New York City has been described as the world's cultural, financial, and media capital. It significantly influences commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, dining, art, fashion, and sports. 

NYC Manhattan Skyline - by Fred Hsu - WikipediaIt is also the most photographed city in the world and home to the United Nations headquarters. 
Some even go as far as labeling it the capital of the world.

With its densely packed population, especially on the tiny island of Manhattan, you would think it is a place to avoid – and I did avoid it for a very long time.

I finally broke down and spent a few days in this magnificent city, and I am glad I did.

I still experienced some of the well-known clichés about NYC, like rude taxi drivers and overcrowded streets, but my experience was generally pleasant.


New York Subway system (MTA)
Taxis and Ride-Sharing
Statue of Liberty
Central Park
Times Square
Rockefeller Center

New York history

New Amsterdam - from WikimediThe Dutch founded the first European settlement at the southern tip of present-day Manhattan called New Amsterdam.  

The settlement extended from the southern tip of Manhattan to a 12-foot wooden stockade built to protect against Native American and British raids. Along that fence ran a street that became known as Wall Street.

Today, Wall Street is the financial hub of NY and the world and home to the New York Stock Exchange. 
In 1664, the Dutch population surrendered to English troops, and after a treaty in 1667, the area became known as New York. 

You can read a lot more details about NYC history here.

Interesting Fact: In 1664, New York was named in honor of the Duke of York (later King James II of England). Before them, the city was called New Amsterdam.

The modern-day city was formed by merging the five boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, and Haarlem.

Today, it is the largest city in the USA and one of the largest mega-cities in the world. 

Getting Around

So, how do you get around this mega-city? 

I was warned about driving in the city, so I used my two feet, taxis, and the metro to get around. 

My hotel was next to Grand Central Station and a few blocks from major Manhattan attractions. 

New York Subway

Subway map coutesy MTALooking at the subway map, I felt I would get lost for sure, but after some consideration, I figured out that most lines go north/south or, for New Yorkers, Upton/Downtown. 

So let's say you are in Times Square and want to get to Central Park. 

You can take the green line from the 14th/Union Square station going uptown. Or you can walk a little westward and take the Blue Line uptown. 

You can pay for your fare by purchasing a MetroCard or utilizing the new OMNI electronic payment method. If you register your credit card with the system beforehand, you can simply tap your card at the Turnstiles.

See a detailed NYC Metro guide here.  

And an interactive Metro map here.  

Taxis and Ridesharing

Yellow Cabs in New York - by ChevronZ - WikipediaIt is quite easy to grab a taxi in New York. Just wave for a taxi and watch it swerve to your location. If you are at a hotel, the doorman will happily hail a taxi.

All taxis are yellow, and all must use a meter. You can pay with cash or use the card reader to pay with credit. 

Our taxi rides were mostly quick and friendly, but we encountered some infamous rude NY taxi drivers. 

Ride-sharing, on the other hand, is not so easy. First, the number of available Uber or Lyft drivers is limited, and second, it is hard to set your pickup location in most spots. 

After two attempts to call an Uber, I gave up and stuck with Yellow Cabs.

Same story at the airport. As you exit the terminal, find a line forming for taxi service. The line may seem long, but it moved quickly. We only had to wait about 15 minutes for our taxi from JFK to Manhattan.

Walking around

Walkable New YorkOne of the best ways to explore a city is to walk around, and Manhattan is one of the most walkable towns in the USA.

The streets are laid out in a grid (mostly) with north/south thoroughfares called streets and east/west roads called avenues, with 5th Ave dividing the island in half longwise.

You can set a destination on your phone's navigation app and just start walking, or you can use a service like the one offered by GPS My City to customize a walking tour.

The advantage of using GPS My City is that you can pick a few destinations and get a report about each, with a detailed walking route. 

Here is a sample walking tour that I took the first day I was in Manhattan:

Grand Central Terminal - from WikipediaI started from Grand Central Station, right next to my hotel. The station is definitely grand, with forty-four platforms and sixty-seven railway tracks on two levels and is the largest train station in the world. 

Grand Central is a destination on its own, with many shops and restaurants inside the grand architecture.  

