Exploring Midtown, New York if not planned properly would be a catastrophic nightmare where you would repeatedly, unintentionally end up back at the same spot a dozen times if you’re not paying attention. Being a semi-seasoned traveller I figured out a way to be able to cover as much ground as possible, as efficiently as possible using a time constraint of just one day. As many of you know Manhattan is split into many vertical avenues and even more horizontal, numbered streets. My plan was to walk from 56th street to 42nd street (14 blocks) winding my way up each avenue. For example, I’d start at 56th and 11th Ave and work my way down to 42nd and 11th. I would then walk East to 42nd and 10th and walk North to 56th and 10th and continue until we got to 42nd and 1st Ave. I chose the blocks 42nd and 56th as the 14 blocks in the middle of that grand area is the most happening/built up of Midtown. Formatting this post is something that I have thought about. Rather than telling a story which is what I usually do, I’m going to summarise each ‘Avenue’ with a short paragraph detailing what is noteworthy to see on that road and what I thought was cool or worth mentioning.
11th Ave – 56th ~ 42nd Street
The second farthest avenue from the West shore of Manhattan, 11th Ave is on the edge of the cities famous ‘Hells Kitchen’ area. A district once populated heavily by Irish immigrants escaping the potato famine. This neighbourhood used to be one of the most deprived in the city and has even featured as a location for a murder in one of my favourite books – The Bone Collector by Jeffery Deaver. The 20 minutes it took be to walk between 55th and 42th the only notable sights that I saw were huge car dealership for; Porsche, Lexus, Bentely, Mercedes an other high end cars. With dealerships also comes a large amount of mechanics and garages with a select few Irish pubs like Mcquaids and The Landmark Tavern. The noise of kids playing football at a artificial football turf could be barely heard due to the sound of the heaving traffic heading towards Lincoln Tunnel which leads to New Jersey.
10th Ave 42nd ~ 56th Street
Now in the more central area of Hells Kitchen on 10th Avenue we begin to see the old tale of gentrification slipping into place. Rather than gritty buildings and charismatic living it is more likely that you will see a couple of posh hotels with names like ‘The Strand’, especially on in the South. With there still being a bunch of Irish Americans living in the area you also encounter more Irish and German bars too, some of them looking really cool. With only a couple of blocks away from Broadway a lot of actors, writers etc live in Hells Kitchen. People of the arts are known notoriously for a healthy way of living and that doesn’t stop here. The streets are lined with gourmet cafes, juice bars and health markets. Hell’s Kitchen park is towards the Northern end and although small is a nice space to rejuvenate.
9th Ave 56th ~ 42nd Street
This is what I would call a ‘residential high street’. It reminded me of the high street I used to live near in whilst at University. On either side of the road are affordable international restaurants, bars, laundrymats, flower markets, bakeries, pet stores, churches, post offices, barbers, nail salons, opticians, estate agents and coffee shops. It felt like a community area where locals were going about their days either picking up their dry cleaning or having a chat with a friend on the corner, it was nice to see. At the South of the Avenue there was a Saturday flea market going on where people were selling the usual car boot tat that when someone buys will end up in their car boot sale within 2 years. However, it was fun mixing with the friendly locals and checking out some of the funky stuff people owned and were attempting to flog.
8th Ave 42nd ~ 56th Street
Within the matter of a single block the whole atmosphere had changed from a quaint, neighbourhood community to mayhem. Now on 8th Avenue you are one block away from being on Broadway. Tourists flood this street as a place to escape the even more manic 7th Avenue. The streets are lined with hot dog stands, ticket touts offering you the latest deals on Broadway shows, big fancy hotels and franchise and international restaurants. When you see New York in films of TV programmes if it is not showing Times Square it is probably showing 8th Avenue as although it is not Broadway it is the business an appeal that a director would want to represent New York as having.
7th & Broadway 56th ~ 42nd Street
The 14 blocks between these two destinations took the most time to wander down. Not being it was enthrallingly spectacular but because it is possibly one of the most visited places in the world. At the centre of it all is Times Square. A buzzing electronic city of fluorescent, flashing advertisements, electronic boards broadcasting upcoming shows and the news centre streamlining current events around the world. You also having the famous M&M, Hershey and Disney stores here with people dressed up in costumes of superheroes and villains offering themselves for a picture in return for a couple of dollars. Broadway is the theatre capital of the city with their bright lights illuminating shows all throughout the day.
