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Empire State of Mind: New York City Insider Guide

by Bianca July 19, 2016 4 comments
Empire State of Mind: New York City Insider Guide

   Maria lived in New York for two years during her MBA degree, so we had the opportunity to visit the city a few times and come up with a comprehensive New York City Insider Guide. Below is our experience from two separate visits.

New York is the city of all possibilities, the city where everyone is a tourist and all nations of the world coexist together. It’s the city that never sleeps! The feeling you have in New York is unique! You feel fabulous, you feel like you can do anything and that nothing is impossible! No place summarizes the American experience as does New York. Concrete jungle where dreams are brought to life! I love New York. I loved it since I stepped into it. And adventures there were immediate.

There are many wonderful experiences to live and places to see and things to do in NYC, so much so that it is almost impossible to write about all of them. But I will give my best to tell you as much as I can. 🙂

STAY New York City Insider Guide

We arrived in New York with a double purpose: on vacation, and to help Maria move there since she was about to start her MBA, specifically in search of an apartment for her to live in during two years of school.


Howard Johnson Inn Jamaica | Photo: www.hotelsclick.com

Howard Johnson in Jamaica, Queens, was the hotel where we stayed in the beginning. We chose it due to its proximity to Maria’s university and imagining Howard Johnson as it is in Romania – an almost luxury hotel.

The hotel is right next to the train station, so you hear all trains coming and going, day and night, especially early morning, so the experience left much to be desired. And there are a lot of trains. And despite being 5 minutes away from the subway, the location itself is not very favorable. We got over it pretty quickly because of our enthusiasm for being in New York and because we didn’t spend a lot of time at the hotel, but also because in the next few days we found the perfect apartment for Maria so we continued our vacation staying there and not at the hotel.

Thus the second location was in Queens, on the 22nd floor of an apartment building that gave us the most wonderful views each day.


Apartment view

FUN New York City Insider Guide

As the first purpose of our trip was completed, the remaining time, approximately 3 weeks, was reserved for vacation only.

We visited Manhattan, a place that fascinated me by its humongous buildings, the multitude of languages spoken, by the fact that the place is exactly as you see it in the movies – not few – made there. In fact, it makes you feel fabulous every time you’re there.

TIMES SQUARE New York City Insider Guide

Times Square is the first place you should see when you go to Manhattan. Its not called The Heart of Manhattan for nothing. It’s magical. It’s amazing how many movie scenes pass through your head when you’re there, how may people commute through there, from morning to evening and how many cultures you can see in one place. You can liken it to a huge mall where you find everything, full of tourists.



Times Square North Side | Night

After walking through the square, we moved on to Madame Tussauds, museum-store M&M World, Disney Store and the rest of the shops, and most restaurants.

CENTRAL PARK New York City Insider Guide

Next on our list was Central Park, which is wow!

Huge, beautiful, green and relaxing. The perfect place for walking or running, where people come on picnics in the summer,  ice skating in the moment, and in any moment to admire the skyscrapers. Of course, we felt like New Yorkers sitting on the grass, drinking a smoothie and resting our feet after all the walking. Then we stared at squirrels. They’re everywhere! Before the trip, when I was looking up NY facts, I happened to read somewhere that will recognize tourists by the way they stare at squirrels, and even try to touch them. Oh, and there was also one study that said that every tourist spends about 30 minutes looking at squirrels. Of course, it was most likely a joke that started from reality, because yes, we stared (and played, if you ask me) at the squirrels, and not only in Central Park.

Central Park Lake  New York City Insider Guide

After a short break to admiring them and drinking smoothies, we decided to rent a boat and “lose” a little time on the lake. Boats in Central Park cost $ 15 per hour.

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Bethesda Terrace and Fountain | Central Park

Central Park Zoo  New York City Insider Guide

From squirrels, we moved on to something a bit more diverse. We visited the Zoo (Central Park Zoo), a small but interesting zoo, where each animal habitat is recreated exactly and where we admired from red pandas, sea lions, monkeys, snow leopards and penguins, to bats (in freedom) and endangered bird species. We have a sensitivity to animals and perhaps we were a little more impressed with how their habitat is recreated and the variety of species that you can admire.

We purchased Central Park Zoo tickets at the entrance. The ticket price for adults is $18 and includes the tour of the main zoo, the children’s zoo, and one entry to the 4D Theater. You have the possibility to buy them online, with a small discount of around $2.



