Backdrop of countless classic movies and TV shows, New York’s imagery is imprinted on most visitors before they even get here; but its soul is much harder to define. Natalie Buster explores the metropolis behind the mythology…
New York. Concrete jungle where dreams are made, the city that never sleeps, the Big Apple. Traversing New York City is like finding over 100 different countries fit into one small island, 13 miles long and two miles wide. Including all five boroughs, this city of 8.2 million people has such a wealth of diversity and opportunity that whatever you’re in the mood for you can find it 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
New York City has seen her share of hard times such as the 1863 draft riots, the fall of the stock exchange in 1929 and, most recently, the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Yet the city continues to grow and survive, a testament to the strength and tenacity of the people. New York City is constantly reinventing herself and a visit here will ensure a distinctly unique experience each and every time. Even locals can’t keep on top of everything that the city has to offer.
Best of the Beaten Track
New York City is a much safer place now than it was, say, 10 or 15 years ago. Where at one time, visitors were warned to stay away from areas such as Central Park and Times Square, now they have become tourist hotspots. Although some native New Yorkers despise the “Disneyfication” of Times Square, violent crime there has decreased by 75 percent since 1990, while Central Park should be considered a must-see for anyone visiting New York.
You can easily get lost in the 770 acres of green space and highlights of the park include relaxing along the shores of the pond in the southeastern section of the park, taking a jog around the reservoir, or simply laying out a towel for some picnicking and people watching on the Great Lawn. Every summer, free Shakespeare in the Park performances run for intrepid theatre lovers who wish to brave the multi-hour wait for tickets. You can catch a baseball game at some of the fields, or visit the Central Park Zoo.
If you must visit Times Square, do so to procure a discounted Broadway or off-Broadway ticket at the TKTS booth located at 47th Street in the heart of the square. Get your ticket quickly and avoid the overpriced touristy restaurants for some cheap and ethnic cuisine two blocks west on 9th Avenue.
The Statue of Liberty is another must-see for first timers. If you wish to avoid the ferry to the island itself, take the free Staten Island Ferry which leaves from Battery Park. Make sure to stand on the northern side of the ship to get the best view of Lady Liberty.
One more attraction that’s become a box-tick in recent year’s is NYC’s High Line Park… this elevated recreational area runs down the West of Manhattan on what used to be freight train line. Definitely worth checking.
For a complete look at what tours and other cool things to do are possible, check out Get Your Guide. From Empire State tickets to Harlem Gospel Choirs you can reserve your spot.
New York City is a city of green spaces, especially in the summer. Union Square Park is a great place to check out the freakishly dressed, aspiring musicians and artists, as well as the gigantic farmer’s market which takes place every Wednesday and Saturday. During the summer, there is free WiFi available, and even free yoga and fitness classes.
Walk a few blocks uptown to check out the Flatiron Building and Madison Square Park where you can relax in a calmer oasis or brave the long line to the most sought after burger in New York at the Shake Shack. You can feed your prurient nature by browsing the exhibits at the Museum of Sex, enjoy rooftop vistas of Manhattan and the Empire State Building at 230 Fifth while sipping cocktails during sunset, or feast on all things Indian at the locally dubbed “Curry Hill” located in the Murray Hill section of New York.
For a strictly classified selection of great jazz bars, burger joints, book shops and community gardens check out our ‘Secret Seven’ NYC attractions. Whilst anyone interested in the city’s Afro-American culture will want to call by our district guide to Harlem. And if you have time to go further afield, check out Beacon “the Northern Brooklyn” before it becomes that bit too beardy…
Experience & Events
Jazz is the soundtrack of New York, so to partake in some live music visit the Village Vanguard, one of the most venerable spots for jazz in the city. The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra plays every Monday night and tickets are $20. The Blue Note is also a hotspot in the Village. For less expensive or touristy options, head uptown to Smoke, where you can find nights with no cover or Cleopatra’s Needle which never has a cover. Summer is always a great time to visit NYC thanks to the street fairs which take place every weekend. It is also a great time for innovative theatre festivals. The Midtown International Theatre Festival and the Fringe Festival offer new works from cutting edge playwrights, all for about a quarter of the price of standard Broadway fare.
