Our picture window on the 17th floor of the Hotel Beacon on New York's Upper West Side faces west and gives us views over the skyscrapers of the city. The glittering pearls of light thrown up from the street lights below make it impossible to sleep in. And as it's my first time in New York, I'm wide awake well before dawn.
Our room is equipped with a small kitchenette, so after a quick breakfast, we can't wait to hit the streets.
First stop, Central Park. It's huge and can't possibly be entirely covered in one day. At 340 hectares, it's 2 1/2 miles long and 1/2 mile wide, so check out their website, grab a map, and make a plan to make sure you cover what interests you.
It's 8.30am and we join the commuters and parents walking children to school along 75th Street West. It only takes us about ten minutes to get to the western entrance of the park and it's alive with activity.
It's a glorious Autumn day in mid-September, about 20 – 22 degrees, and the air is crisp and clean after a thunderstorm last night. We spent roughly 2 hours traversing the park from west to east, south to north, then south again, stopping at the Tavern in the Park for an iced latte.
It's wonderfully dynamic and serene all at the same time; it has a life force all its own. Joggers and dog-walkers are out in force, couples laze on the grassy slopes of lawns, and chipmunks (or squirrels) dart about the underbrush.
It's so lovely to get lost in a park in the middle of a huge city. We don't have time to cover everything - there's a zoo, an ice-skating rink, three lakes, and playing fields. We pass some little leaguers, with vocal parents cheering them on at one ground, but continue to meander past fountains, small monuments and plaques listing historic events.
After a couple of hours, we exit at the south entrance and head down 6th Avenue to The Rock Observation Tower in the Rockefeller Building. Amazingly, there are no queues and after purchasing tickets, we walk straight up to the elevators. Twenty-three seconds later, we're on the 69th floor. It's postcard-perfect weather with just the hint of a breeze.
There are plenty of vantage points to view different aspects of the city, so even though there's a good crowd here, we don't feel boxed in. After about forty minutes, we're back on ground level and decide to stay in the Rockefeller Plaza for lunch, enjoying a classic bagel of smoked salmon and capers and watching the passing parade.
We continue down 7th Avenue to Times Square. It's abuzz, crowded, noisy, and hawkers and buskers add to the atmosphere but we don't stay long. At the intersection of West 34th Street, we find a 'public reading room'- Herald Square - a small green space amongst the streets, right outside Macey's so I have a little shopping time while hubby sits and reads a newspaper.
It's about 40 blocks back to our hotel and we decide to walk the whole way. Heading north along Broadway, the streets become wider and quieter. We pass the Minskoff Theatre, the Palace Theatre, and the stunning Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. We detour back to the Museum of Natural History between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West and finding it still open, we venture inside this beautiful building.
It's pleasantly quiet after the noise of the streets and the full-size replicas of dinosaurs in the foyer are a fantastic introduction to the place. We pass through the African Mammals to the special exhibition of "Crocs". We spent a fascinating two hours browsing exhibits of beautifully displayed life-size replicas, positioned in their natural surroundings, so life-like I feel like I'm at a zoo. It's a fascinating and beautiful space and easily needs a full day to take in all it has to offer.
Buses and the subway are efficient and run often along these routes so, if walking gets too much, it's simple to grab a MetroCard and use public transport. If you have a few more days to spare, take a cruise past the Statue of Liberty, walk the High-Line - a disused railway line that's been converted to high-rise gardens, and visit magnificentGrand Central Terminal, built in 1913 and has 44 platforms. And of course, go shopping!