New York: Recreation
An energetic visitor could keep busy for weeks in Manhattan alone. A good place to start is where the Dutch explorers first settled—in Battery Park on the southernmost tip of Manhattan, which offers spectacular views of the harbor and the Statue of Liberty, itself accessible by boats leaving from the park. The American Museum of Immigration at the base of the statue—the largest of modern times—traces the history of the men and women who sailed into the harbor for a new future. Ellis Island processed more than 12 million European immigrants before it was shuttered in 1954; it is once again open to the public and drawing visitors from around the country and the globe.
A natural sightseeing transition might be a trip to the New York City Hall, the oldest in the nation still housing the city's governmental functions. Back in 1802, a design team consisting of a Frenchman and a native New Yorker won a competition to create the then-new City Hall; the resulting building reflects the Federal style of architecture, with noticeable French influences. Ten Corinthian columns, a soaring rotunda, arched windows, and a cupola crowned by a copper statue of Justice make the building a dramatic sight. The Governor's Room in the City Hall contains a museum with relics from the civic development of the U.S. and New York; its visitors have included Albert Einstein and President Abraham Lincoln, who later lay in state in the room following his assassination.
The New York Stock Exchange offers free tours and a visitor's gallery to observe the hectic activity; for a more peaceful perspective, the sightseer can look down on the city from the observation platform of the fabled Empire State Building, once the world's tallest building. Grand Central Station is a destination in itself; since it opened in 1913, the station whose name has become synonymous with bustle has added shops, restaurants, and entertainment. Group and individual tours can be arranged. Rockefeller Center is not just a place to see but to be seen—the NBC network produces "The Today Show" in the historic complex of buildings that includes the Rainbow Room and the Radio City Music Hall.
Ground Zero, the former site of the World Trade Center complex, is a powerful experience. Interim memorials are located near the site to keep alive the memory of the tragedy of September 11, 2001. The absence of the towering buildings themselves, in a city that uses every available space, is haunting.
The United Nations meets for about three months beginning on the third Tuesday of September, and free tickets to the General Assembly are distributed about an hour before each conclave. Guided tours of the building are also available in at least 16 languages. Visitors should also take time to stroll through New York's many neighborhoods. Chinatown abounds with restaurants and stores. Greenwich Village retains much of its Bohemian charm with bookstores, nightlife, and specialty boutiques. The Garment District, still a headquarters for the clothing trade, teems with workers pushing racks of clothing down the street.
In the Bronx, the 250-acre New York Botanical Garden owns one of the world's biggest plant collections in an herbarium with four million specimens. The Bronx Zoo is home to more than 4,000 animals in natural environments. The zoo is active in preservation activities, having been the home of the Wildlife Conservation Society since 1895. Some of the realistic habitats include the Himalayan Highlands Habitat, the Congo Gorilla Forest, and an Asian rain-forest. The zoo also contains a butterfly garden, a tiger exhibit that puts visitors within a whisker of the cats, and a bug carousel for the kids.
The Brooklyn Botanical Garden cultivates 900 varieties of roses and is undergoing a series of improvements and restorations in 2005. Astroland, near the Coney Island Board-walk, is a family fun center with rides, games, and other amusements. Also nearby, the New York Aquarium highlights a shark tank, dolphin and sea lion shows, Beluga whales, and thousands of other fish and varieties of marine life. The Brooklyn Bridge, one of the world's most beautiful suspension bridges, is open to pedestrians for a memorable view of lower Manhattan.
The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens is nearly as large as Manhattan and is a beautiful site for nature walks. On Staten Island, the William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge offers similar opportunities. The Staten Island Zoo is small, but maintains an excellent reptile collection.
New York is famous around the world for its glittering nightlife, from jazz clubs in Harlem to discos and nightclubs in Manhattan. Comedy clubs, improvisational theater, and singles lounges are key New York attractions.
