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Standing a magnificent 305 feet tall in the midst of New York Harbor, Lady Liberty is the most recognized statue in the world, an icon of America and a beacon of freedom for more than a century now. But it’s what’s inside that’s even more compelling. On the second floor of the Statue’s pedestal (elevator accessible), visitors can enjoy exhibits on its history; see the original torch, replaced in the mid-1980s and restored for display; plus excellent views of New York Harbor. For those intent on visiting the crown, advance reservations are required, and the climb is 146 steps up a spiral staircase. (There is no elevator from the pedestal level.) However, the view from the crown is truly as far as the eye can see—and worth every ounce of aerobic exhaustion.
Founded as an American art museum to rival the best of Europe’s, the Met opened in 1880 at its esteemed Fifth Avenue location and continues to fulfill its original lofty ambition. The permanent collection boasts more than two million works from every continent, divided among 17 curated areas. Two main floors house four of the most popular galleries: European Sculpture and Decorative Arts; Egyptian Art (the contemporary-looking Temple of Dendur dates to 15 BC); European Paintings and The American Wing, showcasing paintings, sculpture and decorative arts. One flight down is The Costume Institute, a visual encyclopedia of fashion with some 35,000 pieces dating back to the 15th Century. Additional highlights: the Ming-style scholar’s garden, made with centuries-old construction tools and techniques; decoratively armored figures on horseback in the Arms and Armor gallery, which emphasizes artistry and pageantry; a remarkable collection of musical instruments; and on a nice day or clear night, the roof garden, which makes the hubbub of New York seem miles away.
The powerful memorial, set in the footprints of the World Trade Center towers, is made up of twin reflecting pools with gently cascading water. Edging the pools are bronze panels, inscribed with the names of every person who died in the 2001 and 1993 WTC attacks. Visitors can descend seven stories below ground into the WTC site, where the museum’s heart-wrenching exhibitions utilize audio recordings, videos, photographs and hundreds of personal effects revisiting that fateful day. Among other highlights: a display honoring the nearly 3,000 individuals who lost their lives, including photographs and reminiscences from their loved ones; and a portion of the actual cement staircase, which provided an escape route for many fortunate survivors. Set aside at least two hours to take in the experience, which in many ways is as much about the pain and loss of that day as it is about the strength and resilience of New York City.
This was the first bridge to connect Brooklyn with Manhattan in 1883. And as the country’s first steel-wire suspension bridge, it was considered one of the greatest engineering feats of the 19th Century. Standing at both ends of the 1.3-mile overpass are imposing stone towers that rise some 276 feet above the water and feature double archways meant to suggest portals. And while driving across the Brooklyn Bridge has its merits, it doesn’t compare to crossing it on foot. Down its center are a walkway plus designated bike lanes elevated above the traffic, offering a panoramic birds’-eye perspective. Plan on taking at least an hour to walk one way, longer if you’re with children. And for the most dramatic views, start in Brooklyn. Walking toward the Manhattan skyline is nothing short of breathtaking.
Spread over 843 acres of prime Manhattan real estate, Central Park offers a great escape from the concrete jungle. There are 58 miles of footpaths for taking in the Park’s natural scenery plus such noteworthy sights as Bethesda Fountain and Terrace; the Conservatory Water (scene of model-boat races in spring); Strawberry Fields, the John Lennon memorial; lots of sculptures throughout; and at the far north end, Conservatory Garden (well worth the trek). Activity-wise, visitors can rent a rowboat (April through October), go horseback riding on designated bridle paths, climb to the top of Belvedere Castle, go ice skating (there are two rinks open October through April) and take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage—even, a gondola (in summer). And not for kids only: the impressive, pint-size Central Park Zoo; and the awesome, oversize carousel, with 57 exquisite hand-carved horses.
Arguably the most famous of the New York City landmarks, the Empire State Building is another impressive example of the City’s Art Deco design. The lobby itself is a designated historic landmark, noted for its gold- and aluminum-leaf ceiling murals and a gleaming bas-relief depiction of the building’s profile. Of course, the Number One attraction here is the view from the top. There are two observation decks: on the 86th and 102nd floors. Go on a clear day or night, and you’ll see outstanding City sights. To avoid the long lines, buy the Express Pass, which will take you straight up and includes both observatories.
