Insight Guides: Experience New York City - Insight Guides (2016)
LOWER MANHATTAN AND BROOKLYN
Tagger Yancey IV/NYC & Co
Watch the sunset from Battery Park, or cruise past the Statue of Liberty for free
A perfect place to watch the sunset over the Hudson River is from the tip of Manhattan, sitting on a stone bench on the Battery Park Esplanade, a pretty, green, and leafy promenade which stretches for more than a mile along the riverside. It was built with granite extracted from the same Connecticut quarry used to build the base of the Statue of Liberty in 1886 - part of a multi-million-dollar overhaul of Battery Park. Here you can also stroll through the lovely Gardens of Remembrance, 75,000 sq ft of gardens with hundreds of varieties of plants blooming all year long, a tribute in part to victims of 9/11, designed by world-renowned Dutch horticulturalist Piet Oudolf. It’s also a nod to the origins of the park: Dutch settlers in the 1600s built a low stone wall here with cannons and a battery to protect New Amsterdam from invaders.
Monuments and memorials
Battery Park pays tribute to many victims of war and suffering: a small memorial stands here for the wireless operators of the Titanic; victims of World War II and the Korean War are honored, as are merchant mariners lost at sea. Most poignantly, perhaps, an eternal flame burns next to The Sphere - Fritz Koenig’s huge bronze sculpture had stood for more than 30 years in the World Trade Center Plaza, and withstood the tons of metal and concrete crashing down on top of it. In 2002, the battered globe was moved here and retitled An Icon of Hope, at the foot of a bed of roses called Hope Garden, and it is a fine spot for contemplation.
Just past the north end of the park is the Irish Hunger Memorial, a public artwork representing the Irish countryside with a stone cottage made from rocks from counties across Ireland - a tribute to victims of the potato famine there in the 19th century, and to all those who suffer from hunger today.
Staten Island Ferry
To get a great view of the Statue of Liberty from the water, avoid the long line-ups for the tourist ferries in Battery Park, and join New York commuters further south on the Staten Island ferry. The 25-minute cruise to Staten Island not only offers great views of the Statue of Liberty, the New York Harbor, and the city skyline, but it is also free, making it the best bargain in town (try to catch one of the old orange boats if you can as these have open decks).
Staten Island Ferry Terminal, 1 Whitehall St; www.siferry.com; departs every 20-30 mins, less frequently at off-peak times and weekends; [map] B1
Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and tour a chocolate factory
Alex Lopez/NYC & Co
There’s no more dramatic way of seeing the New York skyline than crossing the Brooklyn Bridge on foot or by bicycle (for bike rentals click here). The world’s first steel-cable suspension bridge opened in 1883 after 13 years of construction, during which 27 people lost their lives, including the principal architect John Roebling, killed by a ferryboat. Control was given to his son Washington Roebling, who fell victim to decompression sickness after surveying for the foundations of the bridge. An invalid the rest of his life, Roebling Jr monitored the works by telescope while his wife, Emily, supervised the project, studying higher mathematics and engineering under her husband’s tuition. When the bridge opened, 12 people were trampled to death in panic, fearing a collapse. Despite its inauspicious beginnings, the Brooklyn Bridge was dubbed the ‘new eighth wonder of the world’ and has become another icon of New York that has etched itself into the world’s visual vocabulary.
Enter the bridge in Manhattan at Centre Street and Park Row for the 20-30-minute walk over to Brooklyn. The first exit on the left deposits you in the neighborhood of DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). Head to the Jacques Torres Chocolate Factory a few blocks down Water Street, where you can watch chocolate being made through plate glass windows and indulge in handmade chocolate treats. Or, bite into a mouth-watering croissant or pastry at the Almondine Bakery owned by Torres across the street at no. 85.
Brooklyn Bridge; [map] E2
Jacques Torres Chocolate Factory, 66 Water St, Brooklyn; tel: 212-414-2462; www.mrchocolate.com; Mon-Sat 9am-8pm, Sun 10am-6pm; [map] F1
Slip away to Governors Island
In 1614 the first Dutch settlers of New York came ashore not on Manhattan but on the small parcel of land in New York Harbor now known as Governors Island. They soon abandoned their first scrappy makeshift settlement to establish Neue Amsterdam at the foot of the much larger island across the East River. Since then, Governors Island has served as a fort from which cannons of the Continental Army inflicted damaged on the British fleet during the Revolutionary War, a summer retreat for colonial governors, a prison for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, and an army and coastguard base. These days, the island is an urban getaway where visitors enjoy a 2-mile waterfront promenade, two historic fortifications (Fort Jay and Castle Williams), acres of lawns, and what may be the city’s most dramatic views. The Manhattan skyline looms just a few hundred yards across the water, an endless flotilla of ships steams beneath the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and the Statue of Liberty is dramatically near at hand, on the other side of a narrow channel - no other point of land in New York is closer to the iconic landmark.
