New York: Apple of your eye

Take a walk on Broadway, says David Usborne, and the true spirit of Manhattan will begin to reveal itself
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The Independent Travel

Better still, how about walking the whole length of it? Well, that would be too much. The only thoroughfare to cut diagonally across Manhattan, it stretches all the way from Bowling Green at its southern tip to 262nd Street far away at the frontier of the Bronx where the island ends. Go only as far as 116th Street, where the grand campus of Columbia University awaits you, and you will have done just fine.

Start early, facing north with the newly refurbished Staten Island ferry terminal at your back, and you could be at Columbia in time for an early supper at Tom's Restaurant, featured in the long-lamented Seinfeld sitcom. If you plan to take side-trips as you go, then give yourself more than a day. It wouldn't be hard to spend a week exploring Manhattan this way, using Broadway as your handrail.

Not everything can be found in the Broadway corridor. Your journey will eventually take you west of Central Park and thus into the Upper West Side. That's good for the Museum of Natural History, not so handy if you had the Metropolitan Museum of Art in mind or the Guggenheim, both on the Upper East Side. But if you want a good cross-section of Manhattan, following Broadway will serve you well.

Do not rush the first few blocks. This is where the Dutch first negotiated the purchase of Manhattan from the Native Americans and where so much of the island's early history is written in the architecture. You are also standing in the heart of the modern financial district - watch out for Wall Street, a few blocks north on the right. The monumental New York Stock Exchange is just around the corner.

Opposite the mouth of Wall Street stands Trinity Church, once the site of King's College, which later became Columbia University. Trinity Church offers guided tours of its parish, which has been in existence since the 17th century and includes the compelling St Paul's Chapel four blocks north on Fulton Street. They say that St Paul's was saved from destruction on 11 September 2001 by a single tree. However it happened, the 1766 structure was coated in ash but survived as the Twin Towers collapsed just a few hundred yards from its boundary. It is on Fulton Street, by the way, that you should turn to the west to visit Ground Zero. Still not much more than a huge empty pit, one day it will be home to the new 1,776ft Freedom Tower and a permanent memorial to the nearly 3,000 people who perished there.

You are in Manhattan so a spot of shopping is mandatory. Your first port of call will be Century 21, the mildly chaotic, bargain-basement emporium of high-fashion labels that also survived 9/11 - but only just. You will find it if you turn left down Liberty Street, about halfway between Trinity and St Paul's.

It was in 1910 that FW Woolworth decided to erect a building bearing his name in lower Manhattan. Completed three years later at 233 Broadway, this neo-Gothic wonder was for a while the tallest building in the world at 792ft. It looms over City Hall and City Hall Park, an oasis of green that often serves as outdoor exhibition space.

You might want to pick up the pace a little after City Hall as you pass the numbingly awful Federal Building on your right between Worth and Duane Streets. Fear not, however, as you are only a few blocks from Canal Street, where everything changes once again. Chinatown and Little Italy are just seconds away to the east. This may be your first chow-stop, maybe for ravioli on Mulberry (where the atmosphere is still a little Mafia) or oozing soup dumplings on Mott or Pell. Canal itself could delay you for an hour as you explore its labyrinths of pavement stalls and hole-in-the-wall shops famous above all for fake fashion goods.

For the real stuff, just keep going beyond Canal towards Houston (pronounced HOW-ston, not like the Texas city). Broadway becomes home to most of the international fashion stores, from H&M to Gap. Look right and you will even find the new Bloomingdale's Downtown, an offshoot of its Upper East Side flagship branch. As you cross Houston Street, footwear fans might want to explore the Adidas emporium on the corner. They have shoes with computer chips in there. Honest.

Go beyond Houston and the crowd may turn younger - you are in New York University country. Turn left on West Fourth Street and you quickly find yourself in the student-filled, semi-Bohemian Washington Square Park. Turn right off Broadway at Astor Place, and you quickly strike the decidedly hippy St Mark's Place. Keep going to reach the East Village, much less gentrified than the West Village.

Just before you strike Union Square, stop at 12th Street to explore Strand Books, a rambling haven of new and old volumes; it may delay you for half an afternoon. Stagger out eventually and stride into Union Square with its political protestors, patches of worn green and, four days a week, a bustling farmers' market. Broadway skirts around it, but you can walk diagonally from the square's south-east corner to the north-west before meeting it again.

Who doesn't love the Flatiron Building on 23rd Street, which also marks your arrival at the surprisingly verdant Madison Square Park? Built in 1902 in the Beaux Arts style as an office building, it was one of the first structures in New York to be draped on an all-steel skeleton.

Broadway then turns drab for a while, offering cheap jewellery and perfume shops until you reach 34th Street where it intersects with Sixth Avenue to create Herald Square, famous for one thing: Macy's, the city's biggest department store. However, you may need to conserve your energy for what's coming just eight blocks north: 42nd Street and the area of roughly 10 city blocks that comprise Times Square.

This is Broadway at its brashest, more now than ever since Times Square has been swept clean and made shiny and bright. Dawdle here to take in the neon billboards - best after dusk of course. Or, of course, go to the theatre. This is where Broadway adopts its other name, the "Great White Way". Only a few of the theatres, such as the Winter Garden (now home to Mamma Mia), are on Broadway itself, but all the other big shows are only a block or two away.

