Destination of the month: New York

Empire State Building, (photo by Britta Jaschinski)
Empire State Building

May is a great time to visit New York City, when the weather is warm and the summer crowds have not yet developed. Highlights in May include the Ninth Avenue International Food Festival, the TriBeCa film festival, and Fleet Week, when you can take a tour round US naval ships which are docked in the city (more on this later). 

With its skyscrapers and packed streets, New York is the essence of urbanity, just about everyone’s notion of what a city should be. You can see top-rate drama and great art, eat at the finest restaurants, or simply soak up the excitement. You might run into a celebrity on a grimy side street, or enjoy being drawn into streams of ordinary folks on the sidewalks. The city is so iconic that even visitors who have never set foot in Manhattan feel they are on familiar ground, with images from hundreds of movies and sitcoms springing up with surprising frequency.

Here we give you a few suggestions, just the tip of this urban iceberg.


Where to start in the Big Apple

The best way to appreciate New York is simply to throw yourself into the fray. Walk up the Upper West Side to sample bagels, amble through the galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, ogle diamonds on Fifth Avenue, linger over coffee in Greenwich Village, listen to music on the Lower East Side or Brooklyn. For a bird's eye view, climb the Empire State Building to see the glittering city stretching out below you. 


If you want to get a taste of old and monied New York, head for the Frick...

While it’s often said that money does not buy good taste (step into Trump Tower in Midtown to see how true that is), steel magnate Henry Clay Frick had plenty of both. The serenely beautiful limestone mansion he built in 1914 is now the intimate Frick Collection, filled with works by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Ingres, Fragonard, and other European artists, each one a masterpiece. 

The collection is relatively small. You can take a leisurely tour of the 16 galleries in less than an hour, with stops to linger in front of the pictures that capture your attention. One that certainly should is Francesco Guardi’s View of Venice, full of vibrant light and dazzling water that will make you yearn for a setting as beautiful and exotic as the scene the artist captures. One is near at hand. Just down the corridor is an atrium filled with exotic palms and statuary surrounding a fountain and pool. The story goes that Frick said he created all this opulence to make business rival Andrew Carnegie’s mansion at 92nd Street and Fifth Avenue, now the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, ‘look like a miner’s shack.’ That would be hard to do, and both houses are rich remnants of New York in the Gilded Age. 


If you want an architectural gem, be transported by Grand Central Terminal...

One of the architectural gems of New York City, Grand Central Terminal is worth spending time in even if you aren’t going anywhere. Completed in 1913 after nearly a decade of construction, the beautiful Beaux-Arts station ushered in the era of electric train travel. By 1947, more than 65 million people passed through, equal to about 40% of the US population of the time.

But car travel and suburban living in the 1950s drastically reduced station traffic, and the building fell into disrepair. By the mid-1960s the roof was leaking and soot and grime covered the walls. Wrecking crews stood by while a protracted battle between conservationists, led by Jackie Onassis, and developers raged on.

The station was finally saved by a Supreme Court ruling in 1978, and in the 1990s, a $425 million renovation project restored it to its original magnificence. Today Grand Central Terminal is once again a valued central hub of the city thanks to an efficient commuter train service, a steady stream of tourists, dozens of high-end shops, five restaurants, a cocktail lounge, and more than 20 eateries on the lower level.

Grand Central's architectural highlights

The magnificent illuminated zodiac on the vaulted ceiling, painted in gold leaf on cerulean blue oil, now gleams like new. All apart, that is, from a dark patch on the northwest lower corner. This was left untouched to give an understanding of the extent of the restoration effort. The gold-and silver-plated chandeliers were designed to show off the cutting-edge technology of the early 1900s: the light bulb.

A marble staircase was added to east end of the concourse, matching that of the west end (both modeled on the staircase of the Paris Opera) and the marble flooring is sprung like a dance floor – which explains the strangely muted sounds of travelers threading their way across the vast concourse. Free architectural tours are given every Wednesday at 12.30pm (meet at the central information booth).


Find more ideas about what to see and do in New York...


Insight Select Guide New York

Plan your trip to New York

For practical advice on how to plan a trip to New York, visit our New York trip planner page or buy one of our New York travel guides.