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New York City

New York City Itineraries

Downtown NYC in a Day

Finding Hamilton in NYC

Lower Manhattan: 400 Years in One Day

Manhattan’s Meatpacking District

Midtown Manhattan Basics

Northern Manhattan in a Day

Times Square & 42nd Street Walking Tour

Welcome to NYC

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New York, New York! The name’s so nice we say it twice. New York City shines both day and night and is constantly in motion. Visiting the Big Apple is an experience of a lifetime, but where do you take the first bite?

Times Square is an easy starting point. Familiar chain restaurants and retailers are within walking distance of midtown’s many hotels. The real New York, however, is beyond the bright lights. Trade electrifying Times Square for an urban paradise inside Central Park, or hop on the subway to SoHo for a chic shopping spree in a lofty neighborhood that once manufactured clothing for the country.

New York is best explored on foot, so expect to walk… a lot. An exhausting day of sightseeing deserves proper rewards. Indulge at legendary restaurants, historic bars and popular dessert spots like Junior’s Cheesecake and Serendipity.


New York City Geography, Boroughs and Neighborhoods

Made up of five “boroughs,” New York City’s geography and demographics look impressive even at a glance. One out of every 36 Americans lives here. This, the most populous city in the United States, counts 8.4 million people within its borders – and about 2 million of them are immigrants. Collectively we speak about 800 languages.

Each borough is a separate county with its own identity. New York County (borough of Manhattan) crams the biggest attractions into the smallest space – just 22 square miles (57 sq km). With no room to spread out, the city builds up. Get high atop the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock, or get a drink at a rooftop bar.

But New York is also more than Manhattan. Stroll across the iconic Brooklyn Bridge and turn south to begin a walking tour through the first suburb of Brooklyn Heights. Or turn north and explore the revitalized industrial waterfront neighborhood of DUMBO. The Bronx, Queens and Staten Island are off-the-beaten-path boroughs with scattered attractions for specialized interests.

The island is divided into three horizontal zones (downtown, midtown, uptown) and two vertical sides (east and west). Downtown is anywhere below 14th Street, including the Financial District. Midtown covers the area north of 14th Street to the southern limit of Central Park at 59th Street. Keep in mind that 20 north-south blocks = 1 mile (1.6km). North of 59th Street begins uptown, which includes the residential Upper West Side (west of Central Park) and the museum-rich Upper East Side (east of Central Park). Harlem is a large uptown neighborhood north of Central Park that is divided into east and west halves.

Most visitors base themselves in midtown where hotels are concentrated. Fifth Avenue splits the island into east and west sides north of its origin at Washington Square Park. Midtown west includes the hyper commercial neighborhood Times Square that overlaps with the Theater District. To the west of Times Square is the good eating gayborhood Hell’s Kitchen. Midtown east is a less exciting business district home to notable landmarks Grand Central Terminal, the Chrysler Building and United Nations.


When To Go

January/February
Short days, cold nights and the occasional blizzard or polar vortex keep visitors away during low season. On the positive side, hotel rates hit bottom after the first week in January, Broadway tickets are more available and museums can be enjoyed without crowds. Score an affordable price-fixe meal at top restaurants during winter Restaurant Week. The event calendar is quiet, but the Chinese Lunar New Year Parade is a highlight. Hockey and basketball are in season at the Garden and Barclays Center, and football fever culminates with the Super Bowl early February.
• Average high/low: Jan 38/27 F (3/-3 C), Feb 42/29 F (6/-2 C)
• Public holidays: January 1 (New Year’s Day), January 3rd Monday (Martin Luther King Day), February 3rd Monday (President’s Day)

March/April
The city thaws by mid-March when Spring Break attracts the first steady stream of visitors. The world’s largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 17 is also NYC’s oldest and most traditional parade (no floats or commercial overtones). The Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue is a quirky event anyone can join. Buds become visible in April, which can be sunny and 80 degrees one day and 45 and raining the next. Fans return to Yankee Stadium and Citi Field for the start of baseball season while new shows debut on Broadway. The Tribeca Film Festival screens in lower Manhattan the second half of April. An outstanding cherry blossom festival at the end of April or beginning of May is worth the trip to Brooklyn.
• Average high/low: Mar 50/35 F (10/2 C), Apr 61/45 F (16/7 C)

