Visiting the nation’s largest city can be both a rewarding and confusing experience. With many of the world’s top landmarks and attractions, there is an endless list of things to see and do in New York City. But for many visitors, visiting The Big Apple can be overwhelming, with millions of residents, an interminable parade of vehicles and towering skyscrapers.In order to better acquaint yourself to New York, this handy guide can help you plan out your trip and also serve as a reference to some of the city’s top attractions, along with food and lodging recommendations. What may surprise you is that it’s possible to visit most every major attraction in a matter of days by using options like tour buses or more simply, the New York subway.
Getting To New York
By Air: Each airport offers taxi and shuttle services, car rentals and public transportation. Manhattan is also served by four heliports, like the Downtown Manhattan Heliport.
By Rail: Most visitors arriving in New York City by rail will arrive at Penn Station, located beneath Pennsylvania Plaza, the massive urban complex which also houses Madison Square Garden. The other major rail station is Grand Central Terminal, primarily serving commuters on the Long Island Railroad and Metro-North Railroad. Both major stations connect with New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) buses and subway lines and other forms of ground transportation.
By Bus: Visitors arriving by bus, including passengers connecting from Newark International, will arrive at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, one block west of Times Square on 8th Avenue between West 41st and 42nd Streets. The Port Authority Terminal is the nation’s largest and world’s busiest by volume of traffic. Twenty bus agencies, including Greyhound, New Jersey Transit and Trailways of New York, offer service to this station.
By Car: New York City is served by a number of interstate highways, but driving to and within the nation’s largest city poses many challenges. Motorists unfamiliar with New York City streets must pay particular attention to road signs, detours, construction sites, other vehicles and, most importantly, pedestrians. There are six major crossings from New Jersey into New York, including the George Washington Bridge, Lincoln Tunnel and Holland Tunnel. Visitors must also be aware of steep rental costs for a vehicle, the highest in the nation.
Getting Around New York
The best way to get around is the subway, considered the easiest and quickest way to travel about the city. In contrast, tour buses, taxis and private vehicles can all be delayed due to excessive traffic throughout the city. Visitors who prefer to drive may need to use a GPS system, like Google Maps, in order to navigate the city. Rates for parking garages vary widely so it also helps to review websites such as Park Whiz to reserve a spot.
Not all major American cities require more than three lodging categories but New York is an exception. While the average nightly cost hovers over $300, there is a vast spectrum of choices, ranging from hostels under $50 to $45,000 at the Ty Warner Penthouse at the Four Seasons. The following are 10 recommendations for overnight accommodations in four categories.
Moderate: Chelsea Lodge, Distrikt Hotel, DoubleTree by Hilton Metropolitan, Element New York Times Square West, Hotel 31, Lexington New York City, Wyndham New Yorker Hotel, Sanctuary Hotel New York, Staybridge Suites Times Square, Wyndham Garden Chinatown
Luxury: Conrad New York, Four Seasons New York, Gramercy Park Hotel, New York Palace, Plaza Hotel, The Carlyle, Towers at New York Palace, Trump International Hotel and Tower, St. Regis, Waldorf Astoria
Where To Eat
Dining in New York City also requires four categories if only because of the sheer volume of outstanding businesses. In fact, there are more than 60 New York restaurants boasting one or more Michelin stars. Yet many of the city’s most famous eateries fall under the budget category and hundreds more yield great bargain treats.
Budget: Artichoke Basille’s Pizza, Carnegie Deli, Empandada Mama, Katz Deli, Mark, Mamoun’s Falafel Restaurant, Nathan’s Famous, Original Soup Man, Petey’s Burger, Prosperity Dumpling, Shake Shack, Vanessa’s Dumpling House
Related: Best Foodie Destinations In America
The following are must-see attractions, along with a number of other suggested side trips, dependent upon the length of the visit. In order to maximize time, attractions can be combined if they’re in the same section of the city, e.g. the Financial District, World Trade Center, Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. Another suggested tour can include Times Square, Rockefeller Center, Central Park, Metropolitan Museum of Art and Fifth Avenue.