With some 4,000 animals living on 265 acres transformed into a variety of wildlife habitats, this is more world-class wildlife preserve than zoo. It’s also impossible to see everything in one visit. Most highly recommended: Congo Gorilla Forest, an award-winning facsimile of an African rainforest, where you’ll see Western lowland gorillas (the largest population in the U.S.), pygmy monkeys and more; Himalayan Highlands for sightings of the endangered snow leopards and red pandas; and World of Birds, a rainforest of exotic birds famous for aerial stunts. If visiting with young kids, check out the cool Children’s Zoo (they can try on a turtle shell!) and the Butterfly Garden, a huge enclosed greenhouse with over 1,000 butterflies and a carousel with giant bugs.
The observation deck atop Rockefeller Center’s GE Building offers an impressively unobstructed panorama of New York City that even the most jaded New Yorkers call “breathtaking.” Views from the 1933 Art Deco skyscraper include most of Manhattan’s prominent landmarks: Central Park, the Chrysler Building, Grand Central Terminal, One World Trade Center and the Empire State Building. The observation deck occupies three top floors; the lower two are glass-enclosed with an open-air deck on the top. Even the elevator ride is a visual trip. Enter on 50th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Go before sunset to see the City by day and its sparkling transformation to night.
The most famous neighborhood this side of Mars, Times Square is a mecca for tourists—and for good reason. It’s home to all the Broadway shows, tons of street performers and cartoon characters, dozens of megastores from big-name retailers (don’t miss the working Ferris wheel at Toys “R” Us) and has enough LED-lit billboards and digital screens to light up the night. Visitors can take selfies with their favorite celebs at Madame Tussauds wax museum, experience the unimaginable at Ripley’s Believe it Or Not! or have their portraits drawn by a street caricature artist in record time. Need a break? The pedestrian plaza on Broadway (closed to cars) has café tables and chairs, providing one of the finest people-watching spots in town.
A lot was riding on the observation deck atop One World Trade Center. For the (latest) tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, only the most marvelous high-tech effects would do. But for the skyscraper that will forever stand in the shadow of heartache, it had to also be a marvel of respect. One World Observatory, which opened in summer 2015, answers the call. Occupying three top floors, it features interactive exhibits and high-def videos. Even the elevators get into the act: On the way up, they show a cool time lapse of Lower Manhattan’s development from the 1500s to today (including a glimpse of one of the original Towers); on the descent, it’s a trippy aerial view of the Financial District including shots of the very building they’re in. Above all of it, though, is the real thing. From 1,250 feet up and in every direction, day or night, New York City puts on quite a show.
A complex of 14 Art Deco landmark buildings around a sunken plaza, Rockefeller Center has more recognizable attractions per square foot than anywhere else in the City. At the Fifth Avenue entrance is the statue of Atlas; beyond Atlas, The Today Show studio (get there before sunrise, and you can be part of the crowd Al Roker and gang chat up). There’s the ice skating rink plus the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree—in summer, the rink becomes an outdoor patio—and the gilded Prometheus statue adorning the GE Building (aka, 30 Rock). This 70-story skyscraper is the headquarters of NBC Studios where Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show are produced. On the Sixth Avenue side is Radio City Music Hall, popular concert venue and home to the high-stepping Rockettes. If that’s not enough, there’s plenty of shopping between the street-level stores and many more on the concourse below.
This elevated park, built atop a long-abandoned railway bed, offers a slender urban sanctuary for a section of the far West Side that could get pretty gritty. Inspired by the Promenade Plantée in Paris, the High Line runs from Gansevoort Street (which is three blocks below 14th Street) north to 34th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues. The walkway is flanked by plenty of benches and deck chairs, even patches of grass, for taking a time out; food and drink vendors also dot the scenic route. And now the newly transplanted Whitney Museum, located at the High Line's southernmost point, adds some artsy panache. To access the aerial terrace, look for enclosed stairways and elevators at street level every few blocks or so along 10th Avenue.