Next, I passed by the New York Public Library, the second-largest public library in the United States (and third largest worldwide), behind only the Library of Congress. 

Rockefeller Center - Skate RinkNext, I spent some time at the Rockefeller Center, admiring the unique building designs, statues, and the skating rink in the middle. 

All those buildings at the square are connected via an underground tunnel system called the Catacombs. This network of underground passageways has more than one hundred unique stores, quick bites, and fine dining options.

Another reason to visit the center is the "Top of the Rock" observation deck. 

And, of course, a visit to NY is incomplete without a visit to Broadway. 

Broadway (also known as the theater district) has 41 professional theatres, each with five hundred or more seats.

Times SquareBroadway merges into the famous Times Square, a major commercial intersection at the intersection of Broadway, 7th Avenue, and 42nd Street. 

Broadway theaters and many animated neon and LED signs have long made this spot one of New York's iconic images and a symbol of the intensely urban aspects of Manhattan. 

Times Square is also the site of the annual New Year's Eve ball drop. 

The place is always extra busy and loud, with many people, neon signs, and video screens, and it is open 24/7. It is somewhat reminiscent of the Las Vegas Strip.

Tip: With so many people in a small space, watch your valuables!

Empire State BuildingNext on this walking tour is the Empire State Building. For 40 years, the Empire State Building had been the tallest in the world until 1972, when it lost the title to the World Trade Towers. After the September 11, 2001, attack on the WTC, it again became the tallest structure in New York City.

While you can admire this engineering marvel from the outside, don't miss the breathtaking view from the 86th-floor observatory or the 102nd-floor. 

Interesting fact: The 86th floor was meant as a port for Airships, but after two attempts to land with high winds buffeting the ships, the idea was abandoned.

September 11 MemorialOur next stop is the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. 

Visiting this Memorial in person is both sobering and awe-inspiring. Much thought has gone into making this tribute to all who lost their lives.

You can go down seventy feet underground to the original bedrock and pillars on which the buildings were built, walk the grounds outside, admire the reflection pools, and read the victims' names.

The museum also shows 2 of the steel beams from the destroyed buildings.

Tip: Try purchasing museum tickets online in advance, especially during the busier months (holidays or vacation periods).

And while at this beautiful Memorial, you can admire the new World Trade Center buildings.

One World Trade Center also has an observation deck on the 100th to 102nd floors with a speeding elevator that takes you to the top in a few seconds. 

Tip: Make sure you book in advance and coordinate your visit with the weather! It would be a waste of time to go all the way to the Top to gaze at the fog. 

The final stop on this walking tour is the Brooklyn Bridge, which connects the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn over the East River.

A walk on the bridge will afford a spectacular view of the NYC skyline – and good exercise. 

Another must-do walk is through Central Park and Museums:

Central ParkCentral Park is a vast urban park in Manhattan in New York City, and it is renowned for hundreds of fascinating attractions, recreational facilities, and concerts throughout the year. 

Central Park is the most visited urban park in the United States. Among other venues, the park contains the National Weather Station at the picturesque Belvedere Castle and the Delacorte Theater, known as Cleopatra's Needle, the oldest public monument in North America.

Central Park North Wood - by Epicgenius - WikipediaThe park also offers many trails with lakes, ponds, playgrounds, and well-known museums.

Tip: Rent bikes for the day and explore this huge park. 

The park's north end was designed to look like dense wood and provided New Yorkers a way to explore the jungle without leaving town.

As you explore the park, stop at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, popularly known as the "Met". 

The museum boasts one of the largest artwork collections in the world, spanning from prehistoric times to the modern day. 

Metropolitan Museum of Art - by Hugo Schneider - WikimediaThe Metropolitan Museum of Art offers free guided tours for visitors. A standalone attraction here is the roof garden, offering a spectacular view of Central Park and New York City.

Tip: The best place for you to sit down, if tired, is the furniture storage area on the second floor. It is quiet, elegant, and has comfortable, contemporary upholstered chairs.

To avoid exhaustion, consider splitting your visit into several sessions. Entry tickets allow multiple visits over a 3-day period, plus entry to some MET annexes elsewhere in NYC.

