Exploring New York City: Midtown to Central Park
When it comes to getting around New York City, there’s no lack of transportation options.
The city’s subway system is fairly efficient and can get you just about anywhere you need to go cheaply and easily. Taxis and Ubers are great for direct door-to-door travel, as long as you steer clear of rush hour. And although Manhattan seems like one big island, getting around on foot is actually pretty feasible.
Evelyn in her chariot, ready to seize the day!
For our visit, we set out to use a combination of all 3, but ended up doing more walking than we thought we would. The thing is, when you’re carting around a big baby bag, a stroller, a camera and a 6 month old, hopping on and off the subway becomes a little more complicated. Doable…but complicated.
We rode the subway a handful of times and every time it was quite the process: we’d take Evelyn out of her stroller, take the rest of our baby junk out of the stroller, break the stroller down, carry everything down the long steep set of stairs below the street, buy tickets at the kiosk, and finally squeeze all our gear and Evelyn through the turnstiles to the platform.
If we had time while waiting for the train (because carrying all of this gear, plus a baby, was no fun), we’d pop the stroller open and put Evelyn and all of our baby junk back in.
The ride was the easy part, except on one occasion where the subway car was so packed, we weren’t quite sure if we’d make it on at all (see photographic evidence above).
Then finally once we got to the station we were destined for, we’d repeat the whole process in reverse again. Baby out, break down the stroller, squeeze through the turnstiles, lug all our stuff up the stairs, reassemble said stroller, and finally on our way we’d go!
So yeah, sometimes walking 20 blocks just seemed easier.
On our first night in town, we set out on foot right off the bat, making a quick walk over to Madison Square Park. We got our first glimpse of the iconic Flatiron Building just as the sun was setting behind it.
We stopped into Eataly, across 5th Avenue from Madison Square Park. I’d heard so many wonderful things about it and was excited to experience the mega store for myself.
Eataly is a food lover’s paradise: a collection of counters, markets and restaurants (picture a food hall, farmer’s market, and gourmet food store all wrapped into one) specializing in Italian cuisine. The store is co-owned by chef Mario Batali, and while the New York location is the original, another location was opened in Chicago a couple years ago.
The only hastily-taken photo I was able to get amid the Eataly chaos.
We entered through Caffe Lavazza, serving up Italian espresso, and then slowly meandered through the store past the gourmet chocolates and the gelateria. We made our way past the fresh baked breads, the meat and seafood counters, and gazed at the marvelous looking fresh pasta counter.
We had to stop and gawk at the delicious looking Napoli-style pizza and even contemplated a purchase at the Nutella Bar. The food was mouthwatering, no doubt, but the place was so jam packed with people (who seemed to be in way too big of a hurry), that we quickly became overwhelmed, trying to squeeze through the crowds with our big stroller.
After one final swing through the fresh produce, we were back out the door. I look forward to coming back under different conditions (i.e. no stroller), maybe even planning a trip to the rooftop beer garden, Birreria, which I’ve heard others rave about.
Madison Square Park
After winding down a bit from a busy travel day and allowing Evelyn to rest a bit, we bundled up once more and braved the chilly temperatures that evening for a brisk walk to the original Shake Shack in Madison Square Park.
It was too cold to hang around, so we took our burgers and milkshakes (yes, milkshakes in December) to go. We made a quick pit stop at Gramercy Wine & Spirits to grab a couple of bottles of wine, and then headed back to our Airbnb to chow down and get some much needed rest for the days to come.
On our next full day out and about, we were feeling excited to finally explore the city, and so we ventured out from our apartment and headed straight up 5th Avenue with our sights set on Central Park.
We came up on the Empire State Building, not all that far from our place, and contemplated going inside. But with a long line already forming out the door, we were deterred. We asked a security guard if we could just take a peak inside, and no dice, we’d have to get in line. So we carried on, already having in mind another vantage point to see the city from.
Walking north a few blocks further, we passed by the New York Public Library and Bryant Park.
Rockefeller Center & Top of the Rock
Before we knew it, we had reached our first stop of the morning at Rockefeller Center. We took a short break under the Christmas tree, Matt taking off to practice his photography skills, while Evelyn and I sat and enjoyed breakfast.
I watched as groups of school children passed through the famous plaza and thought to myself “how lucky these kids are and don’t even know it, that this is their field trip.”
After dawdling a little while longer, we went inside Rock Center to begin our journey to the Top of the Rock. It took us a little while to figure out where to go, since we couldn’t take our stroller down the escalators all the signs pointed to for tickets. After asking a few different gentlemen for help, we were able to locate the service elevators and squeezed in with the maintenance crew to the shops level where we finally found the ticket counter.
