New York is the capital of the World. The island of Manhattan, which was bought from the Indians for a handful of dollars, is where Wall Street, the economic center of gravity of planet Earth, is located; where the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) and the MET (The Metropolitan Museum of Art), two of the world’s most famous museums, stand. It also features some very well-known buildings, like the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty. Nonetheless, Manhattan’s neighborhoods have more or less succeeded in keeping a certain personality of their own. Join me in this walk around some of the island’s most representative neighborhoods and its main attractions.
Breathe Jazz and go back to the 60s in Greenwich Village
Located in the south of Manhattan, Greenwich Village is one of the most iconic neighborhoods in New York. It was there that the 1960s countercultural protests started and some of this irreverent mood has stayed over the years. It is now a very bohemian neighborhood filled with Off-Broadway theatre venues and small Jazz bars. New York University is located in the Village, and this attracts a lot of students, making it one of the best places in Manhattan to go for a beer-pong game. Greenwich Village has become a very expensive place to live: all of its ZIP codes rank among the top 10 in dollars per square meter in the USA! Nonetheless, if you visit New York, you should definitely spend some afternoons in Washington Square Place, the Village’s buzzing heart, and one of the few places on Earth where you can find a homeless man playing a chess game against a professor next to a band of very talented musicians jamming around.
Cross the High Line while admiring Chelsea and the Meatpacking District
If the Village is the bohemian neuralgic center of the Big Apple, Chelsea represents its most artsy side. Located in the western part of the island and stretching along 15 streets, Chelsea, which takes its name from the homonymous neighborhood in London, has over 200 art galleries and is where the famous Hotel Chelsea is located. Artists of the likes of Dylan Thomas, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith and Leonard Cohen stayed in the hotel, which later became infamous after Sex Pistols’ bass player, Sid Vicious, allegedly killed his girlfriend in one of the hotel rooms. Nonetheless, the top place in Chelsea is not a building, not even an art gallery: it is the High Line. Built in the 1850s, the High Line served as an elevated rail line to move ship freight around the city until the 1960s. 50 years later, it was turned into the linear park that it is today, offering superb views of the surrounding neighborhoods of Chelsea and the Meatpacking District.
Central Park, The Big Apple's green heart
Although not a neighborhood per se, Central Park is one of the best known areas in New York City and arguably the most famous public park in the world. Central Park was built in the 1850s to serve as the green lung New York City needed to cope with the exponential rise of its population. It stretches along 60 streets and 3 avenues and contains multiple public baseball and football fields, a zoo, a myriad of walking and running tracks, John Lennon’s memorial and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, a huge water reservoir that offers some delightful scenes at sunset. New Yorkers love central park, and a lot of free activities take place there, from Shakespeare in the Park, an outdoor theatre festival held annually to multiple concerts performed by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Another way of enjoying Central Park is to see it from the Top of the Rock observatory in the Rockefeller Center: you’ll see what I mean by green lung! Central Park is a great place to stay far from the maddening crowd for some hours during your stay in New York.
Listen to some of the world’s best Gospel in Harlem
Harlem’s been stigmatized for years as the African-American neighborhood in New York City, a place where you’d better not find yourself alone after 10pm. While it is true that Harlem doesn’t have the ambiance of the Village or the buzzing nightlife scene of the Meatpacking District, Harlem is one of the most interesting parts of Manhattan. Located in the north of the island, Harlem was known to be the place where poor black people lived, worked and hanged out for years and it didn’t attract much attention from the richer white people during the 20th century. Nonetheless, Harlem is home to some of the best restaurants in New York City (make sure you eat at any of its multiple Senegalese and Congolese restaurants) and is the place to be on a Sunday morning. My advice is to follow the sound of the Gospel that floats in the air every Sunday morning and get to any of the dozens of churches featuring a Gospel choir. I am not a very fervent religious person, but seeing all these people dancing, singing, moving their hands in unison literally drove me to tears. A must-go place.
Chinatown and Little Italy, two antipodal places separated by one street
Any fan of the Godfather film series knows what Little Italy was: the neighborhood which saw the rise of gangsters and mafia in the early 20th century. Little Italy has, nonetheless, shrunk considerably, mostly because of Chinatown’s relentless growth. This Chinese enclave, home to around 100,000 Chinese Americans, is one of the oldest outside of Asia. If you’re lucky enough to visit the Big Apple during the Chinese New Year, you can’t miss Chinatown’s outdoor celebrations, including a multitudinary lion dance and free fortune cookies stuffed with Chinese proverbs, more or less properly translated to English. Another activity not to be missed while in Chinatown is to eat at any of its restaurants: pick a restaurant with no occidental-looking people and order food at random from its menu, the flavours, smells and textures of the food will doubtlessly surprise you.
A cultural melting pot in the East Coast of the USA
I don’t have to tell you how interesting New York City is: Americans, and New Yorkers in particular, are better than me at that, but I can assure you that you’ll fall in love with at least one of the Big Apple’s distinct neighborhoods: from the hipster Williamsburg to the high-class Upper East Side. A lot of things happen at the same time in this small spot of the world; go discover them by yourself!
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