New York City is the largest city in the United States. But words cannot describe the grand scale of the behemoth. It is not the over 8 Million People that live here that is so astonishing, but rather the area they live in. Manhattan is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. High-rise buildings are all you will see here. Each of them is stretching up into the sky, trying to outgrow their neighbors. Fortunately today most of the old skyscrapers with intricate carvings and unique architectures are protected from being torn down to make room for glass and steel giants of epic proportions.
The population of New York is as diverse as nowhere else in the United States. People from all corners of the world live together in a world of glamour and superlatives. Companies from all corners of the world are present. The New York Stock Exchange is the financial heart of the world with Wall Street as the world's most famous financial district.
It is impossible to cover all of New York City in this article. I will mainly focus on Manhattan and some of the sights I have seen here. There is much more to Manhattan alone. Many Travel Books have been written about Manhattan alone. This article will feature some of the most interesting tourist sights and have other useful information (transportation, lodging) towards the end.
Things to see
It is impossible to list everything in New York in a few days. If you have only one or two days, I recommend you will have barely enough time to visit all of Downtown.
Empire State Building
Empire State Building: Currently the largest building in New York.Empire State Building - Viewing Platform: From the crowded viewing platform of the Empire State Building one can have the best view of Manhattan.The Empire State Building is the tallest skyscraper in New York.
The most interesting feature for tourists is without doubt the observation deck on the 86th floor. From here you will have a wonderful view of the New York City. The most important thing to remember when you plan to go up there, buy you tickets upfront. We bought our tickets from the concierge of our hotel. Ask at your hotel where to buy tickets if you don't have one. With the tickets in your hand, you are allowed to bypass the security line and walk all the way to the security checkpoint to be checked. Show your ticket to the officer at the beginning of the line. Believe me, you are going to save a lot of time. The second line is the ticket line, which you can also bypass. You will only have to wait at the rather short elevator line. The elevators will take you almost all the way to the observation deck. Before getting there, there is another floor where you can have your picture taken before entering the last elevator (or taking the stairs).
The observation deck is usually very crowded. The views are spectacular to say the least. I think this may be the most interesting attraction in New York.
The Empire State building itself is one of New York's most noticeable icons. It sticks out of the skyline like a torch in the sky (see skyline picture). When the building construction was finished in 1931, after just a little over one year, office space was impossible to rent out. The only thing that prevented the operators from financial bankruptcy was the observation deck, of the then tallest building in the world.
The building has been featured in many Hollywood movies, like King Kong.
Cab at Times Square: A taxi passes in front of Times SquareAlthough the New York Times has moved from its original headquarters at the end of Times Square, the place was originally named after the famous 25-story New York Times Tower. Many famous Broadway theaters can be found in this area, but the square is most famous for its New Years celebration. At midnight on New Years Eve, a crystal ball is dropped from the narrow building at the south end. This has been the case since 1906, when the building was opened. The event is transmitted throughout the world, making the square known and famous everywhere. In the evening, a large crowd of people seems to be filling up the sidewalks, making it hard to get through. Traffic picks up and large lines in front of theaters are a common sight here. The New Victory Theater on 42nd street has been renovated in 1995 and is now a young people's performance space. The Belasco Theater (44th street) was built around 1907. It is said that the ghost of Belasco still roams the venue.
Chrysler BuildingTogether with the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building dominates the Skyline of East Manhattan. Its remarkable architecture sticks out of the skyline like a torch in the woods. The stainless steel Art Deco resembles car radiator grills, the stepped setbacks are decorated with winged radiator caps, wheels and even implied cars. Most remarkable are the gargoyles (eagles) that are modeled after hood ornaments of a 1929 Chrysler Plymouth.
The Building is 320m (1050ft) tall and was the tallest building in the world from 1929 to 1930, until the crown went to the Empire State Building for a much longer time. The spire was kept a secret until the last moment. It was put on the roof to ensure that the Chrysler Building would be higher than the Bank of Manhattan.
The lobby of the Chrysler Building is just as elegant. The lobby is simply stunning and was once used a showroom for cars. It is decorated with patterned marble from around the world. The painted ceiling shows scenes related to transportation in the 1920s. When the building opened, an observation deck was located near the top, which was later changed into a restaurant and became a private club during the Great Depression.
