48 Hours: New York

The past decade has delivered a host of new reasons to visit the Big Apple, says Chris Leadbeater

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Travel essentials

Why go now?

Tomorrow, on the 10th anniversary of the most infamous terror attacks of modern times, the official 9/11 Memorial will be dedicated on the former site of the World Trade Centre – a long-planned tribute that officially will open to the public on Monday. But a visit to New York over the next few months is also a chance to examine how the city has recovered – especially if, rather than the usual much-loved sites, you focus on the districts and attractions that have risen to prominence since that dreadful day.

Touch down

Flights from the UK land at either JFK airport, 12 miles east of Manhattan in Queens, or Newark Liberty, 15 miles south-west of Manhattan in New Jersey. Several airlines fly this busy route, among them British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) and Virgin Atlantic (0844 209 7310; virgin-atlantic.com) from Heathrow to both 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 Continental (0845 607 6760; continental.com) from Belfast, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Heathrow and Manchester to Newark.

For transfers from JFK to Manhattan, take an official taxi ($45/£30, about an hour) or the Super Shuttle (001 800 258 3826; supershuttle.com; shared van rides go direct to hotels for $21/£14; 60-90 minutes). A cheap option is the Subway; the A train to Manhattan taking 45 minutes for $2.50 (£1.70), though you have to use the JFK Air Train ($5/£3.30 from all terminals) to reach Howard Beach station, beyond the airport. Official taxis from Newark to Manhattan start at $50/£33 (one hour). The Super Shuttle costs $19/£12.60 (90 minutes).

Get your bearings

The brightest light on America's north-east coast, New York needs little introduction. This iconic city is split into five boroughs: Manhattan as the hub, The Bronx to the north, Staten Island to the south, Brooklyn and Queens over the East River. Manhattan's roads are arranged in a grid pattern, formulated 200 years ago with 12 avenues running north to south and numerous numbered streets running east to west. The Subway system (mta.info) is the easiest way to travel around. Single journeys cost $2.50 (£1.60). An unlimited seven-day pass is $29 (£19). The Official NYC Information Centre (2) sits at 810 Seventh Avenue (between 52nd and 53rd Streets; 001 212 4841222; nycgo.com), open weekdays 8.30am-6pm, Saturday and Sunday 9am-5pm.

Check in

New hotels pop up in the Big Apple on a regular basis. Budget retreat nyma (3) (001 212 643 7100; applecorehotels.com) reopened post-makeover in May at 6 West 32nd Street and has double rooms from $144 (£96), including breakfast. The boutique NU Hotel (4) (001 718 852 8585; nuhotelbrooklyn.com) arrived at 85 Smith Street in increasingly chic Brooklyn in 2008 – doubles from $199 (£133), including breakfast. And the luxury Double Tree (5) by Hilton New York City – Financial District (001 212 480 9100; doubletree.com) appeared at 8 Stone Street last December. Doubles from $259 (£173), room only.

Day one

Take a hike

Head for the Financial District, where the length of time it takes to stroll around the edge of the former World Trade Centre complex (a good 10 minutes) will give you an idea of how large the two toppled towers were. Start at the north-west corner, at the junction of Vesey and West Streets. Go east on Vesey, turn right onto Church Street, right again onto Liberty Street and left onto Greenwich Street. The entrance to the 9/11 Memorial (1) is at the corner of Greenwich Street and Albany Street.

Afterwards, continue south on Greenwich Street – at the end of which, in Battery Park, you find The Sphere (6). A globe crafted by the sculptor Fritz Koenig, it once stood in the World Trade Centre plaza. Badly damaged, its wounds speak loudly of the carnage.

Lunch on the run

Try a change of emphasis – and scenery – by taking a Brooklyn-bound 4 or 5 (green line) Subway train two stops, from Bowling Green (7) station (Battery Place and Broadway) to Nevins Street (8) (Flatbush Avenue and Nevins Street). Brooklyn has become a visitor destination in its own right in the last decade – and its newly trendy appeal is summed up by Brooklyn Fare (9), a grocery of astounding range at 200 Schermerhorn Street (001 718 243 0050; brooklynfare.com). Opened in 2009, this gastronomic paradise sells house olive oil at $10 (£6.60) for 500ml – or you can pull up a stool at the deli counter and order a lemon chicken, goat cheese, sun-dried tomato and walnut spread sandwich for $8 (£5.50).

Window shopping

Peer into Brooklyn's soul by ambling along Fulton Street, its main shopping artery, a swirling side-by-side soup of locally owned clothes shops and high-end outlets. Among these are diamond specialist Zales (10) at numbers 408-416 (001 718 243 9443; zales.com) and department store Macy's (11) at number 422 (001 718 875 7200; macys.com). And there is contrast again with Montague Street, the borough's second, slightly more gentrified, shopping strip immediately to the west, with its sugar-heavy patisseries and international fashion brands.

