The hottest time to visit New York City

Locals relax at the Brooklyn Bridge Park pop-up pool in New York. People say the Big Apple should be avoided in summer, but there are good reasons to go.
Locals relax at the Brooklyn Bridge Park pop-up pool in New York. People say the Big Apple should be avoided in summer, but there are good reasons to go. Photo: AFP

If you've never been to New York, now is the time to visit, says expert Douglas Rogers.

People will often tell you to avoid New York in summer. Well, up to a point. It can be hot, but then, given the current weather Down Under, is that all bad? And most of the city is air-conditioned, of course ...

More to the point, at this time of year much in the city is better value, and can be less crowded: you have a chance of getting into shows and fashionable restaurants, for example, that might otherwise be booked solid. Summer is also a popular time for free festivals and open-air concerts such as SummerStage.

Playing at the Brooklyn Bridge Park. Completed in 1883, the 486-metre-long Brooklyn Bridge is as iconic a symbol of the city as the Empire State Building.
Playing at the Brooklyn Bridge Park. Completed in 1883, the 486-metre-long Brooklyn Bridge is as iconic a symbol of the city as the Empire State Building. Photo: AFP

There are big-name museums, galleries and architectural landmarks to see, but New York is surprisingly outdoorsy, with numerous parks, rivers and even beaches for cooling off, so don't feel you have to spend your time indoors. Brooklyn is booming and still has the old neighbourhoods that no longer exist in Manhattan, and it's surprisingly quick and easy to get out of the city by train or subway, so don't be afraid to explore.

Here are my recommneded sights and easy excursions for first-time visitors, plus a selection of some of the special events taking place in the city this summer.

Empire State Building
Get your bearings, and an idea of the sheer size of the city, from the 86th or 102nd-floor observatory decks of the most recognisable building in the United States. On clear days you can see as far as Connecticut and Pennsylvania (350 5th Avenue; 001 212 736 3100; www.esbnyc.com; daily, 9.30am-midnight; adult $US17.61 ($A16.60), child $12.07).

New York's High Line ... this gorgeous and recently opened landscaped park is on a reclaimed, elevated industrial rail line stretching 22 blocks from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street, close to the Hudson on the west side of Manhattan.
New York's High Line ... this gorgeous and recently opened landscaped park is on a reclaimed, elevated industrial rail line stretching 22 blocks from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street, close to the Hudson on the west side of Manhattan. Photo: Getty Images

The High Line

This gorgeous and recently opened landscaped park (www.thehighline.org) is on a reclaimed, elevated industrial rail line stretching 22 blocks from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street, close to the Hudson on the west side of Manhattan. It's perfect for catching the sunset over the river before dinner in the Meatpacking District or the West Village.

Central Park

The 843-acre green belt in the heart of the city has - among other things - a zoo, a reservoir, a theatre, miles of paths, acres of grassland perfect for picnics and, not least, the romantic Boathouse Restaurant (59th up to 110th Street, between 8th and 5th Avenues; 212 517 2233; www.thecentralparkboathouse.com).

Metropolitan Museum of Art

The most famous New York museum is so enormous you'll be overwhelmed if you don't narrow your focus. Don't miss the Greek and Roman galleries on the first floor (1000 5th Avenue at 82nd Street, Upper East Side; 212 535 7710; www.metmuseum.org; adults $US20), 65 and older $US15, under-12s free).

American Museum of Natural History

From the enormous model of a blue whale to the giant space rocks in the Hall of Meteorites, this is a world of wonder (Central Park West at 79th Street, Upper West Side; 212 769 5100; www.amnh.org; open daily, 10am-5.45pm; adult $US16, under-12s $US9).

Times Square

The flashing neon and electric lights on the skyscrapers on Times Square in Midtown make Piccadilly Circus look like a rural village square. It's a dramatic counterpoint to the venerable theatres of Broadway (Broadway and 7th Avenue, from 42nd to 47th Street).

Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty cruise

Take a cruise around Lady Liberty and then a tour of Ellis Island, through which more than 12 million immigrants passed between 1892 and 1954. Walk through the Registration Room and hear live audio recordings of the process newcomers to the city faced. Statue Cruises ferries (877 523 9849; www.statuecruises.com) leave from Battery Park Terminal, on the southern tip of Manhattan, from 9am-5pm; the adult fare is $US13.

