By: Elissa Richard
There are few more thrilling cities to visit than New York, with its dynamic, inimitable mix of world cultures, of skyscrapers and small towns. Pulsating with an almost tangible energy, visitors regularly find themselves invigorated and, on occasion, even a bit overwhelmed, by the exciting, brash, and creative force that drives the Manhattan machine. Of course, five distinct boroughs contribute to the synergy of New York City, but it is Manhattan that remains at the Big Apple’s vibrant core, with its scores of museums and performing arts venues; its one-of-a-kind shopping, restaurant, and nightlife scenes; and that classic “canyons of steel” cityscape unlike any other on the planet.
Of course, underneath all of the kinetic frenzy, there is a solid, grounding base to it all – the classic New York depicted in black-and-white movies of old. Glimpses of this steadfast, refined metropolis are still easy to find – just try strolling a quiet Greenwich Village street on a crisp autumn day, eyeing the silent grandeur of the Statue of Liberty’s beacon in the harbor, wandering the urban oasis of Central Park, or admiring the brightly-lit Empire State Building after dusk.
Still, the sheer number of museums and sights here is impossible to cover in a single trip. Three days – and a good dose of stamina – will definitely allow you to hit up the major highlights, like the Empire State Building, Times Square, Fifth Avenue, and Central Park, plus take in a Broadway show, one of the city’s renowned art institutions (be it the Met, the MOMA, or the Guggenheim), and enjoy a late-afternoon stroll through Greenwich Village; you may have just enough time to catch the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and pay your respects at Ground Zero. Five days is considerably more ideal, allowing a visit to the South Street Seaport, a stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge or a cruise around Manhattan, some retail therapy in SoHo, and visits to Chinatown and Little Italy. A week will allow you to venture out into the outer boroughs and take in a baseball game or a slice of Americana at Coney Island. Welcome to Gotham – now go to town!
No matter where you choose to start, you'll find there's more to see and do in New York City than can be done in a lifetime. If you're short on time, an organized city tour can make a great introduction and certainly, the narrated double-decker bus tours (Gray Line; 777 Eighth Ave. btwn 47th & 48th sts.; 8.30am–8.30pm; $34-$109; www.newyorksightseeing.com) that careen around town and the harbor cruises (Circle Line; Pier 83 at 42nd St. on the Hudson River; schedules vary; $19-$29; www.circleline.com) that circumnavigate the island of Manhattan are always a hit. But some of the best and funkiest tours cover the ground on foot. Our top picks include Big Onion Walking Tours ($15; www.bigonion.com), focused on historic districts and special themes; NoshWalks ($33; www.noshwalks.com), which offers tips on eating your way through the Big Apple; and On Location Tours ($15-$40; www.screentours.com), which lets you check out where your favorite shows have been shot, from Friends to Sex in the City to The Sopranos. The city's tourism board, NYC & Company (810 Seventh Ave. btwn 52nd and 53rd sts.; 212/484-1200 or 800/692-4843; www.nycvisit.com) carries comprehensive visitor info, including discount coupons to popular shows and attractions.
Midtown is the energized epicenter of Manhattan’s bustle and buzz. Many of the attractions, restaurants, hotels, and retail businesses of interest to visitors are located in this largest neighborhood of Manhattan, which is also its commercial heart. It stretches from about 30th to 59th streets between the East and the Hudson Rivers, with Fifth Avenue dividing city streets into east and west. Kick off a tour of the area – and get a great overview of the city – with a morning visit (arrive early to beat the lines) to the Empire State Building (350 Fifth Ave. btwn 33rd & 34th sts.; daily 8am-12am, last elevator goes up at 11.15pm; $16; www.esbnyc.com). At 102 floors, the Empire State Building is, unfortunately, once again the tallest building in New York City (following the World Trade Center attacks); its observatory is open for spectacular views day and night. The Morgan Library and Museum (225 Madison Ave. at 36th St.; Tue-Thu 10.30am-5pm, Fri 10.30am-9pm, Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 11am-6pm; $12, free Fri 7-9pm; www.themorgan.org) is nearby and boasts one of the world's greatest collections of original literary and musical works, including three Gutenberg Bibles, Dickens and Twain manuscripts, and original scores of Mozart and Beethoven. Also in the vicinity, monumental Grand Central Terminal (42nd St. at Park Ave.; 5.30am-1am; free; www.grandcentralterminal.com) is a Beaux-Arts beauty with a splendid concourse (be sure to look up at the stellar – and we mean it literally – mural painted on the ceiling) positively thronged with commuters at rush hour – making it a great place to truly feel the city's pulse.
Heading back west on 42nd Street to Fifth Avenue, you'll stumble upon the lovely Beaux-Arts facade of the New York Public Library (Fifth Ave. at 42nd St.; Mon-Wed 9am-9pm, Thur-Sat 10am-6pm; free; www.nypl.org), flanked by its two famous marble lion sculptures, named Patience and Fortitude. While many content themselves with an exterior view, the majestic third-floor reading rooms are worth venturning inside to admire; the Rose Main Reading Room in particular is a splendid wood-paneled space with lofty ceilings and soothing frescoes. Meanwhile, behind the library lies Bryant Park (btwn Fifth & Sixth aves. and 40th & 42nd Sts; www.bryantpark.org), one of the city's loveliest green spaces; it's a great spot to take a break and watch the New York world go by.
In sharp contrast to the quietude of Bryant Park, Times Square (42nd St. at juncture of Bdwy & Seventh Ave.; www.timessquare.com), a few short blocks away, is an over-the-top sensory experience, with a cluster of chain shops, restaurants, and tawdry attractions competing for your attention. Steer clear of the tourist traps and just spend some time ogling the astonishing spectacle of it all. If you can, plan to visit at night, when the lights shine their brightest and the buzz of Broadway is in the air, thanks to grand old theaters that line the surrounding streets (see Nightlife, below, for more information).
