From the Editor

1. Because It’s Where I Feel Alive

I was born in New York City at 3:18 a.m. on Christmas Day, in the midst of a whiteout blizzard.

As my mom labored in a hospital lobby before being admitted, my dad and our dear family friend tried to distract her by calling Dial-a-Joke. Though Mom is a proud agnostic, the soundtrack to her contractions was the Pope’s Christmas mass, beamed through the TV from the Vatican. Seven long hours after my mom’s water broke, I arrived in the city that never sleeps, brought forth with the very persistence and perseverance that define the place.

As a child and young adult, I lived in Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Manhattan. My late grandmother, who was widowed at 46, lived most of her life in modest apartments in Flushing, Queens. When she developed dementia in her 70s, she told people she was from Auburndale, the adjacent neighborhood filled with grand Tudor houses owned by families with more money than my grandmother ever had. 

The story of my family is empty without the city as a leading character, saying to my relatives, as it says to all its residents: “Show me what you’ve got.” There is the Rockefeller Estate, just north of the Bronx, where my great-grandfather reportedly tended the rose garden; the city’s Arts Commission, which my great-uncle, an amateur oil painter, ran for 20 years; the Soho printing presses, where my dad worked as a messenger while a teenager in the 1960s; the fashion trade magazines and advertising agencies where my grandmother answered phones and transcribed memos as a secretary and the family breadwinner; the Upper West Side apartment where my mom lived with three other young women at the beginning of their careers in the 1970s; the tabloid newspaper and wire service newsrooms where my parents worked as city desk reporters; the Broadway theaters where my dad saw the original production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and where he and I saw the revival of the show 35 years later. 

Though nearly all my family members who came before me are gone now, relegated to the cabinet of memories in my mind—faces on black-and-white Kodak snapshots and names on family trees hastily jotted on restaurant napkins—the city reminds me of each one of them, and their pluck and perseverance, every time I return from my home in California. 

I still get a rush when I emerge from the terminal at JFK; when I descend the steep steps into the 79th Street subway station; when I walk briskly along Midtown’s broad sidewalks, my gaze straight ahead, in step with anonymous-to-me crowds. I am never lonely in New York, even when I am alone—my kindred are with me. My ancestors gave their energy to the city, and now the city gives it back to me. There’s no place in the world where I feel more alive.

This is the longest in my adult life I’ve been away from the city I’ll always consider my homeland. I can’t wait to return and wrap my arms around New York. It will be a changed city. But it always is. The minute I think I know it, when I think I can say, “I get it. I see how it all works and doesn’t work,” New York checks my ego, humbles me, and replies, “No. You don’t know me. Nobody really can. But go ahead. Keep trying. Persist.” —Julia Cosgrove, editor in chief

Getting Around

Photo by Meagan Kirk/Shutterstock

2. There’s Always a New Stretch of Pavement to Discover

In all her years living in the city, writer Valerie Rains had never crossed a single bridge on foot. Until—13 years in—she started running. In her quest for an uninterrupted route, she discovered New York City’s overpasses. The more she ran, the more she delighted in her new perspective—and the notion that “the feeling of transcendence you get staring out from the center of a bridge, 15 or 20 stories in the air, is there for anyone able to walk (or willing to be wheeled) there.”

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3. The Subway. The Overcrowded, Glorious, Massive, Inconceivable Subway.

Loathe it or love it, it’s the underground universe around which the city revolves. Beneath the crowds, grime, and memeable characters (we’re looking at you, Pizza Rat) is a story of politics, immigrant labor, and perseverance in the face of countless obstacles. Get the facts—and some excellent trivia—in a new book by longtime transit nut John E. Morris: Subway: The History, Curiosities, and Secrets of the New York City Transit System (Black Dog & Leventhal, October 2020). Who knows! It will at least give you something to think about the next time someone vomits on your shoes.

>> Read an excerpt

Photo courtesy Shutterstock
Photo courtesy Shutterstock

4. Each Neighborhood Is Its Own Distinct Ecosystem

Wander the bustling streets of Flushing, feasting on dim sum and imported Asian goods. Soak in the cultural and artistic legacy of the West Village. Sit down for jazz in historic Harlem. Venture to Brooklyn Heights to gawk at Manhattan from a distance, or head north to the Bronx for a lesser-known Little Italy.

Like the residents who call it home, New York’s neighborhoods are vast, varied, and each has its own identity. And like many great things, they're impossible to truly capture on the page or in a photo—you just have to get out and explore. Here's where to start.

