New York is one of the most populous states in the United States of America. It also has a diverse landscape with Atlantic Ocean shoreline (Long Island), mountains (Adirondacks, Mohawks), farms (Upstate wineries, etc), rivers (Hudson), lakes (Finger Lakes, Lake Erie) and, of course, major cities (New York city, Albany, Buffalo). As expected, there are a wealth of attractions for the sightseer, as well. Read on to find my recommendations for the best of this significant state.
1. New York City
New York City and its skyline are certainly one of the most recognized locations in the world. No longer, unfortunately, capped by the World Trade Towers, the city has, nevertheless, many tall and distinguished buildings. The Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building are two of the most famous. The skyline is made more dramatic because Manhattan Island, the major tourist section of the city juts out from the mainland into New York harbor, making the buildings more noticeable. Many of the bridges which connect Manhattan to the other boroughs are also well known, e.g. the Brooklyn Bridge and the George Washington Bridge which connects the Bronx with New Jersey and points south.
New York City itself is an exciting venue for the traveler, with an incredible variety of things to do and see. For instance, New York possesses world-class museums such as the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and the Guggenheim.
The Metropolitan Museum, one of the world’s great houses of art, is located at 1000 Fifth Ave, on the east side of Central Park at 82nd St. Like most major museums, days could be spent in an effort to see everything. However, it make more sense to make several shorter visits, perhaps concentrating on a particular period or type of art, to be able to appreciate the museum’s vast collection.
Must sees include at least the following:
Nineteenth Century European Paintings
The American Wing
The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) has recently (2005) reopened after a major renovation. It, like the Metropolitan, is considered one the world’s best. It is located at 11 W. 53rd St and requires an unhurried visit to savor its quality. Must sees include Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” and Painting & Sculpture, on the 4th & 5th floors.
American Museum of Natural History, on the Upper West Side of New York City, is one of America’s best natural history museums. In the same complex is the Rose Center for Earth and Space as well as the Hayden Planetarium. Exhibit halls provide outstanding examples of biological, geological, and astronomical phenomena.
Broadway’s theater district contains the best that live theater has to offer. New York City’s neighborhoods, such as Chinatown, Little Italy, SoHo, and Greenwich Village have their own special charm and ambiance, and New York has many outstanding restaurants throughout the city.
Times Square, at the junction of Broadway and Seventh Avenue, represents the heart of New York City. Its glitz and glamour make it a Mecca for visitors. Besides being surrounded by many of the city’s most famous attractions, it also abuts the Theater District. On December 31st, it becomes the location of the most famous New Year celebration in the world.
The Statue of Liberty, one of the most famous landmarks associated with the United States, is located on Liberty Island, in New York Harbor, and is accessible only by ferry from either Battery Park in Lower Manhattan or from Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey. The statue was a gift from France and, for many arriving immigrants, symbolized the ideals of freedom and opportunity and an escape from the hardships or poor prospects of their native land. The view of the New York City skyline from the Statue of Liberty National Monument departure area in Jersey City is spectacular.
Stroll around Liberty Island to admire the glorious views of New York City and its busy harbor.
Ellis Island, in New York Harbor, was the entry point for the majority of immigrants to the United States during the late 19th and early 20th century. The restored complex processed millions of Irish, Polish, Italians and others who came to America to escape oppression, flee from poverty, or to make a fresh start. Take a narrated National Park Service tour to make the most of your visit and to appreciate what immigrants must have felt as they were herded through the complex.
The United Nations Headquarters, on First Ave in Midtown Manhattan, offers visitors an opportunity to see the world stage of international diplomacy. There are gifts and artwork, some quite spectacular, from all over the world throughout the building. It is a major tourist site because of its concept, an international forum to peacefully resolve world issues in order to avoid armed conflict.
The Empire State Building, in midtown Manhattan, is one the world’s tallest office buildings and, for many years, was the tallest. Take the elevator to the observatories on the 86th and 102nd floors for fantastic views of New York City and the surrounding area.
Rockefeller Center, located in midtown Manhattan, is the home of NBC (the National Broadcasting Company) and is noted for its ice-skating rink and the exhibitions which frequently take place nearby. More recently, it has become extremely popular in the mornings during the Today Show, since the hosts spend part of their morning broadcast outside. Free concerts also occur during some of the broadcasts. In addition, tours of NBC Studios are offered throughout the day. It is also a gathering place, great for people-watching.