The northern reaches of Midtown finds prestigious venues like Carnegie Hall (154 W. 57th St. btwn Sixth & Seventh aves.; 212/247-7800; www.carnegiehall.org) and Radio City Music Hall (1260 Sixth Ave. at 50th St.; 212/307-7171; www.radiocity.com), as well as the 1930s art deco-inspired Rockefeller Center (Fifth Ave. between 47th & 51st sts.; 212/332-6868; www.rockefellercenter.com), a complex of corporate offices, shops, restaurants, and attractions; check out the view from the Top of the Rock observatory (30 Rockefeller Plaza; 8am-12am, last elevator goes up at 11pm; $17.50; www.topoftherocknyc.com), take the NBC Studio Tour (30 Rockefeller Plaza; every 30 mins Mon-Thu 8.30am-5.30pm, Fri-Sat 8.30am-5.30pm, Sun 9.30am-4.30pm; $18.50; www.nbcuniversalstore.com), wave outside the Today show studio window, and in winter, check out the famous Christmas tree and take a spin on the ice rink below. Across Fifth Avenue, don't miss St. Patrick's Cathedral (Fifth Ave. at E. 50th St.; 212/753-2261; www.stpatrickscathedral.org), the famed Roman Catholic cathedral known for its stunning stained-glassed windows and Virgin Mary (Pieta) statue that's three times larger than the one at St. Peter's in Rome.
After some window shopping on Fifth Avenue (see Shopping), head to the recently refurbished Museum of Modern Art (11 W. 53 St. btwn. Fifth & Sixth aves.; 212/708-9400; Sat-Mon, Wed-Thu 10.30am-5.30pm, Fri 10.30am-8pm; $20; www.moma.org). Better known as MoMA, the museum boasts a fantastic exhibition space that provides a forum for its vast collection of art, representing all of the biggies of the late 19th century to the present.
Upper East Side
Much of the Upper East Side consists oftony residential quarters – elegant rows of town houses and posh residents, but for tourists, the neighborhood's tour de force is Museum Mile, claiming no less than nine stupendous cultural institutions. Here, you can visit the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (1071 Fifth Ave. at E. 89th St.; Sat-Wed 10am-5.45pm, Fri 10am-7.45pm; $18; www.guggenheim.org), with its ever-changing and much-anticipated exhibitions, as well as a permanent collection that includes Picasso, Kandinsky, and an array of French Impressionists. Nearby, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1000 Fifth Ave. at E. 82nd St.; Sun, Tue-Thu 9.30am-5.30pm, Fri-Sat 9.30am-9pm; $20 suggested donation; www.metmuseum.org), or simply, "The Met," is the star of the New York museum scene. The collection spans ancient to 20th-century works and the museum also hosts special exhibitions throughout the year. Other notable area museums include the Whitney Museum of American Art (945 Madison Ave. at E. 75th St; Wed, Thu, Sat, Sun 11am-6pm, Fri 1pm-9pm; $15, Fri 6-9pm, pay-what-you-wish; www.whitney.org), the home of the famous Whitney Biennial and frequent rotating exhibits in addition to an American art collection spanning the 20th century and what's transpired of the 21st. The Frick Collection (1 E. 70th St., btwn Madison and Fifth Aves.; Tue-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 11am-5pm; $15, Sun 11am-1pm pay-what-you-wish; www.frick.org), is a smaller, lovely fine arts destination not only for its collection but for the splendid 18th-century mansion it occupies.
The lungs of New York City, Central Park covers 843 acres between Fifth Avenue and Central Park West, from 59th to 110th Streets. It is full of treasures awaiting discovery: some favorite spots include the gorgeous, lakeside Bethesda Fountain, situated just steps from The Loeb Boat House, where rowboats (mid-April-Oct, daily 9.30am-5.30pm; $10 first hour) and bicycles ($9-15 per hour) are available for hire. Beatles' fans will also want to make the pilgrimage to Strawberry Fields, a memorial garden in tribute to John Lennon. The park is also crammed with kid-pleasers, including 21 playgrounds, a nice, easily manageable little zoo, a carousel, and a marionette theater. Visitor can pick up a map ($4) and request information about tours and special events at the Dairy Visitor Center (mid-park at 65th St.; Tue-Sun 10am-5pm; www.centralparknyc.org).
Upper West Side & Morningside Heights
Bordering the western edge of Central Park, the Upper West Side is a residential neighborhood that houses several top attractions. The Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (Broadway btwn 62nd & 66th Sts.; 212/875-5000; www.lincolncenter.org)is the go-to spot for classical, contemporary, and innovative symphony, dance, jazz, opera, film, and theater. It's the permanent home for several New York companies, including the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Ballet, and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
The American Museum of Natural History (Central Park West at W. 79th St.; daily 10am-5.45 pm; $14; www.amnh.org) is another star attraction, featuring huge dinosaur skeletons and the four-story Hayden Planetarium. If the kids need to burn off some steam head to Riverside Park (72nd to 158th Sts. on the Hudson River) – the Hudson River here is lined by the 4-mile long haven with picturesque views and biking, blading, and jogging paths.
Morningside Heights is worth a venture, where you can explore the campus of Columbia University (116th St. & Broadway; 212/854-1754; www.columbia.edu), as well as the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine (1047 Amsterdam Ave. at 112th St.; Mon-Sat 7am-6pm, Sun 7am-7pm, Cathedral closes at 6pm on Sun. in July & Aug; www.stjohndivine.org), the world's largest gothic cathedral – still under construction, it's been a work-in-progress since 1892.
Lower Manhattan & the Statue of Liberty
Any visitor's agenda for the Big Apple should include a visit to the Statue of Liberty (212/363-3200; hours vary seasonally; free with ferry fare; www.nps.gov/stli); get to the ferry terminal (Battery Park; 866/782-8834; $11.50; www.circlelinedowntown.com) in Battery Park nice and early before the lines get too long. Ferry fare also includes a stop at Ellis Island (212/363-3200; hours vary seasonally; free with ferry fare; www.nps.gov/elis), where between 1892 and 1954, 12 million immigrants passed through New York Harbor. Take a turn at the computers to see if you can find members of your family.
