The REBEL Guide to New York

REBEL Editorial || March 17th

Here at REBEL we have never known a time when so many people are travelling on City Breaks. So, it appears to be a perfect opportunity to release some City Guides to help you on your way....must visit sites from city to city THAT ARE FREE (or almost Free!). 

To begin, it's the Big Apple - New York City!

1. Central Park (1/2 - full day. Free)

This part-park, part-museum, part-concert hall swallows central Manhattan, and many of the city's most notable attractions are situated next to it or within its limits (the Guggenheim, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History, to name a few). But travellers insist that you shouldn't just pass through Central Park on your way to another place. This 843-acre Eden is a favourite of New Yorkers and tourists; you can come here to exercise, dine, go to the zoo and more.

Almost everyone has a positive impression of the park, but no one has quite the same experience, or recommends that you do quite the same thing. There's an almost impossible amount of sights to see here (including 20 playgrounds, 48 fountains, monuments or sculptures and 36 bridges), but here's a shortlist:

Alice in Wonderland: This 11-foot tall statue sits upon a magic mushroom off 75th Street in the lower east side of the park. She's surrounded by the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire cat and plenty of fascinated little kids.

Bethesda Fountain: This romantic fountain's name refers to a pool in Jerusalem with healing powers. While you're there, be sure to snap a few photos of the Angel of the Waters sculpture that tops this mid-park sight. 

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir: New Yorkers love to jog by this beautiful 106-acre body of water located mid-park. It's especially scenic in autumn, when the surrounding trees are ablaze with seasonal colours.

Loeb Boathouse: During the warm weather months you can rent a boat, bike or gondola from this Victorian-style boathouse and restaurant, located around East Park Drive next to the Bethesda Fountain.

Strawberry Fields: Named after John Lennon's song, this lower west park area (at West Park Drive and West 72nd Street) sits across the street from where the singer was assassinated in 1980. Visitors like to come here to eat lunch, admire the landscaping, or pay tribute to the Beatle.

Wollman Memorial Rink: This lower-east side spot is particularly popular with young families. In winter it's a popular ice skating rink; come summer, it's where you'll find the Victorian Gardens Amusement Park.

2. The American Museum of Natural History (1/2-1 day. Donation)

Visitors are thrilled with the American Museum of Natural History off Central Park West. Whether you're exploring the interactive exhibits on the land, the sea or outer space; user reviews take on a common theme. This museum is incredible. Even the cafeteria and gift shop are worth your notice.

There are approximately 32 million artefacts inside, spread across four city blocks, 25 buildings and through 45 exhibition halls, so don't even plan on seeing all there is to see in one day. The Rose Centre for Earth and Space is a particular favourite, but you should also plan on visiting the dinosaurs, the Hall of the Universe and the Butterfly Conservatory (on display from October through May).

The American Museum of Natural History is perpetually crowded, but you'll face fewer people if you visit during a weekday in the late winter or spring. It's open daily from 10 a.m. until 5:45 p.m., and famous for its "suggested" admission prices: $22 for adults, $17 for seniors and students with an ID and $12.50 for children age 2 through 12. Take the B or C train to 81st Street or the 1 to 79th Street to get there.

3. Rockefeller Center (2-3 hours. Free)

This iconic plaza has it all — beautiful sculptures, an enormous skating rink, a fishbowl view of NBC Studios, plus hordes of stores and restaurants. Though undoubtedly there will be intense crowds, this is a big-city experience that's worth having at least once. During the wintertime holidays, the plaza sparkles with an illuminated Christmas tree and frolicking skaters gliding across the ice rink. But don't fret if your New York adventure doesn't take place during the cold months. There's plenty to do year-round. If you plan ahead, you can spend a morning watching a taping of the "Today" show, an afternoon observing the city from the Top of the Rock Observation Deck and an evening catching a performance at Radio City Music Hall.

Rockefeller Center is located in Midtown Manhattan between Fifth and Sixth avenues. To get to Rockefeller Center, take the B, D, F or M train. The Top of the Rock Observation Deck is open from 8 a.m. to midnight each day (the last elevator is at 11 p.m.). While there you can participate in the deck's Art and Observation Tour, but note there's a $27 fee. There are also free tours of the Rockefeller Center and NBC Studios. 

