By Roger Allnutt
NEW YORK CITY, NY — There is never a dull moment when you visit New York, with so many options both day and night to provide a satisfying itinerary for all visitors.
Whether you arrive by car, train, plane or ship your sense of anticipation grows as you get closer to the city. I recently arrived by cruise ship at the end of a cruise from Quebec, and approaching lower Manhattan under the Verrazano Bridge with the dramatic skyline ahead, including the new One World Tower and Statue of Liberty, sent shivers up my spine.
Once settled into your accommodation in New York, usually in Manhattan, the choice of activities is mind blowing. I would recommend starting your visit with a hop-on, hop-off bus tour which gives the opportunity to orientate yourself with the major parts of the city and to plan those areas where you would like to return for further exploration. There are a number of companies such as Gray Line and Big Bus Tours which offer one- and two-day passes, different routes around the city and even night tours. These tours also offer discounted entry prices to attractions such as the Art Deco Empire State Building and the Rockefeller Center, two of the city’s best known buildings. Neither should be missed as the views from the viewing platforms are spectacular. Opposite the Rockefeller Center is the well-known Radio City Music Hall.
Well over a decade after the 9/11 attacks the twin towers have now been replaced by the tower of the One World Trade Center. A dazzlingly stark memorial building; however to many New Yorkers the tower has not totally acted as a unifying point for the city after the attack. The National September 11 Memorial Museum at the base is worth a visit, as are the reflecting pools in the central plaza.
Continue on to the southern tip of Manhattan past Wall Street and you come to lovely Battery Park with views to the Statue of Liberty. It is possible to take a trip out to both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (where migrants in previous times were processed into the U.S.) but you need to make reservations well in advance to visit. The view from the top of the Statue is panoramic and exhilarating. The ferry ride is free.
Traveling up the east side of Manhattan you come to Brooklyn Bridge (it is worth taking the time to visit Brooklyn) and then East Village and the Lower East Side which is one of my favorite areas. The area is full of quirky shops and boutiques, narrow streets and alleyways, lots of cafes and bars. New York seemed to be full of tattoo parlors – one I noticed combined the parlor and a cappuccino café!
Tompkins Square Park is a pleasant oasis in the middle of this bustling area. Locals gather for chess games on concrete tables, relax on the lawn for a picnic or let their dogs loose for a run in the dog enclosure. Clearly there are many professional dog handlers taking charges out for a run (I counted six dogs with one woman) and there is lots of yapping and sniffing as the pets enjoy an escape from their apartment lives.
The United Nations buildings stand tall and erect overlooking the East River and then you can get off at Grand Central Terminal, one of the many examples of beaux arts architecture in the city. The huge vaulted concourse of the main station is always packed with busy commuters and you can stop and watch the passing parade while having a snack at one of the eateries. If you really want to live it up, drop in for a drink at the Grand Central Oyster Bar and Restaurant.
Of course you will want to walk along famous Fifth Avenue if only to indulge in some window shopping at famous shops like Tiffany and Cartier. In fact the line-up of shops is a who’s who of all the big retail names throughout the world.
You would need many weeks if not months to really explore even the highlights of what New York has to offer. Despite its size Manhattan is really best explored on foot. You can walk along Broadway from Times Square checking out all the theaters and deciding which plays you might like to attend. Times Square, where Broadway and Seventh Avenue intersect, is quintessentially American, flashing neon signs, exuberant locals and visitors. A real crossroads of the world.
I attended a wonderful performance of Jersey Boys, the story of Franki Valli and the Four Seasons, still going strong since it premiered in 2005. But the line-up of shows includes Phantom of the Opera, Lion King, and dozens of others. Go to the ticket offices at the theaters of your choice as most of the longer running shows have seats available on the day, or check out the half-price ticket booths.
Further north near Columbus Circle you come to the Lincoln Center with its three main performing arts centers for classical music; the Avery Fisher Hall, home to the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the David Koch Theatre (ballet) and the iconic Metropolitan Opera House. I saw a marvelous performance of my favorite opera, Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte; again cheap sets at the door. Not far away is Carnegie Hall, another famous concert space.
Art lovers will have a field day in New York with most attracted to three major galleries all located on the east side of Central Park on 5th Avenue. The largest is the wonderful Metropolitan Museum of Art founded in 1870 with over two million items in its vast collection. Spread out over 7 hectares of galleries, the collection includes Egyptian art and a superb collection of European paintings as well as American artists.
The Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and the private Frick Collection are more modest in size but equally tempting. Modern art enthusiasts will enjoy the Museum of Modern Art. New York has hundreds of other museums and galleries covering just about every possible interest.
Undoubtedly the centerpiece of Manhattan is Central Park (pictured), the green heart of the city stretching north from 57th to 110th street. You can do many activities within the park including walking, jogging or cycling the many roads and paths, have a picnic, throw a Frisbee on the Sheep Meadow, take a horse-drawn carriage ride, take a boat ride on the central lake, visit the zoo or just watch the kaleidoscope of people enjoying themselves.
If you want to explore a bit further north and experience a lesser-known part of Manhattan, catch a bus or train north to Harlem. Wander around the bus terminus area along 125th street and you will experience how many New Yorkers live away from the glamour and glitter closer to 5th Avenue. On one side of the street you might find small shops where food stamps are currency while on the other more upmarket apartments around Columbia University are the norm. Iconic Yankee Stadium is located in Upper Manhattan.
Eating out in Manhattan offers an incredible variety from mind bogglingly expensive to lots of wonderful cafes, pubs and street stalls. Try the many delis where the servings are huge and you choose your own ingredients. We found one large salad was more than enough for two.
Accommodation in New York is expensive but two places I could recommend are Hotel Wellington on Seventh Ave near Carnegie Hall and Hotel Beacon at 75th on Broadway on the Upper West Side.