New York is the city of superlatives. Take everything you've heard, multiply it several times, and you might come close to the scope of this most citified of cities, the city that invented the concept of the modern city.
Wall Street's long reach into the world's money supply has made New York, along with London, the most important city in the world. Although the financial markets have provided much of the economic fuel for the current boom — in population (8.4 million and rising), and housing prices ("Fuggedaboudit," as the natives would say) — New York stands alone in not being tied to any one, or two or five, market sectors. Publishing, airlines, insurance, education, biotechnology and medicine, all things digital, advertising, entertainment, media, world government, religion, fashion, food and wine, and precious stones are just some of the industries closely tied into the city's fabric.
New York's reputation as fast paced, expensive, congested and on the move 24/7 has its downside: It can appear formidable to the first-time visitor. A trip to New York does require some serious planning, but most people are pleasantly surprised by how navigable the streets and extensive public-transit system are and how easy it is to orient yourself. Ethnic neighborhoods offer inexpensive cuisine from nearly every culture on earth.
Perhaps most surprisingly, most New Yorkers fail to live up to their reputation for sullen arrogance. Most people are not only friendly but go out of their way to help tourists who appear lost.
The first-time visitor inevitably will want to experience certain well-known landmarks like Times Square, Greenwich Village, Central Park and the Statue of Liberty. Again, it's crucial to do your homework. The Staten Island Ferry, for example, offers free round trips with spectacular views of the statue, Freedom Tower and the downtown skyline.
All visitors should make a point of getting out of Manhattan ("the city" to locals). Otherwise, they'll miss out on the "real New York," the other four counties, also known as boroughs, that make up the City of New York. Brooklyn, of course, has become famous around the world as an epicenter of urban hipsters. But Queens offers the Latino gayborhood of Jackson Heights, possibly the most ethnically diverse community in the country. And the Bronx can boast both the New York Botanical Garden and the Bronx Zoo. Even Staten Island, the most suburban of the five boroughs, has its hidden treasures.
There are 8.5 million people living here, and sometimes it can seem as if half of them are gay. In recent years, Hell's Kitchen has overtaken Chelsea as the city's major gayborhood. But there's also Jackson Heights (Latinos); the arc that extends from the East Village through the Lower East Side and into western Brooklyn; with new enclaves evolving as a result of soaring housing costs. There's way too much to see and do to list here; best to consult the many guidebooks and websites. To name just a very few of the many fascinating places to explore: The World Trade Center Site, the United Nations, Chiinatown, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine (one of the largest churches in the world), and the West Chelsea contemporary art galleries.
Shopping in New York is a competitive sport, from the giant foreign discount stores and the Diamond District to backroom purveyors of luxury-brand knockoffs in Chinatown. The city is so big there are distinct districts devoted to selling home lighting, furs, fabric and just about anything else under the sun.
That's true for dining as well. Save the national chains for another time. Don't be afraid to be adventurous. That said, there are a few "musts," like sidewalk hot dog vendors, pizza by the slice, Jewish-style delis and bagels. (It's true. They are better here.)
In the city that never sleeps, it's again necessary to do prior research. Local gay nightlife weeklies are available in street kiosks and gay-friendly stores as well as online. The world's only subway that runs 24/7/365 helps locals get to and from clubs late into the night — or, in the case of huge parties like Alegria or the Black Party, well into the next day.
There are bars catering to every age group, demographic and interest. In some bars for older gents, business suits are the norm (excepting the younger men seeking a "friend with benefits"). There's a gay version of Coyote Ugly, where cowboy bartenders dance on the bar; grungy bars with active back rooms; trendy one-name name bars (found mostly in "Hellsea"). There are bar nights dedicated to Indian-Americans, Jews and more.
In the summer, you should pencil in a few extra days for a trip to Fire Island — but only after making very extensive arrangements beforehand. But the days when everyone escaped on summer weekends are long gone. Today, everyone takes advantage of the many parks along the city's many waterways, or travel to the remote Rockaways where Riis Park attracts gay men of color.