Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tasting the Big Apple – A Brief Guide to the Best of New York

It may sound like cliché, but New York is truly a city of icons. From the moment you step into one of the city’s legendary yellow cabs at the airport it’s as though you’ve stepped into a cinema screen and become part of a film world. New York is, after all, the setting for more or less every great Woody Allen film, has seen Ghostbusters do battle with invading ghouls and is home to those Sex and the City girls.

Downtown Manhattan is as good a place as any to start exploring New York. Forget those taxi fares; despite the rumours New York is largely safe and rewards exploration on foot and via its comprehensive Subway train system, although hop-on hop-off ‘loop’ buses are also a convenient way to see the city. Whilst the Empire State Building definitely merits a visit, it can be a nightmare (and expensive) to reach the top for a view of New York. Popular opinion suggests that the observation deck at the top of the Rockefeller Centre is a better place to get those sweeping panoramas of the city that doesn’t sleep.

Back at ground level Times Square is the epitome of New York’s ‘bright lights, big city’ ethos: vast and dazzling neon-lit advertising hoardings adorn the skyscrapers that look down on this thronging and atmospheric slice of the city. The bright lights continue onto Broadway, the heart of New York’s theatre-land and a must for anyone who wants to take in a star-studded show such as Sister Act, Chicago, Wicked or the Lion King.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by New York’s constant in-your-face noise, crowds, traffic and commercialism but thankfully there are several havens of calm amid the chaos. None is more famous than Central Park: 843 acres of lawns, lakes and trails to stroll around and chill out in. Beautiful at all times of the year, the park is popular with joggers, cyclists, roller-bladers and skateboarders and features no fewer than twenty-one children’s playgrounds. Tranquillity of a more poignant nature can be found at the Ground Zero Memorial site in New York’s financial district where you can walk the perimeter of the former World Trade Centre.

Despite its brash exterior, New York boasts historic, artistic and cultural treasures to rival those found anywhere else in the world. In fact, the unmissable Metropolitan Museum of Art of Fifth Avenue is New York’s most visited attraction, welcoming more than five million visitors a year to view the museum’s outstanding exhibits and collections which include arts of Africa, European paintings and sculpture, musical instruments, contemporary art and even medieval European architecture. Other fascinating museums include the Tenement Museum which recreates a tenement building from the 1850s and give an insight into the daily lives of New York’s earliest immigrant population. Bookworms can prepare to be amazed by the historic New York Central Library and its six million books, architecture buffs will rewarded by the magnificence of the Grand Central Terminal or the iconic St Patrick’s Cathedral an no self-respecting opera fan should deny themselves a visit to New York’s famous Metropolitan Opera House.

If marching through Manhattan or pounding the beat of the Bronx take their toll on your feet, make your way to South Street and the Whitehall Terminal of the Staten Island ferry. Widely regarded as providing the best Manhattan cityscape, the Staten Island Ferry is totally free to ride and takes you close to what is arguably New York’s most famous icon: the Statue of Liberty. It’s an unforgettable ride, but be prepared to queue; the Staten Island ferry transports more than twenty-one million passengers each year.

New York has gained something of a legendary status for shopaholics, and those in the know will head for Soho. Easily accessible via the Subway or on foot, downtown Soho is a prime shopping location featuring as many famous designer outlets as you can think of and selling everything from antiques to accessories. Among the hundreds of stores you’ll also find fabulous restaurants and gourmet shops, art galleries and museums. Whether you’re browsing Bloomingdale’s or a bijou boutique Soho is the most fashionable part of New York in which to flex your credit card.

When it’s time to eat New York doesn’t disappoint. Skip the hot-dog carts that dominate every street corner and indulge yourself in one of almost fifty Michelin-starred restaurants within the city. If that’s a bit excessive, you won’t struggle to find a great meal to suit your budget and your palate, whether you’re looking for Italian, oriental, European, kosher or just some of the best steaks around.

New York is a vibrant, colourful and exciting city. Packed with entertainments, culture, iconic landmarks and an unending procession of experiences to delight all of your senses it’s no wonder that New York is the city that doesn’t sleep – the place is just a constant and enjoyable adrenalin buzz.

John is a guest blogger from Alamo who provide car hire in New York for all budgets and size of car.