In January 1904, a devastating fire raged through the Norwegian seaport of Ålesund. After only 16 hours, it had destroyed 850 wooden houses, leaving more than ten thousand people homeless. Only 230 houses remained in Ålesund’s town centre after the fire was extinguished, and the townspeople set out to rebuild their city with the help of donations, passersby, and construction workers, who were in the middle of an economic depression and flocked to the town for jobs. By 1907, the town had been rebuilt in brick and modelled after a new style its citizens deemed befitting newly sovereign Norway entering the new century: Art Nouveau. Today, it is known internationally among the likes of Barcelona and Vienna as one of the world’s most concentrated Art Nouveau cities.
There are varied expressions of art nouveau throughout the city, from the German Jugendstil to the national romantic Norwegian Dragestil inspired by the stave churches of Norway’s Viking past. When strolling through the streets of Ålesund, one cannot help but be amazed by the myriad of turrets, spires, geometric windows, and intricate ornamentation ranging from animal and human faces to dragons and elaborate flowers.
Jugendstilsenteret (The Art Nouveau Centre)
Jugendstilsenteret is located in the old Swan Pharmacy from 1907 and is both a museum and a national centre of Art Nouveau. The centre offers insight into this style by means of authentic interiors and objects as well as temporary exhibitions.
The notion of Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art) is a core principle of Art Nouveau. Architecture, design, and art are integrated to give an overall impression of harmony. This is especially true of the Pharmacy Building, where every detail was meticulously planned by architect Hagbarth Schytte-Berg. See for yourself…
Today, I am delighted to present a new series of posts: Art of the City. Each post will showcase one of my favourite cities across the globe and provide you with all you need to know for an indulgent getaway of culture, gastronomy, and sightseeing. Enjoy this first post about New York City (specifically Manhattan).
View of Manhattan from Top of the Rock
The Art of Living
Like any big city, NYC has many great hotel options to suit your needs. I personally recommend having a hotel base in Midtown to be within walking distance to everything. Not only does it save you a lot of travel time (that cheap Airbnb in Brooklyn is so not worth it!), but it will also enable you to maximise your cultural experience by being in close proximity with architectural landmarks like the Empire State, Flatiron, and Chrysler buildings.
The Royalton Hotel‘s perfect location in the heart of Midtown makes much of the city accessible by public transportation. It is just a short walk away from Fifth Avenue, the Theatre District, and Times Square.
If you prefer to reside somewhere away from the bustling streets of Midtown, choose an accommodation in the Financial District. I thoroughly enjoyed staying at the Club Quarters Hotel, World Trade Center – it is not far from the New York Stock Exchange and just a few blocks from Battery Park (where you can take a ferry to see the Statue of Liberty). Additionally, there is an excellent view of the Freedom Tower from the North Terrace.
The Art of Gastronomy
There are so many restaurants to choose from in NYC, but these are my favourite places for fine dining because they offer rich cultural history in addition to impeccable service:
The Russian Tea Room
Nestled between Carnegie Hall and Metropolitan Tower is a whimsical escape from the bustling streets of NYC: the Russian Tea Room. It was a favoured gathering place of those in the entertainment industry (including Ayn Rand) and remains a great spot to have brunch or afternoon tea just before you head out to shop on nearby Fifth Avenue.
With wood-paneled steakhouse vibes and equestrian trimmings, the Polo Bar is a must-visit for all fans of Polo Ralph Lauren.
Benihana Midtown West
The original Benihana opened on W 56th Street in 1964 and was the first Japanese teppanyaki restaurant in America. Ever since, their skilled teppanyaki chefs have been delighting customers with their exquisite knife theatrics and intricate food preparation. From sushi to filet mignon, the Benihana culinary experience offers a unique dining atmosphere where you can enjoy delicious food, be entertained, and even make new acquaintances.