Once the longest suspension bridge in the world, the Brooklyn Bridge is one of the city’s famous cultural landmarks. Opened in 1883, the bridge connects Manhattan and Brooklyn and is a National Historic Landmark. Today, the bridge averages 124,000 vehicle crossings, 4,000 pedestrians and nearly 3,000 bicyclists daily. Although the Brooklyn Bridge is currently undergoing a major renovation through 2014, there are no scheduled closures for pedestrians or cyclists. One of the best places to take photos of the Brooklyn Bridge is the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. The Barclays Center, home of the NBA Brooklyn Nets, the Brooklyn Museum and historic Coney Island are among the top attractions in the borough of Brooklyn.
New York City’s most famous park is also the most visited urban park in the country. Encompassing 843 acres, Manhattan’s largest park is a popular spot for outdoor activities like picnics, walking and running, cycling, boating and entertainment. The sprawling park, bordered by some of the most expensive real estate in the world, features a number of attractions, such as Bethesda Fountain, the 1908 Central Park Carousel, Loeb Boathouse, Central Park Zoo, Delacorte Theater and the John Lennon memorial, Strawberry Fields.
Located two blocks from Central Park on West 62nd Street is the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, home to the world acclaimed Metropolitan Opera, New York City Ballet, New York Philharmonic Orchestra and the prestigious Juilliard School. Two blocks south of Central Park on West 57th Street is Carnegie Hall, another of the city’s most prestigious entertainment venues. A few miles from the northern border of Central Park is the iconic Apollo Theater, the music venue in the Harlem neighborhood where many prominent African-American entertainers got their first start in show business, such as Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, Billie Holiday, the Supremes and the Jackson Five. Two blocks south of Central Park on West 57th Street is Carnegie Hall, another of the city’s most illustrious concert halls.
Empire State Building/Madison Square Garden
One of the world’s most recognized skyscrapers, the Empire State Building was the world’s tallest building for nearly 40 years. Completed in 1931, the iconic building is 1,453 feet tall, has 103 floors, 73 elevators and five entrances. Visitors can enjoy a stunning Art Deco lobby, in addition to the 80th Floor Exhibit and the very popular observation deck on the 102nd floor with breathtaking views of the city. Although tickets may be purchased onsite, the line can be unusually long, making advance tickets to the observation deck a strong recommendation.
Three blocks from the Empire State Building is Madison Square Garden, one of the world’s most famous entertainment venues. The indoor arena is also home to the New York Knicks of the NBA and New York Rangers of the NHL. Also close by is Macy’s at Herald Square, established in 1907 and formerly the world’s largest department store.
New York City’s most famous shopping district is located along Fifth Avenue from 49th Street to 60th Street in midtown Manhattan. Considered one of the world’s most expensive retail locations, most every luxury store can be found here, including Armani, Cartier, Gucci, Prada and Tiffany & Co. Also on Fifth Avenue is the cube-shaped Apple Retail Store open 24/7, 365 days a year, and the entertaining FAO Schwarz flagship store, a must-see destination, particularly for families with children. Several prestigious hotels are located on or near Fifth Avenue and among them are The Plaza, St. Regis, Peninsula New York, Sherry Netherland and The Pierre. Visitors walking along Fifth Avenue must also see the famous St. Patrick’s Cathedral, between East 50th and 51st Streets, across from the Atlas statue at Rockefeller Center.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Located along the eastern border of Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the nation’s largest museum and tenth largest in the world. Typically referred to as The Met, the museum was founded in 1870 and boasts a permanent collection of more two million works of art. Among the most treasured works of art include Degas’ “Ballerina,” Emanuel Leutze’s “Crossing the Delaware,” Hokusai’s “Great Wave off Kanagawa” and Vermeer’s “Young Woman with a Water Pitcher.”
