There’s so much to see and do in New York City, but here are my choices for the top five tourist attractions. I am leaving out a few obvious ones, like Ground Zero. At the moment the site is impossible to see. A high fence surrounds it, with a covering blocking all views, and construction is under way. Unless you want to pay to go into the official museum at the site, it is not worth the visit. There is nothing to see. I am also leaving out any site that is not in Manhattan. I was at the Bronx Zoo a few weeks ago and it was full of European tourists. It is well worth a visit, as is the nearby New York Botanical Gardens. Plan on an entire day for each since both sites are huge. They are about forty-five minutes from midtown Manhattan via train or subway.
Time Square is obvious and I am not including it either. As a tourist, there is much to see there and be sure to see at least one Broadway show. Half price tickets are available daily at the TKTS booth at 47th Street and Broadway, open 3 to 8 daily (Monday thru Saturday) and 10 to 2 on matinee days (Wednesday and Saturday).
The following sites are listed in no particular order. In other words, I am not ranking them first to last, but merely listing them and my opinions of them.
1) The Statue of Liberty – A gift from the French people to Americans, the statue is a symbol of freedom throughout the world. Before September 11, visitors were able to go unto the crown, but after the terrorist attacks people have been allowed only at the base. You are able to go to Liberty Island with no problem, but even to enter the base you must have a reservation. As of this writing, they are saying they are going to soon open the crown again to visitors. Going into the torch of the statue is no longer possible at all. For reservations to enter the base of the statue call 1 866-782-8834. To get to the Statue, take subway lines R or W to Whitehall Street, line #1 to South Ferry or the 4 or 5 trains to Bowling Green. Then you take the Statue of Liberty ferry departing every 25 minutes from gangway 4 or 5 in southernmost Battery Park. You can visit Ellis Island on the way back to Manhattan. More than twelve million people came through here when they immigrated to the United States. The museum is a moving tribute to them. Be sure to take the ferry early in the day since you will not have time to visit both islands if you go too late. They close at 5 pm. The cost of the trip is $12, $10 for seniors and $5 for children 4 to 12, and children under 4 are free. Credit cards are accepted. Tickets can be purchased at Castle Clinton in Battery Park by the ferry dock. While in this area, you may also want to visit Wall Street and the South Street Seaport. There are many shops and restaurants at the Seaport, plus it’s a wonderful place to see the Brooklyn Bridge and relax. From here you can also view four temporary waterfalls to view on the East River, the work of Danish artist Olafur Eliasson. The Staten Island Ferry is also close by in Battery Park and it remains the best free ride in New York. The views are wonderful and the trip over and back is about twenty-five minutes each way.
2) The Empire State Building – Once again the tallest skyscraper in New York, it is one of the top tourist attractions because of the tremendous views. You can go to either the 86th floor or the 102nd Floor, and the building is open until 2 am for great night views. The lines are long, but there is an expensive express pass that allows you to skip the them ($45 dollar). Take the B, D, F, Q, V, R or W to the 34th Street/Herald Square station. The hours for viewing are 8am to 2 am daily. They are closed in extreme weather and there’s no point in going if there’s poor visibility. Admission to the 86th Floor is $19, $17 for seniors or 13to17 year olds, $12 for 6 to 12 and free for children under 6. To go to the 102nd floor is an additional $15. Credit cards are accepted. I went recently and bought a ticket that included a video show of New York and found that combination ticket not worth the money. While in this area do not miss a trip to Macy’s on 34th Street at 6th Avenue. It’s the world’s largest department store with something for everyone. If you love cameras and electronics, B&H at 34th and 9th Avenue is an amazing store to visit. The prices are incredible.
2) Central Park – It’s is one of the world’s greatest urban parks and a visit will truly make you feel you have left the bustle of New York City for a few hours. Get a map, but start at any entrance and wind your way through paths. All of it is free, except for the zoo and food for a picnic. The top places to visit are Bethesda Fountain, and you will recognize it immediately from movies and commercials. Beside it is a beautiful lake. Close by is Strawberry Fields, a peaceful area created in memory of John Lennon who lived (and was killed) at the Dakota Apartments at 72nd and Central Park West. North of the lake is Belvedere Castle, which has wonderful views of the city and the park. Beside it is the Shakespeare garden and theatre (free tickets for plays are available during the summer if you wait in line a long, long time). Most of all just walk and see how wonderful this park truly is. There are lakes, bridges, footpaths, flowers, statues, fountains and everything that makes this landscape so unique. The park is safe during daylight hours, but I would not recommend going there after dark. The park runs from 59th Street on the East and West Sides of Manhattan, between Fifth Avenue and Central Park West and goes to 110th Street in Harlem. The cost of the zoo (which is just off Fifth Avenue at 63rd Street) is $8, $4 for seniors, $3 for 3 to 12 year olds and free for children under 3. No credit cards. It’s open from 10am to 5pm every day, but closes at 4:30 in the winter.
4) The Metropolitan Museum of Art – One of the great museums of the world, this can take an entire day to visit. Get a free map at the information desk, take it slowly and go in a complete circle on each of the two floors. I used to work here and never tired of seeing some of the world’s greatest art every day. Things not to be missed are the Temple of Dendur (on the first floor), the sculpture garden and the view from the roof in the summer, the impressionist works (Van Gogh, Monet) on the second floor, Washington Crossing the Delaware (in the American Wing) and truly much more. There is a very good cafeteria in the basement next to the Lehman Collection. The museum is open from 9:30 to 5:30 from Monday thru Thursday and Sunday. On Friday and Saturday it is open from 9:30 until 9 pm and you can have wine and listen to free music in the evening. A suggested contribution is $20 for adults, $15 for seniors, $10 for students and children under 12 are free. Credit cards are accepted. Take the 4,5 or 6 subway to 86th Street. If you have time, don’t miss The American Museum of Natural History on Central Park West and 79th Street and The Museum of Modern Art at 11 West 55th Street between Fifth Avenue and Avenue of the Americas.
5) My last choice of the top five is Rockefeller Center, which runs from West 47th to 50th Streets between Avenue of the Americas and Fifth Avenue. First of all, it’s free and secondly it’s wonderful no matter what time of day or night or what season. Christmas is especially nice here since there is ice-skating on the rink and an enormous Christmas tree lights up the plaza. The dazzling Radio City Music Hall is part of this complex and you can also see the Today Show being broadcast from the NBC studios. St Patrick’s Cathedral is across the street on Fifth Avenue at 50th Street. It is open daily and is the largest Catholic cathedral in the United States. Tours of Radio City and the NBC studios are available, and you may also visit the Top of the Rock, which is the observation deck of at Rockefeller Center. These three things cost between twelve and twenty dollar each per person. Rockefeller Center can be reached on the B, D, F, and V subway lines to 47th/50th Street. It is, however, just a short walk from Times Square, so don’t bother taking the subway from there to reach it. A stroll up Fifth Avenue is nice after visiting Rockefeller Center and you can see many world famous stores on this route including Cartier and Tiffany’s. If you walk as far as 59th Street on Fifth Avenue, then be sure to visit the famous toy store FAO Schwarz and the fantastic Apple Store, which is open 24 hours a day.