The Big Apple
New York City! The most vibrant city I’ve ever been and probably without a rival, with only Tokyo coming closer but still, impossible to beat the vibe and thriving live of New York. Since the moment you land and until you depart it’s rather feeling like in a real movie. Nonetheless of course, arch known from the many movies, TV series, documentaries, news papers… just everything; being there in person and you are part of a real movie. From the police cars, fire fighters engines, the huge lorries, if lucky a Coca Cola truck; the subway trains, to the smoke coming out from the sewers, the bagel and hot dogs vendors… and that without going into it’s many symbolic architecture.
You need to be in the city to experience all this. And either you like it or… you actually like it!. No, just kidding, I know some people who did not feel too comfortable after all, but it might actually be a bit claustrophobic for some while others won’t appreciate its architecture and will consider it as all “the same”. Well, from my experience, definitely none of these are my case. It is still my favourite city ever, and I doubt this feeling will change any soon. Since the very first time I step in back in the year 2000, this is the 4th time I return, and for the many more to come (hopefully).
This guide is a mix of what I’ve created over the past trips, hence why it is now way much more complete and better altogether than otherwise, the older versions of the city guides here in my blog. It’s good I keep returning to many of the cities I’ve already been, and as such, I will continue with the same trend in order to update or create a better than before guide for your help and information.
Make sure you get a good knowledge before you go on where more or less the sights are located. Get yourself good maps, like the ones you can find in Wikitravel split by district, and mark in them an optimal and easy to follow route with the points of interest. This will save you a lot of time. The city is really big, and we are only talking about the island of Manhattan here, but with so much to see and do, the time will always be against you. A 5 days visit is what I would definitely recommend you. Any shorter than this and you will be rushing and not seeing everything nor enjoying in full as you will want to do and see so much more. At every turn you will find something else!
As a very good tip to you, is not hesitating in getting the New York Pass, this will give you access to the most important attractions and landmarks of New York saving you lots of money than if you would be paying for each sight separately. For instance, something I am almost certain you will want to do is going to the top of the Empire State building, the Liberty Statue and Liberty Island, the Top of the Rock observatory (Rockefeller), the Museum of National History, MoMA, Guggenheim… Also museums like Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Madame Tussaud’s and many other attractions on top of the principal ones are included. And something else extra which many people does not even know, this ticket will grant you access to some Water Taxi boats, and 2 routes of the sightseeing bus. This will be the best chance you have to see the whole of Lower and Uptown Manhattan from both rivers. You can chose how many days you want to have the pass for, from 3 up to 7 days.
Another piece of information you need to know, is about the 9/11 Memorial. This has changed since the previous visits to how it is now. Basically, this is where you can get all the information 9/11 Memorial Website, but with your New York Pass, this is also included.
Talking about food, I rarely can recall any other city or place with such a ginormous choice and amount of restaurants and eateries everywhere. A choice for absolutely anyone, any religion, any taste, and for the rich and poor and all possible in between. While something is true I have not been to any “posh” restaurant or bar (not that I am interested anyway), I can at least recommend you two nice places. 230 5th Avenue is an spectacular rooftop terrace with views over Uptown and the Empire State in first line where you can go for lunch or dinner, and at the weekends also for brunch. Back in December 2015 we went here for brunch on a Saturday, around 13.00pm and it was simply awesome for the views you get. Breathtaking. While brunch itself was nothing out of the blue, was still OK for the overall experience. The price however set us to 41 USD per person, already including the taxes and tip.
The second option for either lunch or dinner, (I suggest dinner better) is Rare Bar & Grill, at 303 Lexington Avenue. Some of the tables are overlooking the street and the half of the Empire State up which is very nice. They are famous for steaks as you could imagine, but also huge and tasty burgers. Expect to pay around 40 USD per person if having a filet and a drink, all including taxes and tip.
