Seeing Manhattan without Uber or Subway
Exploring Lower and Mid-town Manhattan on Foot
By Supriya Pant
Put on a pair of walking shoes, carry some water, and just set out to discover the island of Manhattan, NYC.
My personal journey on foot started with the idea of taking the New York City’s subway system to reach any particular area and promising myself that once I get off, I would only get back with sore feet that are ready to collapse.
A quick disclaimer, I am skipping some usual suspects, like Central Park and China Town because a day in Central Park or China Town is a different theme altogether. To those who feel you have seen it all, I say walk again and discover Manhattan like never before.
NYC is made up of five boroughs, Manhattan is the most famous. You can start your exploration from any place, but I suggest have the area mapped out.
Day 1: Exploring Greenwich Village
My day one started at the west side of lower Manhattan, better known as Greenwich Village. O. Henry paid a memorable ode to West Greenwich village in the opening lines of his haunting short story ‘The Last Leaf’.
In a little district west of Washington Square, the streets have run crazy and broken themselves into small strips called “places.” These “places” make strange angles and curves. One street crosses itself a time or two.
Then the Village was used to house struggling artists and musicians. The famous Hotel Albert here hosted everyone from Walt Whitman to Andy Warhol.
In the ’90s it became popular as the dwelling of the sitcom Friends. Though the show was shot in LA, the characters lived here. You can spot plenty of the famous fire exits everywhere in the Village area and the exterior shot of the building shown in the show can be found in 90 Bedford Street.
Chess in the Park
There are plenty of other things to do here like just sit around Washington Square Park. The impressive Washington Square Arch presides over a large fountain and a dazzling array of street performers.
Checkmate a buddy on the north-west corner of the park with its built-in chess tables or watch some furry friends play catch in the dog park.
The area around Washington Square Park also houses the famous New York University, to add to its vibrant young exuberance.
If you get hungry MacDougal Street is around the corner and makes global food fest a single street affair.
You can hop skip jump between the Ethiopian Injera, Vietnamese Pho, and Spanish Tapas. MacDougal Street is also home to The Comedy Cellar, which hosts both amateur and famous comedians in the New York stand-up scene.
For a change, try skipping Starbucks for a quaint Greenwich Village cafe. There are Reggio and Dante among others. You get cozy wooden interiors and a cup of old-fashioned cappuccino. If you want something stronger to drink, then have plenty of options for booze too.
Reggio’s 1902 Coffeemaker
Not taking sides, but my personal favorite is Reggio, with walls adorned with Italian renaissance paintings and the giant coffee machine from 1902. Take a book along or get a window seat and watch the buzzing street outside.
The village has taken center stage in many historic movements. If you decide to walk ahead there is Christopher Street. It has Christopher park with the famous George Segal sculpture honoring the gay rights movement and commemorating the events of the Stone Wall Inn that stands opposite the park.
The village has introduced the world to Beatniks and Bohemians. Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, and John Lennon have called it home at different times. Every street here has a hidden corner deeply drenched in rich history and trust me walking around is the only way to sink into them.
Day 2: Explore-Midtown Manhattan
This area is the heart of Manhattan’s activity. In the heart of it is Times Square. Placed at 42nd and Broadway, Times Square is filled with a dazzling display of billboards, lights, and Broadway musicals.
It’s always brimming with tourists, buzzing with activity. Fun fact, Times Square got its name when the New York Times moved here in 1904. Before that, the area was known as Longacre Square. The already crowded hub gets almost 2 million people when the ball-drop happens, ringing in the New Year.
Through the years, it has served as a popular backdrop to many celebrated pieces of art from the iconic V-J Day kiss photograph to the masterful ‘Birdman’. So, it is likely at first look it gives a vibe of “been here” but if you can be a little patient, sit on the red bleacher stairs at northern Duffy Square and soak in the mood, it will turn up as a worthy pit-stop.
Watch a Broadway Show
You can watch a Broadway musical or take a five to six-minute walk to Bryant Park. Adjacent to the New York Public library this park was a no-go area in 1970s, due to its notorious association with drugs and drug dealers. The park got restored to its current status due to the efforts of prominent and common New Yorkers. Google even installed free Wi-Fi.
