New York City!
New York City is a quick-change artist, famous for transforming overnight—so what's packed and popular this month may be passe by the time you arrive. It's impossible to see everything, regardless of its staying power, so instead try to soak in the sheer amount of culture, restaurants, exhibitions, and people here, and you'll be acting like a jaded New Yorker in no time. This is a city made for pedestrians: Manhattan's grid makes for easy orientation, subway stations are relatively close together, and there are so many other pedestrians that you'll find strength in numbers when you choose to cross against the light (not that you heard it from us). Pick a neighborhood, any neighborhood, and simply wander around to get a feel for it. Quick visits can vary wildly based on what time you go. The Financial District is a go-go 9-to-5 operation that turns eerily quiet at night amidst the huge commercial towers and twinkling lights, while areas like the East Village operate at a sleepy crawl during the day only to come alive with shows and jubilant pub crawls after the sun goes down.
For a city so dedicated to the finer things, sections of it are still industry-oriented. There's a garment district in Chelsea, a diamond district in Midtown, and sprawling fruits and vegetable markets in Chinatown. But don't let that fool you, because in the blink of an eye, these areas reinvent themselves. There's hardly any meatpacking going on in the Meatpacking District these days, now chockablock with high fashion boutiques and nightclubs, and Bleecker Street, once cheapie shops, now house designer darlings Marc Jacobs and Ralph Lauren. In short, Manhattan always, always makes way for the new.
Broadway and Off-Broadway Shows
The City's five boroughs—the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island—are linked by bridges, tunnels and ferries. Manhattan is an island 13.4 miles long and 2.3 miles wide (at its widest). Except at its southern and northern tips, it has avenues running north and south, streets running east and west. Traffic generally travels one way going east on even-numbered streets, west on odd-numbered streets. Fifth Avenue divides Manhattan into east and west sides.
Street addresses increase with their distance from Fifth Avenue, usually by 100 per block.
Street numbers and building addresses increase as you head uptown (north). Twenty north–south blocks equal a mile. If you're at 14th Street and your destination is 50th Street in Midtown, your travel direction is uptown to get there.
Average Temperature & Rainfall: May, 4.4" Average High: 72° Average Low: 55°
Sales tax in New York City is 8.875%. There is no sales tax on clothing and footwear items under $110.
Throughout New York City, smoking is prohibited in all public areas including subway stations, taxis, restaurants and bars. Cigar bars that register with the City are permitted to allow cigar smoking.
The City's 24-hour public transportation system is accessible for hearing/visually challenged passengers. Subways have automated voices indicating stops, and all buses and select subway stations are wheelchair accessible.
Many attractions, theatres and museums also provide services. In addition, Big Apple Greeter (bigapplegreeter.r org, 212 669 8159) offers special-needs tour guides. More information is available at NYC's hotline 311 or 212 NEW YORK; and at the Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities (nyc.gov/mopd, 212 788 2830, TTY 212 788 2838).
Many people in service industries (hotels, restaurants and transportation) have tips factored into their wages. Here's a suggested guide:
Hardly Manhattan's wimpy sidekick, Brooklyn is the largest and most populous of all the boroughs, with more than 2.5 million residents. If it were an independent city, it would be the fourth-largest in the country. Diverse neighborhoods share a down-to-earth character: neighborly chats take place on the steps of brownstones, family-owned businesses preserve their heritages, and patrons at restaurants and bars are happy to eat and drink rather than "see and be seen." It's largely Brooklyn that has lent New York its streetwise and sincere personality, famously captured in films such as Do the Right Thing, Moonstruck, and Brighton Beach Memoirs.
Sights at a Glance
The park's creators had a simple goal: Design a place where city dwellers can go to forget the city. And while the town eventually grew far taller than the trees planted to hide it, this goal never falters. A combination escape hatch and exercise yard, Central Park is an urbanized Eden that offers residents and visitors alike a bite of the apple. We can't imagine how insufferably stressed New York City would be without it.
Sights at a Glance
East Village and the Lower East Side
The high concept of "La Bohème meets hipsters in vintage clothing," better known as the musical Rent, accurately pegs the East Village as a community of artists, activists, and other social dissenters. Spend some time wandering these bohemian side streets, and you'll be struck by the funky pastiche of ethnicities whose imprints are visible in the neighborhood's restaurants, shops, and, of course, people.
Another defining point in the neighborhood's history, American punk was born here at the now-defunct CBGB; the punk rock/indie scene is kept alive at the many small music venues both here and on the Lower East Side. A walk along the lively but somewhat homogenized St. Mark's Place will evoke this once-gritty and counter-culture scene. But the arrival of a Trader Joe's and glass-and-chrome condos signal that a tamer neighborhood has taken hold.