Plans are afoot to enhance the island’s low-lying landscapes with forests, marshlands, and even artificial hills and valleys. In the meantime, Governors Island is reached on a free ferry ride from the Battery Maritime Building at South and Whitehall streets in Lower Manhattan. Bikes can be rented from Blazing Saddles on the island ($15 for 2 hours, and $25 for all day).
Governors Island; tel: 212-825-3045; www.govisland.com; June-early Oct Fri 10am-5pm and Sat-Sun 10am-7pm; [map] B1 (for ferry)
Revel in Art Deco New York
Even in this age of prying media, New York is still a place where it can seem that momentous and mysterious things are transpiring in the heights of mighty skyscrapers and behind closed doors. The Bank of New York Building, built for the Irving Bank in 1929-31, occupies one of the city’s most prestigious parcels of real estate, One Wall Street. As befits the address, few buildings look more important than this Art Deco tower, its cool, clean limestone facade soaring 50 stories. The building still imparts a sense of honesty and no-nonsense efficiency, even in this more cynical age when neighboring Wall Street has displayed so much evidence to the contrary. Stepping through the vaulted, gilded, cathedral-like entrance in no way dispels these illusions: Inside is a two-story-tall banking hall, a glittering expanse of purple marble, and red-and-gold mosaics, where even cashing a check would feel like a great financial transaction.
The Weil-Worgelt Study is another Art Deco lair, executed by a Parisian firm of decorators for a Park Avenue apartment in 1930 and now in the Brooklyn Museum across the river. The olive-wood veneers, etched glass, lacquer panels, sleek furnishings, and concealed bar all suggest the very essence of urbane sophistication. You may be sorry you can’t step in and lounge for a spell. The museum’s wonderful collections of American art and Egyptian antiquities are just as transporting.
Bank of New York Building; [map] B2
Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway; tel: 718-638-5000; www.brooklynmuseum.org; Wed, Fri, Sat-Sun 11am-6pm Thu 11am−10pm; Subway: 2 or 3 to Eastern Parkway; [map] H2
Experience the avant-garde and Old New York in Brooklyn
Julienne Schaer/NYC & Co
In New York-ese, DUMBO refers not to the famous flying circus elephant but to a cluster of 19th-and early 20th-century warehouses and factories tucked away Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. The iconic towers and cables of the Brooklyn Bridge, along with the Lower Manhattan skyline, are especially striking when viewed from two waterside retreats, Empire-Fulton Ferry Park and the Brooklyn Bridge Park.
DUMBO is no longer the edgy artist enclave it once was, but the avant-garde is still in evidence at St Ann’s Warehouse, an innovative theater in a converted spice-milling factory. Bargemusic is an atmospheric little concert hall mounted on a former coffee barge moored at Fulton Ferry Landing. The Manhattan skyline and shimmering river are romantic backdrops for performances that run the gamut from chamber music to jazz.
Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO’s neighbor, makes no pretense to being trendy. The shady streets of brick townhouse are an old-fashioned remnant of genteel New York, home to prosperous burghers who commuted by ferry to Lower Manhattan. The bench-lined Brooklyn Heights Promenade is the best place to enjoy the magical views across the East River, and the experience is nicely enhanced with a scoop from the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory in an old fireboat station below the Promenade.
St Ann’s Warehouse, 45 Water St; tel: 718-254-8779; www.stannswarehouse.org; Subway A or C to High Street; [map] F1
Bargemusic, Fulton Ferry Landing; tel: 718-624-2083; www.bargemusic.org; Subway A or C to High Street, 2 or 3 to Clark Street; [map] E1
Enjoy a concert in an extraordinary setting
Two Lower Manhattan landmarks, one old, one quite new, are stalwart survivors of the attacks of September 11. Because of their distinctive characters, they are especially appealing surroundings for performances.
Trinity Church, one of the nation’s finest examples of Gothic Revival architecture, went up in 1846 beneath a steeple that long guided ships toward New York Harbor. In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the neighboring World Trade Center, the church filled with dust and grime, and debris fell into the adjoining, centuries-old churchyard, but Trinity was for the most part unscathed. The graceful sanctuary is especially welcoming during the classical and contemporary performances of Concerts at One, staged some weekday afternoons for the benefit of lunching Wall Streeters. The church’s acclaimed choir also sings regularly, and the Trinity bell-ringers make themselves heard at the tickertape parades that traditionally march down Lower Broadway to honor heroes.
