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“New York in Three Days . . . still the greatest”
Now more than ever, New York City is the place to go. After many years of extensive travels, I can assure you New York is the most interesting destination in the world to visit. As the most important city in the world, New York has a tremendous collection of amazing buildings, people, attractions and landmarks, which now await your discovery. I say this not just because it was my hometown, but because it is True.
Be prepared for an intensity of life and density of parts that fit together in an urban miracle — a place where you can find nearly anything you want, if you know where to look. We offer some help in this essay by suggesting an outline of how to spend your time, with plenty of specific tips on getting the most out of the experience.
Stay at a Midtown hotel to maximize your ability to get around and not waste any of your precious time. Normally hotel rates are sky-high, but due to the current problems there are genuine bargains to be had for good rooms under $150 in excellent locations (see our listings on the side). Of course, when we say New York we focus on Manhattan only. The ideal time to go for the best deal on airlines and hotels is the week before Christmas, which is also best for the Holiday spirit. The kamaaina airfare is about $650.
You could very easily spend an entire week here, or a lifetime, and never run out of interesting things to do, but in keeping with the theme of this series we present three efficient days. We know that many people are in a rush on vacation and want to do as much as possible in a few days, but if you are fortunate enough to have more time available, spread our suggestions out over a number of days while filling in your own activities. You could take each walking tour described here by doing half one day and the rest the next, spreading our itinerary over a full week. Squeezing New York into 72 hours is a little bit like stuffing an elephant into a shoebox, but based on my years of living there, leading walking tours, and studying through current information, here are my suggestions:
Day one: Walk through Midtown; Museum of Modern Art.
Day two: Walk through Lower Manhattan; then maybe a bus tour.
Day three: See Madison Avenue, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park, American Museum of Natural History.
Begin your New York experience with an eight-hour walk through Midtown, covering the famous sights of the world’s most interesting square mile. New York is an ideal walking town, so wear comfortable shoes, but sit down to rest for ten minutes every hour. It has many different neighborhoods packed with things to see, but the most exciting zone is from 40th Street up to Central Park South, between Lexington and Broadway, eight blocks wide by twenty blocks high — a grand total of 160 city blocks. You could devote your entire three days to just this area and never come close to seeing all it has to offer, but we will point out the best route so you can still have two days left for the rest of the city.
Let’s begin in the epicenter where Broadway, 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue come together at Times Square: The electric heart and conceptual node, packed with honking taxis, pedestrians mobs, neon fires lighting the sky, memories of sleazy ghosts from the past now purged by private sanitation and security with the Disney stamp of family approval. No longer home to the Times, and not even a square, things are not what you might expect at this magical intersection. Back in the 1970s it became a very run-down place, nearly abandoned to the druggies, bums, gangsters and hookers, to the point where urban planners gave up on saving it and cooked up a nightmare plan to replace it completely with gigantic sterile office towers. Fortunately, those misguided plans fell through and new wholesome businesses began opening spontaneously, reclaiming this prime spot as the city’s gold mine, filled with pedestrians eager to shop.
Times Square has now become very safe and clean, the antithesis of what it once was, yet still bursting with raw urban energy. The merchants got together to form an association that transformed this area into one of the major commercial and entertainment districts of the world.
One of the prime events in this rebirth was the construction of the Marriott Marquis Hotel in 1985, a 50-story tower with 1,900 rooms. Have a look inside to gasp at the world’s largest hotel atrium, one of New York’s great interior spaces. Ride a glass elevator to the top and check out the view from the city’s only revolving restaurant, which has bargain $14 dinner buffet from 4:30 p.m. Of course, an advantage of being inside any nice hotel lobby is the opportunity to use the toilet facilities, which are not always easy to find when you are out on the streets walking around. An espresso at the lobby bar is an energizing gesture that will keep you going, for we are just getting started.
You also want to come back here at night to appreciate the blazing lights, which are especially wonderful just after the rain when everything is reflected in the wet streets -- if you are lucky enough to be in town during a gentle evening shower, head right over to Times Square to soak it in. Stroll through the neon gulch at night to feel the electric pulse of the city. Don’t worry – it has become one of the safest neighborhoods in town. This is the heart of the Theater District and you should take in a play or two while here. You can pick up tickets at half-price for the day of performance at the TKTS booth here at 48th St. There is normally a long line of bargain-hunters -- but you may not see them at this slack time in the season – or you can avoid them by coming back later in the day, right up until show time.
