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Destination Guide for New York


  About New York

The most exciting city in the world, New York is an adrenaline-charged, history-laden place that holds immense romantic appeal for visitors. Wandering the streets here, you'll cut between buildings that are icons to the modern age - and whether gazing at the flickering lights of the midtown skyscrapers as you speed across the Queensboro bridge, experiencing the 4am half-life downtown, or just wasting the morning on the Staten Island ferry, you really would have to be made of stone not to be moved by it all. There's no place quite like it.

While the events of September 11, 2001, which demolished the World Trade Center, shook New York to its core, the populace responded resiliently under the composed aegis of then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Until the attacks, many New Yorkers loved to hate Giuliani, partly because they saw him as committed to making their city too much like everyone else's. To some extent he succeeded, and during the late Nineties New York seemed cleaner, safer, and more liveable, as the city took on a truly international allure and shook off the more notorious aspects to its reputation. However, the maverick quality of New York and its people still shines as brightly as it ever did. Even in the aftermath of the World Trade Center's collapse, New York remains a unique and fascinating city - and one you'll want to return to again and again.

You could spend weeks in New York and still barely scratch the surface, but there are some key attractions - and some pleasures - that you won't want to miss. There are the different ethnic neighborhoods , like lower Manhattan's Chinatown and the traditionally Jewish Lower East Side (not so much anymore); and the more artsy concentrations of SoHo, TriBeCa, and the East and West Villages. Of course, there is the celebrated architecture of corporate Manhattan, with the skyscrapers in downtown and midtown forming the most indelible images. There are the museums , not just the Metropolitan and MoMA, but countless other smaller collections that afford weeks of happy wandering. In between sights, you can eat just about anything, at any time, cooked in any style; you can drink in any kind of company; and sit through any number of obscure movies . The more established arts - dance, theater, music - are superbly catered for; and New York's clubs are as varied and exciting as you might expect. And for the avid consumer, the choice of shops is vast, almost numbingly exhaustive in this heartland of the great capitalist dream.

  The City

New York City comprises the central island of Manhattan along with four outer boroughs - Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx , and Staten Island . Manhattan, to many, is New York - whatever your interests, it's here that you'll spend the most time and are likely to stay. New York is very much a city of neighborhoods and is best explored on foot.

Offshore, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island comprise the first section of New York (and America) that most nineteenth-century immigrants would have seen. The Financial District takes in the skyscrapers and historic buildings of Manhattan's southern reaches and was hardest hit by the destruction of perhaps its most famous landmarks, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Just northeast is the area around City Hall , New York's well-appointed municipal center, which adjoins TriBeCa , known for its swanky restaurants, galleries, and nightlife. Moving east, Chinatown is Manhattan's most populous ethnic neighborhood, a vibrant locale that's great for food and shopping. Nearby, Little Italy bears few traces of the once-strong immigrant presence, while the Lower East Side , the city's traditional gateway neighborhood for new immigrants, is nowadays scattered with trendy bars and clubs. To the west, SoHo is one of the premier districts for galleries and the commercial art scene, not to mention designer shopping. Continuing north, the West and East Villages form a focus of bars, restaurants, and shops catering to students and would-be bohemians - and of course tourists. Chelsea is a largely residential neighborhood that is now mostly known for its gay scene and art galleries that borders on Manhattan's old Garment District . Murray Hill contains the city's largest skyscraper and most enduring symbol, the Empire State Building .

Beyond 42nd Street , the main east-west artery of midtown, the character of the city changes quite radically, and the skyline becomes more high-rise and home to some of New York's most awe-inspiring, neck-cricking architecture. There are also some superb museums and the city's best shopping as you work your way north up Fifth Avenue as far as 59th Street. Here, the classic Manhattan vistas are broken by the broad expanse of Central Park , a supreme piece of nineteenth-century landscaping, without which life in Manhattan would be unthinkable. Flanking the park, the mostly residential and fairly affluent Upper West Side boasts Lincoln Center, Manhattan's temple to the performing arts, the American Museum of Natural History, and Riverside Park along the Hudson River. On the other side of the park, the Upper East Side is wealthier and more grandiose, with its nineteenth-century millionaires' mansions now transformed into a string of magnificent museums known as the "Museum Mile," the most prominent being the vast Metropolitan Museum of Art . Alongside is a patrician residential neighborhood that boasts some of the swankiest addresses in Manhattan, and a nest of designer shopping along Madison Avenue in the seventies. Immediately above Central Park, Harlem , the historic black city-within-a-city, has a healthy sense of an improving go-ahead community; a jaunt further north is most likely required only to see the unusual Cloisters, a nineteenth-century mock-up of a medieval monastery, packed with great European Romanesque and Gothic art and (transplanted) architecture.


Central Park: Central Park opened in 1876, and though that was a slight overstatement, today few New Yorkers could imagine life without it. At various times and places, the park functions as a beach, theater, singles' scene, athletic activity center, and animal behavior lab, both human and canine. In bad times and good New Yorkers still treasure it more than any other city institution.