Another can't-miss place adjacent to Central Park is the American Museum of Natural History. It is one of the largest and most celebrated museums in the world. 

The complex comprises twenty-seven interconnected buildings on the park-like grounds with forty-five permanent exhibition halls. The museum also has a planetarium and a library. 

Also, consider eating before going (the on-site food is expensive and not that great).

Statue of Liberty

Statue of LibertySay you visited New York, and it is guaranteed that someone will ask you, did you see the Statue of Liberty?

The answer is, of course. I got to see it in multiple ways, and I wasn't disappointed. 

My first view was as part of a tour that included a ferry ride to Staton Island. Those free ferries get remarkably close to Liberty Island and the statue. The only drawback is that everyone and their uncle had the same idea. Finding a spot with an unobstructed view was a challenge.

My second viewing was from The Battery – a park, ferry terminal, and historic castle. 

The park offers splendid views of the statue, but if you prefer, you can take the ferry to Ellis and Liberty Islands for a closer look. See the website for more information.  

At Liberty Island, you can admire America's iconic freedom statue as you walk through the gardens and visit The Statue of Liberty Museum to learn more about the statue's history.

To get a sense of what immigrants experienced as they touched the shores of the promised land, go to Ellis Island, and visit Ellis Island National Immigration Museum.  

Back at the park, you can spend some time at Fort Clinton, admire the statue from an elevated platform, and see New Jersey across the Hudson. 

Central Park

Central ParkThe 843-acre urban park in Manhattan in New York City is renowned for hundreds of fascinating attractions, recreational facilities, and concerts throughout the year. 

Central Park is the most visited urban park in the United States. Among other venues, the park contains the National Weather Station at the picturesque Belvedere Castle and the Delacorte Theater, known as Cleopatra's Needle, the oldest public monument in North America.

The park was proposed in the 1840s to bring part of the countryside to the hectic urban living and was completed in 1858. It went through several periods of decline and revitalization, but nowadays, it is a haven for New Yorkers and visitors.

So, what can you do at the park?

Central Park Strawberry FieldsYou can walk or bike while admiring the landscaping and features like Ramble and Lake, Hallett Nature Sanctuary, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, strawberry fields, and Sheep Meadow. 

Or you can have fun with the whole family at Wollman Rink, Central Park Carousel, and the Central Park Zoo. 
The park's north end was designed to look like dense wood and provided New Yorkers a way to explore the jungle without leaving town.

The Central Park Conservancy has an interactive map highlighting the park's points of interest with more details about each place.

Times Square

Times SquareTimes Square is a major commercial intersection connecting Broadway, 42nd Street, and 7th Avenue. It is one of the places that gives New York its unique character and worldwide appeal.

As you enter the square, you are transformed into a bustling, flashy, and loud space with massive LED screens, street vendors and performers, shops of every kind, and restaurants.

Sprinkled around the square and along Boardway Street, you will find some of the most well-known theater productions. 

On New Year's Eve, millions of people gather to celebrate and watch the famous ball drop from the Times building. 

Times Square also hosts many free events of live music and theater to be enjoyed by everyone on the TSQ stage. See the event schedule here.  

Rockefeller CenterRockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center is another commercial area in New York with 19 buildings covering 22 acres. The original 14 buildings were commissioned by the Rockefeller family and were designed as Art Deco with a sunken plaza, currently housing a skating rink.

All those buildings at the square are connected via an underground tunnel system called the Catacombs. This network of underground passageways has more than 100 unique stores, quick bites, and fine dining options.

Another reason to visit the center is the "Top of the Rock" observation deck with 360-degree views of the New York skyline. 

Tip: Lines to the observation deck are always long – unless you buy the express pass or the VIP tour. You can also sidestep those lines by booking a reservation at the Rainbow Room.

Rockefeller Center Christmas - by Anthony uintano - WikimediaThe Rockefeller Center is also famous for its Christmas Tree display. Rockefeller employees started the tradition but later were picked up by the company. Nowadays, it is a spectacular event that brings the Christmas spirit to the plaza.

While at the center, you can also sit on a taping of an NBC show, go ice skating in the winter, admire the artwork and statues, catch the Sacks Fifth Avenue light show, and visit the World of Nintendo.