Next we walk along 48th Street heading east to Rockefeller Center, an amazing urban development that is the world’s largest private commercial complex, with one quarter million people passing through its 19 buildings daily. Constructed mostly during the 1930s in the Art Deco style, and then expanded across 6th Avenue with a row of giant glass-box skyscrapers built in what is called the “International Style” during the 1960s, these massive corporate headquarters for Time-Warner, Celanese, Exxon and McGraw Hill stand shoulder to shoulder in the city’s most impressive urban line-up, expressing raw corporate power.
Across 6th Avenue at 51st Street is Radio City Music Hall, famous for its Christmas Spectacular, running Nov. 1-- Dec. 31. The world’s largest movie theater, it holds 6,000 people with a stage as wide as the city block. Last year 1.2 million people saw the spectacular, which features the famous Rockettes live on stage doing “The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” and “The Living Nativity” along with a new 3-D movie in which Santa and his reindeer take you on a magical sleigh ride through New York City. The audience, all sporting 3-D glasses, tour Manhattan from the sky: pass the Empire State Building, go through Central Park, dash by the holiday-clad windows of Fifth Avenue, and finally land at Radio City Music Hall.
Next door is the G.E. Building, formerly called the R.C.A. Building, the main tower of the center whose 70 stories soar 850 feet high in a perfect Art Deco style. At the top is the Rainbow Room, where you could return later for a drink or dinner and enjoy one of the most spectacular views in town. In the main lobby you can join the NBC tour, an hour studio tour that gives you a close look at some of the famed stages and sets that are used for their popular TV shows, as well as the everyday workings of the television network. A new tour departs every 15 minutes from the NBC Experience store.
The interior of this landmark structure is pure Art Deco, from its black marble floors to the streamlined stairwell banisters, throughout the 2 miles of public corridors. The two-level concourse is lined with shops and food courts. Look for the wall and ceiling murals in the main lobby as you exit the east end to emerge into another one of New York’s greatest spaces, the Lower Plaza, with its ice skating rink and great bronze statue of Prometheus. If you are here after Nov. 28, you will also get to see the famous Christmas Tree all decorated and lit up. It’s always a thrill to watch the skaters glide along in this most romantic setting, surrounded by colorful flags and banners.
Continue your walk out the 5th Avenue side of the plaza through the Channel Gardens, so-called because it separates the British and French buildings. Notice the graceful white angels with their Christmas ornamentation, and the pretty garden display. At the street end you are now facing the main headquarters of Saks 5th Avenue, with more wonderful holiday decorations. In business since 1924, this high-fashion department store is famous for excellent service, so take advantage and look for something special.
One block north you will find St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a grand neo-gothic structure that looks like it is 800 years old, with stone buttresses, pointed arches, soaring spires, stained glass and medieval interior. Built 150 years ago, it is America’s largest Catholic cathedral, 350 feet high, 300 feet long, with a seating capacity of 2,500 people.
Walking north along 5th Avenue past the Olympic Tower and Cartier, you are experiencing America’s most glamorous shopping strip, especially at this time of year with all the festive Christmas decorations. We are in Fifth Avenue’s commercial heartland, looking at one of the world’s great urban vistas, lined with exclusive department stores, boutiques and office towers. In the next few blocks you will pass Guy Laroche, Fortunoff, Gucci, Stuben, Armani, Bulgari, Tiffany and many more classy establishments.
MUSEUM OF MODERN ART:
Midway through shopper’s heaven you will be tempted to visit this outstanding museum of 20th century art. The museum exhibits the very best artwork, featuring paintings by Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Piet Mondrian, Pablo Picasso, Henri Rousseau, and Vincent van Gogh along with works by contemporary artists such as Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock and Robert Rauschenberg. This might be time for lunch, and their café is an excellent place to satisfy that need. (See side-listing for hours)
Walk a block east on 53rd Street to one of the most pleasant vest-pocket urban spaces, Paley Park, complete with waterfall, ivy-covered walls, many chairs and a coffee bar. If you have not eaten yet, you could grab a sandwich at a deli and bring it into this little park, like I used to do when I was a sales clerk at the nearby Doubleday Bookstore. It is a divine retreat from the hustle and noise.