An aperitif

Catch either an A or C (blue line) Subway train from Hoyt-Schermerhorn, directly opposite Brooklyn Fare (9), and ride 8 stops north, back into Manhattan, disembarking at 14th Street (12) (14th Street and Eighth Avenue). From here, walk directly west into the Meatpacking District, the one-time nest of slaughterhouses and refrigeration plants that has developed into one of the city's most fashionable districts. Cool bars and eateries preen amid the brick buildings of the butchery trade – including Villa Pacri (13) at 55 Gansevoort Street (001 212 924 5559; villapacri.com). Add some pep to you afternoon with the La Gazetta cocktail (rum, basil, lime, brown sugar) – $12 (£8).

A walk in the park

Built between 1929 and 1934 as a freight railway, the elevated High Line (14) had fallen into disuse by 1980. But in 2009 it re-emerged as an urban park (001 212 500 6035; thehighline.org; daily 7am-11pm). Beginning at the western end of Gansevoort Street, it cuts north for a mile, ebbing between (and under) structures, ending at West 30th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues – and makes for a very pleasant hour-long amble. Some sections still sport rail tracks – and the exquisite planting is by landscape designer Piet Oudolf. Hudson River views come as standard.

Dining with the locals

From the top of the High Line it is a 15-minute walk north to Hell's Kitchen, another area that, 20 years ago, might have been avoided. Now it is more "Kitchen" than "Hell", not least on Ninth Avenue between 42nd and 57th Streets. Here, the 24-hour Westway Diner (15), at number 614 (001 212 582 7661;westwaydinernyc.com), does Jumbo Shrimp Scampi for $20 (£13) – while Marseille (16), at 630 (001 212 333 2323; marseillenyc.com), goes gourmet with its NY Strip Steak for $27.50 (£18). Meanwhile, West 46th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues is known as "Restaurant Row". Firebird (17), at 365 (001 212 586 0244; www.firebirdrestaurant.com), is a little Russia where Beef Stroganoff is $36 (£24).

Day two

Sunday morning: go to church

Like Brooklyn, Harlem has blossomed in the last 10 years. Those keen to see the area in depth can do so through the visitor service Welcome To Harlem (18), at 2360 Frederick Douglass Boulevard (001 212 662 7779; welcometoharlem.com). Led by author Carolyn Johnson, the four-hour Harlem Gospel Tour runs every Sunday at 9.30am ($65/£43; book in advance) – past iconic sites such as the Apollo Theater (19) (001 212 531 5300; apollotheater.org) at 253 West 125th Street. The jaunt also takes in the 11am service at the Memorial Baptist Church (20) (001 212 663 8830; mbcvisionharlem.org) at 141 Bishop Preston Road, where choirs and gospel melodies reflect the district's warm character.

Out to brunch

The tour ends with brunch at a Harlem restaurant – such as Amy Ruth's (21), a culinary institution at 113 West 116th Street (001 212 280 8779; amyruthsharlem.com). The "President Barack Obama" (baked chicken) is $13 (£8.60) (meal included in tour cost).

Cultural afternoon

Ride an A train 16 stops from 125th Street (22) (125th Street and Manhattan Avenue) to Canal Street (23) (Canal Street and Thompson Street). Then visit the New Museum (24) at 235 Bowery (001 212 219 1222; newmuseum.org/">******newmuseum.org; entry $12/£8). Open 11am-6pm Wednesday to Sunday, except Thursday (11am-9pm), this arty hotspot launched as a tiny operation in 1977, but moved to its huge concrete temple in 2007. Current show "Ostalgia" (until 25 September) sees east European artists take a fond look at Cold War lifestyles.

Those prepared to forge further afield could take the R train into Queens, hopping off at Steinway Street to visit the Museum of the Moving Image at 36-01 35th Avenue (001 718 784 0077; >movingimage.us; $12/£8). Open Tuesday to Thursday 10.30am-5pm, Friday 10.30am-8pm and weekends 10.30-7pm, this multimedia temple relaunched in January after a $67million refit, and displays a wealth of audio-visual exhibits that cover everything from art to video games.

Take a ride

Return to Battery Park and board a ferry to Governors Island (25) (001 212 825 3045; nps.gov/gois) from Battery Maritime Building (26) (batterymaritimebuilding. com) at 110 South Street. Half a mile off the foot of Manhattan, this former military outpost has become a leafy playground since George W Bush "sold" it to the people for $1 in 2002. It is only open in summer, from Friday to Sunday (the season ends on 25 September), with free ferries leaving Manhattan from 10am-5.30pm at weekends (10am-3pm Friday), taking six minutes.

Hire a bicycle via Bike and Roll (001 212 260 0400; bikeandroll.com; $15/£10 for two hours) to explore a 172-acre isle that boasts a close view of the Statue Of Liberty.

The icing on the cake

Reopened in 2005 (after closing in 1986), the Top Of The Rock (27) observation deck at the Rockefeller Center (50th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues; 001 212 698 2000; topoftherocknyc.com) offers an 850ft city snapshot that, unlike a more famous panorama, includes the Empire State Building. Daily, 8am-midnight, $23 (£15) – final lift at 11pm.

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