If you want to get out on the harbor but save a few bucks in the process, consider the Staten Island Ferry (Whitehall Ferry Terminal; 718/727-2508; free; www.siferry.com) – affording great skyline, Brooklyn Bridge, and Statue of Liberty views both day and night. You'll cross the harbor to Staten Island, and can then catch another ferry back to downtown. Best of all? It's free (plus, there are dirt-cheap beers on sale at the snack bar onboard).
Back on dry land, walk to Wall Street, home to the New York Stock Exchange (11 Wall St. at Broad St.; no public access permitted inside; www.nyse.com) and the heart of the Financial District. History buffs shouldn't miss Federal Hall National Memorial (26 Wall St. at Broad St.; free; www.nps.gov/feha), situated where George Washington took his oath as America's first president, or nearby Fraunces Tavern (54 Pearl St. at Broad St; Tue-Fri 12pm-5pm, Sat 10am-5pm; $4; www.frauncestavernmuseum.org), a favorite haunt for the Revolutionary-era Sons of Liberty – you can still dine there today. Next, pay your respects with a stop at Ground Zero (bordered by Church, Barclay, Liberty, and West Sts.) to take in the enormity of what happened at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
Walking over the late 19th-century the Gothic-inspired Brooklyn Bridge is an awe-inspiring journey with phenomenal views of Manhattan, best enjoyed if start your walk on the Brooklyn side of the bridge (just hop the subway a stop to the Brooklyn side of the river). Upon descending from the Brooklyn Bridge, you'll find yourself in the city's Civic Center, with City Hall and its lovely park straight ahead, and the majestic court buildings around Foley Square just to the north.
Chinatown, Little Italy, & Lower East Side
Chinatown is certainly one of New York's more colorful neighborhoods, where a lively combination of sights, smells, and sounds combine old and new worlds seamlessly. It's a great place to stop for authentic, inexpensive Chinese cuisine and to stroll through traditional herbal-medicine stores, fish markets, or unusual souvenir and knock-off shops, especially on Canal Street.
Every expanding Chinatown has nearly swallowed up neighboring Little Italy, but some nostalgic pockets of this part of the city remain, mostly centered on Mulberry Street (look for the flag of Italy) are some great Italian restaurants here where you can mangia the night away.
The Lower East Side is experiencing a hipster renaissance, with an influx of hot new nightspots and restaurants opening regularly, but hit up Katz's Delicatessen (205 E. Houston St. at Ludlow St.; 212/254-2246; www.katzdeli.com), for a taste of the classic Lower East Side (see Restaurants). The five-story building that houses the Lower East Side Tenement Museum (97 Orchard St.; Tue-Fri 1.20pm-4.45pm, Sat-Sun 11am-5pm, access by guided tours only, tours leave every 40 min; $15; www.tenement.org), meanwhile, recreates the experiences of poor immigrants who came through Ellis Island in the late-19th and early 20th century.
TriBeCa & SoHo
When the cost of living in SoHo became too expensive for the starving artists, they quickly claimed TriBeCa (Triangle Below Canal) as their new home, converting warehouses into loft apartments and galleries.Big-name restaurants followed (think Nobu & Tribeca Grill) as did the Tribeca Film Festival (held every spring) and now it is one of the hippest 'hoods in the city. One of the city's quirkiest attractions is the Trapeze School New York (Hudson River Park on West St. btwn piers 34 & 26; 917/797-1872; classes from $47; www.trapezeschool.com).Set in beautiful Hudson River Park, it's an extraordinary experience, even if you don't plan to run off to the circus.
Lively SoHo (South of Houston Street), meanwhile, is bursting at the seams with hundreds of art galleries, restaurants, and boutiques in an area that is equivalent to just a quarter of a square mile. If shopping is your game, SoHo is the place to play (see Shopping).
Greenwich Village & the East Village
Greenwich Village is one of Manhattan's oldest neighborhoods, and one of the city's best for just about everything from shopping to dining to people watching. The funkier, edgier precincts of the East Village, meanwhile, host some great music clubs and quirky bars and shops.
While there's not much in the way of typical tourist attractions, just strolling Greenwich Village - also known as the West Village or the Village - is a pleasure in itself. The quarter's townhouses, private courtyards, and cobblestone streets recall haunts of famous resident writers from Poe to Twain, artists from Rockwell to Pollock, and high-profile hippies and Beats like Ginsberg and Kerouac. Washington Square Park (South end of Fifth Ave. at Waverly Pl. btwn MacDougal & University Pl.) with its prominent arch is a fantastic place to encounter a Venice Beach-like atmosphere – a tribute to the area's anything-goes attitude. It is also a major community for gays and lesbians, particularly around Christopher Street.
The action in the East Village is centered on St. Marks Place and shopping strips like 9th Street, and extends into Alphabet City (named for avenues A, B, C, and D). It is a popular spot to head in search of excellent ethnic restaurants, record stores, eccentric shops, tattoo parlors, unique bars, and even its trademark punk-rock clubs. Tompkins Square Park (btwn Aves. A & B and E. 10th & E. 7th Sts.) with its towering elm trees and lively dog park is a great spot to kick back and imagine the luminaries who used to hang here - legendary jazz saxophonist Charlie "Bird" Parker lived north of here in the 1950s at 151 Avenue B, while famed Beat-poet Allen Ginsberg was in residence just a few blocks down (170 E. 2nd St. btwn Aves. A & B).
Chelsea, Meatpacking District & Union Square
North of the Village, the trendy and largely gay community of Chelsea provides a one-stop fix for gallery-goers, sports enthusiasts (thanks to the fantastic Chelsea Piers complex), and scenester night owls as a result of its adjacent and ever-more trendy Meatpacking District.
