It's a helluva town
New York City is considered the greatest city in the world. While that may be up for debate, few people can dispute that it's the epicenter for the arts and culture in the United States. 47 million visitors certainly agree. No other American city can compare.
There's something for everyone
The five boroughs that make up New York City - Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island - offer a wealth of dining, lodging, shopping and cultural options. While Manhattan naturally receives the most notice, the other boroughs are worth a detour. Brooklyn and Queens are my favorites for different reasons. In recent years, Brooklyn has emerged as a foodie destination of its own, with great restaurants of every ilk popping up in neighborhoods such as Cobble Hill, Red Hook, Carroll Gardens, Park Slope and Prospect Heights. Hotels have sprung up as well and are much cheaper than their Manhattan counterparts. Queens has always been at the forefront of ethnic cuisine. Neighborhoods such as Jackson Heights, Astoria, Elmhurst and Woodside have led the way. Queens has great Pakistani eateries, one of the best Thai restaurants on the East Coast and the most authentic Greek food this side of the Cyclades. Even the Bronx and Staten Island have their champions and offer off-the-beaten-track cultural and dining options for the casual and serious tourist; you just have to be more adventurous.
I'll take Manhattan
Still Manhattan trumps them all for the sheer number of dining, cultural, arts and hotel options. It's here you'll find Michelin-starred eateries run by world-renowned chefs as well as small, cozy hole-in-the-wall restaurants that should have lines around the block. Fridays and Saturdays are always bustling and if you want to try that fancy, three-starred restaurant, opt for earlier in the week. Many high-end eateries offer prix-fixe or tasting menus that won't deplete your wallet too much.
Rooms with a view
You'll find hotel options that run the gamut from small, boutique operations to expansive, landmark lodgings. Despite the recession, new hotels have popped up all over the city. Many are gimmicky - floors dedicated to NYC neighborhoods, anyone? - but quite a few are worthy alternatives to the stodgy hotels lining Central Park (see my hotel picks on my New York City Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in New York City page). Many have glorious views of the city skyline. While prices are higher here than other cities, discounts do apply. Stay on a Sunday or off-season (for New York, that's January to early February). Senior citizens and military personnel, whether serving or veterans, always receive discounts. Just make sure to tell the booking agent when you make your reservation and bring your ID. Package deals can be had during the holidays and summer.
Land of landmarks
While a visit to the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and the Metropolitan Museum of Art can't be skipped, Manhattan has a wealth of smaller cultural landmarks and museums. My favorites include the New Museum of Contemporary Art, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum , the Merchant House Museum and Fraunces Tavern. Broadway beckons, but why not visit the smaller theater and opera companies? There's the Chelsea Opera, the Joyce Theater, the Atlantic Theater Co. and the Vineyard Theater to name a few. Roger Thompson had a "novel" idea for sightseeing, see his guide - Manhattan: my "novel" trip. See my New York City insider tips page for further advice on seeing the sights.
Shop 'til you drop
The shopping options can't be beat. You'll recognize major department stores - Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue, Loehmann's, Lord & Taylor - as well as large chain operations such as the Gap, Banana Republic, Forever 21, Uniqlo and H&M. I'd skip most of these except for the landmark stores - the original Saks being one - and head to the smaller boutiques scattered around the city. You'll find many in the East and West Village as well as Chelsea. My favorites include Jeffrey in the Meatpacking District and Commes des Garcons in Chelsea. There are also high-end consignment shops that sell used designer apparel for a fraction of the original price.
While New York doesn't have as many parks as say, London, the parks it does have are some of the greatest in the world. Central Park is everyone's favorite, mainly for its wide open spaces and myriad spots to relax or play. You can see Shakespeare for free, row boats with your friends, listen to summer concerts and play softball, all in the same space. It's a year-round destination as people love to jog there even in winter or just stroll under the blanket of trees. I prefer the smaller parks such as Prospect Park in Brooklyn and Battery Park in Tribeca. Fewer crowds mean more space to roam freely and Battery Park has great views of the Hudson.
It's easy to get around
Unlike most American cities, New York is easy to get around if you don't have a car. The public transportation system called the MTA is very reliable and runs 24/7. The subway extends to all five boroughs and a single ride is still fairly inexpensive. Plus, you don't get charged extra if you travel a lengthy distance as you would in many European cities. The buses are a good option if you have issues about going underground and, from 5am to 9am, they will drop you off anywhere on their route even if it's not a designated bus stop. In addition, if you want to go from the subway to a bus, the transfer is free.
Walk it off
Even with an extensive subway and bus system, you still have to get on your feet. Walking around the city is a great way to walk off any extra calories you may have eaten during lunch or dinner. Manhattan is built like a grid so it's hard to get lost as most streets and avenues are numbered. Fifth Avenue bisects the east and west. As you walk around neighborhoods you might not normally venture to - think outside of Times Square - you may discover great beaux arts architecture, a quiet, tree-lined block or a quaint mom-and-pop shop that you wouldn't find anywhere else. This is one of my favorite ways to discover or re-discover areas.
Of course, a visit to New York wouldn't be complete without a night out on the town. Although Studio 54 and its ilk had their heyday in the 1970s, crowds still flock to clubs large and small to see and be seen. The large clubs of the 90s and the 00s have given way to tiny lounges that are extremely hush hush and exclusive. You really have to know someone or be someone to get in. Being beautiful and tall certainly helps. Don't bring a posse of men with you otherwise you won't get in. Keep your group to two or three maximum and make sure you are nice to the bouncers and doormen. They will give you attitude but don't like getting it in return.
New York City is never boring. Whatever your pleasure, whether it's food, shopping, arts or culture, New York City has something to offer.