just a place full of sky scrapers and bright light. While yes, it does have those things, what you need to know is that it is a city that is full of architectural charm. The brown stone buildings, the winding hand rails and wooden park benches all contrast beautifully with the towering buildings that surround them. It’s both striking and cosy which would explain why it attracts everyone from the artist to the business type, to the little old ladies with their perfectly groomed poodles.

I love it, and love exploring it. Each step has something new for you to see and with some form of art on almost every street corner it’s like walking around the world’s largest gallery.

Here are some of my favourite things I did this time in the city the never sleeps.

Yoga in Central Park

If I had to choose one thing that really stood out for me on this trip, it would be the walking yoga tour that I took with Fit Tours NYC. The tour cost $39 and was an hour and a half long. I met my lovely guides at 8am at the Sherman Memorial and we set out on our walk together. If New York really was an apple, then Central Park would be the core. It is the “lungs of the city” and spans a breath taking 843 acres through the middle of Manhattan. Aside from being a beautifully designed landscape, it is steeped with history and intertwines with so many stories from the past. It was wonderful to walk the same paths that I was learning about – history buffs will love it. Stopping in some iconic spots along the way to enjoy some yoga was a sweet cherry on top. You can learn more about the tours HERE.

Street Art

I am in love with street art, it is probably my favourite form of art to be honest. I would pick going to see some murals over a gallery any day (although they have their time and place too).  I just love the vibrancy, the skill and the stories that so many of them tell. You can feel the passion of the artists almost vibrating off the walls and it just amazes me how such beautiful pieces of art work can be created that way. I also love how they bring light and beauty to areas that would otherwise be very dull and industrial looking.

Hands down, Williamsburg in Brooklyn is the best place in New York to see street art. It is only a 10-minute subway from Manhattan (take the L train from Union Square towards Brooklyn) and to see some fantastic art work all you have to do is walk around the neighbourhood, there is so much of it.

If you want to see lots of it in one condensed area, take the same train and get off at the Jefferson St stop – there are streets and streets of industrial buildings that are covered from top to bottom in stunning art work. There are also lots of cool bars around here so it’s a great place to go at night for a bit of culture and fun.

The High Line

The High Line is a former New York Central Railroad that has been turned into a park. It offers stunning views that you won’t get anywhere else in the city. You get to see it from above, while looking right down the streets it cuts through. There are several stops along the way to take that perfect Insta-worthy photo. About half way though the walk there are wooden loungers where you can stop and rest while taking in the view of the Hudson river, I was lucky and got to visit it on a beautiful day, so I lay there for a good 30 minutes just absorbing the sights and sounds around me – pure bliss.

I will say, that compared to Central Park it has less of an impact, so I would suggest going to the High Line first, as a sort of starter course and then head uptown to Central Park for the main dish. It is worth noting that it is located very close to the foodie Mecca that is Chelsea Market – a walk along the High Line followed by brunch in Chelsea Market (choose from one of its countless eateries in advance HERE) has everything you need for the perfect morning.

TV and film locations

As a friend of mine said recently “New York is the biggest movie set in the world” and I can’t tell you how many actual sets I walked on to during my trip. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see any familiar faces, but I’m told that that is a very regular occurrence in NYC. What you can do though, is visit some of the legendary TV and film spots that are dotted all over the city. It’s fun, it’s free and it’s a great way to fill in your time between bigger activities.

Some of the most famous places I’ve visited are:

Washington Square Park – When Harry met Sally, I Am Legend, Ghostbusters II

Perry Street – Sex and the City (Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment)

The Met – The famous Gossip Girl steps

90 Bedford Street – The Friends apartment building

Grand Central Station – Men in Black, Armageddon, The Bone Collector, Gossip Girl – to name a few

Bow Bridge – Uptown Girls

Central Park Ice rink – Serendipity

Logo Books – Mooney’s bookstore in You (Netflix series well worth watching). This store was also featured in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, starring Melissa McCarthy

Gleason’s Gym – Raging Bull, starring Robert De Niro. This place is the world’s most famous boxing gym. Why? Because it is where Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson used to train as well as being the place where Hillary Swank trained for her role in Million Dollar Baby.

American Museum of Natural History

This was my second time to visit this museum, and it left me just as awe struck as the first. You have lots of exhibits to choose from that will give you an up-close experience of natural wonders from all over the world. I went mid-week, which meant I was sharing the space with lots of school kids on tours and I swear their screams and squeals as they saw some of the animals and beasts for the first time was almost as entertaining as the museum itself. I went straight for the dinosaurs, because well, DINASOURS!!

Tickets are sold on a donation basis (the suggested price is $25 per person, however there is no need to feel pressured). I gave $10 and was greeted by a very friendly and helpful member of staff who didn’t make me feel like a total scab, even though I expected him to. (In my defence I had paid $12 for a coffee and muffin that morning so I was clinging to my purse for dear life). He was more than happy to tell me what exhibits were on and how long it would take me to see all of them (a day and a half). It’s well worth a visit, even just to spend an hour or two taking in those prehistoric beauties.

Exploring new neighbourhoods & making friends

Perhaps my favourite thing to do when I travel, is to walk around and explore. No set plan, no agenda, I like to just open my eyes and see what I can find. Because I tend to film a lot while I travel, people might think I am missing out on the actual experience, but that’s not the case. If anything, it heightens the experience for me, because I’m constantly tuned in to what is around me. I pay close attention to everything and if it’s interesting to me, I film it on the go.

I made a lovely new friend last week while I was there, and that is what we did together. We explored and played with our cameras (I’m calling my phone my camera!). Gaby is a photographer from Brooklyn, who I met through a New York blogger meet up group. I was looking for someone to help take some pictures of me while I was there (since I was travelling alone) and she kindly offered to do the job. I had no idea we would hit it off so well, and I know for sure we will hang out again next time I’m in NYC. We walked around for a few hours in the Soho neighbourhood, had some lunch and then we walked some more. It was lovely to see parts of the city through her eyes.

I love spending time with people like that, people who love and know their city – they take you to the coolest places.

My friend Greg, who I met last time, took me in for the night on Thursday and then allowed me to piggy back on his walking tour around Dumbo on Friday morning. I got to experience a whole new area that I hadn’t been to before and learn about it too, which was great. Greg is by far the best tour guide I’ve had anywhere in the world, he just has the brain and personality for it. He’s able to remember so much information and he makes it fun and relevant too. If you ever fancy taking a tour with him, you can check out Streetwise New York Tours (Click HERE for their site) and ask for Greg.

New York has so much to offer, and there is no right or wrong amount of time to spend there. I feel like I will never be done discovering it and am already excited to go back.

I’m currently looking in to organising a group trip there later in the year – the idea is to create an off the beaten track experience for solo travellers (also open to small groups of friends) so if that is something that is of interest to you please feel free to get in touch. In the meantime, if you are looking for some more ideas on how to spend your time there, check out my ultimate bucket list for the city HERE.

Written with love,

Rachael Victoria

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