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Destination: New York City | Kick Butt Vacations
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Destination: New York City


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New York City

 

New York City Attractions

If this is your first trip to New York, face the facts: It will be impossible to take in the entire city — this time. Because New York is almost unfathomably big and constantly changing, you could live your whole life here and still make fascinating daily discoveries . This is designed to give you an overview of what’s available in this multifaceted place so you can narrow your choices to an itinerary that’s digestible for the amount of time you’ll be here — be it a day, a week, or something in between.

So don’t try to tame New York — you can’t. Decide on a few must-see attractions, and then let the city take you on its own ride.

After all, the true New York is in the details. As you dash from sight to sight, take time to admire a cornice on a prewar building, linger over a cup of coffee at a sidewalk cafe, or just idle away a few minutes on a bench watching New Yorkers parade through their daily lives.

Don’t forget Central Park, the great green swath that is, just by virtue of its existence, New York City’s greatest marvel.

Subway Access Alert — On almost every weekend, and throughout the year, changes in normal subway service tend to occur. Check with the Metropolitan Transit Authority at tel. 718/330-1234 or www.mta.nyc.ny.us before you plan your travel routes; your hotel concierge or any token-booth clerk should also be able to assist you.

A Money & Time-Saving Tip — CityPass may be New York’s best sightseeing deal. Pay one price for admission to six major attractions: The American Museum of Natural History (admission only; does not include Space Show), the Guggenheim Museum, the Empire State Building, the Museum of Modern Art, and a 2-hour Circle Line harbor cruise. Individual tickets would cost more than twice as much.

More important, CityPass is not a coupon book. It contains actual tickets, so you can bypass lengthy lines. This can save you hours, since sights such as the Empire State Building often have ticket lines of an hour or more.

CityPass is good for 9 days from the first time you use it. It’s sold at all participating attractions and online at http://citypass.com. To avoid online service and shipping fees, you may buy the pass at your first attraction (start at an attraction that’s likely to have the shortest admission line, such as the Guggenheim, or arrive before opening to avoid a wait at such spots as the Empire State Building). However, if you begin your sightseeing on a weekend or during holidays, when lines are longest, online purchase may be worthwhile.

For more information, call CityPass at tel. 208/787-4300 (note, however, that CityPass is not sold over the phone).

Roosevelt Island Tram — Want to take in a little-known but spectacular view of the New York skyline? Take them for a ride on the Roosevelt Island Tram (tel. 212/832-4543, ext. 1; www.rioc.com.) This is the tram you have probably seen in countless movies, most recently Spider-Man. The tram originates at 59th Street and Second Avenue, costs $2 each way ($2 round-trip for seniors), and takes 4 minutes to traverse the East River to Roosevelt Island, where there are a series of apartment complexes and parks. During those 4 minutes you will be treated to a gorgeous view down the East River and the East Side skyline, with views of the United Nations and four bridges: the Queensboro, Williamsburg, Manhattan, and Brooklyn. On a clear day you might even spot Lady Liberty. And don’t worry, despite what you’ve seen in the movies, the tram is safe, and your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man has everything under control. The tram operates daily from 6am until 2:30am and until 3:30am on weekends.

World Trade Center Site (Ground Zero)

Do you call a place where over 3,000 people lost their lives an “attraction”? Or do you now call it a shrine? This is the quandary of the World Trade Center site. Construction began in early 2006 on the proposed “Freedom Tower” to be built at the site. But even though work is ongoing, there is still political bickering on what will rise from that hole. The new design retains essential elements of the original — soaring 1,776 feet into the sky, its illuminated mast evoking the Statue of Liberty’s torch. From the square base, the Tower will taper into eight tall isosceles triangles, forming an -octagon at its center. An observation deck will be located 1,362 feet above ground. Of course, all this could change by the time this book comes out.

For now, you can see the site through a viewing wall on the Church Street side of the site; on that “Wall of Heroes” are the names of those who lost their lives that day along with the history of the site, including photos of the construction of the World Trade Center in the late 1960s and how, after it opened in 1972, it changed the New York skyline and downtown. A walk along the Wall of Heroes remains a painfully moving experience.

The site is bounded by Church, Barclay, Liberty, and West streets. Call tel. 212/484-1222 or go to www.nycvisit.com or www.southstseaport.org for viewing information; go to www.downtownny.com for lower-Manhattan area information and rebuilding updates. The Tribute Center gives guided tours of the site. Call tel. 212/422-3520 or visit www.tributewtc.org for more information. Tours are given Mon-Fri at 11am, 1pm and 3pm; Sat and Sun at noon, 1, 2, and 3pm. The fee is $10 for adults; under 12 free.

New York City Best Dining Bets

The Most Unforgettable Dining Experieces in New York

Chanterelle, 2 Harrison St. (tel. 212/966-6960). You’ll be made to feel special here, from the impeccable, personalized service in a simple but lovely room to the exquisitely prepared food. Other restaurants try, but this is how it’s supposed to be done.

The River Café, 1 Water St., Brooklyn (tel. 718/522-5200). At the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge in Brooklyn, there is no better dining view of Manhattan. Go at twilight as the lights of downtown begin to flicker on. Though the food at restaurants with views is usually not great, you won’t be disappointed by the fare here.

Aquavit, 65 E. 55th St. (tel. 212/307-7311). Though its new digs are not nearly as charming as its former town-house setting, the service and the food are as good as ever.

Big Wong King, 67 Mott St. (tel. 212/964-0540). Come here for the true Chinatown experience. You’ll share tables with Chinese families, order bowls of congee with fried crullers, plates of stir-fried vegetables, and platters of roast pork and duck. I guarantee it will be unforgettable.

Best New Restaurants

A Voce, 41 Madison Ave. (tel. 212/545-8555). Chef Andrew Carmellini serves a delicious combination of rustic and innovative Italian in a sleek, Madison Square Park space.

Kefi, 222 W. 79th St. (tel. 212/873-0200). In the space that formerly held Onera, chef Michael Psilakis has gone from nouveau Greek to traditional with stunning results. You won’t believe basic Greek taverna food could be so good.

Porter House New York, 10 Columbus Circle. (tel. 212/823-9500). In a year when new steakhouses were a dime a dozen, this one in the Time Warner Center and helmed by chef Michael Lomonaco distinguished itself far ahead of the pack.

Best Bites for All Appetites

Best BBQ: RUB, 208 W. 23rd St. (tel. 212/524-4300). Co-owner Paul Kirk brings his Kansas City pit prowess to New York with mouth-watering results. Try the “Taste of the Baron,” a little bit of everything for a big crowd.

Best for Breakfast: Good Enough to Eat, 483 Amsterdam Ave. (tel. 212/496-0163). They’ve been lining up on Amsterdam Avenue every weekend for over 20 years for chef/owner Carrie Levin’s bountiful home-cooked breakfasts. But why wait on line? You’re on vacation, go during the week.

Best for Brunch: Norma’s, at Le Parker Meridien hotel, 118 W. 57th St. (tel. 212/708-7460). Though I am not a devotee of brunch, I make an exception for Norma’s. Skip the traditional breakfast items and go for creative interpretations like the asparagus-and-seared-rock-lobster omelet.

Best Jewish Deli: Katz’s Delicatessen, 205 E. Houston St. (tel. 212/254-2246). This is the choice among those who know their kreplach, knishes, and pastrami. No cutesy sandwiches named for celebrities here — just top-notch Jewish classics.

Best Burger: Burger Joint, at Le Parker Meridien hotel, 118 W. 57th St. (tel. 212/708-7414). Who woulda thunk that a fancy hotel like Le Parker Meridien would be the home to a “joint” that serves great burgers at great prices?

Best Pizzeria: Patsy’s Pizzeria, 2287 First Ave. (tel. 212/534-9783). This great East Harlem pizzeria has been cranking out coal-oven pizza since 1932. You can also order by the slice here, but only do so if the pie is fresh out of the oven.

Best 20th-Century Steakhouse: Frankie & Johnnie’s, 32 W. 37th St. (tel. 212/997-8940) and 269 W. 45th St. (tel. 212/997-9494). Whether you choose the former speakeasy that is the original location in the Theater district or the newer branch in the late actor John Barrymore’s former townhouse, your steak, particularly the house sirloin, will remind you why Frankie & Johnnie’s has been around since 1926.

Best 21st Century Steakhouse: Porter House New York

Best Mutton Chop: Keens Steakhouse, 72 W. 36th St. (tel. 212/947-3636). Of course, it might be the only restaurant in New York that offers a mutton chop, but that’s not the only reason to head to Keens. The other “chops” are first-rate and the rooms — there are several — are like museum pieces without a museum’s stuffiness.

Best for Families: Virgil’s Real BBQ, 152 W. 44th St. (tel. 212/921-9494). In kid-friendly Times Square, Virgil’s, in a sense, is a theme restaurant, the theme being barbecue, but they do an excellent job of it. It’s loud, colorful, and has great options for children.

Best Cheap Meal: Gray’s Papaya, 2090 Broadway (tel. 212/799-0243). Though the $2.45 “recession special” — two hot dogs and a fruit drink — is almost a $1 increase from the previous recession, it’s still a bargain. But is it any good? Witness the lines out the door every day for lunch.

Best Ice Cream: Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, Fulton Ferry Landing Pier, Brooklyn (tel. 718/246-3963). The perfect reward after a brisk walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. Rich homemade ice cream with a view of the Manhattan skyline; a tough combination to beat.

Best Bagel: Absolute Bagels, 2788 Broadway (tel. 212/932-2052). They’re not huge like some bagels these days, but they are always hot and baked to perfection.

Best Soul Food: Charles’ Southern Style Kitchen, 2841 Eighth Ave. (tel. 877/813-2920 or 212/926-4313). Not only does this Harlem restaurant serve the best soul food in the city, it offers the best buffet. For $9.95 on weekdays and $12 on weekends, the down-home offerings will tempt you to make any number of visits to the buffet line.

Best New/Old Dining Room: Country, 90 Madison Ave. (tel. 212/889-7100). Designed by architect David Rockwell, the upstairs restaurant in the Carlton Hotel is a marvel with restored mosaic tiles, dramatic chandeliers, nooks overlooking the hotel lobby, and most impressive, a gorgeous Tiffany skylight dome that had been hidden for years and was uncovered during the renovation.

New York City Money

It’s always advisable to bring money in a variety of forms on a vacation: a mix of cash and credit cards. You should also exchange enough petty cash to cover airport incidentals, tipping, and transportation to your hotel before you leave home, or withdraw money upon arrival at an airport ATM.

You never have to carry too much cash in New York, and while the city’s pretty safe, it’s best not to overstuff your wallet (although always make sure you have at least $20 in taxi fare on hand).

ATMs

In most Manhattan neighborhoods, you can find a bank with ATMs every couple of blocks. Many small stores and delis have ATMs with varying fees to withdraw money from your bank account or credit card.

The Cirrus (tel. 800/424-7787; www.mastercard.com) and PLUS (tel. 800/843-7587; www.visa.com) networks span the country; you can find them even in remote regions. Go to your bank card’s website to find ATM locations at your destination. Be sure you know your daily withdrawal limit before you depart.

Note: Many banks impose a fee every time you use a card at another bank’s ATM, and that fee is often higher for international transactions (up to $5 or more) than for domestic ones (where they’re rarely more than $2). In addition, the bank from which you withdraw cash may charge its own fee. To compare banks’ ATM fees within the U.S., use www.bankrate.com. Visitors from outside the U.S. should also find out whether their bank assesses a 1% to 3% fee on charges incurred abroad.

