New York City is the unofficial capital of the modern world, and that’s no exaggeration. From the financial dealings of Wall Street to the artistic creations of Broadway, the city that never sleeps generates motion felt around the globe every second of every day. The Big Apple simply cannot be swallowed whole; visitors must enjoy it bite by succulent bite, from world-class museums to critically acclaimed restaurants, and from grand architectural monuments to ethnic enclaves of cultural authenticity. Here are the basics you will need to begin exploring NYC.
New York City Neighborhoods
The Big Apple is officially divided into five boroughs, each containing numerous neighborhoods unique in their own right.
- Manhattan – This highly compact skyscraper-filled island is home to the financial district (Wall Street), Times Square and Central Park, as well as many of the most visited neighborhoods like Chinatown, Greenwich Village, SoHo, the Upper East Side and Harlem. Most visitors spend the bulk of their time in Manhattan, since top restaurants, epic nightlife and major hotels are located here as well.
- Brooklyn – Located across the East River from Lower Manhattan, Brooklyn is home to hip and creative neighborhoods like Williamsburg, and established historic districts like Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope (adjacent to lush Prospect Park). In the summer, beachgoers flock to Coney Island and Brighton Beach.
- Queens – A kaleidoscope of different ethnic neighborhoods, from the Chinese community of Flushing to the Latino vibe of Corona, Queens is a mostly residential borough that lies just across the East River from Midtown Manhattan.
- The Bronx – Lying north of Manhattan across the Harlem River, the Bronx has a distinctly urban feel where hip hop and baseball (home to the Yankees Stadium) are sources of local pride. Although off the map to many visitors, The Bronx is home to both the New York Botanical Gardens and the Bronx Zoo, both world-class institutions.
- Staten Island – Feeling more like a backwater suburb lost in time than a part of New York City, Staten Island is located south of Manhattan across the Upper Bay. Historic small towns and hidden beaches await intrepid explorers.
Population and Economy of New York City
New York City proper (the five boroughs) has a population of just over 8 million people, although the entire New York City metropolitan area – which stretches east into New Jersey and north into Connecticut, is home to more than double that number. By far the largest urban area in the United States, New York also has one of the most multi-faceted economies in the world.
Banks and financial institutions dominate Lower Manhattan, where both NASDAQ and the New York Stock Exchange (the two largest stock exchanges in the world) wheel and deal with frantic energy. Up in Midtown, however, the entertainment industry rules supreme, with everything from media conglomerates like Time Warner to music giants like Sony Music Entertainment making their headquarters here.
Tourism also makes up a huge part of the economy of New York City, with Times Square alone attracting more than 50 million tourists a year. Much of the skyline of Midtown Manhattan consists of hotels, with famous digs like the Waldorf Astoria ranking among the top luxury hotels in the world.
When to Come to New York City
New York City has four distinct seasons, and each one is marked by its own attractions and events. In fact, winter is a favorite season for many people, since Christmastime in New York City is unequaled in terms of holiday cheer and outdoor ice skating opportunities, with the Times Square area a major holiday shopping destination. Spring and fall are pleasant and mild in NYC, making them ideal seasons for exploring the parks and neighborhoods. And then there is summer. While summer can be downright muggy and hot, the abundance of outdoor festivals – everything from Shakespeare in the Park to the NYC Pride Parade – means tourism is still in full swing.
Getting Around New York City
New York City has a more advanced public transportation system than any other city in the United States, on par with European cities like London and Asian capitals like Tokyo. The extensive 24-hour subway network is the heart of this system and connects the four main boroughs (Staten Island is too far away) to Manhattan with a comprehensive web of stations that get you where you want to go – easily and cheaply. Most areas of Manhattan, and parts of Brooklyn as well, are highly walkable, which means strolling around is often the best way to see the city and get from point A to point B.
Must-See Attractions in New York City
New York City holds enough attractions to keep you occupied for months of sightseeing. Nevertheless, there are five must-see sights that visitors shouldn’t miss.
- The Statue of Liberty – A gift from France to the United States back to 1886, this 150-foot copper statue is the most iconic landmark of NYC. Reachable by boat from Lower Manhattan, the statue allows you to climb up inside the stairway to enjoy views from the crown.
- Central Park – This 800+ acre urban green space bursts with delights, everything from Belvedere Castle to the Great Lawn. Biking, horseback riding, boat rentals and roller skating are all popular here.
- The Empire State Building – Once the tallest building in the world, the Empire State Building is an Art Deco masterpiece that also sports mind-boggling views from the 102nd-story observation deck.
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art – Home to one of the largest and most exclusive collections of ancient and modern art, the “Met” is a trip through time that will leave you breathless.
- The Brooklyn Bridge – The first steel-wire suspension bridge ever constructed, the Brooklyn Bridge spans the East River and offers visitors panoramic views of both the Brooklyn and Manhattan skylines.
New York City also has some iconic foods. Here are the top three:
- Pizza – NYC pizza is legendary for its thin crust and gooey goodness.
- Chinese Food – From the dim sum parlors of Chinatown to the upscale fusion of the Upper Eastside, there is much to enjoy with delicious Chinese offerings.
- Bagels – Jewish delis in NYC are world renowned for their chewy bagels and fresh toppings like lox and capers.