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CityPASS Home  »  City Traveler Blog  »  New York City Guide: What, When, Where, Why to Visit

New York City Guide: What, When, Where, Why to Visit

It’s “The City That Never Sleeps.” New York, NY: The City So Nice, They Named it Twice. Dubbed the Center of The Universe and The Capital of the World, The Big Apple stands alone when it comes to everything from the arts and industry to fashion and food. Home to Wall Street and Broadway, it sets the pace for just about everything. As Frank Sinatra sang: “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.” It’s a diverse melting pot and includes five boroughs: the islands of Manhattan and Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens and The Bronx, each with its own distinct character.

Photo Credit: DAVID ILIFF License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

When to visit

Anytime is the right time to visit Gotham. Summer may be hot and humid, but it’s the season to enjoy free alfresco concerts and activities. The winter holidays are magical, starting with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and moving on to the tree lighting at Rockefeller Center, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes, and the holiday decorations, notably on Fifth and Madison avenues. Post holidays are bonus times for theater buffs as this slow season eases scoring a ticket to a hot show. Spring and Fall are the perfect time to explore this terrific walking city on foot and enjoy pleasant temperatures.

What to Do

New York offers hundreds of things to enjoy year-round. Here are some not-to-be missed NYC sights.

The Empire State Building: On a clear day, its panoramic views, especially stunning as city lights begin to glow at sunset, stretch as far as neighboring states. The spire, Tower Lights and observation deck, popularized in over 250 films including “King Kong” and “Sleepless in Seattle”, are international icons. The 102-story building at 34th Street is the second tallest building in Gotham behind the New World Trade Center at 104 stories.

Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island: Enjoy the skyline views as you take the ferry to visit The Lady in the Harbor, a symbol of freedom to people around the world. Then walk in the footsteps of some 12 million immigrants who passed through Ellis Island. See www.statuecruises.com for information. Short on time? Stay on shore and view both monuments for free from Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Cloisters: The Met, as New Yorkers affectionately call it, is one of the largest museums in the world. Permanent collections and special exhibitions are on view in over 400 numbered galleries at the Fifth Avenue museum and The Cloisters in northern Manhattan. Don’t miss the Egyptian Temple of Dendur in its own airy atrium complete with reflecting pool; the renovated American Wing with one of the country’s largest collections of American art; and the stunning suite of 15 Islamic galleries. Discover museum highlights with hour-long tours and gallery talks, free with admission.

Central Park: This 843-acre oasis was created as a pastoral escape from urban life by landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted and architect Calvert Vaux. Explore its winding paths and many charms, including two ice skating rinks; Conservatory Garden, castles, open meadows, fountains and bridges; Loeb Boathouse with its rowboat rentals; Strawberry Fields, the memorial to John Lennon; and The Central Park Zoo. The whole family can watch the sea lion feedings at the zoo or hop on a horse at the Carousel. Make like a native and use the park to bike, walk or jog around the reservoir and pathways, skate board and inline skate, picnic, and soak up seasonal theater and free concerts. Visitor Centers in the park and information at www.centralpark.com help you find your way.

Central Park. Photo credit: Jean-Christophe Benoist

The American Museum of Natural History: On the other side of Central Park opposite the Met looms the largest natural history museum in the world, home to the Hayden Planetarium in the Rose Center for Earth and Space. Encompassing four city blocks, the museum is renowned for the lifelike dioramas in the mammal halls and its fossil halls with its huge dinosaur skeletons. The expansive permanent halls along with Imax theater shows, interactive exhibits and special exhibitions fascinate visitors. Don’t miss the re-envisioned Theodore Roosevelt Memorial and Hall, with its new bronze sculpture of the 26th president and conservationist, opened in October 2012.

Rockefeller Center: This complex of commercial buildings between 48th and 51st streets and Fifth and Sixth avenues is best recognized by its sunken ice rink, the flagpole encircled site of the annual Christmas tree lighting. Skaters twirl beneath the iconic gold-leaf statue of Prometheus from October through early April after which the rink is transformed into a café. Soaring 70 feet above the rink on the West Side is the art deco GE Building, home of NBC headquarters and nicknamed The Slab and 30 Rock. Pass through its elegant, mural filled lobby to ascend to The Top of The Rock for celebrated panoramic views. On the opposite side of the rink, The Channel Gardens and bordering shops provide a pleasant pedestrian promenade leading to Fifth Avenue.

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA): This contemporary art building in the heart of midtown thrills visitors with its collection of iconic masterpieces by celebrated artists, like Picasso, Matisse, Monet, van Gogh, and Warhol, to name a few. Special exhibitions continually challenge and entice viewers and the museum’s films are a draw. Always crowded, the building optimizes viewing with its high ceilings and walkways. Its Sculpture Garden offers a respite from frenetic city life. The cafes and ground-floor upscale restaurant, The Modern, are popular with New Yorkers and visitors alike. The museum’s shops are favorite spots to find artisan and sophisticated fare from fashion and jewelry items to household goods.