Credit Cards & Debit Cards

Credit cards are the most widely used form of payment in the United States: Visa (Barclaycard in Britain), MasterCard (EuroCard in Europe, Access in Britain, Chargex in Canada), American Express, Diners Club, and Discover. They also provide a convenient record of all your expenses, and offer relatively good exchange rates. You can withdraw cash advances from your credit cards at banks or ATMs, but high fees make credit-card cash advances a pricey way to get cash.

It’s highly recommended that you travel with at least one major credit card. You must have a credit card to rent a car, and hotels and airlines usually require a credit card imprint as a deposit against expenses.

ATM cards with major credit card backing, known as “debit cards,” are now a commonly acceptable form of payment in most stores and restaurants. Debit cards draw money directly from your checking account. Some stores enable you to receive cash back on your debit-card purchases as well. The same is true at most U.S. post offices.

New York City When to Go

Summer or winter, rain or shine, there’s always great stuff going on in New York City, so there’s no real “best” time to go.

Culture hounds might come in fall, winter, and early spring, when the theater and performing-arts seasons reach their heights. During summer, many of the top cultural institutions, especially Lincoln Center, offer free, alfresco entertainment. Those who want to see the biggest hits on Broadway usually have the best luck getting tickets in the slower months of January and February.

Gourmands might find it easiest to land the best tables during July and August, when New Yorkers escape the city on weekends. If you prefer to walk every city block to take in the sights, spring and fall usually offer the mildest and most pleasant weather.

New York is a nonstop holiday party from early December through the start of the New Year. Celebrations of the season abound in festive holiday windows and events like the lighting of the Rockefeller Center tree and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular — not to mention those terrific seasonal sales that make New York a holiday shopping bonanza.

However, keep in mind that hotel prices go sky high, and the crowds are almost intolerable. If you’d rather have more of the city to yourself — better chances at restaurant reservations and shows, easier access to museums and other attractions — choose another time of year to visit.

Money Matters — Hotel prices have gone up the past couple of years and bargains are harder to find. Therefore, if money is a big concern, you might want to follow these rough seasonal guidelines.

Bargain hunters might want to visit in winter, between the first of the year and early April. Sure, you might have to bear some cold weather, but that’s when hotels are suffering from the post-holiday blues, and rooms often go for a relative song — a song in this case meaning a room with a private bathroom for as little as $150. AAA cardholders can do even better in many cases (generally a 5%-10% savings if the hotel offers a AAA discount). However, be aware that the occasional convention or event, such as February’s annual Fashion Week, can sometimes throw a wrench in your winter savings plans.

Spring and fall are traditionally the busiest and most expensive seasons after holiday time. Don’t expect hotels to be handing you deals, but you may be able to negotiate a decent rate.

The city is drawing more families these days, and they usually visit in the summer. Still, the prospect of heat and humidity keeps some people away, making July and the first half of August a cheaper time to visit than later in the year; good hotel deals are often available.

During the Christmas season, expect to pay top dollar for everything. The first 2 weeks of December — the shopping weeks — are the worst when it comes to scoring an affordable hotel room; that’s when shoppers from around the world converge on the town to catch the holiday spirit and spend, spend, spend. But Thanksgiving can be a great time to come, believe it or not: Business travelers have gone home, and the holiday shoppers haven’t yet arrived. It’s a little-known secret that most hotels away from the Thanksgiving Day Parade route have empty rooms, and they’re usually willing to make great deals to fill them.

Weather — Many consider that long week or 10 days that arrive each summer between mid-July and mid-August, when temperatures go up to around 100°F (38°C) with 90% humidity, as New York’s worst weather. But don’t get put off by this — summer has its compensations, such as wonderful free open-air concerts and other events, as I’ve mentioned — but bear it in mind. But if you are at all temperature sensitive, your odds of getting comfortable weather are better in June or September.

Another period when you might not like to stroll around the city is during January or February, when temperatures are commonly in the 20s (below 0 Celsius) and those concrete canyons turn into wind tunnels. The city looks gorgeous for about a day after a snowfall, but the streets soon become a slushy mess. Again, you never know — temperatures have regularly been in the 30s and mild 40s (single digits Celsius) during the past few “global warmed” winters. If you hit the weather jackpot, you could have a bargain bonanza.

Fall and spring are the best times in New York. From April to June and September to November, temperatures are mild and pleasant, and the light is beautiful. With the leaves changing in Central Park and just the hint of crispness in the air, October is a fabulous time to be here — but expect to pay for the privilege.

If you want to know what to pack just before you go, check the Weather Channel’s online 10-day forecast at www.weather.com; I like to balance it against CNN’s online 5-day forecast at www.cnn.com/weather. You can also get the local weather by calling tel. 212/976-1212.

New York City Getting to and from New York City Airports

Since there’s no need to rent a car in New York, you’re going to have to figure out how you want to get from the airport to your hotel and back.

For transportation information for all three airports (JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark), call Air-Ride (tel. 800/247-7433), which offers 24-hour recorded details on bus and shuttle companies and car services registered with the New York and New Jersey Port Authority. Similar information is available at www.panynj.gov/airports; click on the airport at which you’ll be arriving.

The Port Authority runs staffed Ground Transportation Information counters on the baggage-claim level at each airport where you can get information and book various kinds of transport. Most transportation companies also have courtesy phones near the baggage-claim area.

Generally, travel time between the airports and midtown by taxi or car is 45 to 60 minutes for JFK, 20 to 35 minutes for LaGuardia, and 35 to 50 minutes for Newark. Always allow extra time, especially during rush hour, peak holiday travel times, and if you’re taking a bus.

Subways & Public Buses — For the most part, your best bet is to stay away from the MTA when traveling to and from the airport. You might save a few dollars, but subways and buses that currently serve the airports involve multiple transfers, and you’ll have to drag your luggage up and down staircases. On some subways, you’d be traveling through undesirable neighborhoods. Spare yourself the drama.

The only exception to this rule that I feel somewhat comfortable with is the subway service to and from JFK, which connects with the new AirTrain. The subway can actually be more reliable than taking a car or taxi at the height of rush hour, but a few words of warning: This isn’t the right option for you if you’re bringing more than a single piece of luggage or if you have a sizable family in tow, since there’s a good amount of walking and some stairs involved in the trip, and you’ll have nowhere to put all those bags on the subway train. And do not use this method if you’re traveling to or from the airport after dark or too early in the morning — it’s just not safe.

Taxis — Despite significant rate hikes the past few years, taxis are still a quick and convenient way to travel to and from the airports. They’re available at designated taxi stands outside the terminals, with uniformed dispatchers on hand during peak hours at JFK and LaGuardia, around the clock at Newark. Follow the GROUND TRANSPORTATION or TAXI signs. There may be a long line, but it generally moves pretty quickly. Fares, whether fixed or metered, do not include bridge and tunnel tolls ($4-$6) or a tip for the cabbie (15%-20% is customary). They do include all passengers in the cab and luggage — never pay more than the metered or flat rate, except for tolls and a tip (8pm-6am a $1 surcharge also applies on New York yellow cabs). Taxis have a limit of four passengers, so if there are more in your group, you’ll have to take more than one cab.

•From JFK: A flat rate of $45 to Manhattan (plus tolls and tip) is charged. The meter will not be turned on and the surcharge will not be added. The flat rate does not apply on trips from Manhattan to the airport.

•From LaGuardia: $17 to $27, metered, plus tolls and tip.

•From Newark: The dispatcher for New Jersey taxis gives you a slip of paper with a flat rate ranging from $30 to $38 (toll and tip extra), depending on where you’re going in Manhattan, so be precise about your destination. New York yellow cabs aren’t permitted to pick up passengers at Newark. The yellow-cab fare from Manhattan to Newark is the meter amount plus $15 and tolls (about $45-$55, perhaps a few dollars more with tip). Jersey taxis aren’t permitted to take passengers from Manhattan to Newark.

An Airport Warning — Never accept a car ride from the hustlers who hang out in the terminal halls. They’re illegal, don’t have proper insurance, and aren’t safe. You can tell who they are because they’ll approach you with a suspicious conspiratorial air and ask if you need a ride. Not from them, you don’t. Sanctioned city cabs and car services wait outside the terminals.

Private Car & Limousine Services — Private car and limousine companies provide convenient 24-hour door-to-door airport transfers for roughly the same cost of a taxi. The advantage they offer over taking a taxi is that you can arrange your pickup in advance and avoid the hassles of the taxi line. Call at least 24 hours in advance (even earlier on holidays), and a driver will meet you near baggage claim (or at your hotel for a return trip). You’ll probably be asked to leave a credit card number to guarantee your ride. You’ll likely be offered the choice of indoor or curbside pickup; indoor pickup is more expensive but makes it easier to hook up with your driver (who usually waits in baggage claim bearing a sign with your name on it). You can save a few dollars if you arrange for an outside pickup; call the dispatcher as soon as you clear baggage claim and then take your luggage out to the designated waiting area, where you’ll wait for the driver to come around, which can take anywhere from 10 minutes to a half-hour. Besides the wait, the other disadvantage of this option is that curbside can be chaos during prime deplaning hours.

Vehicles range from sedans to vans to limousines and tend to be relatively clean and comfortable. Prices vary slightly by company and the size of car reserved, but expect a rate roughly equivalent to taxi fare if you request a basic sedan and have only one stop; toll and tip policies are the same. (Note: Car services are not subject to the flat-rate rule that taxis have for rides to and from JFK.) Ask when booking what the fare will be and if you can use your credit card to pay for the ride so there are no surprises at drop-off time. There may be waiting charges tacked on if the driver has to wait an excessive amount of time for your plane to land when picking you up, but the car companies will usually check on your flight beforehand to get an accurate landing time.

I’ve had the best luck with Carmel (tel. 800/922-7635 or 212/666-6666) and Legends (tel. 888/LEGENDS or 212/888-8884; www.legendslimousine.com); Allstate (tel. 800/453-4099 or 212/333-3333) and Tel-Aviv (tel. 800/222-9888 or 212/777-7777) also have reasonable reputations. (Keep in mind, though, that these services are only as good as the individual drivers — and sometimes there’s a lemon in the bunch. If you have a problem, report it immediately to the main office.)

These car services are good for rush hour (no ticking meters in rush-hour traffic), but if you’re arriving at a quieter time of day, taxis work fine.

AirTrains: Newark & JFK — The Very Good & the Not-So-Very Good — First the very good: A few years back, a new rail link revolutionized the process of connecting by public transportation to New York’s notoriously underserved airport: the brand-new AirTrain Newark, which now connects Newark Airport with Manhattan via a speedy monorail/rail link.

Even though you have to make a connection, the system is fast, pleasant, affordable, and easy to use. Each arrivals terminal at Newark Airport has a station for the AirTrain, so just follow the signs once you collect your bags. All AirTrains head to Newark International Airport Station, where you transfer to a NJ Transit train. NJ Transit will deliver you to New York Penn Station at 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue, where you can get a cab to your hotel.

The trip from my apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side to the Newark Alitalia terminal, for example, was under a half-hour and only cost me $14 ($12 for the AirTrain link via Penn Station plus $2 for the subway to get to Penn Station). That’s a savings of at least $35 if I took a cab, not to mention the time I saved. NJ Transit trains run two to three times an hour during peak travel times (once an hour during early and late hours); you can check the schedules on monitors before you leave the airport terminal, and again at the train station. Tickets can be purchased from vending machines at both the air terminal and the train station (no ticket is required to board the AirTrain). The one-way fare is $11 (children under 5 ride free). (On your return trip to the airport, the AirTrain is far more predictable, time-wise, than subjecting yourself to the whims of traffic.)

