New York has long been one of the most infamous cities in the world. Its landmarks, skyscrapers, bright lights, and reputation as the city that never sleeps are almost mythical by this point. For me, the fascination with the mere idea of the place began at a young age, most likely from the first time I watched Ghostbusters. An obsession with film/television and NYC went hand in hand, and it quickly became a dream to visit The Big Apple some day. When you do go there, it feels surreal, given how deeply it has been embedded in popular culture over the years. So in light of that, the following is a guide, in no particular order, of the sights, the sounds and the attractions you should make it your business to savour in New York. Some are obvious, some not so obvious, but all are legitimate reasons to make NYC an essential destination for a holiday at least once in your life. Or several times, if you can manage it.
1. The Empire State Building
Opened in 1931, it was a mere 2 years later that King Kong made The Empire State building the setting of the climactic third act of one of the most infamous movies of all time. It’s easy to see why it was chosen as the setting for the epic finale of that particular movie. It was, after all, the tallest building in the world at the time; a record which it held for almost 40 years. When you go there, it truly is a sight to behold. On the 86th floor observation deck they even give you an audio guide corresponding to each side of the building with relevant information, depending on what section of Manhattan and the other 4 surrounding boroughs of New York you may be gazing out upon. It is nothing short of breathtaking, with the audio guide truly enhancing an already glorious experience.
2. The Statue of Liberty
If you do decide to visit The Empire State building before sailing to Liberty Island, one thing that may strike you is how minuscule The Statue of Liberty seems in comparison to many of the buildings around Manhattan, when viewed from an 86th story observation deck. When you do head to the island though (and the ferry ride is free of charge by the way) at 151 feet from base to torch, Lady Liberty truly is magnificent. Given to America by France in 1886 as a gift to celebrate America’s 100 years of freedom, The Statue of Liberty is arguably the most famous statue in the world. It served as a beacon of hope for immigrants sailing to the shores of America. Much like the Empire State Building, a walk around Liberty Island is also accompanied with an audio guide, detailing the statue’s construction, history, and what her various features represent. If you time it about an hour before it begins to get dark, you can watch the sun setting behind the statue whilst sailing back into Manhattan.
3. Central Park
Central Park stretches out at 843 acres. While you’re on the observatory deck of either The Empire State Building or The Rockefeller Centre, check it out for yourself. It is colossal. And whether you’re going for a specific attraction, to use one of the many sports areas or simply wander through the park and see where its paths take you, it’s an indispensable feature of the city.
4. Ice Skating
Okay this may be a seasonal one, which is presumably only doable for 3 months or so during the year, but still, it’s worth seriously considering if the timing is right. When you think of skating in NYC, you probably picture the Rockefeller Centre, but it actually looks far more enjoyable, spacious and picturesque in Central Park. So if you’re heading to New York any time soon, strap your skates on, grab your friends and head to the ice rink. Just try not to fall on your arse too much.
5. Rockefeller Centre
For some, at 70 stories, the observation deck at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, aka The Top of the Rock is even better for a birds eye view of Manhattan than The Empire State building’s aforementioned 86th floor. You could always pick one deck during the day, followed by the other one at night, and judge for yourself. NBC studios are located at 30 Rock too, so if you hang around the place long enough, you may bump into Jimmy Fallon. Or you could just buy something from the gift shop and politely leave like a normal person. You can also find Radio City Music Hall at The Rockefeller Centre, which regularly features a plethora of events, having hosted the Grammys, the Tony awards and the MTV Video Music Awards in the past. In fact, coming soon to Radio City is the annual Christmas Spectacular, which looks, well, spectacular, if Christmas is your thing.
6. Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
It’s fair to say that The Museum of Modern Art is a must-see for any art lover, being regularly cited as the most influential museum of modern art in the world. Even for the casual tourist, it’s still very much worth going to for the plethora of infamous paintings on display.
7. Record Stores
As the birthplace of hip-hop, a genre synonymous with vinyl culture, it stands to reason that New York is one of the best cities in the world to go hunting for vinyl. In fact, you’re positively spoiled for choice. A lottery ticket and a permanent residence in the city might not even get you through all the stores in the 5 boroughs.
