Nashville, a journey to the Deep South

I’ve always wanted to visit Nashville – the home of Country and Western music!

Nashville is the capital of Tennessee and we visited as part of our big tour of the deep south of America so unfortunately our time here was pretty limited. In fact, although we spent roughly the same time in some of the other locations such as Memphis, Chattanooga and Tupelo, Nashville was the one place I really noticed that we wouldn’t have enough time to see the vast majority of the sights this fantastic place had to offer.

I couldn’t wait to visit, mainly to learn more about the history of country and western music, as Nashville is known as the centre of the country music industry, earning it the nickname “Music City”.

Although it was very limited, here’s what we managed to squeeze in during our short time here;

The first point of interest made me chuckle – the John Seigenthaler pedestrian bridge – also known by the locals as the Dolly Parton bridge due to its two rather large humps….

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RCA Studio B is a recording studio which was originally known as RCA Studios. The studio helped to revive the popularity of country music and establish Nashville as an international recording centre. 

The recording studio is a single-storey building with offices at the front, but the area of the studio and control room has a second storey which contains an echo chamber.

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Famous artists who recorded songs at Studio B include The Everly Brothers, Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison, Dolly Parton, and the one and only, Elvis Presley! In her 1994 memoir, My Life And Other Unfinished Business, Dolly Parton told the story of how she was rushing to her first recording session at the studio in September 1967 and, rushing to make the session on time, drove her car through the side wall of the building. The spot where her car impacted the building is still visible even today!

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Daily tours of the studio are offered by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the tour guides have some fantastic stories to tell which have been gathered over the years – including Elvis Presley banging his head on a low hanging microphone during the recording of “Are you lonesome tonight?” The sound of him doing it can still be heard on the original recording they play for you!

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We also visited the Nashville Parthenon which is in Centennial Park. It is a full scale replica of the original Parthenon in Athens and was built in 1897 as part of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. Today it is used as an art museum – it is really impressive to look at!

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I don’t even really know how to begin explaining the amazing Country Music Hall of Fame! It is absolutely huge! It is one of the world’s largest museums and this is obvious as soon as you step inside! You could spend weeks here looking at the memorabilia and reading the information contained within one of the world’s most extensive musical collections. 

Here are just a few of the incredible items and collections you can find inside;

Elvis Presley’s gold cadillac – the 1960 Cadillac was customised by Barris Kustom City of North Hollywood. The exterior sheen is due to its 24 carat gold plate highlights and forty painted coats of a translucent mixture of crushed diamonds and fish scales called diamond dust pearl. The interior includes a gold plated television and a record player with automatic changer!

Taylor Swift’s crystal covered guitar! Swoon! The pictures didn’t do it justice at all!

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Elvis Presley’s 24 carat gold leaf piano (starting to see a theme here!) I don’t think this is actually here anymore, as news articles seem to suggest it sold in an auction to the Hard Rock Cafe for $600,000!! I’m glad I got to see it whilst I was there!

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Plus rooms and rooms and rooms of memorabilia from hundreds and hundreds of Country and Western music stars, including Roy Rogers, Patsy Montana, Eddy Arnold, Hank Williams, Red Foley, T. Texas Tyler, Spade Cooley, Merle Travis, Hank Thompson, Cindy Walker, Carl Perkins, Wanda Jackson, Keith Urban, Brenda Lee, Jim Reeves, Marty Robbins, Patsy Kline, Tammy Wynette and infamous names like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Dolly Parton…. the list goes on!

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After spending a good few hours here we continued to explore this amazing city and came across the Johnny Cash Museum. 

God, I really regret not visiting here but I don’t know how we would have had the time!

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It features the largest and most comprehensive collection of Johnny Cash artifacts and memorabilia in the world, and is located in the heart of Downtown Nashville. It is one of only six attractions in Nashville to receive the coveted AAA Gem rating and is ranked the number 1 music museum in the world by Forbes, Conde’ Naste and National Geographic Traveler – if you get the chance – GO!

Walking the streets of Nashville is amazing feeling. It is so relaxed, and everywhere you look are shops selling Cowboy hats and Cowboy Boots, or really expensive guitars.

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There are bars open everywhere with live music being played and even street sellers selling famous Moonshine! The stuff looked lethal so no, we didn’t have any!