It serves as a commuter-train station, but Grand Central Station (as New Yorkers call it) is one of New York’s landmark attractions that could double as a museum. The majestic Beaux Arts building is probably most famous for the vaulted ceiling in the Main Concourse with its zodiac design of stars and constellations. A massive four-faced clock atop the information booth is the most popular designated meeting spot. Adjacent to the Main Concourse is elegant Vanderbilt Hall, site of a Christmas Market pop-up shop and other worthwhile exhibitions throughout the year. On the lower Dining Concourse is The Oyster Bar, a popular seafood restaurant, original to Grand Central—and throughout the building are an eclectic mix of retail shops, take-out food stops and Grand Central Market, an exceptional food market catering to a commuter’s dinner needs. If you have time, take a tour—the history and lore of Grand Central are fascinating.
Several blocks up the stretch of Fifth Avenue known as Museum Mile sits the Guggenheim—a museum whose building is as awesome as its artwork. The spherical structure was designed by acclaimed architect Frank Lloyd Wright and is considered one of the best examples of Modern architecture. Inside is a world-class collection of modern art: masterpieces by Picasso, Chagall, Cezanne, Kandinsky, Manet, et. al.—augmented by special exhibitions. If pressed for time, it’s possible to see most of the museum's holdings in under an hour. Take the elevator to the top floor and walk down the spiral ramp, stopping to view the fabulous pieces along the way.
If traveling with children, this museum is mandatory—and even if you’re not, it’s still a must-see. The 40-plus exhibit halls cover meteors, reptiles, mammals, minerals, gems, biodiversity and ocean life (where you’ll see a life-size blue whale replica suspended from the ceiling). And there’s an entire floor devoted to dinosaurs. The Rose Center for Earth and Space, housed in a spacious glass-encased addition to the museum, chronicles the universe’s 13 billion years using the most advanced technology. Bottom line: This is the kind of museum that rainy vacation days are made for. Plan on a lot of walking; the museum has four floors and is spread over several city blocks. Enter on Central Park West for the powerful Barosaurus display: three dinosaur skeletons, all cast from original fossils, portraying a rearing 85-foot-high mother protecting her cub.
Recently opened in its new home in the Meatpacking District, the Whitney feels like a visit with a close friend who recently won the lottery and relocated to the coolest piece of real estate this side of OMG. Designed by the maestro of modern art museums, Renzo Piano, the building is brilliant, with airy and light-flooded galleries—and twice the exhibition space of the Whitney’s former perch, allowing for more of its coveted collection of 20th and 21st Century artwork to be on permanent display. Old favorites are well treated: Calder’s Circus has a prime spot on the seventh floor; ditto, Edward Hopper’s Early Sunday Morning; while Jackson Pollock’s Number 27 gains a new perspective, hanging vertically now. Several terraces, with river and/or city views, cater to outdoor installations or contemplation, and the adjacent High Line feels nearly incorporated. Even the building’s elevators, designed by Richard Artschwager, are like whimsical, moving sculptures. Finally, the lobby gallery is free to the public. Now, how can you resist?
Technically an eight-block-long street in Lower Manhattan, “Wall Street” also describes the international finance center in New York, which was built up and around Wall St. in the late 19th Century. Architecturally noteworthy buildings include the New York Stock Exchange (11 Wall St.), Bankers Trust Building (14 Wall St.), The Deutsche Bank Building (60 Wall St.) and the Federal Reserve (33 Liberty St.), where a permanent exhibition, “The History of Money” is open to the public. Wall Street’s two most popular photo ops: the statue of George Washington adorning the steps of the Federal Hall National Memorial (26 Wall St.) and Charging Bull (corner of Broadway and Bowling Green), a 7,000-pound bronze sculpture that serves as the unofficial mascot of Wall Street.
MoMA, as it’s called casually, is not just a museum with impressive art. It’s a museum with the most recognizable works of modern Western masterpieces. Van Gogh’s The Starry Night? Here. Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, Monet’s Water Lilies and Warhol’s Campbell Soup Cans? Here, here and here. In other words, there is a lot to see—and even more you’ll enjoy seeing in person. Plan on spending at least two hours here (four, if you can afford it), and start on the fifth floor with the Painting and Sculpture Galleries, working your way down through the collections. Make the gift shop in the lobby your last stop for its excellent selection of art books, postcards and art-related gifts. And across the street, the MoMA Design Store, known for its cutting-edge artisanal items, is the perfect way to cap a visit to the Museum of Modern Art.