Central Park Zoo

Metropolitan Museum of Art  New York City Insider Guide

Next to Central Park you can check out the Metropolitan Museum of Art – the biggest museum in the United States and the most visited art museum in the world. And rightly so! It has works of art from classical and Egyptian antiquities to contemporary. It also hosts the Met Gala, along with many other renowned social events.

But as Maria was fascinated, so was I, and the rest of the clan, utterly bored. So if museums and history are not your things, a fast tour would be more appropriate.

The ticket prices at the MET are entirely up to you. Management suggests a sum of $25.

exterior real estate The Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue Friday, March 13, 2009 in New York. The museum suggests a $20 donation, however, visitors may contribute any dollar amount. (N.Y.Post: Chad Rachman)

Metropolitan Museum of Art | Photo: r8lst.com

Maria: While on this topic, the Guggenheim Museum is also worth a visit. The museum is located a few streets north of the MET, and is visibly much smaller. Its collection includes Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, early Modern and contemporary art, and is home to works of art from artists such as Pablo Picasso, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin, Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, and even art from our own Constantin Brancusi.

Tickets are $25, non-negotiable.


Guggenheim Museum

HIGH LINE New York City Insider Guide

Another rather unique place is the High Line Park. Unique because it is built, through ingenious use of space, over an abandoned railroad, and also the various installations and performance art. Approximately 2.5km long, it’s a place that rises above the city but still you feel rooted due to its various plants and flowers. No wonder it’s very crowded and that over four million people stop by annually.

For full effect, we recommend entering the park through the ramp on the 34th and 12th Avenue. There are several exits, but if you go through it all, you’ll end up in the  Meatpacking District / West Village, home to many renowned restaurants, places for brunch, bars, and clubs.


View Towards New Jersey | The High Line

EMPIRE STATE BUILDING New York City Insider Guide

After we got used to American soil, we started looking up. Or better said from above, from the Empire State Building. There are many tall buildings in NYC, but only one is named The Heart of the City. When you imagine NY, it’s impossible not to think about and see the Empire State Building. The view from the open-air observatory from the 102nd floor is breath-taking. It’s simply impressive, a view you will never forget. And as they say that New York is the city that never sleeps, you can also come at night until 2am time to admire the city lights in all their splendor.


The Empire State Building

You can choose to go up to just the 86th floor and the price of the ticket for adults is $65 la VIP and $32 standard. Up to 102, the price is $85 VIP and $52 standard. VIP only means you won’t be waiting in any lines. You can purchase tickets online, from the entrance or even on the street where you’ll be approached by eager sellers. It’s also worth mentioning that if you choose to go to the 86th floor, but up there you change your mind and want to go higher, you can purchase extra tickets with card only from one of the machines on the 86th floor. If you don’t have a card, you will have to go all the way down.

We recommend purchasing  them online or at the entrance and to choose the VIP ones (depending on the line) to avoid the lines and take the whole tour up to the 102nd floor for the full experience.

Let’s descend now back to earth. And take flight!

HELICOPTER TOUR New York City Insider Guide

Another checked out wish from our Bucket List was the Helicopter Tour of Manhattan.

I was completely terrified. I hate flying even in an airplane, and since I’ve taken the tour, now I hate helicopters too. For sure, Maria’s experience was entirely different. She loves adrenaline and it wasn’t her first helicopter flight, so she obviously amused at my expense. When I think about it, it wasn’t at all scary and of course, I know nothing will happen, it’s just that I can’t control my fear of flying. But from the moment I realized everything was all right and started looking down, it was wonderful. It’s really breathtaking, in a good way. It’s spectacular seeing the One World Trade Center, the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and generally all of New York from high up. It was a 20-minute adventure that leaves you speechless! You can also take the coolest photographs.


Downtown Manhattan Heliport | Helicopter Tour

We purchased the tickets from Downtown Manhattan Heliport, where you can choose the company you wish to fly with – Maria flew with most of them, so I honestly don’t think there’s such a big difference between them. You also have to choose between 3 types of tours. We chose the middle tour in terms of time (Big City Helicopter Tour 18-20 min), which took us above the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, One World Trade Center, 9/11 Memorial Site, Brooklyn Bridge, Battery Park, Wall Street, Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, Madison Square Garden, Times Square, Central Park, Columbia University, Grant’s Tomb, George Washington’s Bridge, Harlem and Harlem River, Bronx, Yankee Stadium and others. The price is $195 per person plus the heliport tax of $30.

