USA round trip: New York, Virginia and Philadelphia in two weeks

Again we found the possibility to travel to the USA! We were happy about that, as this would not only be a normal round trip, but also visiting a family member abroad. We were planning this trip for some time already, unfortunately we had to change our plans during the trip, as we wanted to do some canoe tour in the Appalachians, but it was way too cold for this, as the 2018 winter was quite cold and brought snow there even if it was the middle of April. Nonetheless we had a great trip, arrived and started in New York City from Saturday to Wednesday, drove down to Newport News, VA, afterwards, to stay there until Tuesday the next week and did a one night stop in Philadelphia on our way back up to New York City, where we stayed three more days before we left the US again. Here’s the routing:

 

New York Part 1

We arrived at New York JFK on a Saturday noon after a smooth flight with British Airways, so we had plenty of time to go for some first explorations in the city. We got our Metro Cards (essential, get Infos here: http://web.mta.info/metrocard/), to be able to use all bus and metro lines within the city. As we did not have too many days here, we decided to book a hotel in Manhattan, even if the prices here are sky high, but you save a lot of time that you would spend in the metro to go to Manhattan, when staying in other boroughs.

The hotel of our choice was the Orchard Street Hotel (Tripadvisor) in the Lower East Side, a neat and modern hotel, tiny rooms, but everything you need during a city trip. There are many bars, restaurants and shops in the neighborhood, so we can recommend this hotel.

From here we started to explore the city. As the weather was good that day, we took the Metro to the famous Grand Central Station and walked over to Fifth Avenue from where we went to the south eastern end of Central Park and did a walk around Central Park Zoo before we returned back to the hotel.

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During those first hours, we already saw the lot of walking we would be facing during the trip in this city. Even if all the sights look not too far from each other on the map, there sometimes are long ways to walk in Manhattan. Even if we only had a really short day and were tired due to the jetlag, we had a great first day in the city that we finished with having some tacos at Goa Taco.

Unfortunately the good weather was not holding on until day two, as the Sunday was quite cold and really rainy. There even was a warning on flooding in several parts of the city. Actually this is not a big problem, as there is a lot to do in NYC, even during rain. We decided for some classics: the American Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and some shopping afterwards.

The American Museum of Natural History is something we really liked. There’s so much to discover, a lot to learn and everything is explained in detail. We didn’t take a tour and discovered the museum on our own, which took us almost three hours, but you can spend even more time here, when you are really interested in a specific topic. Most people know the famous skeletons of dinosaurs that are exhibited here, but there is so much else to see. We also liked the underwater themed exhibit with its huge whale model and the historical exhibitions of different native tribes from all over the world. It is also not too expensive to visit this museum, 23 USD per adult is quite a fair price.

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Afterwards we walked down to the MoMA, while looking for some food, as it was lunch time already. We had some tasty sandwiches at Sido Falafel & More and found an affordable supermarket nearby, so that we provided ourselves with some drinks and snacks. When we finally arrived at the MoMA, we again spend some really good time at a museum. The pieces of art from different epochs, no matter if those are paintings, photography, videos, printings or sculptures are really interesting and giving insight into style of different artists and eras, while there are also projects and exhibitions pointing out social problems of our society and showing their history.

Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” might be the most famous picture at the MoMA and you also see that when you enter the room where it’s displayed, as so many people are taking photos here, but there definitely is much more to see here, we’d say, that there is something interesting for everybody.

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As we spent another 2.5 hours in this museum, we felt like we were done for the day and went back to the hotel, after shopping some clothes in different stores. That evening we had dinner at The Meatball Shop near our hotel. If you are looking for some really good meatball dishes, you should definitely check out this place!

Day three in NYC actually was a little cold and windy, but nonetheless we decided to do some things outside. After breakfast we took a walk to Brooklyn Bridge, walked over to Brooklyn and explored their Downtown area, but not for long.

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After some shopping along Fifth Avenue we took the bus down to Ground Zero  and the new World Trade Center One tower. Unfortunately there was a huge line to visit the 9/11 Memorial Museum, so we didn’t visit it. Nonetheless the Memorial of WTC One and Two, that collapsed during the 9/11 attacks is impressive and nicely implemented in the square it is situated on now.

