London Vs. New York: Which City Is Better?

Laura Reynolds
By Laura Reynolds Last edited 10 months ago
London Vs. New York: Which City Is Better?

London and New York. The Big Smoke and the Big Apple. Two of the biggest, most vibrant cities in the world — but which is better? We've already pitted their transport systems against each other in a international battle of the mass transit system (find out the results here). Now we're supersizing the competition, pitting the entire cities against each other to determine a winner based on several criteria.

Department stores: Harrods vs. Bloomingdale's

Two world-famous department stores, meccas for fashionistas and shopaholics alike. Bloomingdale's has three stores in NYC, but we're focusing on the flagship, Bloomingdale's 59th Street. Harrods has longevity on its side, being 27 years older than Bloomingdales, but with that comes a reputation for stuffiness — just check out that dress code. Bloomingdales, meanwhile, has no dress code, and a more modern interior to boot. Oh, but we do love that Egyptian escalator, in all its gaudiness.

Bloomingdale's flagship store, has 11 floors to Harrods' eight, but really, those eight are more than enough for us — we're always ready for a lie down after even a brief turn around Harrods. We don't think we could handle a full 11 — too much of a good thing, Bloomies, too much.

Oh, and history — Harrods was home to England's first escalator, its staff on hand to ply shoppers with brandy for their nerves when they reached the top.

Bloomingdales, described by one reviewer as "the Harrods of NYC", claws back some points for its on-screen appearances. Films such as Serendipity have been filmed inside the store. Meanwhile, we can't think of a single thing that's been filmed inside Harrods — we don't imagine they allow that kind of thing.

The winner is: LONDON. We're giving this one to Harrods for its history, architecture and sense of occasion — and that stuffiness that we all love to hate.

Taxis: Black cabs vs. yellow taxis

Two iconic modes of transport, but let's talk numbers: London has around 21,000 black cabs, while New York has around 13,500 yellow taxis pootling up and down its disconcertingly straight streets. Our cabbies have all had to take The Knowledge, a notoriously tricky test of knowing all of London's streets and landmarks by heart, which often takes several years to complete. By comparison, New York taxi drivers just have to take a six-hour driving course and pass an exam at the end of it.

The winner is: LONDON. Our taxi drivers are like our annoying little sibling — we're allowed to moan about them ("Nah mate, I ain't goin' sarf of the river"), but we'll jump down the throat of any non-Londoner who criticises them.

Hotels: The Ritz vs. the Waldorf Astoria

New York's Waldorf Astoria has hosted Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Dalai Lama, Cary Grant and Princess Grace of Monaco, to name just a few of its  famous guests. The Ritz can go one further, offering a whole heap of well-known names who have not just stayed there but, er, checked out permanently from one of its rooms.

As with many things Stateside, the Waldorf-Astoria is a super-size hotel, home to 1413 rooms over 47 floors (and was the tallest hotel in the world until 1963). The Ritz is less than a 10th of this size, with 111 rooms and 23 suites, but its reputation has by far outgrown it, "ritz" becoming a byword for glitz and glamour. Afternoon tea at The Ritz is a pretty well-established (if aspirational for many) tradition too.

The Ritz dates back to 1906, and while the Astoria's history is a bit more muddled, its current building didn't open until 1931. It's currently closed for 2-3 years to undergo major renovations. While The Ritz has to contend with the roaring traffic of Piccadilly, it's not too ugly when you take a step back and look at the building properly, those curved arches and individual lightbulbs offering a bit of character. The Waldorf-Astoria, meanwhile, is just another high-rise on that anonymous skyline.

The winner is: LONDON.  For worldwide reputation alone, The Ritz wins.

Green spaces: Hyde Park vs. Central Park

Central Park, probably the world's most famous park, is more than double the size of Hyde Park, at 3.41km2 to Hyde Park's 1.42km2 (that's without including Kensington Gardens). It also has its own zoo — and yes, two of London's parks also have zoos, but Hyde Park isn't one of them.

Hyde Park has The Serpentine and the Long Water; Central Park has The Lake... oh, and The Pond, and Turtle Pond, and a model boating lake, and, in fact, a whole flipping (decommissioned) reservoir which holds a billion gallons of water. Ok, so New York wins the water round — what else?

Hyde Park has the Serpentine Sackler Gallery; Central Park has The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Hyde Park has the Peter Pan Statue; Central Park has Alice in Wonderland and Hans Christian Andersen.

Aha! Hyde Park has a palace (alright pedants, technically it's in Kensington Gardens, but we're getting desperate here). But wait, what's that? Oh. Central Park has a castle. An actual castle. Sorry London, there's no way we can claw this one back.

The winner is: NEW YORK. If we were clubbing all the Royal Parks in together as one, London would win. In the name of fairness, we won't do that, so Central Park takes this round.

The stations: St Pancras vs. Grand Central

Grand Central Station and St Pancras. Two beautiful behemoths in the train world. Grand Central Station's official name is Grand Central Terminus — but have you heard how many people say 'St Pancreas'? Safe to say they're each dealing with their own identity issues.

We've picked St Pancras as a comparison point because it's probably London's closest architectural equivalent to Grand Central. St Pancras opened in 1868, with the first Grand Central Depot following three years later — although the current Grand Central didn't open until 1913.