STATUE OF LIBERTY New York City Insider Guide

After the helicopter tour, we took the ferry and went to the Statue of Liberty. Another key point on our bucket list, but this was the only one that seemed much smaller in reality than in photos and movies. Or I had just imagined it at a larger scale. Arriving on Liberty Island we realized that we can only enjoy it from outside, on the first floor. To see it inside and also climb to the top, to the crown, we had to make an appointment weeks, sometimes months in advance. Should I remind you how well we organize our vacations? If you’ve read New Year’s Eve at the Beach in Winter, you probably know that an appointment would not be the case for us, so we did not partake in this particular tour. We like to wing it!

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OurCoterie | Statue of Liberty

Maria: I had the opportunity to see the statue in its entirety in September one year when the tourist season was almost done. You don’t need special tickets to go up, you use the same tickets bought for Liberty/Ellis Island, but of course, they need to be reserved some time in advance. Besides the gorgeous view, you will also enjoy the history of the statue presented in a mini museum which is on your way to the top.

We bought the tickets from Battery Park, but you can also buy them online. The price of a ticket is $53 and includes the visit to Ellis Island. To see the crown, you need to reserve tickets at least 2-3 weeks in advance (depending on the season) online or on site.

ELLIS ISLAND New York City Insider Guide

Related to this mini-cruise to the Statue of Liberty, there’s also Ellis Island, where we also stopped. Ellis Island is the symbol of American immigration, the point of arrival of all European immigrants from 1892 to 1954. On the island, there’s a museum that describes the immigrants’ experience. Likewise, outside the museum, there are marble slabs on which are written the names of immigrants. And yes, we found ours! We might have an ancestor that we don’t know about.


There it is! | Ellis Island

DOWNTOWN MANHATTAN New York City Insider Guide

Battery Park  New York City Insider Guide

To arrive at the ferry, as well as to the helicopter, we passed through Battery Park. The park was named so after the artillery batteries that were positioned there in the early days of the city. Now it’s just a wonderful park where you can admire the different monuments, memorials, sculptures or just have a coffee looking at the port and enjoying the view.

Famous Avenues  New York City Insider Guide

Going back to Manhattan, we couldn’t resist not walking on Wall Street, 5th Avenue or Broadway, places that have that Manhattan-from-the-movies feel.


Wall Street with Broadway

One World Trade Center  New York City Insider Guide

Or not go to the One World Trade Center. Where we also visited the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, otherwise overwhelming to tears, and the One World Trade Center Observatory. The memorial marks almost perfectly the location of the twin towers, and the museum has a multitude of artifacts from the disaster, as well as photographs and videos from the event and makes you relive those terrible moments, but also appreciate the determination of the human spirit and American culture.

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Long Way to Go | One World Trade Center

At the observatory, you can see the city from 541 meters high, or 104 floors, so a bit higher than the Empire State. Practically speaking, if you’ve seen Manhattan from one of them, seeing it from the other is a bit redundant.

You can purchase the museum tickets at the entrance on the day of the visit. The standard ticket is $24. You can also choose a guided tour. Also,the tickets can be purchased online just to avoid the lines, and the memorial is free.

At the One World Trade Center Observatory, the ticket price depends on the day and time of your visit. The standard ticket is $32 and it can be bought online or on site.

Brooklyn Bridge  New York City Insider Guide

One of those days we went to the Brooklyn Bridge, one of the oldest suspension bridge that links Manhattan to Brooklyn and is one of New York’s symbols. This bridge represents an architectural innovation, not just a bridge over a river. From here you can enjoy spectacular views of Lower Manhattan and other objectives such as the Statue of Liberty and Governors Island.


Say Hi to Brooklyn | Brooklyn Bridge

GOSSIP GIRL TOUR New York City Insider Guide

Being a huge Gossip Girl fan we chose a tour with the same name where we were brought to all the locations where filming took place. From the renowned MET steps and the renowned Vera Wang shop to The Empire – Chuck Bass’ hotel. The tour starts with the famous greeting – Hello Upper East Siders and continues on the same note all the while you’re being driven through the exclusive part of Manhattan and you have the occasion of seeing in real life where everything happened.

