New York is a city of flux, constantly changing, constantly growing, and constantly on the go – hustling and bustling 24/7. This “city that never sleeps” has also been referred to as the heart of the United States, home to the nation’s best food, shopping, arts, theatre, and architecture. With a mosaic sea of perpetual immigrants who have come wave after wave for almost 400 years, it is not surprising that this rich tapestry has produced not only a mix of neighborhoods that teem with culture, energy, and sophistication, but also a cosmopolitan city that reigns supreme in so many fields. Its diverse and all-around talents have helped ensure New York City’s continued role as the undisputed capital of business, finance, communications, and the cultural arts.
But while the “Big Apple” is much adored for its cog-like contributions to the world’s most powerful nation, it equally evokes much disgust among onlookers. Its streets have been described as a “warring stimuli battle” for attention, drowned in the noise of constant constructions and the honking of horns of millions of vehicles jammed, trapped, and vying for right-of-ways. The smell is equally abhorrent with steam billowing from manholes and stench emanating from the hundreds of garbage bags lined along the streets at certain times of the week. And the swarm of noon crowds, busily and self-importantly affixed to their cell phones while half-running to their office destinations to meet urgent tasks gives outsiders the feeling that they have somehow wandered into a stampede.
Still, New York City has its urban refuges. There are hundreds of side streets and shaded cul-de-sacs, over 150 soundproof and world-class museums, more than 10,000 stores and 20,000 restaurants, and over 35,000 acres of parks including the bucolic Central Park that sits at the heart of Manhattan and the breezy Hudson River Park, the jump off point to the glamorous beach towns of Long Island.
Geographically, New York City sits at the confluence of the Atlantic Ocean, the Hudson River, and Long Island, which has made it a strategic port and disembarkation point for so many years. The heart of New York is the island of Manhattan, although each of the city’s four other boroughs, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island, has its own distinct character and appeal. All told, New York encompasses a 300-square mile area, which is small considering it is the largest city in the U.S., densely populated with more than 8.2 million people – over a third of whom were originally from another country. From Italians, Jews, Greeks, and Slavics, to Chinese, Koreans, Jamaican, and Iroquois, New York comes in various colors, shapes, and sizes with its residents working as taxi drivers, gas station attendants, grocers, coffee shop owners, journalists, lawyers, consultants, investment bankers, Wall Street traders, and stage actors and entertainers, among other occupations.
But whether White, Black, Asian, or other, New Yorkers have earned themselves the unfortunate reputation for being rude. Although beneath their brusque exterior, you’ll find that New Yorkers are open to new relationships and experiences. They embrace new forms of arts, adjust to ever-changing lifestyles, and tolerate political and religious views that they may not necessarily agree with. During their leisure, they are often seen out-and-about, enjoying life – whether jogging, biking, ice-skating, clubbing, protesting and demonstrating at the United Nations, soaking up the sun on the piers of the Hudson, or just strolling recreationally through Central Park. Perhaps the most endearing quality, however, about New Yorkers is their resilience and unity, which was never more evident than after the September 11th terrorist attacks. The city banded together to overcome this shocking event, rescuing and responding to the hurt and wounded, rebuilding the damaged buildings, and revitalizing the nearby neighborhoods.
Today, as it has always been, New York City is an excellent tourist destination, as testified by the more than 40 million people who come each year. The Big Apple offers symbolic landmarks like the Statue of Liberty, engineering marvels like the Empire State Building and the Brooklyn Bridge, historic sites like Wall Street, celebrated strips like Fifth Avenue and Madison, world-class museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, popular Broadway plays at Times Square, and dazzling musical performances at Carnegie Hall. As its largest and most exhilarating city, New York is simply a “must” for any true and complete tour of the United States.
New York is comprised of five divisions called boroughs, with only one of the boroughs, The Bronx, located on the North American mainland. Manhattan is an island and the central borough of the five. Long Island, on the other hand, juts 125 miles east into the Atlantic. At its western tip is Brooklyn and Queens; the former has the largest number of residents while the latter is the largest in area of the boroughs. Staten Island is located in the south, only a breath away from New Jersey.
The Manhattan skyline looks diminutive when viewed from the east through the outlying industrial sector. At the southern end of the island is where the World Trade Center once stood. It is scheduled to be replaced by the Freedom Tower in 2010. But this Financial District is still dominated by glass slabs and concrete spires.
Moving north, the skyline dips to lower heights in the form of tenements and lofts before gradually rising once more to Midtown where recognizable landmarks like the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings stand tall. The profile dips again another two miles north, concluding at the Spuyten Duyvil tidal course’s lip.
