To make the most of a short break in one of the world’s most exciting cities, take native New Yorker Ferne Arfin’s whistlestop tour that gets straight to the core of the city
New York is famous for its shopping opportunities and designer fashion is everywhere, at every price. The best advice is to stick to one area or you’ll spend most of the day just getting around by cab or subway
New York can leave many a first-timer gasping for breath. There are so many great shopping, sightseeing, museum-hopping, theatre-going and dining options that it can be hard to know where to start. For a short visit, take your lead from the more experienced and focus on a selection of activities you’ll have enough time to enjoy.
Seeing is believing
Start with a breathtaking overview of the city. The 102nd Floor Observatory of the Empire State Building, on Fifth Avenue and 34th Street, is the classic way to see New York and the scene of many a romantic movie, from An Affair to Remember to Sleepless in Seattle. The view is awesome, taking in the Statue of Liberty, Central Park and many other famous landmarks. On a clear day, you can even see other states in the distance. For a less crowded high-level view, try Top of the Rock, the six-level observatory on the 70th floor of 30 Rockefeller Center (50th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues).
If neither of these is quite high enough for you, book a 10 to 30-minute helicopter flight over the city from one of several companies based at the Downtown Manhattan Heliport (at the foot of Wall Street, on the East River). Or, if you prefer gazing upwards, go and see the stars at the Rose Center for Earth and Space, the millennial addition to the American Museum of Natural History, on Central Park West at 79th Street. The huge, pearly sphere of the Hayden Planetarium, surrounded by a big glass box, looks more like a gem than a building and it offers eye-popping half-hourly shows.
At street level
The aerial views of New York are undoubtedly spectacular, but come back down to earth for the real NY experience. For a perspective with a difference (and one of New York’s best-kept secrets) take a stroll along the wide pedestrian boardwalk on the Brooklyn Bridge – you can access it from Centre Street and Park Row, just across from City Hall Park, east of City Hall. The crossing takes about half an hour, and be sure to take your camera to capture the fabulous views from the city’s southernmost East River Bridge.
New York’s churches make fascinating viewing, too. Paul’s Chapel on Church Street, between Fulton and Vesey Streets, is Manhattan’s oldest public building in continuous use and was George Washington’s church. Located opposite the east side of the World Trade Center, it miraculously survived 9/11 and, in the aftermath, it closed to the public for eight months to serve Ground Zero workers. Visit the church for its moving exhibition and for its 18th-century interiors. Also worth a peek is the cathedral church of St John the Divine (situated on Amsterdam Avenue and 112th Street, east of Broadway), America’s largest church and a work in progress since way back in 1892.
Indulge your inner shopper
New York is famous for its shopping opportunities and designer fashion is everywhere, at every price. The best advice is to stick to one area or you’ll spend most of the day just getting around by cab or subway. Try Barneys on Madison Avenue for the best contemporary clothes designers all under one roof, or bargain hunt at Century 21 – a vast storehouse of discounted designer goods on Cortland Street near Ground Zero.
If you have some cash to flash, Fifth Avenue’s high-end glamour shopping is concentrated between 49th Street (Saks Fifth Avenue) and 58th Street, where Bergdorf Goodman has great designer clothes and accessories. Henri Bendel, also on Fifth, is a small department store selling women’s fashions – the jewel-encrusted first floor makes you feel as though you are inside a Fabergé egg. Meanwhile, don’t miss your opportunity to gaze at the jewels at Van Cleef & Arpels, Bulgari and the original Tiffany & Co, before looking at gems at Fortunoff or in New York’s famous diamond district, along 47th Street.
Join the culture vultures
Everyone heads for the Metropolitan Museum of Art (on Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street) for its historically fascinating collection, including art by Vermeer and Dürer and even an Egyptian temple, and to the Museum of Modern Art in midtown (on West 53 Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues) for its contemporary and modern art by Pollock, Picasso and Mondrian, to name but a few. Also worth a visit, though, is the Whitney, housing the world’s leading collection of 20th and 21st-century American art – don’t miss the knockout series of Hopper paintings housed in this futuristic Marcel Breuer building on Madison Avenue at 75th Street. Meanwhile, Lichtenstein and Kandinsky are among the greats on show at the Guggenheim.
Hot dogs and haute cuisine
New York’s menu ranges from delicious street food – soft, salted pretzels, roasted chestnuts and Sabrett’s hot dogs smothered in onions – through every variety of ethnic food known to man, all the way up to the stratosphere of haute cuisine.
Chow down on a hot pastrami sandwich or two at Katz’s Deli (located on East Houston Street on the Lower East Side), the setting for a particularly famous scene in the film When Harry Met Sally, or sample the truly delectable smoked and cured fish at Barney Greengrass (Amsterdam Avenue on the Upper West Side). New York delis may not be especially pretty, but boy are they good! For a more chic (and expensive) dining experience, try to secure a reservation at Daniel, in the Mayfair Hotel on East 65th Street, where one of New York’s favourite chefs, Daniel Boulud, prepares inventive modern food with extraordinary finesse.
For drinks, The Pegu Club on West Houston Street – almost hidden on a second floor in SoHo – is the place to go for perfectly made cocktails. Inspired by a bar in British Colonial Burma, the signature drink, the Pegu Club Cocktail, combines London dry gin, bitters and orange Curaçao. They also make a perfect Manhattan – equal measures of rye or bourbon whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters, served ice cold.
This feature was first published in The Portunus Club Magazine and all information was checked at the time of its original publication.
Cruises visiting New York
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