A Flying Visit: The Skinny in New York
Visiting NYC from Edinburgh just got a whole lot more chilled thanks to new, crazy-cheap flight routes with Norwegian Air. We took a trip to The Big Apple to research the perfect low-pressure city break – here's what we learned
It was only in the boarding queue for my flight to New York that I realised just how desperate I was to visit. For over 20 years I’d muted my eagerness to see the city in its glittering, foggy, rhythmic glory. I’d devoured its neon districts and steaming subways on sitcoms and perfume adverts, but always assumed it to be the territory of capital-hopping businesspeople, committed dream-chasers, competition winners or honeymooners.
After all, it’s the billboard-filled, flashing capital of capitalism, and only found at the end of a long-haul flight. Hardly a realistic holiday destination for someone with student debt, a lovely job in the arts and an ironclad incapacity to save money.
And then, just like that, Norwegian Airlines changed the game; announcing new, affordable flight routes between the UK and the USA. And we’re not talking slightly discounted, we’re talking eye-rubbing, thigh-slapping, cackling aloud in disbelief-type prices. At the time of writing you can nab a return from Edinburgh International to New York’s Stewart airport for £200.
The airline kindly provided The Skinny with two return flights this June, allowing us to, er, ‘research’ the perfect NYC mini-break and give you, our readers, the 411 on the future of affordable long-hauls. Obviously, we obliged.
Getting off the ground
Disclaimer – it’s a budget flight. You'll land upstate at Stewart Airport, which is an 80 minute bus journey from NYC (actually a pretty standard journey time in Big Apple airport terms). The seats are not lined with goose feather pillows and you’ll have to do some bodily origami to get some kip. We were brought a tasty veggie meal, as booked, on both flights, but were expected to buy bottled water if our thirst was not satiated by the one or two drinks provided at meal-time – a budget airline policy we hope will be readdressed for long haul.
There’s on-board WiFi and an entertainment streaming service for your phone or tablet, but it was subject to teething problems in the new flight routes. That said, there's a decent bus service between Stewart and NYC, and if you’re equipped with refreshments, downloaded distractions and readiness to sleep creatively, the corners cut are definitely worth it for the hefty savings. That’s tip number one right there.
We’re not going to pretend to have all the answers here. Where you stay totally depends on the type of experience you’re seeking. We were keen to tick a good few Manhattan must-sees off our list, so picked out a pair of contrasting haunts in the Midtown area.
First up, the purple-hued oasis of efficiency and chicness that is Yotel. With an automated check-in system, a robot concierge, ingeniously designed rooms, comfy beds, a badass roof terrace and skyline views so marvellous you’ll feel like you’ve had a religious experience, it’s a good shout if you’re seeking simplicity and modernity.
If you’d rather a quintessential New Yoik experience, complete with mahogany, mirrors and a romantically faded glamour, check in to The Algonquin, Autograph Collection. It’s a charming hotel steeped in literary history, from the conscientiously stocked newspaper stand, to the framed New Yorker covers, to their tradition of offering guests a complimentary book on the morning of their check-out. Bookish travellers, go bananas.
On to the attractions
Here’s our next tip – gone are the days of justifying a £700 return flight with a voracious itinerary that’ll leave you broke, knackered and devoid of the will to live (let alone fly home). Cheap flights = the prospect of a return visit. Knowing you can always go back – and that the godforsaken Hershey’s Chocolate World will still be there when you do – makes it a whole lot easier to spend some of the trip uncovering your very own hidden city treasures.
We spent only four nights in NYC, and flexibility was the key to our success (tip number three, in case you're keeping count). We listed every single must-see and must-eat, grouped them in blocks according to proximity and created a mix’n’match itinerary that could accommodate the hysterical weather. Didn’t stop it pissing down when we hit the Top of the Rock, but hey, you can’t have it all.
Swapping photo-opps for one-offs
Of course, we made pilgrimages to Grand Central and The Highline, MoMA and The Guggenheim, Times Square, Central Park and Ground Zero. But we also felt free to catch a subway to Williamsburg and stroll through the technicolour streets of party supply stores and pawn shops. Tip number four – don’t waste time on photo-opps you’re secretly not bothered about.
We didn’t feel FOMO when resting our legs for an indulgent hour in the lesser-known McCarren Park, watching a cross-section of Brooklynites stroll round and round the sun-warmed race track. We skipped Broadway and pretzels for yard sales and agonising over the toppings on our pressed juice ice creams – but it didn’t feel like a guilty trade-off. As evening fell on each of our days in the city, we felt fulfilled rather than frazzled (jetlag aside).
Because our visit took place during Pride season, we also took a little time swooning over the rainbow flags which festooned the stoops and shop fronts in Greenwich Village and Hell’s Kitchen – two areas in Manhattan known for their progressive undercurrents. We made a quick beer stop at Rudy’s, a highly praised dive bar with a dusty ruby-red interior, amicable atmosphere and – most importantly for carnivore boozers – free hotdogs with your drinks.
A tattooed, stocky dude with a radiant smile (who I’d assumed to be a Rudy’s bartender) brought over a stack of the promised hotdogs. When I declined due to my vegetarianism, he hot-footed out onto the street, returning minutes later with a generous bucket of blue cheese salad. The encouraging nods and knowing giggles of nearby punters – his friends – demonstrated that this was not a case of exceptional customer service, rather the friendliness of a New York local and classic Rudy’s regular. “This is what we do here – nobody goes without,” he told me, introducing himself as ‘Meatball’ and setting down a pitcher of cold beer.
For the next couple of hours we got to know Meatball and his gang over shots and beers; a few of the guys were skyscraper construction workers, and one guy, Max, was a journalist from the Village Voice – NYC’s answer to The Skinny. Though diverse in conversation and backgrounds, they were united in a single recommendation for the following day: Coney Island’s Mermaid Parade, an annual pride street party that’s exactly what it says on the tin. And that brings us to our final tip; listen to locals. Bitten by the spontaneity bug? Roll with it.
Although, despite our fervent promises, we never made it to the Mermaid Parade. Apocalyptic storms and misplaced raincoats made the prospect of a day outdoors on Coney Island quite unattainable. Instead, we sheltered at Saigon Shack with a comforting bowl of pho, we drank beer in Stonewall, and we yelped with joy at Drag Queen Bingo. Nevertheless, I’ll remember the recommendation, Meatball’s baffling hospitality and that Rudy’s booth, full of bourbon and ebullience for years to come.
And who knows, maybe we’ll make it next time?