In spite of the advent of motorized traffic, the sense of disorderly nature the park's nineteenth-century designers, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, intended largely survives, with cars and buses cutting through the park in the sheltered, sunken transverses originally meant for horse-drawn carriages, mostly unseen from the park itself. The midtown skyline, of course, has changed, and buildings thrust their way into view, sometimes detracting from the park's original pastoral intention, but at the same time adding to the sense of being on a green island in the center of a magnificent city

Coney Island: Accessible to anyone for the price of a subway ride, the beachfront amusement spot of Coney Island has long given working-class New Yorkers the kind of holiday they just couldn't get otherwise. It brings to mind old black-and-white photos from the earlier part of the nineteenth century. Find out for yourself by taking the subway to Stillwell Avenue (last stop on the #F, #M, #Q or #W train). These days, the music blares louder than it once did, the language of choice on the boardwalk is Spanish or Russian as often as English, and the rides look a bit worse for the wear.

The beach can be overwhelmingly crowded on hot days, and it's never the cleanest place in or out of the water. But show up for the annual Mermaid Parade on the first Saturday of summer and you'll get caught up in the fun of what's got to be one of the oddest - certainly glitziest - small-town festivals in the country, where paraders dress in King Neptune and mermaid attire.

The amusement area comprises several parks, none of which offers a deal that makes a lot of sense - unless you have kids (nearly all the children's rides are in Deno's Wonder Wheel Park) or plan on riding one ride more than four times. Still, the 75-year-old Wonder Wheel ($3, plus a free children's ticket to the New York Aquarium, see below) is a must. After 75 years, it's still the tallest Ferris wheel in the world, and the only one on which two-thirds of the cars slide on serpentine tracks, shifting position as the wheel makes its slow circle twice around. The rickety Cyclone rollercoaster ($4, $3 for a repeat ride) is another landmark, but if you're used to slick modern loop-coaster rides, be forewarned: this low-tech wooden coaster is not for the faint of heart.

Chinatown: With more than 200,000 residents (125,000 of them Chinese and the rest other Asian ethnicities), 7 Chinese newspapers, 12 Buddhist temples, around 150 restaurants and over 300 garment factories, Chinatown is Manhattan's most populous ethnic neighborhood, one of busy restaurants and exotic street markets. Since the Eighties, it has pushed its boundaries north across Canal Street into Little Italy and sprawls east into the nether fringes of the Lower East Side around Division Street and East Broadway.

The Chinese community has been careful to preserve its own way of dealing with things, preferring to keep affairs close to the bond of the family and allowing few intrusions into a still-insular culture. And while insularity means that much of Chinatown's character survives relatively unspoiled - especially on streets such as Canal, Pell, Mott and Bayard - it has also meant non-union sweatshop labor and poor overcrowded tenements ill-kept by landlords. However, unless you stay in Chinatown for a considerable length of time it's unlikely you'll see much of this seamier side. Most tourists, like most New Yorkers, come here not to get the lowdown on Chinese politics but to eat excellent Chinese food or to hunt for bargains along Canal Street .

Statue of Liberty: Located in New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty was a gift of international friendship from the people of France to the people of the United States and is one of the most universal symbols of political freedom and democracy. The Statue of Liberty was dedicated on October 28, 1886 and was designated a National Monument on October 15, 1924. The Statue was extensively restored in time for her spectacular centennial on July 4, 1986


Things to do

Theatre: From Broadway glitter to Lower East Side grunge, the range and variety of the performing arts in New York is exactly what you might expect. Broadway, and even Off-Broadway theater , is notoriously expensive, but if you know where to look, there are a variety of ways to get tickets cheaper, and on the Off-Off-Broadway fringe you can see a play for little more than the price of a movie ticket. As for dance, music and opera , the big mainstream events are extremely expensive, but smaller ones are often equally as interesting and far cheaper. New York gets the first run of most American films (and many foreign ones before they reach Europe) and has a very healthy arthouse and revival scene.

Restaurants: New York is a rich port city that can get the best foodstuffs from anywhere in the world, and, as a major immigration gateway, it attracts chefs who know how to cook the world's cuisines properly, even exceptionally. As you stroll through the streets of New York, heavenly odors seem to emanate from every corner; it's not hard to work up an appetite.

Outside of American and continental cuisines (more or less including New American, which can either dazzle with its inventive fusions or fail miserably and pretentiously), be prepared to confront a startling variety of ethnic food . In New York, none has had so dominant an effect as Jewish food , to the extent that many Jewish specialties - bagels, pastrami, lox and cream cheese - are now considered archetypal New York. Others retain more specific identities. Chinese food includes the familiar Cantonese, as well as spicier Szechuan and Hunan dishes - most restaurants specialize in one or the other. Japanese food is widely available and very good; other Asian cuisines include Indian and a broad sprinkling of Thai, Korean, Vietnamese and Indonesian restaurants.