Find out the most essential facts about New York

Table Of Contents

There’s a lot to do and see in New York City, which sometimes means that we don’t have a lot of time to explore AND ingest the relevant information about this busy city.  So we’ve gathered the most important facts about New York to guide you during your trip. This article is also helpful if you’ve just moved to the city and want to integrate asap.

But if you’re just visiting, here’s a list of the best eco hotels in New York City, and here are the best things to do in NY.

brooklyn bridge new york city
Brooklyn Bridge

Often simply called New York, this city can make you feel bigger than life when you’re there, and as such we often forget that it’s not a state. In fact, New York City is only a small part of New York State, located at its southern tip, with New Jersey to the left and Connecticut to the north. In this article, when we say “New York”, we mean New York City.

Below are some introductory facts about New York

  • NYC was known as New Amsterdam in the 17th century, under Dutch colony, but the name changed to New York (after the Duke of York) under British rule.
  • NYC was the capital of the US for a short time (1785-1790).
  • New York City was an important trading port under British rule, and became a centre for slavery.
  • NYC was a popular destination for African Americans during the early 20th century, a result of the Great Migration from the Southern part of the US.
  • The NYC subway system runs 24 hours every day of the year, is one of the oldest and most used, and is also one of the dirtiest subway systems in the world.
  • Most New York City residents travel by subway (called “train” — more on this below).
  • Most NY residents don’t own a car (or a driver’s licence).
  • The NYC dollar slice pizza really is delicious.

Crucial facts about New York that you should know

new york city skyline
New York City skyline
  • The best (free) way to see the New York City skyline is to go to Brooklyn (Williamsburg and Green Point) or Queens, or Long Island City.
  • Walk along the Williamsburg Bridge for views of the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge. It’s loud but worth it.
  • You will hear the word Bodega often. Bodegas are small mini-markets selling anything you could possibly need, ranging from food products to fresh fruit juice, fresh veggies, tampons, dog food, and cleaning products.
  • Manhattan is commonly referred to as “the city”.
  • The subway is called “the train”. When taking the train, never refer to them by their colours, but by the letter or number associated with the train. Also: when in the subway station and you see signs that say “queens”, it also means it’s going uptown. If the sign says Brooklyn, it also means it’s going downtown. So for example if you’re in central park and you want to go to lower east side which is downtown, you can take the train to Brooklyn.
  • CVS and Duane Reade are pharmacies that are also convenience stores. They are located mostly in the city and are usually open 24hrs. However, most New Yorkers avoid them because their prices for regular household items are higher than other shops. Their receipts (especially CVS’) are also unnecessarily long.
  • Trader Joes is a favourite for grocery shopping. So expect long lines, especially on Friday evenings and weekends, or right before a snowstorm or a pandemic. But the lines move fast and the service is always friendly.
  • Sidewalk for New York residents is what the highway is for others: that’s how they get to places. Please do not randomly stop in the middle of the sidewalk for no reason. You might get yelled at.
  • When exiting the subway, don’t suddenly stop at the entrance to look around. You’re going to be blocking everyone else trying to exit and will definitely get yelled at.
  • When taking the train, have your metro card ready so that you can swipe it and pass through in 3 seconds or less. Otherwise you will hear impatient people behind you.
  • Say thank you if someone is holding the door for you. New Yorkers are busy and tough but still polite.
  • Avenues are long and streets are short. If you need directions, people will never tell you the address or street, they will say it as such: “9th ave and 20th street”. There are only 12 avenues and they go from east to west of Manhattan. Streets go from north to south. All in a grid like way unless you’re in lower Manhattan.
  • “The park” refers to central park only, no other parks.

Introducing the New York City Boroughs

New York City consists of 5 boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island. NYC is a diverse city, with every neighbourhood within each borough being known to belong to a particular ethnic group. For instance, certain parts of Astoria in Queens are known to be predominantly Greek, and Flushing (Queens) is basically a small version of Shanghai. 

On a similar level, each area has a unique known “quality” or character, such as Bushwick (Brooklyn) labeled as the ultimate “hipster/artist” hood.


  • Smallest but most densely populated borough.
  • Home to Central Park, Wall street, Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, UN Headquarters, Columbia University, New York University, headquarters of many corporations, and most of the skyscrapers.
  • Is a lot more hectic and busy than the other boroughs.
  • Is an island, completely surrounded by water.
  • Rent can be twice or three twice as much in Manhattan compared to other boroughs.


  • Known for its cultural and artistic scene.
  • Is on the west tip of Long Island.
  • Has a long beachfront.
  • Coney island is located in Brooklyn, and is simultaneously a residential neighbourhood, a beach, and an entertainment spot complete with a theme park.
  • Diverse residents.


  • Most ethnically diverse county in the US.
  • Is home to the baseball stadium of the NYC Mets.
  • JFK and La Guardia airport are both located in Queens.
  • Is located to the north and east of Brooklyn.

