Why go now?
Reports of the death of New York nightlife have been greatly exaggerated. This is still the city that never sleeps – whether you are tumbling out of a club at 6am into a bodega for a burrito and a coffee, or seeing the sun come up after a rooftop warehouse party in Brooklyn.
Flights are marginally cheaper before the school holidays, but the real reason to go in early summer (or autumn) is the climate: walking around in late July and August is like being stalked by a giant hairdryer on its highest setting.
When things heat up, the locals leave in droves, heading to the coastal resorts of Long Island or upstate.
Thursday is a good day to arrive, firstly because it's cheaper to fly than on Friday, and secondly, many of the best club nights are on, including legendary club host Susanne Bartsch's Catwalk Thursdays at The Marquee Club (1) at 289 10th Avenue (001 646 473 0202; marqueeny.com; free).
Flights from the UK land at either JFK, 12 miles east of Manhattan, or Newark Liberty, 15 miles to the south-west. BA (0844 493 0787; ba.com) and Virgin Atlantic (0844 209 7310; virgin-atlantic.com) fly from Heathrow to JFK and Newark; Delta (0871 221 1222; delta.com) from Heathrow to JFK; American Airlines (0844 499 7300; aa.com) from Heathrow and Manchester to JFK; and United (0845 607 6760; united.com) from Belfast, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Heathrow and Manchester to Newark.
From JFK, yellow cabs charge a flat fare to Manhattan of $52 (£35) plus tolls and tip. Other destinations are metered. Or, take the AirTrain to Jamaica station and connect to the E-train ($7.50/£5 one way) or LIRR ($12.25 peak/$10.25 off peak) for Midtown Manhattan. For Brooklyn or Lower Manhattan, take the AirTrain to Howard Beach, then the A-train.
Newark to Manhattan by taxi starts at $50 (£33). The Super Shuttle is $19 (£13).
Get your bearings
Of the five boroughs, Manhattan and Brooklyn are the two you'll spend most time in. Brooklyn is south-east of Manhattan across the East River; most of the neighbourhood of Williamsburg is indistinguishable from the Lower East Side of five years ago in terms of bars, restaurants and boutiques. Interesting neighbourhoods run along the L-train line: Bushwick is 20 minutes from Union Square in downtown Manhattan.
At the southern tip of Manhattan, Battery Park looks out to the Statue of Liberty. Heading north, you arrive at the Financial District, SoHo, the West and East Villages, the Meatpacking District, Chelsea to the west, Midtown, the Upper East and West Sides with Central Park in between and finally Harlem and Upper Manhattan.
The Official NYC Information Center (2) is at 810 Seventh Avenue (001 212 484 1222; nycgo.com; 8.30am to 6pm Monday to Friday; 9am to 5pm weekends).
The Wythe (3) at 80 Wythe Avenue (001 718 460 8000; wythehotel.com) is a shining factory-turned-industrial-luxe example of why Williamsburg is the new "downtown". Rooms have bare brick and designer classic furniture. Doubles start at $310 (£207), room only.
The bar and club at The Jane (4) on 113 Jane Street (001 212 924 6700; thejanenyc.com) in the Meatpacking District attract a cool crowd. Rooms are tiny but chic with doubles from $110 (£73).
In Bushwick, embrace the bare brick and Bowie stencil art at The New York Loft Hostel (5) at 249 Varet Street (001 718 366 1351; nylofthostel.com). From $65 (£43) per person with breakfast and a weekend barbecue included.
Take a hike
Enjoy downtown Manhattan views along the High Line, a long-abandoned elevated railway that has since been turned into a beautiful green space. It straddles the Meatpacking District from Gansevoort Street (6) and carries on north into Chelsea to W30th Street (7).
Don't tire yourself out before the night ahead at MoMa or the Met. Instead, investigate small-scale galleries around Chelsea. The two hippest are David Zwirner (8) at 537 West 20th Street (001 212 517 8677; davidzwirner.com; 10am to 6pm Tuesday to Saturday) and Suzanne Geiss (9). Geiss' gallery at 76 Grand Street (001 212 625 8130; suzannegeiss.com; noon-6pm Tuesday to Saturday) specialises in work linked to club, counter and pop culture.