Note that travelers heading to points beyond the city can also pick up Amtrak and other NJ Transit trains at Newark International Airport Station to their final destinations.

Now the not-so-very good: A few bumpy years after opening in 2003, after years of anticipation and $1.9 billion, AirTrain JFK is beginning to operate more efficiently. Though you can’t beat the price — only $7 if you take a subway to the AirTrain, $12 if you take the Long Island Rail Road — you won’t save much on time getting to the airport. From midtown Manhattan, the ride can take anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour, depending on your connections. The ride takes approximately 90 minutes and the connections are murky. Only a few lines connect with the AirTrain: the A, E, J, and Z; the E, J, Z to Jamaica Station and the Sutphin Blvd.-Archer Ave. Station; and the A to Howard Beach/JFK Airport Station. The MTA is working hard to clear up the confusion, and though they are contemplating adding connections to the AirTrain in lower Manhattan sometime in the next decade, there’s not much they can do now to speed up the trip.

A word of warning for both AirTrains: If you have mobility issues, mountains of luggage that will make connections difficult, or a bevy of small children to keep track of, skip the AirTrain. You’ll find it easier to rely on a taxi, car service, or shuttle service that can offer you door-to-door transfers.

For more information on AirTrain Newark, call tel. 888/EWR-INFO or go online to www.airtrainnewark.com. For connection details, click on the links on the AirTrain website or contact NJ Transit (tel. 800/626-RIDE; www.njtransit.com) or Amtrak (tel. 800/USA-RAIL; www.amtrak.com).

For more information on AirTrain JFK, go online to www.airtrainjfk.com. For connection details, click on the links on the AirTrain website or the MTA site, www.mta.nyc.ny.us/mta/airtrain.htm.

Private Buses & Shuttles — Buses and shuttle services provide a comfortable and less expensive (but usually more time-consuming) option for airport transfers than do taxis and car services.

Super Shuttle serves all three airports; New York Airport Service serves JFK and LaGuardia; Olympia Trails and Express Shuttle USA serves Newark. These services are my favorite option for getting to and from Newark during peak travel times because the drivers usually take lesser-known streets that make the ride much quicker than if you go with a taxi or car, which will virtually always stick to the traffic-clogged main route.

The familiar blue vans of Super Shuttle (tel. 212/258-3826; www.supershuttle.com) serve all three area airports, providing door-to-door service to Manhattan and points on Long Island every 15 to 30 minutes around the clock. As with Express Shuttle, you don’t need to reserve your airport-to-Manhattan ride; just go to the ground-transportation desk or use the courtesy phone in baggage claim and ask for Super Shuttle. Hotel pickups for your return trip require 24 to 48 hours’ notice; you can make your reservations online. Fares run $13 to $22 per person, depending on the airport, with discounts available for additional persons in the same party.

New York Airport Service (tel. 718/875-8200; www.nyairportservice.com) buses travel from JFK and LaGuardia to the Port Authority Bus Terminal (42nd St. and Eighth Ave.), Grand Central Terminal (Park Ave. between 41st and 42nd sts.), and to select Midtown hotels between 27th and 59th streets, plus the Jamaica LIRR Station in Queens, where you can pick up a train for Long Island. Follow the GROUND TRANSPORTATION signs to the curbside pickup or look for the uniformed agent. Buses depart the airport every 20 to 70 minutes (depending on your departure point and destination) between 6am and midnight. Buses to JFK and LaGuardia depart the Port Authority and Grand Central Terminal on the Park Avenue side every 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the time of day and the day of the week. To request direct shuttle service from your hotel, call the above number at least 24 hours in advance. One-way fare for JFK is $15, $27 round-trip; to LaGuardia it’s $12 one-way and $21 round-trip.

If You’re Flying into MacArthur Airport on Southwest

Southwest Airlines is one of several carriers flying into the New York area via Long Island’s MacArthur Airport, 50 miles east of Manhattan. If you’re on one of these flights (because the price was sooooo low), here are your options for getting into the city:

Colonial Transportation (tel. 631/589-3500; www.colonialtransportation.com), Classic Transportation (tel. 631/567-5100; www.classictrans.com), and Legends (tel. 888/LEGENDS or 888/888-8884; www.legendslimousine.com) will pick you up at Islip Airport and deliver you to Manhattan via private sedan, but expect to pay about $125 plus tolls and tip for door-to-door service (which kind of defeats the purpose of flying a budget airline). Be sure to arrange for it at least 24 hours in advance.

For a fraction of the cost, you can catch a ride aboard a Hampton Jitney coach (tel. 631/283-4600; www.hamptonjitney.com) to various drop-off points on Midtown’s east side. The cost is $27 per person, plus a minimal taxi fare from the terminal to the Hampton Jitney stop. Hampton Jitney can explain the details and arrange for taxi transport.

Colonial Transportation (tel. 631/589-3500; www.colonialtransportation.com) also offers regular shuttle service that traverses the 3 miles from the airport to the Ronkonkoma Long Island Rail Road station, where you can pick up an LIRR train to Manhattan. The shuttle fare is $5 per person, $1 for each additional family member accompanying a full-fare customer. From Ronkonkoma, it’s about a 1 1/2-hour train ride to Manhattan’s Penn Station; the one-way fare is $13 at peak hours, $9.50 off-peak (half-fare for seniors 65 or older and kids 5-11). You can also catch the Suffolk County Transit bus no. S-57 between the airport and the station Monday to Saturday for $1.50. Trains usually leave Ronkonkoma once or twice every hour, depending on the day and time. For more information, call tel. 718/217-LIRR or visit www.mta.nyc.ny.us/lirr.

For additional options and the latest information, call tel. 631/467-3210 or visit www.macarthurairport.com.

Olympia Airport Express (tel. 212/964-6233;www.coachusa.com/olympia) provides service every 15 to 30 minutes (depending on the time of day) from Newark Airport to Penn Station (the pickup point is the northwest corner of 34th St. and Eighth Ave., and the drop-off point is the southwest corner), the Port Authority Bus Terminal (on 42nd St. between Eighth and Ninth aves.), and Grand Central Terminal (on 41st St. between Park and Lexington aves.). Passengers to and from the Grand Central Terminal location can connect to Olympia’s Midtown shuttle vans, which service select Midtown hotels. Call for the exact schedule for your return trip to the airport. The one-way fare runs $13, $22 round-trip; seniors and passengers with disabilities ride for $6.

Getting to the Other Boroughs & the ‘Burbs

If you’re traveling to a borough other than Manhattan, call ETS Air Service (tel. 718/221-5341) for shared door-to-door service. For Long Island service, call Classic Transportation (tel. 631/567-5100; www.classictrans.com) for car service. For service to Westchester County or Connecticut, contact Connecticut Limousine (tel. 800/472-5466 or 203/878-2222; www.ctlimo.com) or Prime Time Shuttle of Connecticut (tel. 800/377-8745; www.primetimeshuttle.com).

If you’re traveling to points in New Jersey from Newark Airport, call Olympic Airporter (tel. 800/822-9797 or 732/938-6666; www.olympicairporter.com) for Ocean, Monmouth, Middlesex and Mercer counties, plus Bucks County, Pennsylvania; or State Shuttle (tel. 800/427-3207 or 973/729-0030; www.stateshuttle.com) for destinations throughout New Jersey.

Additionally, New York Airport Service express buses (tel. 718/875-8200; www.nyairportservice.com) serve the entire New York metropolitan region from JFK and LaGuardia, offering connections to the Long Island Rail Road; the Metro-North Railroad to Westchester County, upstate New York, and Connecticut; and New York’s Port Authority terminal, where you can pick up buses to points throughout New Jersey.

New York City General Tips

Where to Check Your E-mail in the City That Never Sleeps

If your hotel doesn’t offer free access to its business center or a terminal in the lobby to check your email (and many do), where can you go to check it if you don’t have a computer with you?

All branches of the New York Public Library (www.nypl.org) feature computers that offer free access to the Internet, electronic databases, library catalogs and Microsoft Office.

More free access is available at the Times Square Visitors Center, 1560 Broadway, between 46th and 47th streets (tel. 212/768-1560; daily 8am-8pm), has computer terminals that you can use to send e-mails courtesy of Yahoo!; you can even send an electronic postcard with a photo of yourself home to Mom.

Open 24/7 in the heart of Times Square, easyInternetcafé, 234 W. 42nd St., between Seventh and Eighth avenues (tel. 212/398-0775; www.easyeverything.com/map/nyc1.html), is the first stateside branch of a worldwide chain of Internet cafes. Boasting flat-screen monitors and a superfast T-3 connection, this mammoth place makes accessing the Internet cheap through the economy of scale: Access is available for as little as $1, and the length of time that buck buys you fluctuates depending on the occupancy at the time you log on. This will generally work out to the cheapest Web time you can buy in the city.

CyberCafe (www.cyber-cafe.com) — in Times Square at 250 W. 49th St., between Broadway and Eighth Avenue (tel. 212/333-4109), and in SoHo at 273 Lafayette St., at Prince Street (tel. 212/334-5140) — is more expensive at $6.40 per half-hour, with a half-hour minimum (you’re billed $3.20 for every subsequent 15 min.). But their T1 connectivity gives you superfast access, and they offer a full range of other cyber, copy, fax, and printing services.

FedEx Kinko’s (www.kinkos.com) charges 30¢ per minute ($15 per hour) and there are dozens of locations around town. In addition, an increasing number of delis and copy shops frequently stick an “Internet” sign in the window, and you can log on in a unit wedged into a corner next to the ATM for a couple bucks, while you drink your genuine New York City deli coffee.

NYC Experiences to Avoid

New York has so much going for it, the good overwhelms the bad. There are experiences that might be perceived as good, buttThey are not. So, despite what you have heard, the following are a few experiences you can avoid:

New Year’s Eve in Times Square: You see it on television every year, and now you’re here. This is your chance to be one of the thousands of revelers packed together in the frigid cold to watch the ball drop. Don’t do it! Despite the happy faces you see on TV, the whole thing is a miserable experience and not worth the forced elation of blowing on a noisemaker at midnight with half a million others. You won’t find many New Yorkers here; we know better.

Three-Card Monte: When you see a crowd gathered around a cardboard box with one man flipping cards, madly enticing innocent rubes into his game, while another guy scans the crowd for undercover cops, keep on walking. Don’t stop and listen to the dealer’s spiel or think you can be the one to beat him at his game. You can’t. Buy a lottery ticket instead; your odds are much better.

Horse-Drawn Carriage Rides: Pity those poor beasts of burden. They get dragged out in the heat (though not extreme heat) and cold (though not extreme cold) with a buggy attached just to give passengers the feel of an old-world, romantic buggy ride through Central Park. But the horses look so forlorn, as if it’s the last thing they want to do. And they don’t even get a cut of the generous take: $40 for a 20-minute ride, $60 for 45 minutes, excluding tip. If you want a slow, leisurely ride through Central Park, minus the ripe and frequent smell of horse poop, consider an alternative called Manhattan Rickshaw Company (tel. 212/604-4729; www.manhattanrickshaw.com). The beast of burden has two legs, and pedals you and a companion in the back of a pedicab, where the rate is negotiable but is usually about $1 per minute with a $10 minimum.

Chain Restaurants: Oh yes; they’re here, probably to stay — and most likely with more to come. I’m referring to those restaurants with familiar names like Olive Garden, Applebee’s, Red Lobster, and Domino’s. When you begin to feel the pangs of hunger, ask yourself: Did I come to New York to eat what I can eat in every city or town in this country? Or did I come here to experience what makes New York so unique? Well, that includes the amazing variety of unchained restaurants, from the coffee shops and diners to the bargain-priced ethnic cuisine and higher-end dining experiences. So bypass the old standards, and try something different and exciting. You won’t regret it.

