New York City has an instantly identifiable soundtrack with its cacophony of sounds. Whether it’s the apocalyptic whirr of sirens, the honking of horns from a fleet of yellow cabs, the hiss of steam pulsating from the ground or the chortle of laughter spilling out into the streets, the city’s beat bounces off skyscrapers and reverberates all around.
The exoskeleton of the city feels as if it were a theatre set for you to make your debut appearance as its shining star. From the towering buildings that dwarf you to the winding fire escapes to swing on and the electric neon signs that leave you wide-eyed; it is as if New York’s canvas exists solely for you to go ahead and paint it red, white and blue.
Predictably, arriving in the city as a total newcomer left me champing at the bit. Growing up on a diet of films, books, and television shows that romanticised New York meant expectations were high, but in hindsight, they were surpassed. With 8.4 million inhabitants, each chunk of New York has its own intriguing cast and characters, whether it’s the trendy hipsters of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, the overworked bankers in the Financial District or the real housewives of Madison Avenue.
In addition to exceptional people-watching, there are aeons of things to do and see in the big apple. From roaming Central Park to heading to the Time Out food market in Brooklyn to see the city’s food scene reflected under one roof, catching a comedy or Broadway show, getting a train from Grand Central Terminal, visiting world-class art at the MoMa and Metropolitan Museum of Art, marvelling at the national historic landmark of the Rockefeller Centre or even spotting over 6,000 species at the Bronx Zoo.
You may often feel overwhelmed and pushed for time, but as Simone de Beauvoir once posited: “There is something in the New York air that makes sleep useless.”
What to do
Explore Central Park
Otherwise known as “New York’s backyard”, this bounteous 843-acre patch of nature in the heart of Manhattan offers an escape from the concrete jungle. From its rolling meadows to its sprawling waters, views of the city skyline and elm-lined walkways, Central Park is one of the city’s best attractions. Inside the park, you’ll find an outdoor theatre which stages open-air Shakespearean productions in Summer, an ice rink in Winter, a memorial to John Lennon, a playground dedicated to Diana Ross, a zoo, and a famous Alice in Wonderland statue.
It is also worth booking a table at Tavern on the Green; an iconic NYC restaurant nestled in a bucolic Central Park setting that focuses on a hearty, rustic menu shaped by local and seasonal ingredients.
Visit the world-class galleries and museums.
With more than 80 museums sprawled across the city, the art in New York is world-class. The oldest institutions are typically around Midtown Manhattan and the Upper East and West Side. In Midtown, you will find the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), which has pioneered acquisitions of masterpieces in Postimpressionism, Cubism, and Surrealism such as The Persistence of Memory by Dalí, Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair by Frida Kahlo, Starry Night by Van Gogh to Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Picasso.
A trip to the big apple would also not be complete without visiting The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Spanning 6,000 years and the entire globe, the museum has everything from the insides of an Egyptian tomb, a complete set of Japanese armour, to Renaissance paintings. Make sure to see the museum’s collection of Vermeer’s, Asian and Islamic art, and one of America’s best-known images Emanuel Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware.
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If you find yourself hankering for more of a cultural fix, make sure to visit the Neue Gallery to see its collection of Klimt and Schiele, the Frick Museum (temporarily relocated) to see masterpieces from the Renaissance to the early twentieth century and to the Whitney Museum, to see its collection of American art, including work by Edward Hopper and Georgia O’Keefe.
Walk The High Line
If you’re still feeling exasperated by the hustle-and-bustle of the city and crave relief from museums, head to the High Line. Converted into an elevated walkway that rises above the West Side of Manhattan, The High Line used to be a 2.3km long-abandoned railway line. Opened to the public in 2009, this abundantly green pathway is now flanked by a diverse number of plant species, over half of which are native to the United States. In addition to plants, the 1.45-mile-long strip also features art installations, colourful murals, and viewing platforms to see marvellous panoramas of the Manhattan skyline and Hudson river.
Where to eat
Time Out Market
Sandwiched between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridge, this “upscale” food market on DUMBO features the city’s most revered chefs, hottest restaurants and the buzziest bars under one roof. The market is comprised of 21 restaurants over 24,000 square feet, from egg sandwiches and latke eggs Benedict to Clinton St. Baking Company, the hot honey chicken from Jacob’s Pickles, the miso ramen from Mr. Taka Ramen, noodle-wrapped meatballs from Wayla and not forgetting the fabled salmon and cream cheese bagel from Ess-a-Bagel.
While Cantonese fare and dim sum dominate Chinatown’s food scene, there are also plenty of other regional cuisines to find, including Shanghainese, Teochew, Taiwanese, Vietnamese and Malaysian food. Expect hand-pulled noodles, pork buns, crispy wontons, duck pancakes, stir-fries, and soup dumplings. However, a visit to Nom Wah Tea Parlour is a must. The vintage dim sum parlous dates back to 1920 and has become a neighbourhood staple, offering gargantuan-sized dishes such as turnip cape with XO sauce, chicken siu mai, pan-fried shrimp and chive dumplings, scallion pancakes and fried sesame balls with lotus paste.
Conceived by the inimitable Enrique Olvera, Cosme is a restaurant in NYC’s Flatiron District. Opened by Olvera in 2014, Cosme is now rated as one of the world’s 50 best restaurants and has won accolades for serving contemporary cuisine inspired and rooted in Mexican flavours while using local and seasonal ingredients from the Hudson Valley and surrounding regions. Choose from octopus tostada with chintextle and sorrell, scallops and bass with shasta tangerine aguachile and their chocolate flan with tonka bean and rhubarb tamal with lemongrass. Don’t forget to have an aperitif or night-cap mezcal cocktail from the bar at the front.
Where to stay
The Peninsula New York
If you want to be right in the midst of the action, The Peninsula hotel, just off Fifth Avenue, is your ticket to ride. The five-star hotel is not only opulent but incredibly convenient with its Midtown location. The neo-classical hotel is only four blocks to Central Park, Bergdorf Goodman is a stone’s throw for any keen shoppers, and the MoMa is a mere three-minute walk away.
Step inside a grand two-storey foyer where dual staircases lead you to the main restaurant and reception. Expect five-star service, luxuriously big rooms for a notoriously stacked city, an indoor swimming pool, fitness centre, and world-class spa offering body wraps, massages, reflexology and other treatments. Guests can even book a private chauffeur or Mini Cooper S Clubman who will whisk you and your entourage around the city to wherever you so desire.
If money is no object, book dinner at their signature restaurant Clement on the hotel mezzanine, where highlights include the lobster Bisque with a side of caviar, tuna crudo, and slow-braised wagyu beef bourguignon. Finish off the evening on the 23rd floor of the hotel at their 1930s Shanghai-inspired Salon de Ning for a cocktail with views of the illustrious cityscape.