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There’s so much to see and do here, its easy to see why people love it and call it the home of Country and Western music! I just hope I get the opportunity to go back some day!

 

New York at Christmas Time – Day Three

We didn’t have any major plans for our third day in New York as I didn’t know how much ground we would cover yesterday and whether we would need a couple of hours to catch up on things we missed yesterday!

We started off the day by walking north to make our way to Central Park. We stopped by the Plaza Hotel on the way (the hotel Kevin stays in in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York) to take some photos – hubby said if we were lucky enough to visit New York again he would like to stay here next time!

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We then stopped and had another tasty breakfast at a café on Columbus Circle! It was AMAZING!

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We then crossed the road to visit the Columbus Circle Holiday Market which was another market I knew I wanted to visit. The location is great – perched in between the hustle and bustle of the city and yet also on the edge of Central Park.

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I really loved this market, lots of lovely stalls and the food stalls were amazing! Check out my poo emoji and little lamb macaron I bought while I was there!

There was also a stall selling giant S’mores and the most amazing hot chocolates I have seen!

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After our visit to the market we went to visit Central Park and spent a good couple of hours walking round to see all that it has to offer. Here are some of the amazing things you can see in this massive park:

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Central Park Zoo

We visited Central Park zoo the first time we visited New York, so we didn’t visit this time. Still, it is a great day out and well worth visiting if you get the chance. You’ll find over 130 different species ranging from Snow Leopards to Tropical Birds in here! Prices start at $18 per adult ticket.

Wollman Rink

This looked like a lot of fun and was much cheaper than the rink at the Rockefeller Center (starts at $12 per adult). The rink also seemed bigger and far less busy too!

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Wollman Rink was opened in 1949 and has been a favorite attraction of Central Park ever since. In the autumn and winter, ice skating at the rink is one of the most popular things to do in Central Park. It’s lovely to skate with the city’s skyline looking down on you!

Loeb Boathouse

The iconic Loeb Boathouse offers boat rentals and gondola rides, as well as a very exclusive expensive dining experience!

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Calvert Vaux designed a wooden structure of the boat house that would last from 1873 until 1954. The beautiful, two-story, Victorian structure was eventually torn down, but its original purpose was carried on by its replacement, now known as the Loeb Boathouse.

Carl M. Loeb opened the new, red brick and limestone Boathouse in 1954. In addition to its traditional functions, the new Boathouse is also the site of the Boathouse Restaurant.

Pilgrim Hill

We wanted to visit here because this is where everyone goes sledding when there’s thick snow on the ground! We were hoping there would still be some snow when we got there but unfortunately it had all gone! Still a very pretty place though!

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Alice in Wonderland

Located just north of the Conservatory Water at East 74th Street, Alice in Wonderland stands eleven feet tall in bronze, surrounded by the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit and a few of her other friends!

The Dairy Visitor Center

The Central Park Dairy, which now serves as an information center and gift shop inside the park, was originally intended as a source of fresh milk for children in the late 19th century.

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The Dairy was constructed in 1870; at this time, fresh milk for children was difficult to find and desperately sought after by parents. The Dairy was built at the southern end on the park, originally the children’s section, to provide milk and snacks for children in the cool and relaxing atmosphere near the Pond.

Plus there is loads, loads more to do in Central Park than this, you can easily spend a couple of days in Central Park checking out everything it has to offer!

After a few hours and a LOT of walking around Central Park we walked back towards the hotel and stopped off at Times Square where I checked out the “it’s always Christmas” shop! There has been a Facebook video going round which showed footage of the inside and outside of this amazing store so I was really pleased I got to visit!

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I also spotted this amazing little cupcake store on Times Square called Baked By Melissa. They sell adorable little bite-sized cupcakes in some amazing flavours! I bought a pack of six but wish I had bought more! They are only bite-sized after all!

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I also went into a brilliant deli and bought a rainbow bagel which had almond butter in! Delicious!

After a pit stop to stuff our faces we ventured on down to Macys Department Store. I wasn’t too bothered about doing any shopping as you could spend all day in this amazing store, but I wanted to visit their Christmas department which is called Holiday Lane! I’ve seen a Facebook video of Holiday Lane too so I knew it was going to be spectacular!

I have never seen so many beautiful trees and decorations and stuffed toys and wreaths and Nutcracker Dolls! I really was in my element!

