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New York City New York Habitat featured in National Geographic Traveler

National Geographic Traveler
April 2005
Section: Trips!
Pages 123-124-125

Home to thousands of singles and bursting with thousands of attractions, the Big Apple may just be the ideal choice for a solo holiday. Sample the adventurous breadth of Manhattan, and you'll find as much gregariousness as you could wish for-and all the anonymous alone-time you want. The city satisfies any number of cravings, from theater and architecture, to indie films and Indian food.

When Toronto resident Andrew Hilton would visit his fiancée, a Columbia University grad student, he would find himself on his own while she studied. "I would pick a neighborhood and walk around for the day," he says. "The Lower East Side is a great place to explore on foot." An immigrant neighborhood of tenements and sweatshops, this 19th-century area has been showing up on trend-spotters' radars. Cutting-edge clothing stores and new boutique hotels-such as Blue Moon, in a former tenement building-peacefully coexist with discount luggage shops and delis. To get an idea of the area's beginnings, visit the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, which re-creates the details of tenement life and offers a guided walking tour of the hood. Equally interesting: a walk through nearby Chinatown, from historic, neon-lit Mott Street to less-touristed East Broadway, where recent immigrants sell everything from steamed pork buns to dried gingerroot and spices.

If you'd prefer company, sign up for one of the many tours offered in this enterprising city. Big Apple Greeters pairs visitors with New York City volunteers for free neighborhood walks geared to visitors' interests. On many weekends the Department of Parks and Recreation's Urban Park Rangers lead free bird-watching and nature walks in Central Park and other green spaces. Shoppers can splurge on a personalized shopping tour with Fashion Update, which ferrets out designer deals up to 75 percent off retail in areas like the Garment District. Then there is Watson Adventures, which organizes scavenger hunts in museums and neighborhoods. Singles get assigned to teams, then scout for answers to questions like, "In a gallery in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, what stained-glass saint looks like he gets no satisfaction?" (Mick Jagger look-alike St. Roch.)

Of course merely stepping out on a New York sidewalk can be an adventure in itself, but here you also have a chance to rub shoulders with world-renowned adventurers at one of the weekly public lectures at the elegant Explorers Club, on the Upper East Side. For $15 you'll hear about "The Lessons of Everest," "Women of K2," or "Discovering the Real Shangri-la."

Traveling solo has many benefits, including the freedom to linger as long as you want wherever you want. But come meal time, solo sometimes feels a little too, well, solo. New York has you covered. Besides ordering to-go at any of the new batch of upscale sandwich spots, such as Starwich or wichcraft, try an informal place like Prime Burger. "They have these adorable little one-person booths with desklike tables that swing in over your lap, and a totally cool, Rat Pack feel," says New Yorker Emma Terrell. "And they have excellent, cheap burgers. It's perfect or a single person." Or find a restaurant with communal tables, such as chic Salt in SoHo. You can always eat at the bar at, say, Blue Fin, near Times Square, or the French bistro-style Payard. And if you go for Japanese-try Fujiyama Mama on the Upper West Side for a retro-disco vibe, or Sushi Samba near Gramercy Park for its Brazilian/Peruvian influences-you can sit at the sushi counter and be entertained by the chef's culinary performance art. You also, of course, may exert your right to sit at a table at any restaurant that happens to catch your eye.

What about good lodging options? Broadway Inn touts cozy B&B intimacy smack in the middle of the Theater District, while the Hudson Hotel offers small, design-conscious rooms that are just right for a single traveler-and a library that makes a homey hangout. Or see how New Yorkers really live by staying at a furnished rental vetted by NY Habitat. It may be the next best thing to having a friend accommodate you in New York, and you're free to come and go as you wish.

AMY ALIPIO