Hop to it to see New sites
EVEN first-time visitors to New York find there is something very familiar about the world's most celebrated city.
Recognisable names include the swank 5th Avenue, the theatre district on Broadway, and Madison Avenue, home of the world's biggest advertising agencies and publishing houses, once-hippy Greenwich village, Harlem, and so on. They're like old friends.
A hop-on, hop-off bus tour is a good way to start getting re-acquainted with old, new friends.
We do that on our first day.
It's great to orient ourselves before mapping the places where we want to spend more time.
New York's City Sights (CitySightsNY.com) is good value with an adult ticket (for two days) just $US49.
We'll then explore the Big Apple in more detail, this time from the slow lane, on foot.
New York City is great for walking (and cycling, would you believe). It is mostly flat and (bless the city founders) laid out in grid fashion with numbered streets and avenues making for easy navigation (many of the most interesting places are in mid-Manhattan and lower Manhattan).
So, with a Lonely Planet guide book and a city map, we plan walks, dividing the city according to how much time we have and our major interests (the bus tour gave us a head start).
We have several days to fill so we map each day's program and plot the subway stations which will give convenient start points and others for a finish point. The New York subway, one of the world's oldest and best metro rail systems, has a sensible $2.25 one-fare-to-anywhere system. It took us a couple of trips to work out the lines but, that done, it became easier.
This is how our plan looked.
Start with lower Manhattan around historic Battery Park and the ferry terminals (by the way, don't pay for a tour to the Statue of Liberty: you can get a great view of her from the free Staten Island ferry).
Take in the financial district of Wall Street. It runs only a half- mile and was named for the wall that once gave a defence against Native American tribes (nowadays it can't even offer a defence against angry shareholders).
Then walk on to the site of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre. In September, this year a national memorial and museum to the victims of the 1993 and 9/11 attacks will be opened on the site.
In the meantime, you can visit a temporary museum.
Here, too, is Chinatown, Little Italy and Lower East Side, once one of the most populated places on the planet as a succession of immigrants poured into America.
They crowded into one-bedroom apartments where even a window was a luxury (the Lower East Side Tenement Museum tells their story and is worth a visit).
On to Greenwich Village (Bleecker Street) where, in the 1960s, rebellious artists, musicians and intellectuals made their homes. The hippy people are gone now but it's nice to remember them.
The village is marked by charming, narrow lanes and brownstone buildings. Streets are lined with intimate cafes and jazz clubs.
And East Village (conveniently with street names A,B,C and D), also has an image of being edgy, radical, free-thinking.
Spend another day around midtown, including the garment district and the original Macy's store (34th street), Madison Garden Square, and Carnegie Hall, one of the world's most famous concert halls where the Beatles performed, and the Empire State Building, once the city's tallest building.
Take in the magnificent New York Public Library, especially the third floor reading room with its long rows of wooden tables and painted ceiling. The library has about 160km of bookshelves.
Sneak a peek at the huge vaulted main concourse of Grand Central Station, built in 1913, and imagine the bustling scenes when trains were in their heyday.
Times Square is the busy hub of the city. The heart and soul of the theatre district, it really covers several blocks and attracts 26 million visitors annually (most of them will seem to be there the same day as you).
If you plan to take in a Broadway show or two (Broadway has 40 designated theatres), you can get cheap same-day tickets ($36 instead of, say, $99) but you have to queue about 9.30am.
Art lovers will want to spend at least a half-day among the rich pickings in each of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art.
There's always a crowd milling silently around the guarded court-yard on 8th Avenue where Beatle John Lennon was murdered.
Across the road is Central Park and Lennon's memorial tribute: Imagine. Take a pedicab in Central Park if you are short of time.
If you have time, walk over the Brooklyn Bridge - best in the evening and from the Brooklyn side so that you look at the spectacular lights of New York City.
Cycling is big in Manhattan - and about to get bigger. The city governors are planning to introduce thousands of bicycles for locals and tourists. In the meantime, there's guided or self-guided cycling tours offered by Bike and Roll. It has 11 city depots, including Central Park and Battery Park.
We stayed at the Beacon boutique hotel on Broadway at 75th Street, on Manhattan's upper west side. It's well-placed for visiting all parts of New York City.
It is just two minutes away from a subway station. One- and two-bedroom suites have kitchenettes, handy if you want to do a quick meal instead of going out. Next door is a great little café, Viand, for breakfasts. Across the road is a huge food supermarket
Shopping is always on the to-do list. The Holy Grail is a day trip from New York City to Woodbury Common Premium Outlets.
The writer was a guest of The Beacon Hotel.