The gracious Beaux Arts building on Fifth Avenue, directly in front of Bryant Park, is the main branch of the New York Public Library. The two large marble lions at the entrance are among the iconic symbols of New York. The library is an excellent place to take refuge from the roar of the City—or a sudden downpour. Have a seat in the Rose Reading Room, a handsome 23,000-square-foot space, outfitted with antique oak tables and chairs and bronze reading lamps. Check out the exhibits on display throughout the building—or simply roam the marble halls and staircases, taking in some of the loveliest architecture this side of the Atlantic. And being around the library’s seven million books just might make you feel smarter when you leave.
Just a block from Times Square, this green oasis boasts a football field-size lawn with a promenade of London plane trees and carefully tended gardens along either side. Snag one of the moveable tables and chairs and escape the busy midtown streets to check your email (there’s free WiFi) and enjoy some first-class people-watching. Other attractions: the Reading Room, an area stocked with books and periodicals; backgammon and chess boards (players can set up a game through the monitor) and Le Carrousel, a French-inspired carousel with 14 fanciful animals revolving to French cabaret music. Starting with the pre-holiday season, the park features a huge skating rink (free admission), surrounded by a pop-up holiday market with over 100 mini boutiques stocked with exceptional artisanal goods.
Whatever the season, this spectacular public garden (one of the best in the country!) is well worth a visit. Spanning 250 acres, it features 50 different gardens, four waterfalls (the most dramatic is on the Bronx River), 50 acres of virgin forest and a tropical rainforest in the domed Victorian glasshouse Conservatory. You can walk the Garden, but if it’s your first visit, consider taking the tram tour to get your bearings. Seasonal highlights: weekly bird-watching walks (September through June); the Orchid Show (late-February through April); Cherry blossoms (mid- to late-April); the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden (May through October); and from November through January, the Holiday Train Show—an annual crowd-pleaser, featuring a large-scale model train set and replicas of 150 NYC landmarks made, amazingly, from nuts, bark and leaves.
An exquisite example of American Gothic architecture, the white-marble St. Pat’s first opened its doors in 1879. This impressively large midtown cathedral doesn’t scrimp on design, outside or in. A pair of vaulted towers frame the main entrance; huge stained-glass windows, equally exquisite in design and color, adorn both sides of the church. Inside, statues of American saints and important Christian figures hold their own high above the heads of visitors, and the two handsome altars were gifts from Tiffany. Tours are available, as are services—St. Pat’s is the seat of the archbishop of New York, after all—but it’s also possible to stand in the back, face the sanctuary, light a candle, and just take it all in.
Though the ferry’s primary function is to shuttle Staten Island commuters to and from lower Manhattan every day, for tourists it’s the best sightseeing deal around. The 25-minute voyage (each way) offers close-ups of the harbor, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the captivating downtown skyline—for free! The only rule: Riders must make it a round trip within 24 hours, in accordance with Coast Guard regulations. On the Staten Island side, the ferry docks at St. George Terminal, complete with food stands and retail shops for visitors to browse while waiting for their ride back to Manhattan. The ferry operates 24 hours a day year-round. Bring a jacket, even in summer—the breeze from the water can get pretty stiff.
The ferry docks in front of an architecturally ornate building, which houses the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. It’s quite a sight, even today. But imagine seeing this building through the eyes of those crossing the Atlantic Ocean for America, when it was an actual immigrant-processing station during the first half of last century. That’s how the museum was designed: to re-create the experience via a self-guided tour in which visitors move through spare medical-exam rooms, extremely cramped dining and sleeping quarters, and more. Emotional first-hand accounts of immigrants and Immigration workers can be heard at listening stations along the way. Highly recommended: the award-winning documentary shown once an hour; and the Family Immigration History Center, where visitors can access passenger records of the ships that carried some 25 million immigrants through the Port of New York.