New York is a city of immense diversity in every facet. Its world-class museums, renowned theaters, and cultural attractions provide tourists and residents alike an endless choice of experiences.
Be warned that some sights, particularly the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty, have long line ups. It is recommended that you visit the more popular places in the morning. Also, Midtown traffic during rush hour or lunchtime is heavily congested to a crawl, so traveling by taxi may not be the way to go. Instead, it may be faster and cheaper to walk or take the subway. Many museums have evening hours, so you may try hitting up the landmarks and sights in the mornings while attacking the museums in the evenings. 
Many of the cultural institutions cannot require admission fees because they receive public funding. Instead, they request donations at suggested amounts. You should not feel compelled to pay the full amounts, as it can get prohibitively expensive with all the attractions New York has to offer. Also, most places will provide discounts on admission for students, children, and senior citizens.
The following is a non-comprehensive list of some of the more prominent attractions in New York by neighborhood:
Hall of Fame for Great Americans
New York Botanical Garden
Van Cortlandt Mansion and Museum
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
New York Aquarium
Gramercy Park/Murray Hill:
Church of the Transfiguration
Empire State Building
Pierpont Morgan Library
Police Academy Museum
Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace
Church of the Ascension
Forbes Magazine Galleries
New York University
East Village/Lower East Side:
Bouwerie Lane Theatre
Merchant's House Museum
Hispanic Society of America
Museum of the City of New York
Studio Museum in Harlem
Fort Tryon Park
George Washington Bridge
New Museum of Contemporary Art
New York City Fire Museum
Lower Manhattan (Financial District):
Castle Clinton National Monument
Ground Zero (site of former World Trade Center)
Federal Hall National Memorial
Fraunces Tavern Museum
National Museum of the American Indian
New York Stock Exchange
St. Paul's Chapel
South Street Seaport
Statue of Liberty
World Financial Center
Lower West Side/Garment District:
Jacob K. Javits Convention Center
Madison Square Garden
Ford Foundation Building
Grand Central Terminal
Metropolitan Life Building
St. Bartholomews Church
St. Patrick's Cathedral
Seventh Regiment Armory
Museum Carnegie Hall
Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum
Museum of Modern Art
Museum of Television and Radio
New York Public Library
American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters
American Numismatic Society
Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine
General Grant National Memorial
El Museo del Barrio
Upper East Side:
Abigail Adams Smith Museum
Carl Schurz Park
Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum
French Institute/Alliance Franchise
Guggenheim Museum International Center of Photography
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Museum of American Illustration
National Academy of Design
Whitney Museum of American Art
Upper West Side:
American Bible Society
American Museum of Natural History
Central Park Children's Museum of Manhattan
Museum of American Folk Art
New York Historical Society
American Museum of the Moving Image
Queens Museum of Art
Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art
Staten Island Zoo
Verrazano Narrows Bridge
Diners in New York are notorious for being fickle and “difficult”. A hot new restaurant overbooked and overcrowded with patrons one day could go out of business in a matter of mere months. On the flip side, no other city in the U.S. is even close to being the culinary equal of New York. There are an estimated 15,000 restaurants in Manhattan alone and eateries serving up all kinds of ethnic cuisines, from Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Indian, Indonesian, Caribbean and Afghan, to German, Russian, Polish, Greek, Spanish, Hungarian, and Armenian. Moreover, some of the world’s finest French restaurants are located in New York, and there are also fusion establishments that blend the best regional styles such as Southwestern and Southern or the best global elements from Asia and France.
In recent years, there have been more restaurants that have catered to vegetarians and health-concerned patrons. Not only are there more vegetarian dishes, but sauces are lighter and meats have been leaner, employing less oil. But you’ll also find eateries that provide heartier meals, serving up comfort food like roast chicken and mashed potatoes.
If you are interested in trying some of the more expensive and well-known restaurants, you should try going at lunch or brunch when prices drop 40% relative to the going-rate at dinner time. You can also save money by going in the early evenings for “pretheater” dinners. And prix fixe meals are always a bargain compared to à la carte.
For budget restaurants, check out the restaurants in Little Italy, Chinatown, Greenwich Village, or the Upper West Side, where you’ll find quality establishments that don’t charge an arm and a leg.
Be advised that New York waiters and waitresses have a reputation for lackadaisical and sometimes patronizing service. Also, many of the employees are often temporary or inexperienced, looking to pay the bills while searching for a break in the entertainment or fashion business.
