The Scouting NY Tourist Guide To The Big Apple

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…

00 Title

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:

01 Subway 01

Don’t want to confuse you though – Most subway entrances look like this:

02a Subway 02

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.

03 Central Park

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:

04 GramercyPark01

Make sure to try one of the park’s funnel cakes, known among locals as the authentic New York treat!

05 GramercyPark02

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.

06 Plaza Hotel

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.

07 Grand Central

Next up: the Flatiron building, located at 23rd Street and Broadway (note the Christmas decorations spanning Fifth Avenue):

08 Downtown View

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!

09 Downtown View 2

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.

10a Library

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.”

10b Library

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.

11 Gugenheim

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.

12 Macys

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.

13 Firehouse

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.

14 Louies

Another NY Public Library branch, proving that all are worth a visit.

10c Public Library

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):

02b Bus

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.

17 Queens

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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  1. hahaha. it took me all the way to the guggenheim to figure out these are from the vegas hotel. nocely done!

  2. The NYC Transit Authority kiosk was the dead giveaway. And the Gramercy Funnel Cake wagon was hilarious too.

    Nice work!!

  3. i had to stare at the flatiron building for 5 seconds before realizing that this wasn’t really manhattan!

  4. And Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Universal Studios Florida…

    I tip my hat to you, Scout…nicely played.

  5. Great post! Will definitely keep this in mind when visiting NYC again next year. If you ever need tips for Amsterdam, let me know 😉

  6. Hahaha! Can’t believe nobody noticed these pics are actually from Universal Studios in Florida, not the real NYC!!!!!

  7. Heh, cool one.
    Btw, D is actually orange, not yellow 😉

  8. Nice! Are these all from one fake NYC, or from a collection of them (ie Vegas & Florida)?

    Also, for the REAL NYers in the audience, the first true giveaway was the “18th Street” subway stop on the “W and D” lines. There is no 18th Street stop on either line, the D isn’t yellow, it doesn’t run to Queens, and where there is an 18th street stop, it is a local stop and no express train would stop there (it’s on the #1 train).

    Which makes me wonder – why are the fake versions so lazy? I mean, would it be so hard to get a real subway entrance sign?

  9. hilarious.
    loved the yellow D train

  10. Jesse – I don’t think it’s laziness, actually, if I remember right, the subway entrance above is from Disney’s Hollywood Studios park, thus making WD Walt Disney!

  11. How big of a nerd am I that before I even noticed the D train being the wrong color, I noticed that the fonts were wrong. The t’s and 1 just didn’t feel right. Also the complete absence of any tall buildings in the picture threw me off.

  12. this should have been an april fools joke

  13. I used to live in Jersey City so aside from the yellow D, the big giveaway for me was the reference to a PATH stop at 18th St.. Hahaha.

    Amazing post, love it.

  14. Awesome! The tip off for a non-New Yorker like me was the sparseness of people and how poorly dressed they were…like tourists! (You guys are snappy dressers)

    Oh and Grand Central Station. We have a major office there and that didn’t look right.

    “DO NOT FEAR THE SUBWAY” On a business trip to Manhattan, my colleagues opted for a taxi rather than take the subway back to the hotel. They looked in horror when I said I’d just take the subway. As if I was going to be eaten by some subterranean leviathan or get mugged.

  15. The bus stop sealed it for me; the sidewalk has no gum stains (not to mention there’s no signage anymore for “New York City Transit Authority).

    I suggest using pictures from the New York section of Tokyo Disneysea for part two. It’s area is so well done it really looks like some areas of the city, albeit as it looked in 1910.

  16. Do you think people who never visit the real NYC are comforted by the small scale of the fake NYC? As in, “See, honey? NYC isn’t that BIG a deal.”

  17. haha, I *almost* commented that the pictures were all wrong. I actually did comment on Flickr on one of them, and was about to correct Grand Central Station to say “actually, it’s Grand Central Terminal“, when I realized what was going on. Good stuff, man.

  18. I either need to stop readign about physics or stop reading these posts. Well maybe not both but never physics before reading what Scout’s published. I don’t even live up there and things weren’t looking quite right. Don’t fear the subway. Was that a Blue Oyster Cult song? All you need to really see NYC is a good pair of shoes, a Metrocard, and a GPS unit might be a tinch nice if you’re really advernturous and actually go to the boroughs and wander around like I do.