To tap into New York's contemporary art market, center your efforts on the three blocks with Chelsea's greatest concentration of galleries on 22nd, 24th, and 25th streets between Tenth and Eleventh avenues. Then, for a change of pace, check out where chic New Yorkers go to work out and unwind at the Chelsea Piers (23rd St. & the Hudson River; 212/336-6666; www.chelseapiers.com) sports complex on the banks of the Hudson – aside from a health club and spa, it hosts a slew of sporting activities from bowling to ice skating and rock climbing to putting on the driving range, all open to the public.
At Chelsea's and the Village's far west side, the Meatpacking District is home to rave-review restaurants and hot new nightspots. The neighborhood has transformed itself from a wholesale butchery district to the epicenter of the city's scene – still a meat market, in some sense, where the city's young and hip come to flutter eyelashes and flirt the night away.
Moving east from Chelsea, the Union Square area (see Shopping) is a major hub of commercial and civic activity, situated north of 14th Street and dissecting bustling Broadway with its three-block stretch of park area. The square has historically served as the setting for rallies and other community gatherings, and is also the site of the city's premier Greenmarket (a farmer's market à la Manhattan), held several days a week (Mon, Wed, Fri, & Sat 8am-6pm).
Harlem has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years, attracting new restaurants, shops, nightspots, and even the offices of former president Bill Clinton. Saunter by some of the best-preserved brownstones in the city, sample savory soul food (we like Sylvia's Restaurant of Harlem; www.sylviassoulfood.com), or experience firsthand its great music venues and spirited Sunday gospel (try the Gothic-style Abyssinian Baptist, www.abyssinian.org). Its main shopping drag is 125th Street, where national chains like Disney and Old Navy mix with African hair braider salons and one-off record and book shops – it is also the site of famed concert venue, the Apollo Theater (253 W. 125th St. btwn Seventh Ave. & Frederick Douglas Blvd.; 212/531-5300; www.apollotheater.com).
Take a trek to Manhattan's northernmost reaches at The Cloisters (Fort Tryon Park; Nov-Feb, Tue-Sun 9.30am-4.45pm, Mar-Oct 9.30am-5.15pm; $20 suggested donation; www.metmuseum.org), the seat of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's medieval art collection, in Fort Tryon Park. The Middle Ages practically come alive at this picturesque complex overlooking the Hudson River.
If after all this you think you'll actually have time or energy to take trips outside Manhattan, there are certainly some worthwhile excursions. Keep in mind that some of the city's most interesting ethnic pockets of restaurants and shops are found in its outer boroughs, especially Queens and Brooklyn, with neighborhoods settled by immigrants from around the globe. Many amazing off-the-beaten-track museums are in areas other than Manhattan: the Brooklyn Museum of Art (200 Eastern Pkwy., Brooklyn; Sat-Sun 11am-6pm, Wed-Fri 10am-5pm, first Sat of month has late opening 11am-11pm; $8 suggested donation; www.brooklynmuseum.org), the Museum of the Moving Image (35 Ave. at 36 St., Astoria; Wed-Thu 11am-5pm, Fri 11am-8pm, Sat-Sun 11am-6.30pm; $10, free after 4pm on Fri; www.movingimage.us) in Queens, and Staten Island's Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art (338 Lighthouse Ave., Staten Island; Wed-Sun 1pm-5pm; $5; www.tibetanmuseum.org) all rank high on our list.
The Bronx Zoo (Bronx River Pkwy. at Fordham Rd., Bronx; Apr-Oct, Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, Sat-Sun 10am-5.30pm, Nov-Mar 10am-4.30pm; $14; www.bronxzoo.com) is well worth a subway ride for the enormous range it offers, from the Butterfly Garden to the 6.5-acre Congo Gorilla Forest and Tiger Mountain exhibit. The world-famous Coney Island (W. 8th St. at Surf Ave., Brooklyn; www.coneyisland.com) amusement park in Brooklyn is another advisable trek (particularly in summer), with its vintage honky-tonk boardwalk, Nathan's original hot dog stand, and rides that include the nearly 80-year-old Cyclone roller coaster.
Sports fans may also want to head out to Shea Stadium (123-01 Roosevelt Ave.; 718/507-6387; www.mets.com) to meet the Amazin' Mets out on their home turf in Flushing, Queens, or to catch a game at the house that Ruth built at Yankee Stadium (E. 161st St. at River Ave.; 718/293-4300; www.yankees.com) in the Bronx. Both stadiums are scheduled to be demolished, and replaced with newer incarnations in 2009.
As one of America's pricier lodgings markets, Manhattan has an abundance of deluxe hotels ($300+), followed by a good number of mid-range properties (most rooms $150-$250), and relatively few truly decent budget options ($150 or less); keep in mind, too, that "budget" options in the Big Apple may not always have all the amenities of comparably-priced lodgings elsewhere. But take note of our special picks below, and you shouldn't go wrong.
Smart luxury recommendations include the Hotel Roger Williams (www.hotelrogerwilliams.com), a stylish boutique hotel located just a few steps from Madison Square Park. The hotel has a modern design with playful interiors and boasts a gourmet café, a well-appointed bar, and a state-of-the art fitness center. The 190 room-property, many with balconies and great views, has a highly attentive staff and full concierge service. The 17-story SoHo Grand (www.sohogrand.com) touts digs that are upscale and stylish; in the hotel's 367 rooms and suites you'll find cool, cerebral shapes and earth tones with sleek baths designed with white subway tiles and chrome fixtures to provide that classic "SoHo" look. There is a fitness center and ample dining spots. Our final luxury pick is the Inn at Irving Place (www.innatirving.com) - unmarked and tucked away in the East Village, it's an unparalleled New York City hideaway. This quaint inn is more like a preserved historical home than a hotel – twelve decadent rooms are all distinct and impeccably doused in antiques, with ornamental fireplaces, oriental rugs, plush fabrics, and spacious white bathrooms with pedestal sinks. For more New York hotel reviews, including Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental New York, and Wardolf-Astoria, visit our hotel directory.