We bought the tour online before arriving in NY. Lol, I know! It was $47 plus a tax of $2. The tour lasts 3 hours during which you are driven to all the places where the important action took place. There’s a break at each attraction where you can go out and take pics. You also receive coupons to shops such as Vera Wang, Dylan’s Candy Bar, Henri Bendel and others.

GRAND CENTRAL New York City Insider Guide

Speaking of Gossip Girl, I remembered the Grand Central Terminal. Serena was first seen here. Haha, big fan here! Seriously, though, we did go here. More than 100 years old, it’s a place where thousands of commuters pass through daily. However, that’s not what impressed me per se as much as how it looks like. It’s a true architectural masterpiece – with its ceiling decorated with a constellation, an opal four-faced clock above the information booth, and at the entrance, there’s a large sculpture portraying Hercules, Minerva, and Mercury (the God of travel).


Inside Grand Central

SPORTS New York City Insider Guide

US Open  New York City Insider Guide

During our vacation, US Open Tennis Tournament also took place, and we couldn’t miss it. We bought tickets for an entire day. Thus we watched the Williams sisters, we heard Sharapova’s screams in real life, we got an autograph from Dimitrov and Maria caught an autographed ball from Simona Halep. Ieeei!

As said above, we bought tickets online for an entire day, until the last match. The tickets included general access on all stadiums where there were no assigned seats and on Arthur Ashe only we had to reserve your seats. The price per ticket was approximately $300 per person.

The tournament took place in Flushing Meadows (Corona Park), recognizable by The Unisphere, the world globe made of steel.


Arthur Ashe Stadium | US Open

Yankee Stadium  New York City Insider Guide

In the Bronx, we went to the Yankee Stadium for the soccer match New York City vs. San Jose Earthquakes. Even though I only knew about David Villa, we watched the match like true supporters. An experience that is worth trying and a great atmosphere!

For the match, we purchased the tickets online a few days beforehand. The price for three tickets was $178.89.

Maria: If you have the opportunity, you can’t miss a basketball game at Madison Square Garden, home to many matches from a diverse list of sports, as well as many different concerts.

TRANSPORT New York City Insider Guide

Taxis  New York City Insider Guide

We’ve talked about what we’ve seen, but haven’t said anything about means of transportation. The taxi is terrible to use in New York City, because as you can imagine the traffic is terrible, so we used it sparsely. Usually, we took taxis when we had short trips in Queens, not at all Manhattan. Regarding the Sex and the City myth, there is no such thing as calling the taxi yelling or whistling at it. The city is wayyy to loud and you’ll never be observed. We only took the car around Queens for the same reason.

Subway  New York City Insider Guide

Most often we used the subway, which takes you all around New York in a short amount of time. It’s easy to use and understand compared to other cities. And the subway experiences are unique. First off, you’ll notice that most New Yorkers use it, so traffic is absolutely normal – which is all right as long as you’re a tourist and your sense of smell is not very sensitive. If you use it for a while, it will become annoying, especially if you’re used to fewer people around you.


Subway Map | Photo: www.nyctourist.com

Another thing about the subways is that it’s extremely cold in the summer. It was the middle of summer outside – august – and inside the AC was at full blast. So we always had a “subway jacket” with us. The subway is also the meeting place of “artists.” Someone’s dancing, another is singing, one’s reciting a sketch only he/she understands (true story) or they’re campaigning for a cause. You get used to it in time and realize how open-minded the people who live in NY truly are, even though it might seem weird at first; you’ll understand that you don’t need to be crazy to start singing all of a sudden, but simply not care about what people think or say. That doesn’t mean there aren’t truly weird people out there too. There are! Just like everywhere else, but with the on’s in your country you’re already used to.

We also recommend you invest in a subway card MetroCard about $40 per person if you’re staying more than 3 days in Manhattan. This way, a trip will cost you $2.75. NYC Subway app is a must as well.

SHOPPING New York City Insider Guide

You shouldn’t limit yourself to only the shops you know about, go in shops that don’t exist in your country – like Macy’s or different boutiques, and enjoy shopping! New York is a shopping paradise. Macy’s is not just a fashion institution, it’s an American symbol. The biggest shop in the world bears its name and has over 10,000 square feet. Mother of all stores!


