New York City Travel,  USA

Looking towards New York City downtown, USA.

Looking towards downtown. New York City travel photo by Chris Schoenbaum.

Why New York City travel?

New York has an energy like no other city and a skyline and sights that you’ve already seen a thousand times on screen, though actually what most tourists think of as New York is just Manhattan Island. In fact New York City is composed of five boroughs (districts) – Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Queens and Bronx.

Sometimes you have to realise the virtual images and walk in the shadow of the skyscrapers, sip a Manhattan cocktail, see a Broadway show, eat pasta in Little Italy, ascend the Rock Observation Deck at Rockefeller Plaza to see the Empire State building, stroll Central Park, window shop on 5th Avenue, stagger around vastly impressive museums for free! and all the rest. . .

The clear grid system makes city walking easy to navigate and these days New York City is safer than most other large American cities and it’s famous landmarks attract 55 million tourists every year.

‘Where everyone mutinies but no one deserts’ Hershfield

Wall Street in Lower Manhattan, New York, USA.

Wall Street and Broad Street in Lower Manhattan, New York. Photo by Martin St Amant.

Downsides

• New Yorkers have a notoriously self-centred attitude and will pass by on the other side if you have a problem, while service personnel can be ill-mannered, especially if you forget to tip!

• Manhattan suffers an endless white noise of traffic hum, air conditioners, sirens, while the concrete canyons stretching to infinity can be claustrophobic.

Best weather in New York City

The best weather is the ‘shoulder months’ of May, June, September, October which are usually warm and pleasant, though they can be changeable.
OK: Summers are hot and sticky but bearable. Summer temperatures range from 24C (75F) to 32C+ (90F+).

Worst: Winter, January and February, when there are short, damp, dark days, it can get very cold (or quite warm! ) but usually averages around freezing.

A thunderstorm over New York City seen from Brooklyn Bridge, USA

A thunderstorm over New York City seen from Brooklyn Bridge. Photo by Chris Schoenbaum.

A walk or bike ride across the famous, iconic and busy Brooklyn suspension Bridge, will take you to Brooklyn above the traffic for a stroll around 19th century buildings in Brooklyn Heights and the greenery of Prospect Park.

Main Tourist Attractions

5 boroughs in the City of New York

Although most visitors refers to New York City as Manhattan the City of New York consists of five boroughs:
Manhattan including Manhattan Island and a few little islands in New York Harbour including the Statue of Liberty’s Liberty Island.
Brooklyn on the western tip of Long Island.
Queens, east of Brooklyn on Long Island and including John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Bronx in north including Yankee Stadium.
Staten Island, across New York Harbor from Brooklyn, southwest of Manhattan Island.

#Manhattan

Manhattan contains nearly all of New York City’s main tourist sights such as vast and delightful Central Park; Wall Street (aka the Financial District) and its amazing skyscrapers as well as world class museums; the iconic Statue of Liberty (on Liberty Island in the southwest); distinctive neighborhoods offer vivid, unique cultural scenes and lively nightlife, not mention the number one after-dark tourist attraction of Broadway musicals around Times Square.

Times Square and around Manhattan’s Midtown

Times Square in the evening, New York City, USA

The classic must-see location, Times Square. Photo by Chris Schoenbaum.

Midtown features New York’s many signature landmarks include Times Square, home to Broadway theaters and colossal neon billboards.

Times Square is now sanitised and revitalised with plenty of kid’s stuff; the United Nations Headquarters; Rockefeller Center, the Art Deco Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building (granddaddy of the skyline).

Also there’s the magnificent architecture of St Patrick’s Cathedral (undergoing renovation until the end of 2017), New York Public Library (seen that in a few movies! ) and Grand Central Terminal. Grand Central  offers not only train services but also Grand Central Market for shopping, the Dining Concourse for good value eating and free art events in the Vanderbilt Hall.

Do not go home without seeing a show or two as you can get 50% off same-day tickets to both Broadway and off-Broadway shows at TKTS Discount Booth.

Comments on Times Square from disaffected American tourists

“If you want to see what it’s like to exist in a herd of cows then maybe I would recommend it. ”

“It’s crowded, noisy, dirty and full of idiots. ”

“A giant pile of confused tourists. ”

“The armpit of NYC. ”

Rockefeller Plaza

Take in the spectacular 360 degree-view of the city from the Rock Observation Deck at Rockefeller Plaza. The Rock is higher than the Empire State Building with an open-platform that allows a 360-degree view and a view of the Empire State Building which is best appreciated from a distance, not from the cramped top.

