When you’ve only got one day in a new city, what do you do to make the most of it?
Maybe you pick one or two must-see attractions and concentrate your time there. Or you throw the itinerary out the window and let yourself wander from neighborhood to neighborhood, soaking up the atmosphere. Or maybe, as I did on a recent trip to Brooklyn, you take a tour.
In fact, I took two. As an independent traveler, I tend to avoid big coach tours — you know, the ones that have the canned narration over the P.A. system and only let you off the bus for two minutes at a time. I opted instead for two small-group tours that each focused on a particular aspect of the local culture — because even though my time was short, I still wanted a true taste of the place from a local’s perspective.
What Not to Do in a New City
In the morning, Matt Levy of Levys’ Unique New York led a “Graffiti to Galleries” tour with an emphasis on street art in both Williamsburg — Brooklyn’s latest “hot” neighborhood — and Bushwick, where crumbling factories are being reclaimed as canvases for young artists. The tour took us to places I’d have never thought to visit on my own.
Brooklyn native Dom Gervasi, founder of Made in Brooklyn Tours, focused his tour exclusively on homegrown shops and galleries, and the people who run them. We heard the stories of Dewey Oblonsky, who started her own colorful candy shop after being laid off after decades working in the fashion industry, and Lori Fields, who creates custom-designed sweatshirts at a place called Neighborhoodies. Forget the ticky-tacky tourist shops. For travelers who love to support small businesses and come home with souvenirs they couldn’t buy anywhere else, this is the tour for you.
Levys’ Unique New York offers customized tours for individuals and groups. Rates vary widely depending on the size of the group, but generally cost about $50 per person per hour for a private tour. Made in Brooklyn Tours cost about $35 per person for a half-day tour.
Want more ideas for exploring your next destination in depth? Check out Eight Tours for People Who Don’t Like Tours.
– written by Sarah Schlichter
What exactly are “rude” countries and “rude” cities?
I’ll tell you what they are: Places that travel Web sites and publications routinely turn to in order to get people talking (and, uh, clearly it works).
A few weeks ago, Skyscanner — a Web site that compares rates on different airlines — announced that its users had deemed France the world’s rudest country, with Russia taking the second spot. (The United States was No. 6.) By default, that apparently makes Paris the world’s rudest city. And in January, Travel + Leisure magazine announced its readers’ picks for America’s rudest cities, with New York taking the top “prize.” Slots two through through five went to Miami, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and Boston.
I’ve been to all of these cities, and I’ll be darned if I can tell which one is ruder than the other. I’ve seen heroic acts of kindness in the Big Apple, and while you can’t take the French out of the French, I’ve never felt particularly ill at ease while tromping near the Arc de Triomphe. Washington D.C.? Having lived there for nearly two decades, I always considered the place ridiculously pleasant.
Rudeness is most definitely in the eyes of the beholder, and no doubt travelers have a different take on things than those who live in these bastions of ill manners. I had a former boss who insisted that the only way to avoid rudeness in places like Paris, New York and London (Skyscanner deems the British the third-rudest nationality) was to blend in with the locals, and I always thought was a terrible idea. Why? Because the natives can sniff out posers immediately, and they’ll turn on you.
12 Ways to Feel at Home in a Foreign Place
Instead, I’ve found that being polite myself begets politeness in others. Dressing appropriately (sorry, no flip-flops in Notre Dame) and adhering to local customs goes a long way toward endearing you to the locals. Learning a bit of the native language puts others at ease and shows that you’re at least trying. And by all means, if you bumble into New York thinking that everyone is going to be rude to you … you’ll probably leave thinking they were.
– written by John Deiner
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No other city does the holidays like New York. The Rockettes kick up their heels in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, angels blow their golden trumpets at Rockefeller Center, department stores vie for the title of the most impressive window display — and a flood of visitors arrives to soak up every second of the spectacle.
With bigger crowds come higher prices, but there’s no need to blow your holiday shopping budget on entertainment while you’re in the Big Apple. As we write in Top 25 Ways to Save on New York City Travel, “There are free or inexpensive concerts, readings, art exhibits and other events happening all over the city on any given day; the only challenge is finding them. Check out nymag.com/agenda, New York Magazine’s online event search feature that lets you filter results by cost (try ‘$10 & Under’ or ‘Free’).”
I did a quick search for events the weekend of December 9 – 11 and turned up several comedy shows, a Brooklyn brewery tour and a Native American art exhibition in a SoHo gallery — all free.
If you’re visiting the Big Apple in the next six weeks, it’s also worth checking out New York’s official tourism Web site at nycgo.com. There you’ll find a list of popular seasonal events, including the lighting of the world’s largest menorah on December 20 and nightly performances of “The Nutcracker” by the New York City Ballet (running through December 31). Note that some of these events do carry a price tag; check nycgo.com/free for the most budget-friendly options.
Get more help planning your trip with our New York travel deals and complete New York travel guide.
