You know what people say about New York City: It’s a helluva town. It’s a concrete jungle where dreams are made of. And, as Billie Holiday once sang, its “glittering crowds and shimmering clouds in canyons of steel” make us feel like we’re home.
Millions of people have found inspiration in New York’s buildings, its energy, and its people—but there are also so many under-the-radar places, moments, and experiences in the five boroughs that go a long way toward cementing Gotham’s reputation as the greatest city in the world.
Let’s count the ways we love New York City.
1. The skyline. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve lived in New York City; seeing the skyline from afar—with its cloud-piercing skyscrapers and array of architectural styles—is enough to take your breath away.
2. The I NY logo. Among legendary designer Milton Glaser’s many contributions to the world is this cheerful logo, created in 1977 and now a much-imitated piece of New York’s history. Go ahead and wear that old tee you bought on a lark in Times Square with pride—we won’t judge.
4. Walking. This is a city best experienced on foot, if possible—you truly absorb its energy, and better understand its nuances, when you meander through its neighborhoods. (Walt Whitman was a fan—enough so to mention his walks through New York in much of his work.)
5. The Roosevelt Island Tramway. The 42-year-old tram is the best way to take in scenic views of Midtown architecture—from the top of the Chrysler Building to the Queensboro Bridge—and all it requires is a swipe of a MetroCard.
6. Urban wildlife. And no, we don’t mean Pizza Rat; New York is home to all manner of wild animals, from coyotes to a Hot Duck to a cluster of wild monk parakeets near Brooklyn College.
7. 24-hour everything. It’s not called “the city that never sleeps” for no reason—practically anything you could ever want is available at all hours of the day.
8. Art Deco buildings. Everyone knows and loves the Empire State Building, but don’t sleep on unheralded Deco gems, from Ralph Walker’s stately towers for telecom companies to the stately apartment buildings of Bronx’s Grand Concourse.
9. The Strand. Is there a better way to spend a rainy afternoon than browsing through this iconic shop’s 18 miles of books?
10. Seeing New York on the big screen. Whether it’s John Travolta strutting through Bay Ridge in Saturday Night Fever, gangs duking it out in the subway in The Warriors, or Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan finding love atop the Empire State Building in Sleepless in Seattle, the celluloid skyline never gets old.
11. Sunsets in Sunset Park. From its highest point, at 164 feet above sea level, Sunset Park offers one of the most phenomenal views of Manhattan there is—especially in the summer, when the city’s sunsets are particularly brilliant.
12. The ceiling at Grand Central Terminal.
13. Pocket parks. Because New Yorkers need all the green space that they can get—and because many of these minuscule parks are architectural gems rendered on a small scale. (See: Paley and Greenacre parks in Midtown, both quiet oases—with waterfalls!)
15. Ignoring celebrities. Sure, you might share your story about sitting next to Lou Reed at a movie theater at parties, but in the moment? We treat celebrities like any other New Yorker—with polite indifference at best.
16. Central Park. It never gets old, and no matter how long you’ve lived here, there’s probably still some corner of this park you haven’t discovered yet.
17. The subway… Yes, really—it may be old and constantly breaking down, but the fact that it’s existed for more than a century, ferries millions of passengers each day, and runs 24 hours? That’s something to appreciate.
18. …and bitching about the subway… Because nothing has united New Yorkers in the past year quite like the transit system’s constant meltdowns.
19. …and blaming the subway when you’re late. LA has traffic; New York City has subway snafus.
20. People-watching. It’s one of New York’s most beloved pastimes, whether you’re checking out the summertime sunbathers in Central Park’s Sheep Meadow, stylish gallery-goers in Chelsea, or families picnicking in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
21. The wooden escalators at Macy’s. Even if you can’t handle the overwhelming crowds at Macy’s Herald Square, a trip up and down the building’s wooden escalators—a relic of 1920s New York—is a must. (Fans of the 98-year-old escalators have taken to calling their obsession “handrailfanning.”)
22. Manhattanhenge. The setting sun perfectly aligns with Manhattan’s east-west street grid, creating one of the city’s most beautiful (and most Instagrammed) natural phenomena.
23. The number of spoken languages in the city. Some estimates say it could be as many as 800, and Queens alone has about 138—that’s more than anywhere else in the world.