For cheaper, fast food style and deserts, then you have this expression: “There is no bagel like the New York Bagel anywhere else in the world”. In Brooklyn you will find the best ones: Bagel Hole (7th Avenue of the F or G) or by Midwood (Avenue J on the Q subway line). The New York Deli Sandwich: Another delicacy brought over by Jewish Immigrants, you must try either a corned beef or pastrami sandwich (a “Reuben” is always a good choice). The most famous is Katz’s Deli at Houston and Ludlow Streets. As last, The New York Cheesecake: for the original go to Junior’s in Downtown Brooklyn (B, Q, or R to DeKalb Avenue). All of these and many more can be found in the Wikitravel page for the city, and I strongly agree with the ones I mentioned above.
For more information about New York City check the Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. The United States of America currency is the Dollar (USD, $). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in New York City
Since New York City is quite self-explained from the places you need to visit, most of them being the famous buildings, bridges, squares, museums or parks, it’s very easy to navigate and follow a route. However the size is vast, and the time for enjoying the city would ideally set you in 5 days. If you happen to be visiting the city during the Christmas period then you will have an added joy to it, with the world renown ice-rinks of Rockefeller Center, Bryant Park and Central Park; the glorious Christmas trees and spectacular shop windows along the 5th Avenue to name a few.
- Lower Manhattan This large area, commonly known as Downtown is composed of the districts of: Battery Park, Financial District, Tribeca, Civic Center, SoHo, NoHo, Little Italy, Chinatown, Greenwich Village, East Village and West Village. In terms of buildings itself, these are mostly described in the next section “Midtown” when describing the avenues separately.
-Wall Street The famous street with banks and the Stock Exchange.
-World Trade Center Memorial With the heartbreaking huge holes where once the Twin Towers stood.
-One World Trade Center Currently the tallest building in NYC, created as part of the wider project after the 9/11 terrorist attack.
-World Trade Center Station Nicknamed the Oculus, created by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.
-Battery Park From where the ferries to Statue of Liberty depart.
-Brooklyn Bridge Possibly the world’s most famous suspension bridge.
-Manhattan Bridge The view down Pike Street is world renown.
-Chinatown Once one of the largest Chinese areas outside of China, however much reduced these days.
-SoHo Acronym for South of Houston Street. This district now entirely gentrified, is famous for artists and independent shops, trendy bars and cafes; and for its cast-iron architectural elements (over 500 buildings listed).
-Greenwich Village One of the oldest districts in Manhattan, where the street have names no numbers, and the urban plan follows an irregular trace, not the orthogonal grid famous across the rest of the island.
-Washington Square Park One of the largest public open spaces in this part of Manhattan, with the monumental 1892 Washington Arch at one of the sides erected to celebrate the opening of George Washington as first president of the USA back in 1798. It also marks the grand southern terminus of the 5th Avenue.
-Little Italy Again, as was with the Chinatown, the Italian district is getting smaller and smaller with the years.
-Union Square One of the largest urban piazzas in Lower Manhattan.
- Midtown Includes the districts of: Chelsea, Flatiron, Gramercy, Korea Town, Garment, Hell’s Kitchen, Midtown East, Lenox Hill or Lincoln Square to name the most popular. Easy to navigate by describing the major sights along the avenues.
-First Avenue Parallel to the East River, starts at East Houston Street in Downtown and terminates in the Harlem.
-United Nations Headquarters Built in 1952 by acclaimed Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer overlooking the East River. Easy to reach once you are on and about Grand Central or the Chrysler Building along East 42nd St.
-Lexington Avenue One of 2 avenues not part of the original act of street grid division plan from 1811. Carved between the 3rd and Park Avenues.
-Irvin Place The very beginning of Lex Ave, just an ave. away from Union Square Park. Known as the Gramercy District, these 5 blocks still retain the true old character of NYC, and it’s home to the oldest surviving saloon in the city, the now famous Pete’s Tavern.
-Chrysler Building The impressive art-deco icon of Manhattan, and among the finest in the world in such style.
-Park Avenue Formerly known as the 4th Avenue, is home to major iconic sights along its way.
-Waldorf Astoria Hotel At 301 Park Avenue completed in 1931 is another of the greatest art-deco landmarks, and one of the most exclusive hotels in the world.
