After recently spending just three days in New York City, I realised first hand just how many things there are to see and do there. Of course, Manhattan, just one of the five boroughs that makes up New York City, is the most well known and indeed where most visitors will head first. Though not all of it, we did spend some of our time there (also to eat all the vegan things), and indeed there are many iconic and absolutely worthwhile places to see. Here are four free Manhattan sights that can be visited relatively quickly that are worth visiting on a short trip to New York.
Much more moving than I was anticipating, visiting this massive memorial covering the area where the Twin Towers once stood is absolutely worth the time, especially for a truly humanising view and understanding of the city. Though I didn’t grow up in the United States, like anyone who was born before the mid 90s, I of course remember the day the towers fell, and standing in the spot where it happened was a profound experience I can’t really describe.
Two massive pools of water, both with bottomless pits at the centre, mark the foundations of each of the main towers of the World Trade Centre. Around the edges the names of the pools of the people who died in the attack on September 11th 2001 are engraved into the metal plating that also forms the railing around the pools.
The park is full of trees, and though they were all leafless at the time we visited, it was both a surprising and sad realisation that none of them could be more than 16 years old. Next to the memorial is the new One World Trade Centre building, currently the tallest structure in the city, and at its base, the Oculus, a shapeship-like shopping centre.
At the southernmost tip of Manhattan, Battery Park is the point from where you catch the ferry to see the Statue of Liberty up close. Skip the queues though, and you can still see Lady Liberty and Ellis Island from a distance from the shoreline.
The park itself is lovely on a sunny day and worth taking a stroll through to get out of the shadows of the skyscrapers making up the rest of Lower Manhattan. There are nice alternative views back towards the city and along the docks, as well as a few interesting spots in the park itself to discover.
There are several memorials of different kinds in Battery Park, including the East Coast Memorial (a World War II memorial), the American Merchant Mariners’ Memorial, The Sphere (a peace memorial constructed some months after the 9/11 attacks) and the Korean War Memorial.
The High Line
Travelling some twenty blocks north-south through western Midtown Manhattan, the High Line is a public green space created on an overhead disused railway track. A welcome escape from the street level madness of the city, the High Line offers a tranquil, pedestrian-only route to wander through the city and get an alternative view of the skyline.
It’s also home to multiple works of art, including some sculpture, visual art, prose and poetry. Open during daylight hours, there are multiple entrances and exits along its route. In summer especially there are many organised activities that take place on the High Line such as tours, meditation, tai chi and yoga classes as well as stargazing and live music events, all of which are free.
A visit to the High Line, especially on a sunny day, is a great way to see Manhattan. Don’t miss this one!
Grand Central Station
A copy of the former train station turned art museum in Paris, the Musée D’Orsay, Grand Central Station is so famous it’s even used as a simile for an extremely busy place by people who’ve never been: that was including me, which may have been part of the reason I wanted to visit it. That and the fact that I’m a total train nerd.
The main concourse is indeed very busy, but if you find a quiet corner, you can take your time to admire the ceiling depicting constellations and general grandeur of the architecture while the crowd flows around you.
Zab of course insisted on a visit to the Apple Store inside the station, which was actually a surprisingly calm and pleasant experience. Of course there is free wifi, it’s much less busy than the main concourse and from the balcony on which it is situated, you get a pretty good view of the station.
Visiting New York City
As a major transport hub, getting in and out of New York City is not difficult, be it by train, bus or plane. Just make sure you’re aware which airport you’re arriving at and leaving from when visiting New York City, as its three main airports (JFK, La Guardia and Newark) are quite spread out. For getting to and from the airport, Blacklane is a good option if you want a private transfer from the airport, especially if you’ll be arriving late at night and don’t want to have to navigate public transport or finding a cab when you land.
Of course, picking your New York City hotel is the next challenge. Deciding on a borough to stay and searching within that area is a good start. We actually stayed with Airbnb in Brooklyn, but close to the L-train, meaning that getting in to Manhattan to see these sights was very easy. If you’d prefer to be able to walk to many of them, then staying in Manhattan may be a better option.
What are your favourite free sights to visit in Manhattan, or New York City generally?