The Feast of San Gennaro: At one time this was a genuine Italian feast (watch the films Godfather II and Mean Streets for the Feast in the good old days). Its decline has pretty much coincided with the decline of Little Italy, a neighborhood that is just a shell of what it once was. Now the Feast, held annually for 2 weeks in September, is just an overblown and overcrowded street fair with bad food, cheap red wine, and games of chance you have no chance of winning.

Driving in the City: You have been warned already about driving in the city, but some people are stubborn and just can’t give up the so-called freedom of maneuvering a car in heavy traffic, battling yellow cabs, and searching fruitlessly for a legal parking spot. With subways, buses, and your feet, New York has the best and fastest public transportation. A car is a luxury you want no part of.

Waiting on Lines for Breakfast: (And please note, New Yorkers wait on line, not in line). Sometimes New Yorkers can be masochistic — and silly. They hear about a restaurant that serves a great breakfast, and they begin lining up on weekend mornings to eat. Sometimes they wait for over an hour, standing outside, winter or summer, to order pancakes, omelets, or whatever else the breakfast menu offers. They do this even though many coffee shops and diners are serving patrons the same foods at much less cost and without more than a minute’s wait. Now what would you do?

New York City Orientation

Visitor Information

Information Offices — The Times Square Information Center, 1560 Broadway, between 46th and 47th streets (where Broadway meets Seventh Ave.), on the east side of the street (tel. 212/869-1890; www.timessquarenyc.org), is the city’s top info stop. This pleasant, attractive center features a helpful info desk offering loads of citywide information. There’s also a tour desk selling tickets for Gray Line bus tours and Circle Line boat tours; you can also get public transit maps, and staff is there to answer all of your questions on the transit system; and there’s a Broadway Ticket Center providing show information and selling full-price show tickets; there are also ATMs and currency exchange machines; and computer terminals with free Internet access courtesy of Yahoo! It’s open daily from 8am to 8pm.

The New York Convention and Visitors Bureau runs the NYCVB Visitor Information Center at 810 Seventh Ave., between 52nd and 53rd streets. In addition to information on citywide attractions and a multilingual counselor on hand to answer questions, the center has interactive terminals that provide free touch-screen access to visitor information via Citysearch (www.citysearch.com), a guide to events, dining, and nightlife, and you can also buy advance tickets to major attractions, which can save you from standing in long ticket lines (you can also buy a CityPass). There’s also an ATM, a gift shop, and a bank of phones that connect you directly with American Express card member services. The center is open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 6pm, Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 5pm. For over-the-phone assistance, call tel. 212/484-1222, or check online at www.nycvisit.com.

Publications

For comprehensive listings of films, concerts, performances, sporting events, museum and gallery exhibits, street fairs, and special events, the following are your best bets:

The New York Times (www.nytimes.com or www.nytoday.com) features terrific arts and entertainment coverage, particularly in the two-part Friday “Weekend” section and the Sunday “Arts & Leisure” section. Both days boast full guides to the latest happenings in Broadway and Off-Broadway theater, classical music, dance, pop and jazz, film, and the art world. Friday is particularly good for cabaret, family fun, and general-interest recreational and sightseeing events.

Time Out New York (www.timeoutny.com) is my favorite weekly magazine. Dedicated to weekly goings-on, it’s attractive, well organized, and easy to use. TONY features excellent coverage in categories from live music, theater, and clubs (gay and straight) to museum shows, dance events, literary readings, and kids’ stuff. The regular “Check Out” section, will fill you in on upcoming sample and closeout sales, crafts and antiques shows, and other shopping-related scoops. A new issue hits newsstands every Thursday.

The free weekly Village Voice (www.villagevoice.com), the city’s legendary alterna-paper, is available late Tuesday downtown and early Wednesday in the rest of the city. From music to clubs, the arts and entertainment coverage couldn’t be more extensive, and just about every live-music venue advertises its shows here.

Other useful weekly rags include the glossy New York magazine (www.nymag.com), which offers valuable restaurant reviews and whose listings section is a selective guide to city arts and entertainment; and the New Yorker (www.newyorker.com), which features an artsy “Goings On About Town” section at the front of the magazine. Paper (www.papermag.com) is a glossy monthly mag that serves as good prep for those of you who want to experience the hipper side of the city.

New York City Fast Facts

American Express — Travel-service offices are at many Manhattan locations, including 295 Park Avenue South at 23rd Street (tel. 212/691-9797); at the New York Marriott Marquis, 1535 Broadway, in the eighth-floor lobby (tel. 212/575-6580); on the mezzanine level at Macy’s Herald Square, 34th Street and Broadway (tel. 212/695-8075); and 374 Park Ave., at 53rd Street (tel. 212/421-8240). Call tel. 800/AXP-TRIP or go online to www.americanexpress.com for other city locations or general information.

Area Codes — There are four area codes in the city: two in Manhattan, the original 212 and the new 646, and two in the outer boroughs, the original 718 and the new 347. Also common is the 917 area code, which is assigned to cellphones, pagers, and the like. All calls between these area codes are local calls, but you’ll have to dial 1 + the area code + the seven digits for all calls, even ones made within your area code.

Business Hours — In general, retail stores are open Monday through Saturday from 10am to 6 or 7pm, Thursday from 10am to 8:30 or 9pm, and Sunday from noon to 5pm. Banks tend to be open Monday through Friday from 9am to 3pm and sometimes Saturday mornings.

Doctors — For medical emergencies requiring immediate attention, head to the nearest emergency room. For less urgent health problems, New York has several walk-in medical centers, such as DOCS at New York Healthcare, 55 E. 34th St., between Park and Madison avenues (tel. 212/252-6001), for nonemergency illnesses. The clinic, affiliated with Beth Israel Medical Center, is open Monday through Friday from 8am to 7pm, Saturday from 9am to 1pm, and Sunday from 9am to 1pm. The NYU Downtown Hospital offers physician referrals at tel. 212/312-5000.

Electricity — Like Canada, the United States uses 110 to 120 volts AC (60 cycles), compared to 220 to 240 volts AC (50 cycles) in most of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Downward converters that change 220-240 volts to 110-120 volts are difficult to find in the United States, so bring one with you.

Emergencies Dial tel. 911 for fire, police, and ambulance. The Poison Control Center can be reached at tel. 800/222-1222 toll-free from any phone.

Holidays — Banks, government offices, post offices, and many stores, restaurants, and museums are closed on the following legal national holidays: January 1 (New Year’s Day), the third Monday in January (Martin Luther King, Jr., Day), the third Monday in February (Presidents’ Day), the last Monday in May (Memorial Day), July 4 (Independence Day), the first Monday in September (Labor Day), the second Monday in October (Columbus Day), November 11 (Veterans’ Day/Armistice Day), the fourth Thursday in November (Thanksgiving Day), and December 25 (Christmas). The Tuesday after the first Monday in November is Election Day, a federal government holiday in presidential-election years (held every 4 years, and next in 2008).

Hospitals — The following hospitals have 24-hour emergency rooms. Don’t forget your insurance card.

Downtown: New York University Downtown Hospital, 170 William St., between Beekman and Spruce streets (tel. 212/312-5063 or 212/312-5000); St. Vincent’s Hospital and Medical Center, 153 W. 11th St., at Seventh Avenue (tel. 212/604-7000); and Beth Israel Medical Center, First Avenue and 16th Street (tel. 212/420-2000).

Midtown: Bellevue Hospital Center, 462 First Ave., at 27th Street (tel. 212/562-4141; New York University Medical Center, 550 First Ave., at 33rd Street (tel. 212/263-7300); and St. Luke’s/Roosevelt Hospital, 425 W. 59th St., between Ninth and Tenth avenues (tel. 212/523-4000).

Upper West Side: St. Luke’s Hospital Center, 1111 Amsterdam Avenue at 114th Street (tel. 212/523-4000); and Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, 622 W. 168th St., between Broadway and Fort Washington Avenue (tel. 212/305-2500).

Upper East Side: New York Presbyterian Hospital, 525 E. 68th St., at York Avenue (tel. 212/472-5454); Lenox Hill Hospital, 100 E. 77th St., between Park and Lexington avenues (tel. 212/434-2000); and Mount Sinai Medical Center, 1190 Fifth Avenue at 100th Street (tel. 212/241-6500).

Hot Lines — Department of Consumer Affairs tel. 212/487-4444; and taxi complaints at tel. 212/NYC-TAXI. If you suspect your car may have been towed, call the Department of Transportation TOWAWAY Help Line at tel. 311. You can also call 311 for any non-emergency city matters or questions.

Libraries — The New York Public Library is on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street (tel. 212/930-0830). This Beaux Arts beauty houses more than 38 million volumes, and the beautiful reading rooms have been restored to their former glory. More efficient and modern, if less charming, is the mid-Manhattan branch at 455 Fifth Ave., at 40th Street, across the street from the main library (tel. 212/340-0833). There are other branches in almost every neighborhood; you can find a list online at www.nypl.org.

Liquor Laws — The minimum legal age to purchase and consume alcoholic beverages in New York is 21. Liquor and wine are sold only in licensed stores, which are open 6 days a week, with most choosing to close on Sunday. Liquor stores are closed on holidays and election days while the polls are open. Beer can be purchased in grocery stores and delis 24 hours a day, except Sunday before noon. Last call in bars is at 4am, although many close earlier.

Lost & Found — Be sure to tell all of your credit card companies the minute you discover your wallet has been lost or stolen and file a report at the nearest police precinct. Your credit card company or insurer may require a police report number or record of the loss. Most credit card companies have an emergency toll-free number to call if your card is lost or stolen; they may be able to wire you a cash advance immediately or deliver an emergency credit card in a day or two. Visa’s U.S. emergency number is tel. 800/847-2911 or 410/581-9994. American Express cardholders and traveler’s check holders should call tel. 800/221-7282. MasterCard holders should call tel. 800/307-7309 or 636/722-7111. For other credit cards, call the toll-free number directory at tel. 800/555-1212.

Mail — At press time, domestic postage rates were 26¢ for a postcard and 41¢ for a letter. For international mail, a first-class letter of up to 1 ounce costs 84¢ (63¢ to Canada and Mexico); a first-class postcard costs 75¢ (55¢ to Canada and Mexico); and a preprinted postal aerogramme costs 75¢. For more information go to www.usps.com and click on “Calculate Postage.”

Always include zip codes when mailing items in the U.S. If you don’t know your zip code, visit www.usps.com/zip4.

Newspapers & Magazines — There are three major daily newspapers: the New York Times, the Daily News, and the New York Post.

If you want to find your hometown paper, visit Universal News & Magazines, at 234 W. 42nd St., between Seventh and Eighth avenues (tel. 212/221-1809), and 977 Eighth Ave., between 57th and 58th streets (tel. 212/459-0932); or Hotalings News Agency, 624 W. 52nd St., between Eleventh and Twelfth avenues (tel. 212/974-9419). Other good bets include the Hudson newsdealers, located in Grand Central Terminal, at 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue, and Penn Station, at 34th Street and Seventh Avenue.

Pharmacies — Duane Reade (www.duanereade.com) has 24-hour pharmacies in Midtown at 224 W. 57th St., at Broadway (tel. 212/541-9708); on the Upper West Side at 2465 Broadway, at 91st Street (tel. 212/663-1580); and on the Upper East Side at 1279 Third Ave., at 74th Street (tel. 212/744-2668).

