While I am not an expert on New York City I thought it would be fun to tell you the 12 places that are my favorites and is a good starting point to seeing the Big Apple. This list contains the common tourist attractions and I have put them in geographical order from downtown up. It is possible to do everything on this list and more in 5 days and I will break it down that way for you to give you a basic guide for your trip to New York City.
We are going to spend the first day in the downtown area of Manhattan. This area contains the financial district with Wall Street, the Raging Bull statue, Trinity Church, and the Brooklyn Bridge to name a few sites of interest. Downtown also includes many of the neighborhoods non-New Yorkers have heard of including SoHo, TriBeCa, Greenwich Village, and Chinatown. While you should spend time walking among these neighborhoods and seeing the various sites, my favorites for today are:
Staten Island Ferry – This free 30 minute ferry ride across New York Harbor to Staten Island (1 of the other 4 borough of NYC) passes near the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Once on Staten Island you can walk around and feel as if you are in a small town, which is a nice reprieve from the hustle and bustle of Downtown. This is a great way to see the Statue of Liberty without spending more than half a day doing it, but if you want to go to Liberty Island then you have to take one of the Statue Cruises.
9/11 memorial – The National 9/11 Memorial and Museum is absolutely breath taking. I can not imagine anyone coming up with a better symbolism for the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Take your time as you view the memorial’s sunken pools within sunken pools and don’t be ashamed if your emotions are stirred within.
Times Square & Broadway – The theater district is actually considered part of Mid-Town, but for our purpose it is a great way to end the first day. Get there around 4pm or so and figure out which Broadway or Off-Broadway show you want to see (Broadway theaters are 500 seats or more and Off-Broadway are 100-499 seat theaters). You can get “half off” tickets from TKTS Discount Booth, but beware they are not always 50% off. I went to the Lyceum Theater and loved it. After you have tickets grab dinner and walk around Time Square gawking at the insane amount of lights and billboards. After the show you can go to a comedy club, but beware of the hawkers on the street selling tickets. Instead go to the club itself and see if you want to go in and how much tickets “really are”.
I know the first day was a lot to take in so today we will try and take it a bit slower as we visit Mid-Town which contains the United Nations Headquarters, Grand Central Terminal, Chrysler Building, Roosevelt Island Tram, Lincoln Center, and so much more but my favorites are:
Rockefeller Center – This 19 building office complex is absolutely amazing with the iconic buildings, Radio City Music Hall, sunken courtyard, and ice-skating rink & Christmas tree in the winter. What a lot of people do not realize is that there was a lot of artwork built into the center when it was built in the very early 1930’s and I highly recommend taking a paid tour around the center that focus on the artwork and history. Other things you might want to do is visit the NBC store in the morning and see if you can score some free tickets to watch the taping of one of the shows including Late Night and Saturday Night Live. You can also go to the Top of The Rock and see the city from the observatory on the top floor. While it is not as popular as going up the nearby Empire State Building, the view is just as good, the cost is lower, and most important the lines are minimal.
New York Public Library – This is one of the most beautiful libraries I have visited and I love coming here. The highlights are the lions, Astor Hall (lobby), McGraw Rotunda (check out the murals), and Rose Main Reading Room(which will leave you in awe), but take the time to see the rest of the building also.
Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum – This museum is on the Hudson River and features an aircraft carrier, nuclear missile sub, many air crafts, and a space shuttle. You should budget at least three hours here and make sure you take the time to chat with the Vets that volunteer aboard the ship. If you do they will captivate you with some fascinating stories.
Day 3 & 4
The next two days are all about Central Park and the surrounding museums. While there are other things you will want to check out on the Upper East and West side of the city, my favorites are next to the park itself.
Central Park – You may be wondering why two days have been dedicated to Central Park and the answer is simple….it is that big. Even though it is the most filmed location in the world you really will not get a sense of the size of the park until you are in it. It stretches from 59th to 110th Street and will take you a whole day to really explore it. I recommend getting food from Zabar’s and having a picnic in the park. Also check out the Alice In Wonderland statue, Bethesda Terrace and Fountain (you can rent rowboats also), Belvedere Castle, Shakespeare In The Park, The Ramble, zoo, and more.
Metropolitan Museum of Art – The Met is one of the top five art museums in the world and actually sits inside the park on the east side. This museum should not be taken lightly since it is huge. In fact there are some “art exhibits” that are entire facades of buildings. You could spend several days in here and not see it all and I would not try and do it in less than four.
American Museum of Natural History – on the opposite side of Central Park from the Met is the Natural History Museum. This is another huge museum that you should devote four hours or more to see. What I found amazing is the realistic dioramas of the different animals in their natural habitat and how when these were built in the early 20th century it was the only way for many people to visit the world.
Apollo Theater – North of Central Park is the beginning of Harlem, which is a traditional black community and has had a huge impact on African American culture from the “Harlem Renaissance” of the 1920’s and 30’s to hip hop, rap, and R&B music today. Nowhere is that more obvious than at the Apollo. We are going to end the day assuming it is a Wednesday because that is when the Apollo Theater hold its famous Amateur Night At The Apollo. This talent show has been the launching pad of African American musicians for decades and the Apollo is know as the place “stars are born”
While there are five boroughs in New York City most of the major sites are in Manhattan, but I do like to get into the other boroughs and explore what they have to offer also. One of my favorite days was when I went to:
Coney Island – This one time getaway from the city is now only a subway ride away and offers people the chance to play on a beach, go to the aquarium, visit amusement parks, eat Nathan’s Famous hot dogs, and watch various freak shows. I had an absolute blast out here and loved several of the older (and historic) rides and found the whole concept of the freak shows to be facinating.
Subway – the 12th top thing I like to do in New York City is ride the subway. I know it is cliche, but I love the fact you can get almost anywhere in this city and you do not need a car. While the New York City subway is confusing I find it fun to figure out and have it take me where I want to go. Also, some of the subway stops are worthy spots to see and others offer shopping and dinning opportunities without going outside. Fascinating.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this guide for a five day trip to New York City and even though I do not expect you to follow it exactly, I do hope it helps you in your planning stage. Join me next Saturday and I will give a list of my favorite lesser known sites.