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NEW YORK – If you haven't visited New York City recently, you've got some catching up to do, from the observatory at One World Trade, to the new Whitney Museum, to happening neighborhoods far from Manhattan. Here's a look.
For the newest bird's-eye view of New York, head to the top of One World Trade. The ride up is so smooth, your tummy won't even flip. A time-lapse video in the elevator shows the evolution of the cityscape over centuries, including a glimpse of the twin towers melting in and out of view. Once you're up, the initial views are dominated by New Jersey. You're looking at Manhattan when you spot the Empire State Building. Live guides are available to answer questions, including this one: Which bridge is the Brooklyn Bridge? (It's the one with the double Gothic arches.)
The city's other just-opened standout is the Whitney Museum, south of 14th Street, on Gansevoort Street near 10th Avenue. But the best part of this museum isn't the art — it's the outside spaces. Take the elevator up and walk down using exterior stairs where possible. The terraces offer a thrilling, visual urban jazz of people-watching, outdoor art and views of everything from the Hudson River to old tenements and new towers.
New York's an expensive city but many must-sees are free: Times Square, Central Park, a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and a ride on the Staten Island Ferry, which provides terrific views of the Statue of Liberty. Two more spots that opened in recent years have quickly become among the city's most popular (and crowded): the 9/11 Memorial, a park with pools in the footprints of the twin towers, and the High Line, a park built on an abandoned rail line that lets you see the city from 30 feet (9 meters) up.
The observatory at One World Trade is glassed-in but if you prefer the wind in your hair, go old-school with the Empire State Building. Another option for a look from high up is Top of the Rock, at Rockefeller Center, which has the advantage of offering views of both One World Trade and the Empire State Building.
A Broadway show is also a must for many visitors, while top museums include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Modern Art, which is hosting an extraordinary exhibit (through Sept. 7) of Jacob Lawrence's paintings of the early 20th-century Great Migration of African-Americans from the South to northern cities. The Guggenheim Museum is best-known for its architecture, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
For immigrant history, check out the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and Ellis Island. For fresh air beyond Central Park, take the ferry to Governor's Island.
You can hardly walk a block in New York without being tempted to buy something, but favorite neighborhoods for shopping include 34th Street, anchored by Macy's; SoHo, known for pricey boutiques as well as mass-market emporia like Uniqlo; and 14th Street-Union Square, where a veritable palace of shoes, DSW, reigns over a strip of trendy but affordable retailers.
The subway is old, dirty, crowded and noisy, but it's the fastest, most efficient way to get around. Consider buying a $31, seven-day Metro card (plus a $1 fee for the card), which covers unlimited rides for a week. Since individual rides are $2.75, the card pays for itself in 12 rides. The subway is relatively safe, but be prepared for panhandlers, the homeless, loud musicians and the occasional preacher. If one car on a crowded train is mysteriously empty, there's inevitably an unpleasant reason that you're better off not discovering — just squeeze into a different car and call it a day.
The subways can also be confusing. Every train car has a framed paper map and many have digital guides, too. One of the best websites for point-to-point directions is Hopstop.com, but most New Yorkers know the lines fairly well and can give basic advice if asked. Free maps are available from manned booths inside subway stations. Trains are sometimes rerouted on weekends; check the MTA.info/weekender website for guidance.
Spend some time outside Manhattan. Among the many Brooklyn neighborhoods worth a visit are trendy Williamsburg, DUMBO and Bushwick. Coney Island has the beach, an old-time amusement park and Nathan's Famous hot dogs. In Queens, there's Greek food in Astoria plus many museums there and in nearby Long Island City: Museum of the Moving Image, Socrates Sculpture Park, Noguchi Museum and PS1 with its fabulous eatery, M. Wells Dinette. For the beach in Queens, take the A train to Rockaway. The Bronx offers the Bronx Zoo, New York Botanical Garden (Frida Kahlo exhibit through Nov. 1) and Italian food on Arthur Avenue.