Police — Dial tel. 911 in an emergency; otherwise, call tel. 646/610-5000 or 718/610-5000 (NYPD headquarters) for the number of the nearest precinct.

Restrooms — Public restrooms are available at the visitor centers in Midtown (1560 Broadway, between 46th and 47th sts.; and 810 Seventh Ave., between 52nd and 53rd sts.). Grand Central Terminal, at 42nd Street between Park and Lexington avenues, also has clean restrooms. Your best bet on the street is Starbucks or another city java chain — you can’t walk more than a few blocks without seeing one. The big chain bookstores are good for this, too. You can also head to hotel lobbies (especially the big Midtown ones) and department stores like Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s. On the Lower East Side, stop into the Lower East Side BID Visitor Center, 261 Broome St., between Orchard and Allen streets (open every day, 10am-4pm, sometimes later).

Smoking — Smoking is prohibited on all public transportation, in the lobbies of hotels and office buildings, in taxis, bars, restaurants, and in most shops.

Taxes — Sales tax is 8.625% on meals, most goods, and some services, but it is not charged on clothing and footwear items under $110. Hotel tax is 13.25% plus $2 per room per night (including sales tax). Parking garage tax is 18.25%.

Time — For the correct local time, dial tel. 212/976-1616. New York City is on Eastern Time (GMT -5 hours).

Tipping — Tips are a very important part of certain workers’ income, and gratuities are the standard way of showing appreciation for services provided. (Tipping is certainly not compulsory if the service is poor!) In hotels, tip bellhops at least $1 per bag ($2-$3 if you have a lot of luggage) and tip the chamber staff $1 to $2 per day (more if you’ve left a disaster area for him or her to clean up). Tip the doorman or concierge only if he or she has provided you with some specific service (for example, calling a cab for you or obtaining difficult-to-get theater tickets). In restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, tip service staff 15% to 20% of the check, tip bartenders 10% to 15%, tip checkroom attendants $1 per garment, and tip valet-parking attendants $1 per vehicle.

As for other service personnel, tip cab drivers 15% of the fare; tip skycaps at airports at least $1 per bag ($2-$3 if you have a lot of luggage); and tip hairdressers and barbers 15% to 20%.

Transit Information — For information on getting to and from the airport call Air-Ride at tel. 800/247-7433. For information on subways and buses, call the MTA at tel. 718/330-1234.

Traveler’s Assistance — Travelers Aid (www.travelersaid.org) helps distressed travelers with all kinds of problems, including accidents, sickness, and lost or stolen luggage. There is an office on the first floor of Terminal 6 (JetBlue terminal) at JFK Airport (tel. 718/656-4870), and one in Newark Airport’s Terminal B (tel. 973/623-5052).

Weather — For the current temperature and next day’s forecast, look in the upper-right corner of the front page of the New York Times or call tel. 212/976-1212. If you want to know how to pack before you arrive, point your browser to www.cnn.com/weather or www.weather.com.

New York City Playing It Safe

Sure, there’s crime in New York City, but millions of people spend their lives here without being robbed or assaulted. In fact, New York is safer than any other big American city and is listed by the FBI as somewhere around 150th in the nation for total crimes. While that’s quite encouraging for all of us, it’s still important to take precautions. Visitors especially should remain vigilant, as swindlers and criminals are expert at spotting newcomers who appear disoriented or vulnerable.

Men should carry their wallets in their front pockets and women should keep hold of their purse straps. Cross camera and purse straps over one shoulder, across your front, and under the other arm. Never hang a purse on the back of a chair or on a hook in a bathroom stall; keep it in your lap or between your feet, with one foot through a strap and up against the purse itself. Avoid carrying large amounts of cash. You might carry your money in several pockets so that if one is picked, the others might escape. Skip the flashy jewelry and keep valuables out of sight when you’re on the street.

Panhandlers are seldom dangerous and can be ignored (more aggressive pleas can firmly be answered, “Not today”). If a stranger walks up to you on the street with a long sob story (“I live in the suburbs and was just attacked and don’t have the money to get home” or whatever), it’s most likely a scam, so don’t feel any moral compulsion to help. You have every right to walk away and not feel bad. Be wary of an individual who “accidentally” falls in front of you or causes some other commotion, because he or she may be working with someone else who will take your wallet when you try to help. And remember: You will lose if you place a bet on a sidewalk game of chance.

Certain areas should be approached with care late at night. I don’t recommend going to the Lower East Side, Alphabet City in the far East Village, or the Meat-Packing District unless you know where you’re going. Don’t be afraid to go, but head straight for your destination and don’t wander onto deserted side streets. The areas above 96th Street aren’t the best, either (although they’re improving almost by the day). Times Square has been cleaned up, and there’ll be crowds around until midnight, when theater- and moviegoers leave the area. Still, stick to the main streets, such as Broadway or Ninth Avenue, Midtown West’s newest restaurant row. The areas south of Times Square are best avoided after dark, as they’re largely abandoned once the business day ends. Take a cab or bus when visiting the Jacob Javits Center on 34th Street and the Hudson River. Don’t go wandering the parks after dark, unless you’re going to a performance; if that’s the case, stick with the crowd.

If you plan on visiting the outer boroughs, go during the daylight hours. If the subway doesn’t go directly to your destination, your best bet is to take a taxi. Don’t wander the side streets; many areas in the outer boroughs are absolutely safe, but neighborhoods change quickly, and it’s easy to get lost.

All this having been said, don’t panic. New York has experienced a dramatic drop in crime and is generally safe these days, especially in the neighborhoods that visitors are prone to frequent. There’s a good police presence on the street, so don’t be afraid to stop an officer, or even a friendly looking New Yorker (trust me — you can tell), if you need help getting your bearings.

Subway Safety Tips — In general, the subways are safe, especially in Manhattan. There are panhandlers and questionable characters like anywhere else in the city, but subway crime has gone down to 1960s levels. Still, stay alert and trust your instincts. Always keep a hand on your personal belongings.

When using the subway, don’t wait for trains near the edge of the platform or on extreme ends of a station. During nonrush hours, wait for the train in view of the token-booth clerk or under the yellow DURING OFF HOURS TRAINS STOP HERE signs, and ride in the train operator’s or conductor’s car (usually in the center of the train; you’ll see his or her head stick out of the window when the doors open). Choose crowded cars over empty ones — there’s safety in numbers.

Avoid subways late at night, and splurge on a cab after about 10 or 11pm — it’s money well spent to avoid a long wait on a deserted platform. Or take the bus.

New York City Art Galleries

Manhattan has more than 500 private art galleries, selling everything from old masters to tomorrow’s news. Galleries are free to the public, generally Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 6pm. Saturday afternoon gallery hopping, in particular, is a favorite pastime — nobody will expect you to buy, so don’t worry.

The best way to winnow down your choices is by perusing the “Art Guide” in the Friday weekend section of the New York Times, or in the back of the Sunday “Arts & Leisure” section; the listings section at the back of the weekly New York magazine, which I find to be particularly descriptive and user-friendly; the Art section in the weekly Time Out New York; or the New Yorker’s weekly “Goings on About Town” section. You can also find the latest exhibition listings online at www.nymetro.com, whose “Arts” page gives you full access to New York magazine’s listings, www.artnet.com, and www.galleryguide.org. An excellent source — more for practicals on the galleries and the artists and genres they represent rather than current shows — is www.artincontext.org. The Gallery Guide is available at most galleries around town.

Pick a gallery or a show in a neighborhood that seems to suit your taste, and just start browsing from there. Be aware that this list doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. There are many, many more galleries in each neighborhood, as well as smaller concentrations of galleries in areas like the East Village, TriBeCa, and Brooklyn (check the Art in Context site).

Keep in mind that uptown galleries tend to be more traditional and exclusive-feeling, downtown galleries more high-ticket contemporary, and far-west Chelsea galleries the most cutting-edge. Museum-quality works dominate uptown, while raw talent and emerging artists are most common in west Chelsea. But there are constant surprises in all neighborhoods.

Uptown — Uptown galleries are clustered in and around the glamorous crossroads of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street as well as on and off stylish Madison Avenue in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Unlike their upstart Chelsea and SoHo counterparts, these blue-chip galleries maintain a quiet white-glove demeanor. They include art-world powerhouses Gagosian Gallery, 980 Madison Ave. (tel. 212/744-2313; www.gagosian.com), and PaceWildenstein, 32 E. 57th St. (tel. 212/421-3292; www.pacewildenstein.com), whose focus is on classic modernism, representing such artists as Jim Dine, Barbara Hepworth, and Claes Oldenburg; Richard Gray Gallery, 1018 Madison Ave., fourth floor (tel. 212/472-8787; www.richardgraygallery.com), featuring American and European contemporary works, with artists ranging from Joan Miró to David Hockney; the Margo Feiden Galleries, 699 Madison Ave. (tel. 212/677-5330; www.alhirschfeld.com), the sole authorized representative of the works of the late master ink caricaturist Al Hirschfeld; the Mary Boone Gallery, 745 Fifth Ave. (tel. 212/752-2929; www.maryboonegallery.com), known for success with such artists as Ross Bleckner and Nancy Ellison; and Wildenstein & Co, Inc., the classical big brother of PaceWildenstein, 19 E. 64th St. (tel. 212/879-0500; www.wildenstein.com), both specializing in big-ticket works: old masters, Impressionism, and Renaissance paintings and drawings.

Chelsea — The area in the West 20s between Tenth and Eleventh avenues is home to the avant-garde of today’s New York art scene, with West 26th serving as the unofficial “gallery row.” Most galleries are not in storefronts but in the large spaces of multistory former garages and warehouses. Galleries worth seeking out include Paula Cooper, 534 W. 21st St. (tel. 212/255-1105), a heavyweight in the modern-art world, specializing in conceptual and minimal art; one of Chelsea’s biggest galleries, the Matthew Marks Gallery, 523 W. 24th St. (tel. 212/243-0200); the George Billis Gallery, 511 W. 25th St., 9F (tel. 212/645-2621; www.georgebillis.com), which shows works by talented emerging artists; Barbara Gladstone Gallery, 515 W. 24th St. (tel. 212/206-9300; www.gladstonegallery.com); uptown powerhouse Gagosian Gallery, 555 W. 24th St. (tel. 212/741-1111; www.gagosian.com), which shows such major modern artists as Richard Serra and Julian Schnabel; Kinz Tillou Feigen 535 W. 20th St. (tel. 212/929-0500; www.ktfgallery.com), the modern counterpart to the uptown Old Masters gallery; Cheim & Read, 547 W. 25th St. (tel. 212/242-7727; www.cheimread.com), which often shows works by such high-profile pop artists as Diane Arbus and Robert Mapplethorpe; Alexander and Bonin, 132 Tenth Ave. (tel. 212/367-7474; www.alexanderandbonin.com), which mounts excellent solo exhibitions; James Cohan Gallery, 533 W. 26th St. (tel. 212/714-9500; www.jamescohan.com), particularly strong in modern photography; and Lehmann Maupin, 540 W. 26th St. (tel. 212/255-2923; www.lehmannmaupin.com), whose roster runs the gamut from young unknowns to contemporary masters like Ross Bleckner. For a comprehensive listing of the Chelsea galleries, check the website www.westchelseaarts.com.

