Want to know when is the best time to visit, New York City, arguably the greatest city in the universe?
You can avoid traffic jams and crowds by visiting the Big Apple in the summer, when its residents flee it. While its denizens are sunning themselves in the Hamptons, you and your family can swoop in and enjoy all the wonderful, relatively new and mostly free things the world’s No. 1 City has to offer.
Here are just some of them.
Little Island, Manhattan
It took five years to build, but finally Little Island, media mogul Barry Diller’s $260-million public park, has opened. It is, in a word, cool. Make that, super cool. A marvel of design — it looks like a cosmic bouquet of tulips that miraculously sprouted out of the Hudson River by 13th Street (the 2.4 acre park floats over the water) — Little Park offers drop-dead views (hello, Hoboken; hey there, World Trade Center) and a breezy lush green oasis in what is arguably the nation’s most frenetic city. It is currently New York’s hottest attraction.
And, it’s free.
What to do: Marvel. The views are spectacular from every corner: follow the boats on the river, admire the city’s surreal skyscrapers, look out onto the nearby Meatpacking District. Take lots of photos. And, if you plan ahead, catch the entertainment offered nearly every day and lots of evenings. Little Island has a modern all-wood amphitheater — it’s called the Amph and it was placed to provide glorious sunset views — and a smaller theater. Check its calendar online for dance, music and theatrical performances (kids’ shows too).
What you need to know: Get there in the morning, before noon, and you won’t need a timed ticket. Otherwise go online to reserve a (free) ticket. The park is open from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. Entrances are on 13th and 14th Streets, off the West Side Highway. You can grab breakfast, lunch, dinner and even beer and cocktails at food stands and eat at tables under colorful canopies. Know that you are just a stone’s throw from the Meatpacking District and the Whitney Museum of American Art, in case you’d also like to do some serious shopping and get a little culture before or after your isle visit.
Go: Pier 55 at Hudson River Park Hudson River Greenway, Manhattan; littleisland.org.
Moynihan Train Hall, Manhattan
The New York Times called it “stunning.” And the $1.6 billion Moynihan Train Hall that opened at the beginning of this year is stunning. Certainly it is an epic improvement to Penn Station, the horror it mostly replaces (the NJ transit trains remain at Penn). Moynihan Train Hall is an airy, light-filled, lofty train hall with soaring ceilings (92-foot tall), slick marble floors and huge arched windows that make it look like a modern version of a European train station.
The hall is not yet complete — the food hall is yet to come. But, considering that this is one of the major new constructions in the city, why not see it before your commuter friends do?
What to do: Easy. Go inside and mostly look up. Notice the big modern Art-Deco-ish clock dangling from the ceiling. Gawk at the all-glass ceiling. And if you’d like, go up to the mezzanine and get a bird’s eye view of the joint.
What you need to know: Moynihan Train Hall is housed in what used to be a mail-sorting hall in the James A. Farley Building, which used to be a post office. It’s one mammoth columned building that sits on 31st to 33rd Streets between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. The main entrance is mid-block on 31st Street.
Go: 421 Eighth Ave., Manhattan; amtrak.com/moynihan-train-hall.
Kusama: Cosmic Nature at the New York Botanical Gardens, the Bronx
Tucked between lush flowers, meadow grasses and perfectly manicured gardens are some of the most psychedelic, weird, fantastical, colorful works of art by internationally celebrated Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Among them: polka dotted trees, gigantic dancing pumpkins, a 13-foot tall sunny biomorphic form and humongous tulips that would give ever-growing Audrey in the play Little Shop of Horrors real competition. The art show is a complete delight, one that doesn’t require an advanced degree in art appreciation to enjoy.
What to do: It’s nearly impossible to miss the artwork. Just wander around the garden and you’re bound to hit upon Kusama’s polka dotted works. (The artist uses polka dots so much that she’s been called the Queen of Polka Dots). They’re big. They’re stunning. They’re unique.
What you need to know: Tickets for the show do sell out. So it’s wise to get them in advance online. Cost: $25/adults, $12/children 2 to 12 for a pass to all outdoor installations. But, take my advice, and pay $35/adult and $15/children for indoor access. I dare you not to be awestruck with “Illusion Inside the Heart,” Kusama’s newest mirrored installation.
Go: 2900 Southern Blvd, Bronx; 718-817-8700, nybg.org.
