New York is another city, like Edinburgh, which I didn’t instantly love. It’s the show where so many of my favourite TV shows and films are set: Seinfeld, Annie Hall, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Breakfast at Tiffany’s – it’s an iconic city. I first went there when I was 6, with my father and grandmother. We stayed in the Hilton next to the Twin Towers, this was 2000, and it was my first time in the USA. I remember craning my neck to peer out of the taxi, trying to see the tops of the skyscrapers. It was my first holiday away from my mother, and one of the first times I felt decidedly ‘grown up’. That is, until we went to FAO Schwarz, the world’s greatest toy store.
I went back to New York in 2013, again with my father, whilst I was looking at schools in America. We relived parts of our first trip out there, including an emotional visit to ground zero, went to the park, the museums, and ate amazing food. But this time, the magic had worn off. New York didn’t feel like the impossible city, the pinnacle of cool, or even deserving of its status in society. I had a brilliant day there with my father, but to me it just felt like a shiny version of London. I think a lot of this was tinged by the fact that I was deciding whether, in 3 months time, I was going to stay in the UK or move to the USA for 4 years. Everything was in comparison to the UK, every experience was a test, and everything we did was clouded by the overwhelming thought of “could I live here”. I made the choice to go to the US eventually. And then, almost immediately, undid that choice. But that’s a story for another time.
In September 2015 and 2016 I spent more time in New York again. Both times I stayed in Brooklyn, which was a first for me. These visits fell at the end of an incredibly long, stressful, and emotionally draining tour, where all I wanted to do was go off by myself and explore. So that is exactly what I did.
In 2015, I found the Highline – not a particularly well-kept secret, but something totally new for me. It is on the West side of Manhattan, and runs for almost 2 miles, elevated above the city. It’s an open, free, semi-park walking route along an old disused railway line. It’s been reclaimed beautifully, and whilst it is incredibly popular if you hit the wrong time, if you go early enough it’s empty and gorgeous. One of my favourite things about it is as you go across the different roads which intersect the city, you get a stunning view from side to side of the island, which really puts into perspective how small, yet dense, Manhattan really is.
This run route starts at the subway stop on 14th Street/8th Avenue, largely because that’s just the closest one to the start of the highline. Go along Gansevoort Street until you get to the start of the Highline. Head up the steps, and just run. You have almost 2 miles of uninterrupted (depending on the time you go out) running, although make sure you make the most of all the stunning photo opportunities. At sunrise and sunset, the light is mesmerising.
I love playing estate agent along the Highline, as you get an optimum view into some stunning apartments through Chelsea, with price tags I don’t dare to consider. When you get to the split around 30th Street, turn right going east along 30th, until you get to Penn Station. If you turn right, and go south along 8th Avenue, you get to the renowned Upright Citizen’s Brigade theatre – the training ground for most American comedians – and where we were lucky enough to perform in 2015. If you are staying for long, the tickets are dirt cheap, and it’s worth catching a show there – because the faces there now, are likely to be gracing your screens shortly.
Keep going along 30th though, until you hit Broadway. Go south along Broadway, until you get to Madison Square Park. This has the most amazing fountain in it, which is not the one from Friends, unfortunately. It was supposed to be though, so you can enjoy that.
Keep going along Broadway to Union Square Park, which is small but underrated – and I love the Wholefoods in that square. Additionally, just a stones throw from there is the greatest place on earth: The Strand Bookstore. This is my haven, my sanctuary, my eden. I spend an ungodly amount in that store every time I go there, but it is honestly my favourite part of New York without a doubt. What I am saying is, after you’ve finished your run – go there. If you are walking, detour for a few hours, and soak in the amazingness of the store.
Continue down from Union Square until you get to Washington Square Park, another beautiful park, with another beautiful fountain (still not the one from Friends). It also has the beautiful Victory Arch, where I took this stunning photo of my miserable face. I think there was a witty caption on Instagram about being in Paris. Needless to say, this photo was not taken on a run, but a follow up visit.
Come out the West side of Washington Square Park, and wiggle across to 7th Avenue. Head North up Bedford Street, and on the corner of Bedford and Grove, on the right is finally something actually in Friends. It’s the external shot used for the Friends apartment – it’s even listed on google maps. Wiggle out to Hudson Street, and keep heading North. This is a nice straight finish, about a kilometre or 3/4 of a mile until you go past Gansevoort Road where you started, across 13th and 14th Street, until you get to the corner of 15th and 9th. There you will find the beautiful Chelsea Market, where I recommend you grab a celebratory drink/cake/lunch/dinner/breakfast/edgy new backpack.
I love Chelsea Market, and it’s somewhere I’ve gone back to repeatedly in New York. It’s always first on my list of recommendations, after the Strand, and I love nothing more than grabbing something to eat and then heading up to the Highline. By now, you will have run/walked over 8.5km (5.2 miles) through the madness of Manhattan. Grab one of the beautiful gelatos they serve, peruse the sushi and taco options, and head up to the Highline once more, to sit and relax.