How does the city that famously never sleeps navigate the greatest shutdown of our times? It sees an opportunity and reinvents itself once more.

New York has been through a lot in nearly 400 years of history: revolutionary wars, fires, floods, hurricanes, bankruptcies, blackouts, riots, terrorist attacks, plagues and now two pandemics. But nothing fazes New Yorkers for long and their city is similarly unflappable. Whatever happens, the metropolis adjusts, expands, remakes itself in ways that feel familiar – that unmistakable New York energy – yet always different, always fresh.

New York Public Library’s lions wore masks to remind New Yorkers to be COVID-19 safe

After a very challenging two years, plenty has changed. The surprising thing is how much has changed for the better. Union Square in Manhattan was recently nicknamed “Reunion Square”, while neighbourhoods such as the West Village and Williamsburg have never felt more friendly. A city known for nightmarish traffic suddenly seems like a walker’s dream, entire blocks ceded to pedestrians and street stalls. Humour is everywhere – statues in parks wear protective masks, including Gandhi – and museums have used the time to undergo dazzling makeovers. So much has changed, in fact, that even returning visitors can look forward to discovering a new side to the city.

Little Island, NYC, USA

Hudson Yards district

The first thing you might notice about the new Hudson Yards district, west of Penn Station, is Vessel – an enormous spiral staircase to nowhere conceived by English designer Thomas Heatherwick. But the precinct’s true marvel is hidden at the top of 30 Hudson Yards. The highest open-deck viewing platform in the western hemisphere, Edge is astonishing. The triangular platform juts out of the building, with a glass floor that reveals the streetscape 100 storeys below. Views encompass the entirety of Manhattan and Brooklyn, plus much of Queens and New Jersey. On a clear day, you could almost see all the way to Australia. New York now has a whole collection of lookouts – the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, One World Observatory – but this is unquestionably the best place to find your bearings.

Museum of Modern Art

The US$450 million (about $627 million) expansion of the Museum of Modern Art that opened a few months before the pandemic started is finally having its moment. With more than 4000 square metres of extra space to play with, the curators have expanded the collection on display – hundreds of new pieces – and added a dedicated space for media and performance, the Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis Studio. All the classics are still here, including Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night, but there are more than a few surprises thrown into the mix. Be sure to check out the gallery of abstract expressionists, where the likes of Grace Hartigan and Elaine de Kooning are finally given equal billing with the men.

SEE MORE: A Local’s Guide to Exploring the Real New York

Hudson River Park

Brooklyn Bridge Park, NYC, USA

Despite the amount of waterfront in New York, the city has been historically reticent to embrace its rivers and bay. That attitude has shifted over the past few years with the ongoing upgrades to Hudson River Park, including the groundbreaking Little Island, a man-made garden island perched on dozens of bulb-shaped columns. But equally exciting developments can be found in Brooklyn, where Brooklyn Bridge Park has emerged as an important neighbourhood hangout, with picnic spots, a convenient ferry service and excellent events programming. One highlight is Movies With a View, where families gather before an outdoor cinema screen with Manhattan as the backdrop. For beach volleyball and outdoor sports, head to Domino Park in Williamsburg.

Chic hotels

ModernHaus SoHo, NYC, USA

There’s always a new place to stay in this city and and the pandemic didn’t change that, with the arrival of three chic hotels: ModernHaus SoHo, with its emphasis on outdoor space; Graduate Roosevelt Island, characterised by floor-to-ceiling bookshelves; and Ace Hotel Brooklyn, which finally brings the hip brand to the borough most suited to it. For supreme luxury, though, nothing will compare with Aman New York, which is slated to open this year. Located on “Billionaires’ Row” in the iconic Crown Building, which was the original home of MoMA, the hotel promises a three-floor spa and a jazz club, plus private residences worth as much as a country estate. This will likely become the hottest ticket in a town full of hot tickets.