The Winter Garden, a glass- roofed piazza at the center of the riverside World Financial Center, was all but destroyed in the 9/11 attacks. Glass panels were shattered, and a forest of palm trees was choked in ash and cinders. The expanse of marble and glass has been rebuilt and replanted, and once again the palm-filled space stages free afternoon and evening performances, from jazz concerts to ballets to screenings of silent films accompanied by live music.
Trinity Church, 74 Trinity Place; tel: 212-602-0800; www.trinitywallstreet.org; [map] B2
Winter Garden, 200 Vesey St; tel: 212-417-7050; http://artsworldfinancialcenter.com; [map] B3
Join a former trader for an insider’s look at the meltdown on Wall Street
Will Steacy/NYC & Co
Get an inside understanding of Wall Street and the financial meltdown of ’08 by going on a Financial Crisis Tour of the area with a former investment banker who admits he traded ‘toxic assets’ in the days leading up to the market crash. The two-hour walking tour gives a history of the area, along with detailed explanations of Wall Street’s inner workings, clocking the offices of Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, and other major financial institutions as you go.
Since 9/11, the New York Stock Exchange has been closed to visitors, but the Federal Hall National Memorial is open to the public on weekdays. It’s on the site of the original Federal Hall where, on April 30, 1789, George Washington was sworn in as the first president of the United States (there’s an impressive statue of him on the steps). The original Federal Hall was demolished in 1812, and the current Greek temple-style building was put up in its place in 1836. Exhibits include a copy of the Bible used in Washington’s swear-in ceremony.
The Federal Reserve Bank, said to hold a quarter of the world’s gold reserves, also gives free tours of its vaults. Tour guides explain the history of gold and how the government stores and safeguards the billions of dollars’ worth of bullion kept here.
The Wall Street Experience, tours Mon, Wed, Fri, 10am and 1.30pm, starting point, 15 Broad St; $50
Federal Hall National Memorial, 26 Wall St; Mon-Fri 9am-5pm; free; [map] C2
Federal Reserve Building, 33 Liberty St; tel: 212-720-6130; www.newyorkfed.org; tours Mon-Fri every hour 9.30am-3.30pm, except 12.30, tours must be booked in advance; free; [map] C2
Discover the wilds of Prospect Park, then explore the fascinating world of underground New York
Julienne Schaer/NYC & Co
While the allure of New York is rooted in the city’s manmade spectacles rather than natural beauty, Prospect Park has been enchanting the most diehard urbanites since the middle of the 19th century. The greensward is the city’s wildest natural setting, a 585-acre parcel of forests and wetlands in the center of Brooklyn.
Prospect Park’s ponds, lake, and streams are remnants of 225,000 acres of wetlands that once covered the paved-over terrain of present-day New York City and are home to all manner of plants and critters. Salamanders and toads hatch in the reedy ponds, mallards float through the grassy shallows of the lakes, hawks, herons, and hundreds of migrating birds alight in swamp azalea and willows. Long Meadow, a 60-acre pasture, winds through the center of the park and creates the illusion that you are surrounded by bucolic countryside in England or somewhere else far away from busy Brooklyn.
A far more tamed landscape prevails across Flatbush Avenue at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, a contemplative and aromatic 39-acre plot of flowerbeds, rose and herb gardens, ponds, and a promenade lined with flowering cherry trees.
The New York Transit Museum evokes the city’s greatest unnatural phenomenon, the 842-mile-long subway system. A vintage Brooklyn subway station shows off photos of the system’s construction in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the advertising that has bombarded riders over the decades, and best of all, vintage subway cars that make us realize that as much as we complain about the subway, today we ride beneath the streets in relative luxury. A shop at the museum and an annex in Grand Central Terminal are good stops for New York City souvenirs, selling such items as rain boots and umbrellas emblazoned with subway route designations.