  19. Ha Ha!! As a former resident of NY and current one of Orlando, I was looking at the photos and thinking to myself that something is afoot here! Nice one!
    If you’re still in town, try to see the old Splendid China theme park. Now abandoned it still houses some of the original pavilions and features.

  20. Man, I was SO CONFUSED. Nothing looked right! Even the sunlight in the first photo seemed…wrong. And there was no fence around Gramercy Park! It wasn’t until I got the “Flatiron Building” that I knew I was being seriously punk’d.

    I’ve never been to any of the places these photos are actually from, so I didn’t realize just how poorly they were re-creating NYC…

    Thanks for shaking me up!

  21. Well played!

  22. and the flat iron is facing the wrong way! if you were looking at the “iron” angle of the building, the empire state and chrysler buildings would be BEHIND the flat iron. that was the giveaway for me. fun post, though!

  23. I knew that something was wrong when I saw that the Empire State and Chrysler Bldgs were behind tht Flatiron Bldg. And that the Flatiron was only 6 stories tall.

  24. haha scout, i loved this. i thought you were losing it for a few minutes here, i’m like the W and D are not both Broadway lines and when looking at the flatiron building, the empire state building is certainly not BEHIND it! well played, sir, well played.

  25. too funny! Loved the post.

  26. I effing love you, Scout. Been out of town for a few weeks so just reading this now, but it is no less entertaining. Also, do you think the fire house with the roller coaster through it is modeled on the Engine Company 33 fire house at 44 Great Jones Street? That’s my favorite building in the city, and if it is ever sold off by the FDNY, I will be sure to scoop it up before the MTA has a chance to bid, provided I pick the proper Powerball numbers.

  27. I’m not a new yorker, so it took me way longer to figure this out… I almost freaked out about the new “mta track” though… you got me.

  28. I am hoping to visit NY soon, I live in the UK and have wanted to travel the US for years. Me and a few friends have decided to travel from NY to LA over either 4 weeks or 6 weeks, I hope to get over next year 🙂

  29. Haha I was a little confused by the Plaza Hotel and Flat Iron Building — they are definitely taller in real life.

    I went to Florida’s Universal Studios all the time as a kid and never imagined I’d someday be living in the real Manhattan…

    Happy April Fool’s Day!

  30. Great spoof! Hilarious in fact.
    I was delighted to see one of the old fashioned entrances was not only intact but in such pristine condition. I got suspicious with the second subway entrance. As a native New Yorker, I knew that the D train did not stop at 18th Street or share a tunnel with the W. What clinched it was the Plaza and so-called Grand Central Station which is really Grand Central Terminal. The Station called Grand Central is on the Lexington Avenue subway line.

  31. VERY Funny!!!


  32. What threw me was the vast expanse of sky in every picture. It all felt a little too “the rest of America”, where they have trees and sky in scenery photographs.

    And of course the lack of steel and glass buildings.

  33. Gramercy Park funnel cakes…that cracked me up. If only!


  35. Laughing so hard at the pics from Universal Orlando & Hollywood Studios. Although I don’t live in NYC, I live in FL, so I know my Florida theme parks. 😉
    Keep Scouting! 😀

  36. So funny to see the CitiCorp building behind the library or the Empire State and Chrysler Building to the south of the Flatiron.

  37. Hello,

    I have not seen any real IRT kiosks. The one you posted seems to be the real thing, Astor Place being a reproduction. Could you be a bit more specific as to where that kiosk is, would love to get some


  38. {SLAPS Scout With A Metaphorical Wet Trout}
    Don’t you know the tourists from Kansas will end up taking this seriously?!?

  39. Perfect, NY Scouting is wryly interesting. Thanks 🙂

  40. Park Row Building built 1899 is significantly taller than the Flatiron building and therefore was never the tallest in the city.

  41. I really hate these fake locations stories of yours. Yeah, good for a laugh by the locals but I live in Western Australia and mostly have no clue if you’re having a laugh or not. I wish you would stop doing these.

  42. I knew something was up when I started seeing Christmas decorations and people in shorts and shirts. It’s not that warm in New York in December.

  43. Nice! For a fw minutes you got me there. But that picture of Manhattan w/ a lot of people on the streets and no cars gave it away! Also I ‘ve been to vegas and I recognized the red tracks
    Nice Post