Broadway between 27th and 24th
Flatiron Building: Known for its unique triangular shape.Probably the most remarkable sight in the area is the Flatiron Building, or Fuller Building. It was the tallest building in the world after its completion in 1902. It was one of the first buildings to use a steel frame, but what really sets this building apart, besides its titles is the famous triangular construction. Build on a triangular patch between Fifth Avenue, Broadway and 23rd Street it looks like a giant wedge driven in between Broadway and 5th.
Madison Square is a quiet retreat for neighborhood office workers and a place to enjoy your weekends. During our visit on a hot summer day, the park was full of people taking sunbaths and cooling off in the fountains. The park is surrounded by architectural marvels, such as the New York Life Insurance Company building. The building features a golden pyramid roof. It was constructed in 1928 and its lavishly decorated interior is reminiscent of the period.
Statue of Liberty
Statue of LibertyThe Statue of Liberty was a gift from the French to the American people. It holds a torch in her right hand and an inscribed tablet in her left. The tablets inscription shows the date July 4, 1776 (adoption of the Declaration of Independence). The statue was designed by Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi as a monument to the freedom attained by the young American Nation. It has since become a symbol of freedom throughout the world.
The statue is located on Liberty Island and can be reached with a Ferry from Downtown Manhattan. The last ferry leaves at 3:30pm in the summer and earlier in the winter. The ferry fare includes the entrance fee to the island. The statue can also be seen from the Staten Island Ferry (see picture), which is free and runs every 30 minutes between Manhattan and Staten Island.
Since the Terrorist attack of 9/11/2001 visitors are not able to walk all the way up to the crown of the statue anymore.
Ground Zero - New York, NY: The site of the tragedy that shook the world in 2001 is still a big hole in the ground.The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center dominated the skyline of Manhattan for 27 years until the vicious terrorist attack of Sept. 2001.
On Sept. 2001 two airplanes bound for L.A. struck the World Trade Center after being hijacked. Thousands of people lost their lives, most of them when the two towers collapsed. Two other airplanes were hijacked. One hit the Pentagon and one hit the ground near Pittsburgh.
About 450 Companies with 50,000 employees had offices in the two towers. Many used to visit the observation deck for a birdseye view of Downtown Manhattan.
Today Ground Zero is still a huge constructions site. Many of the surrounding office buildings have been restored and the construction of the Freedom Tower has already started. It will be the central part of a new complex of high-rise buildings that is being constructed in the area. The Freedom Tower will be the tallest building in the United States.
Grand Central Station
Grand Central Station: The famous train terminal in the heart of Manhattan.Also called Grand Central Terminal is located at Vanderbilt and 42nd Street. The original station was built in 1871 but was too small and made way for the current terminal that was built in 1913.
Fortunately this unique terminal has been saved by an initiative from its destruction to make way for expensive high-rise apartments. The fate of Penn Station was thus spared to Grand Central. The giant terminal connects trains on several levels and serves almost 1 million people daily. The ceiling was cleaned up in the 90ies from its thick layer of black grease. Underneath the original lustre came to new live again. The painting was done after a medieval manuscript by Paul Helleu and depicts zodiac signs. Since the design is backwards, it is said that this is depicting the view the gods have from above.
Central Park - the city's backyard
Central Park: A view of central park with the city in the background.http://www.centralparknyc.org
The park was created in 1858 on a site of quarries, farms and swampland. The landscaping took a tremendous effort to create an 843-acre park in the heart of the city. Meadows, Lakes, Scenic Hills, Lakes, Gardens and even Wildlife are featured in the Park. Cars are banned from the park at weekends.
The Wildlife Center features animals from three different climate zones including exotic animals like polar bears and penguins.
The Belvedere Castle is a stone castle on top of a vista rock overlooking the Belvedere Lake. The castle has a lookout on the rooftop that offers one of the best views of the park and the surrounding city.
One could write several articles about the park alone. A good source of information is the website cited above.
Brooklyn Bridge: The Brooklyn Bridge at night with Manhattan in the Background.Upon the completion in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was the largest suspension bridge in the world. Designed by the German-born immigrant John A. Roebling, the bridge was a masterpiece of engineering. Roebling did not see his bridge completed.
Even today the bridge is a centerpiece of attention in New York. It spans the East River and is a very likely target. Therefore you will not be allowed to get close to the foot of the bridge anymore. An Elevated walkway above the road will give you some of the best views of New York.
