Few other cities inspire the imagination quite like New York. Towering skyscrapers and buzzing streets form the backdrop to one of the world's great metropolises, home to a staggering array of peoples from every corner of the globe. In the realm of art, fashion, theatre, cinema and music, New York has long played a starring role, and its fabled museums, sports arenas and world-class restaurants contribute to its legendary status.
The New York experience can be about so many things: shopping on Fifth Avenue, seeing the latest Broadway show, strolling across the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset, hitting a basement jazz club in the Village – this is just the beginning, and in New York there really is no end.
How long to spend in New York
Most visitors come for an action-filled week or ten days, though no matter how much time you have, it's worth planning your days well, and leaving room for a bit of unstructured exploring.
When to go
Avoid coming in January or February, NY's coldest months. Springtime (April and May) and autumn (September and October) are pleasant times to visit – with a packed cultural calendar, mild weather and fewer crowds. Temperatures soar in July and August, though street fairs and outdoor concerts make it a festive time to visit.
Where to go
While it's impossible to see it all, these are some places that should feature prominently in any itinerary.
Wandering the people-packed streets of Chinatown provides a window into the exotic, with its herb shops, tea parlours, fishmongers, Chinese bakeries and street vendors selling everything from paper lanterns to spiky durians. Don't miss Columbus Park, with its tai-chi practitioners and mah-jong gamers. The heart of the district lies around Mott and Mulberry Sts, south of Canal St.
The 843-acre oasis in Upper Manhattan is always abuzz, with ice-skating in winter, open-air concerts in the summer and carriage rides year-round. There's a small zoo for the kiddies, idyllic row-boating on the lake, and sunbathing on picturesque Sheep Meadow.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
In a city crowded with world-class galleries, the Met outshines them all with a staggering 2-million-piece collection. Highlights include Greek and Roman statuary, a full-size Egyptian temple, and celebrated European works showcasing the Medieval, Renaissance, Impressionist and Modernist periods. In the summer, don't miss the roof garden with mesmerising views over Central Park.
Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island
Among the world's most recognisable icons, Lady Liberty rises majestically over New York Harbor, her torch once firing the hopes of millions of immigrants. Neighbouring Ellis Island is the place to learn about the 'huddled masses yearning to breathe free' that passed through its doors.
Empire State Building
From the 86th floor of the Empire State Building you'll have magical views over New York, from the concrete canyons of Midtown to the myriad islands in the harbour. Buy your tickets online to avoid long queues. For a little extra you can ascend to the 102nd floor.
How to get around
New York City is a walkable place, with a dense concentration of neighbourhoods and sights, and hitting the sidewalks is one of the best ways of exploring the city. The extensive subway network is cheap ($2.50 for a SingleRide; $2.25 if using a MetroPass), efficient and handy for covering larger distances, and it operates round-the-clock. The ubiquitous yellow taxis are useful late at night and relatively cheap compared to those in many international cities. Plus riding in one is all part of the NYC experience.
What's around the city
During the summer, New Yorkers head out to the comely beaches and high-end dining and shopping scene in the Hamptons on Long Island. To get there, you can take the Hampton Jitney, which departs from Manhattan's East Side and makes stop at West Hampton, Southampton, Bridgehampton and finally East Hampton (the trendiest of them all). The LIRR train operates a similar itinerary, departing from Penn Station.
Costs & money
New York has a reputation for being an expensive place, though a weak US dollar has helped make the city better value in recent years. Accommodation will be the biggest expense with mid-range hotels averaging US$250 to US$350 for a double. Estimated daily budget for mid-range travellers per person is about $250. Budget travellers can get by on about $70 per day, if they stay in a hostel; while top end travellers staying in the best hotels and eating at top restaurants will need to budget US$500 per day and up.