If you are with small kids perk them up at FAO Schwarz, the legendary toy shop.

NYC’s most popular museum, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), is also in the Midtown. Have a snack in the garden cafe known for its high quality dining and pleasant setting.

Central Park

Central Park, the lungs of New York City on a summer afternoon, USA

Central Park, the lungs of New York City and a brilliant space to escape the city chaos and noise. Great walking, cycling or roller-blading, and kiddie fun fair too. Photo by Chris Schoenbaum.

Spread over 3. 5 square kms (843 acres) the city-owned Central Park is an enormous and delightful space of trees, lakes, rock outcrops, meadows, zoo, funfair, baseball pitches, and cafes – full of dog walkers, joggers, skaters and cyclists, with horse drawn carts for romantics.
Features not be missed are the art deco skyscrapers around the park; the Friedsam Memorial Carousel; Wollman ice-skating between October and April; Strawberry Fields for the Imagine Mosaic if you are John Lennon fan.
In the summer the Great Lawn hosts many outdoor events such as free music and theater performances as well as arts festivals. It’s accessible via more than 30 entrances along its perimeter.

Upper Manhattan

The neighborhood of the Upper East Side warrants a visit for window shopping and museums along 5th Avenue, while the previously dreaded Harlem has metamorphosed from ghetto to residential haven, with Bill Clinton among other lodgers.
The Upper West Side is loaded with museums such as the Museum of Natural History and the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, as well as the Lincoln Center, home to leading music and theater companies such as New York City Ballet and the Metropolitan Opera House.
There is a huge shopping/dining mall in Columbus Avenue for individual restaurants and boutiques while the famous Metropolitan Museum of Art squats on the border of Central Park on Museum Mile in Upper East Side. With more than 2 million artifacts form 5, 000 years of humankind, The Met is NYC’s largest and one of the finest museums in the world. Even for those who are not regular museum visitors The Met it is a wonderful compilation of human creativity.

The Statue of Liberty National Monument

The Statue of Liberty, New York, USA

Battery Park on the tip of Manhattan Island is a small green, tranquil oasis and also base for ferries to The Statue of Liberty. Photo by William Warby.

The most prominent landmark of the NYC if not of the USA, Liberty is a must-see from nearby at least, though to visit the museum – especially to get into the crown – reserving tickets online in advance is strongly recommended. Be aware that Crown Tickets are often booked up 6 months ahead.
Get there by ferry, also bookable online, from Battery Park in lower Manhattan on the south tip of Manhattan Island, a green, tranquil oasis. Try to get to the Statue of Liberty early before tour groups arrive.
Also consider visiting Ellis Island Immigration Museum to see just how much of New York is imported and how it happened. All ferry tickets include access to the Island.

Comments on the Statue of Liberty from disaffected American tourists

“Don’t go. It takes hours to go from Manhattan to the top of the statue, and the view isnt very good either. ”

“Its just a statue – I don’t get it. ”

“Worst experience ever. Took my grandson to New York. One thing on his list was to see the Statue of Liberty. Stood in a horrendous line to go through security and it was like a third world country. Plus, no place to sit on a terribly over packed ferry that listed to the right. Wasted a whole afternoon. Just go to the dock and throw your money in the water. ”

National September 11 Memorial and Museum

Rebirth of Ground Zero site in lower Manhattan, Memorial Plaza (where the Twin Towers used to be), is a vast and serene space with more than 400 trees over 8 acres; it is still an emotional place to visit, of course. Underground is a Museum dedicated to the story of September 11. The Memorial is free admission, but there’s a charge for the Museum. Access is at the intersection of Liberty Street/West Street, Liberty Street/ Greenwich Street and West Street/Fulton Street. Nearest Subway stations are Chambers Street, Fulton Street, or get there by E Train at World Trade Center and R Train at Cortland Street.

Popular neighborhoods: Chinatown, SoHo, Greenwich, Meatpacking District

Chinatown offers cultural colour, while SoHo and Greenwich are arty and packed with funky shops, night clubs, bars and restaurants. The trendy Meatpacking District also offers lively dining and shopping scenes but draws new visitors to the High Line, an elevated urban park recently converted from the abandoned rail track (Gansevoort Street to West 30th Street).