As it suits a city of this proportion, there are 3 airports serving New York.
New York's main airport lies about 15 miles southeast of Manhattan in Queens.
Transportation to Manhattan can be arranged 24hrs a day.
There is a flat fee for Taxis of $35 (plus tolls and tip) that can be very convenient, as trips can take up to 60 minutes especially during rush hour.
Courtesy phones for Rental Car companies are provided. Most companies have shuttles.
The New York Airport Service Bus runs 24 hours a day and is an economic alternative to Taxis.
La Guardia Airport (LGA)
La Guardia lies about 8 miles east to northeast of Manhattan in Queens.
A taxi is probably your best choice of getting into Manhattan. Fares range from $25-$45 (plus tolls and tip) depending on traffic.
Newark Airport lies about 16 miles southwest of Manhattan in New Jersey. It is the second largest international airport.
A taxi ride into Manhattan may cost you up to $50 (plus tolls and tip) and last up to one hour. Do not accept rides offered inside the terminal, as they are often not officially licensed taxis.
Busses to Manhattan can also take one hour and cost around $10.
A train to New York Penn Station is probably your best choice, since it will be the fastest mode of transportation to Manhattan. It costs $11.55
Police: Even the Police prefers Horses.Driving in Manhattan
My trip to New York was the culmination of a much longer visit to other East Coast cities. I was traveling by car and I made the daring move of driving into the heart of Manhattan to our Hotel. Even though I arrived late at night, the streets of Manhattan are notoriously hard to navigate for an outsider and traffic is like nowhere else, even at this hour. Unless you are comfortable driving in very dense traffic (sometimes pushing through two cars with less than an inch on either side), you should really avoid driving in New York.
Most tour books will tell you that the Subway is the most convenient and most reliable mode of transportation. Since you will not have to deal with traffic, this may even be true if you can make sense of the subway maps and schedules. Unfortunately, there are lots of exceptions on the weekend, where routes may run slightly different or stop more or less frequently (express line vs. local line). We ended up making an unwanted trip to Queens where we got off the train. As the only tourists in the subway station, many eyes were on us making us feel slightly uncomfortable.
The subway cars are air-conditioned, however the stations are not. In the summer they can be very hot, making it very unpleasant to wait for your train. The subway map is probably the most important thing. Ask for a copy when you buy your tickets. Most of the map is easy to understand, if it wouldn't be for all the exceptions or constructions.
New York CabsAll licensed taxis are yellow. If the number on their roof is lit, they are available.
Since the streets of Manhattan are usually very crowded, taxis are not always the best mode of transportation. You can end up paying a lot of money while you are doing nothing else but standing in traffic. All yellow cabs have meters and most of them can issue receipts. They carry up to 4 people. Many cab drivers are immigrants and many of them do not speak proper English. Make sure you state your destination as clearly as possible and ask them to repeat it to you.
After dropping off my car at the La Guardia Airport on the middle of the night, I had a car called there. The car that arrived was a black Lincoln Town car without a meter. I made sure to negotiate the fare before getting in, to ensure that I would not be taken advantage of. It worked out beautifully.
Tour BussesRed Line - New York, NY: The red line of sightseing busses was completely overcrowded during our visit. It was hard to get back on, once you got off the bus.
Another nice alternative to seeing Manhattan is to hop on one of the open air tour busses. They have a tour guide on board and make frequent stops to allow you to get off and on the bus. We booked a trip on the red line (Downtown Loop for $39). This line was totally overcrowded. We had to wait a long time at each stop to get on the bus, which eventually resulted in us getting off less frequently than we had planned. Other lines (blue busses) seemed far less crowded.
I never tried this option. Busses are air-conditioned, can kneel for people with impairments and seem to be a rather convenient way of getting around. Many of them run 24/7. You can buy tickets at the subway booths or inside the bus. You need to bring correct change (coins only) when you plan to pay inside the bus.
We ended up walking quite a bit after taking the Subway to a point close to where we wanted to be. Since we got lost in the Subway once, we only walked on our last day, so we would not miss our car to the airport.
Hotels in New York can be outrageously expensive. We got a good deal on the Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown Manhattan.
Article and Photographs by Andre Gunther
Check out his New York Photo Gallery
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