Downtown — SoHo remains colorful, if less edgy than it used to be, with the action centered around West Broadway and encroaching onto the edge of Chinatown. Peter Blum Gallery, 99 Wooster St. (tel. 212/343-0441), which showcased the divine Kim Sooja, a Korean artist who uses traditional Korean bedcovers to comment on the promise of wedded bliss; O. K. Harris, 383 W. Broadway (tel. 212/431-3600; www.okharris.com), which shows a fascinating variety of contemporary painting, sculpture, and photography; and Louis K. Meisel, 141 Prince St. (tel. 212/677-1340; www.meiselgallery.com), specializing in photo-realism and American pinup art (yep, Petty and Vargas girls). In TriBeCa, try Cheryl Hazan Arts Gallery, 35 N. Moore St. (tel. 212/343-8964; www.cherylhazan.com), or DFN Gallery, 210 11th Ave. 6th Fl. (tel. 212/334-3400; www.dfngallery.com), which focus on fresh, distinctive contemporary art.

New York City TV Tapings

The trick to getting tickets for TV tapings in this city is to be from out of town. You visitors have a much better chance than we New Yorkers; producers are gun-shy about filling their audiences with obnoxious locals and see everybody who’s not from New York as being from the heartland — and therefore their target TV audience.

If you’re set on getting tickets to a show, request them as early as possible — 6 months ahead isn’t too early, and earlier is better for the most popular shows. Most shows have “ticket request” areas on their websites, which will ask you the number of tickets you want, your preferred dates of attendance (be as flexible as you can), and your address and phone number. Tickets are always free. Even if you send in your request early, don’t be surprised if tickets don’t arrive at your house until shortly before the tape date.

If you come to town without any tickets, all is not lost. Because they know that every ticket holder won’t make it, many studios give out a limited number of standby tickets on the day of taping. If you can just get up a little early and don’t mind standing in line for a couple (or a few) hours, you have a good chance of getting one (note that the Letterman show no longer has standby lines, you have to call). Now, the bad news: Only one standby ticket per person is allowed, so everybody who wants to get in has to get up at the crack of dawn and stand in line. And even if you get your hands on a standby ticket, it doesn’t guarantee admission; they usually only start seating standbys after the regular ticket holders are in. Still, chances are good.

For additional information on getting tickets to tapings, call the NYCVB at tel. 212/484-1222. And remember — you don’t need a ticket to be on the Today show.

If you do attend a taping, be sure to bring a sweater, even in summer. As anybody who watches Letterman knows, it’s cold in those studios. And bring ID, as proof of age may be required.

The Colbert Report — Jon Stewart’s star reporter Steve Colbert, of The Daily Show, became so popular he was given his own show on Comedy Central. Now he is giving Stewart a run for his money in the ratings. As of press time, tickets to The Colbert Report were only available on a standby basis. Arrive at the studio no later than 5pm: 513 W. 54th St., between Tenth and Eleventh avenues. Check the website, www.comedycentral.com/shows/the_colbert_report, for ticket information.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart — Comedy Central’s irreverent, often hilarious mock newscast tapes Monday through Thursday at 5:45pm, at 513 W. 54th St. The Daily Show no longer takes phone requests. For tickets, send an e-mail with your full name and daytime phone number to requesttickets@thedailyshow.com. Last-minute ticket requests only are allowed by telephone on the Friday prior to the desired show.

Late Night with Conan O’Brien — Conan’s taking over the Tonight show in a couple of years, so if you want to see him on “Late Night,” better do it soon. Tapings are Tuesday through Friday at 5:30pm (plan on arriving by 4:45pm if you have tickets), and you must be 16 or older to attend. You can reserve up to four tickets in advance by calling tel. 212/664-3056. Standby tickets are distributed on the day of taping at 9am outside 30 Rockefeller Plaza, on the 49th Street side of the building (under the NBC Studios awning), on a first-come, first-served basis (read: come early if you actually want to get one).

The Late Show with David Letterman — Here’s the most in-demand TV ticket in town. Submit ticket requests online at www.cbs.com/latenight; or stop by the Ed Sullivan Theater from Monday to Friday from 9:30am to 12:30pm or Saturday and Sunday from 10:00am to 6:00pm to submit an in-person request. Tapings are Monday through Thursday at 5:30pm (arrive by 4:15pm), with a second taping Thursday at 8pm (arrive by 6:45pm). You must be 18 or older to attend. On tape days, there are no standby lines anymore; call tel. 212/247-6497 at 11am for up to two standby tickets; start dialing early, because the machine will kick in as soon as all standbys are gone. If you do get through, you may have to answer a question about the show to score tickets.

Live! with Regis and Kelly — Tapings with Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa are Monday through Friday at 9am at the ABC Studios at 7 Lincoln Sq. (Columbus Ave. and W. 67th St.) on the Upper West Side. You must be 10 or older to attend (under 18s must be accompanied by a parent). Send your postcard (four tickets max) at least a full year in advance to Live! Tickets, Ansonia Station, P.O. Box 230777, New York, NY 10023-0777 (tel. 212/456-3054). Standby tickets are sometimes available. Arrive at the studio no later than 7am and request a standby number; standby tickets are handed out on a first-come, first-served basis, so earlier is better.

Rachael Ray Show — You can apply to be featured on the show (if you fit one of the topics they are doing a segment on, like “Do you have a crush on a reality TV star?” or “Kids not turning out the way you expected?”) or request tickets on the website (www.rachaelrayshow.com). Demand for the tickets is high, and you may be in for a long wait (over a year!). When it’s in production, the show tapes twice a day on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at Ray’s studio at 222 East 44th Street (between 2nd and 3rd aves.). You must be over 16 years old to attend a taping, and bring a valid photo ID. There’s a rather detailed dress code (no capris! No sequins!). You can also stop by on the day of taping to see if standby tickets are available.

Saturday Night Live — SNL tapings are Saturday at 11:30pm (arrival time 10pm); there’s also a full dress rehearsal at 8pm (arrival time 7pm). You must be 16 or older to attend. Here’s the catch: Written requests are taken only in August and the odds are always long. However, you can try for standby tickets on the day of the taping, which are distributed at 7am outside 30 Rockefeller Plaza, on the 49th Street side of the building (under the NBC Studios awning), on a first-come, first-served basis; only one ticket per person will be issued. If you want to try your luck with advance tickets, call tel. 212/664-3056 as far in advance of your arrival in New York as possible to determine the current ticket-request procedure.

The Today Show — Anybody can be on TV with Matt and cuddly weatherman Al Roker and Meredith Vieira. All you have to do is show up outside Today’s glass-walled studio at Rockefeller Center, on the southwest corner of 49th Street and Rockefeller Plaza, with your HI, MOM! sign. Tapings are Monday through Friday from 7 to 10am, but come at the crack of dawn if your heart’s set on being in front. Who knows? If it’s a nice day, you may even get to chat with Meredith, Matt, or Al in a segment. Come extra early to attend a Friday Summer Concert Series show.

The View — ABC’s hugely popular girl-power gabfest tapes live Monday through Friday at 11am (ticket holders must arrive by 9:30am). Requests, which should be made 12 to 16 weeks in advance, can be submitted online (www.abc.go.com/theview) or via postcard to Tickets, The View, 320 W. 66th St., New York, NY 10023. Since exact-date requests are not usually accommodated, try standby: Arrive at the studio before 10am and put your name on the standby list; earlier is better, since tickets are handed out on a first-come, first-served basis. You must be 18 or older to attend.

New York City Tips on Shopping

When Is It Open? — Open hours can vary significantly from store to store — even different branches of Gap can keep different schedules depending on location and management. Generally, stores open at 10 or 11am Monday through Saturday, and 7pm is the most common closing hour (although sometimes it’s 6pm). Both opening and closing hours tend to get later as you move downtown; stores in the East Village often don’t open until 1 or 2pm, and they stay open until 8pm or later.

All of the big department stores are open 7 days a week. However, unlike department stores in suburban malls, most of these stores don’t keep a regular 10am-to-9pm schedule. The department stores, and shops along major strips like Fifth Avenue, usually stay open later 1 night a week (often Thurs), although not all shops comply. Sunday hours are usually noon to 5 or 6pm. Most shops are open 7 days a week, but smaller boutiques may close 1 day a week; in addition, some neighborhoods virtually shut down on a particular day — namely the Lower East Side on Saturday, the East Village on Monday, and most of the Financial District for the weekend. But at holiday time, anything goes: Macy’s often stays open until midnight for the last couple of weeks before Christmas!

Your best bet is to call ahead or print out the schedule from the store website if your heart’s set on visiting a particular store.

Sale Seasons

These may be obvious to the serious shopper, but for those of us/you less than serious, here are New York’s prime sale seasons:

Thanksgiving: Black Friday, or the day after Thanksgiving, is the beginning of the Holiday shopping season. Many stores inaugurate the season with major sales. Stores open ridiculously early and the crowds become more like mobs. Proceed at your own risk.

Pre-Christmas: “Shoppers! Only three X-Boxes left at these amazingly low prices!” You might hear that spiel just before Christmas. Believe itor don’t.

Post-Christmas: With the Christmas returns the day after Christmas, come the markdowns.

Whites: Usually in January, this is a sale of linens and these days, rarely white.

January Clearance: You’ll find the European boutiques advertising clearance around the third week of January.

Valentine’s Day: Anything red, chocolaty, or with a heart shape will be advertised “on sale.”

President’s Day: Late February, usually around the long weekend celebrating Washington (and Lincoln’s) birthday. The sales will be mostly for winter clothing.

Memorial Day: Stores hold promotional sales on the last weekend in May.

Fourth of July: Blowout sales on bathing suits and summer attire centered around the long Fourth of July weekend.

Midsummer Clearance: If there is anything summer-related left on the racks after the Fourth of July, you’ll find them up until the middle of August.

Back-to-School: Oh, how I hated those three words when I saw them in stores advertising sales for school supplies, furnishings and clothing while there were still a few weeks left in the summer. Usually in middle August.

Columbus Day: Coats and early fall clothing go on sale on this long weekend usually the second weekend in October.

Election Day: Whatever fall merchandise is hanging around after the Columbus Day sales will be offered at even further reduced prices on Election Day.

Additional Sources for Serious Shoppers

If you’re looking for specific items, check the shopping listings at www.newyork.citysearch.com, www.timeoutny.com, and www.nymag.com before you leave home.

For an online guide to sample sales/designer bargains, you can’t do better than the free registration site www.nysale.com, which will let you in on unadvertised sales taking place throughout the city.

Hard information about current sales, new shops, sample and close-out sales, and special art, craft, and antiques shows is best found in the “Check Out” section of Time Out New York or the “Sales & Bargains,” “Best Bets,” and “Smart City” sections of New York magazine. New York also runs daily updates of sales at www.nymag.com and Time Out publishes a twice-yearly shopping guide that’s available on newsstands for about six bucks.

Other Web sources include www.dailycandy.com, a daily newsletter highlighting store openings and where to find the day’s sales, and www.girlshop.com, dedicated to New York insider fashion news. Now Girlshop aficionados have more than just the website: In 2005, the flagship Girlshop Boutique opened in the Meat-Packing District (819 Washington St., between Little W. 12th and Gansevoort sts.; tel. 212/255-4985).

New York City City Layout

The city comprises five boroughs: Manhattan, where most of the visitor action is; the Bronx, the only borough connected to the mainland United States; Queens, where Kennedy and LaGuardia airports are located and which borders the Atlantic Ocean and occupies part of Long Island; Brooklyn, south of Queens, which is also on Long Island and is famed for its attitude, accent, and Atlantic-front Coney Island; and Staten Island, the least populous borough, bordering Upper New York Bay on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other.

