9 defining New York City experiences

Tragedy hasn’t taken the shine off the Big Apple: New York City, like its people, is tougher and more resilient than ever before. It has captured our imaginations in music, film and fiction, and is known the world over for its diversity and sophistication. It’s no surprise many travellers want to be a part of New York, New York — even if it’s just for a few days.

Make no mistake — it would be impossible to see and do everything in a single trip, no matter how long your stay. We’ve got some ideas to help you capture the essence of this famous city.

Pay tribute

The events of September 11, 2001 left their mark on the city, but the impact spread far beyond New York. Now the recently opened 9/11 Memorial allows everyone touched by the tragedy to remember and connect. The inscribed names and water features stand in solemn reminder of the victims as well as of an event that shaped recent history and New York’s identity.

Though the site won’t be complete for a couple of years yet, it has already become a must-see for visitors. Due to its popularity, you’ll have to book a visitor pass well in advance and you’ll have 30 minutes to experience the memorial. Don’t worry if all you can get is an evening pass — the memorial is designed for viewing at any time of day. Expect strict security to be in place, and don’t forget to stop by the museum.

For more information, visit www.911memorial.org.

Embrace the drama

When we think theatre, it’s hard not to conjure up images of the glittering marquees of Broadway. Tickets aren’t cheap, but there are ways to find deals. For instance, you can find 2-for-1 tickets during Broadway Week each September, or keep tabs on promotional newsletters and social media. If you aren’t fussy about time and seats, you can often score last minute ticket deals through TKTS Booths or by hitting the box office for “rush” or “standing room only” tickets — but be prepared to wait in line.

Of course, Broadway isn’t the only option to indulge a love of theatre. Many big name shows got their start in Off-Broadway theatres, and New York is home to many companies like Repertorio Español, which add culture and variety to the thriving performing arts scene.

Cheer the home team

Will it be the Mets or the Yankees? Baseball is still the most popular sport in the city, and there’s rivalry between these two teams even though they aren’t in the same league. In fact, New York is the only city with more than one team in baseball, basketball, football and hockey with a soccer team rounding out a total of nine professional franchises. Events like the Mayor’s Cup also cover a broad range of sports from wrestling to track and field.

If pro sports aren’t in the budget, try the farm teams or minor leagues to catch future MVPs in action — for prices a lot less than the pros. Can’t make it in person? Don your team colours and try a sports bar instead.


Have a good laugh

New Yorkers don’t take themselves too seriously and neither should you. New York has a dozen comedy clubs founded by native New Yorkers (like Gotham Comedy Club) and famous comics (like Dangerfield’s Comedy Club). From stand-up to improv and upcoming stars to famous names like Robin Williams and Amy Poehler, there’s something to cater to every sense of humour. Tickets can be as low as $10-$20, or the price of dinner or a few drinks.

Another option: be part of the studio audience for a taping of your favourite comedy show. Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart are all filmed in New York, as are a variety of popular shows like The View and The Dr. Oz Show. Tickets are free and can be booked online — but be sure to reserve well in advance. (See NYCGo.com’s list of TV Show Tapings for details.)

Savour the flavours

It’s hard to match the variety of tastes you’ll find in this sprawling city, from street vendors to gourmet meals, and ethnic cuisine to traditional American fare like a good steak or submarine sandwich. If you can swing it, stop by in the summer or winter for NYC Restaurant Week.

Want to take the tastes home? There’s no shortage of artisan, specialty and gourmet food shops where you can find anything from cheese to chocolate and fresh fare. Of course, you may need a little help uncovering the top spots — that’s what culinary tours are for. Companies like Foods of New York Tours and Institute of Culinary Education offer tours, tastings and special events to tempt the taste buds.

Looking for a budget-minded meal? A picnic in Central Park is a classic way to enjoy the outdoors.

Shop ’til you drop

Better budget for some spending money — it’s easy to be a big spender in the upscale stores and boutiques the Big Apple has to offer. Some big names Saks Fifth Avenue and FAO Schwarz are tourist destinations in their own right, not to mention the open-air markets.

However, you don’t have to have a big city budget to snap up some fabulous finds. Shop for vintage styles at the thrift stores, like Buffalo Exchange in Manhattan’s East Village. You can even enlist some help — shopping tours specialize in helping visitors find all the best deals at outlet malls, boutiques, wholesale designer shops and markets (plus you’ll get a good discount).

Enjoy art for art’s sake

If you love art, it would be hard to resist big names like The Museum of Modern Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The former is known to house one of the most impressive collections of modern and contemporary art in the world — from groundbreaking artists like Pablo Picasso to the latest performance art and multimedia works. The latter is home to an a diverse selection including ancient works from a variety of cultures, Renaissance masters and an entire department dedicated to costume. Still can’t get enough? Don’t forget about the Guggenheim!

However, there’s more to the New York art scene than the museums. The city has helped launched many an artistic career. You can find the cutting edge works in the dizzying variety of galleries that have settled across the city, including in neighborhoods like Chelsea, the Lower East Side and Williamsburg. You even catch a glitzy show opening. (For a full list of galleries, visit Art-Collecting.com.)

Try as many forms of transportation as possible

There’s a lot of ground to cover, so you might as well enjoy the ride. You can book a hop-on, hop-off sight seeing tour of the city to find your way, but to experience New York like a local you may find yourself venturing into the subway system or hailing a cab. While many denizens rely on the Staten Island Ferry to get to work, travellers can enjoy the view from the water.

However, you don’t have to rely solely on public transportation for your adventure. Many companies offer walking or cycling tours of specific parts of the city as well, if you’re travelling in 2012 you’ll be able to take advantage of the city’s new bike share program. In the meantime, you can rent a bicycle in Central Park — or pamper yourself with a carriage ride instead.

Feeling a little indulgent? Rise above it all with a helicopter tour from HeliNY.

Visit at least one tourist hotspot

The Empire State Building, Carnegie Hall, The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Times Square…  New York is full of destinations that are so pricy and popular many travel experts have dubbed them “tourist traps.” It’s hard to deny the appeal of these places, but experts warn not to make your trip about hopping from one hotspot to another — especially when crowds and long line-ups are at stake.

One landmark many experts say is worth the trip is the Rockefeller Center. Take a tour, admire the art or take a behind the scenes look at NBC Studios. Catch a show at Radio City Music Hall, do some shopping and grab a bite to eat. For an even better view of the city than you’ll find on the Empire State Building, treat yourself to the Top of the Rock. The three-floor attraction offers both indoor and outdoor observation decks. On the 70th floor, you’ll find an open-air deck that offers a 360 degree view of the city — so don’t forget your camera! (Visit www.topoftherocknyc.com for details.)

Of course, these ideas are just a small sampling of the many things to enjoy in New York City. A good guidebook and a lot of research can help find the sites and activities best suited to your interests and budget.

Been to NYC and have recommendations of your own? Share them in the comments!

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ SeanPavonePhoto

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