A YELLOW cab trundles in front of one of New York’s most famous buildings as the brusque chatter of office workers fills the air.
Bang on cue, a column of steam rises from a grid and a hotdog vendor bellows to advertise his wares.
It could be a street scene from any movie set in the Big Apple but I quickly pinch myself to confirm that I’m actually in the world’s most spectacular city.
Stunning inner-city vistas loom as far as the eye can see in every direction, rivalling anything the plains of the Serengeti or the most dramatic mountain ranges have to offer.
Jaw dropping sights are never more than a couple of blocks away and the urge to stare up at every skyscraper could leave you with a crick in your neck.
A first trip to New York is a truly memorable experience and mine was no different.
Arriving at dusk by a train travelling partway underground from Newark Airport, I had to wait for my first glimpse of the Manhattan’s awe-inspiring skyline in the day.
But this being The City That Never Sleeps, some things are best seen at night.
The view from the top of the Rockerfeller Centre at night gave me some impression of the sheer scale of what lay below.
The Empire State Building is another height worth hitting.
My mid-morning trip up the 102-storey monument to New York’s most ambitious forefathers provides amazing views over and beyond the five boroughs that make up the vast metropolis.
Taking in the city from hundreds of feet up is a great way to marvel at its best-known landmarks but for a real taste of New York, nothing beats pounding the streets. There are some unmissable walks like Brooklyn Bridge with Manhattan towering above its famous structure or a stroll through Central Park.
Another way to stretch the legs is by ambling aimlessly from bar to bar through the East Village’s mid-1800s tenement buildings.
Brooklyn Bridge takes walkers off Manhattan and in to the hip Brooklyn neighbourhood of Williamsburg, where students, musicians and artists patronise dozens of trendy bars and restaurants.
Walking from neighbourhood to neighbourhood gives a real sense of how New York was shaped by groups of immigrants who flocked here for a better life.
While many of Manhattan’s once-poor slum areas are now gentrified, their architecture is frozen in time.
The Radisson Lexington in East Midtown proved a perfect base for exploring – just minutes from Times Square and Broadway and within walking distance of Central Park. New York is the last place where you would want to while away hours in a hotel room, but the Radisson’s are roomy, modern and comfortable – the perfect place to crash out after shopping or sampling the city’s thriving food scene.
New York is home to a staggering 13,000 restaurants offering everything from haute cuisine to fast food.
Some of the swankiest eateries can be found in the Meat Packing District, where I sampled Pastis’ French food which includes classics like duck confit, moules marinieres and fantastic steaks.
The bustling restaurant is a perfect place to dine before heading out to the district’s bars.
Cocktails on the roof terrace of the five-star Gansevoort hotel across the road were a stark contrast to the rough and ready Hogs and Heifers.
The former Hell’s Angels watering hole has lost the bikers but kept the debauchery that they left behind.
Its female customers are prone to dancing on the long bar and hundreds of bras hang above it.
New Yorkers have embraced the food of their foreign cousins but remain fiercely proud of their own staples.
At Crif Dogs on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, they’ve even turned the humble hotdog in to an art form.
This tiny underground mecca to the meaty snack serves 15 different varieties, including the bacon-wrapped, chilli-topped and heart-stopping Spicy Red Neck.
Another great way of tasting real New York is by joining the natives in one of their favourite pastimes – drinking.
If the city has 13,000 restaurants, it has at least as many bars.
Serving anything from anything from 20 Dollar Cosmopolitans to Sex in the City-wannabes to bottles of beer to blue collar workers, I found the bar scene never less than thriving.
One of the best places to try the best that American beer has to offer is Heartland Brewery, which has its flagship pub on Union Square, just south of the Flatiron Building.
It houses a brewery where Heartland makes about half a dozen beers and well as seasonal brews. McSorley’s Old Ale House in the Lower East Side has been serving beer since 1854 and little has changed since then. It continues to serve only two types of ale, light or dark, and sawdust covers the bare floor.
If I had one regret about my trip, it would be that I didn’t get chance see more of the Big Apple. I can’t wait to go back for my next bite.