2024-04-16  Travel and Leisure

I’m used to big cities. I’ve lived in London for more than a decade and have spent time in various European capitals, Tokyo, Abu Dhabi, Las Vegas, and Austin. But as Manhattan emerged over the horizon on the cab ride from JFK Airport, I realised that none of these had prepared me for New York City, where the endless looming towers made each street feel as enclosed as the Midtown Tunnel.

While New York has a heavy media presence - Friends, Seinfeld, Annie Hall, Ghostbusters, and so on - my strongest impression of the city came from its gritty representation in Grand Theft Auto IV. Liberty City seemed an impossible feat in 2008, and served as a kind of virtual tourist experience to escape the confines of my hometown. But returning to it after I got home, it was as though its scale had shrunk significantly while I was away, and it felt more game-like than ever before.

The reason for this is that real-life Manhattan is not only bigger than I expected vertically, but also has a gigantic footprint. On my first full day, I decided to walk from where I was staying in the Financial District up to Central Park via various landmarks - what turned out to be nearly five miles through bustling, diverse districts that at once felt very similar to London and unmistakably foreign. Despite capturing the vibe well, Rockstar’s approximation feels like a small village by comparison.

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