Photo Courtesy of Ben Duchac
Eight million residents and a five-borough spread make New York one of the most kaleidoscopic cities in America. The culinary culture is as vibrant as you'd expect: a mix of multiethnic street food, Michelin-starred restaurants, diners, craft cocktail joints, and infamous dive bars. You can kayak in… the East River or bicycle through verdant city parks. A dynamic arts community, anchored by Broadway and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, provides ample entertainment, while shopping ranges from top-end boutiques to handcrafted goods sold at neighborhood flea markets. Take a bite of the Big Apple for an electric, unforgettable experience.
What to know before you go to New York City
In summer, New York seems to have more tourists than residents—perhaps because New Yorkers flock to the Hamptons, Montauk, and other seaside havens. Winter holidays in the city are celebrated on a scale not found elsewhere. Spring and fall, however, are the seasons in which the city truly shines. Outdoor cafés are not yet crowded, hotels are more affordable, and the temperate weather brings extra pleasure to activities like walking in Central Park or biking around Governors Island.
There are two international airports within the city limits: JFK and LaGuardia Airport. Newark Liberty International Airport, just across the Hudson River in New Jersey, is a convenient cab ride from Manhattan. Major highways connect the city to the rest of the continental United States, and trains—commuter lines and Amtrak—make it easy to access New York from neighboring cities like Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.
The New York subway is the most convenient mode of transportation within the city, with 472 stations and more than 840 miles of track. Ride-sharing companies like Lyft, Uber, and Via are available along with plenty of iconic yellow taxis. When in New York, however, it's always worthwhile to do as the locals do: walk. In Manhattan, city streets are largely organized in a simple grid. Don’t be afraid of a lack of options in the outer boroughs; green taxis do street pickups without complaint. The city’s bike-share program, managed by Citi Bike, is the most environmentally friendly option aside from walking.
Drink your choice of light or dark beer at the oldest Irish tavern in the city, McSorley’s Old Ale House. It can get crowded at peak drinking times, making it difficult to find a seat—and forget about trying to frequent this pub on St. Patrick’s Day. At lunchtime on a weekday, however, you’ll have the space to truly relish this historic two-room establishment that’s been pouring pints since the middle of the 19th century. Notable visitors have included Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Boss Tweed, Woody Guthrie, and Hunter S. Thompson.
Cuisine from nearly every culture on earth can be found somewhere within the five boroughs, and the city is home to the largest ethnic Chinese population outside of Asia. More than 60 Michelin-starred restaurants fill Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, and some 4,000 food carts bolster the city’s reputation for great casual food. Craft cocktails are the newest draw in the beverage world, while an active, influential brewing culture makes it likely that the average bar will provide a good mix of imported, local, and domestic beer options.
New York is as culturally diverse as it is dense. Many immigrants who arrived en masse in the 19th century came from Ireland, and their influence remains evident in almost every borough. In Queens, Astoria has long been known for Greek culture, but it is more diverse now and has become a great option for dining with a cultural focus. Nine Chinatowns across the five boroughs allow visitors to experience Asia in North America. Those with a fascination for all things Italian should opt for the Little Italy in the Arthur Avenue area of the Bronx. Perhaps the borough with the most appeal to modern visitors, is Brooklyn, where trends seem to be born. AFAR’s partner, Context Travel, offers a private Brooklyn Walking Tour that’s led by an urban historian.
In the summer, the Lincoln Center’s Out of Doors festival brings music and dance outside into the surrounding plazas. Meanwhile, Francophiles can celebrate by attending Bastille Day fairs in Manhattan and Brooklyn, or Fête Paradiso on Governors Island. Fans of cinema should consider the famous Tribeca Film Festival. Ethnic festivals take place year-round, and Citylore.org is one of the best resources to check what’s coming up.
- Ride the Staten Island Ferry: not for the commute, but for a fabulous—and free—way to take in the downtown Manhattan skyline.
- Don’t be afraid to solicit help. City residents have gained a reputation for being rude because they are caught up in the hustle and bustle—but if you’re lost, they will happily oblige with directions. Just ask!
- Avoid the subway at rush hours in the morning and evening: It might be cheaper than a cab, but the crowded trains and terminals could prevent you from getting off at the right stop. Walk, if you can.
- The city is at its most beautiful in twilight. Or in the light of dawn. Or maybe in the middle of the night, when the bridges and buildings become glittering beacons. There is, too, a strange beauty to watching—preferably from above or from a distance—the city dwellers navigate the crowded sidewalks and Grand Central Station's main hall. Never is it more clear that the city is a living, breathing organism.
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John Newton is a freelance editor, writer, and AFAR Ambassador. In addition to AFAR, he has written for Condé Nast Traveler, GQ, Men’s Journal, Newsday, the New York Post, Travel+Leisure and many other magazines and newspapers. Raised in California, he has lived in New York City for almost 25 years (currently in Williamsburg, Brooklyn) and is always ready to explore the city he calls home.