In the moderate range, we recommend Hotel Thirty Thirty (www.thirtythirty-nyc.com), convenient to Chelsea and Midtown attractions; standard rooms are smallish but some have kitchenettes. Located in the Flatiron district, just a hop and a skip from the Empire State Building and Union Square, The Gershwin Hotel (www.gershwinhotel.com) is another top mid-range choice. Staying there is a little like living in a SoHo gallery/theater with all of the glam stuff (mostly Pop Art, including original Warhols and Lichtensteins) on the walls and an artsy international clientele roaming the halls. The 150 guestrooms are meant to evoke a NYC studio apartment with high ceilings, hardwood floors, TVs, wireless Internet access, and more; there's even a cool rooftop garden for guests. Also worth considering is the Washington Square Hotel (www.wshotel.com). Bob Dylan and Joan Baez once lived in this building, near the northwest corner of Washington Square Park. Its Euro feel and proximity to music clubs like the Village Vanguard and the Blue Note are a large part of the hotel's appeal; as for the 160 rooms, they're on the smallish side, but are comfortable and attractive. For a stay in the action-packed Times Square area, we propose the white-hot W Times Square (www.whotels.com), with its hip seventh floor lounge-like lobby, futuristic rooms overlooking the neon-lit urban sprawl below, a Kenneth Cole-clad staff, and the bi-level Blue Fin restaurant on-site.
While there's been a boom of budget chain openings in the last few years (think Holiday Inn Express and Comfort Inn), our best budget picks are for their unique personality and atmosphere, like the Larchmont Hotel (www.larchmonthotel.com), located on a leafy Village side street. It occupies a brownstone and has impeccably appointed rooms (with TVs, phone, robe, and slippers) and remains homey thanks to cheerful prints and light-colored rattan; just keep in mind that all bathrooms are shared. A little B&B-style place, the Chelsea Lodge (www.chelsealodge.com) is another find, ensconced in a handsome three-story brick townhouse on a pleasant side street just off Eighth Avenue. The 22 rooms here come with full-size beds, a/c, ceiling fan, and TVs; that said, the rooms are small and the toilet is down the hall (you will get a sink and shower in your room, mind you). Finally, the Chelsea Star (www.chelseastar.com) offers 30 private rooms (as well as 45 dormitory beds) near Madison Square Garden that are small but comfortable with a/c and phones. The main drawback, again, is the shared baths.
Taking a bite out of the Big Apple is a treat indeed, as it boasts America's (and among the world's) most diverse culinary scene. From the famed street vendor $1 hot dogs all the way up to a $1000 sushi platter for two at Masa, New York is a 24/7 foodie paradise: a city that has served as a melting pot for every culture under the sun. Any foodie visiting NYC must partake in two rites of passage – a stroll through one of the popular Greenmarkets (selling local and organic produce) and a Sunday brunch, mimosa in hand.
Keep in mind also that "outer" boroughs like Queens can be well worth the trip for their smorgasbords of flavors, whether it's Russian in Brighton Beach or Greek in Astoria; Peter Luger Steak House (178 Broadway at Driggs Ave.; 718/387-7400; www.peterluger.com) in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is a legendary carnivorous paradise. New York's biannual Restaurant Week (www.restaurantweek.com), held for two weeks in summer and winter features hundred of eateries offering great prix-fixe rates on lunch and dinner – trust us, it means big savings.
For luxurious ambiance and haute-cuisine dishes, Alain Ducasse (155 W. 58th St., btwn Sixth & Seventh Aves.; 212/265-7300; www.alain-ducasse.com) is worth the splurge. Michelin darling Ducasse has continuously provided an exquisite French dining experience to his clientele – save up, and reserve well ahead. Chef Nobu Matsuhisa's Japanese kitchen with Peruvian flourishes, Nobu (105 Hudson St. at Franklin St.; 212/219-0500; www.myriadrestaurantgroup.com), remains a culinary star and his dining room a power scene with good stargazing fodder; since reservations are hard to come by, you can also try the first-come, first-served Nobu Next Door (212/334-4445), which offers the same delectable dining at slightly lesser rates – there's also a new Midtown branch, Nobu 57 (40 W. 57th St. btw. Fifth and Sixth Aves., 212/757-3000), that is every bit as sublime as the original. Blue Water Grill (31 Union Sq. W. at 16th St.; 212/675-9500; www.brguestrestaurants.com), situated off of Union Square, is one of the city's best and is definitely a smart splurge for its all-American cuisine, centered on some delectable seafood dishes, and the elegant, yet relaxed décor.
For more moderately-priced value and ambiance, the retro Empire Diner (210 Tenth Ave. at 22nd St.; 212/243-2736) is open round-the-clock near Chelsea's gallery district. This sleek chrome diner is more Hollywood than most others, but the grub is good and the crowd a kick for people watching. We also like that tasty Thai served up at popular Holy Basil (149 Second Ave., 2nd fl. btwn. 9th & 10th Sts.; 212/460-5557) in the East Village – expect upscale service and décor at excellent prices. For delicious small Italian plates coupled with a stellar wine selection, we recommend sibling restaurants 'inoteca (98 Rivington St. at Ludlow St.; 212-614-0473; www.inotecanyc.com) in the Lower East Side or intimate 'ino (21 Bedford St. btwn. Downing St. & 6th Ave.; 212/989-5769; www.cafeino.com in the Village.