Frick Madison

Perhaps the most stately museum in New York, the Frick exhibits Old Masters paintings – Titian, Velázquez, Vermeer, Whistler – in a Gilded Age mansion on Fifth Avenue opposite Central Park. But in 2021, the mansion closed for modernisation and the collection moved to a new space dubbed the Frick Madison. The building, at 945 Madison Avenue, was once home to the Whitney and its Brutalist architecture makes a striking contrast with the art. Seeing the paintings in this context revitalises them: “The Frick savors the opulence of emptiness,” declared The New York Times. The curators are embracing the opportunity to offer exciting new perspectives, too. A year-long show, Living Histories: Queer Views and Old Masters, sees iconic examples from the Frick collection placed “in conversation” with pieces by Doron Langberg, Salman Toor, Jenna Gribbon and Toyin Ojih Odutola, whose work explores issues of gender and queer identity.


Pastis famous cheeseburger, NYC, USA

After the lights went dark in 2020, many speculated that the longest theatre shutdown in New York history was a wound too deep to be anything but fatal. They were wrong. In September 2021, Chicago, Hamilton and Wicked lit up marquees once again, ushering in a gradual reopening of Broadway that will continue for months. Some musicals that were only in previews when the pandemic began, such as Mrs. Doubtfire, are up and running. Moulin Rouge, which won 10 Tony Awards for its truncated pre-pandemic run, is back and showing audiences that the magic never really went away. MJ, a bio-musical about Michael Jackson, and The Music Man, starring Hugh Jackman, promise to be major hits.

Eating the big apple

Pastis in the Meatpacking District, NYC, USA

Unlike in other famous food cities such as Paris or Rome, alfresco dining has never been common in New York, partly because of the licensing laws and partly because most patrons prefer not to share their entrées with honking traffic. With laws adapting to pandemic restrictions and restaurateurs investing in semi-enclosed tents and open-sided cabins on sidewalks and in parking spaces, the result is lovely – and in many cases preferable to the old experience of eating inside. Entire blocks are now decorated with European-style tables, as though the whole city has stepped out to enjoy the evening. Who knew that New York was waiting for a dining revolution?

  • Buvette in the West Village has always been a brilliant option for breakfast, with its croque monsieurs and good coffee, but the interior space is tiny: it’s not uncommon to literally rub shoulders with the people at the next table. Now the gastrotheque has spilled onto the street so there’s room to enjoy the steamed eggs.
  • If you’re just looking for an afternoon drink, there are now beer gardens in almost every neighbourhood. Watermark offers open-air views over the East River from right next to the South Street Seaport. The space evolves with the seasons so it’s open year-round. Over in Brooklyn, a good bet is Pig Beach, near the Gowanus Canal, which has excellent barbecue ribs and key lime pie. In Queens, head to Astoria and The Beer Garden at Bohemian Hall, which has been around for more than 100 years, making it an elder statesman of indooroutdoor establishments. For something more upmarket – and more green, with lots of lush foliage – go to Gilligan’s in Manhattan and order the Matcha Colada.
  • For dinner outdoors, Pastis, in the Meatpacking District, might just do it best – the restaurant has cordoned off a section of the pavement with elegant planter boxes. The French American cuisine (think cheeseburger à l’Américaine) is exquisite and the restaurant is close enough to the High Line that you can walk off the duck confit after dinner. Or you could go the other way, finding an understated neighbourhood joint for stellar Italian food with New York locals. Osteria 106 is a gem on the Upper West Side, so friendly that the owner will set up a table for you if all the outdoor seating is taken.
  • Some of the best places to eat and drink right now are anchored just offshore. Grand Banks is an oyster bar located on an old timber schooner called Sherman Zwicker. And The Brooklyn Barge is just what it sounds like, offering shrimp and jerk chicken with a side of million-dollar views.

SEE MORE: How to Have an Amazing New York Experience on $50 a Day

Image credit: Joe Thomas

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