Monday, 24 February 2014

Things to See in NYC

In truth, apart from skyscrapers and the Statue of Liberty, New York is actually a place you go to more to do things than to see things, but I decided to accord myself some artistic licence in this title. Normally in cities I like to spend most of my time walking around and soaking up the atmosphere but, despite what other people told us, I was surprised to find that this wasn't really the bit that I enjoyed the most. It might have been something to do with the slush and the sub-zero temperatures, but many of our most enjoyable experiences were specific things that we made the effort to do. As it was our first time there, many of them were classic tourist-trail things, so this is in no way an expert guide, but here are some of the highlights of our trip:

Top of the Rock

This was probably the most touristy part of our whole trip, but also one of the best things we did. Having figured out that if you go to the top of the Empire State Building, you can't see the Empire State Building, we went to the 70th floor of the Rockefeller Center instead. It's pricey, at 27$ for a very small exhibition, a ride in a lift and access to the top 3 floors of the building, but I don't think it's possible to appreciate the sheer scale and verticality of downtown Manhattan without viewing it from up high and the 360 degree panorama really is impressive.

Lower East Side Tenement Museum

For a long time, the Lower East Side was where new immigrants from all over the world lived in crowded slums directly after arriving in America. The museum is a tenement building that has been furnished the way it would have been at the time, but in fact the visit is more like attending a lecture than going on a tour. You have to book a session with a guide and you can choose which of the immigrant's stories you would like to hear. We went for the history of an Irish family told by our knowledgeable and engaging guide using traditional songs and it was fantastic.


Understanding Frenchman and I both have a fairly limited tolerance for museums, but we did get a lot out of our visit to New York's Museum of Modern Art. If you start on the top floor and work your way down, you can get a good impression of how modern art developed from just after the Impressionists onwards, and for somebody like me who doesn't know a lot about art history, the overview of the different movements provided in each gallery gave just the right amount of information to understand what the artists were getting at ... and to confirm that Dadaism is not a concept I appreciate any more in art than I do in literature. (The example that sticks in my mind from the MoMA is a bicycle wheel stuck into a stepladder, an attempt to prove that everyday objects are just as much art as something that has been beautifully crafted just as long as you decide to call it art. Apart from that, though, I enjoyed most of what we saw. I found this painting both fascinating and beautiful - according to the museum guide I am not alone.

Other great things we did that don't really count as sights were: ice skating in Bryant Park (a great rink surrounded by beautiful buildings, and it seemed bigger than the one in Central Park), dinner and a concert at the Smoke jazz bar, a delicious meal at the Red Cat in Chelsea and yummy Nepalese food at a restaurant in Queens. We also saw the musical Chicago on Broadway, a decision that flew a bit in the face of advice we had received from an acquaintance who has been an actress in New York and said not to go and see anything which has been running for too long because the atmosphere tends to be a bit flat and the theatres full of tourists. This was true to some extent, but we wanted to see an American musical that we knew we would both like, and I felt that the sheer quality of the acting, dancing and singing more than made up for any deflatedness on the part of the audience or the cast.

There were a few things that I would have liked to do that we missed out on, like the immigration museum on Ellis Island and one of the other art galleries, but overall I felt that we made pretty good use of our time in New York. If I ever go back, I would like to have a specific goal or something purposeful to do, because I enjoyed myself most on the days when we had a particular mission and weren't just wandering around. After all, how can you make the most of the fastest city in the world when you have all the time in the world on your hands? 


  1. That painting is unreal - so many layers to it, I keep discovering things I didn't see at first! I love it!

  2. I know! I stood in front of it for ages just noticing more and more little details!

  3. I've only spent one day in New York City - I would love to go back one day, but it's unlikely I will anytime soon. I'd love to go to Chinatown again and visit Ellis island. Not to mention the food, which I have heard is great there (mix of cultures - your Nepalese food sounds interesting). Maybe someday...

  4. The Lower East Side Tenement Museum sounds interesting. I love traditional Irish music.