Empire State building in Midtown Manhattan

New York City Forever!

By Travel + Leisure
December 09, 2020

What’s there to say about New York City? Everything and nothing, really. The city speaks for itself, rising triumphantly out of the ground and into the sky. But while its landmarks — the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge — tell part of the story, it’s the whispers and yelling and stomping and rushing and laughter and tears of eight million individual souls across five sweeping boroughs that tell the other. Not to mention the eight million who came before and the eight million before them. 

This year, 2020, New York had a new word attached to its story: epicenter. One day in March people took the subway to work and then took the subway home — not realizing that it would be the last time for a very long time. While desks gathered dust in Midtown towers, ambulances whirled and buzzed across the city, the world watched in shock and awe as a Navy hospital ship cruised down the Hudson, and rooftops and windows became a 7 p.m. social club of sorts, where previously unknown neighbors smiled and waved each night from a distance while clanging pots and pans for frontline workers.

Eventually, though, the sirens began to fade, the Navy ship returned to sea, and New York City opened its heavy, heavy eyes again. The fallout of the situation is real: we’ve lost our favorite restaurants, stores that always had just the right thing, and the curtains remain closed on Broadway. But New York City is a resilient one, home to resilient people.

New York City is not dead — and it will never be dead. At Travel + Leisure, we say New York City forever!  Here, our love letter to the City That Never Sleeps in the form of a beautiful essay from a born and raised New Yorker, guides to experiencing the city virtually and safely in person, rebuttals from locals challenging the idea that New York is “over,” and more. We love you, New York, thanks for being our home.

 “The particulars of this past season will always be novel, even by New York standards,” lifelong New Yorker Eliza Dumais writes of a year filled with masks, clanging pots and pans, “walktails,” openings, closings, reopenings, and reflection. 

Girl riding bike across bridge as seen from subway window
Credit: Jenna Brillhart
Renita E., Empire State Building
Credit: Jenna Brillhart/Empire State Realty Trust, Inc.

“I'm a lifer and I will be a lifer as long as I am alive. When you grow up in New York, everywhere else feels like summer camp. It's like, 'Oh, it's really lovely over here, but when do I go back to real life?' My culture is just hardwired to this place. I also believe that we can't look at it through Rose colored glasses. The New York of 2019 is gone in a weird way and it's going to take a long time to find out what the new normal is, but the people of New York are such survivors — and I don't just mean Manhattan — but all five boroughs. - Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of "Hamilton" and "In the Heights"

Lin-Manuel Miranda
Credit: Jenna Brillhart/Kevin Mazur/Getty Images
Whoopi Goldberg

“People count New York down and out, and for some reason people keep thinking it’s true, but they are always wrong. See NYC is the root for all other places. It’s why people keep coming here, to catch their breath, to invigorate, to hide and start again. You come to NYC to find out if it’s true… that if you can make it here you can make it anywhere, and with all of that kind of energy flowing through New York from every corner of the planet, year after year you realize... New York is immortal, the greatest vampire that ever lived. Mount Olympus wants to be New York, but there is only one. Often imitated yet NEVER duplicated.... NOT EVEN CLOSE.” Whoopi Goldberg, award-winning actress and co-host of The View

Credit: Jenna Brillhart/Jacopo Raule/WireImage/Getty Images

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“There were days in March and April when the LEDs on the Empire State Building were the only action in town, and NY without its people was reduced to streets and buildings, like a patient in a coma, or an unwieldy, brilliant, impossibly complicated book that is nothing more than a brick of bound paper when closed and unread. For twenty years this city has seemed unattainably cool to me, and I have been a slightly gauche immigrant from the provinces. But, like the moment when an intimidating friend shows you her vulnerable side, I suddenly knew that New York wasn’t beyond me, I wasn’t pressed to an unlit window looking on. In a very literal way, we are New York. There’s nothing more than us, our tourists, our commuters, and our people, even those of us who never know the best restaurants and happenings. The city is a jumble of our lives and dreams. Right now, when the city is on her knees, when there isn’t enough money or people for her streets, those of us who love her have to keep giving her our lives and our dreams, because with all of us here, New York can’t die.” - Sarah McNally, owner of McNally Jackson Books

Sarah McNally
Credit: Jenna Brillhart/Julie Brown Harwood
Sam Mason

"I’ve lived in New York City since 1994 and in that time, I’ve seen the city take its fair share of blows. But New York is not dead and as long as there are New Yorkers, it will always be a club that people will be willing to stand in line for. Its resilience is quite incredible and that’s the result of it’s proud, hard-working people." - Sam Mason, Oddfellows Ice Cream

Credit: Jenna Brillhart/Courtesy of Oddfellows

"New York will never be dead and the people are resilient, tough, caring and loving. I personally love New York because it is the place of my birth. It has a diverse, high energetic and culturally enriching persona. There is something in New York for everybody! The best music, theater, food, fashion and art. Whatever you want you can find it in New York. The country and the world looks to New York City for leadership and the template on what it takes to survive and thrive. My kinda town!" - Billy Mitchell, official historian and tour guide of the Apollo Theater.

Billy Mitchell
Credit: Jenna Brillhart/Travel + Leisure
Melissa O'Shaughnessy's Street Photographs in New York City from the book, Perfect Strangers
Left: Credit: © Melissa O'Shaughnessy
Right: Visitors enjoying Rockefeller Center's Christmas Tree. | Credit: Kelly Marshall

Credits

Editor: Tanner Saunders

Visuals: Mariah Tyler, Jenna Brillhart

Writers: Eliza Dumais, Amy Schulman, Tanner Saunders, Andrea Romano, Stacey Leasca, Alisha Prakash

Special Thanks: Nina Ruggiero, Deanne Kaczerski, Karen Chen, Courtney Dennis, and to each and every frontline worker in New York City and beyond.