A Taste of the Big Apple: A DIY New York Tour

Ahh… the City That Never Sleeps! I’m pretty sure that everyone has, at least (and likely more than) once dreamed of heading to the Big Apple.

New York’s hurried lifestyle, while toxic to some when taken in for extended periods, still New York has a distinct and irresistible charm of its own. It’s this charm that I set out to explore during one of my travels.

There are lots of things to see in New York, but regrettably I did not have the time to tour them all. Despite that, I got to see some of the best sights this financial capital has to offer. There are definitely many types of tours you can join in when here, but for such a vibrant city I would recommend a DIY tour instead. This is especially true if you are a bit strapped for time, as it allows you to chart your own course amidst the New York landmarks. There are plenty of those to go around, so don’t worry about discovering the nitty-gritty yet. So long as you take time to visit the most important ones, you’re going to have a grand time!

The New York List

Ground Zero and 9/11 Memorial

Ground Zero and 9/11 Memorial

Ground Zero and 9/11 Memorial

Let’s start off with one of the most poignant places in the whole city, where nearly three thousand lost their lives in one of the most wretched acts of aggression in recent memory. The memorial is located on the grounds of the former World Trade Center Twin Towers, and features two reflecting pools where the buildings once were.

Aside from the pools, there is also a spacious museum that houses artifacts from the attack, as well as the accounts of survivors and the family of the victims. It’s both gut-wrenching and eye-opening to see the thousands of artifacts, complete with the scraps of destroyed vehicles and fallen debris.

There are also high-tech, interactive portions that details a lot of things about the tragedy. From oral recordings to photographs, you can get a really good view of what happened that day and how it affected countless lives. It’s also easy to see just how this event shaped the modern world, especially in the “before and after” exhibits.

Another highlight in the complex is the so-called “Survivor Tree”. This was damaged from the attack and the eventual fall of the towers, but was nursed until it regained its full health.

You can go to the Ground Zero from 9AM to 8PM everyday. Tickets are at $24 (inclusive of both memorial and museum), but you can save a lot if you purchase the New York Pass. The pass goes for $109 for a 1-day booklet, but this covers a huge array of the city’s attractions! You will have to decide how many you would like to go to, however, since the pass is not economical if you’re just visiting two or three places.

One World Trade Center

One World Trade Center

One World Trade Center

This is also located in the same complex as the Ground Zero and 9/11 Memorial, so you’re hitting three birds with one stone! The new World Trade Center is the new highlight of the New York skyline. In its beautiful architecture belies a high-tech interior that is just a delight to see!

Nicknamed the “Freedom Tower”, it now stands as the sixth tallest building in the world (and the tallest in the Western hemisphere). It has 94 stories, and houses a Global Welcome Center. This interesting space actually shows you how many visitors have been to the building, and the country they were from through a map! This is done through the ticket information that is scanned as you pass through security. This way the 1 WTC also learns where you are from, and shows you a localized greeting plus a snippet of scenes from your home city.

Beyond this impressive welcome is the “Voices” exhibit, which is a 14-minute video from the people who erected the building. It is full of emotions, and is worth a watch. Further on, there are five Sky Pods — elevators that propel the visitors to Floor 102 in just 47 seconds. And what’s at the 102nd floor? Why, the best ever view of New York you will have! There’s a two-minute video waiting, and after it the screens will lift to unveil the real draw of the observatory. There are dining options a floor down, so you can digest the beauty of the view along with some baked goodies or gourmet food.

Tickets range from $34 to $67 depending on the tour experience.

Empire State Building

Empire State Building

Empire State Building

Just a subway ride away from the WTC complex is one of the most iconic New York buildings – the building King Kong climbed! The real start of the Empire State Building (which is mostly office spaces anyway) is located on the 86th floor. This is the Main Deck, which holds the honor of being the highest open-air observatory in the city. This place is just as widely-photographed as the building itself, and has had its fair share of Hollywood appearances!

Stay for the 360-degree view the observatory affords. While you’re at it, download the accompanying Observatory Experience app to help you understand what you’re looking at from up here!

Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty

This classic of classics should not be missed for the world. Lady Liberty looks much more massive up close, standing on her little Ellis Island. An Immigration Museum showcases the statue’s history, as well as how it got the island in the first place! The museum is named such because once, more than 12 million immigrants first entered the United States through Lady Liberty’s island.

There are also audio tours available, and one can easily reach the island from Battery Park every day (9AM to 3PM).

Times Square

Times Square

Times Square

Itching for a little shopping? There’s no better place to do it that in this glittering New Year icon. Even without the ball drop looming, Times Square is a hectic and bright place. Nicknamed the “Crossroads of the World”, it also houses such popular areas such as Broadway!

Located here is one of the biggest souvenir shops in the city, as well as various other stores from the NBC (yes, the TV network!) and Virgin (yes, the same brand owned by Richard Branson!) to Hershey’s and Sanrio. That’s the type of variety you’ll see here! There’s no better place to shop till you drop than Times Square.

Central Park

Central Park

Central Park

Let’s end things with a more laid back pace, at one of the most visited urban parks in the country. It also happens to be one of the world’s most filmed locations! Straddled by the Museum of Natural History and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the huge park is perfect for a really long walk. You’ll also find several monuments, from a 1400s needle dedicated to Cleopatra to the 1985 Strawberry Fields containing trees from various countries and an iconic mosaic.

Just wrapping your head around the wealth of sights and experiences in New York can send your mind spinning, but these should be enough to give you a taste of what it’s like to step into one of the world’s greatest cities. Just make sure to mind the time as you go through the attractions!

Photo Credits:
Central Park by Priscilla Cancel
Statue of Liberty by Dominique Lacaze

  1. When downtown, during the week – a free look at the trading floor had been a favorite stop. Alas, I believe this opportunity has been lost to security concerns. Of course the building exteriors in the entire neighborhood remain architecturally impressive to look at.

  2. I am thinking about NY just yesterday and wondering when will I be there. Probably 5 or 10 years from now. Wooh, that’s still a long time to wait. Anyways, This is a helpful post! Thank you for sharing!

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