Manhattan is just one of New York City's five boroughs (the others being Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Staten Island). And it's not even the largest (that would be Queens). But it certainly has the highest profile, and no wonder; within its densely packed 23 square miles you'll find first rate restaurants, cultural experiences, entertainment options, shopping, and some of the country's best known historic landmarks. There's no shortage of things to do for visitors of any age — the only difficulty will be in decided what to do first.
Must see in Manhattan
You've seen Times Square in innumerable set-in-New-York films, not to mention the annual ball drop on New Year's Eve, but you can't appreciate the sheer vibrant energy of the place until you see it in person. Get a bird's eye view of the city at the One World Observatory, located at One World Trade Center (and adjacent to the 9/11 Memorial Museum). And first time visitors should make a point of seeing the most iconic statue in the United States: the Statue of Liberty.
Where to stay in Manhattan
Hotels around Times Square put you in the center of all the action, with plenty of local transportation options nearby; it's especially recommended if you're interest in Broadway shows. Greenwich Village won't be quite as frantic, and, with its many small shops and restaurants, is an especially fun neighborhood to explore on foot (be sure to spend time people watching in Washington Square Park). And the Upper East Side is recommended for those interested in investigating the neighborhood's "Museum Mile," featuring the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, to mention a few.
Best and worst time to go to Manhattan
Spring and fall are the best times to spend time in the Big Apple; during the spring, when the city comes to life again after the winter, the city's many parks are especially enticing. Avoid July and August when the temperature – and the humidity – soars, and winter months, when snow and ice can immobilize the city.
Where to get lost in Manhattan
There's a good reason the first film in the Night at the Museum franchise was set in the American Museum of Natural History. It's one of the world's largest museums, and with a collection of over 32 million specimens to draw on, there are always new exhibitions on display. The museum has 45 halls, covering every aspect of life on planet earth (and beyond; you can explore outer space in the Hayden Planetarium), with the David H. Koch Dinosaur Wing being especially popular. Consider buying a guidebook beforehand to narrow down what you'd most like to see.
The best deal in Manhattan
You could spend all day exploring the 843 acres of Central Park, which features a zoo, watercraft rentals, and not just one but two ice-skating rinks (Trump Rink and the less patronized Lasker Rink). There are plenty of free events as well: at Belvedere Castle, the Delacorte Theater, which presents free Shakespeare in the Park performances during the summer, and the numerous events hosted by SummerStage. You'll recognize Bethesda Terrace and the Bethesda Fountain from countless film and TV shows, see if you can spy a well known personage using the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir jogging track, or simply relax on the Great Lawn with a picnic lunch. Check the park's events schedule for more info.
Transportation in Manhattan
Traffic congestion is the norm in Manhattan, and even New Yorkers that own cars tend to not drive them in the city, reserving them for out of town trips. The easiest way to get around is by public transportation. The most economical option for visitors is the MetroCard; you can buy one at subway stations or some area businesses, use it on the subway and the bus, and add funds as needed. Taxis are also plentiful; just hold up your arm to hail one.
Getting in from the airport
You have your choice of three airports that service Manhattan: John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia Airport, and Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey. In addition to taxis and public and private buses (like the NYC Airporter or the Newport Airport Express bus), and shuttles, you can also come into town via AirTrain JFK and AirTrain Newark.
Local tip for visitors to Manhattan
Staten Island Ferry, which runs between Whitehall Street in lower Manhattan and St. George on Staten Island, is free. You'll get a great view of New York Harbor, including the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island at a price that can't be beat.
Author's bio: Gillian G. Gaar is a freelance writer based in Seattle, covering entertainment, pop culture, and travel.