The Big Apple doesn’t actually have much to do with apples at all, but it does have a lot of other cool stuff. In fact, New York City has so much cool stuff in it that it’s worth making a list of the things you want to do and see.
Through the magic of blogging, here’s one I prepared earlier.
When you first arrive in New York City, you’ll probably be somewhat overwhelmed by what you see – the skyscrapers, the cabs, and the one-way streets, and all of it straight out of a movie. Your big city stay could fly by in a famous New York minute, and you could miss it all. To help you handle the sheer size and pace of this metropolis, here are my favourite things to explore while in the city.
Firstly, let’s start right in the tourist heart of Manhattan – Times Square. Here, surrounded by giant flagship stores and bright video screens displaying commercials and news headlines, you can bump elbows with all the other tourists while you climb the red steps to get a better shot of the area. Take photos of yourself posing with the local police, and explore the three-storey M&Ms store and the rest of it, and be sure to visit the huge Toys’R’Us store, with its indoor ferris wheel and robotic T-rex. However, remember that this is a tourist hotspot, so while clicking away at the sights, be sure to keep an eye out for scammers, and ignore people offering tickets to comedy shows and especially people trying to give you music CDs.
Another note is that if you liked the big Toys’R’Us, you might want to visit FAO Schwartz on the southeast corner of Central Park, where you’ll find much of the same, plus the giant keyboard from the movie Big with Tom Hanks.
After that, head down to 42nd Street which marks the lower boundary of Times Square for tourist attractions such as Ripley’s Believe It Or Not and Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum – the best thing I found in the wax museum was a wax sculpture of an Asian tourist taking a photo… I stood beside her patiently for around thirty seconds before realising she wasn’t real and thus wouldn’t get annoyed when I walked in front of her shot.
Once you’ve finished with Times Square and 42nd Street, you can explore the theatre scene of New York’s Broadway which lines the side streets of the area and is a must for anyone visiting the city. For a guide on Broadway shows, read my REVIEW OF BROADWAY and be sure to visit TKTS for discounted tickets to selected shows.
If you’ve seen enough of Broadway, feel free to catch a temporary show such as the Nutcracker by New York City Ballet at the Lincoln Center For Performing Arts or the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall.
Heading a bit further south towards 34th Street, you’ll soon catch sight of New York City’s iconic Empire State Building. This landmark skyscraper towering above you at 102 storeys is another tourist hotspot, so expect to find a bunch of tourism agents at the bottom trying to sell cheap tickets to the observatory and to a silly motion simulator ride at the top. Feel free to enter and buy your official tickets inside, then go through airport-like security checks and feel your head squeeze inwards as you ride the elevator to the top. From here you’re treated to incredible 360 degree views of the city and, if you went up in winter like Jessie and I did, ridiculously cold breezes. When you’re done, head inside and you’ll probably be handed a blackberry sort of device from one of the staff, asking for you to take the survey. They told me that if I handed the device back afterwards, I would receive a special gift. As it turned out, the special gift was two miniature bottles of hand sanitizer branded with a picture of the Empire State Building.
To be honest, you should probably just keep the device – I would imagine it to be worth more. Also, if you see something you like in the Observatory Gift Store, you should buy it because you can’t come back without another ticket. I recommend going up a little before the sun sets so you get the view in the daylight, catch the sunset, then see the city lights at night.
The Empire State Building also has a lesser known rival in the city – the Top Of The Rock observatory at the middle of Rockefeller Center. This tourist attraction on top of the GE Building stands at 70 storeys, and is located at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, or 30 Rock, as it’s often referred to. Some people claim that this is a better experience than the Empire State Building but really the only things that this has over its bigger brother is the fact that it’s slightly cheaper, has shorter queues, a closer view of Central Park, and offers great photo opportunities of the Empire State Building – which you obviously can’t get from the top of the Empire State Building.
At the bottom of 30 Rock, you have Rockefeller Plaza, where you can find NBC Studios, along with studio tours and a large gift shop. If you’re lucky enough to be here at Christmas or winter, however, you can also find the famous Rockefeller Christmas Tree and go iceskating in the concourse – just like in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York!
No trip to New York City would be complete without a decent amount of time spent wandering around the wonderful Central Park. This urban park is huge with wide open spaces to run around in, tons of lakes and ponds, and even a zoo. The Central Park Zoo is somewhat expensive but it’s a small zoo that you can comfortably walk around in about an hour. If you don’t feel like paying the admission, you can always walk past the entrance where you can get a view of the sea lion enclosure and watch the musical clock near the children’s zoo which has animals dance around to iconic Americana music each hour on the hour. Also in Central Park, you can rent remote controlled sailboats, hire bikes to cycle around, rent a romantic rowboat on the lake, or just wander around on foot, getting excited at the fact that all the lakes have turtles in them!
If you head Downtown, you’ll find Tribeca – home of the Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Film Festival, where you can expect to see the stars come out on the red carpet, along with the Financial Center, including Wall Street. This place is seems very dark as the streets are narrow and bendy, and there’s not all that much to see here apart from the Wall Street sign and the Charging Bull sculpture sometimes known as the Wall Street Bull. What you will want to see down in this part of the city is the National September 11 Memorial. This memorial, which controversially opened a whole ten years after the terrorist attacks, is now and will always be a major part of New York City life, with two square pools with descending waterfalls marking the foundations of the Twin Towers. Around the edges of the pools you will find the names of all the victims that died in the attacks of 9/11, and the survivor tree – the only tree in the World Trade Center to survive the attacks. You’ll need tickets to enter this memorial, which must be booked in advance, but they’re free.