24. The abundance of extremely cheap eats. NYC might be one of the top destinations for haute cuisine, but there are still plenty of places to fill up for little more than pocket change—dollar slices, falafel sandwiches, hot dogs, you name it.
25. Chinatown—all three of ’em. Each of New York’s diverse, bustling Chinatowns has its own distinct flavor. Get dim sum at Nom Wah Tea Parlor in Manhattan, load up on goodies at Food Mart on Sunset Park’s bustling Eighth Avenue, or sample a little bit of everything at the massive 30-vendor food court at New World Mall in Flushing.
26. The birthplace of hip-hop still exists. Arguably the most important musical innovation of the past century came into being in a rec room in the Bronx—and the building where DJ Kool Herc first introduced an enthusiastic crowd to the breaks is still standing to this day.
27. Honey locust trees. You know those long, brown seed pods you see littering streets and parks when the seasons change? Those are from honey locusts, one of the most prevalent street trees and a beautiful addition to the urban landscape.
28. The Temple of Dendur. The chance to explore the remains of an over 2,000-year-old Egyptian Temple in one of the best museums in the world? Yes, please.
29. Random acts of kindness from strangers. New Yorkers have a reputation for being brash, abrasive, and, well, kind of assholes. But if you’ve lived here long enough, you know that’s not true—and you may get help from your fellow New Yorkers when you least expect it. (We’re just usually in a hurry, is all.)
30. Knowing exactly where to wait on a subway platform so you exit your train at the exact right spot. Bonus points for doing this without the help of an app.
31. The panoramic view from the top of the Wonder Wheel. It’s pure magic. (Be sure to take at least one ride in the 98-year-old Ferris wheel’s swinging cars.)
32. The Staten Island Ferry. It’s not just a mass transit option; the Staten Island Ferry also happens to be one of the city’s top-notch date spots. (It’s free, it has beautiful views, and you can grab drinks on board—what more could you ask for?)
33. The eccentrics who make the city their home. The city has always drawn characters who didn’t fit in elsewhere—people like Jim “the Mosaic Man” Power, who covered East Village buildings and light poles in his trademark glass pieces; or Elizabeth Sweetheart, the Green Lady of Carroll Gardens; or Blackwolf the Dragonmaster, the unofficial wizard of Central Park. Their ranks may be thinning as the city becomes more upscale (and less tolerant of weirdness), but they’re an essential part of its DNA.
34. Times Square billboards. “They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway,” and what would New York City be without those iconic signs?
35. Bodega cats. Along with 24-hour service and hangover-busting bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches, bodega cats are one of the things that make New York’s corner stores so uniquely New York. Plus, they’re cute.
36. Victorian Flatbush. Wander through the neighborhoods of Ditmas Park and Fiske Terrace and you might forget you’re in Brooklyn at all, thanks to their bucolic streets lined with gorgeous, rambling Victorian homes.
37. The Rose Main Reading Room. It’s one of New York’s most majestic spaces—and a landmark!—and you can take in its grand architecture, better than ever after a recent renovation, without paying a penny.
39. Pat Kiernan. The longtime NY1 anchor, who curated the day’s most important news stories before blogging was even a thing, has been a soothing morning presence for more than 20 years.
40. The Bleacher Creatures. A game at Yankee Stadium without the Creatures’ signature roll call—a call-and-response with each player in the starting lineup—wouldn’t even be a Yankees game at all.
41. The city is a melting pot. Need proof of New York’s wonderful diversity, culinary and otherwise? Head to Richmond Hill’s Little Guyana or Staten Island’s Little Sri Lanka; thousands of immigrants have settled in these neighborhoods, bringing the foods and traditions of their homelands to the five boroughs. (If you’ve ever sampled the roti in Richmond Hill, you’ll know we’re all the better for it.)
42. Sylvan Terrace. This charming, cobblestone street, lined with wood-frame houses from the 19th century, is a reminder of New York City before it became overrun by skyscrapers. See if you can spot it the next time you re-watch Boardwalk Empire.