The Metropolitan Opera House (left) and Avery Fisher Hall (right) at twilight, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Photo credit: Nils Olander

Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts: No other venue exemplifies such excellence and diversity in the arts. The center houses 11 arts organizations and spans from 62nd to 66th streets off Columbus Avenue. Its heart is the plaza with the iconic Revson Fountain and surrounding three buildings. From the fountain, admire the colorful Marc Chagall paintings behind the soaring arched windows of the Metropolitan Opera House, then look over at the glass-windowed Avery Fisher Hall (home of the New York Philharmonic) and, opposite, to the David Koch Theater, home of the New York City ballet. Daily tours of the complex leave from the nearby David Rubenstein Atrium (Broadway between 62nd and 63rd streets). Check out the Atrium’s indoor vertical gardens, free events and the booth for discounted day-of performance tickets to Lincoln Center events.

Grand Central Station: The world’s largest and the nation’s busiest railway station, this architectural gem has a life of its own beyond commuting. Take in the cavernous main concourse with its world-famous four-sided clock atop the central information kiosk. Then climb the expansive, elegant steps to survey the bustling scene from a restaurant or The Campbell Apartment, a clubby cocktail lounge. Head downstairs and stroll through the Grand Central Market and the lower level shops and eateries. Be sure to stop by the Oyster Bar, the terminal’s oldest restaurant. (Reopens March 2014 following renovations.) Learn about this building’s Beaux-Art architecture, history and hidden secrets during a daily Municipal Art Society walking tour. (www.mas.org/tours)

Interior of the Guggenheim Museum. Photo credit: Matt.

The Bronx Zoo: The world’s largest metropolitan zoo covers 265 acres with some 6,000 animals. Thanks to the outdoor settings and natural habitats, you’re able to experience exotic animals up close. Visit the 6.5-acre Congo Gorilla Forest, which recreates an African rain forest. Catch a ride the seasonal Wild Asia Monorail that takes you through forested areas to view everything from elephants to tigers. From camel rides to penguin and sea lion feedings, there’s plenty to see and do at this urban zoo.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Musuem: As you ascend the spiral walkway towards the dome of this Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building, you’ll see works from artists of the 19th and 20th centuries, including Chagall, Kandinsky, Picasso, Gauguin, Manet and Van Gogh; the museum also features special exhibits throughout the year. The museum itself, one of the most unique buildings in New York City, is a work of art and is considered one of the 20th century’s most important architectural landmarks.

Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises: Circle Line specializes in sightseeing cruises and offers a handful of options, all of which provide great service and fantastic viewing opportunities, narrated by professional (and entertaining) tour guides. The sightseeing cruises range from about an hour to two and a half hours, and you can even enjoy a sunset cruise for a bit of a romantic touch. If speed is more your style, though, you’ll want to check out The Beast (available approximately May through October) for a 30-minute thrill ride to the Statue of Liberty (and you WILL get wet!).

Where to Eat

Whether its street food, like the New York hotdog and soft pretzel, or fine dining from culinary greats, New York has it all when it comes to food. Explore eateries and shops in the city’s celebrated ethnic neighborhoods, such as Chinatown, Little Italy, and Little India. Grab a slice of thin crusted pizza and eat it like a native, by hand and folded in the middle.

Head downtown to Houston Street for Jewish deli specialties, like the famed pastrami sandwich at Katz’s Delicatessen or smoked fish at Russ and Daughters, a block away.

You can chat with food purveyors at the city’s green markets in Union Square or straddling the American Museum of Natural History on Columbus Avenue. Or discover the artisan food shops at the Chelsea Market and Italian specialties at the food halls and restaurants at Eataly.

And don’t overlook the other boroughs. Brooklyn has become a hipster gastro hub with its artisan foods and edgy restaurants. To explore it, just hop the 7 subway into Williamsburg and get out at Bedford Avenue, the retail and restaurant core. On weekends, don’t miss the nearby Brooklyn Flea food market, Smorgasburg. Or take a ride out to Queens, famous for its Greek food and wealth of ethnic offerings.

Inside Chelsea Market. Photo credit: Steve Isaacs.

Where to Shop

Whether you’re looking for high-end fare or the best bargains, you’ll find it in New York. A tourist attraction on its own, a stroll down Fifth Avenue and Madison avenues offers a look at the latest designer offerings. Visit the city’s celebrated department stores: Henri Bendel, Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Lord & Taylor on Fifth Avenue; Barneys New York on Madison Avenue; Bloomingdale’s on Third Avenue; and Macy’s at Herald Square. For boutiques and one-of-a-kind items, head downtown to SoHo and Tribeca.

Everybody loves a bargain and you’ll find plenty during holiday sales and year-round at discount stores, such as Century 21 or the Japanese import, Uniqlo. Serious bargain hunters rent a car or board a tour bus to the outlet centers in nearby suburbs or New Jersey and Connecticut.

For household goods and furniture, check out ABC Carpet & Home downtown, and for jewelry, head to the world famous Diamond District on West 47 Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues.

Where to Stay

From the city’s famous hotels, such as the Plaza or Waldorf Astoria, to budget accommodations, New York has plenty of choices for lodging. Go to the city’s official guide at www.nycgo.com for suggestions on lodging.

How to Get Around

Nothing beats the subway when it comes to getting around fast, but beware of the notorious rush-hour crush! Above ground, buses allow you to take in sights and street life, and a taxi ride and conversation with a good cabbie is always fun. You’ll need a MetroCard, reloadable and sold at vending machines or booths at any subway. Bus drivers also take exact fare in coins. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) operates the city’s trains, buses, bridges and tunnels, as well as the Long Island Railroad. Get fare and transit information at www.mta.info. A downloadable transit map and hopstop.com are invaluable tools for charting your course.

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