St Patrick’s Cathedral, located in midtown Manhattan almost directly opposite Rockefeller Center, is one of the largest churches in the United States. It was built in the Gothic style in the mid-1800’s and has attracted the religious and the curious for many years. It is the home of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York, and services are offered on a regular basis.
Other must sees include Central Park, an oasis in this concrete jungle, which offers walks, swimming, a zoo and other outdoor activities, depending on the season, Ground Zero, the location of the World Trade Towers, now a memorial to the events of September 11, 2001 and, of course, Times Square, perhaps the gaudiest and most famous square in the world.
The Sony Wonder Technology Lab, between 55th and 56th Streets, on Madison Ave, is extremely interesting, especially for kids, and has free admission, something not often seen in New York.
The majority of tourist attractions are found on the island of Manhattan, however, several locations in other boroughs deserve a mention. The Bronx has one of the most excellent zoos in the world. The Bronx Zoo has long been known for its innovation in the display of animals and also in the conservation and protection of endangered species. It has an incredible variety of animals and habitats. The nearby New York Botanical Garden is also one of the world leaders.
Another Bronx attraction, certainly well-known to all fans of baseball, is one the premier ballparks in the United States, Yankee Stadium. Besides being one of the oldest, it is probably the most storied, since it was home field to many of the sports’ greatest players. A tribute to some of these icons is located beyond centerfield, in a garden of monuments.
2. Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls, which straddles the border between upstate New York (USA) and Ontario, Canada, has been a top tourist destination for almost two (2) centuries. The American falls are slightly higher but not as wide as the Canadian Horseshoe Falls, named for their curved shape. The area is extremely accessible, because it is fairly close to several major population centers (Toronto, Canada and Buffalo, Syracuse, and Rochester, New York).
Niagara Falls, New York is a bit honky-tonk, but it still commands respect because it has survived so many years as a destination. Obviously, the beauty and romance associated with Niagara Falls has transcended the mundane reality and commercialism of the nearby area. The sheer immensity of the falls, millions of gallons of water pouring over a precipice and dropping 60 meters (180 feet) makes it a spectacular sight, but when all of the accoutrements are considered, there is much to do which warrants a stay of two or three days.
Be sure to see the falls at night — they are lit with colored lights for several hours after sundown and present a totally different ambiance.
Take a walk along the falls, particularly to Goat Island, during the day to view them from various angles.
One of the best activities while in the area is a Maid-of-the-Mist boat ride for an up-close view of the falls from below (even though the thought of riding in a crowded boat with ugly raingear on into an area of dangerous swirling, fast-moving water sounds a bit bizarre, it is an obligatory experience for any self-respecting tourist).
Even though the food is extremely average and over-priced, the view of Niagara Falls from the Skylon Tower’s revolving restaurant on the Canadian side is positively spectacular.
The “Cave of the Winds” adventure (USA) or “Table Rock Scenic Tunnels” (Canada) offer a different perspective from below the falls (raingear is issued for both attractions and participants will get wet!).
The Niagara Falls IMAX Theatre, on the Canadian side, provides a film which explores the history of the falls, especially showcasing the daredevils who, over the years, have challenged Niagara.
3. Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum, Cooperstown
The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, is a tribute to America’s Game. Memorabilia and other exhibits highlight the history of the sport and honor its greatest players. The most important exhibit is the Gallery of Hall-of-famers, located on the first floor, although there is much more to see and, in some cases, interact with.
Don’t miss the taped rendition of Abbot and Costello’s famous “Who’s On First” routine.
The town of Cooperstown, itself, is quaint and pleasant to walk, certainly worth a few extra hours. There are also many fringe museums and displays which have located here to take advantage of the popularity of the area.
4. Saratoga Springs
Saratoga Springs, New York, is reputed to have America’s oldest thoroughbred racing facility. In August, the quaint and classic city becomes the focal point for this “Sport of Kings”. Thousands flock to the races each day during the six-week season (last full week of July through Labor Day) to see and be seen. Some of the best horses in the country race here and some of the largest purses can be won.
The best way to experience racing at Saratoga is to picnic on the grounds, either using one of the facility’s numerous tables or your own. Be aware that weekends are extremely crowded, so prime spots are difficult to come by and require getting to the track early (7 AM or so) to stake out a spot (leave a tablecloth or other personal item behind to mark your table), then returning when the racing day begins.