Brooklyn Bridge

Completed in 1883, the 486-metre-long suspension bridge is as iconic a symbol of the city as the Empire State Building. Start at Center Street near City Hall, and take in views of Governors Island to the south and the Manhattan Bridge to the north. Once in Brooklyn, head to the esplanade in Brooklyn Heights for great views of Manhattan.

Circle Line tour

It's easy to forget Manhattan is an island. A three-hour Circle Line island cruise takes in three rivers, seven bridges and the extraordinary forest-covered cliffs overlooking the Hudson river around Fort Tryon Park, in the north-west corner (Pier 83 West 42nd Street; 212 563 3200; www.circleline42.com; daily [times vary]; adult $US36, child $23).

A SUMMER WHAT'S ON

The Guggenheim's (1071 5th Ave; www.guggenheim.org) Art of Another Kind exhibition features great international abstract expressionists, from Bourgeois to Vedova, and runs until September 12.

2012: The Year of Noel Coward in New York celebrates Coward's rich career in theatre, music, stage and screen at various venues across the city (www.noelcowardinnewyork.com). Runs until August 18.

On the Roof Garden of The Met (5th Ave at 82nd; www.metmuseum.org) catch Argentine artist Tomas Saraceno's mind-blowing installation of space-age like modules and material titled Tomas Saraceno on the Roof: Cloud City. Runs until November 4.

The Neue Galerie's (1048 Fifth Ave; www.neuegalerie.org) Gustav Klimt: 150th Anniversary Celebration honours the master Austrian artist's birthday with a collection of major paintings and never-before-seen photographs until August 27.

The SummerStage (www.cityparksfoundation.org/summerstage) series features over 100 performers in 18 parks in all five boroughs.

At the Ethel Barrymore Theatre (243 W 47th St; 212 239 6200|) on August 21 is the much-awaited musical Chaplin, following the silent-screen star from his humble London origins to the heights of Hollywood fame (www.chaplinbroadway.com).

Free summer movies are all the rage. On The Waterfront, Roman Holiday and other classics are on the bill for successive Mondays. Jaws, Saturday Night Fever, Grease and other blockbusters entertain the cocktail sipping crowds at swanky rooftop lounge Mad46 (46th and Madison Ave). For more listings and dozens of other free movies venues visit www.nycgo.com/articles/free-summer-movies-2012.

GETTING THERE

Qantas, Virgin Australia, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines all fly from Australia's east coast to New York via Los Angeles (or Dallas, for some Qantas flights).

New York's subway system is fast, safe and reliable, connecting points in four of the five boroughs (not Staten Island). Single rides cost $US2.25. A seven-day unlimited travel ticket costs $US27. Cards are valid on buses. www.Seemta.info/metrocard for details.

Yellow cabs are ubiquitous - except at rush hour. Fares are calculated at $US2.50 upon entry plus 40c for each one-fifth of a mile.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Visit www.nycgo.com for information on what's on and where to go. Pick up maps, leaflets and other information from the Official Visitor Information Centre (001 212 484 1222) at 810 7th Avenue, between 52nd and 53rd Street. Open Mon-Fri, 8.30am-6pm; Sat, Sun and holidays, 9am-5pm. Also see the new www.discoveramerica.com.

THE BEST NEW HOTELS

The New York Manhattan Hotel

The New York Manhattan Hotel is a seventeen-floor 171-room hotel that was relaunched in May 2011, after a multi-million dollar overhaul. It is ideally situated on the southern edge of Midtown (001 212 643 7100; www.thenewyorkmanhattanhotel.com; doubles from $A125).

The Ace

Part of the hip, budget Ace chain, The Ace is the first East Coast version and was an instant hit, with a great restaurant, gourmet coffee shop, and comfortable if small retro rooms in a central location (679 2222; www.acehotel.com/newyork; from $A194).

Nolitan Hotel

The Nolitan is a 55-room boutique property that has just opened in fashionable Nolita, New York. It promises to give the nearby Crosby Street Hotel a run for its money (925 2555; www.nolitanhotel.com).

