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The Secret to Visiting New York City | Get It Right The First Time

A New York City skyline | Photo credit: © NYC & Company/Jen Davis

Be Prepared!

The main trick to visiting New York City is that you need to be prepared. NYC is unlike any other city on earth. This guide to the must see attractions and neghbourhoods should help you whether you plan the visit you want, and get the most out of your trip to New York City, whether you’re a first time visitor, or someone who has visited frequently before.

First … a brief history …

New York is the most populous city in the United States. The city is also referred to as New York City or the City of New York to distinguish it from the state of New York. (It is not the state capital, which is Albany) New York City is an ‘energy’ of significant impact upon worldwide commerce, finance, media, art, fashion and entertainment.

For the past two centuries, New York City has been the largest and wealthiest of American cities. It has been the country’s largest city since 1790. New York remains for its residents a conglomeration of local neighbourhoods that provides familiar cuisines, languages, and experiences. A city of stark contrasts and deep contradictions, New York is perhaps the most fitting representative of a diverse and powerful nation.

New York City can trace its roots to its 1624 founding as a trading post by colonists of the Dutch Republic, and was named New Amsterdam in 1626. The city and its surrounds came under English control in 1664 and was renamed New York after King Charles II of England granted the lands to his brother, the Duke of York. New York served as the capital of the United States from 1785 until 1790.

At the end of the 20th century, representatives of some 200 nationalities were counted among its people. The Statue of Liberty, more than a century after its dedication and what it stands for, remains the most powerful symbol of New York.

Today, New York City is the most ethnically diverse, religiously varied, commercially driven, famously congested, and, in the eyes of many, the most attractive urban centre in the country. No other city has contributed more images to the collective consciousness of Americans: Wall Street means finance, Broadway is synonymous with theatre, Fifth Avenue is shopping, Madison Avenue remains the avenue of creative advertising, Greenwich Village still connotes bohemian lifestyles, Seventh Avenue signifies fashion, and Harlem evokes images of the Jazz Age.

Hardly a day passes that images and stories of New York City are not seen or heard worldwide. Many districts and landmarks in New York City have become “Icons of the World.” NYC is a draw and millions from across the world aspire to visit or live in this city of cities.

In order to see the sights (you will by default hear the sounds!) of NYC, you need to be prepared; especially if you are a first time visitor or your time here may be limited to just three or four days.

So ask yourself what your interests and priorities may be. Do you enjoy Theatre, Museums, Art? What are your special interests; Architecture, Sports, Food or even Ancestry? You no doubt are a traveller that falls into one of two categories: A planner or “We’ll figure it out when we arrive”. A tip … Plan your visit in advance! And also, plan you’re your means of transportation around the city. You can save a great deal of time and money taking the subways and if you plan your site seeing accordingly, you will not criss-cross the city multiple times in a day. And one of the best ways of seeing – and hearing – the city is walking the blocks …

Quite simply, one could spend a lifetime exploring New York City and never exhaust its riches. New York City is a compilation of many neighbourhoods in the city’s five boroughs – Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island – each exhibiting its own lifestyle.

Manhattan

Times Square | Photo credit: © NYC & Company/Joe Buglewicz

Tourism is one of New York City’s most dynamic and vital industries. Major destinations – destinations known the world over – include the Empire State Building; Statue of Liberty; Ellis Island; Broadway theatre productions; museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art; green spaces such as Central Park and Washington Square Park; Rockefeller Center; Times Square and events such as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade attract folks from across the world.

More than 40 million people visit New York annually, and most stay in Manhattan, the smallest city borough. Divided by 12 north-south avenues and 220 east-west streets, Manhattan is easily one of the most visited and alluring ‘islands’ in the world. It is the original New York, boasts the world’s largest collection of skyscrapers, and is overloaded with cultural institutions and places of enduring interest. Even to residents of the other boroughs, Manhattan is “the city;” the administrative, business, and financial centre of the New York City metropolis. The high-rise elegance of Park Avenue and the Upper East Side rapidly gives way to the teeming streets of Harlem to the north and to the crowded bohemian existence of the Lower East Side and Greenwich Village to the south. Its storied past can be partly recaptured by visiting South Street Seaport, riding the Staten Island Ferry, or walking through its distinctive neighbourhoods. Manhattan is the epitome of cosmopolitan, boasting the world’s best restaurants and a myriad of cultural institutions, yet folksy enough to have block parties.

The Cultural Arts

For more than a century, talented artists and audiences have gravitated to a city they feel is their spiritual home. In virtually every artistic field, be it theatre, music, dance, painting, literature, fashion, film, and print, the city is the “place to go.” Whether artist, visitor, or resident, all seem united in the belief that New York is, as writer Joan Didion described it, “an infinitely romantic nation, the mysterious mixture of all love, money and power, the shining and perishable dream.”

Undoubtedly culture is big business in New York, and no city in the country has more institutions and people dedicated to serving its demands.

The Great White Way

Let's go to Broadway | Photo credit: Randy Lemoine

Ever since the late 1800s, Broadway has reigned as the “Great White Way,” the major theatrical centre of the country. “The Great White Way” refers to the lights along Broadway. They lit up the night in “white” light … hence the name. Broadway was one of the first streets in the United States to be lit by electric lights: in 1880, Brush arc lamps lit nearly a mile-long stretch of the street. Some years later, a headline in the New York Evening Telegram called the stretch the “Great White Way.”