The Lower East Side, the historic "Gateway to America" for many seeking a better life, has seen waves of Irish, German, Jewish, Hispanic, and Chinese immigrants: a legacy of tough times and survival instincts that has been movingly captured in the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. Today a cool arts and nighttime scene, some distinctively modern high-rises, and the ultracontemporary New Museum exist alongside buildings and cultural centers staunchly rooted in the past.
Sights at a Glance
Greenwich Village and Chelsea
Long the home of writers, artists, bohemians, and bon vivants, the West Village is a singular section of the city. High-rises and office towers have no business among the small curving streets, peculiar alleys, and historic town houses here, although a new boom in distinctive apartment living by designer architects has emerged around the west edges of the Village north to Chelsea. Primarily residential, the area also has many specialty restaurants, cafés, and boutiques with a warm and charming neighborhood vibe. Tiny as they might be, restaurants like The Little Owl and 'ino invite you to linger, as do larger restaurants with outside dining areas.
Fertile doesn't even begin to describe the West Village's yield of creative genius. In the late 1940s and early 1950s abstract expressionist painters Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning congregated here, as did Beat writers Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The '60s brought folk musicians and poets, notably Bob Dylan. NYU students keep the idealistic spirit of the neighborhood alive, but polished professionals have also moved into the high-rent town houses. The Meatpacking District, in the far northwest part of the Village, has cobblestone streets whose original meatpacking tenants are being replaced by a different kind of meat-market life: velvet-rope clubs, trendy restaurants, and trendy-chic shops.
Overlapping the Meatpacking District to the north, stylish Chelsea has usurped SoHo as the world's contemporary-art-gallery headquarters. The west edge of the neighborhood has high-profile galleries housed in cavernous converted warehouses that are easily identified by their ultracool, glass-and-stainless-steel doors. Other former warehouses, unremarkable by day, pulsate through the night as the city's hottest nightclubs. Chelsea has also replaced the West Village as the heart of the city's gay community. One-of-a-kind boutiques and gay-friendly shops are scattered among unassuming grocery stores and other remnants of Chelsea's immigrant past.
Sights at a Glance
Pirates, rogue politicians, upwardly mobile go-getters, robber barons, scrappy entrepreneurs, and roaming packs of pigs scouring the streets for garbage: what does this motley crew have in common? They're the citizenry that built and inhabited the southern tip of Manhattan in various eras, and in varying combinations.
Lower Manhattan, or in the parlance of New Yorkers emphatically giving directions to tourists, "all the way downtown," has long been where the action—or transaction—is. Back when the neighborhood was the village of New Amsterdam (1626-47), its roguish director-general, Peter Minuit, did the quintessential deal on behalf of the Dutch, trading knives, tools, and cloth to an Algonquian tribe, the Canarsees, for all of Manhattan (the old saw of $24 is more or less an urban myth). In 1789, a year before New York City would lose its title as America's capital, George Washington was sworn in as the nation's first president at Federal Hall, where, two years later, Congress would ratify the Bill of Rights.
Little is left from Manhattan's colonial era, however: apart from a precious few structures built in the 1700s, the 19th-century brick facades of South Street Seaport are about as old as it gets here. As you'll notice immediately, the neighborhood has largely given way to the sometimes intimidating (and on weekends, seemingly deserted) skyscraper-lined canyons of Wall Street and lower Broadway. Bounded by the East and Hudson rivers to the east and west, respectively, and by Chambers Street and Battery Park to the north and south, this is an area you can fully and best appreciate by walking its streets.
You'll want to see what's here, but above all you'll want to see what's not, most notably in that empty but evolving gulf among skyscrapers: Ground Zero. The southern tip has often served as a microcosm for a city that offers as many first shots as it does second chances, so it's appropriate that it's the key point of departure for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island This experience should never be dismissed as too touristy. Like nothing else, the excursion will remind you that we're a city of immigrants and survivors.
The city's downtown neighborhoods give you a close-up view of some of the many cultures of Manhattan. Tucked to the west, south of Canal Street, residential TriBeCa has a quieter vibe and still owes much of its cred to Robert De Niro, whose investments in the area include the TriBeCa Grill and the nonprofit TriBeCa Film Center. Unlike nearby SoHo and NoLita's in-your-face commercial presence, TriBeCa keeps more to itself, with self-assurance and urban grace. And although TriBeCa's money is hidden away behind grand industrial facades, you can get a taste of it at one of the posh neighborhood restaurants or when the stars turn out for the annual TriBeCa Film Festival in spring.