THE BEST RESTAURANTS

JG Melon

This New York institution is popular with the preppy set and famous for its burgers and Bloody Marys. Opened in 1972, its tin-pressed ceiling, wood counter and veteran staff are part of the charm - and its cheeseburger is one of the juiciest in town. If the wait for a table is too long, try the equally venerable PJ Clarke's (317 1616; www.pjclarkes.com), 19 blocks south at 915 3rd Avenue. Going strong since 1884, it is frequently name-checked in the hit show Mad Men (1291 Third Avenue at 74th Street; 744 0585).

Torrisi Italian Specialities

The best lunchtime sandwiches in the city are to be had at this new 18-seat gourmet deli in trendy Nolita (north of Little Italy). The cosy tiled and brick-walled interior resembles a rustic Italian kitchen, but sandwiches like the eggplant Parmesan or the potato, egg and provolone on a roll taste as if they've been prepared by master chefs. Dinner is a different scene, with a $US45 four-course fixed-price menu of Italian classics with modern twists (250 Mulberry Street, Little Italy; 965 0955; www.piginahat.com).

The Lamb's Club

Set just off the lobby of the glamorous Chatwal Hotel, Geoffrey Zakarian's luxurious new bar and grill is a tribute to the Lamb's - the celebrated theatrical group which used to convene at this landmark six-storey Georgian building early last century. In the footsteps of Fred Astaire, WC Fields and John Barrymore come guests who now dine at plush red leather banquettes under art deco lamps on clubby classics such as Cobb salads, oysters on the half shell, and Prime Delmonico Steak. An equally swanky upstairs bar overlooking 44th Street features cocktails by master mixologist Sasha Petraske (132 W 44th Street, near 6th Avenue, Midtown; 997 5262; www.thelambsclub.com).

Eleven Madison Park

The finest dining experience in New York, bar none. Swiss culinary genius Daniel Humm's soaring space above Madison Square Park is grand enough: skyscraper ceilings, towering tree arrangements, sky-box dining suites. But the menu is really inspiring: you don't get a choice of dishes, but a diagram and a list of ingredients - chevre, chives, foie gras, squab - the waiter helping you choose what you want. Torchon of foie gras laced with cocoa, anyone? Sit back and enjoy the ride (11 Madison Avenue, at 24th Street, Gramercy/Flatiron District; 889 0905; www.elevenmadisonpark.com).

DAY TRIPS:

Coney Island and Brighton Beach

Take the southbound F, D, N or Q subway trains to Coney Island (allow an hour) and you enter another world: Atlantic Ocean waves crash on the shore, the famous Cyclone roller-coaster clatters above and in summer the beach is filled with sunbathing urbanites. Walk 20 minutes east along the boardwalk and you come to Brighton Beach, the Brooklyn suburb that is home to many Russian and Ukrainian immigrants. Stop for borsch, lamb kebabs and caviar at Tatiana (718 891 5151; www.tatianarestaurant.com). Take a sea-view table right on the famous boardwalk.

Governors Island

A 172-acre former military base off the southern tip of Manhattan, Governors Island opened to the public in 2009 and is already one of the city's most popular open spaces. Open June to October, and accessed by water taxi from the Battery Maritime Building (10 South Street), it's a relaxing island hideaway, with bikes for hire (www.bikeandroll.com), a beach, acres of lawns, and a 2.2-mile promenade around the perimeter from which to take in views of Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Statue of Liberty (www.govisland.com).

Rockefeller State Park Preserve

It's 35 minutes by train from Grand Central to Tarrytown (on the Metro North Hudson Line), where the oil baron John D Rockefeller established this 1,400-acre preserve in the early 1900s. The park is open all year and features several miles of carriage paths, woodlands, hills and meadows, with fine views of the Hudson. Tarrytown is adjacent to the celebrated village of Sleepy Hollow, the setting for Irving Washington's famous Gothic story (914 631 1470).

What to avoid

- Our eating recommendations are up to date, but beware that the fine-dining scene changes amazingly fast, with new trends and movements springing up all the time.

- Avoid upsetting the staff: it is standard to tip 15-20 per cent in restaurants. Doubling the tax on your bill is a useful guideline as to how much. Don't be afraid to slip the bar tender or waiter $US20 before you sit down - you will be amazed at what it gets you.

- Still with bills, sales tax in NYC is 8.87 per cent; taxes are not included in listed shop or restaurants prices.

- Avoiding alcohol? Current cocktail bar trends are for retro, remade Art Deco spaces, but a new wave of tiki lounges serving fruity umbrella drinks are also popping up.

The Telegraph, London

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