#The Bronx

The Yankee’s home ground, the birth place of hip-hop and rap, the Bronx has a plenty to offer in addition to watching a baseball match at the Yankee Stadium, a vast wild area that is excellent for outdoor activities, the massive Bronx Zoo and New York Botanical Gardens that are great for family outings, while the neighbourhood of Little Italy serves authentic Italian cuisine.

#Brooklyn

The most populated borough, Brooklyn is known for its multi-cultural heritage. For tourists the highlight of Brooklyn has to be Brooklyn Bridge, featured on many movies and TV shows. The best way to experience this engineering masterpiece is to walk over it on the pedestrian walkway, enjoying views of Manhattan and New York Harbor.

For a fun day-out head for Coney Island, a seaside amusement district, home to attractions/rides since the late 19th Century. For example there’s the 90 year-old the Cyclone, a legendary wooden roller coaster, or the newer Thunderbolt ride, the New York Aquarium or Circus Sideshows by the seashore. Brooklyn also offers a three mile stretch of beaches including the famous Brighton Beach.

#Queens

Adjacent to Brooklyn, Queens is the most ethnically divers urban area in the world, with 2 million residents from more than 100 countries speaking nearly 140 languages.
John F. Kennedy International airport is in the borough. Citi Field, New York Mets’ home stadium draws Mets’ fans, while the National Tennis Center at Flushing Meadows Corona Park hosts the U. S. Open championship, one of four grand slam tournaments, in late summer.

#Staten Island

Staten is connected to Brooklyn by Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and to Manhattan by a free commuter ferry. The 25-minute ride (8 km, one way) is a popular tourist attraction as it offers great views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island as well as Lower Manhattan.
Staten Island’s Greenbelt embraces 2, 800 acres of natural city parks and parkway with forest hills, woods and wetlands offering 45 km of walking trails.

Great free stuff!

. . . apart from walking and window-shopping!

Notorious Needle Park has been reinvented as Bryant Park (40th and 5th Ave), a freebie space offering free ice rink in winter, free wifi, free T’ai Chi and Yoga from April-October; free concerts and movies in the summertime.

The Staten Island Ferry gives classic, heady downtown views for free as it shuttles back and forth to Staten Island. It leaves every half hour or so from the south tip of Manhattan. South Ferry subway.

Free museums, days and times: daily, National Museum of the American Indian on the south side of Bowling Green in lower Manhattan; Wednesdays at the Bronx Museum of the Arts (for African, Asian and Latin American art); Saturdays at the Jewish Museum, located on 5th Avenue at 92nd St; Friday evening at Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and on Saturday evening at the Guggenheim Museum; pay-what-you-can (but with recommended fees between $20-25 depends on museums) at Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History and the Frick Collection, in Upper East Side on Sunday mornings (11: 00-13: 00).

Online information for free NYC events:
Free in NYC, Club Free Time and New York City Parks for free plays and concerts in parks; and finally Big Apple Greeter for free neighbourhood walks conducted by local volunteers.

Arts and Culture

Museums

Also see Free museums, above.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art are stars of New York’s wonderful cluster of exhibition spaces, and the newly moved Museum of Arts and Design sports some supremely wacky works, even if you do have to pay for the pleasure.
Some of the buildings are works of art in themselves, such as the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim.

Comments on Metropolitan Museum of Art by some American tourists

“It just too much boredom in one place. If something were to be more boring it would be shut down. Unbelievable how this could be an attraction in New York. Inside you will see a few sculptures followed by few artifacts and even some paintings – double yawn. The only positive thing is that it’s near 5th Avenue so after a few minutes of torture, you could treat yourself to some nice shopping. ”

“Maybe I missed something, or am completely dense, but the artwork here was nothing short of dire. Call that art, my dogs could do better if I gave them some colouring pencils. ”

“Our trip was ruined by a group of thirty-somethings striking silly poses in front of paintings and sculptures. They appeared to have been drinking. ”

“Unless you are REALLY into art – don’t bother! Dull, boring. ”

The American Museum of Natural History has grand dinosaur exhibits, while the Rockefeller Cloisters Museum is gorgeous and has amazing views over the city.