-Grand Central Terminal The famous train station, one of the world’s most visited tourist attraction. At 44 platforms, no other station in the world has more. Don’t miss the spectacular concourse with zodiac blue ceiling.
-MetLife Building The former Pan Am Airlines iconic headquarters, built atop the Grand Central in 1963.
–Helmsley Building At the front of the MetLife, was built in 1929 in Beaux-Arts style by Warren & Wetmore Architects, the same ones who designed the Grand Central Terminal.
-Seagram Building Created by Mies van der Rohe in 1957, opening the new era of architecture to what would be referred as the International Style.
-432 Park Avenue The latest addition to the skyline, the now so called “super-slender” buildings. Designed by Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly. It is the tallest all residential tower in the world. At 15:1, has one of the greatest height-to-width ratios of any skyscraper in the world.
-Madison Avenue The next most important avenue traversing from Midtown where it starts at Madison Square then all the way north towards Harlem. Carved between the Park Avenue (4th) and the 5th Ave, this was not planned in the 1811 act of street grid division.
-Madison Square Garden One of the iconic squares in the city for the architecture and sights around it, and major intersection of streets.
-Flatiron Building Considered the first skyscraper in the city, one of the most renowned landmarks in the world.
-New York Life Insurance Building Completed in 1928 in art-deco with Gothic revival touches, and 25000 gold-leaf tiles in its pyramidal roof.
-Met Life Tower Built in 1909 modelled after the Campanile of Venice. Was the world’s tallest building until 1913.
-Fifth Avenue While it traverses almost the entire island of Manhattan, the section across Midtown is the world’s most famous upscale shopping paradise. One of the most expensive streets in the world, full of iconic elegant grand architecture too.
-Bryant Park One of the most beautiful public squares in the city surrounded by impressive architecture.
-Public Library The centrepiece in Bryant Park. Free to enter and admire the impressive halls.
-Bryant Park Hotel Occupying the former American Radiator Building, and impressive and luxurious early art-deco and neo-Gothic building from 1924. Black and gold bricks represents coal and fire.
-500 Fifth Avenue One of the historic art-deco skyscrapers, dating from 1931 overlooking Bryant Park.
-510 Fifth Avenue The former Manufacturers Trust Company Building, a small glass and aluminium cube from 1954 takes its fame for being one of the first buildings in the modern style.
-Empire State Building One of the jewels of Manhattan without doubt, and most iconic art-deco building in the world. The observation decks are the most popular in the entire NYC, wish the most spectacular views.
–Saks Fifth Avenue This retailer business founded back in 1867, having their headquarters in this beautiful 1924 building next door to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.
-Saint Patrick’s Cathedral With main facades at both 5th Ave. and Madison Ave. Construction began in 1858, was completed in 1878.
-Rockefeller Center The largest complex in the world in the art-deco style, comprising 19 buildings (14 original, 5 later additions). Where the Top of the Rock viewing platform is. The famous Atlas sculpture is directly facing the Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.
-Radio City Music Hall On the corner of the main Rockefeller building, facing the 6th Avenue. It’s a must visit on tour when coming to the city, with the stunning art-deco decoration everywhere.
-NBC Studios Also in the Rockefeller complex. One of the famous TV channels.
-The Peninsula Hotel Built in 1905 as the Gotham Hotel, in neo-classical style.
-MoMa Museum Located in West 53rd St, in between the 6th and 5th Avenues. One of the most influential museums in the world displaying modern art.
-Grand Army Plaza The corner of the 5th Ave. with Central Park South corner, a grand square with some masterpiece buildings.
-The Plaza Hotel Opened in 1907 in French-Renaissance style, back then as one of the most luxurious hotels and apartment block in the city.
-Sixth Avenue – Ave of the Americas Starting south of Canal Street by TriBeCa, continues north crossing SoHo and Greenwich Village, thereafter dividing Chelsea from Flatiron Districts and terminates at Central Park South.
-Jefferson Market Library In High Victorian Gothic style, it is barely the starting point of the 6th Ave.
-Bank of America Tower Completed in 2007, it is currently the 4th tallest in NYC. The back of the Public Library is directly across.
