New York: The Essentials

New York, New York so good they named it twice, the city that never sleeps, The Big Apple… need I go on?! New York is a city that is well known all over, and a city I am lucky enough to be have been to three times (and would love to go many more times FYI).

I am by no means an expert at visiting New York, but in the nature of The Essentials Series, I have written up what I believe it’s vital to know before you head off on a trip there. So if you’re going to the city for the very first time, or you’re only there for a long weekend and are strapped for time, I’ve written down the basics you need to know before you go!

Currency: Dollars. Even if you can use your card abroad, it’s always great to have some dollars in cash to be on hand for tips or slices of pizza (i.e the essentials). My fav, Monzo, works abroad and I personally believe it’s got the best exchange rate for spending money abroad.

One thing to note is that in America the VAT is added on after your purchase, so if you fancy treating yourself to something in the shops, just note that the final price will be higher than the price tag, as it doesn’t include tax. WHY? I don’t know! But don’t forget…

ALSO, tipping is a huge thing in America. I should hope you tip wherever you are in the world, but in the States it’s especially important. I’d say it’s generally expected to tip at least 20%, and not just at restaurants, but also at coffee shops, for taxis and for hotel concierge service.

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Getting There: To get to the city from the airport (I’m assuming JFK here) you can either get a yellow taxi which is simple but expensive – I think when I last used this it cost us 75$.

However, you can get the air train to Jamaica Station, it costs 5$ and then the rest of the route is a standard subway ride cost. Handy to pick up your MetroCard there for the rest of the trip.

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Travelling Around: Some of the best parts of exploring New York are just walking between stops and seeing what you see along the way.

The subway is roughly $2.75 a ride, and you can pick up a MetroCard and top it up throughout your trip. If you need to get somewhere ASAP you can get a classic NYC cab, but don’t forget to tip!

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Dishes you needed to Eat:

A New York Slice

If there’s anything New York is famous for, it has to be their pizza, right? You can either buy by the slice (and they’re pretty big!) or you can find a multitude of pizzerias all around the city – especially in Little Italy of course!

Doughnuts

I  don’t think it’s possible to move in New York without seeing a new Doughnut-ery to visit. My favourite is DOUGH doughnuts but you also have the choice of Dun-Well Doughnuts, and The Doughnut Project, which promises PROSECCO DOUGHNUTS. Need I say more?

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New York-style bagel.

Unforgettably something I’ve never managed to fit into a trip when visiting NYC, but New York is well known for it’s bagels. If you want to go full on Instagram mode you can of course find the infamous rainbow bagel at The Bagel Store in Brooklyn. If you don’t want to go that far, you can find a classic New York bagel in most delis across the city, of course including the famous Katz’s Delicatessen (from that When Harry Met Sally Scene) if, of course, you find it without a queue outside!

Something Absolutely Filthy

Bear with me here, but in New York – and America in general – the portions are huge, and there’s plenty of choice to find your Man Vs Food fix. Spurred on by my new favourite Instagram account, Nyceeeeats you can get inspired for the best spots in the city to over-indulge on something absolutely filthy – and most likely deep fried and covered in cheese.

Happy Hour

Okay, technically not something to eat – but Happy Hour is a given pretty much everywhere in New York. It’s great when you’re exploring the city to be able to pop into a pub, bar or restaurant for a pit-stop and take advantage of 2-4-1 cocktails or cheaper beer! And as I always say, if you’re going to a bar for Happy Hour, why not make it a rooftop bar?

Bits to see:

Central Park

An iconic area of New York, and it’s absolutely huge so you can definitely lose a lot of time exploring here. My personal favourite is to pick up a snack and watch the sunset, or just sit back and people watch in the park. You can also visit the Jackie O reservoir for an alternative, yet brilliant view of the New York skyline!

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Empire State Building/Rockefeller Centre

They are different buildings but you now what I mean – pick a large skyscraper and travel up it to take a look at the NYC skyline (my post on the best ones can be found here). Tickets often cost around $30/40 for a trip to the top, and if you’re super organised, make sure you do it in advance to avoid long queues.

Statue of Liberty

One of my favourite memories of my first trip to Liberty Island was going inside the statue and up into the crown, I would definitely recommend it if you’re committed to going for the day, because it’s certainly an experience you won’t forget. If that’s not your thing, you can also pay just to visit the island – and prices are pretty reasonable as it’s a Government national park. If you don’t have any interest in going to the island, you can pay to get a boat tour around it, or even just hop on the Staten Island ferry for free!