Naturally the Big Apple has some tasty alternative tours to be tucking into as well (ie. we’re not talking about boat trips to the statue of Liberty this time). How about exploring New York’s street art scene in Brooklyn, or taking a hip hop tour of the Bronx? (We’re planning on covering the latter soon!).
Want to a learn a little during your hotel stay? Located just steps from Grand Central Station, The Library Hotel offers guests rooms stocked with art and books representative of the ten different categories of the Dewey Decimal System. The Empire Hotel is a luxurious oasis located in the heart of the Lincoln Center area, complete with one of the most exclusive finds in the city, the infamous Pool Deck that was featured in Sex and the City. To get the prices on 1000s of rooms check Hotelscombined – I suggest you search by reader ratings. Whilst for something more authentic and local try Homestay.com, which offers hosted apartments at very affordable prices (kind of like Airbnb before they went global). Oh yeah, Urban Travel Blog readers automatically get a 5% discount – just click on the link.
Whilst non-New Yorkers might not subscribe to the locals’ opinion that NYC is the capital city of the world, it can certainly be considered the world capital of food. Any type of cuisine is available. For Indian, head to Curry Hill, Little Italy has great Italian food, but if you want to be a bit more adventurous, head up to the Bronx to sample the atmosphere on Arthur Avenue. Chinatown’s Dim Sum Go Go is a must for dumplings. If you’re seeing a show on Broadway, check out Restaurant Row, where most restaurants offer a pre-theatre fixed price dinner at a discounted price.
Happy hour is a huge event in New York City, with practically every bar offering some sort of drink special between the hours of 5 and 7. Ninth Avenue is a haven for young, hip theatre types, especially Ariba Ariba , which serves up killer margaritas. You can’t go wrong with an Irish pub in New York, and they are everywhere. Pop into the Irish Rogue on 44th Street for a great pint and conversation with the beautiful wait staff. Flute is a bit more high end, but promises exquisite champagne selections recommended by the extremely knowledgeable staff. And if you want to get down and dirty, head over to the Rodeo Bar for some extremely potent margaritas and live rockabilly music every night. Not authentic enough for you? Find out what happens when Urban Travel Blog spend One Blurry Night in the Williamsburg district…
Getting There & Around
With three major airports within the city limits, pretty much every major airline flies into New York City from destinations all around the world. It’s well worth checking a flight comparison site to compare deals on ticket prices and save a few dollars (which can be better spent in The Big Apple’s bars and restaurants). Once you’ve touched down, you can take the city bus from LaGuardia airport into the city, or hop on one of the shuttles which drop you off at Grand Central Station. Penn Station and Grand Central Station are hubs for train travel, and the Port Authority Bus Terminal welcomes in buses. If you want to arrive in a little more style and comfort you can arrange a private transfer with Blacklane.
Time Out New York is the go to guide for New York City events. Published weekly, it lists events for the week, as well as theatre and movie reviews and museum and gallery guides. Flavorpill is another good online resource for highbrow and lowbrow and often obscure/alternative events.
Hard Copy & Silver Screen
J.D. Salinger is the ultimate New York author, so any book by him, especially Catcher in the Rye would be worthwhile reading before arriving in the Big Apple. I’m a sucker for DK Eyewitness Guides, and the New York City one offers gorgeous photos coupled with some great sightseeing suggestions. For a peek into New York’s seedier past, check out The Godfather (the novel, which inspired the film). Films-wise take your pick from the works of Scorcese, Woody Allen and countless others.
Soundtrack to the City
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A city as liberal and multicultural as The Big Apple naturally made our list of the world’s best gay city breaks, and LGBT travelers will find a few more specific gay travel tips on our article. Otherwise you’ll find all our NYC stories right here.