Macy’s NYC | Photo: www.nyctourist.com

Broadway and 5th Avenue are streets perfect for shopping, full of shops for many miles long. While you’re there, it’s a good idea to also see Rockefeller Center, a commercial complex located between 5th and 6th Avenue (Avenue of the Americas), where in the summer you can have lunch or dinner outside, and in the winter the place transforms into an ice skating ring, and is also the place where the famous Christmas Tree Lightning takes place annually.

The Flatiron District is more than worthy of a visit as well, where you can find a lot of stores, Madison Square Park, and the famous triangular building Flatiron.

If you want to ease your pockets, you definitely have to pay a visit to the Century 21 Department Store where you can find designer items discounted up to 70%. With the same purpose, you can find help at Bloomingdale’sNordstrom Rack and many others.  

EAT New York City Insider Guide

I love the food in the US. It’s now as unhealthy or more unhealthy as ours, as they like to say. It only depends on the choices you make and where you eat. Burgers are unhealthy anywhere, but generally, if you know when and what to eat, you won’t have any problems. Of course, there are unhealthy things out here to eat, but you don’t have to get into those.

We ate hot-dogs from the tens of vendors on the street when we had to wait in a line somewhere and we were starving or when we were hungry but didn’t have time to sit down, and they’re incredible! We could hardly stop at one. The most delicious I’ve ever had! Or maybe we were wayyy to hungry. But try to avoid the gigantic pretzels that are tasteless.

We also had delicious soups as well. As much as we tried to reproduce them at home, they still don’t have that flavor. Find tomato soup (my favorite), broccoli cheddar (delicious), seafood, corn chowder – I’m already getting hungry, so I’m going to stop now. The best soups I’ve ever eaten!

Then we fell in love with the bbq ribs and potatoes, taste that we haven’t found in ribs anywhere else. Steaks, lobster, crab, shrimps and burgers! Amen!

We usually ate two times at the restaurant and once home. And a lot of times we didn’t just eat because we were hungry, but because of our healthy appetites, if I’m being completely honest here.

The best burgers we found at restaurant chains such as Applebee’sRuby TuesdayTGI Friday’sFor seafood and delicious lobsters we went to Red LobsterThe most delicious steak we discovered at Harry’s Cafe & Steak

New York City Insider Guide

Harry’s Cafe & Steak | Photo: harrysnyc.com

Romanian Vibes  New York City Insider Guide

One of those days we went to Bucharest Restaurant in Queens. Romanian food, Romanian beer, Romanian TV channels and, by chance, a Romanian alms. Mhm. We were the only ones in the restaurant along with another 6 elderly people. Everyone was speaking in Romanian. They lived in New York and had come to make alms (an orthodox custom) to a close friend. How else would we feel the Romanian spirit, if not like this? The food and service were ok.

New York City Insider Guide

Bucharest Restaurant Bar | Photo bucharestrestaurant.com

Maria: For independent and interesting restaurants, but less accessible price-wise, you can try:



The Garden at The Four Seasons



Ardesia Wine Bar

Sugar Factory

Il Bastardo

Tao Uptown

Florian Trattoria

Obica Mozzarella Flatiron

Besides New York, in our first year, we also visited Washington DC and Niagara Falls, and in the second, Orlando (Florida)!

This post is entirely dedicated to our New York experience.

New York is always a good idea!

New York City Insider Guide

View From Roosevelt Island

Questions, comments or concerns? Leave us a note below or contact us, we’d love to hear from you!

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alex July 19, 2016 - 10:33 am

This is so cool! Will go there later this summer!

ourcoterie July 28, 2016 - 6:54 am

Make sure to wear comfortable shoes 🙂

Greg Loveridge August 17, 2016 - 8:50 am

На втором этаже здания находится аттракцион, открытый в 1994 году для туристов. Аттракцион называется New York Skyride и представляет собой имитатор воздушного путешествия по городу. Длительность аттракциона — 25 минут.

ourcoterie August 17, 2016 - 11:10 am

Translation: On the second floor of the building is an attraction, opened in 1994 for tourists. The attraction is called the New York Skyride, and is a simulator of air travel in the city. The duration of the ride – 25 minutes.

You’re right! I forgot about it completely. Don’t remember ever going on it though 🙂


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