Barge your way north and prepare to breath a little more deeply as you arrive at Columbus Circle. The south-west entrance to Central Park beckons. But if the last thing your feet need by now is a walk in the park, I suggest entering the massive new glass twin-tower monolith right on the circle. This is the Time Warner Center and in it you'll find shops, mega-pricey restaurants and the five-star Mandarin Hotel. Alternatively, you may want to consider getting in the back of the now commonplace rickshaw-esque pedi-cab and letting someone else do all the work.

Pass by Lincoln Center to your left - still America's pre-eminent cultural centre for music, opera and dance - and suddenly Broadway lives up to its name. It widens to become a stately boulevard with trees down its median. The pulse begins to slow. Heavens, there are children here too, probably being walked by nannies. Welcome to the Upper West Side, a part of town for the very affluent if not the mega-rich (who still mostly favour 5th Avenue and the Upper East Side). Tell your panting pedaller to stop at 80th Street to give you time to dip into the neighbourhood's favourite epicurean emporium, Zabar's. If you want a particular chunk of cheese or brand of caviar while in Manhattan this is definitely the spot to look.

Your voyage is almost done. As you bump further north, admire the rows of early 20th-century apartment buildings in brick and stone, and watch the gentle flow of pedestrians. It isn't until you near Columbia University at around 110th Street, however, that the rhythm begins to pick up again. Head one block right to 112th Street to peek at the monumental but still not completed Cathedral Church of St John the Divine. Manhattan's answer to the Sagrada Família in Barcelona, it will one day be the world's second-largest religious edifice.

But now it is time to dismount the pedi-cab, give a generous tip to the guy or girl who has peddled these last 40-odd blocks for you, and relax. Collapse in the grassy quadrant of Columbia University at 116th Street, or find a pavement table among any of the restaurants that line Broadway here to keep the students, graduates and faculty members fed and watered. Or try Tom's and sit at the table Jerry and Elaine used to gossip at. If you can recognise it.

The bigger picture: Great Broadway stop-offs

Trinity Church

74 Trinity Place 00 1 212 602 0800

www.trinitywallstreet.org

Open 7am-6pm daily

St Paul's Chapel

209 Broadway at Fulton Street

00 1 212 233 4164

www.saintpaulschapel.org

Open Mon-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 8am-4pm

Mandarin Spa

80 Columbus Circle at 60th Street,

00 1 212 805 8880

www.mandarinoriental.com

Open 9am-9pm daily

Cathedral Church of St John the Divine

1047 Amsterdam Avenue

00 1 212 316 7490

www.stjohndivine.org

Open Mon-Sat 7am-6pm, Sun 7am-7pm

Tom's Restaurant

2880 Broadway at 112th Street

00 1 212 864 6137

Open Mon-Sat 6am-4pm, closed Sundays

Century 21

21-22 Cortlandt St

00 1 212 227 9092

www.c21stores.com

Open Mon-Fri 7.45am-8pm, Sat 10am-8pm, Sun 11am-7pm

Bloomingdale's Downtown

504 Broadway

00 1 212 729 5900

www.bloomingdales.com

Open Mon-Fri 10am-9pm, Sat 10am-8pm, Sun 11am-7pm

Strand Books

828 Broadway at 12th Street

00 1 212 473 1452

www.strandbooks.com

Open Mon-Sat 9.30am-10.30pm, Sun 11am-10.30pm

Macy's

151 West 34th Street

00 1 212 695 4400

www.macys.com

Open Mon & Wed-Sat 10am-9pm, Tue-9am-9pm, Sun 11am-8pm

Zabar's

2245 Broadway at 80th Street

00 1 212 787 2000

www.zabars.com

Open Mon-Fri 8am-7.30pm, Sat 8am-8pm, Sun 9am-6pm

'Be a part of it...': Getting around New York

Navigating New York is generally a doddle, especially on Manhattan with its grid of avenues running north-south. These are numbered from First Avenue on the east side all the way to 10th and 11th Avenues on the shores of the Hudson River. The cross-streets run on an east-west axis, getting higher as you head north.

There are wrinkles, not least when you get into the neighbourhoods below Houston Street. In lower Manhattan carry a map and don't bark an address at a taxi driver and expect them to know where it is. London cabbies, they ain't. Bear in mind that you must pay while still in the cab. Don't dodge the tip, either; a minimum 15 per cent is mentally added to every transaction by New Yorkers. The subway, meanwhile, isn't as complicated as it looks and is safe, practical and cheap: $2 for any journey.

New York City has five boroughs of which Manhattan is just one. The subway or a cab will serve you fine if you decide to venture into the other four, maybe to the Bronx to catch a baseball game at Yankee Stadium, to Queens to enjoy some tennis at the US Open, or to Brooklyn with restaurants that compete with the best in Manhattan, its brownstone houses and the rides at Coney Island. Staten Island, the fifth borough, has fewer attractions except, of course, for the process of getting there. Take a roundtrip on the Staten Island Ferry from Manhattan's southern tip and see the sights of New York Harbour, including the Statue of Liberty. And it's now free.

Getting to Manhattan is easier than it used to be. Limousines, shuttle buses and ordinary taxis serve both Liberty International Airport in Newark and John F Kennedy Airport in Queens. Which is most convenient to Manhattan? It's a draw. Both now have monorails that connect the terminals to train services that run direct to Manhattan.

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