New York, the real life Gotham city and the world’s most iconic metropolis, truly is an incredible place. It’s not for nothing that there are so many songs about the Big Apple – as the inimitable Frank Sinatra probably best described it: “New York, New York – it’s a hell of town” …and I totally agree with him. As soon as you arrive in the city you’ll find yourself in a maze of streets buzzing with cars and people, and of course interesting highlights. With so many taxis honking their horns and subway cars rattling along, the hubbub of the city can sometimes seem overwhelming – but who needs silence when you can have the world’s coolest, craziest most happening city!?
Anyway, New York is not about the traffic jams, but all about its sightseeing spots. Everyone has their own preconceptions of New York, and any child growing up in our modern and connected age probably already feels like they know the city – after all, it’s the setting for pretty much every great romcom! Probably the most famous example is from the film “When Harry met Sally”. The iconic deli, Katz’s, was the scene of Meg Ryan’s famously provocative scene and the table at which Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal sat is now commemorated with a rather cheeky sign which reads “Where Harry met Sally… hope you have what she had! Enjoy!”. Since the release of the film people from all over the world flock to this restaurant and enjoy the culinary equivalent of ‘what she had’ – a proper New York deli pastrami sandwich. Even action movies have taken their own bite of the Big Apple – the Flat Iron Building at the end of the 5th Avenue was the setting of action films like Spiderman, Godzilla and Armageddon. Thanks to this, you’ll feel at home in New York from the off – you’ve already been via the silver screen!
In this article I’d like to present you the best sightseeing spots in New York – a Big Apple Bucket List if you will – but with so much to see and do I’ll make a two-piece article of it. Stay tuned for the second part…
You’ve probably heard about the most famous must-see spots in New York, but the city that never sleeps has so much more to offer: parks, markets and the various neighbourhoods that mirror the incredible cultural diversity of the US. Part one of my New York Sightseeing article will give you a good overview of the most important New York sights, and once we’ve got our bases covered part two will be all about the New York’s trendy neighbourhoods and hidden gems.
First Highlight in New York: The Arrival
Depending on the airline that you have chosen to travel to New York you will arrive at different airports. Basically, it doesn’t matter if you arrive at John F. Kennedy Airport, La Guardia (both airports are located in Queens) or Newark (New Jersey) – it’s really easy to get from any airport to the city centre. There are many regular shuttle transfers to get you from the airports to Manhattan and depending on the airport and company a ride will cost you from around £5 up to £13 per person. I can definitely recommend one of the legendary yellow cabs to start your New York adventure – just picture yourself sitting in one of the yellow taxis on a slightly worn out back seat. You hear the first American songs played by the local radio station (OK, so they’re the same as back home – go with it, I’m trying to make it sound romantic) and on your drive through the Boroughs to Manhattan you’ll see the unmistakable red, white and blue of the Star Spangled Banner over and over again. And suddenly you get the first glance of the Manhattan skyline… it’s almost unbelievable, but then you realize it’s true! You’re in New York! After a little while you drive through a tunnel, only to arrive in a whole new world. The skyscrapers appear in front of your eyes like in a film set, making you feel like some kind of small-town hobbit as you stand in awe of the impossibly tall buildings. Your first stroll through the streets is already a highlight itself and I’m sure you won’t ever forget it. Everywhere the klaxoning of car horns in the streets, the popular couriers passing and the vibrant life of the city rushing by. The smell of New York is also one of a kind, because everywhere there are little food trucks selling hot dogs, African food, waffles, burgers… It’s hard to resist, so just give in to temptation – it’s all about the story, after all!
New York’s most important sights at a glance
It’s very useful to get a city map to have an overview of the city or to download an app to your phone that you can use offline (if you don’t want to spend your mobile data). You will find many cafés and public places where you can use free Wi-Fi, but we all know that situation: you never have Wi-Fi when you need it the most. If you have enough time to explore the city, then you should consider buying the New York Pass. It’s definitely worth the money, because you will get fast track and free entry to over 80 attractions in New York. The price depends on how many days you want to use the pass and varies between 85$ for 1 day/adult and 180$ for 7 days/adult. This includes a chip card that saves all important data and enables you free entries to the included attractions. At some attractions you’ll be allowed to cut the queue and to start directly with your sightseeing tour. The price might sound a bit expensive, but if you consider that a visit to Madame Tussauds (the famous wax figures museum) and to the Empire State Building already cost 70$, you really are making great savings with the New York Pass. And if you’re one of the lucky people who stay seven or even more days, you will have the chance to really make the most out of it and to see all attractions without the hustle and bustle.
Rockefeller Center and Top of the Rocks
I recommend you to start your New York experience with the observation deck of the Rockefeller Centre (at 45 Rockefeller Plaza) rather than with the Empire State building. In my opinion it is the best spot to take in your first view of Manhattan island. The “Top of the Rocks” is perfect to take your first souvenir pictures (and are sure to make your friends jealous!) You have the skyline with New York’s landmarks in the background and a perfect view of the magnificent Empire State building. Compared to its big brother, the observation deck at the Rockefeller Center has one major advantage – an unspoilt view of the skyline, because there is no security grid in your way… the protection walls are glazed.
Back on the ground you are able to see the famous Christmas tree at the building…depending of course on the time of the year. Since 1931 the Christmas tree is has been ceremoniously lit and the celebrations are always accompanied by performances of popular artists. This sight is simply lovely over Christmas, but the festive season is just another time of the year in New York – you will always feel like you’re in a film here, transported magically from your living room sofa.
