In our typical thrifty travel style, my sis and I and our combined four kids recently drove to New York for the weekend. Even with the traffic, the drive took about 8 hours.
Well, truth be told, accommodation for six with parking was too expensive in Manhattan so we actually drove to Union City, New Jersey where we found an Airbnb apartment with parking for $250 Canadian a night. This got us a two bedroom, renovated basement apartment near shops and transit in a very vibrant Cuban/Latin neighbourhood. As you can imagine, this was an adventure in itself! It was like being transplanted much farther south. I swear I had to brush up on my Spanish just to order coffee and croissants at a local cafe.
(Receive $40 Airbnb credit with my coupon code: https://www.airbnb.ca/c/rschwab1)
NJ to NY
Although it seems very straightforward on paper, as a visitor, the transit systems in both New Jersey and New York are so confusing! There are many, many options to get around town, thus the dozens and dozens of buses, boats, trains, coaches and taxis all lined up trying to get somewhere.
On our first day, getting into Manhattan was fairly easy. We walked and looked for a bus to take us across the Holland Tunnel, but fortunately hopped on a collectivo (an independent transit system in Union City, New Jersey that is exactly like the one in Mexico. It’s basically a big white van with many seats.). It cost $10 for all of us!
Coming back was a nightmare – one that required getting help from transit staff as we would never have figured out where to go for tickets or the bus! We managed to buy pricey bus tickets at the very busy, very large bus terminal in Manhattan and stood on the bus in traffic and exhaust fumes in the Holland Tunnel for over 30 minutes with all the tired, depressed workers going home. I would never do that again!
The second day, we hopped on our kick scooters and rode to the ferry. So awesome – we effortlessly made it to Manhattan in 10 minutes for about $10 each. We came back this way as well.
Day 1: Upper Manhattan
What to do in Manhattan with a 5, 7, 12 & 14 year old? Well, touring buildings is mostly out. We did visit the beautiful, stately New York Public Library and if I didn’t have to entertain a five-year-old, I would have loved to take the free tour. The neighbouring Bryant Park was great for the kids! There were free ‘Board Games in the Park’ – and after all the crazy hustle and bustle of just getting there, this was such a welcome time out. So we played some Chinese Checkers and Jenga.
Since Day 1 was dedicated to seeing Upper Manhattan, we walked north through Times Square and after another much needed time out in Central Park with its very cool kids playground, we eventually made it to the American Museum of Natural History. Very awesome – it would have been even better if everyone wasn’t so knackered from walking in the city all day. What was even more awesome is the fact that this is a pay-what-you-can museum. Since we only had an hour until closing, we paid much less than the suggested fee.
Manhattan By Kick Scooter
Since we took the ferry to Manhattan, we came out on the Hudson River Greenway, a spacious, two-way bike path that runs along the Hudson River and mostly all around the whole island. This allowed us to whisk south, stopping at various Piers, playing in modern playgrounds on the river, getting snacks and avoiding crowds.
True, travelling along the Greenway is not exactly a tourist thing to do and yes, we did avoid most of what Manhattan has to offer, but it was so refreshing! We went all the way down to Battery Park to take the free Staten Island Ferry over to see the Statue of Liberty. Unfortunately it was so rainy and foggy. We opted to eat lunch instead and peer at the statue from a distance.
Then the fun began – the amazing journey back north on our scooters through crowds and more crowds. Oh, did I mention that my sister was on her roller blades? How anyone can roller blade in Manhattan is a mystery. With all those sidewalk bumps and cracks, it simply requires great skill and loads of faith! We went up Broadway, past the very dense Canal St., through Little Italy and finally made it to Washington Square Park. Even in the rain the park was crowded. Someone was playing a Baby Grand piano under an arch, there were giant bubbles for the kids, and a very cool climbing structure that kept everyone entertained. Oh yes, and washrooms.
On our third day, we decided to skip the trek over to New York and stay in New Jersey instead. There was so little green space and not a playground in sight, but a trip to Target and a buffalo mozzarella pizza lunch was an awesome adventure for my crew! Besides, it was raining again.
Manhattan is barely a two-day town. It is so dense, with so much to see and do, but it would have been nice to be more chill. Although it’s a nice town, it helped us realize that the big city we live in is awesome, with so much to explore. Manhattan with kids was a little too crowded and polluted for me. I suppose we’re used to so many more parks and green space.
However, the next time I do visit Manhattan, I am going to stay in Manhattan! Staying in NJ was too stressful – making us feel like we had to go out for the whole day and fit everything in only to commute back in the evenings. I think next time, I will also leave the kids at home!