Now you must visit the famous Plaza Hotel, one of the top accommodations in town, at Grand Army Plaza. The Palm Court café is splendid to look at, and if you need a restroom there are elegant facilities just down the hall to the left.
Cross the street and enter Central Park at the corner and take a little walk to The Pond, a calm oasis with pleasant walkways and benches around it. The real forest looks natural but, like the rest of the park, was created by Fredrick Law Olmstead, the genius of American landscape architecture. Sit and pause, take a deep breath, admire the graceful stone bridge arching over the pond, and walk back out the same way you came in at Grand Army Plaza.
Walk one block over to Madison Avenue where you will find housewares at Crate & Barrel, one of the few chains that have not yet made it to Honolulu. One section of Madison leads north from here and goes for fifteen extremely charming blocks, but save that for Day Three.
Across the street enter the IBM atrium indoor garden to see a bamboo forest while relaxing on their comfortable tax-deductible seats -- these giant buildings got density bonuses and many tax breaks by providing public spaces like this atrium, which is far more useful than the dreadful open plazas encouraged by now-discredited 1960s zoning laws. You must be getting tired by now, so it is very helpful to sit in the garden for ten minutes and recharge. We have many more things to see this afternoon.
This is a time to speed things up. There is too much ground to cover in New York and you cannot see it all if you go into every interesting shop or pause to analyze all the significant buildings. We are plunging into a very worthwhile neighborhood which can be quickly enjoyed with serious window-shopping, people watching and looking up at the buildings peaks (always your main arsenal of techniques for getting the most out of your time here). However, now’s the time to move like a New Yorker and shift into high-speed. The shops and sights along the way will keep you thoroughly entertained.
Down Madison, take a left at 54th over to Park Avenue with its manicured medial, where you will be rewarded with another of those iconic views, looking south to the towering Met Life Building. Park Avenue is famous as the home of millionaires, although you’ll need a lot more than a million to survive here. On the corner you will see two of the first glass box skyscrapers ever constructed, Lever House, built by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill in1952, and the Seagram Tower, designed by Miese van der Rowe and Phillip Johnson in 1958. Along with the United Nations Headquarters on the East River, these created the modern style of architecture that has been copied in thousands of buildings all over the world. The Secretariat Building at the UN was the most revolutionary structure, the first glass box, built way back in 1950 with a design inspired by Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer that still seems ultra-modern today.
Walk for a few blocks along Lexington Avenue, which is less glamorous but in some ways a more authentic New York experience with shops that will not ask you to take out a second mortgage. We are here to see the slant-topped Citicorp Building, a miracle of architecture that stands on just four pillars and a central column, which make it look like this white aluminum tower is floating in mid-air, suspended above yet another atrium and food court.
Four blocks south you will come upon one of the city’s most elegant and expensive hotels, the famous Waldorf-Astoria. It has a beautiful plush lobby with elaborate floral displays, crystal chandeliers and many comfortable sofas, so you may want to rest another ten minutes. We are nearing the end of today’s walk, with just a few more major attractions to go.
You have been walking through the largest concentration of shops in the country. There is no comparison to The Mall of America or the Edmonton Mall, which are tiny compared to the gigantic retail assortment of midtown Manhattan. If you can’t buy it here, they don’t make it any more. You’ll be overwhelmed by the dazzling variety of things for sale in the stores and on the sidewalks. However, there is nothing remarkably interesting to see for the next few blocks, so just walk quickly south on Lexington for six blocks past the usual lineup of shops, hotels, doormen and miscellaneous sights until you arrive at another gem, the Chrysler Building, in its day the world’s tallest, at 1048 feet.