4. Bryant Park (1-2hours. Free) (Richard's favourite place in NY)

Just south of Times Square lies some of the most beautiful 4 acres in Manhattan — Bryant Park. Though its lush green space has existed for more than 150 years, Bryant Park was a revitalization project of the 1990s that made it a sanctuary for locals and tourists alike. This is the preferred place for Midtown Manhattan professionals to come eat lunch, for fashionistas to strut during fashion week and for performers to showcase their talents during Broadway in Bryant ParkPiano in the Park and the "Good Morning America" Summer Concert Series.

You don't need a preplanned event to enjoy Bryant Park — you could simply come here to enjoy the scenery or to use the free Wi-Fi. Recent visitors do offer a few suggestions though, like stopping in the New York Public Library (which sits facing the park's Great Lawn), ice skating around the Pond, or riding on the French-style carousel. The list of activities doesn't stop there. Bryant Park also hosts yoga and tai chi classes, knitting circles, chess tournaments and literary events. Unsure of where to start? Mull over your choices in the park's eateries: Bryant Park Grill, Bryant Park Café and the wichcraft sandwich stand.

You'll find Bryant Park at Sixth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Street; take the B, D, F or M train to 42nd street or the 7 train to Fifth Avenue. Hours change dependent on season and activity.

5. Metropolitan Museum of Art (1/2 day. Donation)

No museum in the United States is as celebrated as the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Spilling over with masterpieces from all over the world, including notable collections from Ancient Egypt and classical antiquity, "the Met" is an art experience unlike any other, and like much in New York, it's impossible to see all the museum has to offer in one day (or even two days, for that matter). If you've never been there, then you should definitely visit its permanent collections (the first floor's Greek and Roman art, Egyptian art and the second floor's Islamic art exhibits are especially popular with travelers). If you've already visited the Met a time or two, then plan your next trip around the semiannual exhibits by the Costume Institute, or head to Cloisters, an offshoot museum of the Met that's dedicated to medieval Europe's art and architecture located in Fort Tyron Park.

You can take the 4, 5 or 6 train to the 86th St. station; the museum is located at 1000 Fifth Ave., on the eastern perimeter of Central Park. You can visit the museum from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. On Friday and Saturday you can stay and browse until 9 p.m. (You can also patron the museum's Great Hall Balcony Bar or Petri Court Café and Wine Bar for a quick cocktail.) Admission to the Main Building and The Cloisters Museum and Gardens costs up to $25.

6. National September 11 Memorial & Museum (1/2 day. Free)

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum serves as the primary tribute to the nearly 3,000 victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks, as well as the six lost in the 1993 bombing. The Memorial's twin reflecting pools and manmade waterfalls rest as eerie footprints where the World Trade Center's Twin Towers once stood. The 1-acre-sized pools are enclosed in bronze panels on which the names of every victim are inscribed.

Recent visitors cite the overall ambiance of the National September 11 Memorial as somber but moving. "It is a beautiful place for people to gather and remember that even in the midst of tragedy, there can be beauty and peace," explained one TripAdvisor user. You must book your visitor passes, preferably at least two to four weeks in advance, as only a limited number of tickets are distributed per month. Admission is free, but you'll be required to pay a $2 service fee for reservations made online or by phone.

The National September 11 Museum spans across 110,000 square feet and relays the narrative of the attacks through a series of multimedia displays, real-time recordings, authentic artifacts, and an interactive table.  General admission costs $24; family members of the victims of the 2001 and 1993 attacks as well as 9/11 rescue and recovery workers may enter for free. There are also discounted rates for seniors, veterans, students and children; on Tuesdays, admission is free for all visitors between 5 and 8 p.m. 

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum is accessible via the Fulton Street subway stops, which are serviced by the A, C, J, Z, 2, 3, 4, or 5 lines. The memorial welcomes visitors daily from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m; the museum opens its doors from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., with last entry at 7 p.m.

7. Grand Central Terminal (2 hours. Free)

At this beautiful train station, you can eat some lunch, or shop till you drop, but recent travellers most enjoyed just taking in the scenery. According to one TripAdvisor user, "Grand Central Station is breathtaking. It is a shining example of the amazing, vast, grand, 'old New York' architecture."

