A Local’s Guide to Manhattan
Manhattan is laid out in a grid pattern and finding your way around is easy- avenues run parallel to the island’s length and streets crisscross it from east to west.
For most visitors, New York means Manhattan, an island only 13.4 miles long and 2.3 miles at its widest. Here you will find the city’s tallest skyscrapers, most historic buildings, the smartest shops, the best restaurants, and the greatest density of theatres (over 50 on Broadway alone). If you want it, Manhattan’s got it.
Going to the top of the Empire State Building, horse-drawn carriages through Central Park, and seeing a musical on Broadway; are all examples of the typical and stereotypical New York vacation. While these are nice, fun and some would say necessary if one is to visit New York, there are many other activities that are slightly off the beaten trail. For the traveler who likes to feel like a local, or for a second or third-time visitor, the following activities are truly New Yorker in character but are not strictly for tourists.
New York – Manhattan – Skyscrapers
When you visit a city for the first time there is usually something that immediately hits you as being quintessential to the place. In Manhattan, it is the skyscrapers. No matter how familiar they may have become from appearing in hundreds of American movies they still have a tremendous impact when seen for the first time. They soar into the heavens, creating tunnels of light and shade, reflecting the world around them in flickering, shimmering images
This, the real architecture of New York, came into being towards the end of the 19th century. Before this there was little originality, most buildings being copies of what was being done in Britain, France, and Italy. The development of the elevator changed all this and made possible the beautiful, elegant glass towers that fill Manhattan today.
The skyscraper most loved by New Yorkers is the Empire State Building. It was made familiar to movie-goers around the world when the lovesick gorilla, King Kong, dangled over the side with Fay Wray clutched in his hairy hand. Although no longer Manhattan’s tallest skyscraper, the Empire State Building retains its place in the heart of Americans and visitors alike as the real emblem of New York
New York – Manhattan – Brownstones
While you are getting a crick in your neck from skyscraper-gazing, don’t forget to come down to earth and look at the many interesting buildings that are a touch of the past. The ubiquitous New York brownstones, and iron fire escapes clinging like decorative trellises to their facades, are fiercely sought after as desirable residences. Then there are little gems like the 72nd Street Subway, dwarfed by the eclectic styles of the soaring buildings around it.
New York, Manhattan – Shopping
Shopping is a national pastime in the USA and nowhere more so than in Manhattan where women know what they want and make sure they get it, whatever it costs. Some of the chicest and most elegant women in the world stroll along Fifth Avenue. Sit at a sidewalk cafe and enjoy the fashion show.
Saks 5th Avenue is one of the most famous and expensive department stores in the world. A step through those doors is a step into luxury and decadence. For those who can’t afford the steeply-priced clothing and perfume, perhaps a trip to the top floor for some (admittedly still pricy) lunch or cocktails. The view from Café SFA is exquisite and iconic in New York; that of St Patrick’s Cathedral and Rockefeller Center. These can both be walked to from Saks.
Around Christmas time Saks and the area around Saks (including Rockefeller Center which is right across the street) is particularly beautiful and bright. Saks has a different theme for their Christmas display windows every year.
New York – Manhattan – Museums & Art Galleries
Manhattan is full of fine museums and art galleries but if you only have time for one then make it the Museum of Modern Art MOMA. This is one of New York’s top attractions and probably has the best collection of modern art in the world, with paintings and sculptures spanning the years from around 1880 to the present – don’t miss Monet’s ‘Water Lilies’.
New York – Manhattan – Central Park
When you need a break from skyscrapers, shops, and culture, Central Park is an oasis in the urban jungle. There are acres of green trees and lakes, with great views of Manhattan’s skyscrapers peeping through the trees or glimpses across the water. You can wander off along quiet leafy paths and come across elegant sculptures. The park is full of surprises. All this is just to whet your appetite for Manhattan. There’s so much more to see and do: Greenwich Village, So-Ho, Chinatown, Little Italy, plus Brooklyn, Harlem, and Coney Island.
Rockefeller Center and NBC Studios
Rockefeller Center is located directly across the street from Saks 5th Avenue. While the famous Christmas tree and the ice rink are international draws, there is much more to see at this famous destination. The Top of the Rock offers one of the best views in the City, some would say even better than the top of the Empire State Building (one bonus is the view of the Empire State Building from the Top of the Rock and the full frontal view of Central Park).
Rockefeller Center is also home to NBC Studios, where shows like Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock are filmed. Backstage Passes can be purchased from the NBC Store located on Rockefeller Plaza. This is a must for anyone who enjoys television.
Drinks at the 21 Club
The 21 Club is a lesser-known New York icon. 21 was a speakeasy during Prohibition, and successfully hid 2000 cases of wine in a secret wine cellar which was actually located at number 19. This club survived many federal raids due to its incredibly well-hidden (literally invisible) cellar door.
The ‘toys’ in the barroom cover the entire ceiling and actually contain some valuable souvenirs. Rare collector’s items, along with sporting goods from famous athletes (such as golf clubs from Jack Nicklaus) are amongst the quirky and eccentric collection.
The Jockey statues which line the entrance are famous and highly photographed. These jockeys have been donated over time by racehorse owners and breeders who have frequented 21 since the 1930s. There is even one donated in honor of Secretariat.
Pick a Restaurant, Any Restaurant
New York, particularly Midtown, is full of new, exciting, and unique restaurants. Simply pick, read a review, and enjoy it. This is a particularly good time to try something new and different that might not be found elsewhere.