It’s now an all-weather park, with Empire State watching over it. I especially love it in winter. The Winter Village kiosks serve everything from hot chocolates to hand-knitted mittens. Then there is the ice-skating rink and if you are really lucky you even get to witness the frozen Bryant Park fountain in all its glory.
Also walk over next door to the New York Public Library, to witness its magnificent ceilings and reading rooms and also drop by at the children’s section in the basement to see the original Christopher Robin’s toys that made the world of hundred-acre wood.
Skating at the Rock
A little ahead in the walk is the Rockefeller Center with its famous Ice-skating rink and the even more famous Christmas tree. Even on a non-wintery day, its observatory deck offers a great view of Manhattan or you can just enjoy walking around and marvel at the Art Deco construction that includes the famous Radio City buildings.
A short distance away is the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). On Fridays, they even offer free tickets between 4 and 8 pm. It’s a great place to get absorbed in Manet, Monet, and Picasso. It houses some of the world’s most famous artworks including Van Gogh’s Starry Nights and Monet’s Waterlilies among others. MoMA’s modern and pop art collection includes the not-to-be-missed works of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.
If the “Campbell’s soup cans” manage to stimulate your hunger, it is time to head out for Halal guys on 53rd street. Their killer red sauce on chicken over rice is well worth the long queue and wait. Cart food is another delight in the gastronomical landscape of New York City.
Even if you skip the Halal guys, head over to any of the zillion carts around the city and get yourself anything from gyro to falafel with a healthy dose of red and white sauce. You haven’t tasted New York if you haven’t tasted its cart food.
A good way to end this midtown marathon would be to head to Grand Central Station. You wi
ll need to backtrack a few steps from MoMA but Grand Central in just fifteen minutes away. Apart from being a transport hub, the station is also a shopping and dining hub. It has a cathedral-like exterior and is most famous for the astronomical ceiling in its main concourse.
Look out for the average commuters in a hurry while being the star gazing tourist! Experts may doubt the accuracy of the constellations, but this backward universe and the four-faced opal grand clock is definitely worth a watch. It’s a famous place to meet!
Day 3: Explore-Wall Street and the Financial District
At the southern end of NYC, the New York Subway greets you with Oculus. If Grand Center takes you into the grandeur of the past, Oculus is futuristic spaceship-like. During rush hours you can spot all the banking stereotypes here. Suited men and women, juggling mobile phones along with morning coffee after all Oculus belong to the busiest business district of all, Wall Street.
You can get into the observatory of one world trade center and enjoy the birds-eye view of Hudson and Jersey City skyline. The elevator to the observatory also plays an interesting graphic history of the city as it zooms you into its top floors.
Just south of the center you will be in the sobering presence of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.
From here you can charge through streets and reach the charging bull statue in about 15 minutes. You will walk past imposing building of the wall street area, cross Trinity church, and then might have to battle a queue of selfie stick holders before you get your turn with the bull.
At a short distance from the charging bull, you will reach the southern tip of Manhattan. It’s the sight of the historic Battery Park.
There is much to be appreciated here if you are history buff, but other than that it also offers a path along the Hudson to stroll, bike, or run and a stunning view of the freedom tower and Statue of liberty. Ticketed ferries are available for Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty from here.
Alternatively, a little ahead you can take a free ride on the Staten Island Ferry at Whitehall Street and feel the Hudson breeze as you experience sailing across the majestic lady liberty.
If you are still up for a longish walk after the ferry ride, the Brooklyn Bridge is around forty minutes away. In 1884, 21 elephants and 17 camels had to walk across it to prove to the public that the suspension bridge was steady.
Today we have no such problems as both pedestrians and bikers share busy narrow lanes across it. This great feat of engineering is always a very busy tourist attraction.
Ideally, end this day with a walk fifteen minutes away to South Street Seaport. Did I mention it’s one of the oldest and most picturesque neighborhoods of Manhattan?
Take a sneak peek at the South Street Seaport Museum, stop for a drink at the cobbler stone street, or just feel the ocean from the pier and watch the sun go down.
All this my friend is just Manhattan! The city of endless possibilities never disappoints steady feet. So, ladies and gentlemen next time you are in the Big Apple, skip the cab, and don’t forget those sneakers.