Sightseeing with teens isn’t always easy – but New York really does have something for everyone. Here’s Part 1 of our first-timers’ guide to the city that never sleeps
- Bright lights, big city
- Landmarks, film locations
- Skyscrapers, parks, bridges
- Neighbourhoods and boroughs to explore
- The best burgers, burritos and much much more
Who went: Nancy and her sons, Nick 18 and Ed 16
Where did you go and how did you get there: we took an evening flight from London Heathrow to JFK with British Airways
When: July 2015
Itinerary: We knew about some of the landmarks already, then followed friends’ advice and checked the guidebooks. There are teen-orientated bus tours, shops, even restaurants in NYC but the boys steered clear of those. Here are the first five of our 10 New York City Must-Sees:
10. The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
Take a boat trip past Lady Liberty, the most potent symbol of the USA. See the unmissable view of the NYC skyline from the water. Discover why 12 million people across the world left their homes to begin a new life in America
There are a number of ways to see the Statue of Liberty up close – the cheapest – in fact it’s free – is from the deck of the Staten Island ferry which passes en route.
We chose to buy Statue Cruises tickets: this allows you to stop at Liberty Island on the outgoing leg then catch another boat on to Ellis Island and the Immigration Museum. We boarded the boat at Battery Park – we didn’t buy the tickets in advance and there wasn’t much of a queue at 11 am but we might have been lucky – it’s easy to book online and reserve a departure slot.
The very well-organised can book in advance (way in advance) for a ticket up to the Crown of Liberty; there is also an option to go into the pedestal but we were happy enough to hop off the boat at Liberty Island, walk around the base of the statue then move on to Ellis Island.
We arrived at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum hungry! Our first stop there was the cafeteria: the food is pretty good – fast, with healthy options – and, poignantly, is eaten at long benches in the hall where the immigrants gathered for meals. We quickly found ourselves chatting to the people sitting opposite and sharing stories of our travels.
The halls have been beautifully restored – there are three floors of exhibits and rooms that have been re-constructed. We visited the Journeys exhibition that tells the stories of the early immigrants to America: who they were, why they came and what their journeys were like. Listening booths allow you to hear actors voicing individual accounts of journeys over land and sea, huge photographic images bring the stories to life – an hour passed effortlessly.
The Ellis Island museum is a place where you could easily spend several hours if you wanted to take in the videos, the ranger talks, the exhibition halls and artifacts. We left wishing we’d had a bit more time there.
9. Tenement Museum
A newly discovered time capsule that delivers a gritty lesson in how New York’s millions of working class immigrants once lived
A friend had recommended the Tenement Museum and as it was walking distance from our hotel it became one of our first ports of call. The building that houses the museum on Lower East Side was discovered in the 1980s after being empty for 50 years. Its apartments have now been restored to their original states – which means that visitors can step back in time to a typical immigrant home in the late 1800s. Visits are by small guided tours – the reason for this is clear as soon as you enter the cramped spaces.
We joined the Sweatshop Workers tour and visited the life of Mr and Mrs Levine who worked from home in the garment industry more than 100 years ago. Initially their three room apartment for a family of three didn’t appear overly shocking… Then we learnt about the three garment workers who would have been sewing by the living room window all day plus the elderly male clothes presser stationed in the small kitchen with his red hot irons and board. The baby’s bed was beside the kitchen range – right beside it – wife and children had to fit in round the workers as best they could. Visiting in the heat of July it was even harder to imagine how anyone managed.
In a second more gentrified apartment, with a built in bath in the kitchen and new-fangled gas lights, we heard how the three grown up sons of the family slept in the living room. There were no beds: they lay with their legs across chairs to avoid the rats, their heads resting on the one sofa.
It’s a sobering glimpse into the reality of life for the immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island in search of a better future for their families. Definitely worth a visit and best for teens and upwards.
97 Orchard Street, Lower East Side
8. The High Line
An aerial walk in the park with benches for lounging, water for paddling and snack stalls for grazing
The High Line is a triumph – a disused elevated railway on Manhattan’s West Side that has been transformed into a public park with light and airy plantings of flowers and grasses amongst the old tracks.