May/June
Statistically May is the wettest month, but June is one of the driest and most comfortable. Hotel rates are high due to corporate events and business travel. The parade and event calendar springs to life, starting with 32,000 cyclists riding in the Five Boro Bike Tour the first Sunday in May. Sailors come ashore during Fleet Week that leads into Memorial Day, which kicks off the unofficial start of summer. Rooftop bars reopen and diners spill onto sidewalks outside restaurants. By the end of May the warm weather is here to stay. Other seasonal celebrations include the Puerto Rican Day Parade, Coney Island Mermaid Parade and Gay Pride.
• Average high/low: May 71/54 F (22/12 C), Jun 79/64 F (26/18 C)
• Public holidays: May last Monday (Memorial Day)

July/August
Summer in the city. How high can the mercury climb.. or not? The summer of 2014 was the coolest in 10 years and only 4 days got above 90°F (32°C). Still, business travel drops, so hotels slash rates – especially on weekends. Streets are unbearably crowded (Times Square) or rather quiet (everywhere else). New Yorkers abandon the city on summer weekends, heading for the Jersey Shore, Hamptons and Fire Island. You need not follow. Retreat to more accessible spots within the city limits: Sheep Meadow in Central Park, Governors Island, Coney Island, Wave Hill and Bohemian Beer Hall. Or head up to the Bronx for beaches, fried seafood and baseball. July Restaurant Week, Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks and Central Park concerts are a few reasons to sweat it out in Manhattan.
• Average high/low: Jun 79/64 F (26/18 C), Jul 84/69 F (29/21 C)
• Public holidays: July 4 (Independence Day)

September/October
Labor Day is the symbolic end of summer. World-class tennis players battle at the U.S. Open the first two weeks of September. Football season begins. Little Italy celebrates the Feast of San Gennaro for 11 days in the middle of the month around which time world leaders descend upon the UN for meetings, bringing traffic to a standstill in Midtown East. Daytime temps remain comfortable enough to wear short sleeves through early October, but it cools off at night. Leaves change colors mid to late October, but the most vibrant spectacle is the annual Halloween Parade in the West Village on October 31.
• Average high/low: Sep 75/61 F (24/16 C), Oct 64/50 F (18/10 C)
• Public holidays: September 1st Monday (Labor Day), October 2nd Monday (Columbus Day)

November/December
Attention turns indoors with Thanksgiving shopping specials, but not before 40,000 marathoners race the first Sunday of November. Midtown Manhattan is the place to be during the holidays. Decorations festoon department store windows on Fifth Avenue and at Macy’s. The Rockettes kick off Christmas cheer at Radio City. The big tree arrives in Rockefeller Center before Thanksgiving and is lit after the holiday. Take advantage of great hotel deals over Thanksgiving weekend when Americans celebrate at home with family. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is watched nationwide, and the next day (Black Friday) is the most anticipated shopping of the year. Holiday fever climbs higher in December. Hotel rates peak as visitors pack the city to shop till they drop and eat till they flop. Walking around Rockefeller Center and Fifth Avenue feels like swimming upstream. The biggest crowd is saved for New Year’s Eve. At midnight the year goes out with a bang in Times Square and the calendar resets.
• Average high/low: Nov 54/42 F (12/6 C), Dec 43/32 F (6/0 C)
• Public holidays: November 11 (Veterans Day), November 4th Thursday (Thanksgiving Day), December 25 (Christmas Day)

Note:
Most sightseeing attractions, museums and tours are closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Restaurants may remain open. Museums that are normally closed on Monday may open on a public holiday Monday and instead close that Tuesday.

How Much Time To Spend

It takes approximately two lifetimes to see and experience everything in NYC. For everyone else, smaller bites of the Big Apple are recommended. The suggested duration of your trip is limited only by your vacation schedule and finances.

High and Low Season

There’s no wrong time of the year to visit, but here’s what to expect month by month.

Weather and Climate

See what to expect month by month in the Main Description

Events and Holidays

See what to expect month by month in the Main Description

Time Zone

New York falls within Eastern Standard Time (EST) and is either 4 or 5 hours behind GMT/UTC. To check the local time, click here.

Daylight Savings Time (DST) happens in the spring (second Sunday of March at 2 a.m.) when clocks advance one hour to 3 a.m. The result is more daylight later into the evening. In the fall (first Sunday in November at 2 a.m.), clocks turn back one hour to 1 a.m. standard time. The entire U.S. (except Hawaii and most of Arizona) participates in this ritual of ‘springing forward’ and ‘falling back.’

What To Pack and Wear

Whatever you forget at home from toiletries to umbrellas can be purchased at 24-hour pharmacies like Duane Reade, Walgreens and CVS that are seemingly on every other block in Manhattan.

