Our Student Union Guide to Chomping on NYC’s Big Apple

Tony Matelli "Sleepwalker" Bronze Sculpture on the High Line (JR P Flickr)
Tony Matelli "Sleepwalker" Bronze Sculpture on the High Line (JR P Flickr)

New York City is known for many things: Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, holiday displays at Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue, cheesecake and Times Square.

NYC tops the list as the “most populous city” in  the United States with 8.5 million people residing in its city limits of 305 square miles.  The metropolitan region is big, really big, and it’s nicknamed the “Big Apple” because journalist John J. FitzGerald, according to History.com, often heard African-American stable hands referencing the city as the Big Apple. Beside Manhattan, which most people know as NYC, it is home to five boroughs: Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx. (When you hear people exaggerating the NYC accent, it is typically the Bronx — da Bronx — accent.)

(Credit: Arnella Sandy)
(Credit: Arnella Sandy)

It is home to attractions such as the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building,  Rockefeller Center, Central Park and Greenwich Village. NYC is also home to numerous universities, like the New School, Parson’s School of Design, Julliard, several state universities (SUNY), New York University (NYU), Columbia University and Brooklyn College.

New York City is also one of the nation’s most diverse cities, with more than 200 spoken languages, religions and various sexualities. It attracts over 60 million tourists yearly.

Want to explore a new city that isn’t Boston? If you’re an international student or a local, you will never get bored here!

HOW TO GET AROUND NYC

Everything in New York City and the outer five boroughs are easily accessible by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). Metro cards, that can be refilled when you need more fare, will be your best friend.

You can use your Metro card to get on the the Roosevelt Island Tramway, which offers a good view of the city. 

Ferries from the city to the boroughs cost between $4 to $20. The Staten Island Ferry is free and a nice way to see the Statue of Liberty up close from the river. 

Uber and taxis are everywhere but not always available. It is very vexing, and you may or may not understand why they will or won’t stop for you. Like other countries, there are taxi stands outside of train stations and airports, but generally you can hail a cab anywhere. If you get really discouraged, go to a hotel or apartment building and ask them to hail a cab. Give the doorman a $2 tip for helping you.

How to hail a cab: Stand on the curb, raise your arm almost like a salute (bolder and more angled than if you want to ask a question in class), and face your palm to the traffic like you want to stop it. Open the door, slide onto the back seat, and tell the driver where you want to go.

Ask immediately how much that distance and fare might cost. If it’s too expensive for you, get out immediately. Try another cab, or take the subway or a bus. NYC buses are terrific, and you can see the sights while you are going to your destination. 

Make sure the cab driver has the meter on.
Make sure the cab driver has the meter on.
Make sure the cab driver has the meter on.

Tipping is expected; 10 percent to 20 percent is normal.

HERE ARE THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN NYC

Visit Time Square at Night

Times Square at 42nd Street is always busy. Stores along the Times Square/Broadway strip close between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. Sit on the TKTS steps (the steps are sponsored by the Broadway, Off-Broadway and NYC Parks Department) and take photos. If you’re lucky enough, your face will appear on the many digital screens above the stores (either the one  above the Aeropostale store or the ABC Supersign above the ‘Good Morning America’ studio).  Just make sure to avoid photos with the characters who say it is free but will bug you for a $5 tip.

If you like the theater, TKTS offers discounted tickets to Theater District shows and more.

“TKTS discount booths are the perfect way for everyone to experience the arts in New York City at affordable prices,” their website says. Tickets are on sale every day at 20 percent to 50  percent off regular prices.

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Credit: Clara Nogueira: “My first (and only, probably) Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade!”🦃🇺🇸💙”

If you’re visiting during a holiday, check out one of the parades or the holiday windows on the Fifth Avenue department stores.  

The highlight for international student Clara Soares Nogueira from Brazil was seeing the Saks 5th Avenue display. “Going to NY during the holidays was different, like something out of one of the books I read during my childhood years in Brazil.

“For instance, I never thought I would get so excited with the Saks 5th Avenue window display with its beautiful telling of the Nutcracker’s story, on which, by the way, one of the characters is named Clara, like me.” The Nutcracker is a Russian ballet telling the story of a young girl who dreams of meeting the Nutcracker Prince and the ensuing drama during Christmas time.

Our Clara checked out the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. The annual parade runs along a 2.5 mile route, displaying 16 character balloons, 26 floats and 1,000 clowns, according to FoxNews. The parade is also one of the oldest running: 2016 marked it’s 90 years anniversary.

Take the Tram to Roosevelt Island

Credit: Arnella Sandy

The Tramway from Manhattan’s Upper East Side to Roosevelt Islands East Side. The Tramway accepts MTA Metrocards ($2.75 fare) and offers an amazing view of the island, the city and Queens. It travels along the Queensboro Bridge. The Tramway and the island offer the best view of the NYC East Side skyline during the day.

