A building so large that it has its own zip code, visiting the Empire State Building – with its long maze of queues and epic elevator journeys – is a feat of endurance. But everyone should probably do it at least once. Formerly the world’s highest building, you can still see five of the USA’s fifty states from this Art Deco giant’s observation deck – plus the whole of Manhattan island. The beautiful Chrysler building – once a great rival for the ‘world’s tallest building’ title – gleams, defeated, below.
The Empire State Building is open from 8.00 am ’til 2.00 am. Whilst there’s no truly quiet time to visit, before 10.00 am is your best bet, especially if you're bringing kids. Buying an express pass helps beat the long queues inside, though you’ll still have to go through airport-strict levels of security. Once you’re through, you can visit the 86th or 102nd floor.
Whilst the 86th floor might seem like a cop-out for the altitude-inclined, it’s cheaper, out in the open air, and arguably offers a better view than going higher up.
When people refer to Top of the Rock (usually in some sentence like ‘we didn’t go up the Empire State Building, we went to Top of the Rock’), they are referring to the observation deck at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. This colossal skyscraper has one of New York’s most popular viewing platforms on the 70th floor. From here, you can see just how massive Central Park is, spread like a big green picnic blanket below the tower. Plus, you’ll actually get the Empire State building in your viewfinder (something number 1 on our list will never be able to claim). Like the Empire State Building, the most popular time to visit Top of the Rock is at sunset, when the light is best for photographs.
On ground level, the Rockefeller Center comes into its own in the holiday season, when you can see the famous Radio City Rockettes chorus line, inhale the evergreen scent from one of New York’s largest Christmas trees, and slip over the city’s most famous skating rink.
Download the Top of the Rock app. It scans the horizon and pulls up fun facts about some of the big buildings on your screen.
When you meet the Statue of Liberty, remember to say ‘Bonjour’; she’s French, built by famous French engineer Gustav Eiffel.
America’s First Lady in waiting, the beautiful Statue of Liberty, stands on an island in New York Harbor. You can reach her easily by ferry. Once you meet her, remember to say ‘Bonjour’; she’s French, built by famous French engineer Gustav Eiffel. To access the museum in her big pedestal, which is roughly the size of tower block, you’ll need to book prior to arriving on the Liberty Island. You can also book to visit her crown – though climbing up the 146-step spiral staircase is not for the faint hearted.
Liberty Island and Ellis Island are a short ferry ride apart. When Ellis Island served as an immigration inspection station, 12 million immigrants passed through its offices – including Bob Hope in 1908 and Cary Grant in 1920 – alongside countless forgotten others. The island’s museum is at once inspiring and heart-breaking – as immigration into the US remains resolutely difficult.
New York’s other islands provide a breezy escape from the city centre, whether you’re chugging over to Staten Island, relaxing on Governor’s or you’ve entered a hot dog eating competition over at Coney.
It was always going to be difficult for New York to make a memorial to the victims and heroes of 9/11. The scale of the tragedy – and the enormous space left by the fallen Twin Towers of the World Trade Center – seemed impossible to fill. But now the footprints of the two towers have been turned into two sunken pools continuously filling with cascades of water. The ‘Reflecting Absence’ memorial – as it’s known – is a fitting, large-scale tribute.
Below this simple, but monolithic pair of monuments you’ll find the National September 11 Museum set in the foundations of the original Twin Towers. Tissue stations are provided – and often needed – around the exhibits, which include harrowing burnt-out artefacts and melted equipment from brave first-responders. Complete your tour of the area, and end with a ray of hope – by ascending to the observation deck of the One World Trade Center. The tallest building in New York City has popular skyline views.
Some still call this area ‘Ground Zero’, though it’s more correctly referred to as the ‘National September 11 Memorial and Museum’.