And then, to add to the appeal of big name and popular productions, the city’s Off Broadway and Off-Off Broadway venues are where experimental theatre apprentices playwrights, actors, dancers, and directors experiment and test their skills. In the last decades of the 20th century, major new stages in Times Square, skyscrapers, and a suddenly chic 42nd Street drew new audiences, and the increased price of tickets showed wider interest. For bargain seekers, Manhattan also offers free Shakespeare in Central Park., For the informed, reduced-rate tickets to many Broadway and Off Broadway productions are often available.

But if you are an aficionado of a more sophisticated performance, you already know where to find Symphony, Ballet and Opera performances of world-acclaimed renown. Completed in the 1960s, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts is a mecca for the arts patron. It is home to the Metropolitan Opera Association; the New York Philharmonic performs in Avery Fisher Hall; and the New York State Theater offers a variety of performances including the New York City Ballet, which has the highest reputation of any troupe in the country.

The finest concerts in a very musically-attuned city can be heard in Carnegie Hall (Built in 1891); the two million dollars donated by Andrew Carnegie for its construction have perhaps given more pleasure per dollar than any other philanthropic endowment. Town Hall in Manhattan and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the latter the oldest performing arts centre in the nation, offer viable alternatives.

Performance-based art is always available and varies from expensive to amateur free, and is attended by a diversity of audiences.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1870) is probably the best known and most visited of the city museums, but you will want to spend time at other – and equally as famous –museums such as the avant-garde Museum of Modern Art (MOMA; 1929), the Whitney Museum (1930) and Guggenheim (1939).

Try and save some time to visit the New York Public Library (1895). Great stone lions, dubbed “Patience” and “Fortitude” by (former Mayor La Guardia) guard the Library, whose stacks and inventory of books and records are exceeded only by the Library of Congress.

No city is as recognizable to other Americans NYC; its glittering nightlife and its gritty neighbourhoods are almost part of the national fabric and conscience. So it is fitting that the city that transmitted the first television signals became the setting for many of the most successful shows. From The Goldbergs to I Love Lucy to All in the Family to Seinfeld, New York City became part of the American TV experience. You can visit The Museum of Television and Radio and view a multitude of episodes from across the spectrum of television from the early days to the present.

Bagels to Haute – Dining a L’Art

Street Eats on 53rd | Photo credit: Flickr user AnnieGreenSprings

Many would consider any type of foods slash dining almost anywhere in the city an art form. New York’s food culture includes a variety of world cuisines influenced by the city’s immigrant history.

Eastern European and Italian immigrants have made the city famous for bagels, cheesecake, and New York-style pizza, while Chinese restaurants are ubiquitous. Some 4,000 mobile food vendors licensed by the city, many immigrant-owned, have made Middle Eastern foods such as falafels and kebabs standbys of modern New York street food, although don’t hesitate to try hot dogs and pretzels which are are still the “main” street fare.

New Yorkers and visitors alike often have the same question: Where should we eat and before or after the show? Hint: Plan your dining choices in advance. Reservations are often required and if you are attending the theatre, inform your server accordingly. You are probably amongst other patrons watching their watches.

New York City is home to some of the world’s greatest restaurants, making choosing where to dine a ‘delicious’ challenge. Whether you’re looking for fancy, expensive or just some delicious pizzas, there are umpteen options to satisfy whatever your whim and at almost any hour of the day or night.

The Sporting Life – New York Style

Be you a fan of baseball, football, hockey, basketball, tennis, or want to see a marathon or you could care less about sports; you may want to arrange tickets to an in-season game. After all, there will come a time after you arrive home when you will feel compelled to say – or brag – that you saw the Yankees (Or even the Mets) or witnessed the raucous atmosphere of a Knicks game. The city takes its’ sports and teams seriously!

To Plan For …

Central Park | Photo credit: © NYC & Company

To help you with planning your trip, and not intended to overwhelm the process, here is a short list to provide the multitude of choices of things to see and do. Be prepared … you will need to plan to come back time and again, as many seasoned visitors have come to know …

Attractions

  • Bronx Zoo
  • Brooklyn Botanic Garden
  • Central Park
  • Central Park Boathouse
  • Central Park Zoo
  • The Diamond District
  • Central Park Conservancy
  • Citi Field (New York Mets)
  • Citi Pond at Bryant Park
  • The Cloisters Museum & Gardens
  • Fulton Market
  • Green-Wood Cemetery
  • New York Aquarium
  • New York Botanical Garden
  • New York Public Library
  • Poets House
  • Radio City Music Hall
  • Rockefeller Center
  • Roosevelt Island
  • Wollman Rink in Central Park
  • World Financial Center
  • Top of the Rock Observation Deck

Landmarks

Grand Central Station | Photo credit: © NYC & Company/Jenny Rotner

Theatre

  • Alice Tully Hall
  • Apollo Theater
  • Avery Fisher Hall
  • Carnegie Hall
  • Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts

Museums

National September 11 Memorial, North Pool | Photo credit: Flickr user Tanenhaus

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