One of the best ways to see the entire island of Manhattan is to sail around it on a Circle Line Cruise. (West 42nd Street @ Pier 83, 001-212-563-3200). This three-hour narrated tour offers terrific views of the city’s icons (Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge), as well as the weird fishin’ shacks along the Harlem Coast and the surprising greenery of the less-travelled northern end. Romantics will love the sunset cruise.
Ferries leaving from Battery Park (South Ferry, 001-212-269-5755) take you to Ellis Island, where you can explore the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, an amazing repository of ‘melting pot’ immigration history, and the site through which the ancestors of nearly 40% of today’s Americans once passed. Then the ferry continues on to Liberty Island, home of America’s most famous landmark, the Statue of Liberty. Climb the 354 steps up to Liberty’s crown, stick your head through any of the 25 windows and shout, ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free!’
Speaking of free, another great way to see the skyline from the water is the Staten Island Ferry (Battery Park @ Whitehall Streets, 001-718-815-BOAT), which runs a regular shuttle service between Manhattan and Staten Island. It takes an hour to go round trip, and unlike almost everything else in Manhattan, it doesn’t cost a penny. Even more unusual, its 50-cent fee was actually abolished in 1997!
Built during America’s Great Depression, the Empire State Building (5th Avenue @ 34th Street, 001-212-736-3100) may no longer be the tallest building in the world, but it remains one of the city’s finest Art Deco masterpieces and is still the most famous silhouette in the skyline. Two observatories on the 86th and 102nd floors are open 365 days a year until 11.30 p.m. (King Kong not included.) The nearby Chrysler Building (Lexington @ 42nd Street) is the other Art Deco gem topped with a spire. Its lobby is filled with beautiful murals and detail, but alas, no observation deck.
A free, fun and totally excellent thing to do during the sticky heat of summer is to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, when the breezes off the East River act like Nature’s air conditioner. Along the way, you’ll find details about the bridge’s construction and a helpful key to the skyline, while experiencing the collective hum of a hundred passing cars — a surreal sound. Offering incomparable cinematic views and photo ops, the bridge is located on the Lower East Side, just across the street from City Hall.
If money makes your world go around, visit the New York Stock Exchange (20 Broad Street, 001-212-656-5168) and make your head spin, too. Watch the traders stress, sweat and race around through an ever-growing mountain of paper, making cryptic hand signals and yelling, ‘Sell!’, ‘Buy!’ Then think about how good it feels to be on holiday.
Of course, you can’t visit New York without a sniff of high art. Of the hundreds of museums and galleries, the Museum of Modern Art, (11 West 53rd Street, 001-212-708-9400), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1000 5th Avenue, 001-212-535-7710) and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (1071 5th Avenue, 001-212-423-3500) definitely rank at the top. The MOMA and the Guggenheim (itself a circular masterpiece designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright) feature modern and contemporary artists, while the Met houses European and historic collections, including an entire Egyptian tomb. New York’s hottest science museum is the brand new Rose Centre for Earth and Space(Central Park West @ 81st Street, 001-212- 769-5100), featuring the ultra-futuristic-looking Hayden Planetarium. The Space Show is always a sell out, so get your tickets early.
A generous oasis of nature in the middle of Manhattan’s concrete jungle, Central Park(001-212-310-6600) changes colour with the seasons. Summer’s the perfect time to rent a boat and row around on The Lake, to sit along the rim of Bethesda Fountain, or to visit Strawberry Fields, just across the street from the signature apartment buildings of Central Park West, including the fabulous Dakota, where John and Yoko live(d). Enjoy a free rock concert at Summer Stage or watch celebrities perform the Bard’s classics at Shakespeare in the Park. Winter brings ice skating at Wollman Rink and romantic horse-drawn carriage rides (which are also available, but a hundred times smellier and less romantic, in summer). Trails, trees, a zoo, swimming pool, tennis, horseback riding, parades, picnics — you could spend your entire holiday in Central Park.
Though the X-rated peep shows, sex shops, and good-old-fashioned-New-York-City menace are gone, Times Square(Broadway @ 7th Avenue) is as loud and brash as ever with its flashing neon lights and King-Kong-sized billboards. And Cats is still playing after 18 years at the Winter Garden Theatre. (Look for the orange-and-white TKTS booth here for half-price tickets to Broadway shows.) These days, Times Square is positioning itself as a family attraction. Many of the old, boarded-up Broadway theatres are being restored, and the Great White Way rides again. But it’s still the dirt-cheapest place to get yer t-shirts and Statue of Liberty snow globes. And, of course, many consider watching the ball drop here on New Year’s Eve a religious experience.
For the ultimate New York (nay, American) experience, it’s necessary to venture beyond Manhattan to catch a baseball game at Yankee Stadium (161st Street and River Avenue, Bronx, 001-718-293-4300), where they still play ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game,’ serve giant pretzels and hotdogs, and the spirit of Babe Ruth lingers in the air. The event actually begins on the subway ride to the ball park, where everyone on the train is decked out in NY Yankees attire, and fans of the opposing team are mercilessly heckled with genuine New York insults.
During the summer, don’t miss historicConey Island (1208 Surf Avenue, Brooklyn, 001-718-372-5159), a strange and fascinating world unto itself. Ride the Cyclone, a wooden roller-coaster built in 1927, and visit Sideshows by the Seashore, a real circus side show where you can see genuine freaks and human oddities. The Mermaid Parade, the most outrageous, aquatic fetish parade anywhere, takes place here every June.
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