When most visitors envision New York, they think of Manhattan, the long finger-shaped island pointing southwest off the mainland — surrounded by the Harlem River to the north, the Hudson River to the west, the East River (really an estuary) to the east, and the fabulous expanse of Upper New York Bay to the south. Despite the fact that it’s the city’s smallest borough (14 miles long, 2 1/4 miles wide, 22 sq. miles), Manhattan contains the city’s most famous attractions, buildings, and cultural institutions. For that reason, almost all of the accommodations and restaurants suggested in this book are in Manhattan.

In most of Manhattan, finding your way around is a snap because of the logical, well-executed grid system by which the streets are numbered. If you can discern uptown and downtown, and East Side and West Side, you can find your way around pretty easily. In real terms, uptown means north of where you happen to be, and downtown means south, although sometimes these labels have vague psychographic meanings (generally speaking, “uptown” chic vs. “downtown” bohemianism).

Avenues run north-south (uptown and downtown). Most are numbered. Fifth Avenue divides the East Side from the West Side of town, and serves as the eastern border of Central Park north of 59th Street. First Avenue is all the way east and Twelfth Avenue is all the way west. The three most important unnumbered avenues on the East Side you should know are between Third and Fifth avenues: Madison (east of Fifth), Park (east of Madison), and Lexington (east of Park, just west of Third). Important unnumbered avenues on the West Side are Avenue of the Americas, which all New Yorkers call Sixth Avenue; Central Park West, which is what Eighth Avenue north of 59th Street is called as it borders Central Park on the west (hence the name); Columbus Avenue, which is what Ninth Avenue is called north of 59th Street; and Amsterdam Avenue, or Tenth Avenue north of 59th.

Broadway is the exception to the rule — it’s the only major avenue that doesn’t run uptown-downtown. It cuts a diagonal path across the island, from the northwest tip down to the southeast corner. As it crosses most major avenues, it creates squares (Times Sq., Herald Sq., Madison Sq., and Union Sq., for example).

Streets run east-west (crosstown) and are numbered consecutively as they proceed uptown from Houston (pronounced House-ton) Street. So to go uptown, simply walk north of, or to a higher-numbered street than, where you are. Downtown is south of (or a lower-numbered street than) your current location.

As I’ve already mentioned, Fifth Avenue is the dividing line between the East Side and West Side of town (except below Washington Sq., where Broadway serves that function). On the East Side of Fifth Avenue, streets are numbered with the distinction “East”; on the West Side of that avenue they are numbered “West.” East 51st Street, for example, begins at Fifth Avenue and runs east to the East River, while West 51st Street begins at Fifth Avenue and runs west to the Hudson River.

If you’re looking for a particular address, remember that even-numbered street addresses are on the south side of streets and odd-numbered addresses are on the north. Street addresses increase by about 50 per block starting at Fifth Avenue. For example, nos. 1 to 50 East are just about between Fifth and Madison avenues, while nos. 1 to 50 West are just about between Fifth and Sixth avenues. Traffic generally runs east on even-numbered streets and west on odd-numbered streets, with a few exceptions, such as the major east-west thoroughfares — 14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd, 57th, 72nd, 79th, 86th, and so on — which have two-way traffic. Therefore, 28 W. 23rd St. is a short walk west of Fifth Avenue; 325 E. 35th St. would be a few blocks east of Fifth.

Avenue addresses are irregular. For example, 994 Second Ave. is at East 51st Street, but so is 320 Park Ave. Thus, it’s important to know a building’s cross street to find it easily. If you don’t have the cross street and you want to figure out the exact location using just the address, use the Manhattan Address Locator, later in this chapter.

Unfortunately, the rules don’t apply to neighborhoods in Lower Manhattan, south of 14th Street — such as Wall Street, Chinatown, SoHo, TriBeCa, and the Village — since they sprang up before engineers devised this brilliant grid scheme. A good map is essential when exploring these areas.

Getting Oriented–I’ve indicated the cross streets for every destination in this guide, but be sure to ask for the cross street (or avenue) if you’re ever calling for an address.

When you give a taxi driver an address, always specify the cross streets. New Yorkers, even most cab drivers, probably wouldn’t know where to find 994 Second Ave., but they do know where to find 51st and Second. If you’re heading to the restaurant Aquavit, for example, tell them that it’s on 55th Street between Madison and Park avenues. The exact number (in this case, no. 65) is given only for further precision.

Street Maps — There’s a decent one available for free as part of the Official NYC Visitor Kit if you write ahead for information; you can also pick it up for free at the visitor centers listed above.

Even with all these freebies at hand, I suggest investing in a map with more features if you really want to zip around the city like a pro. Hagstrom maps are my favorites because they feature block-by-block street numbering — so instead of trying to guess the cross street for 125 Prince St., you can see right on your map that it’s Greene Street. Hagstrom and other visitor-friendly maps are available at just about any good bookstore, including the Barnes & Noble and Borders branches around town; see chapter 10 for locations. You might also want to look for The New York Map Guide: The Essential Guide to Manhattan (Penguin), by Michael Middleditch, a 64-page book that maps the entire city, including attractions, restaurants, and nightlife spots.

Because there are always disruptions or changes in service, don’t rely on any subway map that hasn’t been printed by the Metropolitan Transit Authority; you can find out more on this in “Getting Around.”

New York City By Bus

Less expensive than taxis and more pleasant than subways (they provide a mobile sightseeing window on Manhattan), MTA buses are a good transportation option. Their very big drawback: They can get stuck in traffic, sometimes making it quicker to walk. They also stop every couple of blocks, rather than the 8 or 9 blocks that local subways traverse between stops. So for long distances, the subway is your best bet; but for short distances or traveling crosstown, try the bus.

Paying Your Way

Like the subway fare, bus fare is $2, half-price for seniors and riders with disabilities, and free for children under 44 inches (up to three per adult). The fare is payable with a MetroCard or exact change. Bus drivers don’t make change, and fare boxes don’t accept dollar bills or pennies. You can’t purchase MetroCards on the bus, so you’ll have to have them before you board; for details on where to get them, see “Paying Your Way” under “By Subway.”

If you pay with a MetroCard, you can transfer to another bus or to the subway for free within 2 hours. If you pay cash, you must request a free transfer slip that allows you to change to an intersecting bus route only (legal transfer points are listed on the transfer paper) within 1 hour of issue. Transfer slips cannot be used to enter the subway.

Take a Free Ride

The Alliance for Downtown New York’s Downtown Connection offers a free bus service that provides easy access to important Downtown destinations, including Battery Park City, the World Financial Center, and South Street Seaport. The buses, which run daily from 10am to 8pm, make dozens of stops along a 5-mile route from Chambers Street on the West Side to Beekman Street on the East Side. For schedules and more information, call the Downtown Alliance at tel. 212/566-6700,.

Using the System

You can’t flag a city bus down — you have to meet it at a bus stop. Bus stops are located every 2 or 3 blocks on the right-side corner of the street (facing the direction of traffic flow). They’re marked by a curb painted yellow and a blue-and-white sign with a bus emblem and the route number or numbers. Guide-A-Ride boxes at most stops display a route map and a hysterically optimistic schedule.

Almost every major avenue has its own bus route. They run either north or south: downtown on Fifth, uptown on Madison, downtown on Lexington, uptown on Third, and so on. There are crosstown buses at strategic locations all around town: 8th Street (eastbound); 9th (westbound); 14th, 23rd, 34th, and 42nd (east- and westbound); 49th (eastbound); 50th (westbound); 57th (east- and westbound); 65th (eastbound across the West Side, through the park, and then north on Madison, continuing east on 68th to York Ave.); 67th (westbound on the East Side to Fifth Ave. and then south on Fifth, continuing west on 66th St. through the park and across the West Side to W. End Ave.); and 79th, 86th, 96th, 116th, and 125th (east- and westbound). Some bus routes, however, are erratic: The M104, for example, starts at the East River, then turns at Eighth Avenue and goes up Broadway. The buses of the Fifth Avenue line go up Madison or Sixth and follow various routes around the city.

Most routes operate 24 hours a day, but service is infrequent at night. Some say that New York buses have a herding instinct: They arrive only in groups. During rush hour, main routes have “limited” buses, identifiable by the red card in the front window; they stop only at major cross streets.

To make sure that the bus you’re boarding goes where you’re going, check the map on the sign that’s at every bus stop, get your hands on a route map, or just ask. The drivers are helpful, as long as you don’t hold up the line too long.

While traveling, look out the window not only to take in the sights but also to keep track of cross streets so you know when to get off. Signal for a stop by pressing the tape strip above and beside the windows and along the metal straps, about 2 blocks before you want to stop. Exit through the pneumatic back doors (not the front door) by pushing on the yellow tape strip; the doors open automatically (pushing on the handles is useless unless you’re as buff as Hercules). Most city buses are equipped with wheelchair lifts, making buses the preferable mode of public transportation for wheelchair-bound travelers. Buses also “kneel,” lowering down to the curb to make boarding easier.

New York City By Subway

Run by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), the much-maligned subway system is actually the fastest way to travel around New York, especially during rush hours. Some 3.5 million people a day seem to agree with me, as it’s their primary mode of transportation. The subway is quick, inexpensive, relatively safe, and pretty efficient, as well as being a genuine New York experience.

The subway runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The rush-hour crushes are roughly from 8 to 9:30am and from 5 to 6:30pm on weekdays; the rest of the time the trains are much more manageable.

Paying Your Way

The subway fare is $2 (half-price for seniors and those with disabilities), and children under 44 inches tall ride free (up to three per adult).

Tokens are no longer available. People now pay fares with the MetroCard, a magnetically encoded card that debits the fare when swiped through the turnstile (or the fare box on any city bus). Once you’re in the system, you can transfer freely to any subway line that you can reach without exiting your station. MetroCards also allow you free transfers between the bus and subway within a 2-hour period.

MetroCards can be purchased from staffed token booths, where you can only pay with cash; at the ATM-style vending machines now located in just about every subway station in the city, which accept cash, credit cards, and debit cards; from a MetroCard merchant, such as most Rite Aid drugstores or Hudson News at Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal; or at the MTA information desk at the Times Square Information Center, 1560 Broadway, between 46th and 47th streets.

MetroCards come in a few different configurations:

Pay-Per-Ride MetroCards can be used for up to four people by swiping up to four times (bring the whole family). You can put any amount from $4 (two rides) to $80 on your card. Every time you put $10 or $20 on your Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard, it’s automatically credited 20% — that’s one free ride for every $10, or five trips. You can buy Pay-Per-Ride MetroCards at any subway station; an increasing number of stations now have automated MetroCard vending machines, which allow you to buy MetroCards using your major credit card. MetroCards are also available from shops and newsstands around town in $10 and $20 values. You can refill your card at any time until the expiration date on the card, usually about a year from the date of purchase, at any subway station.

Unlimited-Ride MetroCards, which can’t be used for more than one person at a time or more frequently than 18-minute intervals, are available in four values: the daily Fun Pass, which allows you a day’s worth of unlimited subway and bus rides for $7; the 7-Day MetroCard, for $24; and the 30-Day MetroCard, for $76. Seven- and 30-day Unlimited-Ride MetroCards can be purchased at any subway station or from a MetroCard merchant. Fun Passes, however, cannot be purchased at token booths — you can only buy them at a MetroCard vending machine; from a MetroCard merchant; or at the MTA information desk at the Times Square Information Center. Unlimited-Ride MetroCards go into effect not at the time you buy them but the first time you use them — so if you buy a card on Monday and don’t begin to use it until Wednesday, Wednesday is when the clock starts ticking on your MetroCard. A Fun Pass is good from the first time you use it until 3am the next day, while 7- and 30-day MetroCards run out at midnight on the last day. These MetroCards cannot be refilled; throw them out once they’ve been used up and buy a new one.