One of the most genteel and lovely spots in the City, the Frick is home to the art collection of Henry Clay Frick, an infamous steel magnate and art collector of Old Master paintings, including Rembrandts, Whistlers, Gainsboroughs and van Dycks. The three-story Beaux Arts structure was the Frick family’s Fifth Avenue residence, one of the last remaining mansions along a section of the Upper East Side once dotted with them. The home’s garden, also open to the public, was designed by the celebrated British landscape architect Russell Page and holds the secret to survival in an overly populated city. Frick willed his home and its contents—including the art, 18th-Century French furniture and decorative accessories among which are many beautiful Limoges enamels—to the City to be a public museum and permanent garden. The Frick features a formidable art-reference library and hosts Sunday chamber-music concerts, offering a dose of culture to those long on need but short on time. It’s possible to do all six gallery rooms of paintings, sculpture, porcelains and enamels in under an hour.
This isn’t just an outstanding U.S. military and maritime museum, this is a museum that was once an actual aircraft carrier. The USS Intrepid saw tours of duty in World War II and Vietnam prior to being decommissioned and relocated to the Hudson River to serve as a naval history museum. Also on exhibit are an early cruise-missile submarine, the USS Growler; a Concorde SST flown by British Airways; a Lockheed supersonic reconnaissance plane; and the recently acquired Space Shuttle Enterprise, the prototype NASA orbiter, accessible in a specially designed pavilion on the museum ship’s flight deck. The Intrepid is known for its interactive exhibits and simulators, where visitors can experience flying a supersonic jet or a helicopter or being submerged on a submarine.
Considered the architectural jewel of the New York City skyline, this striking Art Deco skyscraper is known the world over by its dramatic crown. Since it was designed to be Chrysler’s headquarters, the building features exterior details modeled after the car company’s designs: eagles that look like stylized hood ornaments, a polished chrome exterior, even the famous spire resembles a car radiator grill. If you stand near the building, you can spot many of its decorative details. For the full impact of the building’s beauty, it’s best viewed from a distance, such as the observation deck of the Empire State Building.
High up on the Upper West Side, towering over several blocks of Amsterdam Avenue, this great cathedral holds court. St. John’s is the seat of the Episcopal Diocese of New York and an active congregation, well known for its community outreach. Its construction started in the late 1800s and continued in phases, resulting in a magnificent mix of French Gothic and Romanesque styles of architecture. From the pair of beautiful bronze doors, intricately detailed with Biblical scenes, to the gilded figures of St. Ambrose Chapel, there is so much more to see than one day allows. Which is why St. John’s continues to be one of the City’s most beloved and often visited—and revisited—attractions.
Smaller than a typical museum, larger than an art gallery, the Neue Galerie on Fifth Avenue just beyond the Met is the perfect size for visitors to enjoy without feeling rushed or crushed. Dedicated to 20th-Century German and Austrian art and design, the museum boasts a collection of works that have become part of our cultural vernacular: Think Klimt, Kandinsky, Egon Schiele, Paul Klee, Adolf Loos. Paintings, photographs and decorative arts are displayed on two floors of this beautifully restored Louis XIII-style building, the former mansion of industrialist William Starr Miller. Save time for the museum’s design shop, noted for its stylish home goods and high-end reproductions. Finish your visit at one of the two Viennese cafés, serving the same lunch and dinner menus and luscious Viennese pastries but outfitted for different moods.
Open daily from Memorial Day through the last weekend in September, Governors Island is one of the City’s most surprisingly idyllic seasonal attractions. Though it’s located only 800 yards from Lower Manhattan—a 7-minute ferry ride—it feels like hundreds of miles and a few hundred years away. Strategically situated in the middle of New York Harbor, Governors Island first served as a pre-Revolution military outpost, then a U.S. Army base and then a U.S. Coast Guard station before opening to the public in 2006—and still possesses most of its 18th-, 19th- and early 20th-Century buildings, all restored, including forts, officers’ quarters and a military prison. Wandering through the historic architecture is highly recommended—especially, the fascinating 30-minute guided tour of Castle Williams, the fort-turned-prison. Take a ride around the Island—bike rentals include hybrids, tandems, even a six-seat surrey—or stake out a shady spot on the green. The number of food trucks and outdoor cafes are second only to the outstanding Harbor views.
