New York City: Top 5 Highlights Guide
A Brief Introduction:
Planning your first trip to New York City can be intimidating. New York is a sprawling concrete jungle, and with so much to see and do it is easy to be overwhelmed. That’s why my first post is especially designed to help you check off the New York ‘must-sees’ and offer some helpful advice for your journey. NOTE: this is not an exhaustive guide; there are too many places to see and things to do to possibly address them all in one article, nonetheless I hope you will find this a helpful starting place.
New York City is comprised of five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island. Though each borough is unique and worth exploring this article will focus primarily on Manhattan because of its dense concentration of NYC attractions.. Despite New York’s reputation as the ‘BIG CITY’, Manhattan is relatively small (about 13.4 miles in length, and 2.3 miles in width), and simple to navigate, making it possible to do a lot in a short amount of time.
Before you take your trip to New York you’re bound to hear the following advice: ‘skip the touristy stuff’. What exactly the ‘touristy stuff’ entails depends on the person you’re talking to, but given that I’m writing with the intention of helping you navigate the highlights, this is likely a guide to exactly what they’re referring to. Though this generally well-intended piece of advice is meant to encourage you to see ‘the real New York’ (whatever that might mean), you would be remiss to skip areas like Times Square, the Empire State Building, or the Statue of Liberty.
The list is ordered from the southern most part of Manhattan to Northern most. I’ve kept this list intentionally short. The trick to a successful New York visit is to not over schedule. Take your time and enjoy the sights. Chances are you won’t run out of things to see or do in NYC, but on the off chance you find yourself in this situation, take the opportunity to see something I haven’t included in this list.
The Statue of Liberty
Lady Liberty is one of the most iconic sights in the world, let alone New York City. She stands on her own island, welcoming waves of immigrants into the United States, and though she isn’t in Manhattan, she is the southern most ‘must-see’ sight on this list.You can see the statue from many different vantage points. To see her without out leaving Manhattan, make your way south towards Battery Park. Here you’ll be able to make out the statue clearly, but the distance isn’t the ideal for pictures.
If you want to get closer, consider taking the Staten Island Ferry, located just east of Battery Park. The ferry is a New York City icon unto itself, popular with tourists because it offers sweeping views of the New York skyline and the Statue of Liberty for FREE. You can board the boat from the terminal every 30 minutes. NOTE: If you take the boat just to see the statue, you will still have to get off in Staten Island and get on the next ferry back to Manhattan from inside the terminal.
A still closer view of the statue will cost you $$$. Sightseeing cruises get closer to the statue than the Staten Island Ferry. Tickets for these tours can be bought in advance online, or day of from the numerous vendors who will likely be soliciting your attention in Battery Park.
In order to visit Liberty Island, you should purchase tickets well ahead of time online. Though tickets to the island grounds are often available short notice, tickets to the pedestal and crown sell out quickly. These tickets include the added bonus of a trip to Elis Island and entrance to the museum.
The Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge is a short train ride from Battery Park, or a nice walk along the East River Esplanade. Notable as a historic feat of engineering that continues to impress visitors today, the bridge’s arches and cables make the New York skyline instantly identifiable.Like the Statue of Liberty there are many ways to see the Brooklyn Bridge. For the most Instagram-able view you’ll want to take it in from a distance; the near by East River Esplanade, or from water by boat are the best ways to capture its span. However, once you’ve snapped that pic, the best way to experience the Brooklyn Bridge is to cross it. The walk offers incredible views of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the East River.
Keep in mind crossing the bridge is time consuming. The walkway is a little over a mile in length, and is almost always crowded. If you’re not interested in walking the entirety, consider stopping at the first set of arches and coming back. NOTE: If you cross the bridge one way, you don’t have to walk it again to get back, there are easily accessible trains on both sides of the bridge.
The Empire State Building
Maybe the most easily spotted building in all of New York is the famed Empire State Building. Standing an impressive 102 stories, the tower was the world’s tallest for 40 years, solidifying it as a symbol of New York. Thanks to its immense height, the ESB is a difficult sight to miss. Tickets can be bought from salesmen at its base, or in advance online. There are two observatories inside located on the 86th and 102nd floor. Tickets to the 102nd story observation deck also include the 86th story deck.
The top of the Empire State Building is a classic NYC must-do for almost everyone visiting the city, however the observation decks are not the only way, or even the best way to experience one the ESB. A major downside of visiting these observatories is that any pictures of the NYC skyline will be missing its most iconic feature: the Empire State Building itself. Instead of the ESB, consider visiting the ‘Top of the Rock’ or ‘One World Trade’. Both of these buildings offer the same unparalleled views for less $$$, with the added bonus of being able to appreciate the ESB in the New York skyline.
This New York City highlight, also known as ‘the crossroads of the world’, can be seen from space! No tickets are required to enjoy Times Square, although it is close in proximity to the city’s theater district, and taking in a Broadway show is a quintessential New York experience.
Despite its (earned) reputation for being loud, dirty, and over-crowded, Times Square remains a ‘can’t miss New York City sight’. The constant hustle and bustle of the area, street performers, costumed characters and dazzling bright lights are hypnotic. Visit Times Square at night to experience the full magnitude of this Wonder of the Modern World. Make your way from the subway to the electric red stadium style seating (AKA: the TKTS Booth where you can purchase discount last minutes tickets to Broadway shows), to take in Times Square from an elevated vantage point. From here you can look out over the masses, take in the blinding marquee boards, and marvel at the fact that you’ve made it here, now you can make it anywhere.
Last on this list, but far from least is Central Park. The urban oasis is a reprieve from concrete and skyscrapers. If you look at Manhattan on a map, or even glance out your window on the flight in you will get a feel for the immense scale of Central Park. Like the city itself it’s impossible to experience everything the park has to offer in a single visit.
If you’re short on time and just looking to cross this one off your bucket list, pack a lunch, take a blanket, pick a grassy knoll, and picnic until your heart is content. Or pick any park entrance between 59th and 110th and cross the width for a brief escape. To see more specific sight and attractions in Central Park plan your trip well ahead of time. Shakespeare in the Park, the Belvedere Castle, Cleopatra’s Needle, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art are some of my all time favorite ways to kill time and relax in the city, but be prepared to spend upwards of several hours wandering the park to really enjoy Central Park.