Its construction is an exciting tale of competition and dramatic surprise, because another building going up simultaneously in lower Manhattan at 40 Wall St. was planned to be slightly higher, but the Chrysler architects had a trick up their sleeve. They secretly assembled the stainless-steel spire but kept it hidden inside the top of the building; then, at the last minute, they erected it into place and won the race, only to be eclipsed one year later by the Empire State Building at 1250 feet. Chrysler’s Art Deco spire is a spectacular monument symbolizing the power of the automobile age, the flash of the jazz age, and the special beauty of New York construction, topping what is still one of the world’s great buildings. There is no public observation tower, but step into the public lobby to admire the Art Deco styling, right down to the elevator doors and air vents.
GRAND CENTRAL TERMINAL:
Across the street you are in for a major treat. New York’s grandest interior space is without a doubt Grand Central Terminal. Nearly destroyed by the wrecker’s ball in the 1960s, it has recently been restored to its original grandeur. This glorious Beaux Arts masterpiece opened in 1913 and has been the transportation hub of mid-town ever since, with commuter and subway trains carrying a half million people every day. You’ll recall the phrase “busy as Grand Central” when you walk through here, hopefully not at rush hour. There are some fine restaurants, including the Oyster Bar, that have made this a destination in itself. Next door is the Grand Hyatt if you would like to see another of the glitzy hotel lobbies or need to freshen up.
NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY:
We have reached a great intellectual landmark, the largest public library in the country with some 9 million books. It is a grand temple to knowledge, built of marble in 1911 with lavish attention to detail. The vaulted lobby is a breathtaking place you should just stop and admire for a moment before proceeding. The main attraction is the Main Reading Room, a remarkable space that runs the full block-wide length of the building, always busy with scholars and students utilizing this quiet dignified atmosphere. The hallways, stairs, side rooms and rotundas of this structure are well worth exploring, with many elaborate ceiling murals to appreciate. Down below are the closed stacks with 88 miles of shelves, some of them extending under adjacent Bryant Park. This charming park is another urban renewal success story, transformed from a notorious druggie hangout to one of Midtown’s most peaceful spots.
You must be wearing down, after covering about four miles, but don’t quit yet because just two blocks down Fifth you will find the second-best Christmas windows in town, at Lord & Taylor. This classy department store goes all out to entertain the sidewalk crowd, and its interior decorations are also worth a glance. We will get to the most spectacular shop windows at Macy’s tomorrow. Now it is time to relax, have dinner and hopefully take in a Broadway show. See our sidebar listings for some suggestions.
DAY TWO: Lower Manhattan, SoHo, Greenwich Village and lower Midtown.
This is another big day, walking for five fascinating miles. Take the subway down to the south tip of the island to Battery Park. If you would like a free boat ride from there, get on the Staten Island Ferry for the one-hour round trip through New York Harbor, which gives a fine view of the city skyline and the Statue of Liberty, the greatest monument to freedom and hospitality ever created. It was a gift in the late 1860s from the government of France to America, designed by Frederic Bartholdi, with the internal support framework built by Gustave Eiffel. You are better off enjoying it from the boat passing by. Skip the boat ride and save yourself some time if seeing the statue from the shore near Castle Clinton is sufficient.
Cross the busy street and plunge into the bowels of lower Manhattan. where you will find Bowling Green, New York’s first public park, opened in 1733. As you walk along Beaver Street towards Broad Street, look to your left down New Street for a glimpse of the narrowest of urban canyons.
A left turn on Broad Street will bring you to the New York Stock Exchange, with its Greek classic temple facade. Broad was the main street of 18th century New York and ever since it has been the financial center, with the first stock exchange founded in 1792. About 800 million shares are traded on a busy day here.
Across the street is one of New York’s finest neo-classical buildings, Federal Hall, constructed in the 1830s to look like an ancient temple. It is built on the site of America’s first Capitol Building, and the statue of George Washington out front marks the spot where he was sworn in as our first president in 1789. Before that it was the site of the original Dutch city hall, followed by the British city hall, so there is a deep heritage of political power here. The National Park Service operates the building, which contains models of the original capitol and dioramas showing some of the historic events that took place. Park Rangers inside will be happy to answer your questions and tell you about it, all for free (open Mon.-Fri. 9-5).