Arts and Culture
New York City is the ultimate destination for performers in and consumers of all aspects of the arts. The city's rich culture attracts fans to the fabled lights of Broadway (and off-Broadway) theaters and the all-night clubs of Greenwich Village. The Theater District in Manhattan offers 36 theaters and a ton of talent in a small strip of land. Performance venues named for luminaries such as Ethel Barrymore, the Gershwins, and Helen Hayes line the streets and entertain millions every year. The artistic heart of the city literally beats at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, home of cultural icons such as the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the School of American Ballet, the New York City Opera, The Chamber Music Society, the New York City Ballet, and the Metropolitan Opera. The 268-seat Walter Reade Theater located within the Lincoln Center is the first permanent home of the Film Society. The Dance Theatre of Harlem started as an initiative to give underserved children the opportunity to study a wide variety of dance forms and has now become one of the best-known multicultural professional companies in the world.
Cultural and historical museums in New York City are as diverse as the populace. El Museo del Barrio has evolved into a primary ethnic institution for New York's Latino residents and is a must-see within Manhattan's Museum Mile on Fifth Avenue. Both the Museum of the City of New York and the collections of the New York Historical Society illustrate how the "Big Apple" developed into the metropolis it is today. The Museum of Television and Radio keeps a vault of 16,000 radio and television tapes that visitors can select by computer and then watch in private booths. The museum also holds special screenings and is a center for radio, television and film research efforts. The Jewish Museum is devoted to Jewish culture both ancient and modern, as is the Yeshiva University Museum. The South Street Seaport Museum is actually a historical district that is several blocks long and features exhibits relating to New York's marine past. A fleet of ships from the late 1800s and early 1900s is docked at the museum pier and can be boarded by the public. The American Museum of Natural History in Central Park features permanent exhibits on peoples from around the globe, meteorites, gems, primates, birds and reptiles, and is probably best known for its dramatic dinosaur reconstructions. The 563-carat sapphire called Star of India is on display at the museum, and the museum's Hayden Planetarium presents frequent lecture series, weekly galaxy explorations, and daily astronomy demonstrations. The New York City Fire Museum resides in a circa-1903 firehouse built in the Beaux Art fashion and contains historical articles, equipment, and memorabilia related to fire-fighting. The New York City Police Museum contains one of the world's biggest collections of police and emergency services memorabilia.
The Museum of Modern Art, or MoMA as it's popularly known, is the largest art museum in the country with 135,000 specimens of painting, sculpture, photography, films, and drawings. The building itself recently underwent an expansion and remodeling that increased both the total square footage and the exhibit space by approximately a third. The collections within MoMA include some of mankind's greatest art treasures ranging from classical Greek sculpture to avant-garde photography. The permanent collection features artists such as Raphael, El Greco, Vermeer, Van Gogh, Hopper, Dali, and Pollock. The Whitney Museum of American Art holds the largest collection of twentieth-century American work and is now amassing pieces from the twenty-first century. The museum has collected the works of Hopper, O'Keefe, and Calder extensively and has dedicated rooms to each of these artists. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, housed in a Frank Lloyd Wright building, is a masterpiece itself and specializes in modern painting, sculpture, and graphic arts. The now-public collections started as the private holdings of the Guggenheim family; Peggy Guggenheim was known for her appreciation for and support of contemporary art and was instrumental in the careers of several modern artists, including Jackson Pollock. The New Museum of Contemporary Art (NMCA) exhibits some of the most current trends in the art world. In 2005, the NMCA will begin construction of a 60,000 square foot facility on Prince Street to allow for expanded collections and programming. A temporary location for viewing will be established on the ground floor of the Chelsea Art Museum on West 22nd Street. The American Folk Art Museum (AFAM) opened exactly two months after the terror attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, and the building itself has won several awards for its architecture. The AFAM collection includes 4,000 paintings, quilts, sculptures, and weathervanes. The Studio Museum in Harlem collects culturally relevant works in a variety of media and offers educational workshops. The Dahesh Museum has concentrated its collection efforts on the works of nineteenth and early-twentieth century European artists such as Bonheur, Vernet, and Picou. The younger set will appreciate the Children's Museum of the Arts, where a hands-on experience in visual and performing arts awaits. The Museum of African Art, located on SoHo Museum Row, seeks to increase public awareness and appreciation of the works of African artisans. The Cooper-Hewitt Museum, part of the Smithsonian Institution, is the nation's only museum devoted to contemporary and historical design.
