If I'm perfectly candid, New York City is kind of gross. During the summer, the city is like a giant toilet, with the scent of stale urine hanging in the smoggy humidity, and in the winter, it becomes a 14-mile-long grey slush mound. Yet despite the dirty, crowded unpleasantness, the city overflows year-round with enough cultural opportunities to provide any foodie or art lover with a perpetual case of FOMO (fear of missing out). It's wonderful, and at times overwhelming, to know that on any given day one is a only short walk from a delicious meal or bizarrely elaborate musical performance. And NYC is a place that must be learned and heard and seen on foot – whether on an early morning stroll while sipping hot coffee from a breakfast truck, or at night when one is surrounded by a haze of smoke, screeching taxi brakes, and the chattering lights of tall buildings.

New York grime in Times Square © Wikicommons
New York grime in Times Square
© Wikicommons

Upon walking a few blocks north of Herald Square and the Empire State Building, one can peruse the shelves and exhibits of the Morgan Library. More manageable than the Met or MoMA, the half-dozen rooms making up the Morgan Library were constructed from 1902 to 1906, and are now considered a historical landmark. During his lifetime Pierpont Morgan collected all manner of paintings, drawings, manuscripts, scores, and books; the Library now houses this embarrassment of wonders.

On an average visit, one might see a letter Margaret Fuller wrote while in Rome, paintings by Rembrandt, a portrait by John Singer Sargent, a Gutenberg bible, and the torrid inkings of a Beethoven sketch. During their window for free entry (7-9pm on Friday nights), music from a chamber or jazz ensemble can be heard in the glass-walled foyer. Afterwards, one can seek out the nearby, albeit somewhat obscured, entrance to Middle Branch, a former antiques store that now serves artsy cocktails with a speakeasy-like vibe.

The Morgan Library © Paola Trabanco | Wikicommons
The Morgan Library
© Paola Trabanco | Wikicommons
On the opposite side of the island, an abundance of art galleries checker the streets of Chelsea. The Gagosian, Paula Cooper Gallery, and others offer unexpected delights, such as sculptures by Richard Serra, photographs by Edward Burtynsky, or a moving installation by Sophie Calle. The Whitney Museum's is now located in this area as well, and is open late until 10pm on Friday and Saturday evenings.

These galleries and museums are linked by the High Line, an elevated park situated on what used to be a railroad. Flowers and foliage grow between the rusty metal of railway tracks; vendors near the 14th Street entrance/exit sell drinks and gourmet ice cream sandwiches. Working one's way north from here, one can enjoy the various offerings of the Meatpacking and Theater Districts. There's a great selection of restaurants to pick from along 9th Avenue, including El Centro, where my friends and I like to drink excellent margaritas and eat chilaquiles after catching a show at Lincoln Center.

Symphony Space © Marley White | NYC and Company
Symphony Space
© Marley White | NYC and Company
Heading farther north, the West Side offers the Museum of Natural History right off Central Park, as well as more off-the-beaten-path venues. At Symphony Space, for example, one can hear a Philip Glass première, watch a modern dance performance, participate in sociopolitical seminars and "talkbacks" (post-performance talks), or attend a day-long marathon recitation of James Joyce's Ulysses every 16 June ("Bloomsday").

After a walk through Central Park (keep an eye out for turtles near the lake), one can meander down Museum Mile (which includes the Met, the Guggenheim, and the Neue Galerie), browse the stacks of the adorable Crawford Doyle Bookstore, and grab a bite to eat at Nectar. Even farther north lies the Met Museum's Cloisters, home to art exhibitions, unicorn tapestries, and the occasional sound installation, or Harlem's Marcus Garvey Park, which hosts an annual summer jazz festival.

Mmuseumm © Alex Kalman | Wikicommons
Mmuseumm
© Alex Kalman | Wikicommons
The southern neighborhoods of Manhattan can be just as enjoyable. A stroll through Washington Square Park might yield performances by amateur musicians, a traveling piano man, and jugglers, and at bare minimum yields the knowledge of how disgusting New Yorkers can truly be. Nearby establishments include the Strand (18 miles of books), Smalls Jazz Club, the Independent Film Channel (IFC) Center, and a variety of overpriced hipster coffeeshops. Hidden delights of the Lower East Side include the KGB Bar (where else can one sip a gin & tonic while listening to an alt-poetry reading and standing next to a bust of Stalin?) and the Stone, John Zorn's experimental music venue which offers a double dose of live music every Tuesday through Saturday night (one set at 8pm and another at 10pm).

The best-kept secrets of Manhattan lie in the Tribeca neighbourhood: here, you'll find La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela's Dream House (a vibrating, purple-glowing, incense-filled sound and light installation where you must take off your shoes to enter) and the Mmuseumm, a miniature museum located in a former freight elevator in which one can view found objects, from a toothbrush to a prison ID card to ISIS currency to cornflakes. (Don't bring your friends—they won't fit.)

Central Park: rare greenery in New York © Ad Meskens | Wikicommons
Central Park: rare greenery in New York
© Ad Meskens | Wikicommons
Beyond the floating filth of Manhattan, the outer boroughs can serve as a refuge from sweaty, touristy overcrowdedness or high prices. The Bronx Zoo and incredible dim sum restaurants in Queens are just a couple of options should one feel up to a slightly lengthier subway or cab ride. In Brooklyn, one can browse the great selection at Greenlight Bookstore, grab dinner at Pequeña (a literal hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant) or Bati (an Ethiopian eatery), then catch a movie, opera, or play at BAM or Roulette.

On a weekend morning, fluffy cinnamon pancakes at Tom's Restaurant followed by a stroll through the nearby Brooklyn Museum or Prospect Park would make for a pleasant few hours. Indeed, NYC is so rife with culture that the occasional respite – reading a book on a blanket in the park, seeing a tree for the first time since arriving in the city – is necessary. It allows for one's brain to adequately decompress, so that the next round of museums or music can be absorbed all the more fully.