-W. R. Grace Building Easy to recognise for the characteristic concave vertical slope by the main facade overlooking Bryant Park.
-McGraw-Hill Building A complex of 3 buildings, commonly referred as the XYZ built in 1969 in the International Style.
-Herald Square Formed by the intersection of the 6th Ave. with Broadway. One of the top shopping areas in the city, just meters away from the Empire State Building. Koreatown lies at the south of the square.
-Macy’s Department Store One of the most symbolic buildings in Herald Square, the second largest department store in the world.
-Broadway Avenue The oldest and largest in Manhattan (and farther beyond the island). It starts at the very end of Lower Manhattan by Battery Park. Because of the diagonal style layout across Manhattan, it does intersects with the major avenues creating great piazzas, squares and gardens; being the world’s most famous the Times Square, and its countless theatres and shows.
–Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House Built in 1907 as such, the customs house.
-Bowling Green The oldest public park in the city. Here you will find the Charging Bull, nowadays the landmark of Wall Street.
-Standard Oil Building 26 Broadway, directly over Bowling Green. The first skyscraper to introduce the set-backs.
-American Surety Building From 1896, at 100 Broadway it is one of the most influential skyscrapers in the city, one of the first buildings with steel framing and curtain wall construction.
-Equitable Building At 120 Broadway, right by the Financial District. Completed in 1915 was the largest office building in the world. It was after this building that the 1916 Zoning Resolution was put in place, requesting high buildings to have set-backs in order to get light at street level.
-Trinity Church One of the oldest structures in Manhattan, from 1697. Located at the intersection of Broadway with Wall Street.
-Woolworth Building By Brooklyn Bridge subway, one of the best examples of Gothic revival architecture in the city dating from 1912.
-Municipal Building Completed in 1914 it is one of the most celebrated skyscrapers ever in the city. Copied all over other cities, was also the inspiration for the Seven Sisters of the Stalin-era Soviet architecture.
-City Hall Next to the Municipal Building with a beautiful garden at the front. It is the oldest in the USA that still houses its original governmental functions in-situ.
-Foyley Square Right behind the City Hall, home to the Thurgood Marshall Supreme Courthouse and New York County Supreme Court.
-Times Square One of the world’s most famous intersection of streets, Broadway with the 7th Avenue. Needless to comment anything else here.
-Paramount Building At 1501 Broadway, it is one of the historic buildings left at Times Square, with its 4 faces clock and glass round top.
-Columbus Circus The intersection of Broadway with the 8th Avenue, along the southwestern corner of Central Park. One of the very few roundabout style plazas in the city, with the famous statue of Christopher Columbus at is centre. Here is the famous (or infamous) Trump Tower.
-Lincoln Centre Continuing north along Broadway, few blocks after Columbus Circus, is this massive complex for the arts and performance; home among others of the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Ballet and the New York City Opera.
-Seventh Avenue Dubbed as “Fashion Avenue” due to its center of the fashion industry ever since the early years. Starts in the district of SoHo towards Harlem.
-Carnegie Hall North after the Times Square intersection, just 2 streets south of Central Park. Built in 1891, it is one of the most prestigious venues in the world for both classical music and popular music.
-Eight Avenue While many other sights already listed here are nearby the 8th Ave, or along its intersections with other streets, there are some buildings noteworthy to mention here, specially these that fall along the Upper West Side along the Central Park. (Listed in the Uptown section below).
-Madison Square Garden A multipurpose venue for the entertainment, arts and sports. Home to the basketball and hockey games among others. It is located right above the Pennsylvania Station.
-Hearts Tower At 959 8th Ave, a block away from Columbus Circus. Built atop the older 1928 listed building as its base, is one of the latest additions of Norman Foster into the city.
- Central Park – Uptown The massive park has everything for the leisure of the people, beautifully landscaped gardens, others more like a wild forest, pavillions, bridges, ponds, the zoo and even a castle, the Belvedere. The major museums not just in the city but in the world are along the Upper West side and Upper East Side.
