Frank Sinatra sang about it. The Dutch owned it for a short time as New Amsterdam.Years later, New York is the heart of America and chances are that your great grandparents or great uncle McMurphy had to pass through this mega-city it to settle in the “New World”. Besides having one of the world’s largest harbors, The Big Apple claims Wall Street, the United Nations Building, and country’s tallest building. There are thousands of movies featuring New York as a setting, and that’s not even including the ones Woody Allen has directed. New York is a montage of cultures and a melting pot of the world. It’s overwhelming when you arrive. What do you do? What are the best places to visit if you only have a couple of days?
The good news is unlike Europe, you don’t have to wade through scores of churches and ancient ruins. New York isn’t really that old compared to the rest of the world. It’s history is short relatively speaking but interesting nonetheless. Most of the sites around the city are famous buildings, museums and interesting neighborhoods. Here’s my list of what you should see if you have two days in the city:
The Statue of Liberty– The symbol of America is not American after all, but a gift from France brought to Manhattan in the late 1800s. Gustav Eiffel (yes, the one that built the famous tower in Paris) actually constructed the giant statue and had it shipped to New York with the provision that America would provide the base. That didn’t happen for some time because of budget issues until Joseph Pulitzer created a 19th century version of kickstarter to get donations to gather the required $100K to finance the structure. Once it was installed, it became an instant hit and today the statue is one of America’s most recognizable icons. Getting to the island requires a boat ride, a security check and a lot of time waiting in line. Only 240 people are allowed to enter the statue daily, so that has to be reserved in advance. The best way to get to the island is arrive early to beat the crowds or to admire it from afar.
Empire State Building-It used to be the tallest building in the world for 40 years, and even though it’s slipped to number 31, it’s still worth a visit to see it’s old art deco style that’s been perfectly preserved. The building has been turned into “The Empire Building Experience” which translates to a higher ticket price and a few displays and unnecessary ropes and stanchions. However, it’s a worthwhile trip to the top and the views of New York are beautiful from above.
911 Museum– After the 911 disaster, there was a lot of disagreement with what should be done with the area. Some wanted to rebuild it bigger and better, some thought the area should be a memorial. In the end, a compromise was reached and both things happened. The One World Trade Center building is the tallest building in the United States and is part of the complex that includes five other skyscrapers, a transportation hub, a memorial and the 911 museum. The museum is huge and built mostly underground using parts of the original structures and containing vehicles, parts of the building, and audio/video elements that draw the visitor into the various stories that occurred during the attacks.
Central Park– How nature has survived in the middle of the cluster of skyscrapers seems a little mysterious, but Central Park has managed to keep it’s real estate since the mid 19th century. It is one of the most visited places in the world and it’s set in the midst of some of the most valuable land on the planet There’s jogging tracks, ponds, bridges, and even a tribute to John Lennon across the street from the building where he lived and was shot. It’s called Strawberry Fields. It’s a great place to unwind, watch a concert, catch up on your exercise, or switch brief cases if you’re in a spy movie.
Rockefeller Center and the Rock- The Rockefeller Center is actually a nineteen building complex originally began by John D Rockefeller in Midtown Manhattan. These iconic building are the hub of everything “New York” and lie next to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Saks Fifth Avenue. NBC headquarters is located at “30 Rock” and contains the production studios of The Jimmy Fallon Show, Saturday Night Live, Late Night with Seth Myers and more. Tours are available for guests to see behind the scenes of some of the most iconic shows on television. Radio Music Hall is found across the street as well as the seasonal Rockefeller ice skating rink featured in a ton of movies like Elf and Serendipity. One of the center’s biggest draws is “The Top of the Rock” where visitors are whisked to the 70th floor of the rooftop for great views of the city.
MoMa– The Museum of Modern Art is six stories of everything from Monet to “is this art or did someone forget to put this away”? The most famous piece in the museum is undoubtedly Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” which surprisingly is not in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Dali has a melting clock on display, there’s a full room of Monet, some Picasso and Andy Warhol has some pieces including a Marilyn Monroe, lots of Campbell Soup Cans, and more. The museum was started by Abby Rockefeller (wife of John D. Rockefeller) and two of her friends. It’s since grown to be one of the largest and most influential modern museums in the world. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, or The MET, has an equally impressive collection of art, but if you’re not an expert on the masters, you might enjoy the instant gratification in seeing a few pieces that you actually recognize, and face it, everyone knows soup cans and ‘Starry Starry Night”
American Natural History Museum- This colossal museum is one of the largest in the world and is probably most recognizable from the film “Night at the Museum”. You won’t catch Ben Stiller there, but the T-Rex, Moai statue, Capuchin monkey and many other exhibits featured in the film are on display. Out of the 33 million specimens owned by the museum, only a fraction are featured at any given time in the 2 million square foot space.
Little Italy, Little Armenia, Little Anything– What’s like Epcot, but not? New York City has a Little Italy, Little Armenia, China Town, a Polish section, and pretty much any other ethnic group you can think of has quartered off a little section of the city. Immigrants from all over the world arrived in NYC and never went any further. The little neighborhoods will often have groceries or restaurants where you can get authentic food from the area and other imported goods. Chinatown and Little Italy are the most famous enclaves, but dig a little deeper and you can find amazing Georgian food, a Caribbean population, African influences and possibly find some distant European relatives that never left New York. It is estimated that there are over 800 languages spoken in New York. It is considered to be the most linguistically diverse city in the world.
Times Square– Time’s Square gets it’s name from the Times Building that’s been it’s anchor since the beginning of the 20th century, and is not a square at all, but more like a bow tie shape with two triangles intersecting. It’s had a checkered past, but it’s resurfaced as the hub of everything Broadway and has about half a million people walk through it every day. There are laws that require businesses to have a certain amount of illumination in their signs. More is better here and it’s lighting rivals Las Vegas. What do you do Time’s Square? You could just hang out and watch the hordes of people walk by to see how many languages you recognize. You could visit the giant M&M store or watch a street performer like The Naked Cowboy (who’s not really naked).
See A Show– The area known as “Broadway” is actually 41 different theaters concentrated near Broadway and Times Square. There are lots of choices of shows including musicals, comedies and movies-turned-into-plays. New popular shows can be impossible to get tickets for or have extremely steep prices. Have no fear, if you’re not set on a particular show, you can pick up discount tickets the day of the performance for some shows for sometimes as little as half the normal price.