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We had some burgers for lunch and after a short lunch break we decided to explore Central Park. The weather wasn’t perfect, but when visiting New York, you should take your time to explore the green lung of the city. Even if the wind was blowing and it was a little cold, we had a great walk from south to north, along The Lake, through the Great Lawn and passing The Reservoir. The park is just a great opportunity for everyone in the city to get a little away from the busy life in a big city, to enjoy a little piece of nature, have a walk with your dog, a picnic, do some sports, or whatever comes to your mind, that is much more relaxing in the nature, than in the streets of NYC.

It took us more than 2 hours, but the time was well spent, we never had such a long and relaxing walk through a city during out trips. Walking the windy paths of the park feels like you left the city far behind, but the big city noises from its surrounding always let you know where you really are, that makes it some unique experience.

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After having a few drinks at bars and dinner that evening, our first stay in New York City was already ending. We spent the last night here, enjoying the awesome view onto Manhattan from our room, had breakfast at nearby Tompkins Square Bagels (Tripadvisor), where we had our best Bagels during the whole trip, and took the Metro to Queens, where we collected our rental car and drove down to Newport News, Virginia. But before we report on that, here are our gastronomical recommendations for New York City as a compact list:

  • Great Bagels, not only for breakfast: Tompkins Square Bagels (Tripadvisor)
  • Large variety of delicious meatball dishes: The Meatball Shop (Tripadvisor)
  • Tasty Tacos: Goa Taco (Tripadvisor)
  • Good drinks and Mexican food: El Sombrero (Tripadvisor)
  • Tasty and inexpensive Italian dishes: Barilla Restaurant (Tripadvisor)

 

Virginia and North Carolina

After a few traffic jams and an exhausting 10 hours trip we arrived in Newport News in the evening of the same day. We were happy to stay at Jardena’s sisters flat, as she lives here to work, so we were not only having a perfect base to explore the region, but also a local guide. We were happy she already had plans on what to do and where to visit during our stay, as we didn’t really plan anything upfront.

Within the five days of staying here, we really got to like this region of the US. There are two major cities nearby (Washington D. C. and Baltimore), but nonetheless you have a lot of nature, sights and historical sites in the region. And that was also the first things we explored: historical sites.

Not far from Newport News, you can visit Jamestown, the place of the first permanent settlement of the British colonialists in 1607. You can visit the Jamestown Settlement and Historic Jamestowne here to get an insight into the life of the first European settlers and the problems they had to solve here.

Also not far, is Williamsburg, where you can explore Collonial Williamsburg, a living museum in that you can roam through a district of historical buildings, that have been built in the original design of the 17th to 19th century. Some buildings can also be inspected on the inside with special tickets. During great weather, we had a great time here, this museum is really interesting and beautiful, the buildings are well maintained and you feel like sent back hundreds of years, walking through streets thinking about what the life hundreds of years ago must’ve been like. Also nice is the connected center with shops, restaurants and cafés, where you can find some lovely cafés to have food or drinks at.

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Another nearby highlight is Bush Gardens in Williamsburg. Even if it’s not cheap, if you like theme parks and especially roller-coaster, you’ll love it there. The park is huge, there are a bunch of rides with an eye on the 8 roller-coasters, that we all tried and loved! The park has won several awards, so a visit here is definitely worth it and you can spend several hours here while exploring the park.

If you have enough time here, as we had, a drive down to North Carolina is definitely worth it. We did a day trip to visit Kitty Hawk and the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.

Kitty Hawk is not only situated on the beautiful Outer Banks of North Carolina, but also famous for the Kill Devil Hills, where the Wright Brothers made their first flights on powered airplanes. You can visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial here. On a big field, you can visit the stations of their first flights and the hangar where the developed their planes. On top of the hill, there is huge monument to honor their achievements for the global aviation. You can walk around a lot here, but it is a really nice natural area, so we liked it a lot.

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Not too far from here, after crossing Roanoke Island, south of Kitty Hawk, you’ll get to the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. It’s a beautiful place, a lot of forest, wetland and water, perfect for some short hikes and canoe or kayak rides on the small rivers and lakes. We were coming here not only to enjoy and explore this piece of nature, but also to see bears. There are American black bears living in this area and we were told, that we could be lucky and spot some during dusk. After a lot of driving around in the park (all roads are unpaved in the refuge, so an SUV is definitely more comfortable when driving here, but driving through the refuge with a small car is also possible), we finally spotted a bear at the edge of a forest! We were super happy about that, with a binocular we were able to watch it from far away, as we didn’t want to scare it away, but when we continued driving a little later, we saw it noticing the sound from our cars and getting back into the forest immediately. Anyways this was an interesting experience for us, we never saw a wild bear before, but where always wishing to do so.

