Any day now, as New York shrugs off its heavy cloak of winter, tightly-clenched cherry blossom buds will burst into a carnival of pink blooms across the city's parks. It signifies the quintessential celebration of spring, a stunning and colourful reminder that once again New Yorkers have made it through the cold.
But this year, this rite of renewal, which can be best witnessed not only in Central Park but also in the less visited Brooklyn Botanic Garden, is imbued with additional meaning.
New York has always been a city of resilience, reinvention and new beginnings, as evidenced by its recovery from September 11. Passionate, determined, fully alive, it's a place that can make you feel 25 different sensations before lunch.
As an Australian expat, and like so many before me, I became hooked on New York's irresistible energy more than a decade ago and saw in it my own land of opportunity.
The ability to withstand the tough blows and emerge triumphant, constantly reinventing, has never been more important to New York than at this moment. Surely nobody needs a reminder of the horrors faced at the height of the pandemic.
Tourism, an industry that typically represents more than 400,000 jobs and $US70 billion ($96 billion) in economic impact for the city, was sent reeling. From the 2019 record of 66 million visitors, arrivals dropped by two-thirds in 2020, all eyes on survival.
But at last New York is, if not quite fully back, certainly storming in the right direction. There's a new mayor, ex-NYPD officer Eric Adams, a new governor, Kathy Hochul and for many, a renewed sense of optimism. COVID-positive numbers are way down and government-mandated restrictions requiring proof of vaccination and masks have been lifted.
The Open Streets program, introduced as a temporary measure in 2020 to transform New York's thoroughfares into car-free public spaces for all, is continuing. Manhattan's new public park, Little Island, a captivating venue for live concerts and midday meditations, is the best thing to happen to the Meatpacking District since Samantha Jones moved in.
The three major gateway airports have been transformed, including brand-new terminals, retail and dining options (you won't recognise LaGuardia).
What's more, NYC & Company, the city's peak marketing, tourism and partnership organisation, has launched a $US30 million campaign to spread the word that it's time for New York City. There's now a forecast of a whopping 56.5 million domestic and international visitors this year with Australians traditionally among the most valued and highest-spending tourists.
"NYC is eagerly awaiting the return of Aussies," says Chris Heywood, executive vice president, global communications for NYC & Company. "The city is bouncing back, with hotel occupancy and subway ridership growing."
Heywood adds that the vibrancy and energy of the city is palpable, with New Yorkers bullish about the future of the city so cherished and adored by Australians.
Traveller, in sharing in the zeal, has prepared this special guide to visiting New York again and experiencing its wealth of extraordinary new attractions.
THE NEW HAPPENINGS
The SUMMIT One Vanderbilt Glass Observation Deck. Photo: NYC&CO
A week? Make it two. However many days you think you'll need for a New York City visit, double it. Blockbuster exhibitions this year pay homage to Jean-Michel Basquiat (kingpleasure.basquiat.com) and the late, brilliant fashion designer Virgil Abloh (brooklynmuseum.org).
In May, the Costume Institute at The Met (metmuseum.org) unbuttons the second half of its In America exhibition, An Anthology of Fashion. Thousands of orchids are on display at the New York Botanical Garden (nybg.org) until May 1.
There are new museums and galleries to explore. The former flagship Barneys store is being transformed into a five-storey fine art hub, with exhibitions, art fairs and artist talks presented by Art House New York (arthousenow.com).
Theatre-lovers will be able to peek behind the curtain at The Museum of Broadway (themuseumofbroadway.com), the first permanent museum dedicated to all that jazz, scheduled to open in Times Square by mid-year.
In Corona, Queens, the Louis Armstrong House Museum (louisarmstronghouse.org) is undergoing a major expansion to accommodate a new cultural centre, which will include archival interactive displays and a 68-seat jazz club.
Observation decks are reaching new heights of immersive thrills. SUMMIT One Vanderbilt (summitov.com) became the city's fifth observatory when it opened in October, joining the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, One World Observatory and Edge at Hudson Yards. Located on 42nd Street, it's now Midtown's tallest building.
Edge (edgenyc.com), launched in 2020, now invites thrill seekers to harness up for skyscraper adventure City Climb. Think of it as New York's version of BridgeClimb. And the newest attraction to offer a bird's-eye view of the Big Apple, RiseNY (riseny.co), does it virtually. Visitors are strapped in and suspended nine metres in the air for an interactive tour of the skyline.
THE NEW TASTES
Chinatown, New York. Photo: iStock
It was tough to watch beloved restaurants and bars (The Monkey Bar, 21 Club, Bar Sardine) call it quits. There's an excitement now as new venues open their doors.
Great Jones Distilling Co (greatjonesdistillingco.com) is Manhattan's first legal whiskey distillery since Prohibition. Panorama Room (graduatehotels.com) is worth the trip to Roosevelt Island for 360-degree sunset views; Hawksmoor (hawksmoornyc.com) and Dame (damenewyork.com) are leading the crusade to elevate British fare.