Festivals and Holidays
Practically every day is a party somewhere in New York City. The St. Patrick's Day Parade (Irish) and the Columbus Day Parade (Italian) remain the city's two biggest ethnic celebrations. Others include the German Steuben Day Parade, the Muslim Day Parade, the Brooklyn Latinos Unidos Parade, the Mexican Day Parade, and the Polish Pulaski Day Parade. The Great 4th of July Festival explodes with fireworks by Macy's Department Store and a street fair. Toward the end of July, the River to River Festival at the waterfront in Manhattan honors the arts in all forms. In August, the New York Fringe Festival is an alternative celebration of visual and performing arts. The Festival of the Americas in mid-August expresses the diversity of the continent from north to south. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, broadcast nationwide, features huge cartoon-character balloons that drift over city streets and has figured largely in movies such as "Miracle on 34th Street." Since 1933, the lighting of the communal tree in Rockefeller Center has drawn New Yorkers and visitors in a kick-off for various cultural observations occurring in December. New Year's Eve is celebrated in a raucous party that centers on Times Square where the "Big Apple" and the ageless Dick Clark have for many years marked the start of a new year.
Sports for the Spectator
A Big League city demands Big League sports heroes and New York's professional teams have provided those for generations. The New York Yankees of professional base-ball's American League East play in the "House That (Babe) Ruth Built," Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. The National League New York Mets play their baseball games at Shea Stadium in Queens. The New York Rangers of the National Hockey League, the New York Liberty of the Women's National Basketball Association, and the New York Knicks of the National Basketball Association all play home games at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan. The National Hockey League's New York Islanders host their hockey matches at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, which is also the scene for arena football action with the New York Dragons. From the National Football League, the New York Giants and the New York Jets both play their home games across the river in New Jersey at Giants Stadium within the Meadowlands complex.
While New York City was unsuccessful in its bid for the 2012 Olympic Games, there are still plenty of amateur sporting events to enjoy in the metropolis. Minor league baseball is represented by the Brooklyn Cyclones, an affiliate of the Mets, and the Yankees' farm team in Staten Island. Columbia University competes in Division I of the National Collegiate Athletic Association in a number of sports such as basketball, cross-country, and soccer.
Aqueduct Race Track in Queens attracts horseracing fans as do nearby Belmont Park Race Track in Elmont and the Meadowlands in New Jersey. For almost 140 years, the Belmont Stakes have been one leg of the Triple Crown thoroughbred horserace series. The U.S. Open Tennis Championships are played annually in August and early September at the Arthur Ashe Stadium in the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park area of Queens.
Sports for the Participant
Recreational sports for hundreds of thousands of Manhattan residents center on gigantic Central Park, an 840-acre green oasis of rolling hills, ponds, and biking and running paths. Many roads through the park are closed on weekends and certain hours during the week to allow cyclists to pedal in peace. Rowboats can be rented from Loeb Boathouse for a small fee. Runners, walkers, and rollerbladers have unlimited access to miles of footpaths in Central Park, but should exercise caution at night and in isolated areas of the park.
New York City's Parks and Recreation Division administers more than 1,700 parks and facilities scattered throughout the five boroughs that constitute the city. With 614 ball fields, 991 playgounds, 53 outdoor swimming pools, 14 miles of beaches, and 550 tennis courts, the city offers something for everyone. A plethora of city-sponsored sporting opportunities are available for individuals and groups, and the Police Athletic League operated by the police department coordinates sporting events for more than 70,000 children every year.