Chinatown, by contrast, is a living, breathing, anything-but-quiet ethnic enclave: a quarter of the city's 400,000 Chinese residents live here above storefronts crammed with souvenir shops and restaurants serving every imaginable regional Chinese cuisine, from modest dumplings to sumptuous Hong Kong feasts. What started as a 7-block area has morphed into more than 40 blocks above and below Canal Street with tea shops, restaurants, Buddhist temples, herbalists, acupuncturists, and pungent open-air markets.
Sights at a Glance
Washington D.C.'s got its Mall chockablock with landmarks, and we've got ours: Midtown, mobbed with more massive urban monuments—Rockefeller Center, Times Square, and Grand Central Terminal among them—than any other part of the city. This is the New York City people picture when they think of the Big Apple.
The funny thing is that most locals come to think of Midtown as simply the end point for their workaday commute; they often forget the wonder its skyscrapers elicit, the magic of the department store windows decked out in razzle-dazzle display. When movies need a big-city backdrop, they come to Midtown and get close-ups of Rockefeller Center, Grand Central Terminal, and the Empire State Building; their majestic architecture never fails to impress. Even the small screen seems focused here, as Today show early-risers know. But while Midtown's attractions seem obvious, there are gems less familiar to visitors, like Rockefeller Center's Top of the Rock or St. Bartholomew's, that are every bit as show-stopping.
And who could forget the origin of that phrase "bright lights, big city": Times Square. The shopping here may be ordinary and the restaurants average, but the amazing theaters of the Great White Way still have a gravitational pull. Seeing a show can be pricey, but join the line at the TKTS booth and suddenly orchestra tickets don't seem out of the question.
Sights at a Glance
Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island
Many tourists miss out on seeing these three boroughs, and that's a shame. They contain some of the city's best restaurants, museums, and attractions. They're closer than you think, and certainly worth the trip.
Queens is a patchwork of diverse neighborhoods, each a small world with a distinct culture, all fascinating to explore. Thanks especially to the borough's strong immigrant population (almost 50%), you'll also find some of the city's most interesting cuisine here. Art lovers will definitely want to make the short trip for world-class museums such as P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center and the Noguchi Museum.
The Bronx is the city's most maligned and misunderstood borough. Its reputation as a gritty, down-and-out place is a little outdated, and more than a little incorrect. There's lots of beauty in the Bronx, including more parkland than any other borough, one of the world's finest botanical collections, and the largest metropolitan zoo in the country. Be aware that the borough covers a large area, and its attractions are spread out. However, on weekends from April through October the city operates the free Bronx Trolley, which departs from Manhattan in the morning, and offers hop on/hop off service to all major attractions. Whether you're relaxing at a ball game or scoping exotic species at the zoo, there's plenty of fun to be had here.
Staten Island is legally a part of New York City, but in many ways it's a world apart. The "Forgotten Borough," as some locals refer to it, is geographically more separate, less populous, politically more conservative, and ethnically more homogeneous than the rest of the city. Along with suburban sprawl, there are wonderful small museums, walkable woodlands, and a historic village replicating New York's rural past. And for a view of the skyline and the Statue of Liberty, nothing beats the 25-minute free ferry trip to Staten Island.Sights at a Glance
SoHo and Little Italy
SoHo (South of Houston) and NoLita (North of Little Italy) are shopper's paradises, supertrendy, painfully overcrowded on weekends, often overpriced, and undeniably glamorous. Not too long ago, though, these neighborhoods were quiet warrens of artists' lofts and galleries, and the only reason to visit was to go gallery hopping.
Checking out the art is still a big reason to come to SoHo, but shopping has for the most part supplanted the quest for visual stimulation. In between whipping your credit card out of your wallet and feverishly searching for a café with empty seats, do take a few seconds to savor what other passersby may miss: the neighborhood's Belgian brick cobblestones and turn-of-the-20th-century lampposts.
And then—just east of Broadway—you'll find the remains of what once was a thriving, lively community of Italian Americans: the tangle of streets that make up Little Italy. A few nostalgic blocks surrounding Mulberry Street between NoLita and ultrabusy Canal Street are all that remain of the vast community that once dominated the area, but what remains is still a cheerful salute to all things Italian, with red-green-and-white street decorations on permanent display and specialty grocers and cannelloni makers dishing up delights. If you want to see a current, thriving, and far less symbolic Little Italy, head up to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx and you'll find a cornucopia of authentic Italian goods marketed to local families rather than tourists.Sights at a Glance
Union Square refers to an area of the city anchored by Union Square Park, which resides between 14th and 17th streets and Broadway and Park Avenue South. If you're in this area on a Tuesday, Thursday, or Sunday, you've missed one of the best parts of being here, the expansive and colorful farmers' market. But don't despair if you're here on a nonmarket day: skateboarders keep the pace moving and vendors of all kinds lobby for your attention. NYU students, nannies with their charges, chess players, visitors, and locals all gather in this open space.