While at the races, spend some time in the city of Saratoga Springs, strolling the busy main street, and stopping to window-shop or to find a restaurant. In particular, check out the classic, Victorian Adelphi Hotel, for a look at the decor of a grander time. More importantly, amble through Congress Park to see some of the springs which made the city famous. The park is lovely, well-landscaped, and even has a carousel for the kids. If possible, walk or drive a bit further, along Circular and Union Streets to admire the large and distinctive Victorian homes that abound here.
5. Finger Lakes Region
The Finger Lakes Region of New York has been a popular destination for people seeking recreational activities for many years. There are numerous state parks in the region, but one of the most popular is located in the town of Watkins Glen, on the shores of Seneca Lake. Besides auto racing in the summer months, the Watkins Glen State Park offers visitors an interesting stroll through the glen (really a chasm, cut by a river), with numerous waterfalls and very pleasant surroundings.
Because of the abundance of waterfalls in the area, a great way to explore is by driving from waterfall to waterfall. Besides Watkins Glen, mentioned above, some of the other noteworthy stops should include Letchworth State Park, in Castile, Taughannock Falls State Park, north of Ithaca, and Buttermilk Falls and Robert H Treman State Parks, in Ithaca.
Corning, New York and the Corning Museum of Glass, in upstate New York, not far from the Finger Lakes, offer visitors a look at one of the world’s major centers for the production of glass. The town has been restored to its 19th century appearance and is a pleasant stroll. The Museum is accessible via shuttle bus from the town and is an interesting and informative look at the glass industry. Demonstrations and other interactive activities make this museum a worthwhile experience for people of all ages.
A bit further away (about 100 miles/160 kilometers), west of Corning, is the small, elegant community of Chautauqua, New York, which has long been associated with adult education and the sharing of ideas through seminars. Classes in many different disciplines are offered each summer when this secluded town with tree-lined streets and Victorian homes becomes a Mecca for those wishing to improve their knowledge or pursue the Arts. All of this takes place at the famous Chautauqua Institution, located on Lake Chautauqua.
In the evenings, during the summer, return to Watkins Glen State Park for a multimedia presentation called Timespell, outdoors, in a section of the glen, which dramatizes the geological origins of the area as well as its Native American presence.
6. The Hamptons, Long Island
The Hamptons are a series of exclusive communities which have long been a favorite vacation spot for the wealthy and famous, located on the eastern end of Long Island, New York. Since wine-making is a common activity in the region, there are numerous vineyards which offer tours and tasting.
Some of the communities maintain quaint and pretty downtown areas which offer shopping and dining. Particularly interesting communities include Sag Harbor, a former whaling port, East Hampton, and Southhampton.
Miles of sandy beaches are characteristic of the southern shore of Long Island. Of note is the Fire Island National Seashore, a stretch of seashore which is over 30 miles (48 kilometers) long, lying west of the Hamptons.
7. Hudson Valley
New York’s Hudson Valley extends from Albany south to New York City. Because the river has always been navigable by large boats, it has spawned a plethora of communities tied to the river, both physically and culturally. Among the many tourist destinations in the valley, are Hyde Park, the former estate of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, West Point, the United States Army’s Military Academy, which offers guided tours of the grounds, Albany, capital of the state of New York, with its dramatically situated Nelson A Rockefeller Empire State Plaza, as well as access to the Catskill Mountains with its many resorts and recreational areas.
While in the vicinity of West Point, take the George W Perkins Memorial Drive to Bear Mountain State Park for some great views of the Hudson Valley. The drive is especially scenic in the autumn.
8. Lake Placid
Lake Placid, New York, is a lakeshore village in the Adirondacks, in the northern part of the state. The Main Street commercial area is quaint and crowded with tourists in the summertime. Tourist activities include hiking and water sports, as well as ice skating in the indoor Olympic Arena. Many of the facilities in Lake Placid are remnants of the Winter Olympics which were hosted here in both 1932 and 1980.
Nearby is Whiteface Mountain which was the venue for alpine skiing events during the Olympics. The Whiteface Mountain Veteran’s Memorial Highway offers visitors the opportunity to drive up the mountain for glorious views of the surrounding area.