Stroll east to 235 Bowery, to check out the gift shop at the New Museum (10) (001 212 343 0460; newmuseum.org; 11am to 6pm Friday to Sunday and Wednesday; 11am to 9pm Thursday; $14/£9). Then head to 306 Bowery, where wardrobe queen Patricia Field (11) has her store (001 212 966 4066; patriciafield.com). As well as working on The Devil Wears Prada and Sex and the City, Field has been a part of clubland for decades. Her store sells everything from men's drag heels to classic Keith Haring jewellery.
Eat at Pearl & Ash (12) at 220 Bowery (001 212 837 2370; pearlandash. com) when it opens at 5.30pm, before getting a table becomes impossible. This recently opened Bowery wine bar, decorated with hundreds of cubic shelves, has an innovative menu that has garnered rave reviews. Chef Richard Kuo poaches skirt steak in hay for two days and serves raw sea scallops with Ethiopian spices. Plates can be ordered full-sized ($24/£16 to $28/£19), or small ($13/£9 to $16/£11), so you can create your own tasting menu.
Out on the town
Keep away from the Meatpacking hordes at happy hour. Instead, stay east and order well-mixed sours at Von (13) at 3 Bleecker Street (001 212 473 3039; vonbar.com), a cocktail bar with lots of dark wood and candlelight.
Next, walk to the East Village's fabulously ungentrified dive bars such as International Bar (14) at 120½ First Avenue (001 212 777 1643; international barnyc.com) and B-Side (15) at 204 Avenue B (001 212 475 4600).
Into the night
Hail a cab to the once-cool Meatpacking District and take the lift up to still-cool Le Bain (16), on the top of The Standard High Line hotel at 444 W 13th Street (001 212 645 4646; lebainnewyork.com; 10pm to 4am; free). The rooftop terrace has the most extraordinary view of any nightclub in NYC.
Snack in the small hours
The booths at the Coffee Shop (17) at 29 Union Square (001 212 243 7969; thecoffee shopnyc.com) have, since 1990, been the place to go for diner classics with a Brazilian twist 23 hours a day.
Out to brunch
Breakfast-inclusive hotel rooms are a rarity in New York, so it's no matter that you've woken up at lunchtime. Besides, the weekend is all about brunch.
The people behind cult restaurant Freemans and fashion store FSC are also behind see-and-be-seen ISA (18) at 348 Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg (001 347 689 3594; isa.gg). The interior is a mix of Ercol and Amish, while the brunch menu includes lemon ricotta pancakes ($11/£7) and an open-faced avocado sandwich with local feta ($11/£7). Reservations are available (brunch is served at weekends 11am to 3.30pm).
A walk in the park
Even if you're not hungry, take a stroll to the Smorgasburg (19), an open-air food market at the Tobacco Warehouse in Brooklyn Bridge Park (smorgasburg.com). It's a great place to nose about the stalls of pork belly buns and crispy kale chips before getting into the pen where they serve locally brewed ales.
Then take a ride on the fairytale Jane's Carousel, created in 1922 and now housed in a giant glass case on the riverfront (janescarousel.com); 11am to 7pm Wednesday to Monday; rides $2/£1.30) with dreamy views across the river.
Take a break
The Green Spa (20) at 8804 Third Avenue, Bay Ridge (001 718 921 6100; greenspany .com) is very Brooklyn: on Saturdays and Sundays it offers an extended wine, champagne and beer menu in its organic garden. The spa is also one of the most highly regarded in North America, with lush treatments for men and women, from a "24k gold age corrective facial" ($191/£127) to a two-therapist massage (from $190/£127).
Dining with the locals
You'll either queue at the famous pizzeria Roberta's (21) at 261 Moore Street (001 718 417 1118; robertaspizza.com; pizzas from $9/£6), or at Momo Sushi Shack (22) at 43 Bogart Street (001 718 418 6666; momosushishack.com) around the corner. Either way, there are no reservations in Bushwick, but it's worth the wait. Momo Sushi Shack offers tasting menus of its innovative nigiri and rolls from $45 (£30) per person and invites you to bring your own wine.
Icing on the cake
Catch a movie in the open air in the backyard of the Brooklyn branch of Habana Outpost (23) at 757 Fulton Street (001 718 858 9500; habanaoutpost.com). Every weekend sees the area turn into a mini block party, with Cuban food, cocktails and a movie at 8pm. This summer, features include New York classics The Warriors, Fame and Blade Runner.