Around the corner is Trinity Church, built in 1846 in the neo-gothic style, with its high steeple that was the city’s tallest structure for fifty years. Now it is dwarfed by all the highrises around it. The front doors are replicas of the Baptistry doors in Florence, and the interior looks like a graceful medieval church. Casual concerts are offered frequently at lunchtime, so be sure to drop in and listen. This was the richest church in America because it owned vast farmlands in the area which today has some of the world’s most expensive real estate. Still extremely wealthy, Trinity has retained ownership of many scattered parcels. Its cemetery is a small oasis, the resting place of some famous Americans, including Robert Fulton, inventor of the steamship, and Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, who was largely responsible for setting up the financial system that still thrives all around him. Killed in a notorious duel at the age of 47 with Vice-President Aaron Burr, they say Hamilton’s ghost still haunts the area.
Detour for a little walk down Pine Street to the massive 813 foot-high black glass tower of the Chase Manhattan Bank, with its whimsical statue of “Four Trees” by Jean Dubuffet on the front terrace, which makes a good viewing platform for observing the surrounding skyscrapers. Around the corner on Liberty Street is the Federal Reserve Bank, with more gold than Fort Knox tucked away in the basement. Returning to Broadway, you pass Isamu Noguchi's bizarre 28 foot-high "Red Cube" balanced on its corner with a hole pierced through, standing in front of the superb tower of the Marine Midland Bank, at Liberty Street.
As you walk north from the Financial District along Broadway you soon reach Ground Zero of the World Trade Center. A fascinating museum and memorial exhibit here is certainly worth visiting. Next to this is the Oculus, a remarkable contemporary rail terminal with shopping mall that looks more like a futuristic sculpture than a building.
Continuing north on Broadway, at Fulton Street you will see New York's only surviving pre-Revolutionary War church, St. Paul's Chapel, a beautiful Georgian-style building where George Washington prayed after his inauguration. Open all day, you might drop in and have a quiet moment of reflection in the city's oldest church.
Now you should consider riding the subway for a shortcut to Canal St. instead of walking another mile. Descend the subway staircase on Church Street into the Cortland station and catch the N or R train uptown, reaching Canal St in two stops. Now you will emerge at the very busy intersection of Broadway and Canal, into a deliriously tawdry scene: hundreds of people streaming by, discount shops everywhere, sidewalks lined with cheap imports, crowded mini-malls, promo signs blotting the sky, hustlers galore -- and this continues east for 8 blocks in a half-mile stretch that is not to be missed. On weekends it is twice as packed. Tooting traffic flies along this busy truck-filled artery pounding out the chaotic sound of the city, so you don’t want to be driving here, but the wide sidewalks are perfect for walking, and the ambience is divinely raw New York.
We continue the route description just below in the Chinatown section, but first, if you prefer to walk this same stretch from Ground Zero to Chinatown instead of giving yourself that break with the subway, there are some notable sights to enjoy.
If walking from Ground Zero, cross one block over to Broadway and head north. The 792 foot-high Woolworth Building will be the next fine attraction along the walking route route, the world’s tallest when opened in 1913. The lobby is a wonderful interior, rich with murals and sculptural ornamentation, including a funny portrayal of Mr. Woolworth himself counting the nickels he used to pay for his neo-gothic building. New security measures will probably prevent you from getting deep into the lobby, but poke your nose in, then appreciate the building’s dramatic exterior design. Across the way is City Hall with its lovely park and fountain out front -- you cannot get very close to the building, so skirt around to the right along Park Row.
Heading east towards Chinatown, you’ll pass the giant Municipal Building, with neoclassical arches, alleys and tunnels at street level, topped with a fanciful wedding-cake spire. The façade is a huge triumphal arch, which you can usually walk through to the Police Plaza and a continuation of Park Row, which then leads you left to a vast ugly intersection where ten streets come together at Chatham Square, the gateway to Chinatown. If that archway is blocked, just walk around the Municipal Building to your left and continue through Foley Square. Consult your map (oh yes, you should always be guided by a good map) and find Mott Street, the heart of Chinatown.
