New York City
It would have been hard for me to imagine twenty-five years ago that I'd call New York City one of my favorite places, but sure as I'm typing this today, it's true.
The first time I set foot in New York City, I was seventeen. Twenty minutes after getting off the bus from Newark Airport, I'd lost 40 bucks to a game of three-card Monty I didn't know I was even playing. Throughout that day my brother and I traveled from one worn out tourist trap to another with a jog from United Nations to Times Square during which (and mind you I was literally jogging) I was offered drugs no less than three times. To cap it off, when we arrived in famed Times Square, it was nothing but a bunch of XXX rated movie theaters and strip joints. Ironically, the best part of that day had been seeing the Manhattan skyline from the top of one of the twin towers at the World Trade Center. We stayed in the Newark hotel the next day instead of making another foray into the city.
It would be five years later, during a weekend at my new employer's New York apartment, when a cousin of mine would sway me to see some merit to the city by taking me out to a Broadway show and a nightcap at a bustling bistro.
When I look back on that first visit, it's hard to believe New York is even the same city. I've brought my family here for multiple vacations, and look forward to an annual visit to my employer's home office in conjunction with a client who is fond of the city.
In a dozen visits since that first time, I've been to every corner of Manhattan and the surprises never cease. The gorgeous background picture on this page was taken (in March) from the Trinity Church Cemetery (resting place of Alexander Hamilton) and is only steps from Wall Street and the Federal Treasury.
On our most recent visit we saw the 9/11 Memorial Museum, a place that stirs the soul even if you didn't know any of the victims from that terrible day, and St. Patrick's Cathedral, which finally is scaffold free and looks magnificent after a $180 million dollar renovation. We enjoyed an excellent docent tour of the incomparable Metropolitan Museum of Art and had the best damn Bagels (at Brooklyn Bagel) and Cheesecake (at Junior's near Times Square) I've noshed on anywhere period.
If you are coming to New York for the first time, I'd recommend picking a handful of things to do and see (say two or three a day tops) and resign yourself to making plans to come back again to see more. Here's a suggested full three day itinerary for a first time visitor with tween or teenage kids:
Day 1: While it's kitschy, the hop-on, hop-off bus tours are a good first day way to get introduced to the city. It will give you a sense of just how much there is to see and do in the Big Apple. Tip: Do the tour that includes the nigh time ride over the Brooklyn Bridge where you can get a great night view of the Manhattan Skyline - and be sure to bring your camera. You might hop off by Central Park and take a carriage ride through the park, or better yet, rent bikes and wander until you've forgotten you're in the center of one of the world's biggest cities. Dine at one of the many food stalls in The Plaza Hotel Food Hall, or the Grand Central Station Market. Cap it off with a slice of cheesecake at Junior's in the heart of Times Square.
Day 2: Take the Subway down to China Town and walk the streets and many stores packed with unique sights and smells of the orient - produce you won't find in most parts of suburban America, roasted ducks hanging in diner windows, bakeries selling tasty egg-custard tarts, herbal stores, tea shops and Chinese crafts and lucky charms being proffered at countless curio-shops. Walk down St. James Place and take the mile and a half round trip stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge and back. Stop by historic Wall Street and Trinity Church before catching a cab back to your hotel to freshen up for a night out seeing a Broadway or off-Broadway (for the discount minded) musical or play. Wrap up the night at one of the many fine bistros in and around the theatre district.
Day 3: Today is a day for culture - arrange a docent tour at the Metropolitan Museum and plan to linger for a while longer after the tour (there is so much great art to see) in their massive museum and paper stores. Book lunch at the Boat House in Central Park and spend some time on the lake after a satisfying meal. If you have the stamina, make your way across the park to the Museum of Natural History and spend the rest of the afternoon wandering their excellent exhibits, or take in the recently renovated St. Patrick's Cathedral. For a less cultured change, take an eye-popping walk through Saks Fifth Avenue , where the staff outnumbers the customers, or, if you are looking for something more reasonably priced, Macy's (the world's largest department store). All of these are a short cab ride from the Boat House. When it gets close to sunset enjoy a quiet stroll along High Line Park, an elevated mile and a half stretch of formerly abandoned railroad track turned into a lovely walkway lined with gardens, benches, artists selling their wares and views of the Hudson River to the west and the city below your feet. Descend anywhere along the High Line to enjoy dinner at an excellent pub or restaurant before calling it a night.
You'll notice I left a lot of famous landmarks out of this itinerary (i.e. Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, United Nations, Harlem, Rockefeller Center, Yankee Stadium, the Freedom Tower and 9/11 Museum to name a few) because there is just that much to see and do in Manhattan, not to mention the other Burroughs of the city. Come once and odds are, you'll want to come again and again.