New York City is the beating heart of America, a montage of cultures and a melting pot of the world. Besides having one of the world’s largest harbors, the Big Apple also claims everything from Wall Street and the United Nations to the 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. It can easily be 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, as New York isn’t really that old compared to the rest of the world. Its history is shorter, relatively speaking, but interesting nonetheless. And if you only have two days on the island, here are the 10 stops you should make to pack it all in:
For 40 years, it was the tallest building in the world, and even though it’s slipped to number 31, it’s still worth a visit to see its perfectly preserved Art Deco style. The building has been turned into “The Empire Building Experience” which translates to a higher ticket price, a few displays, and some unnecessary ropes and stanchions. However, it’s a worthwhile trip to the top; the views of New York are truly beautiful from above.
The symbol of America is, of course, not actually American after all, but rather a gift from France brought to Manhattan in the late 1800s. Gustav Eiffel (yes, the same Eiffel who 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 gather the required $100,000 in donations needed to finance the structure. Once it was installed, the Statue of Liberty became an instant hit, and today 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, and reservations must be made in advance. The best way to get to the island is arrive early to beat the crowds or to admire it from afar.
After the September 11 terrorist attacks in Lower Manhattan, there was a lot of disagreement as to what should be done with the area. Some wanted to rebuild the Twin Towers bigger and better; others thought the site should be a memorial. In the end, a compromise was reached and both things happened. The rebuilt One World Trade Center is now 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 9/11 Memorial 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.
How nature has survived in the middle of the cluster of skyscrapers is a source of wonder, as Central Park has managed to keep its verdant acreage intact since the mid-19th century. It is one of the most visited places in the world, set in the midst of some of the most valuable land on the planet. There are 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 appropriately called Strawberry Fields. The park a great place to unwind, watch a concert, catch up on your exercise, or switch briefcases if you’re in a spy movie.
Little Italy, Little Armenia, Little Anything
What’s like Epcot, but not? New York City has a Little Italy, Little Armenia, Chinatown, 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.
Rockefeller Center is actually a 19-building complex originally created by John D. Rockefeller in Midtown Manhattan. These iconic building are the hub of everything “New York” and are conveniently located 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, and yes, behind-the-scenes tours are available for some of the most iconic shows on television. Radio City Music Hall is across the street as well as the seasonal ice skating Rink at Rockefeller Center, featured in such movies as Elf and Serendipity. One of the center’s biggest draws is “The Top of the Rock” where visitors are whisked to the 70th floor for great views of the city.
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.
The Museum of Modern Art is six stories of everything from classic masters like 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 Monets, some Picassos, and famous Andy Warhol works such as his Marilyn Monroe and Campbell's Soup prints. The museum was founded by Abby Rockefeller (wife of John D. Rockefeller) and two of her friends in 1929, and has since grown into 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 of seeing a few pieces you actually recognize, and face it, everyone knows soup cans.
Times Square gets its 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 bowtie shape with two triangles intersecting. It’s had a checkered past, but has since resurfaced as the hub of all things Broadway; half a million people walk through Times Square every day. There are laws that require businesses to have a certain amount of illumination in their signs, which means the area's only real rival in terms of wattage is Las Vegas. What do you do in Times 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 you could always watch out for classic NYC street performers like The Naked Cowboy (who’s, sorry to spoil it for you, 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 and popular shows can be impossible to find 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 many shows, often for as little as half the normal price.