The haste and hullabaloo of the city calms considerably as you stroll through the mostly residential neighborhoods of Murray Hill and Gramercy Park to the east. Just above Union Square and to the west, the Flatiron District and the remnants of Ladies' Mile (as it was known in the late 1880s) continue the shopping and commercial buzz.
Murray Hill stretches from 30th to 40th streets between 5th and 3rd avenues. The residential side streets are tree-lined and town-house filled with some high-profile haunts: the Morgan Library and Museum with its vast book stacks and rare manuscripts, and King Kong's favorite hangout, the Empire State Building, where the hustle of the big city picks up again.
Dignified Gramercy Park, named for its 1831 gated garden square ringed by historic buildings and private clubs, is an early example of the city's creative urban planning. Even though you can't unpack your picnic in the exclusive residents-only park, you can bask in its historic surroundings and artistic significance. Beautiful Greek Revival, Italianate, Gothic Revival, and Victorian Gothic buildings flank its sides. Off its southern edge is a small street honoring Washington Irving, where you can find one of the city's most charming inns, the Inn at Irving Place, and a number of casual restaurants. Just north of the park is Ian Schrager's cooler-than-cool reincarnation of the Gramercy Park Hotel on Lexington Avenue.
The Flatiron District—anchored by Madison Square Park on the north and Union Square to the south—is one of the city's busiest neighborhoods, particularly along 5th Avenue and Park Avenue South. In some ways it should still be called Ladies' Mile: the area is a favorite for spotting models because of the number of agencies and photography studios here. You can also see charming shops, some of the city's coolest hotels and trendiest restaurants, and an elegant turn-of-the-20th-century skyline that's brilliantly lighted at night.Sights at a Glance
Upper East Side
To many New Yorkers the Upper East Side connotes old money and high society. Alongside Central Park, between 5th and Lexington avenues, up to East 96th Street, the trappings of wealth are everywhere apparent: posh buildings, Madison Avenue's flagship boutiques, and doormen in braided livery.
Although a glance up and down the manicured grass meridian of Park Avenue may conjure scenes from Bonfire of the Vanities or Gossip Girl, there are more than palatial apartments, elite private schools, and highfalutin clubs up here—starting with world-class museums. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, and many others lie on and around "Museum Mile", as do a number of worthy art galleries. For a local taste of the luxe life, hit up the platinum-card corridor that is Madison Avenue for its lavish boutiques, marble-counter cafés, and the epitome of class, the Carlyle Hotel.
Venture east of Lexington Avenue and you encounter a less wealthy—and more diverse—Upper East Side, one inhabited by couples seeking some of the last affordable places to raise a family south of 100th Street, and recent college grads getting a foothold in the city (on weekend nights 2nd Avenue resembles a miles-long fraternity and sorority reunion). One neighborhood particularly worth exploring is northeast-lying Yorkville, especially between 78th and 86th streets east of 2nd Avenue. Once a remote hamlet with a large German population, its remaining ethnic food shops, 19th-century row houses, and, one of the city's best-kept secrets, Carl Schurz Park, make for a good half-day's exploration.Sights at a Glance
Upper West Side
Residents of the Upper West Side (which lies between West 59th and West 110th streets) will proudly tell you that they live in one of the last real neighborhoods in the city. That's highly debatable (as is most everything in NYC), but people actually do know their neighbors in this primarily residential section of Manhattan, and some small owner-operated businesses still flourish.
On weekends stroller-pushing parents cram the sidewalks and shoppers jam the gourmet food emporiums and eclectic stores that line Broadway and Columbus Avenue. Those who aren't shopping are likely to be found in Riverside Park, the neighborhood's communal backyard. Lively avenues, quiet tree-lined side streets, and terrific restaurants and museums, all in a relatively compact area, make this the perfect neighborhood in which to experience life the way the locals do.
Most people think the area north of 106th Street and south of 125th Street on the West Side is just an extension of the Upper West Side. But technically it's called Morningside Heights, and it's largely dominated by Columbia University, along with the cluster of academic and religious institutions—Barnard College, St. Luke's Hospital, and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, to name a few. Within the gates of the Columbia or Barnard campuses or inside the hushed St. John the Divine, New York City takes on a different character. This is an uptown student neighborhood—less hip than the Village, but friendly, fun, and intellectual.Sights at a Glance