Relatively new to the City’s respected art world, the Rubin is a rare museum celebrating Tibetan and Himalayan art. Its significant collection features works and ritual artifacts, some dating to the 2nd Century, most from the 12th Century forward. There are five floors of intimate galleries, and every exhibition is accompanied by informative wall texts, a recognition that many visitors are discovering Himalayan art and culture for the first time. The museum’s shop carries a notable selection of goods from or influenced by Himalayan artisans, from fine hand-woven textiles to fair-trade spices. And in a fitting stroke of architectural reincarnation, the Rubin Museum building was formerly inhabited by the original Barneys New York, once the oracle of New York fashion retail. And though the space underwent an extensive transformation in 2004, any visitor who remembers the Barneys store layout will recognize the six-story Andrée Putnam-designed spiral staircase that now graces the Rubin.
By presenting the horrors of the Holocaust through personal stories, photographs and belongings of those who went through it, the museum manages to create a mood at once somber and ultimately hopeful. No mean feat. A visitor’s experience starts with what the museum calls the Core Exhibition: an exceptional multimedia forum, presenting the story of Jewish life prior to 1930, then the rise of persecution of Europe’s Jews resulting in the Nazi genocide and then the rebuilding of lives and focus on renewal post Holocaust. Frequently changing exhibitions resonate with historical events. Not to miss: Garden of Stones, a living memorial garden/art piece of tiny trees growing out of rocks; the free audio tour of the Core Exhibition, narrated by Meryl Streep and Itzhak Perlman; and the museum shop for its impressive selection of books, from educational to poignant.
This large waterfront park, at the southernmost tip of Manhattan, offers unbeatable views of The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and Staten Island. This is where visitors catch the ferries to these attractions, but Battery Park is a notable destination all on its own. New York begins here—literally and historically (the first colonists settled here in 1625)—and the park makes the most of its location. More than a dozen monuments and memorials punctuate the park, along with the Gardens of Remembrance and a tree-lined walkway for touring by foot. Other highlights: “The Sphere,” a large sculpture from the World Trade Center, damaged in the attack and relocated to the north end of Battery Park, and “The Immigrants,” a bronze sculpture at the south end near Castle Clinton, where newly arrived immigrants were processed in the late 1800s.
A branch of the Smithsonian Museum of the same name, New York City’s outpost is called The George Gustav Heye Center and is located within the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in Lower Manhattan. Inside the formidable Beaux Arts building is the museum’s permanent exhibition, Infinity of Nations, showcasing more than 700 pieces of Native American artistry, organized by region, including wood and stone carvings, clothing, feather bonnets, pottery, weavings and basketry. The building’s rotunda is often used as a performance space for dance and music programs, smaller galleries feature changing art and photography exhibitions, and there’s a small theater for daily film screenings that celebrate Native American culture.
Known as the most fashionable museum in the City, The Museum at FIT (aka, Fashion Institute of Technology) is dedicated to the art, history and influence of fashion. Established in 1969, the museum possesses an archive of fashion photography and a permanent collection of some 50,000 pieces of clothing and shoes dating back to the 18th Century—representing a Who’s Who of famous designers. The collection provides the basis for many of the museum’s exhibitions, which present a fascinating snapshot of the mores and attitudes of western civilization, as seen through the fashions of the times. And admission to the museum is free.
The Cloisters is a gem of a museum dedicated to medieval art and architecture. It’s a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art—and quite possibly the most serene spot in all of New York. The museum is situated in historic Fort Tryon Park very near the top of Manhattan on a hill overlooking the Hudson River. Even the view across to New Jersey had been orchestrated to not mar the setting. (A park was created.) The Cloisters houses some 2,000 pieces—sculptures, stained glass, illuminated manuscripts, enamels, paintings, tapestries—both religious and non, all exceptional. The building itself is an architectural feat, comprised of elements from five French abbeys dating as far back as the 12th Century. Not to miss: The Unicorn Tapestries, a series of seven hangings, circa 1500, incredibly restored, depicting a hunt for the mythic creature; the Merode Altarpiece, a triptych from the mid-1400s; and the Trie Cloister Garden, landscaped in medieval style. Guided tours, free with admission, make for a riveting hour.
