Visiting New York City can be overwhelming. This guide offers tips and a general overview of the top tourist spots in the city. So, you’re planning a trip to the Big Apple. New York City can be a great experience for visitors, but it’s important to know the best ways to go about touring the city. New York can be intimidating and overwhelming for first-time visitors. However, with a little bit of knowledge about the city, your trip can go smoothly and painlessly. As a resident of New York City, I’ve written this guide to help those unfamiliar with New York navigate its concrete canyons and have a successful, memorable trip.
First, some basic knowledge about New York. The city is divided into five distinct boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. Each borough can be considered a major city in its own right. New York is exceptionally diverse, with people from all continents calling it home. Thus, it’s important to have an open mind while visiting the city. Mass transit is provided by the city’s subway and bus services and is the ideal way for tourists to travel. Taxis are also an option. New York City possesses a huge array of neighborhoods, from luxury apartments with views of Central Park to poverty-stricken areas far off the beaten tourist path. Finally, New York is expensive no matter how you cut it, so budget accordingly. With the basics down, let’s plan an itinerary of the city’s many landmarks and attractions.
Exploring Lower Manhattan
Lower Manhattan, also referred to as Downtown Manhattan, is an excellent place to start sightseeing. Lower Manhattan is home to many tourist attractions, including Wall Street and the Financial District. Here, you can see the famous New York Stock Exchange and some of the city’s oldest skyscrapers. Head over to Battery Park to take a ferry ride to the Statue of Liberty and cruise New York Harbor on the Staten Island Ferry. You may also want to visit the World Trade Center site, which, as of 2011, is being rebuilt. (Do NOT refer to it as “Ground Zero.” Instead, use terms like “World Trade Center site” or “new World Trade Center.”) Visitors interested in history should pay a visit to the South Street Seaport to see renovated sailing ships and beautifully restored buildings that echo the city’s merchant past.
Above the Financial District lie several interesting neighborhoods. Explore the diverse immigrant history of the Lower East Side and have a drink in the East Village or trendy Greenwich Village. SoHo offers a ton of upscale shops and cool cast iron architecture. Tribeca has plenty of cool shops and trendy restaurants too, and is typically not as crowded as SoHo. Be sure to check out the ethnic enclaves of Little Italy and fast growing Chinatown. Chinatown offers authentic Chinese food and cheap stores. Union Square offers respite from the bustle of the city, while GLBT tourists should check out Chelsea, the center of gay life in New York.
Midtown and Upper Manhattan
Moving north or “uptown” brings you to Midtown Manhattan, home to most of the city’s skyscrapers and iconic buildings. Here you can see the famous Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building. Rockefeller Center plays host to Radio City Music Hall and Top of the Rock, the observation deck on the GE Building, Rockefeller Center’s main tower also known as “30 Rock.” Times Square and the Theater District offer dozens of Broadway shows. (It’s best to visit Times Square at night to best see its iconic flashing lights and neon signs.) Also in Midtown are the UN Building, Herald Square, the Museum of Modern Art and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Further north takes you to Central Park where you can take a carriage ride, stroll through the greenery to escape the concrete and glass thoroughfares of Manhattan or go on a relaxing rowboat or kayak trip. Central Park is flanked by the Upper West Side and the Upper East Side.
The Upper West Side contains many beautiful brownstone buildings, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and the American Museum of Natural History. The Upper East Side is the wealthiest neighborhood in New York and contains one of the country’s best collections of historic architecture as well as plenty of upscale stores, boutiques and restaurants. Even further uptown is the historic neighborhood of Harlem. The epicenter of African American culture, Harlem has undergone a new renaissance in recent years. Despite its reputation for crime and poverty, the neighborhood has made great strides and one should pay a visit to its many cultural sites like the Apollo Theater.
Don’t forget the outer boroughs!
Although Manhattan contains the lion’s share of tourist attractions and famous sites, don’t forget to check out the other four boroughs too, often collectively called the “outer boroughs.” The Bronx has Yankee Stadium, a must see for baseball fans and also the Bronx Zoo for animal lovers. Brooklyn is also worth a visit. The neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights offers breathtaking views of the Lower Manhattan skyline, while Prospect Park is an ideal place to relax and take a break. Don’t forget about Coney Island with its famed amusement park and great seaside views. Queens, the most ethnically diverse area of the United States, contains many unique neighborhoods. Here, you can have lunch at a Greek café in Astoria, stroll through Flushing’s Chinatown, and have dinner at a Latino or South Asian restaurant in Jackson Heights. Don’t forget to check out Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, and Flushing Meadows-Corona Park which hold the iconic Unisphere. Staten Island is perhaps the borough most off the beaten path for tourists, but is still worth a visit. Check out Historic Richmond Town, a living museum, as well as the Staten Island Botanical Garden and the Staten Island Museum.
Well, that’s New York City in a nutshell- for tourists. While by no means an exhaustive list of attractions and landmarks, this guide is meant to be a general overview and guideline for new visitors. The best way to see New York City is to go there and see it firsthand!
- New York is pricey, but not unnecessarily so. Instead of stopping for lunch at an overpriced chain restaurant in Times Square, look off the beaten path first. Delis and $1 pizza joints are hidden like diamonds in the rough.
- Stay safe. New York is one of the safest major cities in the U.S. but keep an eye out for scam artists, pickpockets and the like.
- At night, it’s best to stay in well known, touristy areas for safety reasons.
- Do your research online before visiting. Always be prepared and keep a map with you.
- In Manhattan, north means “uptown” and south means “downtown.”
- Don’t be afraid to stop and ask for directions or help. Most New Yorkers are welcoming of tourists and will gladly point you in the right direction.
- The subway is the easiest and most efficient way to see New York. The Times Square subway station is the busiest in the city and a great place to go hop on a subway line to see a new part of the city. The terms “subway” and “train” are interchangeable, so don’t be surprised to hear people, especially native New Yorkers, refer to it as the “train” or “train station.”