Before you enter, be sure to snap a few shots of the ornate Beaux-Arts neoclassical architecture outside. Inside the celebrated main concourse, you're treated to glimmering marble floors, gold and nickel-plated chandeliers and a sky-themed ceiling. Food options range from the upscale (Michael Jordan's The Steak House N.Y.C. or The Campbell Apartment) to the legendary (the Oyster Bar or the gourmet kiosks at the Grand Central Market) to the fast and easy (Starbucks) and shoestring cheap (a bag of potato chips from the Rite Aid is always an option). As mentioned, there are also plenty of shopping options, though most travellers suggest you leave most of Grand Central's pricey merchandise in the store. If you want a train-themed souvenir, visit The New York Transit Museum Store in the shuttle passage.

Grand Central Terminal is another prominent attraction located in Midtown Manhattan. You can reach the station on the 4,5,6,7 or S trains. If you just want to take a quick peek, note the station is free to enjoy from 5:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. The website offers suggested itineraries for self-guided tours, but most travellers recommend you take a free guided tour on Wednesdays and Fridays.

8. New York Public Library (2 hours. Free)

This main branch, officially called the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, attracts plenty of book lovers, history junkies and architecture aficionados. Most people swing by the Bryant Park landmark to say hello to Patience and Fortitude (the famous stone lions guarding the entrance) and to admire the lovely Beaux-Art design.

If you're in the mood to read, you'll find an exhaustive collection of maps, in addition to special collections of English and American Literature, English Romanticism and rare books. This library is also the site of several lecture programs and a newly minted children's section.

To get there, take the B, D, F or M subway train to the 42nd Street-Bryant Park stop or take the 7 train to the Fifth Avenue station. Different branches of the public library have different hours, but the main branch is open daily. You can visit from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and on Tuesdays and Wednesdays the branch stays open until 8 p.m. On Sundays, visitors are welcome from 1 to 5 p.m.

9. Times Square (2 hours. Free)

Some say that Times Square is like a five-block metaphor for New York City itself — it's exciting, colorful and always jumping. Others describe this area of Midtown Manhattan as artless, overpriced and congested. Perhaps this commercial stretch from West 42nd to West 47th Street is a little of both, and though locals would advise you to avoid it, you should at least catch a glimpse of its neon lights. Most travelers recommend visiting the area after dark. "I love Times Square, especially at midnight when it's brightly lit and the place is a hive of activity. It's quite a sight," exclaimed one TripAdvisor user.

Times Square's biggest tourist draw is the annual New Year's Eve ball drop. Revelers jam-pack the area to see New York's famous Waterford Crystal ball descend 77 feet from a pole on the One Times Square building. If you're feeling brave, take a trip to New York and Times Square at this time of year and watch the ball drop for free! Just plan on coming in the early morning and staying all day, and note that the area is super crowded — even by New York standards.

Times Square's constant activity makes it easy to find (take any train that stops at 42nd Street and Times Square or Port Authority).

10. The High Line

Set on an abandoned rail track on Manhattan's West Side, this sprawling nearly 1½-mile-long landscaped park stretches over three of the city's most lively neighborhoods: the Meatpacking District, West Chelsea and Hell's Kitchen. Standing 30 feet above street level, the High Line offers sweeping views of the Hudson River and Manhattan's cityscape. But the vista isn't the only reason visitors and Manhattanites flock to this manicured green space. Here, you'll find continually changing public art installations, a handful of food vendors and a sprawling picnic and sunbathing area (known as the 23rd Street Lawn).

Recent visitors recommend escaping to the High Line when you need a break from the city's hustle and bustle. "This park is great — you feel a little closer to the beautiful NYC skyline, all while enjoying the beautiful flowers and landscaping," wrote one TripAdvisor user.

The High Line is split into three sections, with nine easily accessible entrance points. The first section extends from Gansevoort Street to West 20th Street. The following section stretches all the way to West 30th Street. And the third installment runs from West 30th to West 34th Street. You can reach the High Line via the L, A, C or E trains to 14th Street and 8th Avenue, the 1, 2 or 3 train to 14th Street and 7th Avenue, or the 1 train to 18th or 23rd street. Access to the High Line is free.

Other honourable mentions for Free Attractions go to....The Chrysler Buiding, Coney Island and Brooklyn Bridge.

Have a great time!