Prospect Park; www.prospectpark.org; Subway 2 or 3 to Grand Army Plaza; [map] H1
Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 990 Washington Ave; tel: 718-623-7200; www.bbg.org; mid-Mar-Nov, Tue-Fri 8am-6pm, Sat-Sun 10am-6pm; children under-12 free; Subway: B or Q to Prospect Park, 2 or 3 to Eastern Parkway, or B, F, Q, and S to Prospect Park Station; [map] H2
New York Transit Museum, Corner of Boerum Place/Schemmerhorn St, Brooklyn Heights; tel: 718-694-1600; Tue-Fri 10am-4pm, Sat-Sun 11am-5pm; Subway: Borough Hall; [map] G3
A tree grows in the Bronx
One of the world’s finest botanical gardens flourishes on 250 acres in the Bronx. The New York Botanical Garden harbors 1 million plants in 50 cultivated gardens and a 50-acre native forest that evokes New York as it appeared to Native American inhabitants and early settlers. A tropical climate prevails in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, an enormous Victorian greenhouse where rainforest plants, cacti, and palm trees thrive beneath acres of glass panels. By train, you can reach the gardens from Grand Central Terminal, getting off at the Botanical Garden Station. By subway, take the B, D, or 4 trains to the Bedford Park Blvd Station and walk (about 15 minutes) or take the Bx26 bus. (Bronx River Parkway at Forham Rd, tel: 718-817-8700, www.nybg.org; Tue-Sun 10am-6pm).
Pay homage to the skyscraper and to those who lost their lives as slaves in colonial New York
The Skyscraper Museum Archive
In this, the most vertical of cities, The Skyscraper Museum pays homage to the pivotal role of the high-rise in the development of the city. Through exhibitions, programs, and publications, the small museum explores tall buildings as objects of design, products of technology, sites of construction, and places of work and residence. The dazzling interior uses polished stainless-steel floors and ceilings to give a sense of towering canyons. Temporary exhibits feature architectural models and photographs showcasing the evolution of skyscrapers; permanent exhibits pay tribute to the World Trade Center and the current rebuilding plans.
The African Burial Ground National Memorial commemorates those who laid down the first foundations of the city. In 1991, when workers were excavating the foundations of a new Federal courthouse building, the skeletons of about 400 men, women, and children were found. The site, it transpired, was part of a colonial burial ground for slaves. The memorial was erected in 2007 to honor an estimated 15,000 slaves buried here from the beginnings of New York as a Dutch colony in the 1600s to the abolition of slavery in 1865.
The Skyscraper Museum, 39 Battery Pl; tel: 212-968-1961; www.skyscraper.org; Wed−Sun, 12-6pm; charge; [map] A2
The African Burial Ground National Memorial, corner of Duane St/Elk St; daily 9am-5pm; free; [map] D4
Be awed by the Woolworth Building, a neo-Gothic Cathedral of Commerce
From 1913 to 1930, the 792ft-tall Woolworth Building was the tallest manmade structure in the world. Though many other skyscrapers have long since soared higher, few can match the white neo-Gothic tower for grace and style. The great retailer, Frank W. Woolworth, paid cash for the construction, a cool $13.5 million, and by that time the former farm boy had so much clout that President Woodrow Wilson joined the opening ceremonies, switching on the building’s 80,000 lights from his desk in the White House.
Woolworth created an empire of close to 600 stores, where every item sold for five or ten cents - the ‘five-and-dimes’ that have since disappeared from the American landscape. Woolworth’s respect for the value of a dollar is captured in one the lobby paintings, where he is depicted counting nickels. Not that Woolworth was a penny-pincher, as the ornate mosaic tiles, acres of marble, and gold-leafed cornices in his so-called Cathedral of Commerce attest. He was downright extravagant when it came to his own comforts, building an estate on Long Island that required the services of an army of servants. His most famous descendant was granddaughter Barbara Hutton. Once the world’s richest woman, her seven husbands included princes, barons, and the actor Cary Grant.
You can only peer into the ornate Woolworth lobby from the entrance, but you may muse on commerce and fortunes as you gaze upon the tower from the monumental steps of the New York State Supreme Court (60 Centre St, [map] D4). If the surroundings seem familiar, that’s because they appear in the opening of the long-running television show Law and Order.
Woolworth Building, 233 Broadway; [map] C3
Set sail across New York Harbor
Jen Davis/NYC & Co
Time was, some 200 years ago, that the South Street Seaport bustled with seafaring commerce. It’s possible to recapture some of that old-time ambience on the quaintly cobbled, shop-lined lanes. A fleet of the vessels that once filled New York Harbor with their acres of canvas sails and smokestacks are berthed at docks that are part of the South Street Seaport Museum. Dockside galleries are filled with photographs and other mementoes of seafaring days of yore. Among the ships that can be boarded are the Peking, a clipper from 1911 and one of the largest sailing ships ever built; the Wavetree, a fully rigged wrought-iron vessel that saw duty carrying jute for rope-making from Bangladesh to Scotland; and the Ambrose, a lightship that once guided mariners across the sandbars in the mouth of New York Bay.