App to download: OpenTable/Yelp
With OpenTable (iOS/Android), you can collect Dining Points when you dine at a restaurant you have made a reservation at. These points can be redeemed for Dining Rewards (credit that can be used at many OpenTable restaurants), Amazon Gift Cards, or hotel discount on KAYAK. Even if you do not need a reservation, it can be good to make one for point-accruing purposes 😉
Yelp (iOS/Android) is a handy app to download if you want to read about a restaurant before heading there. In the app, you can take a peek at the menu, see which places are open nearby, read reviews ranging from general summary to in-depth guides, and even order delivery/takeout.
The Art of Sightseeing
If you want a phenomenal view of the city from above without splurging on a helicopter tour, visit these places:
There are many places to see in New York, so go to the One World Observatory first and pick out your favourites 😉
View of Manhattan from One World Observatory
Top of the Rock
You may be wondering: Which is more worthwhile to visit, the Empire State Building or Top of the Rock? While each offers a distinct view of NYC, I prefer Top of the Rock for its easy accessibility. Waiting times are often shorter (and easily endured while browsing the assortment of shops at the Rockefeller Center) and the multi-level observation deck allows for spacious and unobstructed photo opportunities.
After the tour, you can additionally take a stroll around the Rockefeller Plaza 🙂
The Art of the Arts
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Met Museum is New York’s answer to the British Museum in London, and, like its counterpart, requires at least a day to peruse. From ancient Greek sculptures to American stained glass windows – the Met has art from cultures around the world spanning more than 5000 years and is my absolute favourite destination in Manhattan.
If you need a little fresh air while browsing through the exhibitions, pop up to the Cantor Rooftop Garden Bar for a sandwich/drink and yet another fabulous view of the city 😉
View from the Cantor Rooftop Garden Bar
The Metropolitan Opera
The Metropolitan Opera was founded in 1883 by a group of wealthy industrialists who wanted their own theatre in retaliation to being excluded from the established Academy of Music opera house by the “old money” New York families. Now, it is one of the largest classical music organisations in the world and produces a large repertoire of operas every year, with a roster of internationally-acclaimed artists. When the opera company is on hiatus, the Opera House is home to the spring season of American Ballet Theatre and also hosts visits from other noted opera and ballet companies.
If you can only afford nosebleed seats but still would like to attend a show (after all, nothing compares to hearing music live!), consider investing in a pair of opera glasses.
A fantastic show can set the stage for your NYC experience, and there is nothing as quintessentially New York as Broadway. Watch your favourite movies come to life in hits like My Fair Lady and Anastasia.
App to download: TodayTix
TodayTix (iOS/Android) makes getting theatre tickets a cinch. From last-minute discount Rush tickets to premium orchestra seats up to 30 days in advance, the app lets you skip the line without skipping the show.
The Art of the Outdoors
Manhattan is not about just skyscrapers and museums! Here are a few of my favourite neighbourhood spots to take a stroll, admire outdoor monuments, and inhale the city atmosphere:
Upper Manhattan: Central Park
Central Park is the perfect place to relax (or have a picnic) and gaze up at skyscrapers piercing through the clouds.
Midtown: Times Square
There is nothing that screams capitalism like the dynamic, ever-changing beat of Times Square. As Michael Scott from The Office said, “This is the heart of civilization, right here.” Sit down for a break at the pedestrian plaza and be entertained by costumed panhandlers, or crash a wedding shoot like me 😛
Lower Manhattan: Wall Street
The Financial District is a nice area to take a stroll because it is generally less crowded than other neighbourhoods in Manhattan. I recommend starting along Wall Street from the subway station past the Trump Building, the New York Stock Exchange, and Federal Hall, then turn on Broadway either toward Charging Bull or New York City Hall.
Statue of George Washington outside Federal Hall
Brooklyn Bridge was the world’s first steel-wire suspension bridge and is the primary connection between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Stroll to the middle of the bridge around sunset for a romantic view of the New York skyline.
Ferry to Ellis Island
Once the point of entry for millions of immigrants, Ellis Island is now home to the National Museum of Immigration. I find that taking the ferry to here is adequate to get a great view of the Statue of Liberty without having to wait in line or make reservations in advance to go to Liberty Island.
So, “What’s New York City like anyway?” Let the cast of Annie tell you:
Enjoy your trip to the Big Apple and let me know your favourite places in the comments below! 🙂