New York City travel guide
Brooklyn Bridge is an architectonic icon. When it opened in 1883, it was a revolutionary masterpiece by being the longest suspension bridge in the world. The boardwalk above the car lanes is perfect for a stroll across East River and a great option for enjoying the Manhattan skyline from the distance. The areas where the bridge starts and ends are surprisingly dull and uninviting, so you normally end up going back the same way, another 1825 m (5989 ft.).
New York City is a very diverse city and has, of course, a Chinatown – well, actually it has three. The original one is in Lower Manhattan with an estimated population of 100,000. The Chinese immigrants arrived in the late 19th century, hoping to get their share of the American dream. Today, the neighbourhood is packed with Cantonese restaurants, Chinese medicine shops and supermarkets with the usual Asian plastic knick-knacks. The shop signs are in Chinese characters and you hear more yelling in Cantonese and Mandarin than English. It is great place for some random wandering and affordable eateries.
After the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building is probably the most well-known icon of New York City. It was completed in 1931 as the tallest building (381 m or 1,250 ft.) in the world with 102 floors, a title it kept for 41 years. Today, it is still the tallest building in New York after the destruction of the World Trade Center (417 m or 1,368 ft.). Strangely enough, the Empire State Building has also been hit by a plane. In 1945, a small US B-25 bomber flew into the 79th floor by accident, killing 11 office workers along with the plane's three crew members. Luckily, the building kept standing, so we today can enjoy the magnificent views of New York from the outside observation deck right at the top.
Gospel in Harlem on a Sunday is becoming a mandatory stop on any New Yorker tour. Guide books often recommend the historic "Mother African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church" in Harlem founded in 1796, which is a polished and well-behaved affair. For the real thing, explore the neighbourhood for the many smaller and more obscure churches. You might be met with a stiff look by the "bouncer" but if you promise not to take any pictures, you will be welcomed inside to a scenario only thought possible in the movies. A preacher under a neon-lit cross yelling the words of the Lord while a hyper energetic band, counting more members than church-goers, keeps the clapping crowd on their feet, singing for salvation for the soul. Some of the most committed followers might even go into trance and drop to the floor. It is pure religious madness. Hallelujah.
It doesn't get more New York iconic than this. The 93 m (305 ft.) tall (from ground to torch) copper lady was a gift from the French people to the Americans as symbol of freedom and democracy. She was made in France, shipped to the USA, and assembled from 350 pieces in 1886. She was created by the commissioned French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and it is believed that his mistress and later wife was the model for the torso, and his mother for the face. Even the famous engineer Gustave Eiffel (yes, the dude who designed Eiffel tower and Long Bien Bridge in Hanoi) was involved in the project. It is possible to get up in the crown by climbing the stairs inside her, but you need to make reservation way ahead.
Times Square is really not a square but a major crossroads of Broadway and Seventh Avenue. It is right in the theater district with all the famous Broadway shows along, well, Broadway. There are the usual range of McDonald's, Ripley's Believe or Not and other odditoriums along with tourist knick-knacks and toy stores. You might even meet the "naked cowboy", famous for playing guitar only dressed in boxers and a cowboy hat. But it is the density of electrical billboards and neon signs that has made Times Square iconic. Every building facade is covered in flashing LED displays and light bulbs, and today there are even city laws that demand building owners to put up light displays.