It’s impossible to choose one landmark in New York that stands out above all the rest. There are a ridiculous number of iconic buildings and places across Manhattan that we know so well from films, TV and books. Here are the places we got to during our trip and all of them were fantastic!
Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty is a symbol not only of New York but of the United States itself. We did not go to the island but rather passed it on the Circle Line ferry tour. It kind of felt momentous to be passing by such an icon and seeing it for myself. The statue is only 46 metres high; it felt a lot smaller than I had imagined! The other option for viewing the Statue of Liberty is to catch the orange Staten Island Ferry. We saw one of those and if we hadn’t already booked the Circle Line, it would have been a great cost-effective alternative.
During a rather long-winded walking tour across the Brooklyn Bridge and into the Dumbo neighbourhood, we learnt a great deal about the history of the bridge – I won’t lay out all the details here or you’d be reading for a fair while! The main point however, is that the bridge is a symbol of engineering, perseverance, and also represents unification of the boroughs into what we know as New York City today. While there are several bridges that connect Manhattan with its other boroughs today, before these bridges existed it was a hard task getting between these areas. Small row boats, and then ferries of varying size came to satisfy commuter demand. A particularly cold winter froze the rivers however, caused the city to come to a stand still and brought forward the need for a more weather-hardy solution. The Brooklyn Bridge became the longest cable suspension bridge in the world and was a representation of the American engineering spirit and determination. It is now one of the oldest bridges in the United States and is so popular with visitors. We’ve all see the bridge on our screens and it was again, such a pleasure to experience it in person (even if the weather wasn’t the best when we were there!)
We did a walking tour of the Financial District which ended at the 9/11 Memorial. Two enormous water features sit in the footprints of where the twin towers once stood. Around the edge were the names of all the victims that died that day. Despite being the heart of a bustling part of Manhattan, the sound of rushing water drowns out surrounding noise to create a remarkably peaceful space. It is difficult to imagine the area where we stood on the day of the attacks and how impossible it would have seemed then, to repair the city.
One World Trade Centre
Just beyond the 9/11 memorial is the new One World Trade Centre, measuring 546 metres high to its very tip. It is composed of eight triangular sides that represent and eight sides of the two towers destroyed during 9/11. On a fine day the glass does a great job of reflecting the clouds, making it almost blend into the sky.
Grand Central Station
Surely you don’t need encouragement to visit Grand Central while in New York, but I highly recommend it all the same! We picked up a couple of audio guides and had a fascinating walk around the terminal learning a host of interesting facts about this place that has featured in so many movies and TV shows. I hadn’t realised that Grand Central is actually the largest train terminal in the world and has a daily foot traffic of more than 750,000 people! In the main concourse area the ceiling beautifully depicts stars and constellations, while the ticket booths retain a sense of romance from the early 1900’s.
One of the coolest spots was the Whispering Corridor. If you stand at diagonally opposite sides of the space and speak into the corner, your buddy can hear you on the other side! Initially we felt a little silly walking into the corners and wondered if it would really work. But it does and it’s such a hoot to experience.
The first time we entered Times Square, I experienced true sensory overload. The screens are set on every available surface and they’re enormous.There is no place for grainy images here! All the screens were surprisingly high definition and shouted silent advertisements at us in a bombardment that made it impossible for me to recall what advertisements I’d seen there. Looking at the photos we took, I find it hard to recall seeing those advertisements – such a weird experience! I don’t think pictures do Times Square any justice and you really do need to experience it yourself to believe it. There were throngs of people in the square with a huge queue outside the TKTS office where you can buy cheap same-day tickets to Broadway shows. Times Square definitely felt like the stereotypical American experience; bright lights, commercialism and consumerism galore. Overwhelming but definitely a must-see (or must-experience!).
Empire State Building
Our accommodation in midtown Manhattan was only 3 blocks away from the Empire State Building. For around 40 years, this midtown construction was the tallest building in the world and it still provides fabulous views across the city from its viewing deck today. Probably the most memorable fact I discovered was just how quickly the building went up. It took only 410 days for the entire building to be completed; 102 stories and 381 metres tall.
Both Richard and I really fancied the art deco design of the Empire State Building (and many other buildings in NY!). Refurbishment efforts have preserved the look and feel of the tower incredibly well. It made me think of glitz, glamour and all things Gatsby-esque.
Also in Midtown Manhattan is the expansive Rockefeller Centre, one of my personal highlights of the trip. John D Rockefeller and his brother William Rockefeller began amassing an oil empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They dominated the market and John became America’s first billionaire. With all their money and influence, the family turned its attention to philanthropy and bolstering the new radio and TV industries. The Rockefeller Centre is still owned by the Rockefeller family today and is made up of 19 buildings cover 89,000 square metres. The artwork inside and around the buildings constantly reference the importance of light and sound to the future (i.e. radio and TV). It’s also another fantastic example of art deco design that was so pleasing to experience.
The only minor thing to note is that it can be a little confusing getting tickets for tours and going up to Top of the Rock. We were redirected a couple of times to the warren of hallways under the complex before coming across a busy ticket office with a disorganised queuing system. We were able to get tickets for the viewing area at 8pm, giving us really fantastic views of Manhattan. So much of the New York skyline is recognisable, including the ridiculous glowing of Times Square. I would recommend going up in the evening because there are slightly less people and there’s nothing like a city lit up at night.
We did a walking tour of the southern end of Central Park which was one of Richard’s favourites. Everyone knows Central Park is huge but I have to tell you, it’s really really huge! The area of the park covers 3.41 square kilometres so it’s not a place you can really cover unless you’re planning to stay a while. Maintenance of the park is now run by a non-profit organisation and an annual budget of $65 million is dedicated to keeping it beautiful.
It only takes a few steps into the park for the noise of the city to disappear and within is a truly marvelous green sanctuary. The rest of the New York really is glass, metal and concrete but in Central Park you’ll find families with children playing, cyclists, roller skaters and runners all enjoying a little nature. I was surprised at how beautiful it was and what a truly pleasant environment it has. The design attempted to recreate the famous gardens of Europe and it captures that spirit well.
In addition to everything we saw above, we passed by the Flatiron Building, Chrysler Building and the rather topical Trump Tower during our wanderings in New York. The 20th Century brought a whole host of engineering firsts to New York, and it was so fantastic to learn more about these achievements.
If you feel that there is something missing from this list, it’s probably because the next part in this series will cover the museums we visited – they’re special enough to get their own post!