But if you pick just one museum to visit, head to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) with more than 100, 000 pieces of artwork this is the most popular museum in New York.
Start to view from top floor and work down, as most of must-sees are on galleries Level 4 and 5, include Van Gogh’s The Starry Night, Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and Cézanne’s The Bather, as well as works from American artist Warhol, Gold Marilyn. The Modern, a cafe overlooking the sculpture garden, offers NYC’s best museum dining. It is operated by the company runs Union Square Cafe.

Admission Prices and Suggested Donations

There are few admission free attractions but most museums offer ‘Pay-as-you-wish’ days and times, though they state ‘a recommended price’ between $10 and $25 depending on museums and visitors’ age. To save money as well as skip ticket lines, get one of the discount passes such as New York Pass, NYC Explore Pass and New York City PASS (41% off top 6 attractions).

Performing Arts

New York is loaded with ground-breaking theater and dance, much of it in the Times Square vicinity, while Classical Music, Ballet and Opera have many grand homes such as the Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Opera House.

Discounted tickets for shows (up to 25% off) are available from Ticketmaster or Best of Broadway the day before the show. For same-day tickets head for Times Square’s TKS kiosk from 3pm-8pm. Try to avoid ticket touts – known as scalpers in USA – whose prices will be silly. The NYC tourist organisation are a useful resource who occasionally point at free or special-price events.

City transport

Grand Central Station fantastic concourse, New York City, USA

Grand Central Station has a fantastic concourse that’s worth a visit apart from the selection of large restaurants and trains. Photo by Chris Schoenbaum.

The subway

The underground/metro/subway can be confusing but once you’ve got the hang of it it’s the best way around the city. Varied train lines are colour coded and often run from the same station while express trains miss out on some stops altogether.
Trains run 24/7 and are reasonably priced compared to London, cleaner and probably safer too. One day and one week Metrocard passes are good value and widely available from machines or local shops while subway maps are free from stations.

Taxis

Quick, convenient and not expensive outside the rush-hour, but sitting in heavy traffic gets costly.

Bus

Destinations are confusing though traveling back up the same long street you’ve been walking down can be an efficient way to get about.

From either of New York’s airports, JFK and Newark, the SuperShuttle is the best deal for speed/efficiency, sharing a door-to-door minibus with a few other passengers; backpackers may prefer to take their time (and do some walking) on the regular airport service while the more flush will enjoy the immediacy of an hour’s taxi ride; it’s best to take an official yellow cab or even a limousine (you can usually negotiate a reasonable price) or even a not-ridiculously costly helicopter ride into town.

Tipping

Tipping is an integral part of New York City life and many service personnel rely on tips so get used to it! This means as much as 20% in bars, restaurants and taxis, $1 per bag for porters and don’t forget a decent tip for your hotel maid when you leave, of up to $5 a day.

Accommodation

New York hotels are generally pricey at over $200 a night for a double, plus 13% tax and a substantial pillow tip (for the room maid of up to $5 per night! ) However, weekends may be discounted.
B & Bs are a growing source of low cost accommodation, as are vacation apartment rentals.

Shopping

NYC is one of the best cities in the world for shopping, with a massive variety of goods at generally reasonable prices. Shoes/trainers are eternally fashionable here and are particularly interesting.
Barneys has a free personal-shopping assistant (www. barneys. com).
Exclusive: Bergdorf-Goodman and SAKS on Fifth Avenue.
Famous: Macy’s, Bloomingdales
Shop as Art: Prada’s block long showroom in Soho and Apple’s store in SoHo.
Shoppers Beware!
If you are not living in America and buy electronic goods, such as a camera, you may find that there is no international warranty on it. i. e. if it breaks down you’ve got an expensive repair to handle.
An option offered by some shops is to buy a separate and extended international warranty. Avoid this like the plague, especially the warranties, which are useless.

Short Trips out of town

Long Island: beyond Queens and Brooklyn on the southwestern tip of the island lies New York’s main seaside recreation area, with popular beaches and resorts.

Main Festivals and Events

Chinese New Year, Chinatown.
17th March, St Patrick’s Day Parade, go green! 5th Avenue.
mid May, International Food Fair, 9th Avenue.
June, Comedy and Jazz Festivals.
June, Change your Mind Day, Central Park.
4th July, Independence Day (great fireworks).
31st October, Halloween Parade, Greenwich Village.
November, Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.
Dec 31, New Year’s Eve, for crazed ebullience mixed with claustrophobia try Times Square.

For some precise dates see: English Speaking Festivals