The only museum in the City devoted to Puerto Rican, Caribbean and Latin American art and culture, El Museo del Barrio is a special find. Located at the far north end of Fifth Avenue’s Museum Mile, it features a permanent collection of works spanning more than 800 years of Latino and Caribbean art—including historically significant pre-Columbian artifacts, Puerto Rican santos (carved wooden folk-art figures) and Mexican masks, as well as paintings, sculpture, textiles and photographs from contemporary artists. Other exhibitions can take the form of films, performances and cultural events, such as its famous Dia de los Muertos annual celebration. Also impressive: El Museo’s design shop, which is like a curated gallery of decorative arts.
The Tenement Museum is more a preserved time capsule than an actual museum—providing visitors with a fascinating you-are-there kind of experience. Beginning in the mid 19th Century and for at least the next 100 years, New York’s Lower East Side, a real working-class neighborhood, was home to millions of new immigrants, mostly from Russia, Poland, Germany and Italy. The museum captures their lives and challenges by using an actual tenement building as its venue. Authentically restored and with its no-frills, crowded apartments made to look as they did back then, the tenement/museum brings the City's colorful immigrant history to life. A guided tour is the only way to visit the museum, and there are 12 different tours from which to choose—each one focusing on a different aspect of the immigrant experience, and all of them captivating.
Make sure your smartphone is fully charged before entering the wax museum, as you’ll no doubt be snapping selfies and photos at an alarming rate! There are more than 200 life-size famous figures on site—from historic to present day—grouped into different exhibitions (The Spirit of New York even includes a full-size bust of the Statue of Liberty with access to her crown)—all of which visitors are invited to mingle with. Staff members can provide additional trivia plus help with group photos.
More than just a major league ballpark, Yankee Stadium is a shrine to one of the most preeminent teams in baseball. The New York Yankees have the most World Series championships (27—the next closest team has 11), the most number of players in the Baseball Hall of Fame and a long and storied history that the Yankee organization takes very seriously. Which explains why the new Yankee Stadium—located in the Bronx, literally across the street from the original Yankee Stadium—is rich with enough artifacts and attractions to rival a theme park. Noteworthy sights: Monument Park, a nearly hallowed venue beyond center field that honors the team’s legends; the little Yankees Museum inside the stadium, filled with tons of arcane memorabilia; and the Great Hall, inside the main gate, lined with towering portraits of the team’s superstars. Stadium tours are available throughout the year, but visiting during a home game promises the chance to see history in the making.
Visiting Manhattan’s Chinatown is a trip—in every sense of the word. Without leaving town, you’re transported: Suddenly signs are in Chinese (often with no translation—even at the bank ATMs!), old City buildings wear Chinese designs and narrow streets are lined with open-air stands selling staples of Chinese cuisine that will look exotic to non-Asian visitors. (Live eels, anyone?!) Established in the 1840s, making it one of the oldest Chinatowns in the Western Hemisphere, this colorful Lower Manhattan neighborhood is also home to some of the best dim sum in the City, if not the country. (Hint: The more ordinary-looking the restaurant, the more extraordinary the food.) It's best to navigate Chinatown on foot. Mott and Grand are the main food-market streets, and Canal Street is known for gift and bric-a-brac shops, where you can find everything from the "real thing" to its very convincing knockoff.
At the far end of Central Park sits Conservatory Garden—a six-acre plot of three formal European gardens. At the south end is the English garden, featuring flowering magnolia and lilac trees; five flower beds; and in a small pool of water lilies, the Burnett Fountain, a memorial to the British author of The Secret Garden. At the north end is the French garden, famous for its colorful displays of tulips in spring, Korean chrysanthemums in fall—and the Untermyer Fountain with its Three Dancing Maidens sculpture, one of Central Park’s most famous images. The middle Italianate garden is known for a large manicured lawn, bordered by spring-blooming crabapple trees and capped by a tall jet fountain and wisteria pergola. Enter Conservatory Garden through the majestic Vanderbilt Gate on Fifth Avenue just south of 105th Street, or when walking through Central Park, head northeast. You can’t miss it.
