WHEN TO GO
There are reasons to go in all seasons, except, perhaps, in the dead of August or during the January-March deep freeze. The end of the year is an obvious choice, because the city really dresses up for the holidays, with the towering tree at Rockefeller Center and the lighting displays and festive store windows along Fifth Avenue. (A particular favorite: the Cartier building wrapped like a Christmas gift.) Late spring, meanwhile, is an ideal time for outdoor pleasures such as people-watching from a sidewalk café. New Yorkers' favorite time of year, though, is probably fall, when a bumper crop of new Broadway shows, restaurants, and stores arrive, reviving the city's sense of energy after the languor of summer.
HOW TO GET THERE
Three major airports serve the city. Domestic flights fly into LaGuardia Airport, located eight miles from midtown Manhattan in the borough of Queens. John F. Kennedy International Airport, also in Queens, is the major gateway, serving both domestic and international flights, and is located about 15 miles from midtown Manhattan. Due to almost constant traffic, though, that 15 miles can seem like 1,500 miles. Newark Liberty International Airport, although across the state line in New Jersey, is about 16 miles from midtown and is actually more convenient than the Queens airports to neighborhoods on Manhattan's Lower West Side such as Greenwich Village, SoHo, and Tribeca.
Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road, and New Jersey Transit trains arrive at Penn Station, at Eighth Ave. and 33rd St. on the west side of Manhattan. Metro North trains, serving the Hudson Valley and the northern and Connecticut suburbs, arrive at Grand Central Terminal, located at 42nd St. and Park Ave. Bus service, including the Greyhound, New Jersey Transit, and Peter Pan lines, feeds into the Port Authority Bus Terminal at Eighth Ave. and 42nd St.. Ferry service, operated by New York Waterway, is also available from several points in New Jersey to midtown and lower Manhattan (800-533-3779; www.nywaterway.com).
The much-maligned New York City subway system may not be the most pleasant to useyes, it is dirty, crowded, and in the summer, unbearably hot, at least on the platformsbut it's hard to beat for connecting all points of the city. Buses also run frequently, north and south on the major avenues and east and west on major cross streets. Metrocards are good for both the subway and buses and can be purchased for either a certain number of rides or unlimited rides for a day, a week, or a month.
Taxis in New York are almost as legendary as the subways. Most rides are completely uneventful, but the stereotypical driversomeone with only a rudimentary knowledge of English, the layout of the city, or the basic rules of the roaddoes exist. Fares can also be expensive, particularly given the likelihood of being stuck in traffic. In midtown in the middle of the day, you may find that walking is the fastest way to get around.
Walking is in fact one of the best ways to see the city, period. It's a densely packed place but not a huge one, at least not the area of Manhattan that is of most interest to visitors, so it's easy enough to get around on foot. New Yorkers have a particular walking style, though, which is basically to keep moving regardless of vehicles, other pedestrians, traffic signals, or the flashing red hand (Don't Walk) at intersections. Cars and bicycles, which generally sail through intersections without stopping, don't always follow the rules, either. So, proceed carefully, though you'll also hear about it if you move too slowly for the locals' comfort.
Rental cars are available at any of the airports and at various locations around the city. However, having a car here is more of a nuisance than an advantagebesides contending with the New York driving style, even more no-holds-barred than the walking style, you'll have to deal with the problem of parking. There is street parking during certain hours, but drivers have been known to get into fistfights over available spaces, and parking garages are exorbitant. Better to take public transportation or walk.
Visitor Information Center
810 Seventh Ave. between 52nd and 53rd streets
Tel: 212 484 1200
Other specialized information centers:
NYC Heritage Tourism Center
Southern end of City Hall Park, Broadway at Park Row
Official Visitor Information Kiosk for Chinatown
Triangle where Canal, Walker, and Baxter streets meet
Harlem Visitor Information Center
At the Apollo Theater, 253 W. 125th St.