OK, so you’ve been to the Big Apple, and during that first trip, you diligently ticked off the essential sights: the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State (other towers are available!), the Brooklyn Bridge. You strolled through Central Park, caught the Staten Island ferry, shopped on 5th Avenue, dined in the neon-lit Times Square and were humbled by your emotions at the 9/11 Memorial. So that’s it, right? Wrong. Here are some great New York City experiences to keep you busy when you return for more.
Bronx Botanical Gardens and Zoo
These two attractions are just a short walk from each other, so combining them on the same day makes sense, especially on a Wednesday when you can get into most exhibits free of charge. I visited in November, the perfect time to witness the fall colours at their best and watch the animals play without distracting crowds.
High Line or Lowline?
Both, of course. The High Line park is now well established on everyone’s must-see list for New York, and won’t disappoint. I love it in winter; if the sun’s shining and the wind’s absent, there’s no place better to chill out. But now the elevated railway has a rival, at weekends at least: the Lowline Lab, an experimental space destined to become the city’s first underground park.
Update: the Lowline has now closed.
Gospel brunch in Harlem
The other great way to spend a Sunday is to savour the tastes and of course the sounds of brunch in Harlem. You don’t have to be religious – just musical – to appreciate the atmosphere and joy generated in a number of excellent eateries. Sylvia’s and The Cotton Club have been at it for years, but I opted for a relative newcomer, Ginny’s Supper Club, located in the basement of Red Rooster – and wasn’t disappointed.
City of New York Museum
You’ll have paid a visit to the Met and the Guggenheim last time, so how about learning a little of the city’s history to give you some context. Located beyond the Upper East Side facing the north-east corner of Central Park, it’s the perfect place to learn more about the story that whizzed past you as you ascended the elevator to the top of the Freedom Tower.
This tiny museum is tucked away around the corner from Battery Park, but is well worth the detour. It has a mixture of permanent and rotating exhibits, explaining the development of the skyscraper and its contribution to the city’s iconic skyline. If you’re in the city between now and January, check out the Skyline installation.
Once known as Nut Island, this tiny haven from the noise of Manhattan was renamed Governors Island by the British in 1699 who occupied it until the time of the American Revolution. Later a military base for the US Army and home to the Coastguard, it’s now open during the summer months as a city playground. Once you’ve admired the view of southern Manhattan, rent a bicycle, enjoy a lazy picnic or try out Slide Hill, one of the island’s newest attractions.
Watch a game
Which sport you watch depends of course on the season in which you visit. In summer or autumn, head up to 161st Street where you’ll find the Yankee Stadium. In winter, try the ice hockey at a fast-paced Rangers game or watch the Knicks play basketball at Madison Square Garden. The latter offers an interesting backstage tour as well. For those of us visiting from outside the US, it’s as much an exercise in people-watching as anything else. Attention spans are low compared to the intensity of watching the footie back home, for instance, but grab a beer and a hot dog to soak it up anyway.
Bryant Park Christmas market
Once Thanksgiving has passed, it’s time to focus on Christmas. My favourite Christmas market in the city is at Bryant Park, an easy hop from Times Square in the heart of Midtown, though the last time I was there heavy rainfall had flooded the paths and many of the stallholders had gone home early. Union Square also has a market, a little smaller but also worth a look.
Roosevelt Island tramway
It’s been a while since I rode this, but a ride on the Roosevelt Island tramway is worth it for the views alone. After the Staten Island ferry, it’s probably the biggest public transport bargain in the city, as you can ride it for a price equivalent to a single subway ride using your MTA card. If you think it looks familiar, that’s because t’s been featured in many movies, including Scarface, City Slickers, Now You See Me and Spiderman.
New York Transit Museum
The shops and cafes of Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg are well-documented but a few miles down the road, you’ll find the New York Transit Museum, occupying a decommissioned subway station where Boerum Place meets Schermerhorn Street. Underground, you’ll find a collection of vintage subway cars, some of which are over a hundred years old. The best bit: no one minds if you hop on board.