There’s so much to do in New York and who has enough time when they are a tourist, am I right? I have to admit that I feel a little overwhelmed when I have limited number of days in the Big Apple and struggle to make a travel plan that covers everything I want to see, do and try. Should I see the museums, parks, landmarks, neighborhoods or tempting shops? Again, so many options and never enough time.
In 2017, my dream of visiting New York in September came true and I started planning way ahead of time just to make sure I could optimize the days in the city as much as possible. I wanted to do the major tourist activities and also experience the life in the city without running around for a few days. Feels like I’m aiming too high, I know. But somehow, with careful planning, research and high energy, we managed to this! The secret is being very strategic with your choices. So I’d love to share my tips on how we managed to see all the landmarks on our list and do the iconic activities in the most optimal and cost-efficient way possible.
How to see New York on a budget and in short time
During my research for the most cost efficient method to see the landmarks, I came across City Pass and was instantly sold after reading some reviews. We’ve used similar tourist cards in Europe before and haven’t really benefited from them much, but City Pass changed my mind after our week in the city. What makes it different is that it offers a package deal including a certain number of landmarks and you can can create your desired combination of museums and landmarks. This way we were able to select what we wanted to see and therefore we were able to really use it to its fullest. With this card, you basically save yourself from paying separately at the entrance of each place you visit. In fact, they mention that you are able to save 43% on the entrance tickets by using City Pass.
The package combination for your City Pass includes 3 fixed landmarks and 3 optional ones:
The Empire State Building
American Museum of Natural History
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Top of the Rock Observation Deck OR Guggenheim Museum
Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island OR Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises
9/11 Memorial & Museum OR Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
Here’s a few places we saw and experienced with our City Pass and have been my favorite…
My all-time favorite museum: American Museum of Natural History
I’ve actually been to the American Museum of Natural History twice before and yet still, happily saw it for the third time. This place amazes and inspires me every time and I leave in awe of our universe, cultures and nature. In fact, I already look forward to seeing it again with my children in the future!
You will remember this museum from the movie, ‘Night at the Museum’. It is one of the largest museums in the world and has a monumental scope. This is probably an activity that will take the majority of your day, so make sure to account for this.
At the entrance, they will ask you to select between two shows – I highly recommend the one about space. It is incredible! You’ll be amazed by how miniscule we are as humans. The theatre experience is very cool as the screen is on the ceiling and has the shape of a dome.
Empire State and Rockefeller Buildings
Empire State and Top of the Rock are two activities that are quite similar to each other, yet you don’t complete a full New York tour unless you see these iconic buildings. For both attractions, we scheduled our sightseeing around evening time to catch the sunset, but the weather was very gloomy and rainy on both days. No sunset for us this time. However with the city lit up in the background, we were able to capture very ‘Gotham City’-like shots.
Take note that when you’re on the Top of the Rock Observation Deck at the Rockefeller Building, you’ll likely experience a crazy amount of wind – so you might want to be prepared. There’s also a huge crowd queuing up to take selfies in front of the landscape, so get ready to wait the line and have your cameras ready.
Boat Tour at the Hudson River and Sea, Air and Space Museum
Selecting these options from the City Pass package was absolutely a great idea and I highly recommend doing both of them. In fact, schedule them back to back because they’re very closely located. They are on the West end of Manhattan, near Pier 86 and since they’re activites by the water, it’s definitely a change of scenery.
Here’s a tip: After you visit the museum, open your Google Maps and search for Gotham West Market. It will be a 5-6 minute walk from the museum and I promise, you won’t regret it. It’s an amazing food market with appetizing options. Don’t leave before you try Ample Hills icecream!
Circling back to the museum, I kept my expectations low and didn’t think I’d enjoy this attraction because I’m not really into the sea or air fields, like my hubby is. I have to admit that it was totally worth going and I enjoyed it almost as much as Baris did! You get to tour inside a real submarine and a aircraft carrier and they’re really impressive. It’s certainly a great museum experience.
Tip: Try the G-force simulation inside the museum. It is an additional $13 and is totally worth it! You get to experience how it feels like flying in an actual jet – need I say more?!
Viewing Manhattan from the Hudson River, on a speed boat
I suppose this was the activity we boarded with least expectations. We thought we’d have fun, but didn’t get over excited about it and we didn’t love the idea of getting soaked. We ended up having an unforgettable time! 🙂
We onboarded a speed boat (I love speed boats) called BEAST and with tunes from the 80’s, we toured on the Hudson River starting from the Upper West area, all the way to Stated Island where the Statue of Liberty is located. I literally was screaming: ‘THIS IS LIIIIFE’ at one point of the tour and enjoyed it way too much.
Here’s a short video of the speed boat tour on the Hudson River to give you an idea. Turn on the English subtitles!
I hope these tips are helpful when you’re planning your trip to New York and enjoy this amazing city!