The Bronx

  • Is north of Manhattan.
  • Is home to the Yankee stadium for the NYC Yankees.
  • Home to the Bronx Zoo and NYC Botanical Garden.
  • Birthplace of rap and hip hop culture.

Staten Island

  • Very suburban, compared to the other boroughs.
  • Is the southernmost part of New York City.
  • Is accessible by road to Brooklyn via a bridge, and by a free daily ferry to Manhattan, which is popular among tourists as it gives a view of the Statue of Liberty.
  • People from Staten Island have a distinctive accent.

Facts about New York: the main tourist attractions in NY

Entertainment in NYC: Broadway, Time Sq., Lincoln Center

lincoln center
Lincoln Center

New York City is popular for its entertainment and art culture.

Broadway, a street that runs around 21 km (13 miles) in Manhattan, is known as the heart of American theater industry, where some of the musicals are so popular that they attract people from all around the world (e.g. The Lion King musical; Wicked; etc.). The theater district near Times Square where most Broadway theaters are located is brightly lit and flooded with billboards and advertisement, and extremely crowded.

The Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts is a complex of buildings that host the NYC Philharmonic, the Met Opera, and the New York City Ballet. Their performances are nationally and internationally esteemed.

Statue of Liberty

Located on Liberty Island south of Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty is an iconic symbol of NYC and the United States. It measures 46 meters (151 ft), was built by Mr Eiffel (aka the same guy who built the Eiffel tower in Paris), and was gifted to the US by the French in 1886. The figure (that is, the lady with the torch), represents the Roman goddess Libertas, embodiment of liberty and freedom, and was a welcoming sight to immigrants arriving by boats. While most New Yorkers have never visited the lady with the torch up close, it is a popular site among tourists.

Empire State Building

Empire State Building from Broadway
Empire State Building from Broadway
  • Has 102 floors.
  • Is a total of 443 metre high (1454 ft), including the antenna.
  • Was completed in 1931 and was the world’s tallest tower for 40 years.
  • Was named after Empire State (New York City’s nickname).
  • Designed in the Art Deco style (i.e. a style that first appeared in France pre-World War I, featuring geometric shapes and clear precise lines).
  • The observation deck on the 86th floor offers a panoramic view of NYC.
  • A smaller observation deck is found on the 102nd floor.
  • The top of the building and the spire are lit up every night, and change colours to match certain occasions. The default colour is white.

Chrysler Building

  • Often mistaken for the Empire State Building, the Chrysler is also an Art Deco skyscraper.
  • Is 319 meter high (1046 ft).
  • Was completed in 1930.
  • It was built as a project of Walter Chrysler for his children.

One World Trade Center

Also known as the Freedom Tower, the 1 WTC was built after the twin towers fell on 9/11, and officially opened towards the end of 2014. With a total height of 541 meters (1776 ft) including the spire/antenna, it is the tallest building in NYC as of 2016. The figure 1776 is symbolic for the US, as it is the year that the Declaration of Independence was signed. The 1 WTC was built with the idea of sustainability, in that much of the building’s structure comes from recycled materials, and about 80% of the tower’s waste products are recycled.

The construction of the tower was to commemorate and rebuild following the terrorist attacks on the original twin towers. South of the 1 WTC, there is a memorial (“9/11 Memorial”) and museum (“9/11 Museum”) where the original towers stood. The memorial and museum pay tribute to the 9/11 attacks (which killed almost 3000 people), as well as the bombing of 1993, another terrorist attack orchestrated by Al-Qaeda which killed 6 people.

Battery Park

battery park new york city
Battery Park

Both a neighbourhood and a park, Battery Park was given its name thanks to military batteries (guns, rockets, missiles, etc.) that were placed there for protection back in the 17th century during Dutch settlement. (The park has now reverted back to its historic name, The Battery). The Battery is home to many memorials; a World War II memorial, an AIDS victim memorial, an American’s Merchant memorial, a Korean War memorial, and a few others.

Central Park

Central Park is a gem among the chaos that can be New York City. It is very well kept, with staff workers working all day to maintain the park.

Quick facts about Central Park

  • Is one of the most popular filming locations in the world.
  • Most visited urban park in the US.
  • Established in 1857.
  • Was built for New Yorkers to have a quiet, open space.
  • Has 36 bridges and arches.
  • Central Park Conservancy (NGO) manages the park and contributes to 3/4 of the park’s annual budget.

Main attractions in Central Park:

Bow Bridge
bow bridge central park
Bow Bridge

A popular spot for movies scenes, it is also a hot spot for engagement and wedding photoshoots.

Belvedere Castle

Originally built as a Victorian folly (that is, an extravagant structure without any real purpose), the castle is the location for the Central Park weather station, has an observation deck overlooking the Delacorte theater, the great lawn and the turtle pond, and contains exhibit rooms.