– written by Sarah Schlichter
“Did you notice the crust?” This is not a question one wants to hear when talking hotel rooms. But it’s posed with utter giddiness when one is in room number 27 at the Roxbury in New York’s Catskills region; for this is “Mary Ann’s Coconut Cream Pie” room, a flamboyant space with a faux-meringue ceiling, a round bed and a hint of coconut in the air.
It’s the newest addition at the Roxbury, where room designs riff on movies and T.V. — Jeannie’s bottle, Charlie’s Angels, Maria’s curtains from “The Sound of Music.” You can book a “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”-inspired blue jewel box of a room, or stay in the grander Wizard’s Jewels room, with its yellow glass floor tiles, mural of poppies and ruby-slippered feet sticking out from under the bed pillows.
Bizarre Requests from Hotel Guests
It sounds zanier than it is. The Roxbury is big on style and comfort; it is not a hyperactive theme-park experience. From the nice toiletries to the bowl of wasabi peanuts at reception, the owners’ loving attention to detail is palpable. The proprietors are a pair of New York City refugees who took a gamble on a downtrodden roadside motel, transforming a den of disrepair into a cozy place to rest your inner Fred Flintstone.
It may seem like a radical juxtaposition — a place that unabashedly embraces lime green and meringue ceilings amid placid Roxbury, population 2,500. Yet the motel sits harmoniously here, beside a trout stream with a barn in spitting distance. In the stairwell, one of the first things I notice is the huge chandelier made of what looks like a thousand neon orange drinking straws. It does not seem wrong.
The charm is in the details: chocolates, fresh flowers. Munch fancy soy crisps in the glittery spa ($20 per person for unlimited visits during your stay), or pepperoni Hot Pockets ($1 from the office). Copies of the American Film Institute’s Top 100 movies are available in the free-to-borrow DVD collection, as well as vintage “The Addams Family” episodes. What’s your rainy-day game: chess, or Operation?
Over breakfast on the sun porch, the various weekend leaf-peepers and hikers compare notes and offer suggestions for future room themes (one 9-year-old’s contribution: Sponge Bob). If you’re lucky, you meet the people in room 27, the friendly couple from New Jersey who invite you to come check out the digs. You go. You notice the crust. Delicious.
– written by Deborah Bogosian
Just like Kate, you can walk down the aisle of an iconic historic treasure to marry a prince. Okay, we can’t guarantee the prince part (a partner with princely qualities is a good substitute), but we do know of a few historic attractions that are the perfect places for a fairy tale wedding in the style of European royalty — and a ticket across the pond won’t be required for the event.
Castles built by America’s royalty, from Gilded Age robber barons to, well, authentic royals (think Hawaii), make for spectacularly impressive weddings. Your event may not be viewed on YouTube by half the world, but it will be an occasion to remember, with a grandiose 250-room chateau, splendid gardens or a six-story medieval-style castle setting the scene for your nuptials.
Don’t feel left out if you aren’t walking down the aisle anytime soon. These attractions are open for tours as well as weddings.
Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California
When a newspaper tycoon of the Gilded Age builds his dream home, moderation is negligible. Fifty-six bedrooms and 61 bathrooms are a must. A world-class collection of priceless art, a private zoo and two lavish swimming pools are obligatory. And perfectly manicured gardens bursting with color? William Randolph Hearst had to have them, so he surrounded his American castle with acres of exotic plants, from elegant cypress trees to vibrant pomegranate hedges, inspired by gardens in Italy and Spain. All in all, the place makes a sensational backdrop for a royal-esque wedding. Couples can tie the knot on one of the castle’s many terraces, with the surrounding emerald San Simeon hills and the castle’s white Mediterranean Revival-style towers stretching to the sky behind them.
Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina
Biltmore Estate, the largest privately owned home in the United States, seems straight out of a fairy tale. The Vanderbilt mansion was built in the 1800′s in the romantic architectural style of French chateaus, with tall spires and steeply pitched roofs. The gardens of Biltmore, where weddings are held amidst cool lily ponds, stone walls, ancient cypress trees and blooming beds of delicate flowers, extend for nearly 8,000 acres. Read more about Asheville.
Boldt Castle, Heart Island, New York
Nestled in New York’s Thousand Islands region, Boldt Castle is a living tribute to love. The six-story castle was commissioned by American hotelier George Boldt to honor his wife, Louise. Construction began in 1900, and the Boldt family visited the castle regularly as it was built, staying in nearby Alster Tower. But work on the structure ceased suddenly in 1904 when Louise died and a heartbroken George Boldt abandoned the project that he had shared with his beloved partner. The incredible 120-room castle was left unfinished for 73 years until it was restored in the 1970′s. Today, couples can arrange a wedding on the appropriately named Heart Island, where the Boldts’ massive medieval-style castle stands as a magnificent monument to marriage.
Iolani Palace, Honolulu, Hawaii
The United States is home to a single royal palace, about which American travelers can proudly brag to British locals on trips to the U.K. It’s Honolulu‘s Iolani Palace, the former home of King Kalakaua and Queen Lili’uokalani. The palace, built in 1879, sits on land that is believed to be the site of an ancient Hawaiian place of worship, a sacred area known as a “wahi pana.” Weddings can be held on the royal palace’s lawns beneath swaying palm trees and Indian banyan trees.