If you took the first suggestion, riding the subway and then walking along that lively stretch of Canal Street, you will also arrive at Mott Street, which is the epicenter of Chinatown, especially in the short section south of Canal to Park Row. Walk two short blocks down Mott, turning on Pell Street to peek down the side lane of Doyers, which makes a pleasing sight as it curves around a bend and disappears, reputedly a favorite body-dumping spot for the mob in the bad old days.
You’ll enjoy the pleasant stroll up and down Mott Street, which is the most interesting and colorful choice for Chinese atmosphere. If you are ready for lunch you have many choices, which you can narrow down with the reliable technique of looking for a place crowded with Asians and smelling good. The service will definitely be quick around here. For a reliable standard try Canton two blocks east at 45 Division Street. If you can wait, there are many good restaurants ahead on our walk.
To fully explore Chinatown would take many days. Bursting at the seams, this has grown into the largest Chinatown in North America, with a constantly expanding population estimated now at 300,000 Chinese. There are about 400 restaurants, countless Asian antique shops, and souvenir stores sprawling over many blocks that stretch all the way to the East River. The two main employers here are restaurants and sweatshops -- lots of clothing is manufactured in Chinatown, so you might be tempted to look for cheap goods in the little shops. Some of the immigrants spend their entire lives within the confines of this city-within-a-city, never venturing into the English-speaking world.
Return to Canal and escape to Italy with a right turn, heading north on Mulberry Street.
There used to be nearly 200,000 Italians living in Lower Manhattan at the end of the 19th century, but now all that is left is one street that goes for two little blocks, and a few scattered bakeries and cheese shops. Mulberry Street between Canal and Grand still has many wonderful Italian restaurants lined up side by side, so this would be another fine place to take care of lunch, at a very low price. This colorful stretch makes the most convenient connection for us as we continue uptown. Walk left along Grand St. to Broadway, where you will enter SoHo, the city’s fine arts center.
SoHo (which means South of Houston St.) had been a run-down industrial neighborhood with factories, warehouses and truck-loading ramps, but in the last twenty years has become New York’s supreme cutting-edge art neighborhood. SoHo became more and more popular as lots of artists moved in, attracted by cheap rents in illegal lofts. It was not zoned for residential use, but they put in their own improvements in the form of “sweat equity” and created apartment lofts, which eventually were legalized by the city government. These old cast-iron buildings made great places to live, with high ceilings, big windows, solid walls and quiet streets in the heart of town.
SoHo has the largest collection of cast-iron buildings in America, constructed mostly in the last half of the 19th century. The facades look like neo-classical buildings made of fancy marble columns and walls, but it is just an illusion in cast iron, which had many advantages in those days: it was cheaply pre-fabricated, trucked in and quickly installed, creating a strong fireproof building with a classy look that showed off the nation’s growing industrial power. These facades are everywhere, but the largest collection is along Greene Street. Another gritty urban neighborhood called Tribeca has many similar old structures, adorned with funky metal fire escapes, but that is six blocks to the southwest below Canal and Hudson streets, beyond the scope of our walk.
The art galleries came in, and then restaurants and shops followed. Now SoHo is a very mixed area with only a few artists still able to afford it. Prices have skyrocketed to a point where only the wealthiest dot-comers can live here now. It has become “Silicon Alley” filled with multimedia artists, programmers, yuppie entrepreneurs and capitalists of all stripes. The artists have been squeezed out and relocated to Brooklyn, Jersey, the East Village and Lower East Side, with a similar sequence of changes now happening there in the never-ending process of gentrification.
Walk a couple of blocks along Green Street to find the thickest concentration of galleries, cafes and hip shops, then meander along Spring, Prince, Broome, West Broadway and Mercer. Here and there the streets are still paved in the original Belgian cobblestones, imparting a strong European feeling to the neighborhood. There is a branch of the Guggenheim Museum at 575 Broadway, at Prince. Many small clever shops here appeal to the discriminating tastes of the most hip clientele, or for cheaper bargain, sidewalk stands and parking lot flea markets sell all kinds of useful junk.