The best way to see NYC is on foot, but jumping on the tourist treadmill in sandals or pumps is a blister or ankle injury waiting to happen. Comfortable walking shoes are essential from the start.

Jeans are fine for Broadway shows, most restaurants and bars. Dress to impress in the Meatpacking District where sneakers, sandals and shorts are a no-no at night. The West Village dresses up more than the come-as-you-are East Village, but smart casual is cool for most places and spaces.

During the summer, moist face wipes and hand sanitizer are good on-the-go refreshers. Subway stations are airless ovens until entering freezing cold cars. Stores blast the air conditioning to combat the heat and humidity outside. Broadway theaters tend to be chilly, too. The hot-cold-hot routine can get you sick, so carrying a light, long sleeve pullover is a good idea even on the hottest days or rainy summer days when the air conditioning is needlessly strong.

Other

The zip code for Times Square is 10036.

What it Costs

Hotels base rates on business travel, which means you’ll find lower rates on weekends, in the dead of winter (Jan-Feb) and height of summer (July-Aug) when biz travel is slower. Bargains can also be had on popular holidays like Memorial Day, July 4 and Thanksgiving (unless the hotel has a view of the parade route).

In contrast, rates are high May-June and Sept-Oct, and soar in December with holiday spirit that has the city packed.

Keep in mind that hotel rooms are subject to 14.75% tax plus $3.50 room or $5.50 suite occupancy fee. For purchases and food, 8.875% sales tax is added at the register, but clothing and shoes under $110 are not taxed.

Abstract Pricing at a Glance

Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.

Price ranges are quoted in $US.

See & Do
N/A => Not applicable

Free
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11–25 per person
$$$ => Tickets $26 per person

Sleep
$ => Rooms less than $150 for a double
$$ => Rooms $150–$300 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $300 for a double

Eat
$ => Up to $15 for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)
$$ => $16–22 for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)
$$$ => $23 for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)

Shop
N/A => Not applicable

Tours
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$$ => Tickets $26 per person

Airfare and Car Rental Prices

Fly the Friendly Skies

Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.

But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.

Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.

That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their ‘friend’ or subscribe to their e-mailings.

 Have Car, Will Travel

Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping.

There are also name-your-own-price sites, like Priceline, where you tell ‘em what you want to pay and they hook you up with a car rental company who can fit the bill. There are some great deals here, if you are not too picky about the make and model of your rental.

Zipcar is another choice for rentals. Available in many major cities and college towns in the U.S., Zipcar is a great alternative for super-short term rentals. Picture this scenario: you are in a big city with terrific public transportation, so you don’t need a car. But then you hear about an amazing restaurant 20 miles away in the suburbs. You can’t go home without trying it. A taxi would cost a fortune. You’d have to wait a long time to get a return taxi. Open the Zipcar app; search for a nearby Zipcar locale. You need to apply for membership and download the app in advance. Memberships cost about $7 a month; rentals are about $8 to10 per hour; gas and insurance are included. Foreign drivers can apply and you don’t need to pay a monthly fee if you’re an occasional driver (from $25 per year for a membership).

Ride-sharing companies, Uber and Lyft, are also ubiquitous in major cities. Through a smart phone app, you can line up rides all over town. It’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.

Money Saving Tip: Costco, because of its behemoth size and price negotiating power, offers great low prices for most major car rental companies. Yes, you need to purchase an annual Costco membership first, but it more than pays for itself with what you’ll save with a typical week’s car rental (i.e. searches turn up a mid-size car through Costco for $225 and a comparable car through another aggregator for $325.)

Did You Know: Budget Car Rental offers drivers residing at the same address (i.e. unmarried partners or BFFs) complimentary extra driver coverage. Other car rental companies charge upwards of $10/day.

Insurance

Hopefully, your trip goes well without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?

Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.

Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:

Trip Cancellation: About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.

Medical: Health services in the U.S. are expensive for the uninsured. This is a major reason to consider purchasing insurance. Whether you break a leg or need a blood transfusion, you will likely incur costs far higher than you might pay in other nations. And what if you have an accident that requires transport to a major medical center? Air ambulances alone could set you back $15,000 to $30,000.

Trip Interruption: For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to get off the cruise ship or abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.

Travel Delay: Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.

Baggage: Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.

Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travelers.

Do I need travel insurance?

