New York for all seasons
Global content editor of Time Out and New York know-it-all Anna Rahmanan explores NYC’s four distinct times of year
Here’s the thing about New York: although its flavour remains unchanged, the city is never quite the same from season to season. New York in the autumn is not like New York in the summer and it is also starkly different during the winter and spring months. Which is why, to truly understand its steady pulse, it is imperative to see it in every season.
How many destinations can you say that about? How many other cities in the world have the capacity to fluctuate, morph and take on different life forms from month to month, while still retaining their unbridled glory? A town belonging to misfits and conformists alike, New York is unlike any other – as proven by its seasonal draws.
A crisp coolness that smells like new beginnings defines autumn in New York, a season that demands that you walk. Start from the southern tip of Manhattan and head north through Battery Park and up to the Museum of Jewish Heritage, before grabbing a hot latte from Kaffe 1668, in the heart of Tribeca.
Continue walking until you reach Washington Square Park, where you’ll revel in the sounds of the piano man of downtown New York, Colin Huggins, who has been sitting at his Steinway playing classic and modern tunes for the last 15 years. Marvel at Washington Square Arch (a celebration of George Washington’s 1789 presidential inauguration), which forms the southern terminus of Fifth Avenue, and then peruse the fashion destination par excellence until reaching Union Square’s band of skateboarders, farmers’ markets operators and what can only be defined as the supreme leader of the country’s independent bookstores: the Strand. Warning: you’ll get lost in an avalanche of books so wide, so aromatic and so New York that you’ll likely spend the rest of the day here.
After stocking up on reading material, proceed west towards the High Line. Although folk find it ideal to walk the 1.45-mile elevated, linear and man-made park in the summer, there’s something about visiting in the autumn that imbues the experience with the essence of a roaring city. How New York is it to build greenery on a disused section of a seemingly anonymous viaduct?
Grab a bite at Chelsea Market – an indoor destination that caters to tourists and New Yorkers alike (a local favourite is Italian grocery store Buon’Italia) and then let the day take you to under-appreciated Midtown.
Head to one of New York’s most iconic locations: Times Square, and enjoy it for what it is: a unique destination that has lost its lustre, given its notoriety, yet remains the home of that most prestigious art form – the theatre. Delve into Broadway with all of your might: try catching the usual suspects (Hamilton! Book of Mormon! Dear Evan Hansen!) but do invest your time in whatever the season brings along with it, such as Plaza Suite, starring Sarah Jessica Parker and husband Matthew Broderick; The Music Man, with musical theatre phenoms Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster; and America’s take on the UK’s dearly beloved and prematurely departed Princess Diana in a new musical, aptly titled Diana. As of September, Broadway marquee signs have lit up once again, well after a year since all shows went dark in response to the pandemic. Be sure to take a walk around the neighbourhood, peek at the various marquees and picture yourself revelling in the transcendental experience that is watching a truly phenomenal Broadway show.
Winter in New York is all about braving the usually frigid weather while embracing the comforts and cosiness that the city offers, from warm igloo-like bubbles on the city’s highest rooftop bar, Bar 54, to speakeasies (oh so many speakeasies) serving magnificent Manhattans and Old Fashioneds – the kinds of cocktails that will remind you of the intrinsic powers of a well-concocted drink. Every nook and cranny of New York will bring you face-to-face with the characters that make the city whole and unique. If it’s a truly authentic New York experience you’re after, venture out to Long Island City and – after snapping a photo by that ubiquitous Pepsi-Cola sign – saddle up at the counter at Dutch Kills Bar, a remarkable drinking den that screams ‘New York!’ in the midst of a real estate boom that has taken the neighbourhood to new heights.
If it’s nightly activities not solely of the imbibing kind that you’re after, the jazz dens and comedy clubs around town will deliver, likely spurring an unending love affair with the city as a whole. Mostly found in downtown Manhattan, the city is peppered with musical and laughing factories that entice travellers from all over the world. Head to the Comedy Cellar for a classic experience and cosy Smalls for an only-in-New-York jazz vibe.
But it’s winter, after all, so do go ice skating at the Rockefeller Center or settle on the less frequented but just as marvellous rink at The Standard in the Meatpacking District, which shares a neighbourhood with 20th-century art mausoleum Whitney Museum of American Art. Speaking of museums: hide from the cold inside the stunning Morgan Library and Museum, learn something new at the American Museum of Natural History, enter the future at the Museum of the Moving Image or be amazed at the New York Public Library (secrets abound inside this stupendous attraction, including the presence of 125 miles of book stacks underground).