Rosecliff, Newport, Rhode Island
Dance and dine under painted ceilings in the ballroom at Rosecliff, the only Newport mansion that is available for weddings. Newport is the storied site of some of the United States’ most lavish mansions. The area was the summer vacation spot of choice for Gilded Age American elites like the Vanderbilts and the Astors; their opulent homes sit on acres of beautifully landscaped gardens near dramatic coastal cliffs. (There’s even a 19th-century topiary garden with bushes cut into the shapes of animals nearby.) Rosecliff, built for the Oelrich family in the style of Versailles, was featured in the film “The Great Gatsby.”
– written by Caroline Costello
For anyone planning a holiday trip to New York City, a fully packed schedule awaits. New York’s holiday celebrations number in the hundreds, and include everything from world-famous events, like the Times Square ball drop or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, to Christmas shows and community concerts. The following 10 events are some of our favorites, but to see a more complete list of seasonal activities in the Big Apple, check out the NYC.gov Event Calendar.
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade marks the start of New York’s holiday celebrations. The parade, which marches in on November 24, features bunches of fantastical balloons, dozens of mega-floats and performers strutting down the streets of Manhattan. To get the best views of the parade, book a hotel room facing the street on Central Park West or Broadway (these rooms fill up well in advance, so make reservations early). If it’s too late to snag a room with a view, you can always wake up early and stake out a spot on the street where the parade comes through.
Grand Central Terminal Holiday Fair
For the 12th consecutive year, Grand Central’s beautiful Vanderbilt Hall will convert into a bustling holiday fair this season. This urbane market isn’t exactly your local holiday bazaar selling pine cone wreaths in the elementary school gym. The fair, presented by the New York Times, features 76 unique vendors offering tasteful, eclectic gifts, from hand-crafted jewelry to fine art and photography. Shops are open daily from November 15 through December 24 (with the exception of Thanksgiving Day).
Radio City Christmas Spectacular
The Rockettes kick-start the season with a colorful, eye-popping musical extravaganza featuring dancing armies of Santas, festive holiday tunes and a living nativity scene with real animals. The G-rated performance is popular with families with young children, but the show works for anyone who isn’t too old to enjoy Christmas songs and sky-high leg kicks. Performances are going on now and run through the end of December.
On December 12, the second night of Hanukkah, Town and Village Synagogue at 334 East 14th Street will host a sing-along Hanukkah concert with a reception to follow. The concert includes a Hanukkah candle lighting, and everyone is invited to sing along to traditional Jewish folk songs.
New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show
From November 20 through January 9, the New York Botanical Garden exhibits a charming half-mile train track with G-scale model trains and more than 100 hand-constructed mini-New York City landmarks, which are all crafted of plant materials. Grab some hot chocolate and ginger snaps in the Botanical Garden Cafe and spend an afternoon exploring the festive 250-acre display.
George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker”
The New York City Ballet’s world-famous “The Nutcracker” performance has been a New York holiday tradition since the 1950′s. Stunning costumes, an iconic score and even a massive one-ton Christmas tree transport viewers to a dreamy fairy-tale world in which toys dance and reindeer fly. There are roughly 45 “The Nutcracker” performances each year between November 26 and January 2, and it’s best to book your tickets early to snag prime seating.
On November 30, thousands will gather to witness the lighting of Rockefeller Center’s iconic Christmas tree. There will be special musical performances during the lighting ceremony (this year Susan Boyle, Mariah Carey and other celebrities will be putting on a good show), but if you can’t make it on that day, it’s always fun to rent some skates and take a spin on the Ice Rink at Rockefeller Center next to the sparkling tree.
The Pond at Bryant Park
Waiting for a ticket to get into the Ice Rink at Rockefeller Center can take an hour or longer, as only 150 people are allowed on the rink at a time. A nice, less touristy and free (that’s right — admission is free!) ice skating alternative is the Pond at Bryant Park. The outdoor rink stays open from the end of October through the end of February, and skate rentals are available on site.
The World’s Largest Menorah
The lighting of the biggest menorah in the world — the monument is 32 feet tall — happens at 4 p.m. on December 11 at the Grand Army Plaza in Manhattan (Fifth Avenue at 59th Street). The ceremony will include dancing, Jewish foods and performances by folk singers. Admission is free.
New Year’s Eve in Times Square
Okay, this one’s obvious. The Times Square New Year’s Eve ceremony pretty much marks the end of the city’s holiday festivities — and it’s the world’s most famous New Year’s Eve party — so we had to give it a mention. If you want to get in the action, you’ll have to arrive in the square pretty early on December 31 to stake out a good spot. No public restrooms are available, and there are no food or drink vendors, so make sure to do your business before you head to the square, and pack a snack.
For more information on the Big Apple, don’t miss our Top 25 Ways to Save on New York City Travel.
–written by Caroline Costello