The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in Queens is nearly as large as Manhattan, with 9,155 acres of natural habitats and hiking trails that aren't overly demanding. On Staten Island, the William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge covers 2,500 acres where hikers can hit either the Blue or White trails as they pass through diverse ecosystems. Outside of New York City, the Adirondack Forest Preserve contains more than 2,000 miles of established trails that can challenge hikers of all ages and abilities. The Adirondacks offer opportunities for backpacking and camping, rock climbing and bouldering, or canoeing in the lake country. In the winter, there's skiing at Whiteface Mountain and hiking trails convert to cross-country skiing use. A number of resorts with downhill and cross-country trails are within easy driving distance of the city.
The New York City Marathon, held annually, is one of the biggest races in the country, attracting thousands of professional and amateur participants from around the globe. In the winter, ice skaters can glide on rinks at Rockefeller Center and at the Wollman Memorial Skating Rink in Central Park. Open all year is the New York City Building rink at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park where rentals are available. There are eight golf courses within the vicinity, including Rock Hill, Montauk Downs, Spook Rock, and Swan Lake.
Shopping and Dining
The iconic Macy's in Herald Square, the world's largest store, covers 2.1 million feet of space and offers 500,000 different items for the shopper's consideration. Macy's has a visitors center that conducts tours in several languages and the department store houses a gourmet food shop in The Cellar. Flagship stores for Calvin Klein, Chanel, Versace, Prada, Dolce and Gabbana, Tommy Hilfiger, and others have led to a designer boom on Fifth and Madison avenues and 57th Street. SoHo (short for the area south of Houston Street) remains a favorite destination for its unique boutiques and stylish art galleries.
Fifth Avenue, New York's avenue of fashion, includes Bergdorf Men, located across from Bergdorf Goodman and featuring clothing for men only. The venerable Henri Bendel resides in a beautifully restored Beaux Arts building; nearby, Saks Fifth Avenue still caters to upscale shoppers. Also nearby is FAO Schwarz toy emporium, where kids of all ages come to be amazed and entertained. Rare toys, collectibles, faux vehicles, and stuffed animals run rampant in a store that invites visitors to play with the merchandise.
Designer clothing at bargain prices can be found at Woodbury Common Premium Outlets, located about an hour outside of Manhattan in upstate New York. Vendors include Dolce and Gabbana, Gucci, Neiman Marcus, Barney's, Banana Republic, The Gap, and Chanel. A shuttle bus service is available to and from the city.
The Crystal District is a five-block expanse of Madison Avenue that houses the world's greatest collection of luxury crystal. Baccarat, a French crystal company, maintains a flagship store in that area, along with Steuben, Swarovski, and Lalique. More sparkly things can be found at the perennial source for engagement and wedding rings, Tiffany and Co. The most extensive offering of Lladro ceramics in the United States is available at Lladro U.S.A. Inc. on 57th Street. New York is also home to world-famous auction houses Christie's and Sotheby's.
Books are a popular and readily available item, sold in general bookstores, specialty shops for specific subject matter, and at sidewalk stands. International goods are the bailiwick of the United Nations Gift Center, and Greenwich Village has continued to be a source for hip and happening music or golden oldies found in its plentiful record and CD shops. All five boroughs also host greenmarkets, some of which are seasonal and some year-round.
Dining options in New York are limited only to one's pocketbook. The more than 18,000 possibilities include everything from posh four-star restaurants to sidewalk cafés and Kosher delicatessens. Continental cuisine coexists with soul food in Harlem, pasta in Little Italy, and Asian specialties in Chinatown. Several restaurants atop New York's skyscrapers offer meals with a breathtaking view. There are a number of time-honored eateries that deserve individual mention: The Four Seasons combines luxurious surroundings with sumptuous food that continually pushes the envelope of American cuisine; the Russian Tea Room is a New York institution which recently reopened and is enjoying a renaissance; Tavern on the Green has been feeding its flocks since 1934—before that, it was a sheepfold; Tom's Restaurant was featured on the comedy series "Seinfeld" and serves up cheap eats.
Visitor Information: NYC & Company, Convention and Visitors Bureau, 810 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10019; telephone (212)484-1200; fax (212)245-5943
Discuss this city on our active forum.