Art lovers should also visit the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), whose acclaimed works of art feature Rousseau’s “The Sleeping Gypsy,” Monet’s “Water Lilies” triptych and Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night.” Other outstanding New York museums are The Frick Collection, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the American Museum of Natural History and the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum at Pier 86, along the Hudson River.
New York Stock Exchange
Although the world’s largest stock exchange has been closed to the public since 9/11, it’s still worth visiting New York’s Financial District. Just steps from the stock exchange is Federal Hall, the nation’s first capitol building, site of George Washington’s inauguration and popular lunch spot for stock traders.
Other prominent sites to visit are Trinity Church, Zuccotti Park, the symbolic Charging Bull bronze sculpture and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, with free guided museum tours and a trip to the world’s largest gold vault.
Comprising 19 commercial buildings on 22 acres in midtown Manhattan, Rockefeller Center is a must-see attraction for first-time visitors. The top highlights are Radio City Music Hall, yet another world famous entertainment venue, the GE Building, featuring the Top of the Rock Observation Deck, NBC Studios Tour and the popular “The Today Show.” Also not to be missed at Rockefeller Center are the statue of Atlas and the Rink at Rockefeller Center, site for New York’s famous Christmas tree.
Statue Of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty is one of the world’s most famous sculptures and a universal symbol of freedom and democracy. Towering 305 feet in the middle of New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty was dedicated in 1886. Today, the iconic National Monument draws millions of visitors who arrive by ferryboat from Manhattan’s Battery Park or Jersey City’s Liberty State Park. Ticket holders can also visit Ellis Island, the former U.S. immigration station that greeted immigrants to America. Like any major attraction in New York, advance tickets are strongly recommended. Battery Park is just minutes from the Whitehall Terminal, where visitors can board the free Staten Island Ferry, offering spectacular of the lower Manhattan skyline.
Drawing nearly 40 million visitors annually, Times Square is the single most visited tourist attraction in the world. Surrounded by skyscrapers, enormous digital screens and a dazzling collage of neon lights, Times Square is a massive conglomeration of hotels, restaurants, shopping and entertainment. More than 370,000 people pass through “The Crossroads of the World” daily to enjoy Broadway shows, dine along Restaurant Row, visit the many attractions or simply marvel at the incredible spectacle that’s uniquely Times Square. Madame Tussauds wax museum, the Ferris wheel at Toys “R” Us and the Times Square Museum and Visitor Center are among places to visit. Discount tickets to Broadway shows can be purchased in Times Square at the legendary TKTS Discount Booth, with two other locations in Brooklyn and the South Street Seaport, but typically drawing long lines of customers. Also in Times Square are the NASDAQ Marketsite, ABC’s Times Square studios and MTV Studios.
World Trade Center
Years after the worst tragedy in American history, a new World Trade Center is taking shape and will eventually feature five new skyscrapers. The eight-acre 9/11 Memorial Plaza opened in September 2011 and features twin reflecting pools where the original twin towers once stood. More recently, the 9/11 Memorial Museum opened in May, and serves as a remembrance to the nearly 3,000 people who lost their lives. While Memorial Plaza is free and open to the public, the Museum requires a paid admission and tickets may be purchased online.
Yankee Stadium/CitiField/USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center
The new Yankee Stadium opened in 2009 and continues the long, storied legacy of the New York Yankees. With 27 victories, no other baseball team in Major League Baseball (MLB) history has won more World Series than the Yankees. Many of baseball’s most famous players played for the Yankees, including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle. The top attraction at Yankee Stadium is Monument Park, a museum honoring legendary Yankee baseball players and managers.
The city’s other MLB team, New York Mets, play at CitiField which opened in 2009 to replace the aging Shea Stadium in Queens. A public walkway from CitiField and the the Mets-Willets Point subway station leads to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, site of the annual U.S. Tennis Open, America’s most prestigious tennis tournament and one of the four Grand Slam events. The tennis center borders Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the site of two 20th century World’s Fairs, with the strikingly familiar Unisphere among the last remaining remnants.
Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.