We started at the southern entrance and enjoyed the stroll above the dirt and hustle of the city traffic with views to the Hudson river on one side and along the busy thoroughfares on the other. It’s a linear path, 1.45 miles long, that runs north from the Meatpacking district to Chelsea.
I’d thought the boys might find it boring – but that wasn’t the case. We paused for an overhead view of a stacking system car park, listened to a busker, pondered an art installation. There are benches and sunbeds for lazing and a stretch with running water on the decking boards where the desire to slip off your sandals and paddle is irresistible. Tiered seats are arranged in front of a glass screen which overlooks 10th Avenue – a bride and groom arrived to pose for photos. Turn around and you can see the Statue of Liberty in the distance. We walked about half way – you can join or leave the High Line at various points along its length.
Gansevoort Street to 34th Street
7. Brooklyn Bridge and Flea
Stroll across the bridge for a great view of Manhattan then sample Brooklyn’s famous Flea Market for its fine collection of vintage goods – and excellent food
This wasn’t quite what we’d intended to do. It was a hot Saturday and we set out to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, hire bikes and cycle along the shoreline taking in the spectacular views of Manhattan.
In fact, just getting across the bridge – almost a mile in length – on a baking July day in full sun was enough. Don’t get me wrong, the views are magnificent – of the Manhattan bridge and skyline and the Statue of Liberty in the distance. It’s a great walk. We just didn’t want to go cycling as well – we fancied some shade.
On a park bench under a tree we looked at the map and re-calibrated. We’d heard about the famous Flea – and the food stalls to be found there. But first stop was the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory at the foot of the bridge…
…for some scoops of peaches and cream and a quick look at the bike hire stand beside it. But it was just too hot.
So we hopped on the subway to the Brooklyn Flea, held every Saturday during the summer in a schoolyard in Fort Greene. Not only does it have wonderful flea market stalls, the food is famous too.
And the food lived up to expectations: lots of vendors to choose from parked beside shady wide stone steps where picnickers were enjoying their finds.We devoured lobster rolls, lobster BLTs and spicy chips then set off to explore the market stalls. It’s a friendly, relaxed space with mid-century furniture and decorative bits and pieces, old toys, clothes, vinyl and memorabilia.
The boys picked out some vintage shirts, I riffled through a stack of postcards and bought letter stencils from a nostalgic school supplies stall. Pleased with our purchases we wandered through the streets to the subway, stopping off for iced tea and admiring the handsome brownstone buildings.
Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Flea, (Saturdays 10 – 6pm, April- October) 176 Lafayette Avenue, between Clermont and Vanderbilt. Check out brooklynflea.com for other locations and Winter Flea
6. Yankee Stadium
Teens will love the iconic Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, home of the New York Yankee baseball team and, more recently, NYC Football Club. Popcorn and Coke obligatory
As Brits our family have been brought up with football (soccer in the US) and cricket but don’t completely get baseball. Also we are on a tight schedule and know that baseball games last for hours. Plus Frank Lampard, former mainstay of our home club Chelsea FC, is due to debut for NYCFC. For all these reasons the boys book advance tickets for a soccer (rather than baseball) match at the Yankee Stadium.
Frank pulled out due to an injury and missed an exciting game. There were 8 goals in total as the newly formed New York City FC battled it out to a draw with Toronto FC on the pitch inside the ballpark.
There’s more ceremony around soccer matches here than in the UK: players and teams are paraded with fanfares; goals, at least those scored by the home side, are marked with triumphant drumrolls. The crowd was largely family friendly – we didn’t hear any of the bad language and verbal abuse that’s to be found in our own dear Premier League version of the beautiful game.
Vendors roamed the aisles with cold beers, frozen daiquiris and ice-cream bars. Behind the seats a big servery was doing brisk business in hot dogs, coke and popcorn.
As the game drew to a close we raced for the exit and beat the crowds to the subway station and the half hour train ride back to lower Manhattan. I was still a little sorry we hadn’t seen a baseball game in the iconic stadium – but it was a very exciting soccer match.
Yankee Stadium, 1 E 161st Street, Bronx
New York Sightseeing with Teens
Part 2 Our Top 5 must-see sights in New York City click here
Part 3 Eating, Sleeping and Getting About click here
Photos by Nancy and family, all rights reserved. Photos may not be reproduced without prior written consent.
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