Ultimate Visit New York Guide for UK Travellers

Nov 30, 2022

The Big Apple is the ultimate destination for UK travellers for shopping, sightseeing, and reliving famous movie scene experiences.

New York is an amazing city to explore any time of the year, but there is a certain special magic in the air when visiting during Christmas time.

New York can feel overwhelming for first time visitors.

It wouldn’t be possible to explain everything to do, everything to see, what to look out for and essential tips within 500 pages of text.

This is why it can feel as if no amount of time is enough to make the most of this truly magnificent city.

Our Luxury Trips team have visited New York multiple times and has including a visit during Christmas time and in this guide, we want to explain the very best things to see and do including some of the more hidden beauty spots not often found in the usual ‘best of’ guides.

Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Centre, and Macys are names many are familiar with but a hidden treasure for example, that Home Alone fans will go absolutely wild over, is Saks magical night-time display. More on this later.

In this ultimate guide to visiting New York for UK travellers we will cover the best places to go and visit, how to make the best use of your time, prime locations to stay, what to look out for as UK tourists and how to make memories on a trip to New York that will last a lifetime.

What are the Best Things to see in New York

Although ‘best’ can be somewhat subjective, we have decided to concentrate on the sights and sounds of New York the majority of people will simply adore.

Of course, by very nature some of these will be well known but there are also some hidden gems in this list often overlooked by UK tourists who follow the usual best of guides.

For each location and sightseeing activity, we’ll also cover some useful tips when visiting to make the most of your day.

Empire State Building

Empire State Building

Just a glimpse at the Empire State Building is awe inspiring.

New York is famous for its extraordinarily large skyscrapers which make Canary Wharf in London look like a large traffic light in New York!

That said, the Empire State Building looks to touch the sky when eyes are first laid upon it, which is usually along or near 34th Street.

The views of it are amazing but the view from the top is simply awe inspiring.

Getting to the Empire State Building is pretty straightforward and the visitor entrance can be found along 34th Street between 5th and 6th Avenue. The exact address is 20 W. 34th Street.

If you do decide to go to the top of the Empire State Building book in advance. You will be given a time slot. Avoid ticket touts outside the Empire State Building who are ready to lure unsuspecting travellers.

Book a time slot in advance, have tickets ready printed or on a mobile device and head straight to 20 W. 34 street for the entrance.

Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty at dusk

The Statue Liberty on Liberty Island has been welcoming travellers since 1886.

The iconic raised flame, a symbol of enlightenment, has been seen by millions and is one of the most iconic sights in New York, and the U.S.

The Statue of Liberty can be seen from Manhattan Island, where the majority of New York as people have come to know and love and can even be seen from the top of the Empire State Building, but to get up, close and personal a ferry trip across to Liberty Island is required.

Although tourist boats are ready to take passengers across, what is less well known by UK travellers is that a free ferry can give you a real up close experience. The Staten Island Ferry passes close to and by Liberty Island on its way to Staten Island which is great for up close viewing and photo opportunities.

For those who wish to really explore Liberty Island and go inside the Statue of Liberty then please follow the National Park Service warning on using tour and tout operators, and book online at the Official Statue Cruises website – where ferry and State of Liberty entrance tickets can be purchased.

Be warned, tickets for entry into the crown of the Statue Liberty are limited in number but high in demand. These can often sell out as much as 6 months ahead, so booking early is essential!

Macy’s and Shopping on 5th

Macy's at Christmas

Macy’s in New York can be compared to Harrods in London.

Huge in size with multiple floors dedicated to different types of goods and services. A visit during November or December will also mean the Christmas Store is open.

This from personal experience is incredibly busy but certainly worth stopping by for gifts or a decoration for the Christmas Tree as a reminder of your trip.

Although New York is famous for its 5th Avenue shopping, the entrance to Macy’s can actually be found along both 6th and 7th Avenues (not 5th Avenue), and also along 33rd and 34th Street.

The Christmas film 34th Street of course is based on the story of Santa Claus working at Macy’s department store.

Both the street and the store and very real and worth a visit, even if your trip is outside of the Christmas period.

5th Avenue is long, very long.

In fact, 5th Avenue is 6.2 miles in length which would take over 2 hours at an average pace.

Fortunately, many of the famous boutique stores reside between 23rd Street and Central Park at 59th Street which is a more reasonable 2 miles, or 50 minutes walking time.