Nothing Really Matters (no web; Instagram @nothingreallymattersbar), a cocktail bar inside the downtown 1 subway station at 50th St, offers an escape from the outside world.
Many restaurants, including the hit Uncle Boons, moved on after becoming stalled in lease renegotiations. But owners Ann Redding and Matt Danzer have now transferred their magic touch to kitschy cool Thai Diner (thaidiner.com).
Despite the struggles, there have been some great success stories. Bryce Shuman, previously known for his inventive dishes at Eleven Madison Park and his Michelin-starred fare at now-shuttered Betony, turned back to basics during the pandemic and found a loyal following in the city. His humble barbecue pop-up and home delivery service, Ribs n Riesling, is the springboard for new upscale American comfort food restaurant, Sweetbriar (sweetbriarnyc.com).
One of the most obvious changes returning visitors will notice is the proliferation of dining huts, sheds and covered patios as sidewalk extensions of restaurants and bars.
"Outdoor dining has become a big thing, with improvised sheds and various kinds of heaters, even in the dead of winter," says restaurant critic Robert Sietsema. "Many of the structures were slapdash or even dangerous. That said, New Yorkers became accustomed to eating outdoor more often and even liking it. So structures are here to stay, but with more rules."
Whether to-go cocktails — a lifeline for bars during the shutdowns — will become permanent, as they are in Las Vegas and New Orleans, remains to be seen. New York Governor Kathy Hochul is in favour.
How many more food halls can NYC hold? Singapore Hawker Center opens soon in midtown with Asian delights from 18 street food vendors; the James Beard Foundation (jamesbeard.org) plans to open an 18-stall foodie heaven at Pier 57; the new, architecturally pleasing Moynihan Train Hall (moynihantrainhall.nyc), now home to a dozen shops including H&H Bagels and Magnolia Bakery, is set to expand. The huge Citizens Manhattan West development (ctzns.com), which had its debut last September, caters from early morning pastries to evening cocktails in an elegant space on 10th Avenue.
THE NEW SHOWS
Plaza Suite starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick. Photo: Joan Marcus
The curtain again rises on the live entertainment capital of the world. At last count, 14 new Broadway shows (nycgo.com/broadway) will open this year. Some are revivals, while others, including The Kite Runner, will be performed on Broadway for the first time.
There's a starry, starry list of headliners to see, including Our Hugh Jackman in the revival of The Music Man. Husband-and-wife duo Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick have great comic timing in a new production of Neil Simon's Plaza Suite. Debra Messing holds court in Birthday Candles, as Ernestine Ashworth from her 17th to 101st birthday.
Rising star Beanie Feldstein steps into Streisand's enormous shoes as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. Darren Criss and Laurence Fishburne share the stage in a revival of American Buffalo. Over at BAM, it's Craig, Daniel Craig, in the title role of Macbeth from 29 March.
In a win for accessibility and inclusivity, some Broadway shows including The Lion King and Aladdin now offer select autism-friendly performances. Jarring sounds and spotlights are reduced or eliminated.
Immersive theatre powerhouse Sleep No More (mckittrickhotel.com) is back in Chelsea, with modifications to accommodate patrons' mask-wearing and social distancing.
Joyously reopened in person after months of virtual shows are the city's best rowdy-in-a-good-way piano bars — Don't Tell Mama (donttellmamanyc.com), Marie's Crisis (mariescrisiscafe.com), Brandy's (brandyspianobar.com) — where the servers are often Broadway performers and the crowd is encouraged to sing along to classic show tunes.
THE NEW DIGS
The Hard Rock Hotel, New York.
If anything shouts confidence in the city's resurgence, it's the bounty of new hotels opening this year. More than 9000 new rooms will be added in 2022, among them the much-hyped, ultra high-end Aman New York, Fifth Avenue (aman.com).
Chef Jose Andres is overseeing the restaurant and rooftop bar at the new Ritz-Carlton New York, NoMad (ritzcarlton.com) so the food and cocktails should be as fabulous as the rooms. A cavernous spa and fitness centre offers the ultimate wellness retreat in the city.
Soon-to-open Hard Rock Hotel New York (hardrockhotels.com) and Virgin Hotel New York City (virginhotels.com) will battle it out this year for wannabe rock star clientele. A more laid back surf culture is the vibe at The Rockaway Hotel + Spa (therockawayhotel.com), an urban beach getaway in Rockaway Beach, Queens, opened in summer 2020.
Fun, youthful brand Moxy Hotels (moxyhotels.com) is expanding to the Lower East Side and Williamsburg. It's a fair bet the hotels will have flamboyant rooftop spaces with made-for-Instagram decor.
Renaissance Hotels (renaissancehotels.com) is bringing their live-like-a-local ethos to new properties in the character-rich communities of Harlem and Flushing in the coming months.