Home to the New York Knicks, the New York Rangers and the venerable Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the Garden is also known for hosting big-ticket concerts and many other mass events. Though it’s had three different locations in its 130-year history, today’s Madison Square Garden opened in 1968 in its current location, a stone’s throw from Macy’s and high above the train tracks for the Long Island Railroad and Penn Station. Sports fans might enjoy a behind-the-scenes tour of the famous arena, which includes a peek into the pro teams’ locker rooms and the secret to how an ice-hockey floor is transformed into a hardwood basketball court (and vice versa).
Not even two miles long, this island in the East River boasts more interesting landmark architecture per square block than most two-mile stretches on the “main” island. Decades (and decades) of restoration have finally paid off, and now this tiny island with the big past features two noteworthy parks with million-dollar views, NYC-style ruins and the most rad mass transit ride, the aerial Roosevelt Island tram. Not to miss: Four Freedoms Park, the monumental and metaphor-rich tribute to FDR designed by the late esteemed architect, Louis Kahn; Southpoint Park, with wide walkways and wildflowers and the shell of the long abandoned castle-like Smallpox Hospital; Octagon Tower, a mid-19th Century architectural remnant from what was once the City’s Lunatic Asylum (yes, actual name); and the Blackwell Island Light, an octagonal-shaped stone lighthouse with a row of ornamental corbels beneath a pointed Gothic arch.
Tucked away on a nondescript strip of W. 32nd Street between Broadway and Fifth Avenue is a little slice of Seoul. A street sign nicknames the area, Korea Way, but locals call it Koreatown or K-town for short. And it's packed with some of the best Korean restaurants, bars (karaoke is big here), bakeries, shops, spas and salons outside of the motherland. The stretch even resembles Seoul with restaurants and storefronts located on top of one another within high-rises. (Don’t be surprised to find the best Korean barbeque four flights up.) And many of K-town’s eateries, nightclubs, even spas, are open 24/7.
In the heart of the Financial District, behind the striking Gothic Revival-style Trinity Church, lies one of Manhattan’s oldest cemeteries, dating to 1697. Perhaps the most prominent of those buried here is Founding Father Alexander Hamilton (currently enjoying some love uptown on a Broadway stage). The oldest carved tombstone in the City is also here, a double-sided testament to a young child, as are several poignant memorials to martyrs and heroes of the Revolutionary War. Still beautifully maintained, this centuries-old final resting place provides the living with a special respite from the otherwise bustling Wall Street and a fascinating bit of history written in the epitaphs.
This stately 1832 brick building is the City’s last remaining 19th Century family home completely preserved, inside and out. Located near the Bowery, it was the residence for several generations of one wealthy merchant’s family (hence, the name), even after other private homes in the neighborhood were demolished or converted into tenements. The building survived the neighborhood’s fall from grace in the early-20th Century and decades of deterioration, thanks to a distant relative who saved it from the wrecking ball and opened it as a museum in 1936. Beautifully restored and maintained ever since—featuring original furnishings, kitchenware, even clothing—the Merchant’s House provides a unique window onto the privileged lives of New York’s “gilded age” and is considered one of the finest examples of Greek Revival rowhouses in the country and a beloved landmark in the revived and now hip Bowery neighborhood.
Like no other carousel in the City (or possibly the world, for that matter!), the dazzling new SeaGlass Carousel in the Battery at the very tip of Manhattan features 30 different spinning, bobbing, color-changing sea creatures mounted on three rotating disks atop one large turntable—no traditional center pole for this carousel. And the movements are slow, almost jerky, with some disks of whimsical fish going in opposite directions to simulate the look and feel of schools swimming underwater. Housed in a nautilus-shaped pavilion of glass and steel, the LED-lit, special-effects carousel is set to arrangements of classical music and almost as thrilling to watch as to ride. But the good news is, almost all the fish are large enough to hold one adult and child, allowing everyone the chance to take a spin.
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