If more casual dinning on a budget is your preference, you'll be happy to know that cheap eats, including delectable New-York style pizza, is on every corner. However, Lombardi's (32 Spring St. btwn. Mott & Mulberry Sts.; 212/941-7994), has the others beat with mouth-water crisp-crust pies in no-frill digs. Delis are also ubiquitous – but the best and the brightest is New York City's oldest deli, Katz's Delicatessen (205 E. Houston St. at Ludlow St.; 212/254-2246; www.katzdeli.com) established in 1888 for pastrami, knishes and other Jewish deli staples. Chinatown is a gold-mine for delicious, low-cost ethnic eats; Jing Fong (18 Elizabeth St. btwn. Bayard & Canal Sts.; 212/964-5256) is a rock-solid bet for delicious dim-sum. For a café scene with light hot and cold fare - sandwiches, quiches, a few pastas, and a nice selection of pizzas, the Village's Caffè Raffaella (134 Seventh Ave. S. btwn. Charles & W. 10th Sts.; 212/929-7247) is an oasis by day and a great people-watching spot by night. Finally, Hell's Kitchen Ninth Avenue makes for an excellent pre-theater dining scene with dozens of eclectic, multi-ethnic eateries dishing out tasty fare – our favorite is the always-packed Arriba, Arriba (762 Ninth Ave. at 51st St.; 212/489-0810) for its marvelous margaritas and Mexican dishes. Finally, some of the city's street vendors serve up downright tasty plates to go, and attract an almost cult following with the lunch crowd – one Vendy Award winner (yep, the city's vendors are so popular that the best are awarded with said accolades) worth scoping out is Rolf "Hallo Berlin" Babiel's (cart at 54th St. & Fifth Ave.), for his fantastic selection of sausages, spaetzel, soup, and other delicacies.
The nightlife scene in New York City careens from quiet and sophisticated to mega-decibel raunchy, live music to "celebrity" DJ's, and everything in between, including cabaret, comedy, theater, performing arts, and more. With clubs, bars, music venues, and theater marquees forever in a state of flux, your best bet is to consult the weekly Time Out New York (www.timeoutny.com) or the free Village Voice (www.villagevoice.com) for the most up-to-date listings of what's hot (and what's not) during your visit.
Bars and clubs
In the interest of not ruining your night out on the town, we'll steer clear of recommending any dance clubs, as the natives tend to deem even the hottest places passé in the blink of an eye. Bars have a longer shelf life, with much of the activity centered on the West and East Village areas, as well as the über-chic Meatpacking District – although there are neighborhood watering holes and posh lounges to get you liquored up in just about every New York nook and cranny.
For some kitschy, tried-and-true nights out, we propose Beauty Bar (231 E. 14th St. btwn Second & Third Aves.; 212/539-1389; www.beautybar.com) where you can get a cocktail and a manicure at this tiny, often packed salon-cum-watering hole. Pravda (281 Lafayette St. btwn Houston & Prince Sts.; 212/226-4696), is Russian-themed – but not as heavy-handed as other themed bars. The vibe at this SoHo fave has settled into sophisticated and low-key; martinis are the star, with appetizers and caviar a close second.
Of the city's prevalent hotel bars and lounges, the Hotel Gansevoort (18 Ninth Ave. at 13th St.; 212/206-6700) located in the heart of the Meatpacking District, is top-notch, with O Bar, a sleek Japanese inspired creation that's a cross between Tokyo and Downtown; the outdoor Garden of Ono just outside; and the rooftop bar, Plunge, for a sophisticated scene and fantastic views.
For a cold pint sans the scene, favorites include Hell's Kitchen's House of Brews (363 W. 46th St. btwn Eighth & Ninth Aves.; 212/245-0551; or 302 W. 51st St. Eighth & Ninth Aves.; 212/541-7080; www.houseofbrewsny.com), a laid-back but sophisticated spot to catch the game and sample brews from around the world; while charming Chumley's (86 Bedford St. at Barrow St.; 212/675-4449) in the West Village once served as a 1920s speakeasy now serves cold pints in cozy environs. McSorleys (15 E. 7th St btwn Second & Third Aves.; 212/474-9148) in the East Village is the city's original Irish pub (opened in 1854), just be prepared to drink beer – only dark or light ale is on the menu. Hit a Lower East Side Bavarian beer garden at Loreley (7 Rivington St. btwn Bowery & Chrystie St.; 212/253-7077; www.loreleynyc.com), where twelve imported German beers are on tap. The city also boasts a lively gay nightlife scene, centered largely on the Chelsea and West Village neighborhoods, and more recently, Hell's Kitchen. Two popular gay bars include trendy Barrage (401 W. 47th St. btwn Ninth & Tenth Aves.; 212/586-9390), with its popular 11pm to midnight happy hour, and the funky, regularly renovated Barracuda (275 W. 22nd St. btwn Seventh and Eighth Aves.; 212/645-8613), host to some killer drag shows.
Music, Theater, and Performing Arts
There's bound to be a big-name gig going off somewhere in town during your visit, either at the mammoth Madison Square Garden (Seventh Ave. btwn 31st & 33rd Sts., 212/465-6741; www.thegarden.com), or the more intimate and prestigious venues of Radio City Music Hall (1260 Sixth Ave. at 50th St.; 212/307-7171; www.radiocity.com) and Carnegie Hall (154 W. 57th St. btwn Sixth & Seventh Ave.; 212/247-7800; www.carnegiehall.org). A number of smaller venues like the Bowery Ballroom (6 Delancey St. btwn Bowery & Chrystie St.; 212/533-2111; www.boweryballroom.com) and Irving Plaza (17 Irving Pl. at 15th St.; 212/777-6817; www.irvingplaza.com) are prime destinations for up-and-coming traveling rock bands; while smooth jazz and blues resonate from Greenwich Village's legendary Blue Note (131 W. 3rd St. at Sixth Ave; 212/475-8592; www.bluenotejazz.com) and Village Vanguard (178 Seventh Ave. S. at 11th St.; 212/255-4037; www.villagevanguard.com). Café Carlyle (35 E. 76th St. btwn Madison & Park Aves.; 212/744-1600; www.thecarlyle.com) offers sophisticated cabaret, while you just might run into the girl (or guy) from Ipanema at S.O.B.'s (200 Varick St. at Houston St.; 212/243-4940), where Brazilian and other Latin music is the specialty.
For a bursting-at-the-seams cultural calendar of classical and contemporary symphonies, dance, jazz, opera, film, theater, and more, head straight for Lincoln Center (Broadway btwn 62nd & 66th Sts.; 212-875-5000; www.lincolncenter.org), where several of New York's most prestigious companies, from The Metropolitan Opera to the New York Philharmonic, are in residence.