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After a long final day we visited Times Square and splashed out on a HUGE slap up meal at Applebee’s which is one of our favourite American restaurants. I love the pretzels with beer cheese dips for starters and four cheese macaroni cheese with chicken on top, absolutely delicious!

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The perfect end to a perfect holiday! Our three nights here went so quickly but we all got to see things we wanted to see and do things we wanted to do, and most importantly we got to spend time together. A truly magical place this time of year, if you ever get the chance to go, grab it with both hands!

Until next time New York!

New York at Christmas Time – Day Two

We were all up earlier than I had expected us to be (stupid jet-lag!) but this meant we could get ready and be out stomping the streets of New York as early as possible and cover more ground.

We put the TV on as we were getting ready and were mortified to hear that there had been an attempt to set a bomb off only a few streets away from our hotel but thank god no-one was seriously injured or killed. I take my hat off to the authorities who have to deal with terrible situations like this – they are all so skilled and well trained and professional throughout and I have to say, despite being only a couple of streets away from where disaster could have struck, I never once felt unsafe knowing the best of the best were out there protecting us all. I think it is fair to say that terrorism failed in more than one aspect that day.

Anyway, on a brighter note, off we went on Monday’s adventure. We walked a good twenty minutes to go and have breakfast at Broadway Café – we always have breakfast here at least once during our trips to New York. It is a brilliant place with so much choice, I challenge you not to find something on the breakfast menu that you like! If you get the chance you must pay them a visit!

After a hearty breakfast of pancakes with crispy bacon and maple syrup and omelettes, oatmeal and sausage sandwiches, we carried on walking South down Broadway, admiring all the shops and window displays.

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On our way to the Financial District we came across the Flatiron building – such an amazing design! It was originally called the Fuller Building, is 22 storeys high and was completed in 1902. The name “Flatiron” comes from its resemblance to a cast-iron clothes iron. The building is often described as “one of the worlds most iconic skyscrapers and a quintessential symbol of New York city.” It is certainly very amazing to look at!

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We eventually arrived at Washington Square Park, which looked beautiful as it still had some snow on the ground. The park is a 9.75 acre public park in Greenwich and is one of the best known parks of New York city. At the northern gateway of the park you will find the Washington Square Arch (in the second picture).

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We also stopped off at Sugarhut and spent a fortune on sweets! I have never seen so many different types of sweets and treats! I was like a kid in a toy store! You don’t get sweet shops in the UK anymore really do you? It’s mainly the supermarkets you have to get your sugar fix from!

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We carried on walking down Fifth Avenue for a few more miles until we reached the Financial District and One World Trade Center’s Freedom Tower. The last time we visited New York in 2013, they were still building here and we all said as soon as the observation deck was finished that we would come back to visit.

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One World Trade Center (also known as WTC of Freedom Tower) is the main building of the rebuilt World Trade Center complex. It is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, and is the sixth tallest building in the world! The new skyscraper stands on the site of the original 6 World Trade Center building. The building’s architect was David Childs, whose firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) also designed the Burj Khalifa and the Willis Tower.

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Construction of below-ground footings and foundations for the Freedom Tower began on 27 April 2006, and when we visited Ground Zero in June 2009, all work was still being completed underground at this point. One World Trade Center became the tallest structure in New York City on 30 April 2012, when it surpassed the height of the Empire State Building. When we visited New York in May 2013, the work which had been completed was incredible – the Tower was almost complete and the final component of the Tower’s spire had just been installed, making the building (including its spire) reach a total height 1,776 feet! The building is 104 standard floors high, but has only 94 actual stories. The height of 1776 feet is deliberate, as it references the year the United States Declaration of Independence was signed. The building officially opened in 3rd November 2014, and the One World Observatory opened on 29th May 2015.

The tower has a three-story observation deck which is located on floors 100–102. The actual viewing space is on the 100th floor, but there is a food court on the 101st floor and a space for events on the 102nd floor. Admission to the Observation Deck is $39 and is well worth the price.

Once you have passed through security you enter a lift which takes you up to the 102nd floor. During the lift journey, screens on the walls of the lift light up and show you how the skyline of New York has developed since the 1900’s. Once you leave the lift you are escorted into a theatre type room which shows another video of New York, its residents and its developments over the years. The video is extremely moving, and once the video has finished, the black back drop lifts up and shows you a beautiful outlook of this amazing city! I cried at the time and thinking about it again as I type this it has made me tearful again! It was so moving and very tastefully done.