If your trip costs $4,000 to $6,000 (or more), it’s probably a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. So is your destination. If you’re traveling to a hurricane-prone area during hurricane season, for example, you’ll probably want some coverage “just in case” … no matter what.

Your English language skills are also an important factor. Insurance policies often include concierge services with 24-hour hotlines that can connect you quickly with someone who speaks your language.

How do I choose an insurance provider?

Do your homework; check around.

The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregator sites like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.

Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).

If you have pre-existing health conditions: Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition. But companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.

Credit card insurance: If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.

The travel insurance business is expanding and evolving rapidly. As “shared space” lodging options like VRBO, Airbnb and Homeaway become more popular in the travel and leisure market, so does the need for insurance for both property owners and travelers.

For more information, visit the US Travel Insurance Association.

Exchange Rates and Currency

Currency

U.S. dollars come in $1, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills. A $2 bill is in circulation but rarely seen.

Coins in wide circulation include the penny (one cent), nickel (five cents), dime (ten cents) and quarter (25 cents). The gold tone one-dollar coin is seen occasionally.

Smaller businesses may not accept $50 or $100 bills, so have $20s or smaller bills in hand. ATMs usually dispense $20 and $50 bills.

Tipping and Costs That Add Up

New Yorkers are generous tippers. Add 15-20% of the total bill to bartenders and waiters, 15-20% of the total fare to taxi/livery drivers (up to 20% if they help with bags), $1 for bartender serving a beer, $1-$2 hotel doorman hailing a taxi, $1 for a bellhop/porter per bag, $1-$5 for hotel housekeepers per day, and $1-$20 for tour guides (less for short rides on the double-decker, more for private tours or really good guides).

Restaurants
At restaurants asking for separate checks is sure to annoy your server and most will refuse to do so. The onus is on you to figure out who owes what at the end of the meal. You can give the server a few credit cards to split the bill, but more than 4 is pushing it.

For excellent service, plan to tip 20% on the total bill. For less-than-stellar service, 10-15% is customary, as an imperfect experience is often not solely the responsibility of the server. In many states, servers work for below minimum wage and live mostly on tips, so consider the ramifications of your tipping decisions.

To complicate matters, some higher-end restaurants are moving to a no-tipping model in which service is included. The verdict isn’t yet in on whether this new model will stick, so be sure you understand the tipping policy at each restaurant you visit.

Oh, and one more complication: Sometimes a tip is automatically included, usually for groups of six or more people, or at restaurants frequented by tourists (especially those near Times Square). Check your bill closely to see if tip is already included.

At restaurants, bars and in taxis you can add tip to the credit card although cash is preferred.

Hotels

Most bell staff receive $1 to $2 per bag they assist with; if someone carts all of your bags up to your room, expect to tip $5 to $10.

Tips for housekeeping are also good form. The rule of thumb is $2 to $3 per day and about $5 per day in higher-end properties.

At properties with concierge services, consider tipping concierge staff who assist you in planning activities, making reservations or acquiring tickets around $10 to $20 per day. Concierge staff do not normally expect a tip for simply orienting you with driving directions or public transportation info. Car valet staff expect $2 when returning your car. Spa employees (massage therapists, aestheticians, etc.) usually see 20% tips on their services, whether performed at the spa or in your room.

Transportation

GETTING THERE

Airplane
The region’s three major airports are Kennedy (JFK) and LaGuardia (LGA) in Queens and Newark (EWR) in New Jersey. All three consistently rank among the nation’s worst, especially LGA. When Vice President Joe Biden likened LGA to a third world airport, New Yorkers shook their heads in embarrassed agreement. Smaller airports include Westchester County (HPN) north of the city and MacArthur (ISP) east of the city in Islip. Teterboro (TEB) in New Jersey is for charter flights.

Bus
Port Authority is the hub for New Jersey commuter buses and intercity buses to/from Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Montreal, etc. Low cost intercity alternatives like Bolt Bus and Mega Bus pick up/drop off near the Javits Center or Penn Station. The notorious but cheap “Chinatown” buses, operated by fun sounding carriers with spotty safety records, are based in Chinatown near the Manhattan side of the Manhattan Bridge.

Rail
Penn Station serves Long Island and New Jersey. Connections to the rest of the nation are possible through Amtrak, which offers intercity passenger service to 46 states. Long Island Railroad (LIRR) serves territory east of Manhattan, including Brooklyn and Queens, and Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island. New Jersey’s public transportation corporation is NJ Transit. The nearby New Jersey cities of Hoboken, Jersey City, Harrison and Newark are accessible by subway-style PATH trains that accept pay-per-ride MetroCards (but not unlimited ones).