Little Island Park

Little Island - by - Allison Meier - WikimediaAfter Hurricane Sandy, the Hudson River Park Trust wanted to renovate Pier-54. With the help of several designers and architects, they created this unique public space.

Little Island on the Hudson was born as a new public park designed for New Yorkers of all ages to enjoy nature and art.

Along with a place to relax and enjoy the beautiful landscape, the park is a place for free or inexpensive concerts and performances.

New Your City Tour

New York Guided TourWhenever I visit a new town, I try to find a reputable tour company to show me around.

For this trip, I went with USA Guided Tours on their Discover NY Tour. When you book the tour, you can have an open-top or closed-top bus tour. I picked the open-top bus to enjoy the sights and sounds of NY.

My tour departed at 10 AM on 7th Ave between 50th & 51st Streets. There is no storefront for the tour operator, so just look for the tour buses parked on the curb.

Tip: there is one bathroom stop along the way, but it is a clever idea to take advantage of the restrooms at McDonald's on 7th street before you get on the bus.

Our tour guide was informative and entertaining, with a wealth of knowledge about New York City. 

We first passed through the hectic Times Square with its dazzling LED screens and Broadway theaters. 

Interesting fact: The square was named after the Times Magazine building, but the magazine headquarters moved a block away in 1913. The times building is now called One Times Square.

Our first stop was at Central Park West, close to 72nd Street. Our guide pointed out that the Dakota Building across the street from the park is the former home of John Lennon. 

A short walk into the park leads to the Strawberry Fields and the Imagine mosaic dedicated to John Lennon. 

Luxuary Apartments next to Central ParkWe also passed by some luxury condominiums around the park with celebrity homes. 

In and around the park, you can visit the Central Park Zoo, the Plaza Hotel, and Carnegie Hall.

The second stop on the tour was at the Rockefeller Center, where we viewed St. Patrick's Cathedral, the skating rink, the Christmas Tree location, and NBC's Today Show set.

Our next stop was at Madison Square Park - the original location of Madison Square Garden Arena. This area provides spectacular views of dramatic architecture featured in numerous books and films: the Flatiron Building (Godzilla, Spider-Man), the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower (The Runaway Skyscraper, Futurama), and the Empire State Building (King Kong, Independence Day).

The tour continued by driving through some of NYC's iconic neighborhoods, such as Greenwich Village, Soho, Chinatown, and the Financial District.

Wall StreetEn route to the fourth stop, we drove by Wall Street for views of the New York Stock Exchange, Federal Hall (the location of the first Capitol Building of the United States), Trinity Church, and a drive-by the famous Charging Bull sculpture on Broadway. 

Interesting Fact: Wall Street got its name from an actual wall erected by the Dutch to protect against native American and British raids. 

Our fourth stop was at the new World Trade Center, as we visited the National September 11 Memorial. We walked the Memorial grounds to see the waterfalls of "Reflecting Absence." 

The pools represent the footprints of where the original Twin Towers stood, and the walls were engraved with the names of the 9/11 victims. 

This tour did not include entry to the museum, but we could observe one of the recovered steel beams from the original building. 

I think this Memorial was an elegant way to remember those who lost their lives on this dreadful day and celebrate America's renewed spirit.

Statue of Liberty Staton Island FerryThe fifth stop was a boat ride on the Staten Island Ferry to experience magnificent views of the Statue of Liberty, Manhattan, and Brooklyn skylines. 

The ferries to Staton Island are free, and a crowd always awaits the next boat. I was amazed at how many they could fit on one trip. But it doesn't look crowded once everyone gets in and spreads out through the three levels. The only exception is on the balconies on level 2, as everyone heads there for the best views.

The ferry gets remarkably close to the Statue of Liberty but is not allowed to dock. To get to Liberty Island for a closer look, you must take the official ferry from Battery Park.

Back in Manhattan after the round trip to Staton Island, the tour continues with a break for lunch and a short ride back to our original departure point on 7th Avenue in the Times Square area. 

This tour was a great way to get introduced to this great city, and I would recommend it to new visitors.