New York is at the vanguard of western art, entertainment, food trends, fashion and finance. Now, you could get cute and obscure when you compile a guide like this.
But truth be told, 55 things isn’t enough for a city like New York, which is why our list is packed shamelessly with big-hitters, from the Statue of Liberty to Central Park, Ellis Island, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Empire State, Broadway and the Brooklyn Bridge.
These things are non-negotiable if you want to do New York justice, even if you’ll be accompanied by a few thousand tourists.
We’ve got a breathless ride through a city seared in the minds of people around the world, immortalised in television and movies, and able to inspire wonder, awe, quiet reflection and joy in even the most cynical travellers.
Backing onto Central on Fifth Avenue, the immense Metropolitan Museum of Art charts 5,000 years of applied and fine arts from all ends of the earth.
At the largest gallery in the United States you can chase your sense of curiosity down any number of rabbit-holes, marvelling at Sumerian cuneiform tablets, Chinese calligraphy, Classical sculpture, Egyptian mummies, Old Masters, Moorish textiles, Rococo fashion, armour worn by European monarchs, invaluable musical instruments, and that’s just to get started.
You could spend a whole day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and leave knowing that there was more to see.
But a few of the indispensible exhibits are the transposed Egyptian Temple of Dendur (15BC), Raphael’s altar painting of Madonna and Child (1504), Rembrandt’s Aristotle with a Bust of Homer (1653), Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze (1851) and van Gogh’s Self Portrait with Straw Hat (1887).
New York’s population doubled in the 30 years up to 1855, by which time the burgeoning city was in desperate need of more green space.
The answer was to cut a giant strip from the middle of Manhattan’s grid system, from 5th to 8th Avenue, and from 59th to 110th Street.
On 843 acres, this captivating landscape was drawn up by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux and officially completed in 1873. Within Central Park’s boundaries are ponds, a central lake, a reservoir, public art, schist outcrops, almost 50 fountains, 21 playgrounds, complete sports facilities, more than 25,000 trees and dozens of interesting landmarks like the stately Bethesda Terrace.
The list of things to do is almost endless, and includes a zoo, boating, yoga classes, outdoor theatre and horse-drawn carriage tours.
It’s a sign of New York’s sheer ambition in the 20s and 30s that nearly 90 years after it was topped off, the timeless Empire State Building is still the 44th tallest skyscraper in the world.
The roof of this Art Deco tower is 380 metres over the Midtown streets, and the highest visitable point in the city from 2001 until the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in 2011. The Main Deck on the 86th floor is open until 02:00 for a late-night perspective of the city that never sleeps, while in clear weather by day the panoramas scroll out for 80 miles, as far as Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.
Further up there’s an indoor observatory on the 102nd floor, once part of a docking station for airships, and accessed with an upgrade.
Make sure to soak up the Art Deco opulence of the Lobby on Fifth Avenue, with marble floors and the unmistakeable image of the tower behind the main desk.
From 1886, immigrants making the voyage to New York for a new life would be greeted by this inspiring symbol of freedom, conceived by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and with a metal framework built by Gustave Eiffel.
The 93-metre Statue of Liberty depicts the Roman goddess Libertas, striding free of the shackles at her feet, holding aloft a torch in her right hand and carrying a tablet in her left hand bearing the date of the Declaration of Independence, “JULY IV MDCCLXXVI” (1776). New York’s main point of departure for Liberty Island is Battery Park.
The queues for the ferry and new Statue of Liberty Museum on Liberty Island can be long and slow, which is why it’s well worth getting “skip the line” Priority or Flexible Statue of Liberty Tickets with GetYourGuide.com, which include a complimentary audio guide and optional access to the pedestal.
Trips to the top of the crown are highly coveted, so you have to book well in advance.