Tired of all that walking? A little known park to tourists is the Sutton Place Park, a small square of playground with benches overlooking the East River and the Queensboro Bridge, otherwise known as the 59th Street Bridge. Rest your feet and enjoy the sparkling bridge lights.

Visit Madison Square Park
During the winter months Madison Square Park gets all decked out for Christmas. This year, TimeOut reports that the park will be a scene straight out of “Hansel and Gretel.” You can wander through a village of gingerbread houses. Or, head over to the New York Hall of Science and check out the Gingerbread Lane.

Go Ice Skating at Bryant Park or Rockefeller Center
If you’re balling on a budget, go ice skating at Bryant Park. The Bank of America Winter Village opens for the winter holidays and offers everything from shopping to dining.  The whole experience will cost you about $40, but will be worth the buck! If you get too cold in the park, head over to the New York Public Library and warm up in one of their reading rooms.

Wally Gobetz: Rockefeller Center - Channel Gardens (Flickr)
Wally Gobetz: Rockefeller Center – Channel Gardens (Flickr)

Rockefeller Center offers a similar experience. Check out the rink, which costs about $25 for general admission and $12 for skate rental. A “RockPass” for the  the Top of the Rock Observation Deck cost between $48-$58. Check out Radio City Music Hall, or Tour NBC Studios … or better yet, check out the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and the Channel Gardens — which display the annual Christmas angels!

Clara told us the sights at Rockefeller Plaza left her speechless. In an email, she writes, “The whole thing — the lights, the Christmas songs, Rockfeller Center’s ice skating rink that reminded me of Holden Caufield’s perambulations around Manhattan – was magical.” Holden Caufield is a fictional character from “The Catcher in the Rye.”

“The holiday season showed me a New York I hadn’t met before, a city that smells like cinnamon and tastes like the amazing Levain Bakery’s dark chocolate cookie I finally managed to try.”

Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge is a New York City staple. The walk is exactly 1.1 miles long. You can spend an hour, or more, or less: It all depends on your speed and the crowds. Be mindful of the bike lanes.

Credit: Arnella Sandy
Credit: Arnella Sandy

From Brooklyn, enter from Tillary Street or from the steps at High Street.

From Manhattan, get off at the Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall Stop (4, 5, 6 train) or Chamber St (J or Z train).

Or, take the Q, N, R train across the Manhattan Bridge.

Visit Brooklyn  … and Juniors

If you’re going to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, why not continue the walk and explore Brooklyn? Juniors or Piece of Velvet/Cake Man Raven serve up some of the best cheesecake and slices of red velvet cake.

Then make your way down Fulton Street to see the Albee Square Christmas decorations, and then Montague Street to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade/Two Bridges. Enjoy the city lights from Brooklyn Bridge Park.

As a Brooklynite, my favorite place to be is at the Promenade/Two Bridges, looking over at the Financial District across the East River in Manhattan. I’ve spent endless summer afternoons taking in the views.

Clara during her visit to Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Clara during her visit to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. (Credit: Clara Nogueira)

There’s so much to do in “the city that never sleeps,” as New York is commonly known. In addition to visiting the winter attractions, Clara watched a show at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

But, she says that her favorite place was Brooklyn and its Williamsburg neighborhood.

“Brooklyn as a whole seemed to me to have a more laid-back lifestyle combined with the same amount of good restaurant options and a great view of Manhattan’s skyline by some of its parks and promenades,” Clara wrote. “Williamsburg to me is a Utopian-like young — hipster, if you like — neighborhood where everybody seems happy (at least during the holidays) and where tourists like myself are not as common as in Manhattan,” she said.

Check out Central Park

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Central Park is the ultimate oasis. It runs for 2.5 miles along the length of Manhattan (from 59th Street to 110 Street) and is 0.5 miles wide (Fifth Avenue to Central Park West), a total of 843 acres. Go ice skating on Wollman or Lasker rinks for about $20 (including skate and admission). Check out the Conservatory Garden (the less-crowded North End), or the midpark fountains, ponds or pavilions, such as Alice in Wonderland, Shakespeare Garden or Strawberry Fields.

From the park, you can also access:

American Museum of Natural History — Accessible from Central Park West, between West 77th and West 81st streets. (The C and B train station is located on the corner of W 81st!) There’s an enormous African Plains elephant in the entry hall. The exhibits are amazing.

The Met (The Metropolitan Museum of Art) — Accessible from 5th Avenue and East 82nd Street. Besides some of the most impressive art to be seen in the world, check out the Egyptian tomb exhibit. It’s the next best thing to being in Luxor.