Saks at Christmas – Christmas Lights Show: Home Alone special

Everyone heads to Rockefeller Centre at Christmas time, but many people overlook or don’t notice the wonderful Home Alone Christmas Lights Show on the outside of Saks along Fifth Avenue, which quite handily sits opposite the entrance to the Rockefeller Centre and the large Christmas tree is based.

The Christmas Lights Show is a sequence of lights played in time to Home Alone music.

It has been put together extremely well and is thoroughly recommended for anyone who visits New York during Christmas time. The light and music show is free and runs every 30 minutes.

New Jersey

New Jersey is a completely different state to New York, and many UK travellers visit New Jersey without even realising it as it is home to Newark Airport, which has regular flights to and from London.

It is often overlooked by anyone visiting New York despite crossing the border into New Jersey can be made within 30mins by taxi from Manhattan.

During our time in New York, we took a coach tour from Grand Central Station to Bergen Town Centre which, at the time of our visit, was a quieter outdoor shopping mall.

It was a very cold day, and the glow of the Starbucks sign was a very welcoming sight!

If you love shopping but would prefer to avoid some of the hustle and bustle of 5th Avenue and Manhattan, then a trip to a shopping mall in New Jersey or one of the islands may be a better option.

One World Trade Centre

Our first to New York happened in 2002, just one year after the 9/11 tragedy.

Since then, the One Trade Centre has been built and created for remembrance as well as uniting with hope and resilience.

The One Trade Centre is well worth a visit to pay respects as well as learn about the history of New York on and since that fateful day.

Central Park

Central Park

If Central Park wasn’t already famous, it has been made even more so after the Central Perk café in Friends hit our screens.

Unfortunately, there is no Central Perk around Central Park, but Central Park itself is most definitely a place to explore and relax.

In fact, Central Park was built for that very reason. It’s a huge rectangle shaped park within the middle of one of the busiest cities in the world and is a place residents and commuters can relax.

Central Park is 2.5 miles wide and 0.5 miles in width. It takes around 15min to walk its width and over an hour to walk its length. It’s that big!

It is so big it has a zoo within its grounds (see Central Park Zoo in the next section).

There are also some iconic scenes within Central Park that were used to film the Home Alone 2 movie, in particular the end scene and the bridge where the police finally apprehend the newly named ‘sticky bandits’!

Visitors can also take a horse and carriage ride around New York for $79 for 25 mins or more for longer.

Central Park really is a great place to head to and escape the crowds for a while, but it is not a place to spend any time in at night. It is best to make Central Park a daytime experience.

What are the Best Things to do in New York

Just as there are many things to see in New York, there are as many things to do in the Big Apple.

Unfortunately, any trip to New York is only going last so long, so it’s important to plan ahead wisely and fit as much in as possible.

We managed to cram in a lot during our trip to New York and worked our best with the jet lag and need for down time.

Here are some of the best things to do in New York, and some personally recommended options from our team who tried out a few of these.

Broadway Theatre Experience

Broadway theatre shows in New York City

Experiencing a Broadway show in New York has the same magical charm as experiencing a West End show in London.

There are no shortages of theatres or shows in Manhattan either.

Our team saw The Lion King in the Minskoff Theatre just off Times Square and what a show it was!

Booking ahead avoids disappointment especially for the most popular shows. Some seats are released daily where those looking for last minute or cheap released seats wait by the large red step and seat waiting area in Times Square.

If you plan ahead wisely enough, you can book the moment the seats are released and choose the very best seats in the house.

We did this by planning in advance and watching as to how many days in advance the theatre released their seats. We were the very first in the queue online and managed to grab front row centre on the first floor which was perfect for us.

The official site to book all Broadway shows on Broadway.com

Helicopter Tour over the New York Skyline

New York skyline from helicopter

If you want to do a New York experience in style, and add a true luxury add-on, a night-time helicopter tour of the New York skyline down by Liberty Island and the Financial District is a real treat.

Seeing the Manhattan skyline from above after dark is a once in a lifetime experience.

If money is of no object you may want to combine this with pick up in a limousine from your hotel, down to the Financial District and where the helicopter ports are for your flight experience, and then arrange for the limousine to then take you to a fabulous restaurant or show to finish the evening.

Helicopter tours cost anywhere from $200 and again booking in advance is a must, although spaces are generally available even up to a few weeks in advance.