43. Christmastime. Because it’s magical, dammit. (And who doesn’t love “Fairytale of New York”?)
44. The secret hidden in Central Park’s street lamps. If you’re ever lost in Central Park, look to the lamp posts; one of New York’s coolest navigational tricks is found on them. (They indicate the closest cross streets and what side of town you’re on.)
45. Design gems hidden throughout the subway system. See: Barbara Stauffacher Solomon’s “sleazy Helvetica” at 68th Street, Chermayeff & Geismar’s colorful wayfinding system at 53rd Street-Lexington Avenue, and Sol LeWitt’s playful neon mural at 59th Street-Columbus Circle.
46. Surfers at Rockaway Beach. It’s no Pipeline, the sight of surfers off the coast of Queens is always a welcome surprise.
47. Radio City Music Hall’s bathrooms. The Art Deco design of Radio City’s loos is among the best in the city. They also have foot-operated hand dryers, which is something you don’t see every day.
48. The Mister Softee jingle. There’s no surer sign that summer is on its way in New York than hearing ice cream trucks making the rounds once the weather gets warm. (Did you know the jingle has lyrics? You’re welcome.)
49. Seeing iconic architecture from the NYC Ferry. Among NYC Ferry’s many charms is the fact that it does double duty as one of the city’s best—and cheapest—architectural boat tours. With the ferry now operating six routes throughout the city, it’s the best way to gaze at some of NYC’s most iconic architecture, like the Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State Building, and the U.N. Building.
50. Little India. Much like its Chinatowns, NYC is also home to two vibrant Little Indias, in Murray Hill and Jackson Heights. For a truly meta experience, check out a store named Little India in Manhattan, and shop for spices and South Asian treats to your heart’s content.
51. Modernist buildings. New York’s collection of modern architecture—from the stunning green glass of SOM’s Lever House to Marcel Bruer’s concrete creations at the Bronx Community College—is a unparalleled. (Let’s try to keep it that way.)
52. That feeling when you finally master the subway. There’s no predetermined amount of time that you must live here to count as a New Yorker, but for non-natives, getting to the point where the subway is no longer a confusing mess of different-colored lines and weird transfers is certainly a qualifier. (Understanding convoluted weekend schedules takes you to a whole other level.)
53. Nuyorican Poets Cafe. Places like the this East Village mainstay—founded in 1973, and a refuge for musicians, comedians, and other performers typically underrepresented on larger platforms—preserve the artistic legacy of the neighborhood, even amid constant change.
54. Street trees… It may be a concrete jungle, but New York also has a thriving urban tree canopy—over 44,000 acres in all, with more added every year. (And you can request one for your block!)
55. …and that moment in spring when all of the street trees start to bloom. Is there a more welcome sight after a long, cold winter than a magnolia or cherry tree exploding with color, with a brownstone as its backdrop?
56. Chowing down at Nathan’s at Coney Island. Nathan’s may be a nationwide fast-food chain now, but nothing beats the taste of the original, found only at Coney Island.
57. Riding the Metro-North upstate. It’s one of the prettiest views of the Hudson River we ever did see.
58. “Showtime” subway dancers. Before you dismiss this one, think about it: Subway dancers are a quintessential part of the commuting experience, and they’re often actually really talented. Plus, they’re hustling to make an honest buck—and isn’t that what New York is all about?
59. Shakespeare in the Park. Only in New York can you see some of the best names in show business perform Shakespeare for free (assuming you get tickets, anyway). Make a day of it: Lines for free tickets start forming as early as 6 a.m., so bring a blanket, some food, and some board games, and have a lovely little picnic as you wait.
60. Street art. New York is where graffiti became a bona-fide phenomenon, and while you won’t see subway cars covered in colorful tags these days, there are still plenty of places to appreciate street art. The Bowery Wall, the Bushwick Collective’s outdoor gallery, and the Graffiti Hall of Fame in Harlem are all good places to start.
61. New York has inspired some of the best art. From Do the Right Thing to Transformer to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to “Native New Yorker” to … well, we could go on forever. Point is: The countless musicians, authors, artists, performers, and other creative types who’ve flocked to NYC since forever have created an abundance of mesmerizing, important art—more than any other city can lay claim to.
62. Weeksville Heritage Center. One of the city’s oldest buildings is also a testament to one of its oldest African-American communities. Weeksville—which is also home to a stunning modern visitors’ center by Caples Jefferson Architects—is a portal to the past with important lessons for the present.