Grand Central Terminal serves areas north of Manhattan, including the Bronx, upstate New York and the state of Connecticut using MetroNorth. Frustratingly, there is no direct rail connection between Penn Station and Grand Central. It’s a quick cab ride or you could take the subway and transfer.

GETTING AROUND

Subway
Most trains run 24 hours in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. To access Staten Island, use the free ferry.

Taxi / Uber / Lyft
Hail one of 13,000 yellow cabs off the street, or feel fancy tapping an app on your smartphone to ride with Uber or Lyft. Uber’s main competitor Lyft rides a distant second like a scrappy kid brother. Big bully Uber has driven people to join Lyft whose drivers are more like friends giving you a ride in their own vehicle. Hop in the front seat and start chatting! Unlike Uber, at the end of the trip you have the option to tip.

Automobile
Three words of advice: not worth it. Your love for New York will disintegrate behind the wheel. One-way streets make navigation tricky. Traffic elevates blood pressure. Street parking is limited and garages are pricey. Aggressive drivers (usually from New Jersey), fearless bicyclists and jaywalking pedestrians are omnipresent hazards. Rely on taxis and mass transit instead. But if you’re planning to drive into NYC and leave your car at a garage, parkme.com has an app to locate the cheapest rates. Also consider the rooftop parking garage at the Port Authority.

If you want to press your luck and park on the street, pay attention to No Parking signs.

A few more tips for motorists:
• Speed limit is 25 mph unless otherwise posted
• No texting or talking with a hand-held device while driving
• No right turn on red
• No driving in bus only lanes (except to make a right turn) – cameras record and fine violators
• Opening a door into traffic makes you liable for whatever hits it, such as a cyclist

Background

From its founding as a Dutch colony, this land has played a pivotal role in colonial and American history. Ethnic diversity and economic opportunity were hallmarks of New Amsterdam when its population was only 500. These characteristics remain true today in modern New York, now with 8.5 million inhabitants.

New York is a world capital for culture. It’s also a harmonious melting pot for the city’s varied cuisine, languages and religion. The foreign-born population makes up about 37% of residents. NYC is more than twice as populous as America’s second largest city, Los Angeles (and six times more fun). About 1 in every 38 people in the United States lives here while more than 50 million tourists visit annually.

Welcome!

History

1524-1776: Colonial Times
Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano first charted New York Harbor in 1524, but he didn’t stay long. The Verrazano–Narrows Bridge connecting Brooklyn to Staten Island is a misspelled tribute to him.

In 1609 Henry Hudson, an English explorer working on behalf of the Dutch, happened upon what is now the Hudson River with his Half Moon crew. Lured to the preponderance of beavers, the Dutch return with boatloads of settlers in 1625 to establish a fur trading post in what is now Battery Park in southern Manhattan. A year later Dutch colonial governor Peter Minuit “purchased” the island of Man-a-hatt-ta (“land of many hills”) from the native inhabitants. The transaction was equivalent to $24 worth of trinkets, a flawed and misleading figure because Native Americans had no concept of land ownership, and thus wouldn’t have sold something they believed couldn’t be owned.

The best known colonial governor is tyrannical Peter Stuyvesant who wanted all taverns to close at 9pm, a party-pooping proposal as unpopular back then as it would be today.

In 1664 British forces capture New Amsterdam from the Dutch without firing a shot. They rename the colony New York. Stuyvesant retires to his estate in the present day East Village where land still bears his name.

New York prospers under British rule with grain grinding, shipbuilding and trade with the West Indies and the mother colony. The city’s first newspaper and theater opens. Ferries service begins to Brooklyn. The first public park is established at Bowling Green, which can be visited today.

Discontent with colonial rule and regulations, the colonists get organized. After the unpopular Stamp Act in 1765, the Sons of Liberty form using the motto “No taxation without representation.” The New York Tea Party has a minor “party” in 1774, dumping tea chests into the river on a much smaller scale as more famous patriots had done in Boston four months earlier. Tensions boil over into war.

The ensuing Revolutionary War in 1776 incinerates much of colonial New York, although St. Paul’s Chapel survives thanks to a bucket brigade. After the Continental Army’s unlikely victory over the Redcoats, George Washington takes the oath of office at Federal Hall on Wall Street becoming the first president. New York is the first capital of the new nation, a honor that is quickly passed to Philadelphia and then permanently established in Washington, D.C.