Go to a New York Baseball Game

Yankee Stadium in New York

Another overlooked ‘to do’ in New York is going to see a baseball game.

The New York Yankees are the local team and have a stadium in the far north of Manhattan Island. Tickets are reasonable from $20, and no season ticket is required to book a seat, which is handy for UK travellers.

If only football matches in the UK were as cheap to go and see!

Getting to the Yankee stadium can be done by subway or hailing a taxi anywhere from within Manhattan.

The stadium is further north than Harlem and walking around the area at night for tourist is often advised against.

Subways to and from central Manhattan before and after a game are usually busy.

Ride the Subway

Riding a subway may not be considered the most exciting activity to do, but this is New York!

In fact, many travellers from North America and Europe want to experience riding the subway in London so it stands to reason UK travellers enjoy ticking this one off their list.

The subway in New York is similar to the subway in London (for those who have ever used). Intersecting lines allow passengers to travel across Manhattan Island from north to south, and east to west.

Subway maps are available inside each subway station, and kiosks nearby. Alternatively, a New York subway tube map app can be downloaded (the links are New York Subway for Android and New York Subway for Apple iOS).

Horse and Carriage Ride

Horse and Carriage ride around Central Park

No matter how busy New York gets there is always some calm and tranquillity to be had taking a horse and carriage ride around Central Park.

It’s also a very romantic.

Horse and carriages around Central Park can’t be hailed down like a yellow taxi, but instead a boarding area outside the Plaza hotel near 59th Street is where you can start your journey.

We’ve taken a horse and carriage ride twice now. The drivers have all been very polite, friendly and seem to enjoy talking about all the sights and sounds of New York. Don’t forget to leave a tip at the end.

Horse and carriage rides do not enter the park, but they ride around the outskirts and through the middle to complete a loop without going around the whole park.

Central Park Zoo

Central Park Zoo in New York

Central Park is so big it houses its own zoo!

One of the mot surreal experiences was to visit the zoo and see the animals with the famous New York skyline hanging almost overhead.

It’s a small zoo but has a range of animals and zookeeper talks and will certainly keep children and big kids happy.

We spent around 2 hours in total in the zoo during our visit and found it value for money – as much to say we’d walked around a zoo in the middle of New York as to see the amazing animals.

Booking ahead isn’t essential but we like to plan ahead, so we booked with the official Central Park Zoo website which can be found here.

Home Alone Tour

Although it is possible to find walking tours in New York around famous film and TV series landmarks, it can also be fun planning your own tour.

For Home Alone fans a self-planned itinerary crossing off all the famous landmarks and scenes from the film as you go is a great way to spend some time in New York.

It’s particularly special in Wintertime as the skating rink where Hank and Marv plan the heist of Duncan’s Toy Shop as well as the Rockefeller Centre decorated for Christmas, with the big Christmas tree where Kevin and his mother reunite at the end of the movie.

Unfortunately, as we found out, Duncan’s Toy Shop isn’t real but many of the scenes including the bridge in Central Park, the Plaza hotel lobby, the skating rink, Rockefeller Centre, and Kevin’s uncle’s house, where Kevin booby trapped for the hapless duo.

Top of the Empire State Building

View from the Empire State Building

The top of the Empire State Building offers an incredible view across Manhattan Island in all directions.

No visit to New York is complete without taking the endless elevator to the top and stepping out in to one of the most incredible views of the world (and we say this having seen many of the best!).

You will need to purchase a ticket to ride to the top, and best to do this online in advance where a time slot will be given. Avoid ticket touts trying to sell you tickets around 34th Street and nearby avenues.

We paid extra for the VIP option and although it comes at a considerable cost it was, in our eyes, well worth it.

The VIP option allows the visitor to jump the queue right up until the elevator doors. The queues can be huge, and a wait time of 1.55-2 hours can be expected, but the VIP option reduced our visit from an estimated 1.5 hours to 15mins.

Once the elevator doors open at the top you step out on to the 360 degree panoramic platform. It has a large window face but no roof.

One eerie fact is that once at the top, New York seems very quiet. You are that far up!

Views of the nearby Chrysler building are worth a photo or two, as well as the Hudson River.

Towards the south it is possible to make out the Statue of Liberty casting her gaze across the ocean.

There are a number of paid telescopes to help give better views of Liberty Island and other landmarks.

There is no time limit once at the top, you are free to explore and stay as long as you wish.