Also, be warned that advance reservations are imperative for "high-end" restaurants. Some places require phone numbers for reservations so that they can confirm with you on the day of the meal. Other establishments ask patrons to call to confirm reservations by a certain hour on the day of the reservation. At the same time, because many customers don’t honor the reservations they make, restaurants regularly overbook. So, do not be surprised if a restaurant cannot accommodate you even when you have a confirmed reservation.
There isn’t a particular neighborhood in New York where you’ll find all the finest hotels. Most leisure travelers stay around the wealthy Upper East Side or Central Park South. The former is near all the ritzy shops and major art museums.
Business travelers, however, usually stay near the financial district of Wall Street or around Midtown near the business centers. This is where the greatest number of hotels are found. Most hotels in Midtown East are close enough to the United Nations or Grand Central Station that you can walk it. Whereas if you want to be closer to the theater district, you should stay at a hotel in Midtown West, which is to some a thrilling and pulsating district while to others a gritty and seedy area. Wall Street, on the other hand, does not have many major hotels and is close to the business happenings but is not near many restaurants or nightlife. At the same time, Wall Street is reasonably close to the restaurants and nightlife of Little Italy, Chinatown, and SoHo.
The Upper West Side is a less popular place for visitors to stay, but is close to Central Park, the Museum of Natural History, Lincoln Center, and myriad restaurants. Murray Hill is also not a popular place to stay. Located south of Midtown on the East Side, it is quiet and dull, although close to the Empire State Building and centrally located.
It is recommended that reservations be made at least four weeks in advance, as it is quite difficult to find a room in New York at the last minute. New York’s peak season is from Labor Day through New Year’s. In the summer and winters, hotels are more vacant and you’ll find more discount rates. Be on the lookout for senior citizen rates, corporate discounts, and discounts for children.
Bloomingdale's, Tiffany, Macy's, and FAO Schwarz are all inextricably linked to New York, giving it the reputation for being a shopper’s paradise. New York is undoubtedly the center of American fashion, boasting a boutique store of every name brand designer, whether Italian, French, or Japanese.
Be sure to check identifications and labels carefully, especially on electronics and watches. Unknown brands are not worth indulging. Many of them are made to look exactly like the products of brand name companies. Street vendors sell almost anything that’s portable, including umbrellas, scarves, and belts. Prices are low. Vendors also move around quite a bit, as their “brand-name” products are almost always counterfeit.
If you are looking for discount designer clothing, make the pilgrimage to Orchard Street on the Lower East Side. If you want to buy photographic equipment, go to either Lexington Avenue between 42nd and 52nd street or 34th Street near Herald Square. Crafts and offbeat clothes are found in SoHo or Greenwich Village, which is around Greenwich Avenue and West 4th Street.
The best time to shop is on weekday mornings, when the stores aren’t as crowded. The worst time is during lunch hours or on Saturdays.
Few cities have a flourishing performing arts scene that matches New York, from jazz clubs, cabarets and comedy clubs, to Broadway shows, operas, and ballets. For visitors, one evening should always be spent embracing at least one of the myriad choices, whether that’s taking on a splashy Broadway musical, enjoying a night at the opera, sitting through a Carnegie Hall concert, or relaxing to sips at a piano bar or Jazz club.
The dress code for the performance arts scene is more lax than say a trendy night club, which are known to turn away people wearing jeans and sneakers. On the other hand, the crowds at Broadway theaters are always underdressed. Still, the proper attire at a Broadway show should be dressy casual. For an old-fashioned supper club, it should be more glamorous.
Even the most avid culture seekers would not be able to exhaust the banquet of choices that are offered in New York. Dance, theater, and musical performances are spread out evenly over the course of the year. It’s a good idea to arrange for tickets well in advance of your visit, if you have your heart set out on a particular event or performance. Otherwise, take advantage of same-day discounts if you’re up for anything.
Check the New York Times for arts and entertainment listings. The New Yorker also has comprehensive listings.
Most of the theatres were originally lined along New York’s Broadway Avenue, hence the moniker “Broadway” plays. However, few of the three-dozen or so theaters are actually located on that thoroughfare anymore. They are clustered instead around Times Square where you’ll find comedies, serious drama, and lavish musicals.
Economics have resulted in what is now referred to as “Off-Broadway” – smaller theater houses with lower overhead costs. These theaters are found in Greenwich Village and throughout Manhattan. Alternative theater, which is typically edgier, wilder, and a bit more raw is called “Off-Off-Broadway”. These performances are held in galleries, garages, lofts, churches, and even the backrooms of restaurants.
