A city within a city

By Niamh Mac Sweeney
14 January 2014
Statue of Liberty

Hard pressed to whittle down her highlights, Niamh Mac Sweeney takes 10 of her favourite things to do and see in New York City.

New York is as vast as it is diverse and vibrant. The five boroughs of New York – Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island – are all distinct, heady mixes of metropolitan chic. Avant-garde neighbourhoods exude village charm where lively ethnic enclaves are home to more than eight and a half million people from all corners of the globe.

Whether it’s your first or 50th visit to the Big Apple, there’s always something new to see and do. From world-class culture, dining, shopping and nightlife, New York City’s streets pulsate with an unmistakable rhythm that consistently attracts more than 50 million visitors annually.

Whether taking in the awesome skyscrapers, impressive museums or the bright lights of Broadway, choosing from the countless sights New York has to offer is no mean feat. However, there are some sights that are definitive visitor attractions and should be on every tourist’s hit list.

Crossroads to the world

Time Square

NYC’s iconic Times Square
@Emer Mac Sweeney Photography

Often referred to as the ‘crossroads of the world’ Time Square – where a massive illumination of neon light awaits – is New York’s most famous intersection and is one of the most iconic symbols of this lively city.

Originally named Longacre Square until 1904, its name changed when The New York Times built a 25 story tower on the site and which is where the Times Square New Year’s celebrations originated from and continue today. In 1928, The New York Times erected the worlds first moving electronic sign to post news, a fixture that still remains today even though the Times has moved to 8th Ave. The Nasdaq headquarters are also located here, with a large dominating screen broadcasting financial news and the Condé Nast Building houses the magazine empire of the same name. MTV also have their headquarters here and there is a regular crowd outside eager to spot music stars.

In the 70s the surrounding streets of Times Square, such as 42nd were renowned for being run down and seedy. But when strip clubs and x rated movie houses were shut in the 90s, the area was rejuvenated.

Today, the new 42nd Street Studios and lots of theatres line the block. Major Hollywood stars are adorned in bright lights and a Broadway show is a firm must do on any trip to New York. For discount theatre tickets, go to the TKTS booth in Time Square at Broadway and 47th for half price tickets to most of the Broadway shows. Times Square Visitor centre on 7th Ave between 46th and 47th streets has discount coupons for shows as well as information on Times Square and its history.

Building a legacy

‘A city within a city’ was philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr’s vision and the defining construction of the Rockefeller Center is his most impressive legacy. Having spent most of his life engaged in philanthropy, Rockefeller’s defining creation was constructed against the backdrop of Great Depression’s worst years. Despite this, the project employed over 40,000 people and opened in May 1933.

Today, Rockefeller’s legacy lives on, and whether enjoying the epic views from Top of the Rock, dining in one of the fine restaurants, trawling the treasure throve of boutiques, or ice-skating in the outdoor gardens against a unique backdrop, the Rockefeller Center brings visitors inside and behind-the-scenes to some of the city’s most iconic crowning glories.

Take the elevator up the 70 floors to experience breathtaking unobstructed views from one of the three observation decks at Top of the Rock. With considerably less queues than the Empire State Building, the 360° views showcase Manhattan practically in its entirety.

But it is a tour of Radio City Music Hall that really reveals the masterpiece that this Art Deco building and former movie palace is. And a backstage tour of NBC Studios shows how the building still continues to accommodate businesses throughout its history. If appearing in the audience of one of the network’s many shows is your thing, you can get tickets in advance online or in the lobby of the GE building.

New York

The city that never sleeps.
@Emer Mac Sweeney Photography.

Freedom and hope

Although the Statue of Liberty is one of New York’s most visited attractions, unfortunately while we were there it was closed due to the Federal Government’s shutdown. However, from the southernmost tip of Manhattan near Battery Park we took the Staten Island ferry – a free form of transport carrying more than 20 million passengers a year between Whitehall in Manhattan and St George in Staten Island. The ferry ride provides excellent views of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty, and best of all, it’s free.

A gift from the French to mark the US’s 100th birthday in 1876, ‘Liberty Enlightening the Word’ has been an iconic symbol of freedom and hope since her inauguration by President Cleveland in 1886.

Art attack

The New York art scene spans all corners of the city and its impossible to pick just one museum from such greatness. Thankfully, you can access some of the best ones on ‘Museum Mile’ – a section of Fifth Avenue running from 82nd to 105th streets on the Upper East Side.

The MoMa and the MET are impressive art galleries but it is the Guggenheim that is perhaps even more inspiring for both its visual display of modern art and for its architectural brilliance. The Museum for African Art, The Jewish Museum and the Goethe-Institut are also on Museum Mile, and although not part of the mile, on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 70th, the Frick Collection is housed in Henry Clay Frick House.

While on Fifth Avenue it would be rude not to do some shopping. Where the avenue crosses with Midtown, designer shops line out along this infamous street which is consistently ranked among the most expensive shopping streets in the world.

Across the galaxies

Part of the American Museum of Natural History, The Rose Center for Earth and Space is located on 81st near Central Park West. Home to the Hayden Planetarium and Space Show – Dark Universe celebrates scientific explorations that have led to greater knowledge of the history of the universe and the possibilities of new frontiers of discovery. Visitors of all ages will be impressed by the many exhibitions at the Rose Center and if you’re only even mildly interested in the Big Bang, evolution, stars, planets, galaxies, and the universe, you will find something to captivate your imagination.

The golden age

Chinatown NYC

NYC’s vibrant Chinatown district.
@Emer Mac Sweeeny Photography

For another perspective on New York, a guided tour of Harlem visiting famous landmarks such as the Apollo Theatre and the Cotton Club, where stars such Little Richard Duke, Ella Fitzgerald and James Brown were found, is a fascinating way to spend a morning. Harlem’s rich tapestry of history and culture is enthralling. Recalling the political and social unrest at the time, especially the 1968 riot following the assassination of

Martin Luther King Jr, and later in the 90s during Harlem’s Renaissance, this tour threw the spotlight on many landmarks and legends. But it was while singing along with the ARC Gospel choir during a service at the Greater Central Baptist Church that was most memorable and uplifting. ARC stands for Addicts Rehabilitation Center and is the oldest drug-free treatment programme in New York; the choir was formed to finance treatment for recovering drug addicts.

No visit to New York would be complete without going to Central Park. The most visited urban park in the US, New York’s ‘backyard’ can be easily explored in so many ways; on foot or by bike. Because it runs straight down the centre, it’s nice to escape the busy streets and cut across the park from the east to the west side.

Whether you’re on a short trip, a newcomer, or a seasoned visitor it can be hard to squeeze everything into the city that doesn’t sleep; and yet still find time to sleep. But New York is a city for returning to again and again, and each time as different as the last. Much like the perfectly constant museum that JD Salinger describes in Catcher in the Rye, New York City is as different as you are from one visit to the next.

NYC – Out and about

  • Getting there: Aer Lingus fly twice daily to JFK Airport. To book flights log on to Delta also have flights from Dublin to New York; for more information log on to
  • Getting about: For a low cost and easy way to visit the main sights and attractions, take an open top tour bus where for as little as $50 you get unlimited travel for 48 hours. The bus stops at all the major tourist attractions and local guides have the inside track and interesting insights that you’ll never get from a guide book.
  • Going out: Chinatown and Little Italy are lively ethnic enclaves, while the East Village is hip and trendy for shopping and eating out.