"Experiencing New York was an unexpected surprise...The energy of the city engulfed me."
Nothing about New York City is straightforward—to say otherwise is futile. The inhabitants of this bustling metropolis don’t seem that apologetic about it either. But then again, why should they?
New York, New York, is a world-class destination. In all likelihood, it’s the most famous (or infamous, depending on whom you ask) city in the world—and for good reason. It can be whatever you want it to be. That’s why so many people from so many walks of life have found sanctuary within its congested city blocks. From egocentric socialites to down-and-out street performers, Manhattan is truly a microcosm of humanity—crammed together onto one of the most densely populated islands in the world.
While risking the potentiality of appearing cliché, Manhattan may, quite possibly, be my favorite spot on earth. At the tender age of 22, I have done my fair share of world traveling. But experiencing New York City was nevertheless an unexpected surprise.
As I skeptically disembarked the “Fung Wah” bus that transferred me from Boston’s Chinatown to Manhattan’s Chinatown, in less than four hours and for under ten bucks, I was bombarded with a sensory overload of people rushing, taxis honking, sirens blaring, and pigeons flapping. The energy of the city engulfed me.
Upon catching my breath (which consisted of inhaling at least a couple mouthfuls of exhaust fumes), I glanced back and forth, eyeing my surroundings suspiciously. With my luggage in tow, I set off down Canal Street to the nearest subway station.
New York is well-known for a variety of notorious idiosyncrasies, but perhaps the most underrated would be the stifling sauna-esque environment of the underground train stations on muggy summer days. I unceremoniously plopped my perspiration-drenched body onto an available bench in aforementioned station and attempted, unsuccessfully, to regain my composure and normal body temperature. I had already taken a couple wrong turns in locating the subway station and was beat. But the saga wasn’t over just yet. Upon boarding the train, I swiftly became aware of the inescapable fact that navigating the subway was no small ordeal.
"It’s called the City That Never Sleeps for a reason. New York is hectic, busy, and frenzied—as are its inhabitants. But don’t let that throw you off."
Not wanting to let on that I wasn’t a born-and-bred Gothamite, I kept my subway map neatly tucked away in my satchel bag—at first. After a couple more erroneous moves, however, I eventually swallowed my pride and busted out the map. Seconds later I was bombarded by gruff, but well-meaning, locals asking me where I was trying to go. Feeling idiotic, I sheepishly told them my intended destination. My feelings of idiocy increased as they informed me that not only was I headed downtown when I should be going uptown, but that I wasn’t even on the right line.
This small-scale event ultimately proved to be a liberating realization for me: New Yorkers weren’t as hard and boorish as I’d always expected. Rather, they seemed pleased about being able to help a wandering vagabond like myself find his way through the cacophonous landscape of Manhattan. And that revitalized my belief in humankind’s charity.
From there on out, my solo jaunt through the Big Apple went much more smoothly. I no longer felt isolated and cut-off. If I sought assistance or information, I would ask. And I always received an affable, obliging response. I got tips on the best falafel carts (King of Falafel on 30th St and Broadway), best views of the city skyline (save a couple bucks and take the free ferry over to Staten Island), and the best place to buy a Broadway ticket (don’t wait in line at Times Square—the prices are higher, the lines longer, and the selection more meager. Go to the TKTS South Street Seaport booth at 199 Water Street.)
It’s called the City That Never Sleeps for a reason. New York is hectic, busy, and frenzied—as are its inhabitants. But don’t let that throw you off. There are a lot of remarkable highlights scattered throughout New York City: experiencing Times Square at night, meandering through Central Park, contemplating fine artistic renderings at one of the many art museums, people-watching in Greenwich Village, and chowing down on a hot dog outside Madison Square Garden. However, it’s the New Yorkers themselves that make the city what it is. Sure, some of them may be crass and may be blunt, but from my own experiences…they are the true highlight of this concrete jungle.
Places to Stay
Plaza Hotel (Extravagant)
5th Avenue at Central Park South
New York, NY 10019
Brace yourself! Prices per night in this lavish 5-star hotel generally top $1000. However, the Plaza Hotel encompasses all that is swanky New York. This regal residence is ideally situated between Central Park and Fifth Avenue and was just recently reopened after receiving a $400 million makeover. Spending a night or two here will definitely set you back a couple grand, but this sumptuous indulgence will leave you feeling like a Vanderbilt, a Rockefeller, or just good ol’ Jackie O.
Hotel St. James (Average)
109 W 45th St.
New York, NY 10036
Strategically located a block from Times Square, the Hotel St. James, if nothing else, at least has an ideal location going for it. The rooms are spacious (for New York) even if they are a bit on the bland side. Although the pre-war building that houses this hotel is smack dab in the hustle-and-bustle of the city, the rooms are unexpectedly serene and calm. Fortunately, the hotel recently underwent a facelift (although it didn’t have the Plaza’s $400 million budget) that has made it feel a bit more posh. Rates are roughly $200 a night.
Columbus Circle Hostel (Budget)120 W 60th St.New York, NY 10023212.247.7676
If you’re in New York to see the city and not to lounge around in your hotel room, then there’s nothing wrong with the Columbus Circle Hostel. It’s got a prime location right next to the busy Columbus Circle subway station, shopping, and eating. It provides easy accessibility to some of the Big Apple’s most popular sites. The hostel itself doesn’t have many redeeming qualities, but the staff is friendly and helpful. And at $50 a night for a double room, you won’t leave a weekend getaway to the city feeling destitute.
113 Jane Street
New York, NY 10014
A step back into history will be complete with a stay at The Jane. Built in 1908, originally as a hotel for sailors, has been fully restored with it's charming cabin-like rooms. In 1912 the hotel housed survivors of Titanic and crew members held memorial services at the hotel four days after sinking. Now modernized, each room offers a unique stay with its smart design to pack maximum conveniences into minimal space. With the ideal location adjacent to the Meatpacking District and walking distance to Chelsea, Soho and Union Square you won't be spending much time in your room. Live as the locals do enjoying outdoor activities at the Hudson River Park across the street. Or visit the countless neighborhood restaurants, bars, nightclubs and boutiques.
Things to Do
Top of the Rock
600 5th Ave
New York, NY 10111
Originally opened to the public in 1933, the observation deck at Rockefeller Center has since become one of the prime spots for viewing the city’s landscape. The Empire State Building, Central Park, and the Chrysler Building are all easily distinguishable from the Top of the Rock’s viewing platform that boasts 360-degree views.
Helpful hints: Arrive just before the sun sets—that way you’ll get to see the city both during the day and at night. The security guards meandering the premises are locals and, consequently, very helpful in identifying major landmarks.
New York, NY 10002
Chinatown is an exotic haven of ancient and cultural traditions. It’s also a gastronomical delight. This bustling neighborhood is home to over half of the city's Chinese population, as well as immigrants from all throughout Asia. As a result, fusion cuisines are readily available on nearly every corner at reasonable prices. Street stalls boast unusual fruits, vegetables, and plenty of live seafood and poultry. And if you’re headed on to another city (Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., or Boston), Chinatown has some incredibly cheap bus routes that you can snag for no more than $15.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 5th Avenue
New York, NY 10028
The MMA attracts over five million visitors a year—and for good reason. It’s the most massive museum in the Western Hemisphere at 1.6 million square feet (that’s seven square miles!). The museum includes displays from nearly every cultural pocket on earth. While you could spend weeks ambling through its labyrinthine corridors, most people attempt to condense the mammoth undertaking of viewing the most famous works of art into one day. There is a suggested donation of $20. Guided and audio tours are available for an additional fee.