The 1800s: New York Grows Up
19th century New York sees the rise of the city as a major port of commerce and center of  manufacturing. Population swells from 79,000 in 1800 to three million in 1900. Brownstone homes are built through the first half of the century.

Robert Fulton launches the Clermont steamboat on the Hudson in 1807, turning Brooklyn into America’s first suburb. The Randel Plan of 1811 divides Manhattan into a grid pattern above 14th Street and horse-drawn omnibuses become public transportation in 1831 until WWI. The New York Knickerbockers record their first baseball-like game in 1845. The New York Times begins publishing in 1851 and the first Macy’s is founded in 1858 on 14th Street. Central Park is designed by Olmsted and Vaux, who follow up that success with Brooklyn’s Prospect Park in 1867.

In the Age of Extravagance, merchants enrich themselves to staggering heights. They patronize the arts and corrupt city politics. The most notorious example is William “Boss” Tweed, a strongman who rigged elections and stole millions from public coffers while leading Tammany Hall, a political organization with benevolent origins of helping working class immigrants, especially the Irish.

Early department stores like Lord & Taylor commercialize fashion. The term window shopping originates on “Ladies’ Mile” on Sixth Avenue from 14th to 23rd Streets where magnificent original buildings with large plate glass windows still stand.
Elevated rails are built on top of north-south avenues and the original Grand Central debuts in 1871. The largest Catholic cathedral in the country, St. Patrick’s, opens in 1879 with its Gothic revival flare. The next year the Metropolitan Museum of Art opens and electric streetlights are introduced.

In 1883, the New York and Brooklyn Bridge links two separate but thriving cities via the world’s largest suspension bridge that is hailed as the eighth Wonder of the World. The Statue of Liberty opens in 1886 and Ellis Island begins processing immigrants in 1892.

Carnegie Hall, a Renaissance-style building with world-famous acoustics, opens in 1891. “The House That Music Built” continues to host top performers from around the world.

The Waldorf-Astoria opens in 1897, becoming the largest hotel in the world. And in 1898 the five boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx and Staten Island merge to form one consolidated city, a decision some Brooklynites regret as the “great mistake of ’98.”

The 1900s: City at the Center of the World
At the dawn of the 20th century, the port of New York handles two-thirds of all American imports. The rich are getting richer and overcrowded slums breed disease. The Lower East Side with its tenement buildings become the most dense spot in the world and five times more crowded than the rest of New York. Tragedy strikes in SoHo at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory when a fire in 1911 kills 146 sweatshop workers.

Important advancements in architecture begin with the Flatiron Building in 1902. Distinctive on the outside for its triangular shape, the Flatiron Building is even more important for its steel frame that gave rise to the modern day skyscraper.

French influence manifests itself with the Beaux Arts style popular from 1880-1920 during the Gilded Age when renowned architects Stanford White and Cass Gilbert are active.

Gilbert designed the Woolworth Building, a cathedral to Frank Woolworth’s commercial empire. Built in 1913, it is revolutionary for redefining the concept of office space and for being the world’s tallest building until 1930 when the shiny Chrysler Building becomes king of the skyline. That superlative doesn’t last long with the opening of the Empire State Building the following year.

In transportation, subway service starts in 1904 and revolutionizes the cityscape by allowing people to live far from where they work. The subway now serves four of the five boroughs. That fifth one is Staten Island where city ferry service begins in 1905. The grandiose Penn Station debuts in 1910. Not to be outdone, a new Grand Central opens three years later and can still be admired today in its original splendor. (Penn Station, by contrast, was demolished above ground in the mid-60s.)

Entertainment migrates north with the expanding city. The theater district moves from Herald Square at 34th Street to 42nd Street in newly christened Times Square. Lyceum Theater, Broadway’s oldest, is built in 1903 and is still in use. The heyday of musicals was the 1920s when movies also come to the “Great White Way,” the nickname for Broadway owing to its bright marquee lights.

Further uptown, Harlem’s Apollo Theater opens in 1914 as a whites-only opera house. It later launched the careers of top black entertainers, such as James Brown, Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson. Harlem also has a vibrant 20s jazz scene with musicians Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway and the famous Cotton Club, an after-dark hotspot during Prohibition when speakeasies proliferated.

The Brooklyn shoreline becomes an amusement of another kind. The “World’s Largest Playground” in Coney Island attracts millions of urban pleasure-seekers to its boardwalk, aquarium, roller coasters and legendary hot dogs at Nathan’s
The stock market crash in October 1929 ushers in the Great Depression. Fiorello LaGuardia begins the first of three terms as mayor in 1933. The parks department is created in 1936 and headed by Robert Moses, who rises to become the most powerful change agent in New York’s cityscape to accommodate the automobile.