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Times Square

Another iconic area of New York not to be missed, although it can be really busy during the day. You can take a seat on the big red steps to watch the world go by, but the best time (in my opinion) is first thing in the morning. make use of your jet lag and beat the crowds to see the square almost empty (and plus you can get Sephora almost all to yourself…)

World Trade Centre 9/11 Memorial 

I personally believe this is another essential for a trip to New York, but if you don’t have the time to explore the museum it’s worth taking the trip to go and see the memorials at the World Trade Centre memorial, placed where the twin towers used to stand. If you do have the time I would recommend the museum, as I personally think it’s a well-designed and respectfully curated way to observe and understand the events of 9/11.

Brooklyn Bridge 

If you pick it at the right moment (early in the morning, on a weekday) it can be the perfect way to see New York (and Brooklyn). It’s free, it’s a beautiful view and you can get some really gorgeous views of the city. Take the walk across and explore Brooklyn, or walk back and reward your exercise with a huge meal.

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If you have the time:

Brooklyn 

If you have the time to explore, the area of Dumbo in Brooklyn is a really nice (read – hipster-ish) neighborhood to explore. There are little restaurants, cafes and shops to explore, and you can get a really good view of New York from the other side of the Hudson river.

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Comey Island 

I have never actually been to Comey Island but it’s always been on the bucket list, as it’s a subway ride away you can reach a beach and fairground rides. If it’s brilliant sunny weather and you don’t want to spend it in the city it would be a great place to escape to.

Hire a boat in Central Park 

This was one of the highlights of my trip to New York a few years ago, and I would recommend it if you have a spare afternoon and the upper body strength! It’s not too pricey to hire out a boat, and plus you won’t need it for too long as it really tires you out. But it’s a great way to see Central Park from a different point of view.

The Highline

Another area of New York to experience is the High Line, which takes you up the left side of New York, along an old railway track that has been converted into a large walkway, high above the normal sidewalks! It’s a nice stretch to walk along – especially in nice weather – with areas to stop and watch the city go by.

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There we have it – all the essentials I could possibly think of when summing up the larger than life city that is New York.

If you’re planning on visiting New York soon let me know in the comments! More posts in this Basics series will be coming soon, but in the meantime check out my Grundy Travels Instagram for the latest updates!

Thanks for reading x

Best City Breaks for the Summer

Usually when Summer rolls around the first holiday on my mind goes to (and in no certain order) – Sun, Sea, Beach, Pool, Wine & Paella. Whichever holiday can get me a combination of all of those is a winner.

However, if money, time or holiday allowance is permitting, sometimes a great alternative to an all you can eat/drink/sunbathe beach holiday, is to whisk yourself away for a city break for the weekend. When you think of touring a city in the height of Summer, you may imagine the heat, the stickiness of it all and general bleurgh (I have visited Marakech, Budapest and Venice both in the middle of Summer and the stifling heat held me back from enjoying both locations to their full potential), however that’s not always the case for all.

With this in mind I wanted to make a case for some of the best cities great for a long weekend away – if you can’t join your mates in Ibiza, or don’t have the pennies to jet yourself off to the Maldives, a little city break can still hit the spot. So without further ado, HERE WE GO…

Barcelona

The reason I have to mention Barcelona first is because this city has a beach, so you’ve got the best of both worlds, and can spend more/less time in each side as you wish. Not only that, but the city of Barcelona is gorgeous, budget-friendly and absolutely brimming with places to eat and drink.

Of course if you’re made of money, the hotel W is an iconic feature of the Barcelona skyline and would be incredible to stay in for the views alone. Although I have heard it’s possible to sneak onto the rooftop pool and bar if you can manage it, if you still want your by-the-pool fix. Personally, my favourite part of my trip to Barcelona was hiring bikes and cycling along the beachfront, stopping for a cocktail or two along the way…

In July you can also visit Benacassiam festival, which has an incredible line-up this year. You can either camp there – but peak weather can reach 30 degrees in July and August, so maybe a cool Airbnb nearby might be more suitable…

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Edinburgh

I have visited Edinburgh before in the winter months and whereas I had a lovely time and I think it would be amazing to visit in the Summer months. Peak weather reaches 19 degrees in July/August, so it’s not mega-warm, but still enough for t-shirt weather. I mean, it’s a city well known for it’s gin, so imagine the fun of sitting outside with a nice G&T, perfect!

Not only that but in the Summer time you also have the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It’s something that has always been on my bucket list, and I would love to go one year – if anyone has been before and has any advice for how to tackle the festival month let me know in the comments…!! What I do know is that if you want see a fav comedian of yours, or want somewhere to stay that’s budget friendly, the earlier you book the better!

Paris

My limited memory of travelling through Paris in Summer for my inter-rail trip was of walking down the River Seine in the evening and watching Parisian couples and friends sitting around with a bottle of red and some snacks by the river, basking in the warm weather. That memory is so dreamy for me it partially influenced our decision to book a trip back there in August (please pray for good weather for us..!)

