NEW YORK TRAVEL GUIDE - THE CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS
When people refer to New York they often mean Manhattan. It is, however, just one of five boroughs that form New York City, which in turn sits within the 54,555 square mile state of New York.
Named after the Duke of York when the British conquered the region back in 1664, the city has changed greatly, largely thanks to mass immigration following the American Civil War. Today it is the destination many people flock to from all over the world in search of fame and fortune as part of the American Dream. If you can make it there you can make it anywhere to paraphrase the great Frank Sinatra.
Bordering the Atlantic Ocean on the east coast of the United States of America the weather can be varied day-by-day. Summers are often hot and glorious while winter is usually laced with bitter freezing winds. It does not stop the resilient New Yorkers who simply carry on as normal nor does it deter the estimated 50 million tourists that visit each year.
New York City has long had a strong affinity with ocean-going travel and today passengers use one of three key cruise ports. Manhattan boasts the New York Passenger Ship Terminal in a prime location on the bank of the Hudson River, adjacent to the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier that is now a floating museum. Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, a former freight terminal that opened its doors in 2006, sits opposite Govenors Island. Cape Liberty Cruise Port is often referred to as a New York cruise port but is in fact in Bayonne in neighbouring New Jersey.
Manhattan’s cruise port is favoured by Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line, and other cruise lines with smaller ships. Brooklyn’s port is home to Cunard Line and Princess Cruises, while Cape Liberty is mainly used by Royal Caribbean International and its sister lines, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises.
THINGS TO DO
Whether you only have a few hours to spare in New York City or a few days, there is so much to see in this bustling destination that you will never fit it all in. As the city that never sleeps you will always find somewhere to visit, or something to see or do, even at the most unsightly hour.
If you have yet to discover New York City then there are a few basic attractions every tourist will want add to their sightseeing list.
A ferry ride over to Liberty Island to see the Statue of Liberty National Monument is a must. The 46 metre tall copper gift from France to America dates back to 1886 and now attracts thousands of visitors daily. Be sure to pre-book tickets well in advance should you wish to experience the amazing views from the crown first-hand.
Travelling on a budget? The Staten Island commuter ferries are free (a rarity in New York) and sail between Manhattan and Staten Island, passing Lady Liberty along the way. As a cruise blogger I’ve seen plenty of ships in my time and cannot deny these ferries are tired and the experience is far from glamourous. However, I like the estimated 22 million people a year, took the 25 minute journey and enjoyed majestic views of Lady Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge and lower Manhattan. Upon arrival stay and explore Staten Island or simply catch the next return ferry back for free.
Security at the Statue of Liberty and at many other city attractions is noticeable strict following the horrific terrorist attacks in 2001. Eight of the 16 acres at the World Trade Center have been preserved as a poignant memorial site, with two pools constructed in the footprints of the fallen Twin Towers as well as a museum that retells the harrowing events on that fateful day.
One World Observatory on the 100th floor of One World Trade Center is the latest, and perhaps most innovative, observation deck to open in a city that already boasts several such attractions. The 102-storey Empire State Building affords mesmerising vistas of the iconic cityscape although you will need to head up 30 Rockefeller Center to the Top of The Rock observation deck should you want to take photos of the New York skyline that include good views of the Empire State Building.
In December Rockefeller Plaza transforms into one of the most familiar festive scenes people associate with New York, with a giant ice rink situated beneath a staggeringly large decorated Christmas tree.
An ice skating rink is also constructed in Central Park for the winter although in summer the serene 843-acre open space becomes a magnet for New Yorkers and tourists alike seeking to soak up the sun’s rays.
Pedicab or horse and carriage tours through Central Park are very expensive but great for covering a patch of the park without too much physical effort. Back in the city the hop-on hop-off bus tours afford the same leisurely option. Double decker buses crawl their way around the city stopping at all the key area throughout Manhattan.