6th Ave 42nd ~ 56th Street
When you look at Midtown Manhattan in pictures or on TV and you see all of the really big skyscrapers, they are most likely set on either side of 6th Avenue. Many banks and trading centres call this their home along with Diamond Jewellers Way, a little street dedicated to expensive…well you guessed it… Jewellery. Walking North past Little Brazil you will see the Rockefeller centre where you can pay to assemble to the ‘Top of the Rocks’ observation desk. A little further ahead is NBC news and Radio City. The concert hall hosts artists from all over the world. Weird Al Jankovic was playing on the night we were there.
5th Ave 56th ~ 42nd Street
Fifth Avenue is famous for its luxury and exclusive shops. The rich and famous come here to play and splash all of their money on stuff they don’t really need. This beautiful area of Midtown is home to many of the embassies from counties all over the world. Half way down you will come across St Patrick’s Cathedral, more of a tourist trap now as opposed to a religious building but a must see nevertheless. As you conclude in the South you will come across New York Public Library and Bryant Park which was hosting the Bryant Park square dance on the day that we visited. Attendees were line dancing, practising lassoing and enjoying dressing up as a cowboy for the day. Also on the street is the Fifth Avenue Shopping court which holds a couple dozen small huts like you would see at a European Christmas market selling artisan and independent products.
Lexington Ave 42nd ~ 56th Street
As we headed inward to Midtown East the cityscape began to change again. Now on Lexington there are administrative buildings, grand hotels and of course, the Chrysler Building. Other than that it was a fairly basic street.
Madison Ave 56th ~ 42nd Street
Quite like Lexington, this street is much more administrative that is is attraction and residential friendly. On side of the road it is common to see banks, businesses and the occasional clothing shop or Starbucks.
Directing our route into the more residential area of Midtown East we saw a huge surplus in eateries and watering holes. The return of Irish Pubs quenched mine and Georgias thirst all of the way though happy hour – especially after all that walking. There were also a hoard of Gastro Pubs, middle range stores, inexpensive restaurants and people walking home from work or walking their dogs. I can’t imagine how much it would cost to live here but I can sure as heck say that it can’t be cheap.
The further East we got the more the area felt like any bog standard big city. More international restaurants located in a established, civic centre kind of commune. More consulates and embassies of developing countless lined the roads and a succession of completely empty boutique and speciality stores like Dior and Pinkberry. This road is also a hub for more mid range and affordable hotels that families or pleasure seekers tend to stay in as it is central but not crazy expensive central.
Although there was nothing here about from the UN Headquarters standing proud in the distance. Enough was enough, we were done and we needed to drink away the pains in our legs.
Hot and Tasty
Just off Queens Boulevard in Kew Gardens next to Union Turnpike station this bagel house does the best and cheap bagels and coffee I have tried in NYC. It is ages away from Manhattan so not worth going out of your way to if your staying there but if you’re in Queens, go to this place!
This Irish pub just off of Times Square is where Georgia used to come as a kid with her parents when she came to New York, so as much as it was a nice place to sit and eat it was also an ode to old times.
The Perfect Pint W 45th & 6th and E 45th and 3rd. We went to the both of the ‘The Perfect Pints’ as they have great happy hour deals on a selection of good beers.
The Stage Coach Tavern on W 54th and 7th Avenue is an open restaurant bar just off of Times Square which is buzzing but with more affordable drinks.
McGees on W 55th and 7th just around the corner is the pub that the How I Met Your Mother producers based ‘McClarens’ on. So although It was a cool place to just sit at the bar there was loads of HIMYM memorabilia around with pictures of be cast sat at the bar enjoying the drink. Bartender was a grumpy sod though.
I think that this route we took allowed us to cover as much ground as possible without missing out on anything. Hells Kitchen was by far my favourite neighbourhood so far due to its location and liveliness. Times Square and 7th-5th avenue was impressive but too busy for me to enjoy fully, it was a Saturday after all.
Hells Kitchen (11-9th Ave) 9/10
8th Avenue 6/10
7th Avenue 8/10
6th Avenue 6/10
5th Avenue 7/10
Madison & Lexington Avenue 5/10
East Midtown (3rd – 1st Avenue) 5/10
Thanks for reading everyone, I hope you enjoyed it.