New York City 101: My Icons and Hidden Gems

Visiting in New York City and living there have completely different definitions. You could say that they are two sides of a very shiny coin. Living in NYC has a certain energy. The city itself becomes a living, breathing part of how you define yourself. For the tourist, the city can be overwhelming and chaotic. Perhaps it’s because residents see the patterns of the ebb and flow of day to day life and visitors have a harder time sorting it out. Chaos or not, NYC has it’s moments. Some good, some over hyped, some under rated, some over done. So, what’s the balance? That’s the number one question that I am asked. Here’s a look at my New York City: The Icons and Hidden Gems.

The One Line

When New Yorkers talk about the subway system you often hear thoughts like “I’ll take the 1 Line to 42nd Street and then hop on the 7 line to get to Grand Central.” It’s quite the shorthand and can be confusing for a visitor. So, if I were to recommend one train to know, I’d say 1 Line links together more sites than any other. From the Bowery to the Bronx, the 1 Line will get you where you need to go- fast.

The High Linepeople walking beside buildings

New York is in a constant state of renewal. It’s part of the magic that draws so many visitors. One of those renewal projects is the High Line. What used to be an old railway line has been transformed into what may be the narrowest park ever! At just under 1.5 miles, you can hop on and off the High Line to explore 34th Street down to 14th Street. With art, nature and walkable access to plenty along the way, the High Line is a new New York City must.

St. Patrick’s Churches

Quick note: there are two St. Patrick’s in Manhattan: the big one in midtown and the little one downtown. They are both worth the visit. Let’s start with the one you are most familiar with- the cathedral. Built in 1879, these days the cathedral is bright and shiny after years of restoration that was presided over by the ever congenial Cardinal Dolan. Since it sits opposite Rockefeller Center, it’s an easy stop to make and enjoy. I highly suggest the audio tour to really understand the history of this church in the NYC community.

Downtown is the other St. Pat’s. Officially called the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, this lesser known church is over 200 years old and holds a big NYC secret. Each day, the church offers candle light tours of the catacombs under the sanctuary. Learn about the history of the church and the who’s who of the catacomb world.

Gothic architecture

Central Park Equals City Smart!

It’s an urban park like no other and is full of history from the healing power of John Lennon’s Imagine Circle to the literary greats that line the main promenade. For a seriously fun take on this amazing slice of nature in a skyscraper jungle, check out the walking tour offered by On Location Tours. Their great guides, who are often actively auditioning stars in the making, will take through not only some of the historical points but also the lights, camera, and action moments that so many tv and film makers have used. So much fun!!!

people sitting on bench near trees during daytime

Radio City Music Hall

Step back to the roaring ’20’s with a tour through the Great Radio City Music Hall. A living breathing example of theater from days past, the hall has daily tours that dig deep into this temple of art deco. With super guides who know their RMH trivia, explore all seven floors including the front and back of the house. Learn about the secret code in the carpets and how the hydraulic stage influenced the military. I can’t think of an icon that shows off more of New York than this one.

Irish Hunger Memorial

Understanding the great immigration that builds the foundation of New York City is paramount to fully getting the point of it all. This creation of neighborhood after neighborhood filled with hopes and dreams is the truest essence of why New York City is like no other place in the world. One way to start understanding is at the Irish Hunger Memorial. I mean, take in the very name of it! These people came to our shores in boats called coffin ships. Imagine how they felt to be here away from the persecution and famine and meet new harsh realities like signs that said “Irish need not apply”. Built in 2001-2002, the memorial is a great way to understand why people flocked to America the way they did.

Staten Island Ferry

I can’t think of anything that is more New York than The Ferry. This staple of commuting shuffles more than 60,000 people each day from the most residential area of New York City, Staten Island to the Bowery. It may seem hum drum but I beg to differ. Each day, these 60,000 people pass some of our most important history. They glide past the Verrazano Narrows Bridge where ships enter New York Harbor. And many of them made their way to Ellis Island to process in to early 20th Century life. Of course, they pass New York’s grande dame, Lady Liberty. She is breathtaking and you can just imagine what it must have been like to sail in under the bridge and see her for the very first time. She was and still is a true beacon of hope.

Arthur Avenue

It always eludes me as to why visitors to NYC never venture out past Manhattan. There is SO much to see and do away from Times Square! I think a really good place to start is a great neighborhood at the end of the 2 line. Your stop is Pellham Parkway where you find yourself 5 minutes away from some of the best Italian American experiences out there. Historic Arthur Avenue is filled with shops and restaurants with some of the best Italian-American cuisine this side of Sicily. This slice of NYC will make you wonder why so many others don’t know about this gem.

pizza on white ceramic plate

Bronx Zoo

At that same 2 line stop is the World Famous Bronx Zoo. Full of a menagerie of animals the amazing staff works diligently to fuse the old world traditions with modern zoo keeping. in other words, they take care of the unbelievable buildings with unique stone carvings while ensuring that the animals housed here are not just for entertainment. Learning this conservation story is totally worth the visit.

Bonus List: What’s worth skipping?

Here is a list of what I would totally skip if I were in the city:

  • ~Times Square, instead go up to the Bronx and enjoy the calming Cloisters.
  • ~ Central Park horse carriage rides, instead go up to the boat house and rent a model to set sail.
  • – Rockafeller Center, instead enjoy the cool vibe down by the World Trade Center and grab a meal at Eataly.
  • ~ The Empire State Building, instead catch the next cool thing happening at the NYC Public Library or in its backyard, Bryant Park.
  • ~The Plaza, instead go enjoy Coney Island sans the fancy clothes. Eat a hot dog, ride the roller coaster.