At the top there is a gift shop and small café to purchase snacks and drinks, and once you are finished you simply re-join the queue for the elevator back down to the ground.

Where are the Best Places to Stay in New York

There is no shortage of hotels to stay in New York.

From hostels to 5 star penthouse suites, New York caters to every taste and budget.

We haven’t stayed in every hotel so do not feel it prudent to be able to recommend specific hotels over another. Unless someone has stayed in everyone it is impossible to rank one better than another.

Instead, we want to explain where in New York is best to stay rather than specific hotels (although we will mention one hotel, which is the hotel we stayed, which will tick a lot of boxes for many UK travellers).

Staying out by the Airport

It won’t take long on many hotel comparison websites to see that hotels out near both JFK and Newark International Airport are considerably cheaper than many similar star hotels in Manhattan.

It may be tempting to stay and commute in and out of downtown each morning and return each evening.

It is possible of course, but it is not an option we would recommend.

To start with it will cost a minimum of $50 return from JFK to anywhere in Manhattan by taxi, so this daily rate needs to be taken in to account.

Public transport is an option but of course this is added stress, time, and frustration on your trip.

Staying at Time Square

Times Square is relatively central within Manhattan, but it is one of the busiest areas around.

It is certainly a good option, but it will be busy and noisy at almost all times in the day. Hotels are also notoriously more expensive than other similar class hotels further out.

The convenience of staying central does come at a cost, and not just as an expense.

Staying in the Financial District

Many will notice relatively cheaper 4 and 5 star chain hotels within the Financial District in New York, which is at the very south of the island.

This can be a good option and a great place to stay if heading out to see the Statue of Liberty or taking a ferry across to either Staten Island or Liberty Island.

If though you plan to spend most of your time within the heart of the downtown, you will need to arrange transport back and forth.

Public transport via the subway is the fastest option here.

Many visitors head out in the morning, go back to their hotel in late afternoon to get ready for a night out. Trips back and forth to the hotel requires more time of course and needs to be factored into any itinerary.

Staying near Central Park

During our visits to New York, we have tended to stay nearby Central Park.

This gave us a great central starting point, less crowds as we stayed away from Time Square, and also meant access to 5th Avenue, 6th Avenue and the park were all close by.

Even the Empire State Building and Time Square are just a 15min walk from here.

We stayed in the beautiful Warwick Hotel along 54th street, which is highly recommended. We stayed in a one bedroom suite with balcony overlooking 54th and 6th Avenue, but there are other similar class hotels nearby.

If we were to recommend staying in any location in New York it would be within the area of 5th Avenue to 7th Avenue and from 59th Street down to 23rd street.

This grid area will allow walking distance to many of the tourist spots, central location and easier to head back to the hotel during the day if required.

Frequently Asked Questions

Hopefully in this huge New York guide for UK travellers we have covered everything you could possibly need for a great luxury trip to New York.

Here though are some answers to other frequently asked questions:

What currency is needed in New York?

US Dollars is needed when visiting New York City.

This can be converted from GBP from almost every exchange bureau within the UK and can be used on a prepaid card which can be a safer option than carrying cash.

Will a 3 PIN UK Plug work in New York?

No, the U.S. electricity is different to that of the UK, and 3 PIN UK plugs will not work in the U.S.

A UK to U.S. converter will be required.

We prefer purchasing such converters in UK shops rather than online through Amazon and eBay based on past experiences of bad and faulty converters being sent.

Is New York Safe for UK travellers?

New York is considered a safe destination for UK travellers.

It is recommended to stay within Manhattan, especially at night, and not into the neighbouring areas such as Harlem, Brooklyn, and the Bronx.

Pickpocket and petty theft is rife in all cities in the world, just as it is in London, so be aware of your surroundings and keep possessions safe and secure at all times.

Is Uber available in New York

Yes, Uber is available in New York and can be booked using the standard Uber app. Uber taxis are expensive in the city and are considered the most expensive across all of the U.S. and regularly have surcharges during peak periods.

Yellow taxis do not have surcharges like Uber, but in peak periods you may have to wait longer for a yellow taxi.

Is a trip to New York worth it?

A trip to New York City is absolutely worth it. Iconic landmarks, incredible shopping, wonderful restaurants, and amazing shows. New York truly has something to offer to every visitor.

We have been to New York a few times and can not wait to go back and experience everything again!