Central Park Zoo — The entrance is on 5th Avenue and 65th Street. It’s a small, but charming zoo in the middle of Manhattan.

Once you’re done checking out the park, head over to Columbus Circle to check out the USS Maine Monument, shop a little or check out the restaurants!

Chelsea Market and The Highline

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Take a walk along The Highline, a railroad turned park, which was once a part of the New York Central Railroad — the West Side Line. It runs along Gansevoort to 34th Street and offers a year-round above-ground view of the city.  Maybe even watch the first snowfall from the platform.

Chelsea Market (entrance on 9th Avenue) is also in the Meatpacking District. Now known for being “greatest indoor food halls of the world” and ” Attracting 6 million national and international visitors annually,” according to their main page. The venue was once home to several slaughterhouses and packingplants. Now, it spans from Ninth and Tenth Avenue to 15th and 16th Street. You can checkout the shops, the restaurants and tour the Youtube Space.

Greenwich Village 

Escape the hustle of the city and check out Greenwich Village. If you’re hungry and don’t want Shake Shack or NYC Pizza, check out La Lanterna Caffe —  at 129 MacDougal Street. Check out Washington Square Park or take a walk down Bleecker Street and enjoy NYC’s staple Bohemian neighborhood!

WAYS TO GET TO NYC

Bus
A roundtrip bus ticket to New York City will cost between $30 to $80. Some of the popular bus companies are MegaBus, Peter Pan, Greyhound or Bolt Bus. New York City is about a three- to four-hour ride from Boston or Washington, D.C.,  depending on the time of day you travel and

Megabus (Flickr)
Jeramey Jannene, Megabus (Flickr)

traffic. Sit back and watch the sights of other states as you drive in. You can look forward to your bus dropping you off in the heart of the city — West 34th Street in midtown! Shop a little before you go to your hotel.

A one-way trip by Greyhound would cost $15; roundtrip $33. Greyhound offers 10 percent student memberships

International student Clara Soares Nogueira from Brazil visited NYC during the Thanksgiving holiday and took the bus in for the first time.

I liked it, I won’t lie. It’s way cheaper and it doesn’t take that long,” she said.

Fly
Flying into New York City via John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK),  LaGuardia or Newark International may be the easiest way in, but may also be the most expensive, especially if you plan on taking a taxi or Uber to your hotel in Manhattan. Consider staying at a hotel closer to the airport to save money.

Cost: One roundtrip ticket from Washington, D.C or Boston to New York City (JFK) via American Airlines cost around $190. Train fare costs about the same. Some say the train is less hassle and you can get up and move around. 

Train
Amtrak trains pull into Pennsylvania Station — Penn Station — at 34th Street and 8th Avenue. (It also houses Madison Square Garden, a sports and entertainment venue.) And it is near the Port

Wikipedia Commons
Wikipedia Commons

Authority, a bus terminal where some of the earlier bus routes will drop you. Amtrak offers discounts for students. A ticket would be significantly less than a flight, but more expensive than taking the bus.

Cost: From Boston’s South Station to New York’s Penn Station, a one-way train ticket cost about $125, while a roundtrip cost about $184, after the 15 percent student discount.

A one-way ticket from D.C’s Union Station cost between $89 to $176, depending on the time of day you leave. (Early birds get cheaper rates.) A roundtrip ticket would total about $265.

WHERE TO STAY

Finding a bed for the night is usually the biggest hurdle to enjoying NYC. Hotels are expensive, but the good news is that there are plenty of them, and booking early and shopping around can uncover a terrific find. This year, hotels were offering fabulous discounts if you booked on Black Friday, the day after American Thanksgiving. Create a reminder to yourself for next year.

AirBnB
AirBnB’s are a cheaper alternative. Reserve a private room or an entire home. The cost is between $45 to $190 per night. 

Stay With A Friend
Staying with a friend can save you plenty of money, and if you’re in NYC by yourself, you’ll have company, and hopefully someone to be your tour guide.

Stay at a Hotel
If you’re traveling to NYC with friends, share the cost of a room. The Riff Chelsea offers $81 per night and is just off of 8th Avenue and 34th Street, a short walk from Penn Station.

Hotels outside the city tend to be a little cheaper. Check out New Jersey and borough hotels that are close to airports. You can take a bus or train from New Jersey to NYC, but not a subway. 

Images are courtesy of Clara Soares Nogueira and Arnella Sandy.

Have you been to New York City yet? What were your favorite spots and places? Please leave your suggestions here and on our Facebook page, thanks!

Arnella Sandy

2 comments

  1. Gerald Cohen and I solved “the Big Apple” and wrote the book on it. I have a website called “The Big Apple.” I have scans of historic articles and the 1936 ‘Big Apple” song. Why do you link to History.com, a crappy summary (that gave us no credit)?

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