Jazz is probably North America’s most original art form. Its practitioners are versatile and skilled, working various genres whether symphonic or operatic. From Wynton Marsalis to Benny Goodman, Jazz musicians cross over to classical music as easily as to rock or pop. The Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts is probably the Madison Square Garden of Jazz performances, producing year-round concerts.
Jazz had its beginnings in New Orleans and worked its popularity up the Mississippi all the way to Chicago, before finding its way to New York, where it flourishes today. Jazz musicians don’t “make it” until they are accepted here.
Jazz grew in New York after World War I and flourished in its golden era until the 1950s. It persists today in various kinds of permutations such as mainstream, bop, Dixieland, swing, fusion, wildly experimental and progressive. Concerts are held in churches and colleges all over town. Some restaurants have jazz brunches on Sundays. The old-line clubs that have been around since the 1940s still hold performances regularly.
June is when the jazz season reaches its apex. The city holds a festival that brings together the biggest names in the business. They perform in concert halls, clubs, and outdoor venues as well, and are often free.
The nightlife in New York is vibrant, emotional, and even cathartic for the stress residents build up hustling and bustling during the day. New Yorkers tend to tire easily of their bars and clubs – hot one weekend, gone the next.
Liquor laws are relatively lax. By law, alcoholic beverages are served until 4:00 am. While 21 is the state age limit for purchasing liquor, some bars and clubs in New York set a higher age limit. Two forms of photo identification are required for most establishments.
Bars and clubs where live entertainment are offered usually impose a cover charge. The fee ranges depending on the elaborateness of the show. Dance clubs collect these charges at the door. Many places, especially where there is table service, will charge a minimum fee per person for consumption of food and beverages.
It’s difficult to find great food and good music in combination. It’s usually one or the other. So you’re better off planning your schedule accordingly – eat first, then do the night thing.
The Friday and Sunday entertainment listings of the New York Times and the New Yorker are the best newspaper sources to consult if you want to learn who is appearing where. You should call ahead for reservations and ask about last-minute changes in performers and scheduled performance times.
The site of New York City was first inhabited by the Lenape Native Americans before it was discovered by Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano in 1524. However, the area was not actually explored until the early 17th century when Henry Hudson traveled up the Hudson River in search of a passage to the Orient. The Dutch were the first to establish a colony in 1613, setting up a fur trading post at the southern tip of Manhattan called New Amsterdam. In 1624, the remaining island of Manhattan was purchased by Peter Minuit, the Dutch Colonial Director-General, for $24 worth of goods.
In 1664, the British conquered New Amsterdam and renamed it New York. Under British rule, New York’s importance as a trading port grew. During the American Revolutionary War, New York was the site of major battles, including the Battle of Long Island, which ended in the capture of New York by the British. They occupied the city until the war ended in 1783.
In 1789, George Washington was inaugurated as the first president of the U.S. in New York, which served as the capital of the country until 1790. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1819 linked the Atlantic Ocean and the Hudson River to Lake Erie, allowing goods from Europe to be transported into the interior of the U.S. through New York. This greatly expanded New York as a port city. Moreover, the immigration of millions of immigrants throughout the 19th century ensured a ready supply of labor, and transformed New York into the largest city in the U.S. and, by 1925, the world.
During the Civil War, New York experienced riots and civil unrest over anger at mandatory military conscription. In the 1920s, the city welcomed an influx of African Americans migrated from the south. Following WWII, New York City emerged as the economic and financial center of the world, taking away this position from London. It also became the world center of the arts, a position previously held by Paris. While the city experienced a decline in the 1970s, the 1980s and 90s marked a period of crime reduction, economic growth, and increased immigration of Asians. In 2001, the city was targeted by terrorists on September 11; they crashed the World Trade Center with two hijacked planes killing close to 3,000 people. New York has since recovered from the incident, and it seems even more tourists are visiting nowadays looking to see Ground Zero for themselves, the site of the World Trade Center’s collapse.
Belcove, Julie L. Travel & Leisure: New York. New York: John Wiley & Sons Inc., 1997. ISBN: 0028606914.
Durham, Michael S. New York, 2nd Edition. National Geographic Society, 2006. ISBN: 0792253701.
“Henry Hudson.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Hudson>
“History of New York City.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_New_York_City>
“New York City.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_City>
“New York City Guide – Overview.” < http://www.cityguide.travel-guides.com/city/90/city_guide/North-America/New-York.html>
“Tourism in New York City.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tourism_in_New_York_City>
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