In the late 30s Rockefeller Center becomes the largest, privately owned complex of its kind. About a dozen Art Deco buildings include Radio City Music Hall and NBC studios.

Queens hosts the World’s Fair in 1939 and three years later Idlewild airport (now JFK) opens at the other end of Queens.

Modern New York: 1945 – present
After World War II, Manhattan is chosen for headquarters of the United Nations. Rockefeller donates money to purchase the 18-acre site. Jackie Robinson becomes the first black Major League Baseball player when he signs with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Ellis Island closes in 1954 and the Guggenheim opens in 1959. The museum is Frank Lloyd Wright’s only significant work in the city.

Another World’s Fair is held in Queens in 1964. Race riots break out in Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant. Pop art founded in the 60s with Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol turns the city into the world capital for modern art.

The 1970s and 80s are dark decades marked by increasing drugs, violent crime and the AIDS epidemic. The Bronx burns as fires ravage entire blocks of abandoned buildings. Meanwhile, the World Trade Center overtakes the Empire State Building as the world’s tallest in 1973.

In 1975, the city appeals to the federal government for a bailout to avoid defaulting on debt. President Gerald Ford’s promise of a veto prompts the famous Daily News headline, Ford to City: Drop Dead that probably costs him reelection the following year when Democrat Jimmy Carter narrowly carries New York.

In the 80s, a creative boom is born from the grit and danger of lawless streets. Contradictions fuel artistic progress: graffiti, hip hop, Run-D.M.C., the Beastie Boys. Counter-culture thrives at rock clubs in the East Village. Fashion is funky.

Tax abatements and incentives encourage development that begins to reshape the skyline. Investors take a chance on the future. The 80s are the first flash of light at the end of the tunnel as the city begins to get its groove back.

Rudy Giuliani’s mayoral tenure starting in 1994 helps further the recovery by putting more police on the streets and fixing quality of life issues. Economic prosperity spurs real estate investment. Times Square is cleaned up. In sports, the Yankees win four World Series in five years in the mid-to-late 90s.

The city, country and world are stunned by terrorist attacks that fell the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. After years of painful and painfully slow rebuilding, the World Trade Center site has regenerated and the Financial District now has more residents and dining options than it did before 9/11.

Under the leadership of Giuliani’s successor, businessman-mayor Michael Bloomberg, economic prosperity and quality of life soar despite the Great Recession precipitated by Wall Street. New Yorkers embrace more convenient ways to move around town with Uber, Citi Bike and car sharing companies.

A sense of unease pervades New York under Bloomberg’s successor Bill de Blasio. Crime is trending higher. Real estate prices spiral ever upward, displacing long term residents and independent businesses with nouveau riche and mega chains. Corruption in the NYPD and City Hall has the mayor on the defensive and the target of five investigations by local, state and federal agencies. New Yorkers have taken note. In 2016 the mayor’s approval rating hit a new low and more than half of New Yorkers say the city is headed in the wrong direction.

Culture

If you’re looking for world-class museums, art and theater you’ve come to the right city. Culture pulses everywhere — downtown, midtown, uptown — capped off by a whole mile of museums facing Central Park.

New York’s dazzling spectrum of cultural treasures ranges from the hallowed halls of institutions housing 5,000 years of art (Met Museum) to cramped, dark apartments that spotlight how immigrants once lived (Tenement Museum).

If you’re a first-timer you’ll probably want to start with the biggie superstars:

American Museum of Natural History
– Guggenheim
Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met)
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
– Whitney Museum

Bright lights of Broadway theater marquees shine bright in the Times Square Theater District. Three subway stops north on the 1 train is Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, a 16-acre campus home to about a dozen organizations, including the opera, ballet, philharmonic orchestra and Juilliard School.

The cost of enjoying a sophisticated activity is accelerating. As soon as one museum increases admission to new heights, others match it. Fortunately there are ways to get discounts for performances or visit museums during pay-what-you-wish hours, normally once per week or month. Look for money-saving details on attraction visitor pages online.

Etiquette

The most important etiquette is tipping well and walking fast, or at least not standing in the way of “I’m running five minutes late” locals. Anything to impede the movement of New Yorkers will draw scorn, so don’t unfold a giant map in the middle of the sidewalk or hold hands four abreast. Think of sidewalks in New York as roads for pedestrians. If you need to stop for a picture or get something out of your bag, pull over to the side.