Harbor cruises set off from the seaport aboard the Pioneer, a late 19th-centry cargo sloop, and the Lettie G. Howard, a fishing schooner. The W. O. Decker, a 1930s tugboat, pokes through the backwaters of New York Harbor. Two historic craft of Manhattan by Sail, the Sheerwater and Clipper City, also ply the harbor, with daytime, twilight, and evening cruises (tel: 212-619-0907, 800-544-1224, www.manhattanbysail.com).
South Street Seaport Museum, 12 Fulton St; tel: 212-748-8600; Jan-Mar Fri-Mon 10am-5pm, ships noon-4pm, April-Dec Tue-Sun 10am-6pm; [map] D2
Discover works of American Indian art and shop for fine handcrafted jewelry
Nowitz Photography/Apa Publications
The little-known, and blissfully uncrowded Museum of the American Indian operated by the Smithsonian Institution, showcases highlights from the vast collection of Native art and artifacts assembled by investment banker and oil heir George Gustav Heye in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The small selection of Indian headdresses, moccasins, bows, arrows, masks, and Indian art offers a particularly intimate glimpse into a rich cultural and artistic tradition. Many staff members are Native Americans, from tribal groups across the hemisphere, and their firsthand knowledge (and willingness to impart it) is a far cry from the typical museum experience.
Also atypical is the museum’s setting in the city’s finest example of Beaux-Arts architecture designed by Cass Gilbert, also responsible for the city’s first skyscraper, the nearby Woolworth Building (for more information, click here). The four impressive sculptures that flank the facade, representing Asia, America, Europe, and Africa, were the work of David Chester French, the artist who created the even larger statue of Abraham Lincoln for Washington’s Lincoln Memorial. Below the cornices at the top of the building are 12 statues honoring seafaring nations and cities around the world. Inside are soaring ceilings, a beautiful rotunda and marble work, and murals that depict the early explorers of America.
Rounding off your visit nicely, the exceptional museum shop sells beautiful handcrafted jewelry and woolen blankets, and an array of good books and cards.
Museum of the American Indian; 1 Bowling Green; tel: 212-514-3700; www.nmai.si.edu; daily 10am-5pm, Thu until 8pm; free; [map] B2
Take a reflective walk around the 9/11 Memorial
A decade and a half after the collapse of the World Trade Center, the site is now a shining and solemn homage to the victims of the 9/11 attack, and the resilience of a city filled with hope for a future filled with peace and prosperity. The five new office towers include the Freedom Tower that reaches the symbolic height of 1,776ft - the number being the year the US Declaration of Rights was signed. There is also an arts center, a memorial museum, and visitor’s center. The best view of the whole area is from the windows of the World Financial Center across the street: from a public hallway you can see the footprints of the original towers that will be surrounded by fields of trees and filled with pools of water. Names of the victims will be written along the edges of the pools in this tribute called ‘Reflecting Absence.’
To learn more about the site and about 9/11, you can take a 75-minute tour led by people whose lives were involved in the tragedy, such as rescue workers, survivors, and residents of Lower Manhattan. The $10 tours depart from 120 Liberty Street four times a day.
To see moving photos taken by firemen and poignant artifacts from the collapse, experience the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Part of the $24 ticket proceeds go to charities associated with 9/11 and the fire department.
World Trade Center site; tours: www.tributewtc.org; [map] B3
9/11 Memorial and Museum, 180 Greenwich St; www.911memorial.org; advance online purchase of tickets required; [map] B3
Find a bargain at a discount designer emporium
Will Steacy/NYC & Co
The sign outside the Century 21 building that sits on the eastern edge of the World Trade Center site says ‘New York’s Best Kept Secret,’ but once you enter this madhouse of shoppers looking for bargains, you’ll wonder who is it exactly that doesn’t know about this place? There’s a reason it’s crowded: several floors of designer men’s, ladies’ and children’s wear at slashed prices. Come armed with patience and a clear head to sort through racks and racks of pants, tops, dresses, suits, ties, and shirts, and pay attention to the price tags: even though the discounts here can be two-thirds off the original price, they are still high when the list price for a dress is $1,100. Coming very early on a weekday is your best way to avoid a shopping meltdown if you’re prone to them.
Nordstrom Rack (60 E. 14th just off Broadway, Mon-Sat, 10am-10pm, Sun 11am-8pm; [map] E2) in Chelsea can be a less harried place to shop for discounted clothes, shoes, and handbags, but also requires patience and focus. Like Century 21, it features slashed prices on designer names, but there are more mass-market, therefore cheaper items. Avoid weekend afternoons.
Century 21, 22 Cortlandt St; www.c21stores.com; Mon-Wed 7.45am-8pm, Thu-Fri 7.45am-10pm, Sat 10am-8pm; Sun 11am-7pm; [map] B3