A screenwriting class that gives sightseeing advice for New York too? Yes!
Some Selected New York City Tourism Suggestions and Tips
Statue of Liberty – Timed tickets are required for the ferry to Liberty Island from Battery Park, and getting them in advance is highly recommended, especially on the weekends, especially if you want to get the ferry departure time of your preference. The back and north sides of Liberty Island make a particularly nice walk. Add the east side of the island, where there is a long sea-wall walkway, and you are blessed with great photo-ops everywhere you look. Tickets to climb to the pedestal level of the statue are required too, and getting them in advance is also highly recommended. Tickets to climb all the way up to the crown of the statue are separate, and MUST be booked way in advance (i.e. weeks or months). There are a limited number of crown ascensions allowed per day, and those tickets sell out, often well in advance. The climb to the crown is via a tight, only semi-enclosed spiral staircase that gives you great views of the inside of the statue and its construction. The spiral staircase is kind of scary if heights make you nervous, but it gets better as you get used to it. The trip down is a relative breeze. The trip up is somewhat physically taxing, but there are regular (narrow) rest areas where you can stop and catch your breath. If you’ve ever climbed circular stone staircases to the tops of European cathedrals, the Statue of Liberty crown staircase really isn’t that bad, except for the rising height in constant view, which takes a little getting used to. When you’re in the crown, there are view windows that are part of the crown’s structure. You can see the right arm and the bottom of the torch. On the way down from the windows platform, just a few steps below it, you can see the inside of the statue’s face. Remember to look for it! A trip to the Statue of Liberty’s crown is one of the coolest tourist things one can do in NYC. Once you’re on Liberty Island, you can go to Ellis Island on the same ticket on the way back to Battery Park. You can depart Liberty and Ellis Islands at any time (the return is not a timed ticket), but there can be long lines on sunny, warm, weekend days, so you might have to wait in line for 45 minutes or so.
Staten Island Ferry – A good alternative to going by ferry to Liberty Island with many of the same great views. Get pictures of yourself at the back of the ferry as it pulls away from lower Manhattan.
Empire State Building – A trip to the Observation Deck of the Empire State Building via the regular process during the main day hours on a weekend day is an exercise in waiting a long time in a very long line. Even the express line takes a while to wind through by the time you alternate in with the regular line at the security checks, souvenir photo shoot, and multiple elevators. Views at the top are great, and it is the Empire State Building, a historic landmark worth visiting, but at least pay the extra fee for the express line. Or, another option is to go to the top late at night. The Observation Deck stays open (long) after midnight. The second, higher observation (top) deck is smaller and enclosed, in contrast to the open air, wrap-around initial deck, and you have to have an additional ticket for the second deck, which is way up there. Another line-lessening option is to skip the Empire State Building during a weekend day and go to the top of Rockefeller Center, which has shorter lines. From the top of Rockefeller Center, you better views of two major NYC sights: The Empire State Building itself and Central Park.
Rockefeller Center – If you don’t go to the top of the Empire State Building, do go to the top of Rockefeller Center. It has great views of the Empire State Building, the Times Square skyscraper cluster, and the relatively new residential super-towers at the southern end of Central Park. Plus the rest of Manhattan as well! The NBC Studio tour is also recommended. New York is the Hollywood of the East, and even though the studio tour only includes a few stops, it is worth doing. Most tours get a peek through the back windows of Studio 8H, the Saturday Night Live two-floor studio. Pictures in front of the Center’s Prometheus statue and international flags are a NYC trip staple.
One World Observatory (at One World Trade Center) – You can go to (almost) the top of the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. The 1 WTC observatory space is essentially on the 100th floor and all-enclosed by glass. There is also a restaurant just for visitors to the observatory. The waiting line to get to the top is nowhere near as long as the lengthy Empire State Building line, but it is a little frustrating in that it is segmented out, and visitors keep getting surprised by another line segment rather than arriving at the finish line. The observatory is really high, so the Statue of Liberty looks tiny from it. And downtown is so far from Central Park that you can’t even see the park. The One World Observatory is something that should be done once, but the open-air top of the Empire State Building and the open-air top of Rockefeller Center feel more quintessentially New York-ish to some. Most visitors will combine a trip to the top of 1 WTC with a visit to the not-to-be-missed National September 11 Memorial & Museum, which are located in the footprint and shadow, respectively, of the former World Trade Center twin towers.
National September 11 Memorial & Museum – A real jewel of downtown Manhattan. The memorial is moving and vast, with names of those killed in the 9/11 attack etched at the tops of the two memorial pools that are in the former locations of the World Trade Center twin towers. The memorial is open-air, open-access, but museum entry line is often quite long, so buy a timed entry ticket beforehand (or via a mobile phone as soon as you arrive onsite), if possible. The museum is large and does a great job of capturing everything about the fall of the twin towers, although not a lot else. There is an interesting “survivor tree,” a callery pear tree that got crunched in the rubble of the twin towers but then survived, that is sort of in between the two memorial pools. Ask a memorial staff member which one it is as it is not so obvious.
UN Headquarters – New York is an additional U.S. international capital of sorts, and taking the UN tour is recommended for both the sights and the survey of the UN’s role and programs. Times Square–Rockefeller Center–Grand Central Terminal–UN Headquarters is a walkable west-east route across Midtown.