You then leave the theatre room and explore the observation deck where you can take some absolutely amazing photographs from all the viewpoints of the city. Keep an eye out for the Brooklyn Bridge, The Statue of Liberty and of course the incredible Empire State Building.

Photographs really do not do it justice, the view is exceptional and I could have stayed there all day looking out at this amazing place.

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We didn’t visit the National September 11 Memorial and Museum on this occasion as we visited on our trip during 2013, however I urge you to go and visit if you get the chance. I will cover more on the Memorial and Museum in my next New York blog which I hope to publish early next year.

After our amazing (and very emotional) visit to the Freedom Tower, we wandered down further into the financial district to see Wall Street and it’s infamous “Charging Bull”. Despite being to New York a couple of times before, we have never got around to seeing him so we were pleased we got to this time!

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We then started making our way back up Fifth Avenue towards our hotel and on the way we visited the Union Square Holiday Market. I was really looking forward to this market but to be honest I was rather disappointed. There were nowhere near as many stalls as I had expected and I couldn’t find any of the stalls I had ear-marked to visit which was a real shame! A very pretty market in the centre of Manhattan but I left here empty handed!

When we visited Union Square market I had made a note to visit a nearby bakery/restaurant called Union Fare, I am so, so pleased I did in the end because I managed to get hold of one of their famous Red Velvet croissants (a red sweet flavoured croissant filled with a delicious cream cheese flavoured filling) and a Birthday Cake croissant (a croissant with multi-coloured sugar strands running through it filled with a white Birthday cake flavoured filling which is again filled with colourful sugar strands)! Delicious! I also bought a very colourful Sugar Cookie which I saved to eat later on when we got back to the hotel!

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As we continued on we came across Gingerbread Boulevard in Madison Square Park.

Gingerbread Boulevard features a life-size Gingerbread House, with ginger “bricks”, a “frosting-covered” roof and is covered in candy canes, gum drops and more.

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You get to go inside the house where there is a fire lit and a fully-decorated Christmas tree. Inside are TV screens which show the Gingerbread Man decorating his Christmas tree and then running past the windows of his house – it’s probably more for the children but we enjoyed it and thought it was really cute!

It was a bit of a surreal experience but a really good laugh and a great photo opportunity! Plus the house smelt absolutely delicious! We didn’t have to queue to go in and there was no charge so I would highly recommend visiting Gingy in his Gingerbread house if you have the chance!

After finally getting back to our hotel (after a Dunkin’ Donuts stop on the way!), we checked our phones which said we had walked the equivalent of a half marathon!

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We decided we wanted to go back to the Rockefeller to do the ice skating tonight (even after walking all that way!) as the forecast was rain for the next day, so after a quick rest at the hotel we wandered back over to the Rockefeller Center.

It was far quieter tonight than it had been the night before which was great. We managed to get into the last ice skating slot of the evening which was from 10:30pm until midnight, and we only had around a 45 minute wait to get onto the ice which I didn’t think was too bad considering you can’t pre-book tickets. I think the slots of an hour and a half are a bit long as the ice skating boots were really uncomfortable and it isn’t the biggest rink in the world but anyway, another amazing experience ticked off the bucket list!

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After ice skating at the Rockefeller Centre we headed off back to the hotel and walked past Saks Fifth Avenue – I knew they would put on a spectacular show but I didn’t imagine something as incredible as this! The theme this year was to celebrate 80 years of Snow White so the window displays were all Snow White themed and then on the front of the building was a spectacular light display which went off every hour or so alongside music from Snow White such as the ‘hi ho hi ho’ song! It was truly incredible.

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I know now why they call it the city that never sleeps! By the time we got to the hotel we were all absolutely exhausted!! I was worried we would sleep in the next morning and lose precious time on our last day because we were so tired!

New York at Christmas Time – Day One

What an amazing past couple of weeks my family and I have had! My husband and I finally got to move into our dream home, we celebrated my Sisters Birthday, my Mum’s Birthday, had our annual trip to London and two themed afternoon teas and to top it all off, we spent three nights in New York!

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The day we moved (Friday 1st December), we were at my Mum’s house in the evening, celebrating my Sister’s Birthday with some cake and champagne when out came four gold envelopes, each containing a note saying how hard we had worked this year and as an extra special Christmas present, Mum had paid for the four of us to spend three nights in New York!