To get to the Village from SoHo, walk up Broadway across Houston, past Tower Records, and take a left on 4th St. to Washington Square Park. Certainly one of the most famous neighborhoods in the world, the Village is not as interesting as it once was but is still worth your time for a walk-through. Birthplace of the Beat movement, and before that a literary haven in the 1920s -- there is a rich tradition of non-conformity and creativity to explore here. The best walking route will take you through Washington Square Park and out the southwest corner to Macdougal Street, then down two blocks to Bleeker Street. This intersection is one of the great crossroads of the Village, with the landmark Figaro Cafe on the corner.
Bleeker Street makes a perfect route to take through the Village. Just follow it past 7th Ave., and then turn right on Christopher St. to Waverly Place; then walk along the north edge of the park passing a row of glorious Greek-revival townhouses. Are you following so far? Well it does get pretty twisted here in the Village, which is a big part of the charm of this area, so a good way to deal with directions is just play it by ear and improvise, in the spirit of the many jazz clubs that still survive here. You should walk along West 10th Street, a lively commercial strip near the edge of the Village, and then leave.
Our next major goal is 34th Street, which is pretty far north from here, so save some time and take a taxi rather than walk 24 blocks, or catch the subway from 6th Ave and 14th Street. You will be skipping parts of town called the Flatiron District, Gramercy Park and Chelsea, which are quite interesting, with many more shops and art galleries, but not crucial for your 3-day experience. Save them for another trip.
Located at 34th Street and Broadway in the area known as Herald Square, the world’s largest store occupies an entire city block and offers 8 floors of exciting shopping. You must visit this great department store, especially in the Christmas season. It has the best holiday display in New York, with their famous windows featuring amazing moving displays. It is a theatrical event of major proportions, so you might find a crowd on the sidewalk, herded along in the confines of roped walkways that lead you past the windows. Traditionally, the grand unveiling of the windows happens at Thanksgiving and they are on display until just past New Year’s Day. The store is filled with holiday cheer, especially the toy department, for after all, Christmas is especially for kids. Macy’s Santaland is a 6,000 square-foot free fantasy for kids, November 23 – December 24.
EMPIRE STATE BUILDING:
Just one block away along busy 34th Street, the Empire State Building is the ideal paradigm of a skyscraper with its spire rising 1250 feet, or 1,454 feet to the top of the TV tower. There are two taller structures in the world (Sears and Petronas) but still the most classic is this one, and it has the best observation deck of any because you are in the middle of the densest concentrations of skyscrapers in the world, making this the most exciting urban viewpoint you can find.
The Empire State Observatory is such a popular attraction you might have to wait on line to get up, but here is a tip that can help: buy your $9 ticket ahead of time from tour vendors on the sidewalk outside the building, or as part of your bus tour. Having a ticket will get you past the first line, but then you face another line for the elevators, which should not be bad at this time. With some luck you can be up and down in one hour. The observatory is on the 86th floor of this 102-story building. This structure was raised in just one year and a month, between 1929-1931, using 60,000 tons of steel beams and 300,000 tons of cement, limestone and granite. Built at a top speed of one floor a day, they say the steel beams were still hot from being just forged in Pennsylvania. When completed it was dubbed the “Empty State Building” because the Great Depression had begun and very few tenants moved in. Revenue from the observation deck was all that kept it afloat until the economy bounced back after World War II.
If you are interested in clothes, head over to 38th and Broadway, the heart of the garment district, where you will run into many racks of clothes being pushed along the sidewalks. Maybe you’ll find some real clothing bargains, especially following these tips: Walk up Broadway or Seventh Avenue and look for people handing out fliers for “showroom sales” or “sample sales.” You can try some of the permanent discount shops, like SSS Sample Sale at 261 W. 36th St -- 2nd Floor, between 7th Ave & 8th Ave, Mon.-Fri., 10-6. Websites to check for the latest sale locations include www.lazarshopping.com and www.clothingline.com which will steer you to a dozen upcoming sales. A half-price shop for men is Prato at 28 West 34th Street.
BUS AND BOAT TOURS:
It would be a shame to visit a place like New York and only take a bus tour, thinking you have seen the city. However, once you have completed our first two days of walking, some time can be spared for a bus tour -- and you will understand the sights passing by since you have already visited many of them on foot. Do it on a weekend if possible when traffic is less congested. Or take the Circle Line boat tour around the island of Manhattan. It is relaxing to see the city skyline drift by from the perspective of the river, and usually the tour guide is quite good at filling the time with descriptions and odd historical stories. See listings for details.