8. Times Square
To be honest, Times Square is probably inevitable for most. It’s almost the centre of Manhattan, in a way. Lit up by gargantuan digital advertisement screens, Times Square serves as a central hub to New York’s Broadway Theatre district. It’s also useful as a meeting point. For example, you could meet any members of your holiday party that are crazy enough to not go and see The Book of Mormon on the steps behind the TKTS booth after the show. At the top of the steps, you’ll also get an amazing view of Times Square and some of the 330,000 people that pass through it on a daily basis.
9. The Book of Mormon
I’ve seen two Broadway shows. One was The Real Thing, starring Ewan McGregor and Maggie Gyllenhaal. My mistake with that choice was seeing it after I’d gone to The Book of Mormon. It’d be like seeing The Empire Strikes Back for your very first viewing in the cinema and then seeing The Phantom Menace for the first time the following year. The latter clearly pales in comparison to the former (sorry Ewan McGregor). The Book of Mormon is written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone (the guys behind South Park) along with Robert Lopez. It has become indescribably successful, scoring 9 Tony Awards, and even boasts the highest selling Broadway cast album in over four decades Now, when I first learned of the musical, I assumed that the demented, no holds barred minds of Parker and Stone would be somewhat subdued and toned down in the writing of the play, given the accolades and acclaim that it has received, and how respected Broadway Theatre seems to be in Hollywood. Happily though, I was totally wrong in that assumption. The Book of Mormon is absolutely fucking filthy. Thanks to the sharpness of the writing, acting and the sweetness of the characters though, they manage to get away with numerous jokes and songs that quite frankly should not be funny. Waiting in line for 2 hours straight in order to get standing tickets for a sold out performance of this show was totally worth it.
Hooters is one of America’s most recognisable restaurant chains. It literally began as an April Fool’s Day joke, and now has over 430 locations. The Hooters of Times Square is actually the site for one of the locations for the movie Big Daddy. Also, the food is delicious and there’s an awful lot of lovely girls. And it’s just a 10 minute walk or so from Times Square.
11. Madison Square Garden
Whether it’s to go to a basketball match, a hockey game or a concert, MSG is one venue that you should endeavour to attend. It is one of the most famous arenas on the globe, and even from the outside of the venue, it’s plain to see why it also ranks as one of the most expensive stadiums in the world.
12. Ground Zero & The One World Trade Centre
It’s a bittersweet area of lower Manhattan, but it goes without saying that with 9/11 being such a heartbreakingly tragic event that was so pivotal to modern American history, Ground Zero is a crucial spot to visit and pay your respects. Also in the area of course, is One World Trade Centre, which, with its 100-102 observation deck, now stands as the tallest building in both New York and the Western Hemisphere, as well as the 5th tallest building in the world overall.
13. Film, Television and Music Cultural Hotspots
Okay, so this is a broad one and largely depends on what you’re into, but New York features several album cover locations, from Beastie Boys to Billy Joel, as well as numerous film locations, including the aforementioned Ghostbusters. You might even stumble across a location accidentally and not even realise it until several months later, like I did.
14. The Shake Shack
It started as a hotdog cart in Madison Square Park, but somehow the Shake Shack sprouted 66 locations, and manages to cook the best God damn burger I have ever had. Seriously. It makes McDonalds quarter pounders taste like fucking beer coasters. The original location happened to be a 5 minute walk from where my friends and I were staying on my first visit to New York, and we probably hit the Shack on half of the nights of our week long stay. I would swim the Atlantic for another one of those burgers.
15. McSorely’s Old Ale House
McSorley’s claims to be the oldest Irish tavern in New York. When describing it before we entered the place on the night before my brothers wedding last year, he said, “Well, I stumbled across it the other night, wandered in, and asked for a pint of Carlsberg. Your man behind the bar said, ‘You can have light ale, or you can have dark ale, or you can get the fuck out!'” So, knowing what I was in for, I was understandably intrigued. The narrow selection of beer didn’t matter; the light beer was gorgeous. As far as I remember, it’s brewed up state somewhere specifically for the pub. If you’re as lucky as we were, the bar will be packed, the atmosphere will be electric, and the bartender will be hysterically abusive.
To investigate into a holiday to New York City, click here. While you’re browsing, you can throw on the Spotify playlist below, to get you in a New York State of mind…