The most remarkable Museums in New York
You find the Museum of Modern Art (11 West 53rd Street between the 5th and 6th Avenue) just a few blocks away from Rockefeller Center. It doesn’t matter if you’re an art history buff or not – this museum is a must! Here’s the place to find the biggest collection of modern and contemporary art and there are some very beautiful, and very famous, artworks. MOMA also hosts a legendary gala every year where the great and good gather and perform – last year featured the likes of David Bowie and Tilda Swinton on the guest list.
If you loved dinosaurs as a child you shouldn’t miss out on the Museum of Natural History(Central Park W & 79th St). Here you can marvel at real dinosaur skeletons and learn about the natural history of our earth. There are always new and exciting temporary exhibitions going on. The museum guarantees fun and interesting things to know, not only for its small visitors. Even the building itself is very beautiful and it is worth to take a look at the impressive façade.
A different kind of visit awaits you in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1000 5th Ave, New York) – the biggest arts museum in New York presents one of the most important collections in the world. You’ll find ancient objects brought from all over the world to New York, from musical instruments to ancient pictures to clothes; you will see almost everything. You will not be disappointed or get bored at this place!
These museums are just a small collection of the most important ones, but there are many more museums to visit. Just pick the museum that takes your interest and enjoy.
A stroll to the world-famous Central Park should be on top of your “things-to-do” list. It is the perfect spot to relax between your exciting sightseeing tours. Grab yourself a delicious lunch at Whole Foods Market at Columbus Circle. There’s a small bakery, various little stores and a huge counter where you you can pick your lunch from a wide selection of salads and warm meals. Try out some delicacies. It offers almost everything for everyone’s taste.
Central Park is perfect for a break amidst lovely natural surroundings – take a seat on a bench or find yourself a place under a tree, and just peoplewatch. Watch the joggers, dog walkers and the artists go by, and really feel that big-city energy. During summer time many families spend their time on the meadow and during winter they dust off their ice skates to pull their best moves on the ice rink. If you have the opportunity you should rent a bike to explore the whole park – the beautiful Conservatory Garden is well worth a visit. An oasis of nature in the middle of the city, Central Park is just what you need to sit back and enjoy some Zen before jumping back into the buzz of the city.
Grand Central Station
Probably the easiest ‘must’ to tick off your list, the amazing hall of the famous Grand Central Station is of course free to enter and well worth a look if just for its pop culture credentials. Central Station features in many Hollywood films, from romantic to action-packed. You’ll probably find yourself here sooner or later, especially if you are exploring the city by subway. Take the time to eat out a bit fancier at the central station or just to enjoy an ice cream or do some shopping… all in an amazing setting.
Wall Street and Trinity Church
Take subway lines 4 and 5 (direction Wall Street) from Grand Central Station and within 20 minutes you reach Lower Manhattan. Visit the famous Wall Street and the bull at Bowling Green Park. The financial district is full of life and the financial heart of New York, but there’s one building that drew my attention amongst the busy and commercial atmosphere; nestled between all of the skyscrapers the incredibly beautiful Trinity Church is surrounded by a small and historic graveyard. This place is home to the graves of many popular personalities from American history, and the church was an important retreat for the rescue forces during and after 9/11. Today you have the chance to listen to the Grammy-nominated choir or concerts. Take your time to soak up the atmosphere of Trinity Church – it is simply incredible and will send a little shiver down your spine.
Just a short walk away, the 9/11 Memorialis a tribute to remember and honour the victims killed in the 2001 terror attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The museum is simple and all about remembrance, education and honouring those lost. Whereas many museums refuse to exhibit original remains of the World Trade Center, the 9/11 Memorial presents a collection of monumental and authentic artefacts. Some of these parts are integrated into the museum’s architecture – like, for example, a huge steel shoring from the World Trade Center that stabilizes the rooftop of the glass pavilion. Visitors will pass by a destroyed ambulance or by steel struts, melted from the heat. Those of you who are strong enough are able to listen to the last calls that victims made before the collapse of the towers. Or you can watch various videos about the hours after the terror attacks. It is worth the visit, and with the incredibly moving exhibition you’ll want to take your time – I was here for a good few hours. Probably the most moving aspect of the tragedy, highlighted brilliantly by this museum, is the resilience and altruism of New Yorkers, who pulled together in the wake of such a horrific event.
Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty
American culture and history owe almost everything to the millions who braved the Atlantic to reach New York and a new life. The Statue of Liberty was their first sight of the US and their new life, which is why she has become such a powerful symbol of freedom reinvention – the very embodiment of the American Dream. Ellis Island is located in Upper New York Bay and was the gateway of immigrants to the US, as it was the immigrant inspection station from 1892 until 1954. Today it is a museum. You will be able to enjoy some spectacular views of the Statue of Liberty fromEllis Island,and both museum and the Statue of Liberty can be easily reached by ferry (you need to pay for the ferry). With the New York Pass you have free access to these attractions.
The best part of your ferry journey is the marvellous view of Manhattan’s skyline – this is the moment when you realise how impressive New York truly is. It is not only the sights that that will enchant you on your stay, but the city itself – which seems to have a personality all of its own. Those of you who have already been to New York will agree with me when I say that one visit is not enough to satisfy the wanderlust… you’ll fall in love with this incredible city, and want to return again and again.
New York is a city that appeals to all senses. That is why I am going to show you more amazing highlights in my second article, writing about the numerous markets, the luxurious Fifth Avenue, the colourful Times Square and the hipster homeland of Brooklyn. Stay tuned and hope you enjoyed my article. Leave me a comment :)