If you are not going to a play you should consider a musical event. Carnegie Hall is one of the most famous concert halls in the world; Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts is the home of the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Opera, the New York Philharmonic, and the New York City Ballet, or check the cabaret listings in New York Magazine to see who is performing in the hundreds of Manhattan nightclubs.
Madison Avenue north, Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History. Today we are walking fewer miles on the city streets but there will still be just as much ground to cover inside a couple of huge museums, so have a big breakfast.
UPPER MADISON AVENUE:
Start out with a morning walk along upper Madison Avenue, from where we left off the first day at 59th Street, all the way up to the Metropolitan Museum on 81st Street at 5th Avenue. This part of Madison has a European feeling to it, with many small boutiques, art galleries, unique shops, little cafes, and very expensive apartments. The Upper East Side is where the very rich live and play, amongst the classiest of surroundings. As you walk along Madison, look down the side streets at their mansions and ultra deluxe apartments. Of course you don’t see much from the street, but you can imagine what goes on inside. It is wonderful to stroll and see the city at its best. On the other hand, if you would rather spend more time in nature, skip the Madison walk and instead head north to the Met through the nicest part of Central Park, including the zoo, the model sailboat pond, Alice in Wonderland, and graceful wooded pathways. Later today you can walk across another section of the park.
On the way up to the Met, if you are an art-lover, drop into the Frick Collection at 5th and 70th for a quick look at New York’s finest small art museum. This breathtaking collection of masterpieces is exhibited in one of the few surviving robber-baron mansions on Fifth Avenue, the home of Henry Clay Frick, a coke (the black kind) billionaire.
In a nutshell, this is the world’s finest art museum! Ouch, I can hear some objections, like what about the Louvre or the Hermitage, but no, I can assure you the Met is Number One, by far. Just go there and enjoy it. It is New York’s most popular attraction, with 5 million visitors each year. In the little space remaining, I cannot pretend to offer you a complete guide, but you can find your own way around once you get there. The Met simply has the best of everything, the entire span of the world’s art history: Impressionism; Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome; Byzantine; Armor; Americana; Old Masters; Pacific Islander; Islamic; Oriental; Gothic; Decorative; Costumes; Musical Instruments; Renaissance; Modern Art; Sculpture; Architecture; Photography. It is the largest museum in the Western Hemisphere, so you cannot see it all in one visit, but you can establish your priorities.
Some tips: Go to the gift shop first and look through the museum catalogue and postcards to get some idea of what awaits, and pick up the free map from Information. Thomas Hoving, the former director, suggests you purchase postcards of the pieces you most want to see, then show them to guards as you walk along asking for directions to find them. I like to start with my favorites while I have the most energy, which in this case is the enormous Impressionist collection, then look for the Vermeers, the Van Eyck and the Italian Renaissance masters. Take a breather on the rooftop sculpture garden with a fabulous view out over Central Park, planning your escape across the park to our next cultural attraction.
AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY:
The world’s largest museum! Bugs, meteorites, jewels, culture history, archaeology, outer space, stuffed animals, and especially the dinosaurs, their most popular exhibit. This museum is a great place to learn about the world in all its diversity and grandeur. There are 36 million objects that cover 500 million years of evolution, but again, you cannot see everything, so get the floor plan and choose. Personal favorites are the realistic dioramas that reveal significant moments in the lives of hundreds of different animals, as though you are there with them in person. Also, be sure to catch the varied exhibits of Native American art and culture. And don’t miss the 96-foot long whale hanging from the ceiling. Finish your visit at the brand new Rose Planetarium, a sphere enclosed in a giant glass cube that will take you to the edge of infinity.
So New York has it all: fine dining, great shopping, top entertainment, historic landmarks and fascinating architecture, but the most exciting thing to do is just walk with your eyes wide open, stand on the street corner, look around you and look up. To fully appreciate the visit you should get in shape so you can do all the walking we are suggesting here! New York is a visual feast, it’s cotton candy for the eyes and the main show is free. It’s a city taking care of the world’s business with one arm while reaching up to heaven with the other.