63. MetroCards. The floppy plastic cards will soon be phased out, so now is as good a time as ever to appreciate them. We’ll especially miss the ones festooned with artwork by Barbara Kruger or images of David Bowie, among other things.
64. Brooklyn brownstones. Owning one of these historic beauties—especially prevalent in neighborhoods like Park Slope and Bed-Stuy—is the New York version of the American dream.
65. Watching movies outdoors while the sun sets. There isn’t a better backdrop to catch an outdoor movie during the warmer months than the city’s skyline, and with free screenings at places like Hudson River Park and Waterside Plaza, there are plenty of options to choose from.
66. Finding nature amid the chaos. Manhattan may be fast-paced, but there are plenty of places off the island to get away from it all—the New York Botanical Garden, the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Center, or Staten Island’s myriad parks—and where you can stop and smell the roses (literally).
67. Jeremiah Moss. Moss has chronicled the city’s disappearing mom and pops for more than a decade, and is an essential check on the rampant development that’s overtaking New York’s neighborhoods.
68. The diversity of residential architecture. Look to Queens—the city’s largest borough, and one with a plethora of interesting low-rise homes—for proof.
69. Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. The 136-year-old icon doesn’t look a day over 100, and a stroll across its mile-long span is always a thrill. (But try and do it early in the morning, or late at night, so you can avoid the throngs of tourists who’ve all had the same thought.)
70. City Island. It’s a small, seaside town the middle of the Bronx.
71. World’s Fair relics. There may not be too many of them left, but the structures that do remain—the Unisphere, or Philip Johnson’s New York State Pavilion—are stunning midcentury marvels, and reminders of a time when optimism about the future was the name of the game. (We also love when they’re repurposed; the former New York City Building from the 1939 fair is now the Queens Museum.)
72. Cobblestone streets. While asphalt is now used for most of the city’s streets, head to places like the Meatpacking District or Dumbo and you’ll find plenty of historic cobblestone streets that instantly evoke old New York.
73. Museums in unexpected places. The Met is great and all, but New York is also chock full of offbeat cultural hotspots where you’d least expect them—the Fire Museum is located in a former Soho firehouse, or there’s Mmuseumm, ensconced in a former freight elevator in Tribeca.
75. Eating at old-old-school restaurants. There’s something comforting about going to Totonno’s on Coney Island, or Peter Luger’s in Williamsburg, or the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden in Astoria, and sampling dishes that haven’t changed too much since those establishments opened—in some cases over a century ago.
76. Fire escapes. As essential to the urban landscape of New York City as hot-dog carts, pigeons, and yellow taxis.
77. Green-Wood Cemetery. One of New York City’s most serene, beautiful green spaces also happens to be a nearly 500-acre cemetery in Brooklyn. Here, you can also pay tribute to a bevy of famous New Yorkers that include Leonard Bernstein, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and Henry Ward Beecher.
78. Taking the subway to the beach. Let other people go to the Hamptons or the Jersey Shore; New Yorkers know that a day at Rockaway or Orchard Beach is just as fun, and only a MetroCard swipe away.
79. Guastavino tile. Rafael Gusatavino’s stunning tile work is one of the things that makes the old City Hall subway station so majestic, but you don’t need to tour that hidden relic to see his designs in action. The Whispering Gallery at Grand Central Terminal and the south arcade at the Manhattan Municipal Building are both glorious examples of the form.
80. The subway is an underground art museum. Museum-quality works by Roy Lichtenstein, Romare Bearden, and more can be found throughout the subway system, and the Second Avenue subway’s new stations—with work by Chuck Close and Vik Muniz—actually feel a bit like galleries.
81. Parades. Pride, the West Indian American Day Carnival, the Mermaid Parade—these events bring communities and neighborhoods together for joyous celebrations (and spectacles that outsiders can enjoy, too).
82. Our parks aren’t just green space. They’re the nexus of everything that makes this city glorious. They’re where the theater world mounts incredible productions like Shakespeare in the Park; where artists showcase inspiring work; where structures like the Belvedere Castle and the Prospect Park boathouse transport us back in time; and where people from all walks of life come together.
