If it’s your first visit to New York, you already know about the big stuff (must-see works at the Met, which Broadway tickets are essentials), but what about the lesser known attractions that make the five boroughs so amazing? That’s where we come in—here’s a greatest hits list that takes you from Brooklyn to Manhattan and gives you a glimpse into the real NYC.
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America’s obsession with pizza started in 1905, when Gennaro Lombardi opened his eponymous restaurant on Spring Street. More than a century later, there are myriad places to get a pie in the city (such as TONY critics’ picks Roberta’s, Paulie Gee’s and Lucali), but we’d recommend eating your inaugural slices at this storied joint. A classic round (small $12, large $14; no slices) arrives piping hot, with a perfectly charred crust, chunks of crushed tomatoes, gooey mozzarella and a speckle of basil leaves. A line is inevitable—though it’s shorter since the resto moved into its current, larger space—so use the time to soak in the sweeping views of lower Manhattan. Cash only.
Get an up-close-and-personal look at one of NYC’s best-known attractions: the Brooklyn Bridge. Opened in 1883, the structure holds the distinction of being the world’s first major steel-wire suspension bridge. But beyond its architecture, the icon still serves an important utilitarian purpose: Every day, more than 120,000 vehicles, 4,000 pedestrians and 3,100 bicyclists cross the 6,000-meter-long span connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn. It also provides an incomparable view of the entire East River waterfront—and a way to work off your lunch. Keep an eye out for any padlocks you see attached to the fencing; newly engaged couples leave them behind after tossing the key into the East River.
You’ve no doubt heard about the glorious cultural institutions throughout the boroughs—the Met, MoMA, BAM, Lincoln Center. We love all those spots, but to get a real sense of the city, you need to look to its past. At the Tenement Museum, you’ll can spy on the lives of 19th- and early-20th-century immigrants who resided at 97 Orchard Street on the Lower East Side. Guides lead eight different building tours on a regular basis; our pick is the Sweatshop Workers excursion (60min, $22), which illustrates how immigrants survived the Great Depression in the most densely populated area of the world.
This century-old hub is one of the city’s most prized landmarks—and the place to discover some of its quirkiest secrets. In the whispering gallery, located outside the Grand Central Oyster Bar, speak softly into one corner of the arched hallway; your words will bounce to the opposite diagonal wall about 40 feet away, despite the bustle from commuting hordes. Stare at the backward constellations on the Main Concourse’s ceiling or, if you’re feeling daring, try to sneak into the secret staircase that connect the main- and lower-level information booths.
Take a breather amid all the hustle, skyscrapers and taxis. This oasis (Sixth Ave between 40th and 42nd Sts; 212-768-4242, bryantpark.org) constitutes 9.6 of the 29,000 acres of parkland in New York City. You can kick back with a slew of activities (Ping-Pong year-round, ice skating in the winter, movies on the lawn on summer Mondays). Once you’ve had your fill, toast to a day well spent at Hudson Terrace (621 W 46th St between Eleventh and Twelfth Aves; 212-315-9400, hudsonterracenyc.com). Drinks don’t come cheap, but the superlative view—this time of the world-famous Hudson River—makes the price worthwhile.