The Great Lawn

An oval-shaped grass field with baseball turfs, it is a beautiful and popular picnic spot as well as a stage for concerts, and the NYC Philharmonic. During the Great Depression in the 1930s, it served as a home for NYC residents. Turtle pond and the Great Lawn are pictured below:

Jacqueline Kennedy Reservoir

A popular running track among New Yorkers, this reservoir offers a stunning view of the skyline of the Upper West Side and Upper East Side. This reservoir was originally built to provide clean water to New York residents, but is now used to provide water to other locations in Central Park, such as The Pool and The Loch.

The Mall

The only “straight line” throughout the park, The Mall is a popular gathering place for street performers, street artists, rollerbladers, and skateboarders. American elm trees are found all over that area, and at the southern part of The Mall is the Literary Walk, aligned with statues of famous literary figures such as Shakespeare.

Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn bridge
Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge is a suspension bridge (aka where the deck is hung below suspension cables) as well as a cable-stayed bridge (aka a bridge that has one or more towers from which the cables hang to support the deck).

Quick facts about the Brooklyn Bridge

  • Completed in 1883.
  • Connects Manhattan and Brooklyn, across the East River.
  • It was the first steel-wire suspension bridge.
  • Became a National Historic Landmark in 1964.
  • The towers are built of limestone, granite and cement.
  • Many workers suffered from decompression sickness when building the towers.
  • At the time of its construction, bridge-building aerodynamics had not been worked out. It is pure luck that the deck-supporting structure does not have as many aerodynamics as other bridges from that time that are now gone.
  • Toll-free.
  • Love locks are occasionally removed from the Brooklyn Bridge since they cause damage to certain bridges. (They are also illegal in NY).
  • Has a pedestrian walkway, usually crowded with tourists, and is best explored in the morning at sunrise.

Manhattan Bridge

manhattan bridge
Manhattan Bridge
  • Suspension bridge, opened in 1909.
  • Connects Chinatown in Manhattan to downtown Brooklyn.
  • Toll-free.
  • First suspension bridge to employ deflection theory (i.e. the degree to which a structure moves under a load).
  • Served as a model for many suspension bridges thereafter.
  • First suspension bridge to use the Warren truss design (i.e. inverted triangle-shaped designs along the length of the bridge, to maintain its stability).
  • There is a road for vehicles, a path for pedestrians and cyclists, and subway tracks.

Hell Gate Bridge (Astoria, Queens)

  • Made from steel.
  • A “through-arch” bridge (i.e. the base of the arch structure is below the deck, but the top is above it, and the deck passes through the arch).
  • Inspired the design of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia.
  • Construction ended in 1916.
  • Connects Astoria in Queens to Randalls and Wards Islands in Manhattan, leading to the Bronx.

Rockefeller Center 

  • Construction began in 1930.
  • Declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987.
  • Commissioned by the Rockefeller family. Was originally meant to have an opera house for the Met Opera, but ended up becoming a private building project by John Rockefeller Jr.
  • Built in Art Deco style.
  • The center is a combination of two buildings: the original Art Deco office buildings and 4 international towers.
  • The flags around the plaza represent countries that are members of the United Nations.
  • Beautifully decorated at Christmas time, with the lighting of the big Christmas tree. The small ice-skating rink attracts a lot of tourists during winter.

NY Public Library

  • Second largest public library in the US.
  • Has branches all over New York.
  • Contains about 53 million items.
  • Non-profit.
  • The library was a product of private funding from philanthropists and city government.
  • The Rose Main Reading Room is one of the most popular attractions. It has a 52-foot high ceiling (15.8 meters), and is beautifully decorated with murals.

Flatiron building

  • Is located on the triangular corner of 5th avenue, Broadway, and 23rd street.
  • Is rumored to be named so because it resembles a clothes iron, but history says that that area was already named The Flat Iron prior to the building’s construction.
  • The neighbourhood around it is called Flatiron District.
  • Became a National Historic Landmark in 1989.
  • The corner area (i.e. right in front of the building) is really windy and was rumored to be a spot where men would stop to look at women’s underwear as their skirts blew upwards due to the wind (a movie was made about it: “The Flatiron building on a windy day”). Pervs!
  • The designers forgot to build ladies’ bathrooms. Consequently, men and women were designated bathrooms on alternating floors.

American Museum of Natural History

  • Established in 1869.
  • One of the largest museums in the world.
  • Has 45 permanent exhibition halls.
  • Their mission statement  is: “To discover, interpret, and disseminate—through scientific research and education—knowledge about human cultures, the natural world, and the universe.”

We hope these facts about New York helps you navigate this awesomely busy city a bit better! If you’re looking for sustainable restaurants in New York, or the best NY hotels, we got you covered.

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