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After this experience, we were ready to head back to Newport News, as it was already getting dark and we had a 3+ hour drive to complete before being able to go to bed.

As next station on our trip, we did a stop in Philadelphia on our way back to New York, but first some gastronomical highlights for this part:

Newport News:

Kitty Hawk and surrounding:

  • Seafood and international food: Black Pelican Oceanfront Restaurant (Tripadvisor)
  • Bewery: Lost Colony Brewery and Café (Tripadvisor)

 

Philadelphia

As we were flying back home from New York, we had to go back there. And what could’ve been better than a short stopover in Philadelphia for the night, so we wouldn’t have to drive all the way up in one single day? We had a hotel near the airport, so we had no problems to park our car and get into the city with it. Short time parking in the city center wasn’t such a big problem. While parking in car parks is quite expensive (but not as expensive as in NYC), parking in the street where you have to buy a ticket is fairly cheap (2-3 USD per hour). After parking, you can reach all the sights in the center by foot.

We liked walking around in Philadelphia, as the city has a special flair due to the many historical and old buildings throughout the city. There are many nice bars, restaurants and cafés in the streets and it doesn’t feel too much like a huge city. For sure we had to have some Philly Cheesesteak here, so we found a nice bar, the Wrap Shack (Tripadvisor ), where we had some beer and sandwiches, which were really tasty, plus we loved the music here. As it was already becoming late, we returned to the hotel and decided to visit the famous Liberty Bell on the following day, before getting back to New York.

For sure we did so, packed our stuff together, drove to the city center and the first thing we did was looking for some breakfast. The Reading Terminal Market is actually perfect for that. There are a lot of stores, selling food of many different kinds, processed or unprocessed, sweet or savory, everyone will be finding something he or she likes here. We decided for a sweet breakfast and had donuts at Beiler’s Bakery (Tripadvisor) and loved those! We never had better donuts, they have a great choice of different kinds of frostings and fillings while the prices are not high, so if you like donuts, you should pay this bakery a visit.

After breakfast we went over to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Even if there was no entrance fee to be paid, the line was not long in the morning, so we made it into the pavilion quite fast, read about the history of the bell and even managed to take pictures without anyone else standing beside the bell (you’ll have to wait for this).

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If you exit the pavilion, you’ll stand in front of the Independence Hall, one of the many historical buildings here, but one of the most important in the US history, as Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the US have been elaborated here.

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After this insight into the history of Philadelphia, we went on with our trip, as we had to arrive in New York in the afternoon. On our way we planned to visit the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, which was sounding interesting, was quite expensive, but unfortunately was nothing for us, as it is solely meant for children unfortunately. We were a little sad, as it was a waste of money for us and not even the cashier told us, that this might be a little uninteresting for us. Anyways, if you are in the area with children, I bet this is a place where they can have lots of fun and learn something, so this could definitely be interesting for you.

New York Part 2

As the flat we rented this time was in Brooklyn, we took the Holland Tunnel, where a little shocked that it costed 15 USD of toll only to drive through this tunnel, crossed downtown Manhattan, which wasn’t as bad as expected, European cities are not less crowded, and drove straight into Brooklyn via Manhattan Bridge. We moved into the flat, returned the rental car and ended this day of travelling with having pizza in Manhattan, having a few beer and going to bed afterwards, as the weather was meant to be good the next day.

And the forecast didn’t let us down, as the next day’s weather was perfectly sunny and pleasant, the perfect weather for outside activities, so we decided to go to Bronx Zoo. It turned out to be a great idea, we had a great day at the zoo, Bronx Zoo is actually one of the most beautiful and interesting zoos we ever visited. There are a lot of different domestic and exotic animals here, the compounds are in good shape and held specious-appropriate and you can spend hours walking around here during good weather. No matter if you are traveling alone, as couple, group of adults, or with children, Bronx Zoo should be on your list when in town.

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Unfortunately the weather wasn’t as good the following day. But nonetheless, to save money and waiting time in comparison to visiting the Statue of Liberty on its island, we decided to take the Staten Island Ferry, which is not only free, but also passing the Statue of Liberty, giving you a perfect look onto it. When arriving at the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, it is no problem to instantly take the next ferry back to Manhattan. This time we sat down on the less touristy side, overseeing the shore of Brooklyn and Governors Island, which was interesting too, giving us a different picture of the city again.