-Upper West Side The entire Central Park West (8th Avenue section) is listed a heritage district, being home to some of the most impressive and expensive mansions in the city.
-The Century One of the first major top luxurious towers in the historic district of Upper West Side. Built in the 1930’s in art-deco style.
-15 Central Park West Across from The Century. Home to Sting, Alex Rodriguez and Ekaterina Rybolovleva.
-41 Central Park West Home to Madonna.
-55 Central Park West More known after the 1984 film Ghostbusters that was filmed here. Donna Karan and Calvin Klein were residents here.
-The Majestic Another 1930’s art-deco showpiece. It is remembered as the home of former gangsters Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello and Meyer Lansky.
-The Dakota Building Where John Lennon and Joko lived, and he was murdered in 1980. Joko still lives there. At the front of this building is the Strawberry Fields Garden.
-The Langham Next after the Dakota, another of the great top luxurious mansions.
-The San Remo Next after the Langham. Famous artists living here are U2’s Bono, Demi Moore, Diane Keaton, and Steve Martin.
-American Museum of Natural History In the Upper West Side, in what is called Central Park West (the 8th Avenue), few buildings north from the San Remo. It is just massive, one of the largest museums in the world. Famous itself for being showcased in TV and movies.
-The Beresford The next building after the Natural History Museum. Home of Diana Ross among other celebrities.
-El Dorado At 300 Central Park West, north from the Natural History Museum, home to Alec Baldwin, Faye Dunaway, Moby, Garrison Keillor, Tuesday Weld, and Michael J. Fox.
-Upper East Side Defined by the 5th Avenue as it traverses the entire east side of the Central Park. More spectacular apartment towers from early 1900’s and masterpieces from 1930’s art-deco era align.
-Metropolitan Museum of Art Right at the opposite side of Central Park, along the 5th Avenue. This is the nice way to cross the park form one edge to the other, passing through the Belvedere Castle. The largest art museum in the USA, and the most visited. Home to millions of objects of art from antiquity to modern era from across the globe.
-Guggenheim Museum Few buildings north from the Metropolitan Museum, at 1071 5th Avenue. Famed for the permanent collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, early modern and contemporary art. The building from 1959 was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
- Outside of Manhattan So many places to go, and so easy to reach either by the subway or by boat, however the ones below are impossible to miss when visiting the city, some of which, free of charge:
-Staten Island Ferry It’s free to ride, 24 hours a day and passes through the Statue of Liberty. The ferry terminal is at Battery Park. Great for some evening/night captures of the skyline.
-Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island The ferry leaves from Battery Park. This is one of the attractions included in your New York City Pass.
-Yellow taxi tour Included with the New York City Pass as well. Take it at Battery Park. This is by far the best way to see the whole of Lower Manhattan, New Jersey and the islands.
-Coney Island Coney Island–Stillwell Avenue Station is served by the D F N Q subway trains. Here you will find the old world famous fun fair, where the Cyclone roller coaster still thrill the people, or the Ferris Wheel seen in many movies. The beach is also nearby.
There are two principal international airports within easy reach of the city: Newark Liberty and JFK, being the later the biggest in the city and most important not only for New York but across the country. If landing in Newark, there is a free of charge monorail between terminals and car parks, and frequent buses to Penn Station in downtown Manhattan, 9 blocks away from Times Square and Bryant Park, or Grand Central Terminal also at walking distance.
As for JFK, the most direct option is to take the AirTrain which stops at each terminal making an anti clock-wise loop (between terminals it’s free to use), then after the terminals passes through the car parks and then continues towards either Howard Beach or Jamaica Stations, where you can connect with the Subway network at any of them both. The AirTrain costs 5$ per trip, but if travelling in a group, it will save you money to get a car of 10 tickets.
The local airport LaGuardia serves internal flights, and the quickest way to reach (and actually not expensive) specially if you are more than one person, is by taking a taxi as there is no direct metro line nearby.
Then, considering the location, with several of the major cities of the USA within short distance, one can take a flight into a different city and reach New York easily with direct rail link and plenty of buses. This is very helpful if you are planning to do a tour along the East Coast for example, therefore Washington DC, Baltimore and Philadelphia to the south, or New Haven, Providence and Boston to the north are great alternatives.