No visit to New York City would be complete without a visit to the Great White Way. There are tons of innovative off- and even off-off-Broadway performances. Ticket prices usually range from $10 for the tiny downtown troupes to over $100 for an orchestra seat at a hit Broadway extravaganza. You can cut the price in half by spending thirty minutes to an hour standing on line for same-day discounted tickets to most Broadway and off-Broadway performances at the TKTS booth (www.tdf.org/tkts) in Times Square. For more Broadway info check out www.livebroadway.com; for off-Broadway, try www.offbroadwayonline.com.
Shoppers, rev up your credit cards, because you're in the big leagues now. From high-priced designer fashions to discount chic, electronics to rare books – it's all here, a dizzying array of choices from the exclusive boutiques of SoHo and Madison Avenue to the jewelers and department stores of Fifth Avenue. With so many choices, we could only mention a highly selective shopping-cartful of highlights here to point you in the right direction.
An obvious place to start is Fifth Avenue – there's nothing that quite exemplifies upper-crust New York like this fabulous shopping strip. The most elegant drag stretches from 49th Street to 59th Street and is marked by glamorous department stores from Saks Fifth Avenue (611 Fifth Ave. at 49th St.; 212/940-4176; www.saksfifthavenue.com) to Bergdorf-Goodman (754 Fifth Ave. at 58th St.; 800-558-1855; www.bergdorfgoodman.com), as well as upscale boutiques like Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co., Dior, Versace, Cartier, and more. Some more moderately priced chain brands like Banana Republic and H & M are intermittently sprinkled in, letting regular Joes (or more, likely, Janes) play with the big boys (ahem, girls). If you have little ones in tow, be sure to hit up FAO Schwarz (767 Fifth Ave. at 58th St.; 212/644-9400; www.faoschwarz.com) - this elaborate flagship toy store is a fantasyland for just about any youngster.
The ritzy Upper East Side is another haven for upscale shopping from the high-end Madison Avenue boutiques (bring plenty of plastic) and exquisite (and oh-so-expensive) Barneys (660 Madison Ave. at 60th St.; 212/826-8900; www.barneys.com), to Manhattan's much beloved "Bloomie's" – or Bloomingdale's (1000 Third Ave. btwn 59th & 60th Sts.; 212/705-2000; www.bloomingdales.com) that garners good reviews from New Yorkers for service and selection.
The Shops at Columbus Circle (59th St. & Columbus Circle; 212/823-6300; www.shopsatcolumbus.com) comprise one of New York's newest, and most well-received shopping destinations, featuring a four-story spread of posh shops (like Coach, Boss Hugo Boss, and Williams-Sonoma) in upscale environs – you'll also catch some fantastic views of Central Park from the upper floors of Time Warner Center mall complex.
Make you way to 34th Street for a visit to Macy's (151 West 34th St. btwn Seventh Ave. & Broadway; 212/695-4400; www.macys.com), which bills itself as the world's largest department store. If by some fluke you can't find your goods in this mammoth mega-store, keep in mind that you can stumble right across the street, where the Manhattan Mall (Sixth Ave. at 33rd St.; 212/465-0500; www.manhattanmallny.com) boasts dozens of mall staples like Victoria's Secret, The Body Shop, and Foot Locker. Bargain-hunters with haute-couture tastes, meanwhile, may also want to venture to the blocks north and west of here, which comprise the somewhat gritty Garment District - sample sales can mean fantastic finds for those in-the-know; check Time Out New York (www.timeoutny.com) for listings.
Art connoisseurs interested in picking up original works should head straight to Chelsea, with its more than 200 galleries, while the Village promises more eclectic finds with its haphazard splattering of unique bookstores, antique stores, gourmet food markets, and gift shops. Venture east to the East Village's St. Mark's Place, a fun and funky block to peruse used records, bohemian jewelry, and various oddball wares.
Bustling Union Square is surrounded by mega-shops including Filene's Basement, DSW (Designer Shoe Warehouse), Barnes & Noble, and a Virgin Megastore, while a few blocks north, the ABC Carpet & Home (888 & 881 Broadway; 212/473 3000; www.abchome.com) emporium boasts multiple floors with everything from knickknacks to hand-carved furniture.
SoHo rivals uptown for fashionable shops, touting such designer outposts as Betsey Johnson, Dolce & Gabbana, Marc Jacobs, and Prada, as well as the high-tech haven Apple Store. Big-name boutiques mix with one-of-a-kind shops, high-end street peddlers, and art galleries galore. If you like the designer look but not so much the price tags that go with, Canal Street, stretching from SoHo to Chinatown, is a haven for knock-off bags, watches, shades, and other accessories.
Bargain-hunting shoppers, meanwhile, flock to the Lower East Side to hit up the bargain beat of Orchard Street (note that due to the Jewish Sabbath, many of the stores are closed here on Saturdays) for discounted rates on shoes, luggage, leather bags, and more.
Across the street from Ground Zero, the three-floor wonder of Century 21 (22 Cortlandt St. btwn Broadway and Church St.; 212/227-9092; www.c21stores.com) is New York's premier discount department store for designer clothes and products touting discounts of up to 70 percent off; note that weekends are especially mobbed.
When To Go
There's one thing you'll find in New York that you won't find in some other cities like Los Angeles or Miami: seasons. For better or for worse, New York's got 'em, and what the weather is like will largely determine what kind of rates you pay. If you're visiting in the fall or spring (September to early-November and mid-April to June) expect great weather and high prices as this is the high season. The holiday season, especially during the first couple of weeks of December, sees the city overflow with holiday shoppers – it's another period when you can expect to pay high-season rates across the board. Winters are cold: bring mittens, a winter coat, a scarf, and a sweater -but if you don't mind bundling up, you'll be privy to discounted low-season post-holiday rates on flights and hotels for travel between January and March. The summer brings its own version of the perfect storm: hazy, hot, and humid. As such, July and August also sees discounted hotel rates, as many visitors are put off by the city's sometimes stifling heat and humidity; however the festivals and outdoor events throughout the city make summer an attractive time to visit all the same. For the best bang for you buck, there are a few times when you can cash in on both good deals and nice weather – try for March, early-April, late-August, and late-November.
