Every time I ascend from the wet innards of the New York City subway into its noisy, frenetic streets, life as I know it takes on an inordinate patina. Suddenly, I’m not just an anonymous idiot anymore, but a creative genius waiting for the rest of the world to come forward. My shoulders lift, my pace quickens, my aura becomes more attractive, my clothing more deliberate.
Everything in New York is amplified: the traffic, the wealth, even the smell of garbage. In New York, I’m both exactly the person I’m supposed to be and someone I don’t recognize. New York is my favorite place in the whole world.
New York is also, to some extent, a cliché. Tourists descend – 66.6 million in 2019 alone – like fruit flies on an overripe banana for the chance to visit its world-class museums, eat its acclaimed cuisine and walk the same streets immortalized in movies gritty Martin Scorsese (or dizzying Nora Ephron romcoms).
While the pandemic has temporarily halted crowds, NYC & Company predicts visitor numbers will rebound to 56.4 million this year. New York isn’t exactly a secret, so when I went there this spring, I was determined to do something I’d never done before: embrace its touristy side.
Rather than trying to prospect for diamonds in an already shimmering city of ice, I vowed to look at the predictable with new eyes, and perhaps come away with a deeper understanding of why it’s so beloved. .
When I arrive at Hudson Yards, the neat neighborhood where I’m staying at the Equinox Hotel (yes, the tony gym chain’s foray into hospitality, touted as “the world’s most suitable hotel”), the first thing I see is the ship. I stop to gaze at the 16-story bronze honeycomb sculpture designed by Thomas Heatherwick—tourists crowd all around for photos—but the public art leaves me cold and I move on.
It’s a completely different vibe just south along the lush, light High Line, a 1.4-mile elevated park built on an old rail line stretching high above the west side. I follow it to the city centre, enjoying the beautiful spring weather, and find myself at Little Island, home to a new park (also designed by Heatherwick) on one of Chelsea’s old quays. Due to their remoteness, in the 70s and 80s the docks were home to a thriving underground gay culture; you can still see the crumbling wooden posts where the pillars once stood, intact, like little ghosts.
Opened just over a year ago, Little Island rests on a series of undulating, funnel-shaped concrete cones that look, from afar, like the keys on a pressed-in keyboard. It’s a peaceful green oasis, populated by many families with strollers, and a balm from the rest of the city, best enjoyed from a distance from the park’s winding, elevated walkways.
One of the main things people come to see in New York is the view, so I couldn’t leave without indulging in the quintessential tourist experience: climbing the Empire State Building. The space is designed to accommodate hundreds of tourists at a time, but luckily it was nearly empty when I visited.
I make my way through an exhibit telling its historical story – once the tallest building in the world! built in 14 months! a symbol of industrial progress in the golden age! – then head to the 86th floor observatory, where the city unfolds before me.
I can see the World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty to the south, the art deco Chrysler Building to the east, and the new Hudson Yards Edge Skybridge to the west, and I feel an almost spiritual connection with all the little ones inhabitants of the world below. It’s exactly the kind of New York attraction that may seem hopelessly corny at first, but when experienced with an open mind is, in all seriousness, amazing.
It soon becomes apparent that one of the pitfalls of climbing the Empire State Building is that you can’t actually see the Empire State Building, an oversight I recognize after heading north a few blocks up at Summit One Vanderbilt, a new observatory built for the Instagram age.
With its glass floors, mirrored walls, and gratuitous sculptures by Yayoi Kusama, the view at Summit One is basically secondary to the opportunity to take selfies. As soon as the crowd exits the elevator, people start contorting on the floor and tracing dots along the glass ad infinitum, motionless until they get the right shot. It’s ironic that a skyline already so beautiful in itself has to be amplified to attract attention.
Looking for a more classic experience, I hike to Little Italy in the Bronx to sample all of its culinary delights. The main street, Arthur Avenue, is dotted with family businesses, like Teitel Brothers Wholesale Grocery and Borgatti’s Ravioli & Egg Noodles, some of which have roots in the neighborhood for 100 years.
Walking around, I feel like I’ve unknowingly stepped into a Bronx-themed episode of “The Sopranos.” At an unassuming lunch counter called Tino’s Delicatessen, I sample the most delicious and fluffy ricotta ravioli I’ve ever tasted, only to find they’ve been reheated in a humble microwave.
Anthony Ramirez, co-owner of the Bronx Beer Hall, which operates inside the retail market opened by famed mayor Fiorello La Guardia in 1940, suggests buying meat from the Calabria Pork Store, cheese from Casa Della Mozzarella and bread from the Madonia Bakery, assemble an irresistible sandwich and enjoy it in the atmosphere of its brasserie.
New York is marked by a sense of discovery that anything is possible. Turn the corner and you might notice the bottom of a street sign decorated with intricate terrazzo, or a small sign pointing to a private cemetery in the East Village. Here, the unexpected will always find you, but if you take the time to appreciate the expected, you may find it to be the least expected of them all.
Writer Isabel Slone traveled as a guest of New York and companywho neither reviewed nor approved this article.
If you are going to
How to get there: Avoid the long lines at Pearson by flying from Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (YTZ) to Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) via Porter Airlines.
Where to stay: The newly refurbished Park Lane Hotel offers stunning views of Central Park. Each room feels like stepping into a Beatrix Potter storybook, with watercolor wildlife adorning its very rustic walls.
Where to dine: At New York’s only chain Xi’an Famous Foods, spicy cumin lamb noodles and spicy beef noodles never disappoint. The new Midtown outpost of Florentine sandwich shop All’Antico Vinaio draws lunch lines, but charcuterie, fresh cheeses, flavored creams and fatty vegetables, piled on a huge cloud-shaped focaccia , are worth the wait.
What else to do: For an agreement on classic tourist sites, get yourself a CityPASS (US$129 per adult), which will grant you access to five attractions, such as the Empire State Building; the Top of the Rock, or the Guggenheim Museum; and the ferry to the Statue of Liberty — easy-peasy. Book an hour in advance and avoid the queues.
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