Within the city, the best by all means if you are staying at least 3 days is to get the unlimited ride Metro Card which is valid for a period of 7 days. Bear in mind the only exception where you will not be able to use this car is on express buses, the JFK AirTrain, or PATH trains to New Jersey. This will save you a lot of money than if you would be paying separate tickets each time you get on a bus or the subway, and will make it way easier for you as you can take it as many times as you wish round the clock. The public transportation in NYC us running 24 hours. This Metro Card costs (as of December 2015) is $32.
As a good note here is to mention the “express subway trains”, those are, trains that do not stop at all the stations along the route. Majority of the 34 lines do offer these either at all times or during certain time frame in the day (as peak hours, morning or afternoon). Let me tell you how wonderful is this great service! You get from A to B in no time. But also knowing at which stops an Express train calls is not too clear to me yet. In any case, the stations you will be using as Times Square-42nd Street, Grand Central, Penn Station, Fulton St, Broad Street, Broadway and so on are a stop in the route.
While there is a good network of public buses, the only service I’ve taken was to go to Jersey Gardens shopping mall in New Jersey via the Port Authority Bus Terminal, hence I cannot further comment on the bus situation. Consider the heavy traffic and grid-lock during the day along most of the streets. The avenues have more fluid traffic but still, nothing to compare to the incredible speed you move around in the subway.
New York City is by all means one of the most expensive city for hotels in the USA (at least talking with the knowledge from all the other cities I’ve been in the USA). If you are staying longer than 3 days, you could definitely be better off by renting an apartment. Over the internet you will find plenty of choices, yet it is extremely advised to book it the earliest you can before the start of your trip. The demand is really high, specially in summer and during Christmas time and national bank holidays.
Also check the area before you book something. Manhattan is always the best option, saving you lots of time in transport that if instead you are elsewhere. Brooklyn comes in second place. Right next door to Manhattan and extremely well connected by subways and buses, or a nice walk through both Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. I would not recommend you to book anything in Harlem or the Bronx. Even these places will come way cheaper than the rest, it is still not an area from the tourist side perspective why you should go there. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
During the most recent visit to the city we stayed at the Residence Inn Marriott Downtown Manhattan/WTC Area. it was great in all senses. From location, to care, comfort, size, staff, breakfast and anything to make your stay happy and very relaxing. Very friendly and helpful staff. Located very near the Fulton Street subway station, you are right there in the middle of the Downtown, minutes away from the World Trade Center and plenty of sights. Broad Street and Wall Street less than 5 mins away.
In December 2015, we stayed at the Fairfield Inn and Suites Manhattan Finantial District, by Marriott, right next door to the Pier 15 with the nearest subway station Fulton Street. Some 5 minutes walking distance from the One World Trade Center, hence a great location! Also great because of the huge choice of subway lines you can take at Fulton Street, Chambers Street or Broad Street stations, with both local and express services calling at any of them. The hotel was only 6 months old by the time we stayed, and they have really nice views from the upper floors. Very comfortable bed yet small-ish room. But remember space in Manhattan is precious, so nothing that worried us. It had everything we needed, absolutely well cared and clean, and extremely polite and friendly staff at all times. Breakfast also comes included, a simple continental one, but hey! Even if not mentioned anywhere or even at the British Airways page where we booked this trip as a flight + hotel booking, it was saying breakfast not included but it was. It is for anyone staying at the property. Highly recommended to anyone.
During our 2012 stay we booked an apartment through Smartapartments at East 48th Street – United Nations. The location could not be better, in the middle of Manhattan, next to the United Nations, the 2nd Avenue, Lexington Avenue, and Grand Central Terminal less than 10 minutes away to name a few of the key points. Definitely an area strongly recommended. *Please note that unfortunately as of December 2015, Smartapartments have ceased operations and their website is no longer available.
Album from the summer 2018 trip
Album from the Christmas 2015 trip
Album from the summer 2012 trip