New York, New York, it’s a helluva town!’ The lyrics to the opening song from the movie On the Town reflect the excitement, mystery and wonderment most visitors feel on their first encounters with the Big Apple, formally known as New York City (NYC). This mega-tourist destination has literally thousands of attractions and activities to offer, so a quick trip can really only scratch the surface. It’s essential, therefore, that you plan your visit – and a good first stop for information is nycgo.com, official website of NYC & Company, where you will find a wealth of information.
One of the best deals for the first-time (or anytime) visitor is at citypass.com, where you can buy a nine-day New York CityPASS for $US79 that saves you about $66 on full-fare entry for the included attractions. The pass covers several major sights around the city including the Empire State Building, the American Natural History Museum, MoMA and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, either the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum or Rockefeller Center (Top of the Rock tour), and ferries to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island or a trip with Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises.
Another plus of this pass is that it allows you to skip the queues. Passes can be bought directly from any of the listed attractions, or bought online and mailed to a specified US or UK address in a maximum of 10 days, or printed out as e-tickets that can be exchanged for a CityPASS booklet at any of the sights. You also receive a free 160-page guidebook.
A good way to explore the cultural and historical areas of NYC is to start ‘downtown’ at the southernmost tip of the island in the Financial District. Begin walking north up Broadway towards ‘uptown’. Depending on how often you stop, this will take about four hours. It’s flat walking, though, and easy to navigate, as east-west-running Manhattan streets above Houston are numbered right up as far as Harlem.
First stop is a visit to Ground Zero, where the new World Trade Centre is rising like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes. In the same area is the Seaport Museum New York (formerly South Street Seaport Museum), which traces the history of shipping into New York via a large floating exhibition. An indoor display featuring all manner of vessels, from sailing ships to ocean liners, is a must-see for anyone interested in maritime history. There’s also a an extensive collection of paintings by renowned maritime artists; ocean liner models; ship, engine room and bridge gauges, dials and telegraphs dating from 1898; and the world’s most comprehensive display of ocean-liner memorabilia.
Moving up Broadway, you’ll pass through the city’s Chinese, Jewish and Italian districts, where you can experience authentic regional dishes at numerous inexpensive eateries.
The next area you encounter is SoHo (South of Houston Street), where you’ll notice a drastic change in architecture and ambience. The district has been gentrified and is now home to some of the most famous small art galleries and trendy restaurants in the country. SoHo also bristles with boutique hotels, many of them used by movie stars. You might see Robert DeNiro or Martin Scorsese around here, eating at their favourite restaurant, Tribeca Grill (Tribeca referring to the triangle of land below Canal Street).
From SoHo, you proceed up Broadway through the Garment District, where many factory outlets offer bargains for those seeking the latest fashions at cut prices.
Keep walking north and soon you’ll enter the newly renovated, pedestrian-friendly precinct of Times Square.
Your walk is at an end here, so sit down and relax: do a spot of people-watching and marvel at the millions of lights around the ‘square’, flashing their messages about theatre, the stock exchange and consumer products.
Set time aside to travel north of Times Square to visit other key features of New York City, such as Central Park, the Upper West and Upper East sides, and Harlem, which is experiencing a makeover spearheaded by young, upwardly mobile urban couples. Harlem, once a virtual no-go zone, is now home to major hotels, new businesses and restaurants, and cool jazz clubs (many of which have been there all along). Spend Sunday morning in Harlem attending a traditional gospel service and afterwards you can lunch on Southern-style soul food.
Shopping and theatre are two must-dos in this city. NYC is home to some of the world’s most famous department stores, including Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Barneys New York and Saks Fifth Avenue – as well as to Century 21, an outlet store in lower Manhattan that has a huge range of name brands at unbelievably cheap prices. And no trip to NYC would be complete without seeing a Broadway show, visiting the Metropolitan opera or attending a concert or cabaret. In Australia, you can subscribe to www.playbill.com, which lists all performances. Playbill sends you weekly emails with information on discounted tickets. Print out the Playbill offer at home and when you’re in NYC, go to the theatre and buy your tickets. Tips: don’t go to a ticket agency, as they can charge excessively; and don’t buy tickets from street vendors, as most of these tickets are fake. If you’re keen on sports, attending a world-class New York Knicks basketball game or New York Yankee/Mets baseball match makes for a great outing. Tickets should always be bought in advance.
Not surprisingly, NYC has some of the best restaurants in the US – so choosing can be a challenge. For recommendations on dining out, look to Time Out New York and New York Magazine. Two inexpensive but exciting restaurants are Joe Allen, a favourite for after-show dining and ‘star-spotting’; and Serendipity 3, once Jackie Kennedy Onassis’s favourite dessert restaurant in Manhattan.
There is far too much on offer for anyone to manage in one visit, so you’ll no doubt want to return to this great metropolis again and again. Meanwhile, every time you think of the place, you’ll be reminded of that song: ‘New York, New York: it’s a helluva town’.