83. Indie cinema lives on. Though some of New York’s beloved movie houses have fallen by the wayside, a handful of its best ones—including Film Forum, the Angelika, and the IFC Center—have persevered. (Metrograph on the Lower East Side is a new, worthy entrant to the field.)
84. You can time travel (sort of) at the Tenement Museum. Guided tours will transport you back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries; beyond being super informative, they’re also a testament to the indelible contribution immigrants have made to the city’s social fabric.
85. Our superior tap water. Straight from one of three reservoirs upstate, New York’s tap water is cleaner, tastier, and better for bagel-making than the water in other cities.
86. The High Line. Yes, it’s become one of the city’s biggest tourist traps (don’t go on the weekends if you’re trying to walk without interruption), but the High Line’s unique mix of artwork, nature, and architecture justifies its popularity.
87. Dog parks. In a city where it’s often extremely difficult to have pets—either your apartment is too small, or your landlord is too worried about the havoc they may wreak—dog parks are an excellent way to sate your needing-to-look-at-adorable-pups urges. (The Tompkins Square Park one is especially excellent.)
88. Old Central Park West apartment buildings. The San Remo, the Dakota, the Beresford—these are some of New York’s most iconic residences, revered not just for their elegant architecture (several were designed by Emery Roth), but for the fact that they were like catnip for celebs and New York’s monied set. (Demi Moore, John Lennon, Helen Gurley Brown, Marilyn Monroe, and Diana Ross are among the big names who once called these buildings home.)
89. Pomander Walk. This utterly beguiling neighborhood within a neighborhood on the Upper West Side comprises 27 Tudor-style buildings—but, alas, you can only get inside with an invitation. (It’s still worth strolling by and pressing your face against the gates at its entryway.)
90. Washington Street in Dumbo. This picturesque block is probably the most Instagrammed spot in Brooklyn, and for good reason: Stand at the intersection of Washington and Front streets, and you’ll have a clear view of the Manhattan Bridge framed perfectly by the neighborhood’s former warehouses.
91. The Gowanus Canal. It’s stinky, and you definitely don’t want to get any of your body parts in it, and more than one wild animal has gotten lost there (RIP, Sludgie the Whale). But there’s an odd beauty to this Brooklyn body of water, once you look past the trash and oil slicks.
92. Lincoln Center. Come for the myriad cultural offerings—from the Metropolitan Opera to the New York City Ballet—but stay for the architecture, with buildings by Eero Saarinen, Philip Johnson, and Wallace K. Harrison all part of the complex.
93. Chelsea Market. Food halls are no longer a novelty, but there’s still something special about the one that started it all in NYC. The building that now houses the Chelsea Market was formerly a Nabisco factory—the Oreo was born there!—but its rich history is just one part of its charm. Grab a bite (don’t miss the namesake dish at Los Tacos No. 1), and for an extra-nice experience, take it to go and have a picnic on the High Line.
94. Getting lost in the Prospect Park Ravine. Sometimes you need to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city; where better to do it than Brooklyn’s only forest? Nestled in the heart of Prospect Park, the Ravine is modeled on the landscape of the Adirondacks, with waterfalls, rustic bridges, and winding trails.
95. Little Italy. This lower Manhattan enclave has shrunk in size and become more of a tourist trap over the years, but there are still solid spots where you can sample an authentic cannoli (Ferrara Bakery) or pizza (Lombardi’s).
96. Governors Island. The former military base’s transformation into one of New York City’s best public spaces is nothing short of spectacular.
97. Broadway (and off-Broadway). Some of the most iconic cultural touchstones of the past century—from “Ol’ Man River” and West Side Story to “Seasons of Love” and Hamilton—are the products of New York’s theater scene, as crucial to the city’s artistic identity today as it was at the turn of the 20th century.
98. We have very strong opinions about pretty much everything. New Yorkers love to argue—about the best bagel shop, or place to get a haircut, or the best way to get from point A to point B—and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
99. Feeling your heart swell when you hear the first notes of “Rhapsody in Blue.”
100. Because, as John Steinbeck once said, “Once you have lived in New York and it has become your home, no place else is good enough.”
Credit: Amy Plitt, Ameena Walker, and Tanay Warerkar | Curbed