Standing on a freezing subway platform, seemingly untouched by so much as a lick of paint since it was built in early twentieth century, it is sometimes hard to square the reality New York with the more grandiose declarations made in its honour.
While not even the capital of the United States, this most confident of cities claims leadership of entire world; the greatest city on earth they say, a timeless champion striding confidently ahead of the pretenders to its crown.
As the centre of gravity for the world’s most powerful nation, all self-respecting travellers are expected to visit and pay homage to this secular Mecca, this temple of consumerism, wealth and excess.
In New York the buildings are taller, the people move faster, everything is for sale, and, most importantly, you can get a slice of pizza on any street corner 24-hours a day. Here everybody is welcome, and everybody gets their shot at the big time.
Sights famous around the world in Manhattan
In the eyes of New Yorkers all rival cities are pale imitations.
London may have its place in the financial galaxy, but that place is a distant second to that of New York, the world leader. And what of the English culture, that quaint mix of royal palaces and surreal pantomime? How can that compete with the cutting edge music of Brooklyn, or the sporting extravaganzas of Madison Square Gardens and Yankee Stadium?
The returning champion, Beijing, may be once again be on the rise, but the air of political oppression, government-approved culture, and Byzantine-visa processes mean it is unlikely to become a tourism hotspot in the near future. The other emerging Chinese mega-cities - Tianjin, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen – scarcely warrant a mention.
Paris may offer the Musée du Louvre, Eiffel Tower and the extravagant Champs-Élysées, but from across the Atlantic the French capital is stuck in a time warp. Where are the dazzling lights of Broadway, the vibrant beaches of Coney Island, or the buzzing shops of 5th Avenue?
The High Line has been a sensation since opening in New York last year
But how close is this to the reality of New York, a city everybody has seemingly visited before they arrive after watching all those Hollywood blockbusters.
The airports struggle to meet demand and are served by airlines which are hardly the envy of the world. Would anybody choose to fly Delta or American Airlines given the choice?
Prices in Manhattan are prohibitive to all but the privileged few, pushing many New Yorkers ever further from the centre, while sky-high hotel prices can leave some questioning their value. Chain restaurants abound, homogenising a culture built on the tumultuous integration of generations of international arrivals.
Many of the New York’s crowning glories – the Empire State Building, Grand Central Station and Brooklyn Bridge – are nearly a century old, and have not been equalled in recent decades, suggesting a city trading on its legacy. What’s more, that icon of the city, the Statue of Liberty, for decades a symbol of cohesion, unquestioningly welcoming settlers from anywhere in the world, must now be considered the greatest anachronism of them all.
Modern landmarks, such as the new Freedom Tower, are intrinsically defensive, surrounded by layers of concrete, gun-carrying guards and on constant alert, while Wall Street and its bankers are pariahs, charged with bringing the global economy to its knees.
Downtown Manhattan, perhaps the most famous skyline of them all
But none of this matters, still they come. How could they not? The allure of New York is simply too great.
Other cities may rival certain facets of New York – be it the culture, the cuisine, or the attractions – but nowhere else in the world is there such abundance in one place. It is the playground of the world.
Some 55 million guests to the city spent nearly $40 billion in 2013, with a million coming from the UK alone. And it can’t all have been down to Taylor Swift.
Even with an average room rate of $290 a night, hotels record occupancy rates of nearly 85 per cent – figures the envy the industry.
In the days of hospitality hyperbole, the city is a true icon.
The wending hills of Central Park must be among the most famous green spaces in the world, but is home to a welcome burst of tranquillity in the maelstrom of the city. Visit in the winter and the freshly laid snow more than compensates for the below-zero temperatures.
The Guggenheim Museum, American Museum of Natural History and Museum of Modern Art are all world leaders in their fields, while a cruise around the island of Manhattan will offer an unrivalled wealth of world-famous landmarks.
Coney Island is one of the most rewarding New York tourism destinations, a snapshot of humanity
New Yorkers speak every language under the sun, making everybody feel welcome, meaning even the most wary of travellers are reconciled. After a few hours it can seem you have lived your whole life walking the avenues of the city.
Strangers stop on the street to offer polite directions, the city is safer than it has ever been, dispelling violent memories of earlier decades, while the relentless optimism of the place is infectious.
Most importantly, it is an air of expectation that carries the city. When that subway train rolls into view, it is as though it really could take you anywhere in the world.
About NYC & Company
NYC & Company is the official marketing, tourism and partnership organisation for the City of New York, dedicated to maximising travel and tourism opportunities throughout the five boroughs, building economic prosperity and spreading the positive image of New York City worldwide.
For information on New York City the official website.