Heading further south to the very bottom of Manhattan, you’ll find the final piece of the New York tourism puzzle – The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. To visit Liberty Island for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island for the Immigration Museum, you’ll need to reserve tickets in advance and you’ll still have to wait in quite a queue to get to and from the islands. You can get standard ferry tickets to simply go to the islands, or you can get passes to visit the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal or crown observatories – although tickets to the crown observatory sell out well in advance, and it is often closed due to heightened security. I found that the best option was to visit Liberty Island without tickets to enter the statue, and to get a ticket into the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. Liberty Island obviously gives you great photos of the statue (get a good spot on the ferry, too!) but also skyline photos of Manhattan, whereas the Ellis Island Immigration Museum is worth the visit because it tells the story of America’s liberty and the people who came to make New York their home. If for whatever reason you can’t get ferry tickets to the islands, then you can still get decent photos of the State of Liberty by taking the FREE Staten Island Ferry from South Ferry nearby.
Once you’ve had enough of the standard touristy options, you can up the level of culture somewhat by visiting some of Manhattan’s best museums. Visit the famous Museum of Modern Art, or MoMA, for a very modern look at today’s art scene. Once you’ve realised that MoMA is a bit of a disappointment, head over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or The Met, which in my opinion was the best museum there, bringing together a perfect mix of ancient artefacts such as real Egyptian temples, sarcophaguses and mummies, with modern art by Vincent Van Gogh, Salvador Dali, and Andy Warhol, to name just a few. For further art feasts, head to the Guggenheim Museum of New York, which sort of resembles a futuristic white beehive. Unfortunately, even ten months wasn’t enough for me so I didn’t make it to the Guggenheim on the east side of Central Park.
If art isn’t really your thing, then maybe fighter jets and submarines are, and if this is the case, head over to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum. This museum is actually housed in a real World War II aircraft carrier called the USS Intrepid, on which you can find a collection of fighter planes and helicopters on top, and even wander around inside the ship itself, exploring all sorts of exhibitions on sea, air and space subjects. Once you tire of that, you can even board the USS Growler – a real submarine parked up beside it. May all your boyhood dreams come true!
For the women, they will probably want to head off and do some shopping, and the best place for that is the hip district of SoHo. Here, you’ll find all your major stores in one long busy strip, and if you want more, indulge yourself with a visit to the world’s largest department store at the Macy’s at Herald Square. In here, expect to see signs of chaos as women from around the world rush around spending money they probably shouldn’t. However, if you want to spend some real cash, you might want to head over to 5thAvenue in midtown for a lot of high-end flagship stores, along with a big Bloomingdales.
After all the sightseeing and shopping is done, it’s time to eat, and New York definitely knows good food. Apart from eating $1 slices of pizza, bagels and hotdogs from street vendors, you can visit restaurants and cafes in the West Village, or head down to Little Italy. This is where you’ll find a ton of great restaurants, and not all of them are Italian, but if the queues aren’t too long, try to get a table at Lombardi’s – birthplace of the New York pizza when Italians brought it over to America. They do traditional pizza, and they do it well. Also, if you have the time and the love, try it with New York’s other famous original pizza from Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn. For dessert, you’ll have to head over to Serendipity 3 for an icecream sundae that is out of this world. Serendipity does decent dinner meals, too, but they specialise in dessert and dessert drinks, and even offer a famous $25,000 dessert that comes sprinkled with edible gold. Just to prevent any disappointment: you have to order this one in advance. If you want something lighter, you’ll have to visit Dylan’s Candy Bar where you can find every kind of candy you can imagine.
Once you’ve got a grip of navigating your way around Manhattan, you might want to venture out into the other boroughs to explore what they have to offer. Heading up to the Bronx, you can find the stunning new Yankee Stadium where you can eat a fancy dinner and catch a baseball game at the same time. If sport is your thing, if you time your stay correctly, you could catch the US Open at Corona Park, Flushing Meadows in Queens, and if not, just explore the park anyway. Be sure to head over to the hip side of Brooklyn and walk over the Brooklyn Bridge to visit the cool cafes around Williamsburg. Also, if you can make it all the way out there to the other side of Brooklyn, head over to Coney Island for the boardwalk amusement parks there, along with the New York Aquarium, which is home to penguins, sea lions and walruses in addition to a ton of tropical fish.
New York City is a big place, and this is only a few of the things that I got to experience. If you have the time to wander around a bit, you’ll find a lot more hidden gems in the side streets. However, if you only have a couple of New York minutes in the city, you should probably remember that it can be a busy tourist-filled place, so my final advice is to research and book things in advance. Walk fast, look forward, eat well, and enjoy the big city.
Jessie and I lived in Riverdale in the Bronx from the first of February until August 22, 2011. After that, we moved into an apartment in the Peter Cooper Village in the Lower East Side of Manhattan until we left the United States on December 15th, 2011.