Since we were there during such a slow time, we were able to get tickets for almost immediate entry. But if you come during the summer, expect to buy tickets first and then wait until your allowed entry time to take the elevator up to the top. It’s worth mentioning though, that you can buy tickets with a specified entry time online in advance, which would definitely be worth considering during peak travel season.
Two of the best city views in New York can be seen from the Empire State Building and the Top of the Rock. I’m glad we decided to do the Top of the Rock instead, since not only do you have pretty much the same views at both, but you actually get the iconic Empire State Building in your photos!
The views of Central Park to the north were equally stunning. That said, next time we’re in New York, I hope to give the Empire State Building some love too, and compare the experiences for myself.
Unfortunately it was pretty foggy on the day of our visit, so we weren’t able to get those beautiful crystal clear photos you normally see. But still breathtaking, nonetheless.
There are 3 observation decks you can explore at the Top of the Rock. The first stop at the 67th floor will take you out to a large lobby sort of area. Go up two more floors to the 69th floor, and you’ll have a little better luck with your view. It’s much more wide open outside the doors, but you’ll also quickly notice that the large glass panes will mess up your photos a bit.
For the absolute best views, we ventured to the very top 70th floor observation deck, which isn’t quite as large, but will give you completely unobstructed views.
Matt and Ev at the Top of the Rock!
The Plaza Hotel
After all that excitement, we made it back down to 5th Avenue and carried on past the decorated storefront windows until we were at Central Park’s doorstep. We passed the famous Plaza Hotel on the corner of 5th Avenue and Central Park South and opted not to take a peak inside at those enjoying afternoon tea in the Palm Court, though the doormen are very used to visitors and will oblige you if you’d like.
If you’re looking for lunch or just a treat, go around to Central Park South and look for the side entrance that leads down to the Plaza Food Hall. You’ll have your pick from a good number of merchants selling everything from black and white cookies to lobster.
By this time it was pushing 1 PM and we had to remind ourselves not to overdo it on Evelyn. So we went through the motions of getting on the subway, riding the 6 train back down to Gramercy and calling it a day in Midtown.
Exploring Central Park
On Saturday we picked up right where we had left off. We took the 6, again, back up along Lexington Avenue to 59th Street on the Upper East Side. From there we walked the few blocks west and north, entering Central Park at East 61st Street.
The park is so huge, that it’s a bit daunting to even fathom seeing it fully without spending at least a full day there. When (and I say when, not if) we go back, I’d love to devote an entire day to the zoo, a picnic, and maybe even a boat ride!
We didn’t get too ambitious this go around, and instead took the path past the Central Park Zoo and “The Pond”, finding a nice area to rest on some large bedrock behind the Chess & Checkers House. It was a beautiful 65 degrees out, and we were so thankful for the unusually warm weather on a mid-December day.
Evelyn wakes up from her nap in yet another new place, Central Park!
A Walk Down 5th Avenue
We followed another path back out and exited the park onto Central Park South. Since we didn’t have any plans to follow, we thought we might walk back down 5th Avenue a bit before catching a train back down to Gramercy. That turned out to be a horrible idea, as the gorgeous Saturday weather had brought out the masses to see the decorated store windows, and the streets were absolutely packed!
5th Avenue on a Saturday in December = bad idea.
Grand Central Station & the Chrysler Building
So instead, we veered off around 47th street, thinking we’d catch a subway back near Grand Central Station.
Unexpectedly happening upon yet another landmark building, I begged Matt to let us stop and take a look inside (since we were right here, after all). Although not a fan of crowded, busy places, he begrudgingly agreed.
Once we’d made it to Grand Central, I knew the Chrysler building wasn’t too far away. So we kept on going, a couple blocks further, until we were standing directly below the Art Deco masterpiece.
By the time we passed the Chrysler building (you’re not able to go inside unfortunately), we stopped to assess our location and realized it was only a 20 minute walk back to our Airbnb. “We can walk that, right?”, Matt said.
And so we found ourselves walking again. Everywhere we went, we were walking, because it just seemed easier. We put in some 25 miles in the city, averaging 5 miles a day, and because of it were able to see the in’s-and-out’s of the many different neighborhoods we passed through. The local bakeries, the schools, the pubs, and the churches…all made possible by getting out on foot.
With that, we only had 1 day left in New York, and Sunday would be sending us in a whole new direction: downtown!
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