Dear Scout – Love your site! I’ll be visiting Manhattan for the first time in a few weeks, but I’ll only be in town for a few days. Can you offer any advice on what to see/do in my short time there? Thanks! – A Frequent Reader
Every week, I receive a number of emails asking what I’d recommend covering on a visit to NYC – not the obscure, quirky, and out of the way stuff that I tend to write about, but rather, my favorite major attractions and sights. Well, here it is, for tourists and locals alike, I present you with the long overdue…
First off: DO NOT FEAR THE SUBWAY. The subway is not the gritty, dangerous underground hovel you remember from such movies as The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3. The system is now safe, cheap, extremely easy to use, and at times, a work of art. Don’t believe me? Check out this great entrance near Fifth Avenue:
Don’t want to confuse you though – Most subway entrances look like this:
Common mistake: just because a subway line is a certain color doesn’t mean its trains make identical stops. For example, while both the W and D “yellow line” trains stop at 18th Street, one is express and the other is local. Ask for a free subway map at the teller booths located at every station. Also, be sure the subway entrance actually leads somewhere.
First no brainer: Central Park. Find an entrance and just go exploring. I could write up a walking tour, but that’d take away the excitement of all the treasures there are to stumble upon on your own. Beware of numerous souvenir stands lining the walks selling every sort of cheap knick-knack imaginable, from key chains to cigarette lighters.
And sure, everyone knows Central Park, but Manhattan actually has a number of other wonderful “green spaces” worth visiting: Riverside Park, Washington Square Park, and Gramercy Park, pictured below:
Make sure to try one of the park’s funnel cakes, known among locals as the authentic New York treat!
Next up: no visit to New York would be complete without a trip to the world famous Plaza Hotel, home to the lovable storybook character Eloise and the backdrop for such movies as North by Northwest and Home Alone 2: Lost in NY.
As you may have read in the news, the Plaza has gone through some hard times financially in recent years, resulting in an ownership change and major renovation work that unfortunately included the removal of most of the upper floors. Still, the lobby remains largely intact, and is unparalleled in beauty. Have a drink in the Oak Room bar – just watch out for any pages for George Kaplan!
Grand Central Station is a must-see – I guarantee the cathedral-like interior will leave you breathless. The exterior has been decorated for the holidays, as seen below.
Next up: the Flatiron building, located at 23rd Street and Broadway (note the Christmas decorations spanning Fifth Avenue):
The Flatiron Building, or Fuller Building, designed by Daniel Burnham to fill an unusual triangular lot, was completed in 1902 and at the time was city’s tallest building. The front angle measures a minuscule 25 degrees!
Another archetypal symbol of the city, the New York Public Library’s main branch building is an incredible example of Beaux-Arts design. Two lions flank the exterior; they were given the names “Patience” and “Fortitude” in the 1930’s by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, the two qualities he felt New Yorkers needed to survive the Great Depression.
Recently, a controversial track has been erected in front of the library as part of a new state-of-the-art mass transit system being built throughout the city. While historians and conservationists have denounced it as an utter desecration to the magnificent landmark, the MTA maintains that it is worth the “115+ mph speeds New Yorkers will come to rely on in their daily commutes.”
Though often thought to be over 40 blocks away, the Guggenheim Museum is actually located just next to the Library (visible in the above picture) and features a renowned collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, early Modern, and contemporary art pieces. If the admission price is too steep for you, at least take a moment to admire the “coffee-cup”-like exterior, a work of art in itself.
In the mood for shopping? Be sure to swing by the enormous two-story Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street, which shares an entire city block with just one other building! Bringing the kids? Take them by to Santa’s Workshop for a Christmas they won’t soon forget.
This gorgeous archetypal Tribeca firehouse is another unfortunate victim of the city’s new mass transit project. Sold off by the FDNY in the mid-80’s, a thriving paranormal investigations/eliminations company was forced to vacate the premises under questionable eminent domain laws to make way for a portion of the track.
Be sure to take a trip through Little Italy. Though significantly diminished in size over the years, it stills retains much of its authentic character, as evidenced by this strip of restaurants: Louie’s Bar & Grill, Louie’s Restaurant, and Louie’s Italian Restaurant.
Another NY Public Library branch, proving that all are worth a visit.
Forget that overpriced Red Line bus tour thing and just take a trip on a typical MTA bus – it only costs $2.00, and the enormous windows make for a great view (so nice of the MTA to spring for holiday decorations for this kiosk, what with the Doomsday budget cuts and all):
Last but not least: I know it’s a trek, but if you’re driving in from JFK via the Long Island Expressway, you should think strongly about visiting Flushing Meadows in Queens, home to the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs (I wrote an extensive post about the park here). Below, two of the observation decks from the fair, both in excellent condition.
And that concludes the first edition of the Scouting NY Guide to the Big Apple! Hopefully, this helps you out-of-towners plan your next city vacation itinerary. And who knows? Maybe some of you local readers have learned that the city is a bit different than you ever knew.
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