Everyone was (and still is!) absolutely dumbfounded! What an incredibly amazing and perfect present, all four of us have always dreamed of going to New York over Christmas!

We left on the 10th December and battled our way to Heathrow through the most terrifying snow storm I have ever seen! How we all made it to the airport in one piece I will never know! We were lucky we had an early morning flight because even as we were sat on the plane watching it be de-iced by a giant robot, I sat there thinking to myself they are definitely going to cancel lots of flights today due to the snow!

Anyway, we got away on time and around 7 hours later (and after my husband watching Home Alone nearly four times on the plane journey, not joking!) we arrived in the Big Apple!

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We were staying at The Roosevelt Hotel on East 45th Street and it looked absolutely stunning inside! Huge Christmas trees and decorations and wreaths and baubles, a really lovely hotel. I have been lucky enough to have visited New York three times over the last 8 years and this is the best hotel I have stayed in so far, I would definitely stay here again.

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So, we got checked in and had a quick shower and got changed and out we went! Our first stop was the amazing Bryant Park Winter Village which wasn’t far from our hotel. I couldn’t wait to visit this Christmas Market – it looked like the biggest and had loads of amazing food stalls I wanted to try!

It got dark as we were there so the buildings were all lit up above you whilst you were wondering around the market drinking mulled wine and hot chocolate – it was amazing! There’s an ice skating rink here and plenty of bars and restaurants surround the market too.

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Whilst I was there I indulged in some chicken from Chick N Cone which, funnily enough, is bite sized pieces of chicken in a waffle cone! I tried the Cinnamon Maple flavour – it was the best tasting chicken I have ever eaten! I wish I had bought two!

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My Sister tried some Mexican Tacos and the boys had a New York Cheese Steak sandwich (they ate these too quickly for me to catch a photo of them!)

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I also tried some truffle mozzarella sticks – god they were to die for!

Next we moved onto the dessert stalls – my Sister and I bought three filled Churros to start – one was filled with Dulce De Leche (caramel), one was filled with Boston Cream Pie (kind of a crème pâtissière filling) and the other one was filled with S’more (marshmallow and chocolate filling) – again, amazing! I do love Churros!

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I was also really pleased as I managed to get hold of two pots of cookie dough from DO whilst I was there – I follow them on Instagram and love their colourful cookie dough flavours and designs! I had a Birthday cake flavoured cookie dough and their limited edition Winter WonDOland cookie dough! Yum!

After a couple of hours (and a couple of drinks!) at Winter Village we wondered over to the Rockefeller Center to see the infamous Christmas tree and to go ice skating.

On the way to the Rockefeller Center, the streets of New York are lined with beautiful festive decorations and lights everywhere. It really is a magical place this time of year!

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When we arrived at the Rockefeller Center we were all speechless! The Christmas tree is absolutely stunning in real life and is HUGE! It is covered in multi-coloured lights and sits happily above the skating rink whilst people skate below!

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Aside from the spectacular tree, there are also lots of other beautiful statues and decorations at the Rockefeller Center to celebrate the festive season!

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Unfortunately, the skating rink was booked out to a private party this evening so we had a stroll around the Rockefeller Center and took plenty of photos before making our way back to the hotel for the evening. In hindsight, we should have left visiting the Rockefeller Center until the following day as it was absolutely HEAVING with people (as it was a Sunday) so you couldn’t get a very good view or take many good photos!

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If you visit New York for the first time I would highly recommend visiting the Rockefeller Center’s Top of the Rock viewing deck. We have been to New York twice before and done the Top of the Rock both times so we didn’t do it again on this occasion, however the views are incredible and you can visit both during the day or at night – I would recommend visiting at night if you can, as you can see the Empire State Building lit up in all its glory! I would also recommend pre-booking Top of the Rock tickets online as queues can be huge and the last thing you want to do is waste time hanging around in queues when New York has so much else to offer!

There’s also a huge selection of shops and restaurants within the Rockefeller Center for you to visit, and right outside you can also find Radio City Music Hall – their Christmas Spectacular show is infamous across the globe!

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We were exhausted by the time we finally got back to the hotel but couldn’t wait for the next day’s adventures!

What an amazing start to an incredible few days in New York!