We had some good burgers at Union Square Burgers (Tripadvisor) afterwards and decided to go out later on, as this was our last night in the city.

Luckily there was a really good bar nearby our flat, so we had a great night at Father Knows Best (Tripadvisor) in Brooklyn, where we experienced some really good music, even had some food late at night, and stayed until late at night. Actually it was the best bar we’ve been to during our trip.

The next day already meant saying goodbye to the US for us. After returning the keys to the flat owner, we headed to the airport, from where we flew back to Germany on Iberia.

Here are some more tips where to eat and drink in NYC:

  • Burgers and drinks: Five Napkin Burger (Tripadvisor) – mind, that the drink happy hours are only available at the bar
  • Delicious Burgers at fair price: Union Square Burger (Tripadvisor)
  • Great food, good choice of drinks and DJs or Live Music on weekends: Father Knows Best (Tripadvisor)

We had a great trip, really loved every day, as we didn’t plan too many activities, so we were free to also do spontaneous decisions and had enough time to relax as well. The routing actually was great, only the long trip from New York City down to Virginia was quite exhausting, as there were many traffic jams. We’d recommend to do a stopover somewhere, as we did on the way back up.

Here are the hotels we stayed at:

  • New York Part 1: Orchard Street Hotel (Tripadvisor)
  • Philadelphia: Red Roof PLUS+ Philadelphia Airport (Tripadvisor)

In Newport News we stayed at a private apartment, for our second stay in New York City we rented an apartment in Brooklyn through AirBnB.

 

Now some general information for your own trip:

How to get to New York City:

New York City is easily accessible by car, coach or train from all over the US and has three airports. While all three airports offer a massive amount of daily flight to everywhere in North America, New York John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) and Newark (EWR) are the ones you’ll arrive at when coming in on an Intercontinental flight.

Here is a choice airlines serving JFK: Aer Lingus (via Dublin), Aeroflot (via Moscow), Aerolinas Argentinas (via Buenos Aires), Aeromexico (via Mexico City or Monterrey), Air China (via Beijing), Air France (via Paris), Air India (via Delhi), ANA (via Tokyo), American Airlines (via several domestic Airports), Austrian Airlines (via Vienna), British Airways (via London), Delta Airlines, Egypt Air (via Cairo), Eurowings (via Düsseldorf), Emirates (via Dubai), Finnair (via Helsinki), Iberia (via Madrid), JAL (via Tokyo), Kenya Airlines (via Nairobi), KLM (via Amsterdam), Korean Air (via Seoul), LOT (via Warsaw), Lufthansa (via Frankfurt or Munich), Philippine Airways (via Manila), Qantas (via Brisbane), Royal Jordanian (via Amman), Saudia (via Jeddah or Riyadh), Turkish Airlines (via Istanbul) or Ukraine International Airlines (via Kiev).

Newark is served by following airlines for example: Air Canada, Ethiopian Airlines (via Addis Abeba), Cathay Pacific (via Hong Kong), Singapore Airlines (via Singapore), Lufthansa (via Frankfurt and Munich), Icelandair (via Reykjavik), SAS (via Stockholm, Oslo or Copenhagen), Swiss (via Zurich) and United Airlines.

Please mind, that is only a choice of airlines to make it easier for you to search, there are many more flying to NYC. If you like to use a search engine to look for the best prices, use some like www.momondo.com or www.skyscanner.com.

 

How to get around in the US?

Within big cities like New York City, you can usually use the dense network of public transport such as subways, busses or taxis. Outside of those, the public transport network is unfortunately not comparable with Europe. Beside long distance coach (Greyhound and Megabus for example) and train services (mainly Amtrak), especially in small towns you shouldn’t rely on public transport, as bus lines and stops are rare and going not too frequently. The best way to get around than is a car. Not a big problem, as rental cars and gas are not as expensive as in Europe.

You can find rental car stations all over the country, while renting at a station away from airports is usually a little cheaper. Check different pages of rental car brokers and the rental car companies themselves to find the cheapest ones. Some of the largest rental car companies with stations all over the US are: Enterprise, Hertz, Budget, Dollar, Thrifty, Firefly, Europcar, Alamo, Sixt, Avis, National and Fox Car Rental.

 

Thank you for reading, we hope we were able to give you some interesting tips and inspiration for your own trip to the USA.

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