For something a little less ordinary seek out a movie locations tour. Manhattan has featured as a backdrop in many television shows and movies and each filming location will fill you with a sense of familiarity. Track down the instantly recognisable Ghostbusters Firehouse, the Plaza Hotel where Home Alone 2 was filmed, and the famous apartment building all die-hard Friends fans revere.
The ultimate sightseeing tour – and one of the most expensive – is a helicopter tour over the city. Get a bird’s eye view over the Big Apple and see its key attractions from a different perspective.
Walking tours combine the benefits of having the resources of a knowledgeable tour guide to hand with a dose of healthy exercise. With all the hustle and bustle of this busy metropolitan area it can be hard to look upwards, but hidden above the general gaze of most people is a world of intricate architecture. Grand buildings line the blocks and many of the tower blocks feature intricate detailing. The Chrysler and Woolworth buildings are particularly outstanding examples.
See capitalist America in all its glory by standing in the heart of Midtown where the roads intersect at Times Square. This bright, brash location is laced with oversized neon billboards seemingly affixed to almost any spare piece of real estate. Shop rents are astronomical here so expect to pay a premium for your souvenirs.
The city is home to hundreds of affordable museums and cultural institutions covering an extensive range of topics and interests. From religious and artistic collections to science and historical interests New York City has it all. Attractions can be found across the five boroughs although Manhattan boasts the highest concentration of them.
Recommended museums include the impressive American Museum of Natural History, the Guggenheim Museum and the New York Public Library. Opened in 1911 the latter boasts nearly 53 million items in its collection.
Sports fans will find plenty of like-minded locals who share their passion for American football, basketball and baseball. American football fans should seek out tickets for New York Giants or New York Jets games. When it comes to baseball the New York Yankees are a global name although the New York Mets have made a name for themselves. Watch the giants of the New York Knicks or Brooklyn Nets basketball teams in action or watch the high-speed action in hockey games starring the New York Rangers, New York Islanders or New Jersey Devils.
Those looking to bite deeper into the Big Apple, perhaps on a second visit, will find comfort in the more quirky and unusual things to see and do.
Selected tours are available at many abandoned buildings including architectural masterpieces and even a disused subway station. The High Line is an innovative project that has seen an old elevated railway track transformed into a pedestrianised urban park on Manhattan's West Side.
Fancy visiting a gold vault? Thanks to the tours at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York you can do exactly this, although be prepared for understandably strict security measures. Tour groups are extremely limited in numbers so this is something you ought to pre-book.
Wall Street, heart of America’s financial system, is not generally high up on most tourist lists but the wealthy area is still worth a stroll. Watch as suited executives quickly scoot around in search for their next caffeine fix or a quick bite to eat. Also seek out the three-tonne Charging Bull artwork, a bronze sculpture by Arturo Di Modica.
New York is the heart of the shopping world and any credible brand wants to be seen here.
Fifth Avenue is one of the most expensive and exclusive shopping streets in Manhattan. If you love designer labels then this will be your idea of heaven.
At the opposite end of the scale there are flea markets to seek out across the five boroughs with quirky and peculiar bargains waiting to be discovered.
Big department stores are firmly rooted in Midtown. Bloomingdale’s, Saks and Barneys are worth a meander as is Macy’s which was featured in the storyline of the Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street.
Unlike other global cities Manhattan does not have room for massive mall complexes although the state does boast a selection of sprawling outlet malls. Many of these, such as the Westfield Garden State Plaza, are well connected to public transportation options and are easy enough to get to.
The nightlife is electric in the city that never sleeps.
Pubs, clubs, taverns and trendy wine bars welcome regulars and tourists alike across the city. Guides hosting evening pub crawl tours showcase the best the city has to offer.
Exclusive venues frequented by the rich and famous dot the city. Many of these benefit from prime rooftop spaces serving up enviable city views alongside pricey cocktails. It is here that you may spot a celebrity or two.
