Here’s the deal: Feat Travel is an educational travel company, so we’ve traveled to New York City with student groups an astronomical number of times. That means we have the responsibility of sharing ways we think you can improve your school’s trip to the Big Apple. So come along, lets take a journey down the streets of the world’s most famous city with this list of helpful hints:
1) Always use avenues: The best way to not get lost in NYC is to walk on avenues as much as possible. Avenues go North and South only. Avoid walking on streets. They go East and West. Avenues are big, broad, and beautiful with streetlights and storefronts. Streets are narrow and often times have large piles of rotting garbage.
When you stick to avenues, you’ll be walking on the short side of the New York City blocks. It feels like you’re covering a lot of ground quickly. The street signs zip past you every few feet: 45th, 46th, 47th… it feels awesome.
In addition, the numbers on the street signs will tell you whether you’re going North or South. If the numbers are getting higher, you’re going North. If the numbers are getting lower, you’re going South. Its surprisingly easy to lose track of which direction you’re walking in when your on the bottom of a concrete canyon.
Eventually you’ll have to turn down a street to get to a specific store or restaurant. But believe us, using avenues to get the majority of the way there is going to keep your spirits up while navigating the city.
2) Go to Chelsea Market and eat at Los Tacos No. 1: Eat lunch at Chelsea Market. It normally goes well with a day downtown when you’re seeing the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, etc..
Chelsea Market is a self-described indoor urban market. It also happens to be the New York City headquarters of TV Food Network, Youtube and Google. We describe it as food heaven with hipster décor. Everything about this place will rock your socks. However, there is one place within it that will rock your socks a little bit harder: Los Tacos No. 1.
This place is bittersweet for taco lovers. Its sweet because you’ll have the best tacos of your life. But its bitter because you’ll never be able to enjoy a taco from anywhere else again. The ordering process deserves its own blog because it can get a bit complex. However, just follow your taco instincts, pay attention to what’s going on and whatever you do, order the adobada.
3) Plan to spend a whole day at the 9/11 Museum: You’ll be hard-pressed to find something more educational and profound than the recently opened 9/11 Museum. The museum is located in the middle of the World Trade Center complex directly between the fountains of the 9/11 Memorial.
Once you’re inside, prepare to be mind blown all the time. Just when you think you’ve seen the most historic piece of wreckage, or the most gut-wrenching photo collage of victims, there’s something more captivating around the corner. The museum is so enormous and astounding, the biggest mistake you can make is trying to squeeze it into your day between a lot of other things. Believe us, it will anger you to have to leave after 45 minutes. Our best piece of advice is to dedicate a seemingly excessive amount of time to soak this place in. You will not regret it.
4) Think outside the island (Avoid Statue Cruises!): We get it, everyone’s jacked up to see the Statue of Liberty. Out of sheer proximity, everyone’s jacked up to see Ellis Island too. That’s why Statue Cruises are a popular choice among student travel groups.
Statue Cruises are one of the only boat services that take people to Ellis Island and Liberty Island (where the Statue of Liberty actually stands). Now for the hard truth: its normally a let down. For starters, Hurricane Sandy decimated Ellis Island and though it has re-opened to the public, almost all of the documents and exhibits have been removed.
Also, because of the way the boat schedule works, you’ll really only have about 40 minutes on Liberty Island to see the Statue of Liberty. That means you can’t do the audio tour and you can’t climb the stairs of the pedestal because there’s not enough time before you have to get on line for your boat returning to Manhattan. Believe us, it’s barely enough time to use the bathroom, buy a souvenir and snap a selfie.
The Statue Cruises stink for a bunch of other reasons too: airport-style security, inaccurate boat schedules online, inability to accommodate large groups on a single boat. And if your group gets separated onto two boats (or misses a boat entirely), welcome to the world of being an hour late for everything else for the rest of the day.
Here’s the thing: there are alternatives! Try the Circle Line. It’s a guided boat tour of the New York harbor with commentary. No security. No stressful boat schedule. You actually get treated like a paying customer! Just sit back, relax and enjoy the ample opportunities for glorious statue selfies.
Research nighttime harbor dinner cruises too. That’s right: dinner, dancing, and a nighttime view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. It’s also just an epic way to experience the skyline. And a timeless memory for your student travelers.
Looking for a cheaper route? The Staten Island Ferry launches a boat from their beautiful facility directly adjacent to Battery Park every half an hour for free. The ferries are humongous (no problem fitting larger groups) and they have clean snack bars and restrooms too! Best of all, they float right past the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island giving you and your group a savory view. Now that you know that there’s not much to be done on the islands themselves, what’s the point of going through all the mess to get there with Statue Cruises?
5) Eat at Garlic Pizza Bar: Everyone gets mighty opinionated about pizza in NYC. All we’re saying here is that the most impressive slice we had in a while was at a place called Garlic Pizza Bar at 629 2nd Avenue.
It’s in an odd part of town so you can forget trying to sneak off from the group during free time unless you want to pony up the dough for a round-trip cab ride. Your best bet is to make this a group dinner one night. Unfortunately, because the place is kind of tiny, it will only be able to accommodate groups of 30 or less.
New York City pizza snobs may scoff at this recommendation, but we adored their buffalo chicken pizza. We liked the obviously fresh ingredients and powerful flavor but most of all; we appreciated it because it wasn’t afraid to be a little different than the traditional New York City slice! And the only thing we loved more than their world-class pizza? The tiramisu of course.
If you’re going to the top of the Empire State building one night, Garlic Pizza Bar is the perfect dinner spot to enjoy before hand. You can thank us later.