Asking for directions is perfectly fine. Even busy New Yorkers like being helpful and showing off their street smarts. Pointing you in the right direction is our good deed for the day. People are just as willing to help underground with the confusing subway system.

Two informal rules in the subway:
– stand on the right on an escalator
– step aside to let passengers exit the subway car before rushing in

Religion

Houses of worship for any faith can be found within the five boroughs. Visitors can attend services at these more central locations within Manhattan, some of which have historic status as landmarked buildings.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Fifth Av between 50-51 St
(212) 753-2261
Mass is held seven times a day inside this legendary white marble cathedral with twin spires facing Fifth Avenue smack dab in the middle of Midtown.

The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine
1047 Amsterdam Av at 112 St
(212) 316-7540
What some consider the world’s largest cathedral is the seat of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. You’ll have to travel to the Upper West Side to find it, but it’s well worth the trip.

Trinity Church
and St. Paul’s Chapel
Downtown, near the beginning of Broadway, Trinity Church at Wall Street is an Episcopal parish church offering prayer and Eucharist services throughout the week inside a brownstone structure dating back to 1846. Several blocks north stands St. Paul’s Chapel, an Episcopal chapel that is more of a tourist destination being Manhattan’s oldest surviving building and in the shadow of the World Trade Center.

Congregation Shearith Israel
2 West 70 St at Central Park West
(212) 873-0300
Founded by Spanish and Portuguese Jews of New Amsterdam in 1654, this is America’s first Jewish congregation and the oldest in congregation of any faith in New York. After four previous buildings at other sites, this neoclassical synagogue was built in 1897 overlooking Central Park.

Islamic Cultural Center
1711 Third Av between 96-97 St
(212) 722-5234
The first mosque in NYC combines classical Islamic principles with modern design and materials. Angled away from the Manhattan grid to face Mecca, the ICC was established in the early 1960s as a religious and cultural organization. Non-Muslims are welcome to attend. Prayer space is divided by gender with the women’s balcony at the back of the room overlooking the men below.

Mahayana Buddhist Temple
133 Canal Street between Bowery and Chrystie St
(212) 925-8787
At the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge in Chinatown lies the city’s largest Buddhist sanctuary housing a 16-foot Buddha. Pay $1 to receive your rolled-up fortune.

Language

More than 200 languages are spoken here, and almost half of New Yorkers speak something other than English at home. What does this mean for your visit?

Well, your restaurant busboy best communicates in Spanish.

Your yellow cab driver is on a headset speaking creole to his brother in Haiti.

A food cart vendor could sell you a hot pretzel in Arabic.

Ladies collecting plastic bottles at garbage cans are chatting in Cantonese.

Cashiers at the bright new deli near your Midtown hotel are Korean.

Traffic cops gossip in Bengali while checking dashboard payment slips.

A barber in Brooklyn instructs his staff in Russian.

An art gallery owner in Chelsea answers his cell phone in Italian.

Gem merchants in the Diamond District along 47th Street speak Hebrew and Yiddish, and you’ll hear an earful more if you venture to South Williamsburg, home to the largest orthodox Hasidic Jewish community outside of Israel.

Immigrants, primarily from Europe, founded and built this city starting in 1625. Today people from all over the globe make it move. Listen carefully and hear lingo from around world.

Recommended Reading

Literature about New York could fill a library, but here are 10 suggestions to get you hooked.

Portraits of the city:
Here is New York by E.B. White
Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker
The Colossus of New York by Colson Whitehead

History:
Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 by Edwin G. Burrows
New York: The Novel by Edward Rutherford
The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro

Culture, high society, partying, greed:
Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInnerney
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

Movies

Hollywood may be in California, but movie makers can’t resist the allure of a New York plot and skyline. Many cinematic successes have filmed here, so we’ll attempt to narrow down the list to some essentials filmed in and about New York since 1960.

West Side Story (1961)
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
The French Connection (1971)
The Godfather (1972)
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)
Taxi Driver (1976)
Manhattan (1979)
Wild Style (1983)
Ghostbusters (1984)
Wall Street (1987)
Working Girl (1988)
Coming to America (1988)
When Harry Met Sally (1989)
Goodfellas (1990)
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)
Black Swan (2010)

Websites and Maps

For a look at what’s going on during your stay, check out NYC’s official tourism page (website) and the free magazine Time Out New York (website).

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