September to early-November and mid-April to June
January through March
Best bang for your buck:
Early-April, late-August, and late-November
New York City is easy to reach by air, as it's virtually serviced by all domestic and major international airlines between its three metropolitan-area airports: John F. Kennedy International Airport (15 miles from Midtown; Queens; 718/244-4444; www.kennedyairport.com) – better know as J.F.K. - and Newark Liberty International Airport (16 miles from Midtown; Newark, New Jersey; 973/961-6000 or 888/397-4636, www.newarkairport.com) accommodate both international and domestic carriers, while LaGuardia Airport (9 miles from Midtown; Queens; 718/533-3400; www.laguardiaairport.com) services mostly domestic carriers. Information about all three airports can be located at www.panynj.gov.Major US carriers such as American (www.aa.com); Continental (www.continental.com); Delta (www.delta.com); Northwest (www.nwa.com); United (www.united.com); and US Airways (www.usairways.com), as well as discount carriers like AirTran (www.airtran.com), Spirit (www.spiritair.com), and JetBlue (www.jetblue.com) (among others) operate nonstop and connecting service from across the United States. Additionally, dozens of international airlines including Air France (www.airfrance.us) and British Airways (www.britishairways.com) offer frequent service to the city from points around the globe.
Efficient train and bus service also operates from major cities across the U.S. into Manhattan. The Port Authority Bus Terminal (625 Eighth Ave. btwn 40th & 42nd Sts.; 212/564-8484, www.panynj.gov) near Times Square is serviced by several bus lines, including Greyhound (800/231-2222, www.greyhound.com), while the city's two main train stations: Grand Central Terminal (42nd St. at Park Ave.; 212/935-3960; www.grandcentralterminal.com) and Pennsylvania Station (31 to 33rd Sts. btwn Seventh & Eighth Aves.), are operated by Amtrak (www.amtrak.com), Long Island Railroad (www.lirr.org), New Jersey Transit (www.njtransit.com), PATH (www.panynj.gov/path), and Metro-North Railroad (www.metronorthrailroad.org) between them. Contact individual transit companies for schedule and fare information.
Booking air and hotel together (and other trip essentials such as airport transfers, car rentals, and even tours and activities) can save a bundle of cash – online travel discounters such as Orbitz (www.orbitz.com), Expedia (www.expedia.com), and Travelocity (www.travelocity.com) are a good place to start your search. You may also wish to consult with any of our recommended New York-specialized providers, including eLeisureLink.com (888/801-8808; www.eleisurelink.com), as well as major airlines that offer air/land packages such as Delta Vacations (800/654-6559; www.deltavacations.com), US Airways Vacations (800/455-0123; www.usairwaysvacations.com), or United Vacations (888/854-3899; www.unitedvacations.com).
Getting into New York
There are several options for getting into Manhattan by ground transportation from the city's three airports. From J.F.K. you can opt to head to a designated taxi stand for a $45 flat-fee taxi ride (plus tolls) into Manhattan, which will take about 35 to 60 minutes depending on traffic (note that all distances and time approximations mentioned here are for travel into Midtown Manhattan). There is additionally shuttle bus service operated by several companies (see below), but the most economical route by far is via AirTrain ($5; 877/535-2478; www.airtrainjfk.com), a light rail connection from the airport's terminals to subway stations at Jamaica (E, J, and Z trains or Long Island Rail Road) and Howard Beach (A train); subway fare will cost you and additional $2.
From LaGuardia, transportation options include taxis, which run about $20 to $30 and take 20-35 minutes, shuttle bus (see below), and several public bus lines - the M60 (www.mta.nyc.ny.us) runs into Manhattan on the Upper East and Upper West Sides; Triboro Coach (718/335-1000, www.triborocoach.com) operates round the clock bus service on its Q33, Q47, and Q48 lines between LaGuardia and subway connections in Queens (bus and subway fares are $2 each).
From Newark, keep in mind that taxis are expensive ($40-$60, plus tolls and surcharges) and take about 45-60 minutes of travel time. AirTrain ($11.15 to Penn Station; $8.15 via PATH; 888/397-4636; www.airtrainnewark.com) connects Newark terminals to NJ Transit or Amtrak rail service into Manhattan. Several shuttle buses operate from all three airports to midtown – the one operated by New York Airport Express ($12-$15 one-way; 718/875-8200 www.nyairportservice.com) does not require reservations and connects to Grand Central, Port Authority, Penn Station, and select Midtown hotels from J.F.K. or LaGuardia (where you can access the subway); from Newark, Newark Liberty Airport Express ($14; 1-877/863-9275; www.coachusa.com/olympia) offers service to Midtown and Lower Manhattan Additionally, private car or limo service can be arranged before arrival for pick-ups at the three airports – we recommend Carmel Car and Limousine Service (from $28; 800/922-7635 or 212/666-6666; www.carmelcarservice.com).
Rarely does car-crazy America relent and offer up to the traveler such a pedestrian-friendly city (that's not to say it doesn't take some doing to maneuver along some of the more crowded and hectic sidewalks, say, of Midtown). With the majority of Manhattan streets and avenues numbered, it's fairly easy to navigate by foot – and if you get lost, New Yorkers are typically more than happy to point tourists in the right direction.
Subways and taxis will easily take care of most of the rest of your getting-around needs (though factor in plenty of extra time for weekday traffic). There are plenty of city buses, that run down major arteries of Manhattan avenues, as well as cross-town – however, due to congestion and a somewhat difficult bus route map to decipher, most locals stick to the subway system.
Don't plan on driving – traffic can be tough, parking even tougher, and a combination of walking, subways, and taxis will easily get you most anywhere you'd want to go.