New York Highlights – Part 1

I managed to squeeze in a weekend trip to New York from Houston – was able to cover quite a bit in the 2 days. You cannot imagine the leg cramps I had after the trip. Since I had a very, very short time here, I needed to stay somewhere central – the most central part I can think of is Times Square of course!

Houston (Hobby) to New York (LaGuardia)

I arrived in New York on Friday evening – from Houston. Took Southwest Airline – brilliant, cheap and comfortable. Good deal! United had some great flight timings, but I discovered United does not accept Malaysian credit card online. What’s that all about? So from then on – I always use Southwest first no matter what. I kind of like Houston Hobby airport – it’s not too busy and everything is so efficient. Plus the stores are lined up nicely. I felt LaGuardia was a bit chaotic in comparison.

New York Attractions

I was travelling solo, it was my first time in the city, and I didn’t have much time there, so the best way to make effective use of the short time to get to know the city is to join a tour! I booked a NYC small group walking tour with Viator via Trip advisor. Small group tours are always a great way to get an intro to the city – and with this one, you get to ride the trains too, and go on the ferry with a guide. There was, however, some serious walking involved. Comfortable shoes are a must! On the second day – I revisited some of the attractions and a few others because it felt it was a bit “touch and go” during the tour. But I would still recommend it as it helps you to get your bearings around the city.

Times Square

Times Square runs from West 42nd to West 47th St. This area used to be very seedy between 1960s to 1980s. Today as you stand at the square, you are surrounded by shops like Disney, Forever 21, McDonalds, and electronic billboards are everywhere. Hard to imagine that this place was infested with crimes – there were adult theatres, sex shops. You couldn’t even trust the police to keep you safe, as there was so much corruption. In the 1990s, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani led a clean up of the area to keep crime off the street. 

Here at Times Square, building owners are required to display illuminated signs – mandated by the zoning ordinance. There is a minimum lighting (not maximum) imposed for the area. Not cheap to own and maintain a building here! But that’s what makes Times Square, “Times Square”. You can see all the Broadway show ads on the various LED displays – and there is a TKTS ticket booth right smack in the middle of the square where you can get your Broadway tickets. There is always a long queue here – it seems you can get same day theatre tickets at 50% off.

Too early for selfie I think. One of my many selfie attempts at Times Square
You can see the Times Square ball if you look closely at the One Time Square building above the Toshiba sign. Every New Year’s eve, at 11:59 pm, the Ball begins its descent as everyone starts to countdown the final seconds of the year. This is basically the famous “Ball Drop”.
Coca Cola sign in Times Square is the one of the world’s longest running billboard (since 1920). Coca Cola also relaunched the sign in 2017 as the world’s 1st 3D and robotic billboard – but I think it had issues after that – not sure whether they are still operating the 3D module.


You can’t visit New York without going to a Broadway show. I booked my tickets online at Online booking is great, no queues and you can select whichever seats you want. If you are going on the same day show though, you should try for the discounted tickets at TKTS booth.

I got myself tickets to Kinky Boots– front row middle seat. Costs a bomb as they charged a lot for service and handling fees (not sure what that is since it’s a box office pickup). 

Kinky Boots – interesting – this will never be made available in Malaysia :).
Note that it is no longer playing on Broadway (since Apr 2019). It has an average 5 star rating and ranked No 5 out of 400+ concerts in New York from 5k ++ reviews (as at Aug 2019)
Being in the first row - means you can see EVERYTHING

Diamond District

You can’t cry on a diamond’s shoulder, and diamonds won’t keep you warm at night, but they’re sure fun when the sun shines – Elizabeth Taylor

The Diamond District is located along West 47th St, between 5th – 6th Avenue.There are thousands of jewellers here – I didn’t buy any – was not on my list of things to do. Buying diamonds is not like buying clothes. That will take serious browsing effort at least for a person like me – am certainly “not there” yet.

