New York City is considered by many as the cultural capital of the world; it is the city that is the home of the United Nations Headquarters, the luminous Times Square, Wall Street, the Broadway theater district and many world renowned bridges, skyscrapers, and parks. New York City’s population of 8.25million is distributed over the 5 boroughs, The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island, making it one of the most densely populated major cities in the USA.
With such a large and dense population, it is no surprise that the term “melting pot” was first coined to describe the immigrant neighbourhoods on Manhattans’ Lower East Side. This, together with being so religiously diverse and home to a large self-identifying gay and bisexual community, gives NYC a unique vibe and mixed culture that makes it the city I love.
Get to know New York in three easy steps:
1. Meet the people
Contrary to one of the stereotypical beliefs about Americans, I have never found a city in the world with a more polite and friendly bunch of local people. After mentioning this to a taxi driver on my last visit, he told me that attitudes had changed since the events of September 11th, 2001 and people were much friendlier.
My favourite thing to do in NYC is to meet the locals, whether it is a tour guide, the wait staff or a random person at one of the invariably hospitable local bars. Their stories are amazing and they are always forthcoming with suggestions on things to do and places to go when you ask them about their city. It turns out that I am not the only one with this opinion. USA was recently listed on Lonely Planets’ World’s friendliest countries. If you take the time to meet them, I am sure that you will not experience people this lovely in any other large city around the world.
2. Buy a NY CityPass
A CityPass is one of the easiest and quickest ways to see NYC. The pass will provide you with express entry and tickets for the Empire State Building Observatory, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, MoMA (The Museum of Modern Art), Top of the Rock or Guggenheim Museum, and the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island or a Circle Line Cruise. By pre-purchasing a NY CityPass you will save a total of 46% on admission to the 6 major tourist attractions and it’s valid for 9 days. The NY CityPass, along with a 2 day City Sights hop-on hop-off double decker bus tour, made our trip to NYC unforgettable.
City Sights hop-on hop-off double decker bus
3. Explore Downtown Manhattan
I believe that the south area on the island of Manhattan has the most interesting and diverse mix of culture in NYC. It is known to most people from Manhattan as “Downtown”, or Lower Manhattan, and includes everything below 14th street (though some might say 23rd St). Downtown may not have Times Square, the Empire State Building or Central Park but it is home to artistic and somewhat bohemian Greenwich Village, the Financial District with the 9/11 Memorial and Wall Street, clusters of Chinese green-grocers and fishmongers in Chinatown, yummy Italian restaurants in Little Italy, the SoHo Cast Iron District with its fashionable shopping, trendy galleries and seasonal cultural events in Chelsea and Tribeca, and hip bars and nightlife in the Meatpacking District.
My Perfect Day in NYC
For a perfect tour in Downtown Manhattan put on your best walking shoes and start your day at Kossar’s Bialys on Grand St in the Lower East Side where you can pick up a bag of kosher bagels and bialys for breakfast (and some to take home). If you are a pickle fan, you must stop at The Pickle Guys which is located just around the corner at 49 Essex St. Here you will find every type of pickle from gherkins to pickled tomatoes, hot peppers, celery and baby carrots, all made using an old Eastern European recipe. By continuing west along Grand St you will find yourself in the heart of Chinatown where you can sample tasty fried dumplings, tapioca bubble tea, taro-filled sticky buns and candied crabs at the many Asian bakeries, delis and grocers.
You will notice a sudden shift in scenery once you cross Mott St heading towards Mulberry Street where what is left of Little Italy jumps out at you. Here you can enjoy some amazing Italian desserts and cannoli at Ferrara and pick up some handmade pasta, hand selected cheese, and cured meats from one of the historic family owned delis across the road. They will be more than happy to help you with your selections.
From here you can wonder north-west to Lafeyette St, Broadway or Crosby St between Spring St and Houston St for art and jewellery stands, high-end boutiques and vintage shopping that will keep you busy for most of the afternoon.
If you are a little peckish, check out Katz’s Deli which is located at East Houston and Ludlow, several blocks east. Katz’s Deli boasts amazing sandwiches overflowing with pastrami, turkey or corned beef, served with a complimentary side of large pickles. It is also the deli in which “that scene” from “Where Harry met Sally” took place.
To continue your unique shopping experience you can follow Bleecker Street north-west from 6th Avenue (Avenue of the Americas) to 11th Street, stopping off at Marc Jacobs, Burberry, MAC, Ralph Lauren and Bleecker Street Records. At 11th Avenue you will find the famous Magnolia Bakery, home to the most delicious red velvet cake. At this stage it might be a good idea to pop back to your hotel to drop off your bags and goodies.
Once you are ready to continue your expedition, backtrack past 6th Avenue to the area around Bleecker and Sullivan where you can find any number of bars, clubs and restaurants that will keep you entertained into the night. A favourite of mine is an early dinner at the Mussel Pot on Bleecker followed by a gig at the Comedy Cellar on McDougal and a drink and pool game at Fat Cat, a jazz bar a short walk away on Christopher and Waverley. Or, if you are in the mood for some Italian, pop back down to Little Italy for a splendid choice of traditional Italian pastas and pizza.
Exhausted? The Financial District, Statue of Liberty and 9/11 Memorial will have to wait until tomorrow!
Helpful links and further information
Where to stay?
Try VRBO and AirBnB for apartments and houses that are usually cheaper than a hostel or hotel if you are travelling with others.
- Hotel Doorman, Porters and Bellhops – $1-2 for hailing cab, bringing car from valet, or $1-2 per bag
- Housekeeping – $2-5 per day, depending on services
- Room Service Waiter – 15-20%, though this is often included in your bill
- Waitstaff – 15-20% of the total bill
- Bartender – $1-2/drink for drinks served at the bar; 15-20% of the total bill otherwise
- Taxi Drivers – 15-20% of fare; for short rides, add a dollar and round up
Food and drink:
For outlet shopping Century21 is a must do! There are two stores in Manhattan, located at 22 Cortlandt Street and 1972 Broadway.
Also check out Bleeker Street and SoHo Shopping.
Entertainment and attraction tickets:
I highly recomment a night out at Comedy Cellar
9/11 Memorial Visitors Pass (free but required for entry)