I’ll be able to fill you in more depth about how Paris is in Summer months after my trip, but my experience with Paris has been so great I’m excited for what Summer will bring. I can’t wait to do some more exploring in the sunshine, and guaranteed you’ll find me by the river with my own bottle of wine and a baguette in tow.

At the moment Eurostar are doing some really good deals on return trips to Paris (and Amsterdam and Rotterdam, but more on those later…) so take a look as we found a return trip for only £50 that will take us there in the peak of summer for a little weekend away!

London

I couldn’t write up a post of best cities to visit in Europe on a sunny day and miss out my own! Granted, I live here so I see it every day – but there really is something special about London in Summer. I’m a North East London resident at the moment and I love it – In Islington, Hackney and Shoreditch you’re not short of a brunch spot, a good restaurant or something fun to do when the sun has gone down. Just recently I spent a sunny weekend drinking with pals, before eating a gorgeous (and cheap!) meal at Flat Iron before heading off to putt away at Junkyard Golf, a brilliant crazy golf course with frozen margaritas on the side (my favourite kind of margaritas if anyone’s asking…)

I write more about it in my Staycation guide to London, but there are plenty of places to visit. Richmond Park is a great shout if the weather is really good and you fancy some sunbathing, and maybe some deer spotting. Brick Lane is a great spot to visit on the weekend for vintage shopping or for mouth-watering food markets, and failing that you can go full-on tourist and take a walk down the Southbank to explore Borough Market for something to eat…

The weather in Summer in England can range (at it’s peak) from around 23-30 degrees, depending on your luck, but guaranteed as soon as the sun comes out everyone heads to the park for cheeky drinks and a BBQ.

Amsterdam

Another city from my Interrailing trip I always remember as being great to explore – even in the heat of August. Amsterdam may seem like an expensive city at first, but if you’re on a budget it’s still possible to navigate it. One of my favourite memories was having the afternoon to myself and hiring a bike to explore a little further.

There’s plenty to do outside – with their own Outdoor theatre – the Vondelpark Open Air Theatre or take a dip in one of Amsterdam’s urban beaches. A personal favourite of mine was just to explore along the canals – or even to take a boat cruise to take in the view of Amsterdam’s famous houses.

And that’s a wrap for my city break recommendations for this Summer, I hope you’ve enjoyed this post, and if you have any suggestions of something obvious I’ve missed out please comment down below! In the meantime check out my Instagram for future travel updates!

Thanks for reading x

What to ACTUALLY Pack for a Festival

This post diverts slightly from what I usually write on this blog, but festival season is upon us and it started me thinking about my 5 previous, glorious years attending Glastonbury festival. However, Glastonbury isn’t on this year, and I don’t have any festival plans (although if anyone has anyone wants to get me Sziget tickets then FEEL FREE).

Either way, as this season rolls around I keep seeing content revolving around festival packing and frankly a lot of them don’t ring true tome. So I wanted to write up my recommendations for what to actually bring with you, as it’s not all disco pants and face glitter you know?

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So, if you’re going to a festival this year – in the UK or otherwise – please take a look and let me know what you think. If I’ve missed anything let me know!

Wellies

You’d think this would be a given, but even I have fallen into this trap before. Wellies are essential – for UK festivals especially thanks to our unstable British Weather – and they shouldn’t be underestimated. You can get a good, sturdy pair from a garden centre or even a standard shoe shop – but don’t be drawn on by cheap pairs, or even by fashion wellies – they’ll look good for a few seconds, but if the rain comes in it won’t matter, those nice wellies will suddenly be covered in mud. A few years ago I decided to wear my knock-off DMs from Topshop and it was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done, I think they lasted approx 5 hours before the sole came off, believe me – you need something sturdy.

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Wet Wipes

Love it or hate it, we all have to face the fact that essentially at a festival, and you’re camping, you will not be washing as regularly as you would everyday. In this case, wet wipes are your best friend. Usually a budget pack of baby wipes will suit, but I find the beauty wipes from Johnsons to be a good bet, as they’re very moist – and therefore get the job done. And ladies, got to pack a pack of femfresh, can’t believe I’m writing this, but just… do it!

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Battery Pack

If you’re at a festival and want to truly switch off, then fair play to you. But most of us are stuck to our phones – myself included. If you don’t bring your smartphone with you, I’d advise at least bringing a cheaper phone so at least you can be reachable to your pals. If you do want to bring your smartphone – as they also make for a good camera when you want them – it’s best to bring a battery pack. I bought mine from Amazon here, and it kept my phone charged for the entire week.