New York Transit Museum
First things first: due to the pandemic, this ultra-cool museum is closed. For now. But once it reopens, you’ll marvel at real vintage subways, subways with old-fashioned rattan seats, subways with overhead wood fans, subways with old advertisements. And what about subway tokens — remember those? And what about the IND, IRT, BMT lines?
Whether you grew up in the city or came to it every now and then, a visit to the New York Transit Museum is a fun way to be reminded of or learn about the way New Yorkers and the city’s visitors used to get around. Old buses and old subway cars are all on display. And if you are of a certain age, you may well up seeing all that old memorabilia — you’ll certainly want to share your stories with your youngsters.
While the museum is temporarily closed due to the pandemic, check out its digital program or visit its gallery at Grand Central Terminal where you’ll find rotating exhibits and a retail store, just off the Main Concourse, adjacent to the Station Masters’ Office.
What to do: Enjoy! It’s a blast from the past — and a reminder of how much (and how little) transportation has changed.
What you need to know: The museum itself is located in a subway station, the old Court Street station at 99 Schermerhorn Street. To get to it, you need to descend two long flights of stairs. A wheelchair-, stroller-, tired-feet-accessible entrance is located on the corner of Schermerhorn and Court Streets. It costs $10 for adults and $5 for kids 2 to 17. Bring lunch and snacks with you to eat in the museum’s Lunch Room.
Go: 99 Schermerhorn St., Brooklyn; 718-694-1600, nytransitmuseum.org.
The Vessel, Manhattan
Put on a good pair of walking shoes and head to Hudson Yards to get your heart pumping and your eyes feasting. The heart part? Climb the Vessel, a 150-foot-tall, 2,500-step structure that you can think of as a vertical Stairmaster. The treat for the eyes? Glorious views of the mighty Hudson and skyscrapers galore.
What to do: Climb. And as a reward, treat yourself to a nice lunch or dinner in nearby chi-chi Hudson Yards Mall (Recommended: Miznon and Mercado Little Spain). After all, you’ve worked off lots of calories.
What you need to know: After a number of suicides, security has been tightened at the Vessel and climbing the stairs alone is no longer allowed. So take a friend. It is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. You can purchase tickets ($10/each; children under six free) online. The Vessel is located at 30 Hudson Yards, between 10th and 11th Avenues.
Go: 20 Hudson Yards, Manhattan, 332-204-8500, hudsonyardsnewyork.com/discover/vessel.
Brooklyn Bridge Park, Brooklyn
No doubt you’ve heard: Brooklyn is where it’s at now. It’s where the young’uns who couldn’t afford Manhattan prices went and turned the once unhip, unglamorous, undesired borough into a vibrant, happening, cool place for eats (Lilia, Olmstead, Sofreh, The Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare), the arts (BAM, Barclays Center, Kings Theater) and family fun. Perhaps one of the best family-fun spots in Brooklyn is the 85-acre Brooklyn Bridge Park.
What to do: There are volleyball courts, ping pong tables, water pads. tall slides. and oversized sandbox and funky climbing structures. There are also picnic tables, so bring along lunch. Or, if you’d rather not pack food, get good pizza at Fornino.
What you need to know: The park at 334 Furman Sreet is open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.; later on weekends. And if you haven’t yet done so, walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge is gorgeous and so are the river views. Besides, you’ll get bragging rights.
Go: 334 Furman St., Brooklyn; 718-222-9939, brooklynbridgepark.org.
Governors Island: Hop on a ferry and visit this serene 172-acre island where cars are prohibited. Rent a bike and go for a nice ride. Swing in one of the island’s red hammocks. Zoom down a 57-foot-long, three-story tall slide. Get one of the free kayaks offered and start paddling. To get there, take a ferry from the Battery Maritime Building in Lower Manhattan. The ferries come every 30 minutes and cost $2.75 each way. govisland.com.
National Museum of Mathematics, Manhattan. Don’t ask what all those games have to do with math. Just know that it’s fun. Work on puzzles, ride on square-wheels rides, build stuff with Lego-like blocks. The museum is located at 11 E. 26th St. and is open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 212-542-0566; momath.org.
Esther Davidowitz is the food editor for NorthJersey.com. For more on where to dine and drink, please subscribe today and sign up for our North Jersey Eats newsletter.
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