The city has its share of novel evening venues including ice bars, extravagant bars, and themed bars. The Ship, located in Little Italy, is a nautical themed bar that has drawn its design inspiration from cruise liners.
Head over to Broadway for some of the best theatre shows in the world. You will find everything from headline-grabbing shows such as The Lion King, Wicked, and Jersey Boys, to more niche affairs. There really is a show for everyone on and off Broadway.
Comedy nights showcase some of New York’s funniest comedians although be aware the acts will be tailored to an American audience.
The evening also presents opportunities to cram in even more sightseeing although you ought to pair this with dinner on a cruise along the Hudson River. See the key sights around the fringes of Manhattan lit up at night while devouring a delicious dinner on-board.
FOOD AND DRINK
Just like any other large city there is a world of choice when it comes to dining.
A gondola, the traditional flat bottomed rowing boat, was the preferred mode of transport on the Venetian Lagoon and also the Grand Canal for many centuries. Until the early 20th century, as many photographs attest, gondolas were often fitted with a ‘felze’, a small cabin that protected passengers from the weather or from onlookers. Its windows could be closed with louvered shutters—the original "venetian blinds".
New York has a thriving street food scene and if you look beyond the hot dog carts you will find excellent quality food for a fraction of the price charged in traditional restaurants. Many carts can afford to sell gourmet food without the high price tag thanks to the lack of overheads of running a traditional New York restaurant where the rents are astronomical. Check out the day’s locations on social media and opt for the carts with long queues to be sure of a great experience.
Most global food chains will have outlets in New York. At the last count Starbucks had just under 300 branches across the five boroughs, Subway had over 450 shops, and McDonalds had fewer than 250.
Love them or hate them, chain restaurants typically sell universally standardised items at affordable prices, which can help with budgeting. American portions are much more generous than here in Britain making these chains a good value option, even just for breakfast or lunch.
New York was transformed in the 19th century by mass immigration, leading to an influx of tastes and cultures. Today you can find restaurants that specialise in just about every type of cuisine imaginable.
There are a few food institutions that can be found in the city and simply must be visited. Katz's Deli on the Lower East Side has achieved a worldwide reputation for its incredible deep-filled corned beef and pastrami sandwiches. For a classic New York hot dog head to another world famous venue at Gray's Papaya on the Upper West Side. The 1973-established restaurant has appeared in many television series and movies, including the 1998 romantic-comedy You've Got Mail starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
Many places claim to hold the title of the best pizza in NYC and at the last count there were over 600 outlets serving the famous Italian dish. The truth is it is very hard for New Yorkers to agree on which is best. Bleecker Street Pizza, Kesté and Joe's Pizza regularly appear on many of the top lists so are great choices to begin with.
Sprawling New York City may boast a population count of 8.4 million people but the up-side of so many people is that the city offers one of the best transportation infrastructure systems in the world.
Iconic yellow cabs parade through Manhattan although not usually at any great speed. Public buses are reliable as is the Subway. Routes connect Manhattan to The Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island.
A railway network connects New York City to the wider state and country. Be sure to take in the ornate detailing inside Grand Central Station, the busiest station in America and one of its most historical landmarks.
In fact, Grand Central Station has a secret acoustic phenomenon worth seeking out known as the corner-to-corner whispering gallery. An effect made possible thanks to perfectly constructed arches on the lower floor, a person can whisper from one side of the room and be heard over the loud soundtrack of commuters going about their daily business by a person standing at the opposite side.
Manhattan is relatively flat and walking is often the quickest means to move short distances. With so many great and uniquely American sights to see along the way you could end up missing a lot if you choose to travel underground.
As with any major metropolitan city New York has its fair share of crime and no-go areas for tourists. Beware of pickpockets, touts and fraudsters all looking to earn a slice of your spending money. Stick to the main tourist areas and be aware of your surroundings to ensure you have a fabulous time exploring this fascinating city.