Grand Central has an impressive 44 platforms (for context, that's almost three times as many as Clapham Junction) to St Pancras's 15. That's too many, as far as we're concerned — just imagine the chaos of a last-minute rush hour platform alteration.

Grand Central has some pretty impressive trivia about it; rumours abound of a secret platform used to convey former presidents direct to the Waldorf Astoria hotel. Ah, but have the Spice Girls ever filmed a music video in Grand Central? Did Harry Potter fly his car past it?  Can you get a train to Paris from Grand Central? We think not. Point to London.

The winner is: LONDON.

The arenas: Wembley vs. Madison Square Garden

Madison Square Garden is a multi-purpose events. At time of writing, upcoming events include New York Rangers ice hockey matches, a New York Knicks basketball match, the Westminster Dog Show, and Billy Joel in concert. Effectively, New York's one venue does what Wembley Stadium and Wembley Arena do combined.

Madison Square Garden sits in a pretty central location. Penn Station — the busiest passenger transport hub in North America — sits beneath it, and the Empire State Building and Macy's are just a couple of blocks away. Wembley, meanwhile is a 9 minute train ride out of Marylebone, or 12 minutes on the Met line from Baker Street.

Architecturally, we think Madison Square Garden is a bit of a monstrosity, and alright, Wembley Arena's no oil painting either, but at least Wembley Stadium has that sweeping arch — visible from The Shard on a clear day — to redeem it.

Winner: NEW YORK: Madison Square's just got a bit more showbiz glitz about it than Wembley, hasn't it? Plus it packs in twice the fun in just one venue — and it's central to boot.

The art: Tate Modern vs. MOMA

Firstly, the architecture. MOMA (Museum of Modern Art)'s situated in a sleek glass building on 53rd street, all very fitting for a modern art museum, but it's all a bit... characterless. Compare that to that brickwork former power station on the bank of the Thames, and we know which we prefer. Plus, who could argue with those views over St Paul's?

If you can peel your eyes off your surroundings, what can you see inside? Tate Modern's headline works include pieces by Warhol, Picasso and Dalí, squaring up against MOMA's van Gogh, Cézanne and Matisse. All impressive and valuable works, but it all comes down to personal preference.

Entry costs at MOMA are a bit contentious after they were raised when the museum reopened in 2012. Currently, it's $25 for an adult (roughly £18.50) — but that includes entry to all current exhibitions. Tate Modern, on the other hand, offers free entry but charges separately for some exhibitions (others are free).

Winner:  LONDON. The numbers speak for themselves; 5.8 million people visited Tate Modern in 2016, compared to 2.8 million at MOMA.

The museums: Natural History Museum vs. American Museum of Natural History

Locationwise, they've both got a lot going for them. New York's offering is in Manhattan, right next to Central Park, while our own museum is in Albertopolis, South Kensington's cultural quarter, just a short walk from Hyde Park.

Entry to the American Museum of Natural History will set you back $23 (around £17 — or $33/£24.50 to see all special shows and exhibitions). Our museum is free entry, although there is a charge for special exhibitions.

We'll admit, London slipped up somewhat by letting Dippy go, but at the end of the day, he was a fake. America, meanwhile, has one of the greatest dinosaur fossil collections in the world — and whales, an earth and space tour, several mammals hall, and a planetarium. It's like Bloomingdales all over again, far too much to see in one day — and presumably you'll have to pay that entrance fee all over again if you want to split it over several days.

Both museum buildings are beautiful, but London's has some finer details; the Hintze Hall alone has 78 carved monkeys dotted around it, and the sculptures in the West Wing all represent living species, while those in the East Wing are all extinct species. Plus, Sir David Attenborough has collaborated with the Natural History Museum on several projects, and Kate Middleton is a patron

Winner: NEW YORK. Attenborough almost swung it for London, but check out those dinosaurs. New York deserves this win for its impressive collection.

The restaurants: Gong vs. Rainbow Room

Top image: Gong. Bottom image: Rainbow Room.

We were trying to think of the most iconic New York restaurant, and came up with Rainbow Room, the restaurant with a revolving dancefloor on the 65th floor of the Rockefeller Center that's been open since 1934, feeding the likes of Joan Rivers, Jimmy Carter and Joan Crawford. The restaurant is now open for private events only, but its fancy bar, Bar Sixty Five, is still open to the public.

We reckon London's equivalent is Gong, situated in the Shangri-La on level 52 of The Shard and claiming to be the highest hotel bar in Western Europe, except... well, how many Londoners have actually heard of it?

Sure, Gong's got views over London, but Bar Sixty Five looks out on the Empire State Building — the problem with a viewpoint inside the most iconic building on the skyline is that you can't see that building, so no Shard views from Gong.

Winner: NEW YORK. It's higher, it's better-known and it has better views. Well played, Rainbow Room.

And the winner is...

...London, but perhaps we're biased. London pipped New York to the post for department stores, taxis, train stations, art galleries and hotels. New York took the point for green spaces, arenas, museums and restaurants, leaving a final score of 5-4 to London. We could argue the toss all day using several different criteria to be honest, as both are fantastic — and very different - cities. If anyone wants to fly us out to New York, we'd be happy to do some more field research and report back.

Last Updated 05 January 2018