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5. (Even Celebrities Think So)

Celebrities like Zosia Mamet and Evan Jongikeit, who shared a handful of their go-to places in the Upper West Side: Zabar’s (for lox), the American Museum of Natural History (for life-size blue whales), Housing Works (for funky secondhand portraits). “What drew us to the Upper West Side is that it’s not in the spotlight, ” Mamet says. “It feels like a normal neighborhood. Everybody is just going about their business.”

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6. Contrary to Popular Opinion, New Yorkers *Will* Help You Out

Everything a traveler, or a new resident, needs to know about the city. (Like, locals really love to give directions. Really.)

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Shopping + Food

Photo courtesy Shutterstock

7. On Orchard Street You Can Buy Vintage Chanel Bags, a Book of Yiddish Phrases, and Even a Corset

A wander down Orchard Street is as close as a shopper can get to an urban archaeological dig. Witness vestiges of history—and pick up a noncheesy NYC souvenir—at the Tenement Museum. Swoon over the selection of vintage purses, jewelry, and women’s clothing at Pilgrim New York. And travel back to the early 20th century at Orchard Corset, which does indeed sell corsets (and a whole lot more).   

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Photo by Dolly Faibyshev
Photo by Dolly Faibyshev

8. Queens. Full Stop.

In the New York City borough of Queens, more than 130 languages are spoken. And as the saying should go: Where a medley of languages flourish, so too does delicious food. Writer Anya von Bremen takes us on a global tour—from Salvadoran ricas pupusas (corn cakes) to Himalayan momo dumplings—of the borough’s fascinating food culture.

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9. Everyone Has Really Strong Opinions About What You Should Eat

It took AFAR’s New York–based staffers, oh, about 10 minutes to hammer out this totally biased list of 100-plus must-eats in the city. Ask them to pick a favorite, however? The world would end before you got an answer.

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10. You Can Eat Like You’re There, Even When You’re Not

All you need is a copy of E.B. White’s Here Is New York, some Chinese takeout, and a killer cocktail. (Well, and maybe a few more things to eat, drink, and do.) 

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Culture

Courtesy Little, Brown and Company
Courtesy Anchor

11. It May Be the Most Written-About City in the United States . . .

The thousands of books about, set in, railing on, or analyzing the city might seem overwhelming, but the sheer volume of titles means that nearly everyone gets a chance to say their piece. Miraculously, we narrowed the list to seven books—such as Colson Whitehead’s The Colossus of New York—that will usher in a new understanding of the city.

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Photo by Jaione_Garcia/Shutterstock.com

12. . . . And the Most Filmed

The city that never sleeps is also the city that never stops preening. From blockbusters (Home Alone 2, Gangs of New York) to rom-coms (When Harry Met Sally, Serendipity) to cult films (The Warriors), there’s a never-ending pipeline of movies about New York City. Lucky for you, we have more than a few favorites.

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13. The Met Has Reopened (And So Have These Other Museums)

Among the more potent symbols of the city’s postlockdown reawakening: The August 29 reopening of the Met, which is celebrating its 150th birthday this year. Go, wear your mask, try to keep your distance, and take in the Picassos, Monet’s Water Lilies, and the Temple of Dendur. Dare we say, with limited occupancy and timed-entry tickets, the Met experience is improved? And yes, of course, there are dozens upon dozens of other museums in the city, many of which have reopened or are in the process of doing so.

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Courtesy of The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel

14. The Carlyle Hotel Just Gets Better With Age

The Carlyle Hotel—where Jackie O. ate and Tennessee Williams slept—may be 87 years old, but it continues to draw new fans, celebrities, and regular folk enamored by the hotel’s mix of intimacy and glamour. That mystique was the subject of a 2018 documentary, Always at the Carlyle, about Manhattan’s grand dame. While the hotel (including Bemelmans Bar, pictured) hasn’t yet reopened to the public, you can stream the documentary and dream of your next (or first) visit.

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15. There Are Indie Bookstores for Miles

Whether you’re searching for a bookstore devoted solely to mysteries or want to ooh and ahh over a $45,000 copy of Ulysses signed by James Joyce, New York has a temple of books just for you.

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16. It’s a Volcano Into Which Anyone Can Toss Themselves

As a young writer, Chris Colin lived through ’90s-era New York, a time when “everything was extreme.” A slightly older Chris Colin lives San Francisco but can’t shake the words of a New York talk-radio host: “You have to live where there’s grief.” And so Colin returns to the city with his volcano-obsessed daughter, supposedly to introduce her to a vulcanologist and “whatever [New York] grit had yet to be sanded away.” But simmering beneath the surface are his own conflicted feelings about choosing “a lesser city” over the volcano’s edge that is NYC.

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