Manhattan Island:

Plan a cross-cultural weekend in a city without equal.

Text Ed Salvato

It’s an exhilarating time to visit New York, with cherry trees and New Yorkers emerging from hibernation while a reawakened Central Park lures 280 species of migratory birds to nosh during their annual Atlantic Flyway. Largely shuttered by a once-a-century pandemic, this resilient metropolis is picking up pace as increasing numbers of visitors people-watch, shop and snap selfies in Times Square, SoHo and other popular areas. Restaurants — especially the 10,000+ that launched brand-new outdoor spaces — are (safely) packed adding a European-style plein-air dining scene. Indoor mingling and dancing may have to wait a bit: Bars are reopening though patrons are currently required to remain seated. 

Photo: Ajay Suresh / Flickr 

While Broadway won’t reopen till September, other indoor venues are staging shows to the delight of live-performance-starved audiences. Art galleries, museums, the city’s four observation decks, parks and other cultural spaces have been open since the fall. Add to that mix a brand-new attraction that embodies a city increasingly focused on art and nature: Little Island @Pier55, an artificially constructed performance-art and green space set upon tulip-shaped concrete pylons in the Hudson.

We were knocked back by Covid and rattled by social justice protests, but we got right back up. We took a New York minute to reassess and reorient towards a different future, acknowledging that we have work to do to be more sustainable, fairer and more inclusive. There’s a renewed focus on the elements, flora and fauna we’ve long taken for granted and a celebration of the vibrant multi-culturalism that’s been our defining characteristic since the fur-trading days of the early 1600s when this was called New Amsterdam, and which continues today in a city where 40% of all residents are foreign born.

It’s still largely locals enjoying the many fabulous treasures that make this the most vibrant and unique city in the U.S. Visitors have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to relish brand new NYC experiences like outdoor dining and cherished old attractions like Van Gogh’s Starry Night at the Museum of Modern Art without the crowds that can spoil a visit or encroach on your personal space. New Yorkers think collectively with a sense of communal responsibility. You’ll find widespread mask usage and respect for social distancing and other pandemic-era protocols. 

There are many ways to savor a bite of the Big Apple. Here are three short itineraries that will give you a taste of NYC’s glorious past, its dynamic present and a sustainable future already unspooling.

Clockwise from top left: Little Island, due to open to the public this summer. Double room with a phenomenal park view at the Public Hotel. Sunset at Le Bain, on the rooftop of The Standard. Softshell crab with dill/ouzo yogurt at Nerai. Seafood Fesival jambalaya at Red Rooster Harlem. Lower Manhattan seen from the water.

Classic: step into an elegant past

Despite the fact that New York City bulldozes the old with abandon to make space for impossibly tall, thin glass towers, there are signs of the city’s magnificent past everywhere. 

Do: “The Lungs of the City,” Central Park has been providing space for New Yorkers to breathe fresh air and enjoy social distancing for over 150 years. Rent bikes from the southwest corner of the park and enjoy a half day of discovery. CentralParkNYC.org

Eat: It’s still shockingly easy to score reservations at some of New York’s best eateries. For classic haute Greek cuisine with an emphasis on fresh seafood, book an outdoor table in the magical courtyard at Nerai, near Central Park. NeraiNYC.com 

Stay: While there are other older classic hotels, 1 Hotel Central Park offers proximity to the park, MoMA and theaters as well as ele-gance, sophisticated service and a laser focus on sustainability. 

1Hotels.com

Contemporary: a resilient city rises to challenges

The 2019 celebration of World Pride, the Black Lives Matter movement and a long-overdue examination of anti-Asian biases have focused Gotham’s attention on centuries of biases and racial inequities right here in the country’s most diverse and populous city. One thing we can do as visitors is patronize their businesses, appreciate their art and listen to their stories.

Do: Meander around the historic Gay Village and check out Stonewall National Monument celebrating over 50 years of the gay rights movement. For dim sum head over to the Golden Unicorn Restaurant in Chinatown, one of the oldest and most populous in the Western Hemisphere. Take in a performance by Alvin Ailey Studio’s primarily African American performers online now and soon in person NYCGo.com

Eat: Marcus Samuelsson’s Harlem bistro, Red Rooster, artfully combines Southern-fried, East African, Scandinavian and French flavors. RedRoosterHarlem.com

Stay: Splurge at the New York EDITION Hotel, centrally located in Madison Square Park, which has burst into a colorful and fragrant oasis punctuated by a rotating schedule of monumental sculptures. EditionHotels.com

Coming attractions: Urban revolutions start here 

When other cities want to see their own future, they look to what’s happening in NYC. A green urban revolution is taking place right here that combines a renewed appreciation of nature and rededication to accessible and socially relevant arts. 

Do: Walk the High Line, a 1.5 mile elevated public park and art space created along a reclaimed freight line. TheHighLine.org Soak in the city’s past, present and future at the vastly unappreciated but superb Museum of the City of New York. MCNY.org 

Experience an outdoor/indoor performance at the Shed, a 

futuristic space whose entire structure retracts to literally open itself to the public. TheShed.org Finally, check out 

our newest attraction, Little Island, the new world-class 

performance and green space in the Hudson courtesy of Barry Diller in partnership with the Hudson River Park Trust. 

LittleIsland.org

Eat: Get above it all at Le Bains open-air rooftop lounge for spectacular views and drinks and some truly tasty bar food. LeBainNewYork.com

Stay: Ian Schrager’s newest hotel, the Public has become a destination unto itself. Expect great service, super cool interior sight lines and the perfect location to experience Little Island. PublicHotels.com

Design Your Stay…

Listen, read, watch: 

Get in the mood by listening to the Bowery Boys podcast, described as a “romp down the back alleys of New York City.” 

Check the local stories in New York Magazine which “obsessively chronicles the ideas, people, and cultural events that are forever reshaping our world.” 

Uncut Gems (2019) is a rough and gorgeous film with ‘70s NYC playing a prominent background role.

Getting there: 

Numerous airlines operate nonstop direct flights between Fort Lauderdale and New York City’s three major airports, including Delta, American, Spirit and JetBlue.

Getting around: 

Most visitors want to catch a cab like they see in the movies, but the NYC subway is the fastest, cleanest and cheapest way to get around. 

CitiBike stations, now offering electric pedal-assisted bikes, are everywhere, inexpensive, safe and easy to use.

NYC-based Ed Salvato is a freelance travel writer, instructor at NYU and the University of Texas at Austin’s NYC Center, and an LGBTQ tourism marketing consultant.