Some hoteliers made use of the pandemic pause by rebranding and refurbishing. Park Lane New York (parklanenewyork.com), on Central Park South, aka Billionaires' Row, has been completely reimagined while mindfully respecting the building's '60s architectural heritage. The 47-story property, run by Highgate, features 610 rooms and Central Park South's only rooftop lounge.
Meanwhile, The James became ModernHaus SoHo (modernhaushotel.com), cleverly retaining The Jimmy bar on the 18th floor and introducing an impressive new art collection. The London NYC is now Conrad New York Midtown (hilton.com) and The Milburn Hotel has found new life on the Upper West Side as The Wallace (thewallace.com). The 61-room Casa Cipriani (casacipriani.com) in lower Manhattan has been restored as a luxury hotel and private club.
In need of a pre-dinner recharge? At Walker Hotels (walkerhotels.com) in Tribeca and Greenwich Village, guests can now book 90-minute access to swanky nap pods, kitted out with aromatherapy and CBD sleep enhancers.
THE NEW BUYS
The Harry Potter Flagship Store.
The exchange rate isn't so great, but deals can be found at the newly expanded Empire Outlets (empireoutlets.nyc) on Staten Island. Proprietors of the beloved Century 21 chain (c21stores.com) — designer gear, deep discounts, occasional bedlam — have announced a comeback after declaring bankruptcy, with details yet to be released.
Defying the odds, many new retail locations have opened since 2019, offering an enticing look at the future of retail. The acquisition of luxury shoes, for example, appears to have survived the Zoom meeting era.
The new flagship Manolo Blahnik store (manoloblahnik.com) on Madison Avenue provides a bar for shoppers and has separate street entrances to the men's and women's collections.
For now, those in search of princess-cut engagement rings head to Tiffany Next Door, the temporary HQ of the famed jewellery brand. The historic Fifth Avenue Tiffany & Co store (tiffany.com) reopens in the latter half of the year after an extensive refurbishment. Also scheduled to reopen is The Blue Box Cafe, where customers can enjoy breakfast, of course.
In a world-first for Hogwarts fans, the first official Harry Potter flagship store (harrypotterstore.com) is open in the Flatiron District. Shoppers are invited to explore 15 themed areas, interactive displays, photo opps and the largest selection of Harry Potter merchandise under one roof.
In other good news, the multi-storey new Lego (lego.com) flagship in Rockefeller Center impresses with yellow cab, Empire State Building and Times Square models.
GOOD OLD NEW YORK: THE MUST-SEE CLASSICS
The great outdoors within the great city has become even more central to New Yorkers' lives. Run around the Jackie O Reservoir, savour magnificent spring flowers, enjoy free Shakespeare at the Delacorte Theater, ice-skate at the renamed Wollman Rink (Trump branding was removed last year). See centralparknyc.org
With more than 2 million prized works of art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is integral to the city's cultural identity. Avoid overwhelm by focussing on one gallery or special exhibition. On a clear evening, head to the rooftop for a picture-perfect sunset view over the park and Central Park West. See metmuseum.org
STATUE OF LIBERTY
A symbol of freedom and democracy, Lady Liberty was a gift from the people of France to the US in 1886. While access to the crown hasn't yet reopened, visitors can explore the pedestal, the museum and Liberty Island. The best photo vantage point is still the deck of the free-to-ride Staten Island Ferry. See nps.gov
The roar of the crowd, the smell of the beer. Barracking for a local sports team is fun, even if you don't understand the rules. Hop the D train up to Yankees Stadium, or catch a basketball game at Madison Square Garden. See mlb.com, nba.com
The shows must go on. In addition to exciting new premieres and A-list stars, the curtains keep rising on classic productions. The longest running show in Broadway history, The Phantom of the Opera, reopened in October. See us.thephantomoftheopera.com
THE ABC OF NYC: FIVE ESSENTIAL TIPS FOR VISITORS
Moxy, East Village, New York.
Research ahead (with this cover story, might we say, an excellent start). The pace of change is head-spinning; websites devoted to the city help you keep up. Read Eater NY, The New York Times, Gothamist, The Infatuation and nycgo.com.
Sleep on the plane so you don't have to snooze so much when you get there. In the city that never sleeps, there are 24 hours of fun to be had. Make the most of all-night diners, 4am last call and sunset rooftop soirees that turn into sparkling sunrises.
Don't plan too much in advance. Great, unexpected things happen spontaneously in New York. Popular restaurants hold back a few tables for walk-ins, Broadway shows offer digital lottery tix for nix, parades and festivals are stumbled upon.
See more than Manhattan. New York City's five boroughs hum with appeal. Seek out incredible Korean chicken wings in Brooklyn, follow the hip-hop history trail in the Bronx, join an outdoor dance party in Queens. The unlimited MTA transit card is a bargain. See new.mta.info
To truly appreciate and understand the city, experience each of its distinct four seasons. Spring tulips along Park Avenue, the sweaty sizzle of outdoor summer concerts, autumnal pumpkins and leaf-peeping, and Decembers that feel like a Christmas carol brought to life. See nycgo.com