New York is now doable as a daytrip from Dublin. But is it worth it? David Walsh takes a flying visit.
Just how quick is a 'New York minute'?
I've never really given it much thought. At least, not until I emerge from the subway in Lower Manhattan, greeted by the blare of car horns and hundreds of besuited figures scurrying in all directions in the stifling, sticky midday heat.
Now it's all I can think about.
Standing in the frenzy of Fulton Street, the magnitude of the challenge facing me suddenly dawns. Peering at my wrist, I have roughly five or so hours to explore one of the world's most populated cities before checking in for my return flight to Dublin. That's 300 minutes, give or take - all of them 'New York minutes', and all of them slipping away at a rate of knots as I stand gazing at my watch.
There's a method to my madness. Aer Lingus has recently reintroduced its 7.50am flight from Dublin to JFK for summer, boldly claiming that passengers can be in downtown New York by 11.20am - just in time for brunch - and jetting home again at 9pm. Travelling 5,000km for a daytrip may be folly, but it may also suit business travellers and well-heeled shoppers, and it certainly appeals to my adventurous side. I arrived at Dublin with just a backpack and a change of T-shirt.
Having clawed back some time after an hour-long delay, I set off apace into the foray of stockbrokers and tourists in the direction of the One World Trade Center, its lofty glass glinting at me in the sun like a beacon. The lift to my first stop, the One World Observatory (oneworldobservatory.com), glides to the tower's 102nd floor in 60 seconds flat. Another minute gone (I'm obsessing, I know).
Rooted to the edges of glass, throngs armed with selfie sticks are all equally transfixed by the view, and rightly so. The world as they know it is mapped out below their feet. Manhattan island, knitted together by some 70,000 Tetris-like towers, sprawls out towards the curve of the horizon. Muscling in amongst them, I feel like I'm standing on the shoulders of a giant - including its spire, the tower is the highest structure in the western hemisphere at 1,776 feet.
By 1.10pm, I'm back down to earth, watching small craft bob on the swell of the leaden Hudson River as I devour a bento box at the Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar (blueribbonrestaurants.com), a few paces from the observatory tower. On the adjacent side of the bar, the itamae maintains zen-like concentration as he slices sashimi amid a chorus of takeaway vendors baying order numbers at ravenous office workers in their New York drawl.
Time check: 2pm. With the risk of indigestion ever-menacing, I ask for the bill and cut a dash for the subway. It's another 30 minutes or so before I'm strolling through the lush oasis of the High Line (thehighline.org).
Once the 'lifeline of New York', this used to be an arterial railway for the warehouses and factories of the industrial West Side - falling out of grace with city authorities by 1980. Its skyward rails and sidings were gradually reclaimed by a wilderness, but now sculpted long grasses and flowering blooms bend and sway in a welcome breeze as I brush past, high among the rusting fire escapes of red-brick tenements and skyscrapers. The 1.45-mile linear park has become an intrinsic part of one of the world's most recognisable skylines.
New Yorkers slouch in the glorious sunshine on wooden recliners or kick around in water features nearby, but there's no rest for the wicked. By 3.20pm, I'm winging my way to one of my favourite NYC haunts, Williamsburg.
I wasn't convinced that I'd have the time... until a chance encounter over sushi. "I would have recommended all those things myself if I only had a day", said the diner lunching beside me. His name was Jeff Goldberg, and he lives not far from here on the West Side. Jeff clearly approved of my itinerary so far. "What with the rise in rents, Manhattan has become a shopping mall. Brooklyn is where it's interesting now," he confided.
Emboldened, I leave the High Line behind on 23rd Street and find myself sat - albeit sweating after a sprint and a subway change - on a creaking L train to Bedford Avenue, the nucleus of Brooklyn's hipster stronghold. A short walk in either direction from the strip here leads you down side streets to hip boutique shops amongst the crumbling, graffitied apartment blocks. A sandwich board outside one promises the best vintage shoes in New York. On the other side of the street, the black and gold-fronted Catbird (catbirdnyc.com) proffers jewellery wares handmade by in-demand local designers. A ceaseless evolution of street art murals plays out across disused lots, on decaying warehouses and gable ends.
I'd heard wonders about the fried chicken and waffles at Pies 'n' Thighs (piesnthighs.com) on South 4th Street, but it's a matter of minutes to spare before my airport train - so a moreish pastrami and mustard bagel from the Bagel Store (bagelstoreonline.com) it is. To go, of course.
If you're looking for a quick - albeit, rushed - fix, then New York in a day is certainly doable, and definitely fun. But buyer beware. Any number of factors - from flight delays to traffic - could scupper your trip. Next time, I'll take days over minutes to really savour the Big Apple.
Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) operates its 7.50am Dublin to JFK flight until August 31. US Preclearance is realistically the only thing that makes NYC viable as a daytrip — you can walk straight to a cab or train on your arrival. 7.50am prices from €370 each-way as we publish; other JFK sale fares from €209.
For more to do and see in New York, check out nycgo.com.
Summer in New York is a scorcher, so be prepared for the weather. Sunscreen is a must, especially if you are outside. As you won't be showering before you get home the next morning, I definitely recommend a quick and light wardrobe change to freshen up for the return leg!
Beat a path to Broadway
If you travel either on a Wednesday or Saturday, you could conceivably pre-book tickets to a matinee (2pm) on Broadway after brunch.
A bite in Brooklyn
Head to Brooklyn’s waterfront for the outdoor Smorgasburg food market on Saturdays. It’s a feast for the eyes and the stomach. You’ll want to eat everything in sight. See smorgasburg.com.
The Whitney’s wow factor
The Whitney Museum of American Art (whitney.org) is a must for lovers of contemporary art. It boasts a funky new building next to the start of the High Line, too.