Central Park – Walking around the widely recognizable parts of the park south of the Onassis Reservoir is another NYC trip staple, and should be done by everyone at some point. Not that you shouldn’t also walk around the reservoir and the north sections of the park too – those are equally worth visiting/frequenting. But limited-day visitors to NYC can only squeeze in so much in any one trip, and distances all over Manhattan can be somewhat daunting when walking is a big part of one’s sightseeing mix. Some southern and mid-portions of the park that should be seen are:
- The Pond – Site of movie scenes and commercials.
- The Zoo – By no means the biggest or best zoo in the world, but it is uniquely located.
- The Sheep Meadow – Movie scenes/shots and great views here.
- The IMAGINE John Lennon memorial – Tossed flowers and pictures here.
- The Mall tree-lined walkway – Lots of movies and TV shows shoot here. Nearby, check out the Bandshell where John Lennon danced in the Mind Games video.
- The Terrace and Bethesda Fountain – Probably the most shot movie location in Central Park.
- The Bow Bridge and Ramble – Walking in the Ramble is almost too much of a “lost in the woods” experience, but a unique one, since you’re in the middle of Manhattan. Once inside, try to find the rustic stone arch, with footpaths above/on it and below/through it, just a few (admittedly confusing) turns east of the Oak Bridge at the north end of the Lake.
- Alice in Wonderland statue – Just north of the Conservatory Water/Pond, the location of model sailboat sailing. There are lots of other sights worth seeing both below and above the Onassis Reservoir, but taking in some of the above takes one up to the…
Metropolitan Museum of Art – Throwing out a few “must-see” highlights of the Met or any major art museum is perhaps a silly thing to do. It would be a biased thing to do no matter how it was done. It would be an incomplete thing to do, no matter how it was done. However, Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware, with its European (or Little Ice Age?) mini-icebergs, Van Gogh’s Wheat Field with Cypresses (yes, there’s another one in The National Gallery in London that’s slightly different), Renior’s By the Seashore, a vertical Giverny water lilies bridge by Monet, and the actual Roman Egyptian Temple of Dendur (housed in its own massive room) are quite remarkable and deserving of their iconic status in the Met’s staggering collection. This not a highlights list; it’s just a (very) few words about the Met.
American Museum of Natural History and the Hayden Planetarium – This is basically on the other side (the west side) of Central Park from the Met. Dinosaur skeletons, the sperm whale and its giant squid prey, the Star of India sapphire, the Patricia giant uncut emerald, the origin of the cosmos, and much, much more.
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) – Three blocks from Rockefeller Plaza. Van Gogh’s Starry Night, Matisse’s Dance, a 3-panel Monet water lilies, Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans, a sculpture garden, and five floors of, well, highly significant modern art. The museum allows no-flash still photography in the collection galleries, so you can take a picture of yourself and Starry Night.
Radio City Music Hall – Also just steps from Rockefeller Plaza. On the tour, which you may need to book in advance, if it’s not in use or in use-prep, you can visit the unique performance hall. The tour also takes you to the VIP waiting/reception room, and you usually get to take a picture with a real Rockette.
Other top-tier NYC attractions to take your mind off the trials and tribulations high-end screenwriting instruction include:
- St. Patrick’s Cathedral – Almost directly across from Rockefeller Center on 5th Avenue; limited tours are available
- Times Square
- Guggenheim – Six blocks up 5th Avenue (i.e. north) from the Met
- Frick Collection
- Neue Galerie Museum (= German and Austrian Art)
- Trinity Church—Federal Hall—NYSE façade—Charging Bull statue in Wall Street district
- Battery Park – Departure point for Statute of Liberty and Ellis Island ferries
- South Street Seaport – Some dining, some shopping, some century+-old commercial buildings, some nice views of Brooklyn and its bridge
- Brooklyn Bridge (yes, you can walk across its famous, mile-long, wood-planked walkway)
- Museum at Eldridge Street (Synagogue)
- High Line elevated park – In Chelsea, and it passes right through Chelsea Market, so check it out if you visit the Market, and vice versa.
- Intrepid aircraft carrier Sea, Air & Space Museum (includes the Space Shuttle Enterprise)
- Washington Square Park and its famous Arch, which was designed by the same architect who designed the additions to the south end of the Lawn at the University of Virginia (Stanford White)/Greenwich Village
- New York Public Library/Bryant Park (an underrated and overlooked park by some)
- Grant’s Tomb – In Riverside Park just northwest of Columbia University (seeing them both on the same trip that way is a good idea). It’s bigger than you might think.
- Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine – Just southeast of Columbia University
- Apollo Theater – See where Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Otis Redding, and Aretha Franklin made history. There are tours during the day when the theater is not being used for set-up, but only for groups. However, individuals or couples may sometimes join a group, but you have to work that out with the tour office in advance.
- Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
- Grand Central Terminal – The atmosphere at the iconic Oyster Bar in the basement level is pretty good. Less so at the nearby food court…
- Madison Square Garden – The Garden has upgraded from old to modern, and the tour is interesting
- New York Transit Museum (in downtown Brooklyn)
- Roosevelt Island Aerial Tram (only 5 blocks from the southeast corner of Central Park!)
- Coney Island – It takes about an hour, but you can get there from Midtown Manhattan via subway/MTA train
…And the above list doesn’t even include seeing a Broadway musical or play or dining in any of NYC’s countless and ever-developing world-class and food-gem restaurants.
Thinking of taking a trip to New York, attending a Pen It by Hunter Ridgway screenwriting class, and taking in a few sights? You should do it!