The Saturday City: New York City

the statue of libertyThe Big Apple. Gotham. Metropolis. The city that never sleeps.

New York goes by many names, but, as Shakespeare said, a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet. New York is New York, no matter what else you might call it. And nothing can truly describe it.

Home to global finance, art, theater, the mafia, and some of the world’s best food, New York is a cosmopolitan city, from the Upper West Side all the way to the Bronx. Ethnic enclaves provide endless opportunities to explore the world without leaving the city. From Little Italy to Chinatown to the Korean district to the Bronx, it seems like all the cultures of the world are represented here. Navigating its streets, one can slip in and out of these neighborhoods by simply crossing a street. Like The Eagles said, “In a New York minute, everything can change.”

Settled by the Dutch in 1613, the city was originally called New Amsterdam. The natives were duped into selling what is now one of the world’s prime real estate markets for 24 dollars worth of glass beads. The city played an important role in trade with its natural harbor and defenses. However, it was neglected by the Dutch, who never saw its full potential and were preoccupied by the Far East, slaves, and tea. The English saw how great this place was and, after a series of battles and negotiations, the British Empire gained control in 1674 and renamed it New York City after the Duke of York.

New York city from central park

Over the years, as the country grew and trade and shipping became more important, New York City grew as well. With waves of immigration during the 19th and early 20th century, New York grew in size and scale. Now it’s one of the foremost cities in the world. Maybe it was always meant to be the cosmopolitan center it is now. Maybe history had a destiny for this island. Whether it was its geography or its populace or luck, I think if the Dutch knew what it was going to become, they might not have given New York up so easily.

With over 8 million people covering 468 square miles, there is a lot to do in New York. I’ve been to the city many times before – when I was a kid with my family, when I was a college student to visit friends (I wondered about Y2K as the ball dropped in Times Square), I spent the summer of 2010 here and I always go back when I am in America. Yet no matter how many times I come, I always find something new to do. Here are some suggestions on how to fill your visit:

Explore its past – New York has been around for about 400 years. There is a lot of history here. Explore historic churches like Trinity Church, and ancient graveyards (you can see Alexander Hamilton’s burial site here). Explore the old tenement houses. See historic homes.

New York city fountain

Eat – Little Italy. Chinatown. The Meatpacking district. Soho. Every place in the city has a million places to eat. From great Hispanic food across the way in the Bronx and Brooklyn, to high-class restaurants like NOBU in Manhattan. Enjoy great Jewish food at the delis. Nothing beats eating a cornbeef sandwich at the Carnegie Deli. Whatever you do, wherever go you, you’ll find a great place to eat. Expect to gain a few pounds.

eating out in little italy

Take in the theater – Broadway is famous around the world, and any trip to the city without taking in a show would be heresy! Shows are sometimes sold out far in advance, but there are last-minute tickets available at the ticket booth in Times Square. Head there in the morning to find out what’s available for that day. You might even get lucky and find tickets to one of the hot new shows around.

Spend a day in Central Park – Wander through the trails, lie out in the fields, and row around the lake – just relax and watch all the locals and tourists roll by, enjoying their days. New York is a crazy city, and, with its constant flow, it can be a storm that endlessly swells around you. The park is the eye in this storm – a bastion of calm amid the chaos. It provides a great escape and a little dose of nature.

New York city from central park

See the world, or at least its representatives – With the headquarters of the United Nations located in the New York City, it’s a great opportunity to go and learn about the organization, its role in the world, and member states. Maybe you’ll even see an ambassador or three.

Museum hop – The Met. The Guggenheim. The Natural History Museum. There are more museums in New York than you can fit into a day or even a week. That’s not including all the little galleries that dot the city, either. Plan your attack carefully to maximize your time at the bigger museums. Many of the most famous museums offer free entry.

Enjoy the Zoo – The Bronx Zoo is world famous, with animals from all over the world.

Experience the immigrant journey – Head out into the harbor to glimpse Lady Liberty and learn about the immigrant experience at Ellis Island. This is where they came and were processed as they entered the country. If you look closely enough, you might even spot my family’s name on the wall!

Get a bird’s eye view – Head up to the Empire State Building for a bird’s eye view of the Big Apple. It’s a must for all visitors!

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  1. Aimee

    I’d just like to say that I’ve lived in NYC my entire life, and Central Park has never done anything for me. I’d recommend Prospect Park.

  2. I lived on 78th and York Ave for 10 years – I miss the place :-(
    For the best cityscape view – walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and look back – spectacular!

  3. NP

    what’s your recommendation for a 2-3 days in nyc? I am planning to take a road trip there. I want to see niagara falls and stop by the big apple.

  4. NomadicMatt

    @Aimee: I’ve never been to prospect park. Where is it? i’ve always had a lover for central park though…I like roaming the trails.

    @np: Those nine things I listed could easily occupy 2-3 days if not more. Sightsee one day, museum hop another, lay in the park or see a show, and eat in between. You’ll find 2-3 days is quite easy to fill in NYC.

    @Theresa: You should make it a stop on your trip!!!

  5. Theresa

    When we first moved to DC, I thought I’d make it up to NYC fairly often since it’s so close and the buses are so cheap. But we all know how life works, and alas I’ve made it up there only a few times. Hopefully we’ll get one more trip in this summer before we leave on our trip, because it really is a fabulous city. I can’t see myself ever living there permanently, but I’ve always thought that one year in NYC would be a great adventure.

  6. Susan

    Take the 7 Train (aka International Express) all the way in Flushing, Queens for some of the best Chinese food (some say better than food found in Chinatown)

  7. I just moved away from NYC after living there for 6 years and while I don’t miss it *yet* I do miss some aspects.

    For the best views of the city you have to take a cruise around manhattan–booze cruises are always alot of fun 😉 I once took a sailing class via a singles mixer with my friends (shhh we weren’t single) that let me sail around the base of lower manhattan/statue of liberty area. So awesome. And I love Central Park. There are so many great parks in the city but nothing quite compares to CP. (The Shake Shack in Madison Square Park is a MUST in the summer. Mmm frozen custard…)

  8. tom

    Love NY will be returning in November we got a great offer from Tour America. Its been a while since I have visited so it will be good to get back.

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