Tips for using your MetroCard: The MetroCard swiping mechanisms at turnstiles are the source of much grousing among subway riders. If you swipe too fast or too slow, the turnstile will ask you to swipe again. If this happens, do not move to a different turnstile, or you may end up paying twice. If you’ve tried repeatedly and really can’t make your MetroCard work, tell the token booth clerk; chances are good, though, that you’ll get the movement down after a couple of uses.

If you’re not sure how much money you have left on your MetroCard, or what day it expires, use the station’s MetroCard Reader, usually located near the station entrance or the token booth (on buses, the fare box will also provide you with this information).

To locate the nearest MetroCard merchant, or for any other MetroCard questions, call tel. 800/METROCARD or 212/METROCARD (212/638-7622) Monday through Friday between 7am and 11pm, Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 5pm. Or go online to www.mta.nyc.ny.us/metrocard, which can give you a full rundown of MetroCard merchants in the tri-state area.

Using the System

The subway system basically mimics the lay of the land aboveground, with most lines in Manhattan running north and south, like the avenues, and a few lines east and west, like the streets.

To go up and down the east side of Manhattan (and to the Bronx and Brooklyn), take the 4, 5, or 6 train.

To travel up and down the west side (and also to the Bronx and Brooklyn), take the 1, 2, or 3 line; the A, C, E, or F line; or the B or D line.

The N, R, Q, and W lines first cut diagonally across town from east to west and then snake under Seventh Avenue before shooting out to Queens.

The crosstown S line, the Shuttle, runs back and forth between Times Square and Grand Central Terminal. Farther downtown, across 14th Street, the L line works its own crosstown magic.

Lines have assigned colors on subway maps and trains — red for the 1, 2, 3 line; green for the 4, 5, 6 trains; and so on — but nobody ever refers to them by color. Always refer to them by number or letter when asking questions. Within Manhattan, the distinction between different numbered trains that share the same line is usually that some are express and others are local. Express trains often skip about three stops for each one that they make; express stops are indicated on subway maps with a white (rather than solid) circle. Local stops are usually about 9 blocks apart.

Directions are almost always indicated using “Uptown” (northbound) and “Downtown” (southbound), so be sure to know what direction you want to head in. The outsides of some subway entrances are marked UPTOWN ONLY or DOWNTOWN ONLY; read carefully, as it’s easy to head in the wrong direction. Once you’re on the platform, check the signs overhead to make sure that the train you’re waiting for will be traveling in the right direction. If you do make a mistake, it’s a good idea to wait for an express station, such as 14th Street or 42nd Street, so you can get off and change to the other direction without paying again.

The days of graffiti-covered cars are gone, but the stations — and an increasing number of trains — are not nearly as clean as they could be. Trains are air-conditioned (move to the next car if yours isn’t), though during the dog days of summer the platforms can be sweltering. In theory, all subway cars have PA systems to allow you to hear the conductor’s announcements, but they don’t always work well. It’s a good idea to move to a car with a working PA system in case sudden service changes are announced that you’ll want to know about.

For More Bus & Subway Information

For additional transit information, call the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s MTA/New York City Transit’s Travel Information Center at tel. 718/330-1234. Extensive automated information is available at this number 24 hours a day, and travel agents are on hand to answer your questions and provide directions daily from 6am to 9pm. For online information that’s always up-to-the-minute current, visit www.mta.nyc.ny.us.

To request system maps, call the Customer Service Line at tel. 718/330-3322 (although realize that recent service changes may not yet be reflected on printed maps). Riders with disabilities should direct inquiries to tel. 718/596-8585; hearing-impaired riders can call tel. 718/596-8273. For MetroCard information, call tel. 212/638-7622 weekdays from 7am to 11pm, weekends 9am to 5pm, or go online to www.mta.nyc.ny.us/metrocard.

You can get bus and subway maps and additional transit information at most information centers. A particularly helpful MTA transit information desk is located at the Times Square Information Center, 1560 Broadway, between 46th and 47th streets, where you can also buy MetroCards. Maps are sometimes available in subway stations (ask at the token booth), but rarely on buses.

Subway Service Interruption Notes — The subway map featured on the inside back cover of this book was as accurate as possible at press time, but service is always subject to change, so your best bet is to contact the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) for the latest details; call tel. 718/330-1234 or visit www.mta.nyc.ny.us, where you’ll find system updates that are thorough, timely, and clear. Also read any posters that are taped up on the platform or notices written on the token booth’s whiteboard. Once in town, you can stop at the MTA desk at the Times Square Information Center, 1560 Broadway, between 46th and 47th streets (where Broadway meets Seventh Ave.) to pick up the latest subway map. (You can also ask for one at any token booth, but they might not always be stocked.)

Subway Stops for New York’s Top Attractions

American Museum of Natural History B, C to 81st Street

The Cloisters A to 190th Street

Ellis Island 4, 5 to Bowling Green or N, R to Whitehall Street

Guggenheim Museum 4, 5, 6 to 86th Street

Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum A, C, E to 42nd Street-Port Authority

Metropolitan Museum of Art 4, 5, 6 to 86th Street

Museum of Modern Art E, V to Fifth Avenue

Brooklyn Bridge 4, 5, 6 to Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall

Chrysler Building 4, 5, 6, 7, S to Grand Central-42nd Street

Empire State Building B, D, F, V, N, R, Q, W to 34th Street-Herald Square

Grand Central Terminal 4, 5, 6, 7, S to Grand Central-42nd Street

Rockefeller Center B, D, F, V to 47-50th streets-Rockefeller Center

Staten Island Ferry 1 to South Ferry (first five cars)

United Nations 4, 5, 6, 7, S to Grand Central-42nd Street

Yankee Stadium 4, B, D to 161st River Avenue-Yankee Stadium

Chinatown 6, J, M, Z, N, R, Q, W to Canal Street

Greenwich Village A, C, E, B, D, F, V to West 4th Street

Times Square 1, 2, 3, 7, N, R, W, S to 42nd Street-Times Square

Wall Street 4, 5 to Wall Street or N, R to Rector Street

Cathedral of St. John the Divine 1 to Cathedral Parkway (110th St.)

St. Patrick’s Cathedral B, D, F, V to 47-50th streets-Rockefeller Center or E, V to Fifth Avenue-53rd Street

New York City The Best Nightlife

Best Performance Space: Carnegie Hall. One of the world’s great performance spaces, with an array of world-class talent on display almost every night.

Best Free Cultural Event: Shakespeare in the Park. Imagine Shakespeare performed by stars, under the stars, in Central Park. No wonder it has become a New York institution.

Best Children’s Theater: Paper Bag Players. For children ages 4 to 9, this group performs in the winter and offers tales told in imaginative and original ways.

Best Jazz Club: The Village Vanguard. The acoustics and sightlines aren’t great, but you can’t do better for consistent good-quality jazz.

Best Rock Club: Mercury Lounge. This venue is intimate but not obscure. The Merc is the best for hard-edged rock ‘n’ roll.

Best Comedy Club: Gotham Comedy Club. Comfortable and sophisticated, this is where the best come to hone their acts.

* Best Cocktail: Pegu Club, 77 W. Houston, 2nd floor. Leave it to that supreme mixologist Audrey Saunders to open a club where the cocktails are unbeatable. Everything is top label and all juices and mixers are freshly made.

Best Pub: Ear Inn. An old hanger-on in chic SoHo, this old joint continues to survive amongst the lush lounges that surround it.

Best Dive Bar: Subway Inn. Sure, I know you came to New York to go to a dive bar. Enter the Subway Inn, and it’s as if you stepped into a 1940s film noir — minus the cigarette smoke, of course.

Best Bar with a View: Rise Bar, in the Ritz-Carlton Battery Park Hotel. With views of Lady Liberty, New York Harbor, and incredible sunsets, this bar is worth seeking out even if you’re not staying here.

Best Exclusive Bar: Rose Bar, in the Gramercy Park Hotel. This magnificent room with its Schnabel originals, incredible sound system, lush seating, beautiful people, and very expensive cocktails is worth groveling to enter.

New York City The Best Offbeat Travel Experiences

Visit the Little Italy of the Bronx. With the demise of Little Italy in Manhattan, the area centered around Arthur Avenue, known as the Little Italy of the Bronx, is the place to go for old-fashioned Italian charm, food, and ambience. Though it still qualifies as offbeat, word is out about Arthur Avenue.

Roosevelt Island Tram. Impress your family and friends with a little-known but spectacular view of the skyline by taking them on the Roosevelt Island Tram. During the 4-minute ride, you will be treated to a gorgeous view down the East River with views of the United Nations and the Queensboro, Williamsburg, Manhattan, and Brooklyn bridges. On a clear day you might even spot Lady Liberty.

Bike Along the Hudson River. If walking is not enough exercise for you, a good alternative is to rent a bike and ride the length of Manhattan via the work-in-progress Hudson River Park. As of this writing, you can bike from Battery Park to Fort Tryon Park near the George Washington Bridge. There are detours along the way, which occasionally take you off the paths.

Ride the International Express. The no. 7 train is sometimes known as the “International Express.” Take it through the borough of Queens and you will pass one ethnic neighborhood after another, from Indian to Thai, from Peruvian to Columbian, from Chinese to Korean.

New York City The Best Museums

Best Overall Museum: American Museum of Natural History. You can spend your entire visit to New York at this 4-square-block museum; there is that much to see. From the famed dinosaur halls to the Hall of Ocean Life, the Museum of Natural History houses the world’s greatest natural science collection.

Best Art Museum: Metropolitan Museum of Art. Not just the best art museum in New York, but the best in North America. The number of masterworks is mind-boggling.

Best-Looking Museum: Museum of Modern Art. Though the sight of the Guggenheim is the most memorable, MoMA’s $450-million renovation makes it the classiest- and coolest-looking museum, inside and out, in town.

Best New York Museum about New York: Museum of the City of New York. Start here before you tour New York and get a feel of what the city is like from past to present. There are always fascinating exhibits.

Best Home Posing as a Museum: The Louis Armstrong House Museum. This unassuming house in Queens was Satchmo’s home for almost 30 years and it’s been preserved almost exactly as it was when he died in 1971.

New York City The Best Architectural Landmarks

Best Historic Building: Grand Central Terminal. Despite all the steel-and-glass skyscrapers in New York, there are still many historic marvels standing, and the best is this Beaux Arts gem. This railroad station, built in 1913, was restored in the 1990s to recapture its brilliance. Even if you don’t have to catch a train, make sure you visit.

Best Skyscraper: The Chrysler Building. There is no observation deck, but this Art Deco masterpiece is best viewed from outside or from other observation decks like the Empire State Building.

Most Impressive Place of Worship: Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Construction began on the world’s largest Gothic cathedral in 1892 and it’s still going on. But this is one structure that benefits from being a work-in-progress.

New York City Best Free Things to Do

Ride the Staten Island Ferry. The Staten Island Ferry is used daily by thousands of commuters. Ride with them for a great view of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, New York Harbor, and the lower Manhattan skyline. You really can’t beat the price: It’s free.

Attend a Gospel Service. All around New York you’ll find Sunday gospel services, but for some special soul-stirring, head to Harlem and the Abyssinian Baptist Church or Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Tabernacle. Services are free but when the basket is passed, don’t be stingy.

Visit Free Museums. Believe it or not, there are museums in New York that don’t charge admission. Two of my favorites are the National Museum of the American Indian and the Federal Hall National Memorial.

Take in a Game at the West 4th Street Basketball Courts, West 4th Street and Sixth Avenue. I don’t know what’s more entertaining: the moves on the court or the inventive, trash talk accompanying the games.


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