And since your palate needs as much stimulation as the rest of you, consider winter the season to explore new kinds of food: eat like Israelis do at 12 Chairs, like Iranians at Colbeh, like Italians at Pepolino, like the Japanese at Sushi Yasaka and like all Americans should at Red Rooster – a culinary treasure in Central Harlem.
If all your gastronomic adventures will need to satisfy a younger audience, head to family-friendly (and delicious) pizza joint Roberta’s in East Williamsburg or to tourist hotspot (and for a good reason) Benihana, where the little ones will get to enjoy some theatre-like extravagance when the staff take on teppanyaki – a Japanese griddling technique – right at the centre of the table.
If autumn in New York signals novelty, spring is the time to revel in old-time favourites and return to the outdoors – perhaps on two wheels? Walk or bike over the 1883-built Brooklyn Bridge and see the city from a different perspective, attend contemporary fair Frieze Art Show, the Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Garden and the Sakura Matsuri cherry blossom festival at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
You might also find respite in other sorts of events, such as a family-friendly outing to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. Found at Pier 86, right along the Hudson River, the military and maritime history museum is made of a collection of ships that will even interest those prone to seasickness. Just a couple of miles up, lean into something different when signing up for Trapeze School at Pier 40 – if you’re not going to embark on an adventure of this sort in New York, why are you even here? Granted: you’ll likely want to calm your nerves post-class with a nice drink, a need that will take you to Grand Banks at Pier 25, a stationary (grand) fishing boat that also serves top-notch food. Or perhaps you’ll want to venture to a different area, in which case we suggest quintessential New York destination City Winery – which also happens to be an acclaimed live music space.
And, lest we forget, although it’s always the right time to gorge on a destination’s most renowned food options, spring demands to be enjoyed with a bagel in hand. A quasi-religion in town, your bagel will say much about you, so choose carefully. Options include a classic egg on a bagel from Ess-a-Bagel or Murray’s Bagels, smoked fish on a poppy from Russ & Daughters or – if you dare – a Montreal-style bagel (blasphemy!) from Black Seed.
Armed with the treat in hand, don’t forget to properly explore Central Park, whether with or without kids. It’s an oasis of green in the middle of a jungle of concrete – where else but New York?
The sweltering summer months happen to be ideal for exploring outer boroughs. Spend the day at the Luna Park in Coney Island or walk around Brooklyn for Domino Park, Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg in Williamsburg; Yesterday’s News Antiques and Collectibles in Carroll Gardens; Brooklyn Bridge Park in Brooklyn Heights; House of Yes in Bushwick; Time Out Market in Dumbo – and think about the intricacies involved in making a neighbourhood outside of Manhattan just as exciting as the city centre itself. You’ll find yourself particularly enjoying these local explorations if travelling with kids in tow: the mere sight of Jane’s Carousel in Dumbo, right by the water, is sure to delight all ages. How often do you see a 48-horse wooden ride, after all?
Given the heat, you’ll likely want to spend as much time on the water as possible, which is why the summer is the ideal season to board a ferry and see the Statue of Liberty, complete with the newly built museum nearby, up close and personal.
Even in the summer, the simple act of being in the presence of New Yorkers adds a flair of uniqueness to any outing – so do embrace that thought by simply walking the streets, stopping at cafés and eateries along the way and taking in the city around you. We promise that there’s no other town like it.
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Where to stay
Book a stay at Public, New York
With a lot of the unnecessaries stripped back – bellboys, room service – but with self-check-in on your smartphone and Apple TV in every room, Public is a new breed of hotel from Studio 54 legend Ian Schrager that’ll leave you wondering what’s so good about tradition anyway. This hip Bowery destination with an infectious social energy draws in New Yorkers from the area’s many startups either to conduct laid-back meetings in the ground-floor lobby and bar, or to kick back with vodka Martinis at The Roof, Public’s 360°-view bar. Enjoy sharing smoked salmon latkes and garlic-rubbed short rib from Public Kitchen, and be sure to visit The Lower East Side’s unmatched cocktail spots – start at Freemans around the corner.
Book a stay at Hotel Hendricks
The Hendricks exists for those not looking for a home-from-home, but rather a glam, animal-print-infused party-starter to make the flamboyant most of your NYC trip. Rooms extend 27 storeys into the sky and feature zebra-striped desk chairs and views of the Empire State Building. It’s perfectly placed, too: Broadway and Times Square are a skip away, and a swift Subway ride takes you easily uptown to Central Park and the Fifth Avenue museums, or downtown to the unparalleled nightlife of the East and West Villages. After a day on the town, head skywards and drink in the iconic city views along with a Penny for Your Thoughts cocktail with bourbon, Cognac and Earl Grey on the hotel’s impressive rooftop bar (open till 2am).
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