New York City holds so many unique and must-see attractions that it’s impossible to get your fill in one trip, or even a year of living here. But if you must try to squeeze it all in, these five amazing staples can’t be missed, whether it’s for their rich history, exquisite beauty or tasty offerings. And, even to a New Yorker who has seen them many times, they still deliver a special thrill only found in the Big Apple.
The Natural Attraction: Central Park
Before you write off Central Park as just another tourist trap under the guise of a green space, keep in mind that this 843-acre expanse stretching from 59th to 110th streets has something for everyone. Within the 157-year-old landmark you will find a zoo complete with sea lions and penguins, an ice-skating rink and lakes filled with rowboats and adorable turtles. There’s even a miniature castle hidden among the trees. Then there’s the Ramble, a wild area where NYC’s natural foliage intermingles with city dwellers who are bird watching, climbing on rocks or simply taking a little stroll. In the fall, the stage’s brightest participate in productions in the Delacorte Theater (David Byrne and Fatboy Slim’s Here Lies Love through Nov. 15) while roller skaters take over a stretch of pavement only a few yards away. Nowhere in the world will you find a place quite like this.
The Hotel: The St. Regis New York
There are a lot of reasons this prestigious Five-Star hotel earns Forbes Travel Guide’s highest mark — and it’s not only because every guest gets his or her own butler. Once owned by businessman John Jacob Astor IV, this 110-year-old institution still glistens with original design touches: a grand marble stairway; the bold brass embellishments; and Maxfield Parrish’s beloved Old King Cole mural that graces the iconic King Cole Bar, where the Bloody Mary is rumored to have made its U.S. debut. King Cole, now under the watchful eye of chef and restaurateur John DeLucie, jazzes things up around the property with leopard carpet, black marble high-top tables and mirrors that hang from the ceiling. Grab a bite from the internationally flavored menu any time before retiring to your exquisite suite. Though accommodations range in size (from 600 to more than 3,000 square feet) and style (the likes of Tiffany and Dior have put their decorative marks on spaces), expect all of them to include marble entryways, fabric walls, custom furnishings and the latest in gadgets.
The Landmark: Grand Central Terminal
For more than 100 years, this majestic piece of architecture has stood on 42nd Street and Park Avenue. Lucky for visitors and commuters alike, when developers tried to tear it down in the 1970s, the institution was saved by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and other important figures who saw the value in the old station. Now, it holds landmark status and people from all over the world flock to look at its astronomical ceiling, tell secrets against the Whispering Gallery and wander the grand halls. Despite the beauty, there are other reasons to visit, too, for example, grabbing a Kentucky Ginger (bourbon, ginger liqueur, lemon juice and muddled rosemary) in gloriously swanky The Campbell Apartment, enjoying dinner overlooking the main concourse at Michael Jordan’s The Steakhouse, and trying oysters and white wine at the famous Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant. Grand Central Station also acts as a hub to take you to other wonderful NYC spots, including the New York Botanical Garden, the Bronx Zoo and Times Square, each, in its own right, worth a visit as well.
The Restaurant: Eleven Madison Park
Picking only one place to eat in NYC is nearly impossible. After all, the city is home to famous pie joints, grand steakhouses and impossible-to-get-into sushi bars. So, why pick Eleven Madison Park? Well, aside from the fact it’s a Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star establishment, if you can get a table (reservations are taken 28 days in advance), the experience of dining here proves worth every penny spent and every minute sitting. After all, chef Daniel Humm whimsically serves up a host of courses (everything from clam chowder and charcuterie to Duxbury oysters and dry-aged rib eyes) over four-plus hours, each item expertly dished out and presented as if it were a work of art. According to the restaurant’s website, the menu focuses on the “centuries-old culinary traditions that have taken root here.” And if that doesn’t scream uniquely NYC to you, we don’t know what will.
The Museum: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Of all the museums in NYC, the Met is the one you must include on your itinerary. Not only has this institution been gracing Fifth Avenue since 1866, but it holds one of the most impressive collections of art in the world. Wander around the rich Greek and Roman galleries; visit the room full of serene, ancient Buddhas; revel in Garry Winogrand’s captivating black-and-white prints of American life from the ’50s to the ’80s (through September 21); see the tomb chapel of Raemkai; and take in painting after sculpture after jewel dating from the 5th century B.C. to 2013. There are thousands of things to see at the Met, and even if you get there when it opens at 10 a.m. and stay until it closes at 5:30 p.m. (or 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday), you probably won’t see everything, which means there will always be a reason to go back.