Tourists call it the Big Apple, New Yorkers call it the Capital of the World and that audacity, energy, wealth, power, humour and cosmopolitan pizzazz makes the ‘city that never sleeps’ one of the most exciting destinations on Earth. Few places rival its skyline views, culture and dynamism. Relieved of much of its previous street crime, New York now inspires city-loving travellers of all ages and tastes, who thrill to its sights, sounds, museums, arts scene, and shopping. It’s unique in the sheer density of skyscrapers crammed into Manhattan and its heritage as a magnet for ambitious immigrants.
Manhattan is surprisingly easy to navigate, being laid out on a grid system. ‘Avenues’ run north to south, starting with 1st Avenue on the eastern edge, to 10th Avenue on the western edge. Fifth Avenue runs down the centre. ‘Streets’ run east to west, starting with 10th Street on the southern edge, up to 218th street in the far northern tip of the island. Street names use a prefix with reference to Manhattan’s 5th Avenue central artery. West of 5th Avenue, you’re on ‘West 20th street’, East of 5th Avenue and it’s ‘East 20th street’.
Re-live all those legendary movies
Exhilarating cityscapes from every angle
World-beating arts, food, shopping, nightlife
Manhattan is the heart of New York and where most visitors spend all their time. It supports spectacular skyscrapers and distinctive, often-beautiful lower-rise buildings elsewhere. The city centre’s on a grid system with numbered streets running East-West, avenues North-South, making navigation easy. The West Village and Lower Manhattan evolved as labyrinths before the grid. The three main sections are uptown, midtown and downtown, encompassing contrasting ‘neighbourhoods’ linked by the ubiquitous subway system.
New Yorkers buzz around the dazzling concrete jungle in ‘a New York minute’ (so fast it’s shorter), and then play hard after a day striving to ‘make it’. Match the pace, sampling contrasting neighbourhoods and activities after ticking off the obvious attractions. Locals thrive on newness and nostalgia. They hate slow-moving tourists but love curious ones, so ask advice. Pick-me-ups: martini, latte, pizza slice, Central Park, taxis. Greeting: 'Yo, what’s up?'
Watch the tipping
Tipping is an unquestioned obligation – 15% on meals and taxis, more if service is excellent. In bars, make sure you tip a dollar for every drink – or face the consequences!
There’s a restaurant for every cuisine in ‘the crossroads of the world’. The biggest influences are Italian-American and Jewish. So, terrific pizza everywhere and unforgettable smoked-salmon bagels at the ‘deli’. Steaks and high-end burgers also abound and cocktails are a must. Eateries range from diners to Michelin-starred white tablecloth places with celebrity chefs. Locals love dining, then strolling to cafés, ice cream or cupcake places for dessert, while weekend brunch is an institution.
What to try
Your experience isn’t complete without a pastrami sandwich or a bagel breakfast, followed by fresh pizza in places run by generations of Italian-Americans – and martinis in a famous bar.
Where to eat & drink
Many chain or so-called popular restaurants and bars in Midtown and around Time Square are boring and over-priced, so frequent the East Village for hip dining and drinking, West Village for the same but more upscale, and Meatpacking District for hyper-trendy socialising. Chelsea, SoHo and Nolita are full of good choices; while Little Italy is a tourist trap. Hell's Kitchen is your best bet for a pre-Broadway.
Where to stay
Where you should stay in NYC depends on the experiences you are seeking. For hip and cool restaurants, nightlife and shopping, head to Soho or Meatpacking, both of which are central to most of the best attractions. For an edgier, alternative scene, plump for the East Village. For Central Park and 5th Avenue shopping, the Upper West side, home to the city’s young professionals, or Midtown East are your best bets. Avoid anywhere near Times Square, and centrally between 26th and 46th streets. These are horrid parts: dark, dirty, noisy and crammed with bad restaurants and cramped hotels.
Where to shop
These days Fifth Avenue disappoints with the usual fare of showcase designer shops (now found everywhere), although the upscale department stores are excellent. Upper East Side’s Madison and Park Avenues are where the city’s richest denizens shop, while the East Village is best for local, emerging designers, vintage or nearly-new designer – and cool nick-nacks. SoHo is great for trendy clothes and accessories, Meatpacking for the uber-cool runway designers and funky but expensive clothing.
What to buy
Fabulous American fashion, from bargain jeans to local designer dresses and shoes, represents the quintessential New York shop-till-you-drop experience for all pockets. Electronics are good value too.
Health & safety
The culture of crime that once blighted everyday New York is long over. It’s still vital to be vigilant and big-city savvy on the Subway and streets but pretty much anywhere below 100th Street is remarkably safe for such a big city. Walking is fine 24/7 but stay alert and take the usual sensible precautions. Bedbugs are the new scourge, especially in cheaper hotels. Check out bedbugregistry.com and weigh consumer reports before booking.
When to go
Most of New York’s draws – world-class theatre, food, nightlife, and museums – are available all year round of course (and are mainly based inside), but New York has such extreme weather that it will still have an impact on your stay and experience. January and February’s winter weather is brutal, with freezing winds blowing up New York’s avenues, while July and August are unbearably hot and crowded. Come in winter or summer and you’ll spend your entire visit indoors. May, September and October are glorious times to visit; pleasant sunshine, fewer crowds – it’s when New York’s rooftop bars and sidewalk tables come alive.
New York has three primary airports: John F Kennedy and Newark for international arrivals, LaGuardia for domestic. Fixed taxi fare from JFK to anywhere in Manhattan is about USD50, with a tip of 15% and up expected. Other fares not fixed, expect about USD70 from Newark, USD30 from LaGuardia plus extras. From JFK it’s easy to take the Air Train monorail, linking up with the subway into Manhattan – more walking, takes longer but about USD10.
New York is surprisingly compact and easy to navigate, making walking the quickest way to get around – and to discover its many secrets. The subway is cheap, safe and efficient if you don’t want to walk, while the ubiquitous famous yellow taxis are fast, easy to flag (except sometimes rush hour/rain/wee hours), although more expensive.
Ask for directions
It’s often hard to tell, especially when popping up from the subway, which direction is east, west, uptown or downtown amid the skyscrapers. New Yorkers love giving directions – do ask.
What to take
Bring comfortable shoes appropriate to the expected temperatures to take full advantage of such a walkable city. In New York’s infamous summer heat and winter wind, the right hat is essential.
- Type City
- Notoriety Well known
- Price guide $$$$$
- Time zone GMT / UTC -05:00
- Currency USD
- Climate Subtropical
- Environment Urban
- Politics Liberal
- Avoid time Jul-Aug
John F. Kennedy International [New York City] [JFK]
La Guardia [New York City] [LGA]
Newark [New Jersey] [EWR]
Grand Central Terminal
New York Penn Station
Get in the mood
Just Kids by Patti SmithQuintessential portrait of downtown struggling artists during New York's last gritty-creative era; music legend Patti Smith recalls making it here (at the Chelsea Hotel) with photography icon Robert Mapplethorpe.
Empire State of Mind by Jay-Z feat. Alicia KeysJay-Z and Alicia Keys' soaring tribute to the city.
New York by Lou ReedGritty AND sentimental, full of authentic local character and humour – just like the artist, and the city.
Sex and the City (1998-2004)Fun and a quirky modern tour guide to life in New York and New Yorkers. It can be remarkably apt.
When Harry met Sally (1989)If you haven’t seen it already, it’s a must. If you have, watch it again. The all-time classic perfectly captures the typical trails and tribulations of living in New York.
Manhattan (1979)Woody Allen's classic, funny, neurotic, quintessential love letter to the city.