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4. Pillow/Good Sleeping Equipment

There really is nothing better than a good night sleep, and at a festival it’s even more important that however short you do hit the hay, you have a comfy time whilst you there. Whereas you can forgo bringing anything with you, don’t forget you’re camping on hard ground. Also at most festivals you can buy anything you’ve forgotten for an extortion price, they also won’t be selling the best (I once bought a pillow for £6 that felt like a bag of cotton wool – not comfy). For a good night bring a pillow, sleeping bag – basic is fine as you don’t want to overheat when the sun comes up and your tent becomes an oven – and a sleeping mat. Sorted.

5. Bumbag

Thankfully times have changed and you can get some ‘fashionable’ looking bumbags, but a sturdy, plain one will do. I explained this briefly in my round up of last year, but at festivals it’s important to bring all your important bits with you, and keep them close. If you don’t need to bring something, or it’s too valuable to you – leave it at home. Also – as I learnt the hard way – when you’re asleep in your tent you still need to keep your valuables with you – preferably in your pillow case!

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6. Food

Right – lets talk food. If you’re absolutely made of cash then sure, go ahead and buy all your food when you’re there, there’ll definitely be plenty of choice. However, if you’re thinking of bringing some food with you think of the essentials. No meats, no dairy, and essentially nothing that requires a fridge. If you want to go the whole hog and bring your own camping stove, then sure – but you can grab a cup of tea from most vendors for a quid.

My festival food essentials mainly comprises of crisps, breakfast bars and biscuits. It’s just to keep you running until your main meals. I always treat myself to a breakfast sandwich and a cuppa in the morning to recover from an inevitable hangover.

And that’s a wrap for my packing festival suggestions, I hope you enjoyed this post, and if you have any suggestions of something obvious I’ve missed out please comment down below. In the meantime check out my Instagram for future travel updates!

x

Why You Need to Visit Sintra

The name Sintra may not ring a bell, but I’ll guarantee you’ve seen it before on galleries of ‘most Instagram-able locations’. It’s so much more than just an Insta-location (I just cringed at myself typing that), so I wanted to explain what I loved about our visit there, and why I think its’ worth your time if you’re travelling to Lisbon anytime soon!

Situated just a 40 minute train ride away from Lisbon, and costing roughly around 2 Euros at that, it’s a brilliant little excursion if you’re wanting to get away from the city. When I researched what to do in Lisbon, a visit to Sintra always sat in the top 5 of most recommended, and I can certainly see why.

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It holds a completely different atmosphere to Lisbon, and seems to sit in it’s own little world. There are lots of things to see when you’re there, but the main attraction is it’s multi-coloured castle The Palacio Nacional da Pena (although other castles in Sintra are available).

The multi-coloured beauty is where we chose to go on our day visit, and we really enjoyed our trip. We did choose to walk there – a 50 minute uphill journey – which isn’t the best choice in the heat. You can catch a bus up to the top, or your own private tuk-tuk if you would prefer (and I’d envy you for it).

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When you enter you have the choice to pay for just the grounds (which includes climbing around the castle exterior) for 7.50 euros or 15 euros to visit the indoor exhibitions as well. Because of our time limit, and the gorgeous weather outside, we chose the first option, which was a great way to look around and explore the castle without going inside.

The castle itself is a gorgeous array of bright colours and mismatching tiles. It doesn’t take long to take a walk around the edge of the castle, but it’s good fun to take your time to look at all the different elements to it and even take a trip up your own turret if you wish.

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The scenic walk back down is really enjoyable (especially because you’re walking back down- and not up again). Google Maps will try and take you a different route FYI, but stick to the walking signs and follow other tourists when in doubt.

Like most pay-to-visit attractions the cafe options are minimal and expensive, so if you can avoid it try to not eat there, and save it for after. We spotted the tapas spot Tascantiga on the way up to the castle, and marked it as our destination for the end of our hike back down.

I would definitely recommend this spot if you’re after somewhere to eat, or some really good sangriaWhen you’re seated you are given a menu and a pencil – and you tick your options, and there is certainly a lot to choose from. We had eyes bigger than our bellies by the time we’d finished our trip to the castle, so we went a bit wild with our orders.

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Of course, this is only a tiny snapshot of what you can do in Sintra, as there are plenty of other castles, gardens, bars and restaurants to try when you’re there. Either way, if you have the chance when in Lisbon or nearby I would definitely recommend paying it a visit. It makes a big change from the city vibe of Lisbon and is worth a visit if you’re after a colourful day out.

If you’re heading to Lisbon anytime soon make sure to add Sintra to your to-do list, and if you think I’ve missed anything out let me know in the comments below! In the meantime you can check out my travel snaps on my Insta @GrundyTravels.

Thanks for reading!

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