The Cathedral opened in 1879. It is said to be the largest Gothic Roman Catholic Church in the US. With a seating capacity of 2,400 people – that would make a grand wedding venue for sure. I love the architecture – you can get a lot of beautiful photo moments. Read somewhere that approximately 150 weddings are held here annually, also that it costs $2k to have your wedding there. The cathedral opening hours are from 630am to 845pm, and it’s just a short walk from Times Square.

5th Avenue - Shopping

This is a great place for shopping luxury brands (or simply do some window shopping). A lot of people recommend walking along the street and just enjoy the atmosphere. Yeap, you can do that – but you don’t really have to walk the whole length of Fifth Avenue – it all depends what you like. If you are into handbags, jewellery and watches – you can find Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Hublot, Tiffany, Mikimoto, Piaget etc. between 54th and 58th Street. Google Map is great to help you find your way around. Oh and Saks Fifth Avenue is just next door to St Patrick’s Cathedral.

Rockefeller Centre

Rockefeller Centre is a complex of commercial buildings covering 22 acres of areas from 48th to 51st Streets and Fifth and Sixth Avenues.

You can get tickets to Top of the Rock observation decks – they open from 8 am to midnight every day. You have to select a time slot for your visit. You can get your tickets here –  Top of the Rocks Tickets.

You could also combine your day out with an NBC studio tour. Get tickets here. The tour is just slightly over an hour. I wanted to see if I can get tickets to the taping of The Tonight Show – you can request tickets for certain dates etc – but it works like a lottery or something – so yeah didn’t happen. Never been that lucky with these kind of things.

NY Public Library

Yes – it’s a library. But do you know that it is the second largest library in the US and third in the world? 

So ok that’s kind of cool – but even “cooler – is that the library was featured in Sex and the City! It was the wedding venue for Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Big – the wedding that didn’t happen! The library and why she chose it for the special occasion – as per Carrie’s words “The classic New York landmark that housed all the great love stories”. 

The Empire State building opens every day from 8 am – 2 am. It has the highest open-air observatory in New York, which is on the 86th floor. There is a saxophonist playing here on the 86th floor every Thursday to Saturday from 10 pm to 1 am which creates a romantic setting – seems they have people who do their wedding proposals here!
Honestly, this building leaves a mark on me because of the movie Sleepless in Seattle starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. I don’t know how many times I watched it. Yes – hopeless romantic. And yes, I guess you can guess how old I am from that. Oh, of course, there is King Kong – who can forget that!

Anyway – it makes sense to choose to go up either the Empire State Building or the Rockefeller Plaza. Both will give you great views. Or if you have more time and don’t mind a bit of splurge then do both.

Grand Central Station

The Grand Central Station opened in 1913. It covers 48 acres area of 42nd Street and Park Avenue and has 44 underground platforms – more than any railroad station in the world!

The ceiling in the main concourse is decorated with a mural of constellations. There is an information booth in the middle of the concourse topped by the iconic four-faced brass clock.
You must think that pictures below look so familiar – of course – there were many movies shot here!

NYC Subway

The original subway opened in 1904. It is the largest metro in the world in terms of station – about 472 active ones.
The subway system confused me. But I am not the type who shies away from a challenge (well – most of the time).

Key thing about the subway (jotting these down also for my reference in the future)

  • First make sure you understand the Manhattan street grid – streets run East-West; avenues run North-South
  • Learn what it means to travel downtown and uptown – See the map at the side. Downtown means going South, Uptown means going North
  • Regarding the map – the black dots means only local trains stop there, i.e. no express trains; white dots means both stops there
  • If you want to know which train stops where, refer to the train numbers/alphabets below the train station name
  • Say for example from West 4 St Washington Sq, if you want to go to 42nd St Bryant Park – it’s a straight route via trains B, D, F, M

Took some photos of the subway – I do this all the time when in other places. Very touristy thing to do! Didn’t know at one point they banned people from taking photos in the subway due to security reasons.

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