When it comes to seeing the best the Big Apple has to offer, the options are almost endless, says CONAL HANNA.
Forget the Statue of Liberty. Broadway? Ho hum. And can you really be bothered heading all the way out to Yankee Stadium? OK, granted, these things might warrant a look if you have the time. But every city has its statues, theatres and sports stadiums. New York, though, is something else. Because unlike ordinary cities, which merely host tourist attractions, NYC itself is the premier event in town.
Now when I say New York, I mean Manhattan. Despite attempting feeble arguments to the contrary, even residents of the outer four boroughs refer to Manhattan as ‘the city’. And what a city it is. First-timers in New York are sure to spend more time gawping at Manhattan’s stupendous skyline than the artistic treasures of The Met or the retail delights of Soho. Where else in the world do you take a walk around the financial district – for fun?
As befits such an urban legend, there are multiple ways to experience the world’s most famous island. Plane, train or automobile, here are the best vantage points from which to take in Manhattan.
From the water
Yes, it’s cheesy. And you are likely to finish up with bruises from the clamour of photo-hungry elbows when the Statue of Liberty sails by. But with 60 million passengers over 60 years, the Circle Line Ferry is a bona fide New York institution. Originally built for use during World War II, the Circle Line boats have been on active duty ever since, ferrying tourists around Manhattan. By getting out onto the Hudson and East rivers on one of their three-hour tours, you put some space between you and the metropolis, allowing a much needed sense of perspective. And, if you’ve just arrived in town, it’s an ideal way to learn your Upper East Side from your Greenwich Village. For those who can’t afford the slightly steep price, the Staten Island Ferry will at least get you out on the water, and won’t cost you a cent.
• Pier 80, West 42nd Street. US$28. See www.circleline42.com.
On two wheels
The horse and carriage may be more traditional, but pushbike is definitely a more effective method of seeing the gargantuan green space that is Central Park. A tangled nest of roads and adjoining bike lanes criss-cross the 843-acre park – take a map or risk riding in endless circles. Be aware you can’t ride on the paths -sorry, sidewalks – running through the park itself, but hire a steed for half a day, take along a chain, and stop to rest at such serene sights such as the Strawberry Fields shrine to John Lennon and the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir and you’ll forget you’re even in New York.
• $35 for two-hour tour; rental: $35 all day, $25 three hours. See www.centralpark biketour.com.
From the rooftop
Literally the biggest of New York’s icons, the Empire State Building and its 86th floor observatory put you far enough above the mayhem below to at least attempt quiet contemplation (crowds of tourists notwithstanding). Peering down from a height of 320m (the top of the lightning rod is 443m), taxis travel in ant-like columns across the grid below, while looking out makes you all too aware of just how many tall buildings there are. Nowadays Asia may be home to the world’s largest buildings, but New York still has more skyscrapers than any other city in the world, and has been home to 11 different buildings that were, at the time they were built, the highest in the world. Six of these remain standing. Gazing downtown, the most notable of the absentees, the World Trade Center, has left behind a sobering gap in the concrete panorama.
• Fifth Avenue at 34th Street, 8am- midnight (last elevators go up at 11.15pm). $16. See www.esbnyc.com.
From the sky
If you’re not content with the view from the Empire State’s observatory, you could always go all presidential and opt for a chopper. It’s not exactly cheap, but can you get any cooler than whirring around the world’s definitive urban environment like you’re somebody important? Rides vary from 2-30 minutes, depending on how much cash you’re willing to splash.
• $30-$275. See www.newyorkhelicopter. com, www.heliny.com or www.libertyhelicopters.com.
Not quite as glamorous, the subway mightn’t afford wondrous views of New York, but it will provide your best insight into New Yorkers. Perhaps even more varied than their tube counterparts, subway riders are a microcosm of the cosmopolitan city above. Plus, it’s a cheap place to pick up batteries and other goods from dubious salesmen in trenchcoats.
From the backseat
Their all-pervasive presence brings back memories of countless movies and TV shows. And yet, try as you may, you still can’t find a famed yellow cab on a rainy Saturday night. If you can put up with the obligatory horn honking, hailing a cab is an authentic New York experience, surprisingly cheap and sometimes an even quicker way to move around the city. Just try and resist the temptation to call your driver Mac.
The original and still the best way to see New York. Being on foot allows you to fully absorb the humbling effect of wandering through street after street of towering edifices. Be wary of businesses which have basement trapdoors open on the sidewalk, a nasty health hazard when you spend your whole time staring skywards.
Top 5 Big Apple foodstuffs
Along with Jerry Seinfeld, Woody Allen and Mel Brooks, bagels are the Jewish community’s biggest contribution to New York pop culture. Best enjoyed with a schmear – basically half a tub of cream cheese sandwiched inside.
Richer than the Rockefellers, New York cheesecake is creamy without being too sweet. Perhaps the most famous purveyors are Lindy’s, who claim to have defined the ‘New York style’. They may have let their 85-year reputation go to their heads, however, these days charging $8 a slice. To paraphrase Pulp Fiction‘s Vincent Vega: I don’t know if it’s worth $8, but it’s pretty fuckin’ good cheesecake.
New York pizza is all about the base, occupying the middle ground between thin, crispy Italian pizzas and the spongy Pizza Hut variety. Don’t even think about ordering a whole pizza – a slice alone is huge and requires a refined folding technique lest you end up wearing the topping. And speaking of topping, it simply has to be pepperoni.
Anyone who’s nabbed a hearty bratwurst from a street vendor in Germany may feel short changed by the piddly little wieners on offer here. The secret of the New York hotdog is two-fold. Firstly, the toppings: chilli, mustard, ketchup, onions, pickles – just keep heaping them on until it tastes good. Second is their ubiquity, meaning wherever you are in New York, at whatever time of day, you’re guaranteed to be within 100m of a dirty dawg.
OK, so not technically a foodstuff, but two of these babies and who needs dinner? Forget the boring James Bond variety; New York bars are falling over themselves to boast the latest blend on the block, with martinis such as green tea, lychee or lemon and basil on offer.