New York City travel guide – Art at Big Apple’s core

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A night at the museum:

This museum exudes a serious Ben Stiller, Night At The Museum vibe and its dramatic Gothic/Romanesque exteriors were used in the film.

The prestigious American Museum of Natural History, a series of cavernous halls and corridors, is renowned for its magnificent lifelike dioramas painted by legendary artist Belmore Browne in 1941. 

They are the backdrops for the full-size animals shown in their natural habitats. As you gaze through the glass, you can almost feel the massive brown bears and majestic Alaskan moose in combat come alive. This is somewhere you definitely don’t want to be after dark.

The indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest coastal territories are beautifully represented with a vast, new gallery dedicated solely to these fascinating tribes. Huge intricately carved monuments and totem poles, a 63ft dug-out canoe, suspended from the roof, and elaborate, feathered capes are among the many artefacts showcasing their artistic skills, lifestyle and beliefs.

You will need sunglasses for the Hall of Gems and Minerals where more than 5,000 glistening specimens, from sapphires and diamonds to emeralds and topaz, sit behind (hopefully) bulletproof glass in brightly lit cabinets. It makes Tiffany’s pale in comparison.

The museum’s star piece, a replica of a 94ft long, 21,000lb blue whale suspended from the ceiling, has its own raised boardwalk stretching around the gallery walls.

The dinosaur exhibits are just as impressive. One is so long (122ft) that his head and neck extend beyond the hall, peeking out into the corridor.

History lesson:

On the block to the south of the AMNH sits the charmingly old-fashioned New York Historical Society, a grand colonnaded building which was the city’s first museum.

Its chilling Salem witch exhibition includes video interviews with “modern day” witches and a couture gown by British designer Alexander McQueen – he modelled it on his ancestor Elizabeth Howe, who was executed for witchcraft in 1692.

Charming atmospheric paintings of iconic New York scenes such as bridges, parks and the Plaza Hotel from 1930, capture a quieter, more gentrified city. Notable displays include an impressive collection of Tiffany lamps, silver, and a superb collection of photographs featuring black models and jazz artists taken during the diaspora by Kwame Brathwaite.

Best of all, there is a replica of the White House’s Oval Office, actually one-third of its real size, complete with old telephone and a jar of jelly beans. Sit at the desk, make a call and imagine you are the leader of the free world.

Great hights:

One structure synonymous with New York’s towering skyline is the Empire State building. From its 102nd floor, you are rewarded with views stretching as far as 80 miles across the city and rivers. It is still an important entry on a visitor’s bucket list.

There is a relatively new kid on the block giving the Empire a run for its money. SUMMIT One Vanderbilt, at 1,401ft, sits atop Grand Central Terminal and has a dramatic jagged glass roof.

It is an entirely different experience, with three different multi-sensory levels.

In Transcendence, the completely mirrored room reflects the cityscape across multiple surfaces.

The Air room makes you feel like you are floating, with buoyant silver balls, while Levitation features two glass ledges – not the best choice for vertigo sufferers.

On Broadway:

Going to a show on New York’s Broadway, a neighbourhood that branches off Times Square, is a wildly different experience to London’s West End.

It is an infinitely more immersive activity and part of the Big Apple’s soul.

Expect enthusiastic whooping and hollering, the more noise the better. There is a frisson of old-school glamour in the air too, knowing that many of Hollywood’s greats trod the boards here.

Watching the latest Broadway blockbuster SIX, loud cheering accompanied much of the performance for the hugely energetic cast of this uplifting, rousing rap/musical portraying the story of the wives of Henry VIII.

Of course, hit Hamilton is still drawing them in too, with some “fans” attending two performances a day.

Afterwards, there is nothing quite like taking in the neon billboards and vibrancy of Times Square to cap off your evening.

For something a little more subdued, the David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center, home of New York’s Philharmonic, has just reopened after being given a modern facelift.

The contemporary-meets-mid-century modern interiors and vastly improved acoustics are pulling in the crowds.

Concerts are streamed free in the vast open foyer and passersby can get a glimpse of performers on the smaller stages through the windows facing the street.

For art’s sake:

New York has always had an expansive and innovative art scene. The MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) is revered for its modern design and contemporary art. Highlights include Van Gogh’s The Starry Night which is to the MoMA what the Mona Lisa is to the Louvre.

There is also Salvador Dali, Frida Kahlo and Matisse among the 200,000 exhibits. Do not miss the “hidden” sculpture garden or the MoMA Design Store across the road for modern items.

Its offshoot, PS1 in Queens, located in an old school, takes contemporary art to a whole new level with experimental artists.

The hottest show in town right now is American realist artist Edward Hopper at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Reach it by strolling along the High Line, the old elevated rail track turned into an urban oasis, edged in modern apartment blocks.

Hopper’s use of light is pure drama and intrigue, perfectly capturing scenes of normal daily life, looking in through open windows of cafes and neighbourhood stores.

Fit for touring:

New York’s green lung, Central Park, is an ideal spot to kick-start your day. Join Fit Tours’ new yoga and bike tour. This exceptional two-hour adventure takes in poignant landmarks and highlights in the park.

You will pause at the tranquil Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir where New York’s classic buildings of the Upper West Side are reflected in its mirrored waters.

There are stops for John Lennon’s Imagine shrine in Strawberry Fields where fans sing his songs, exploring the hidden forest and striking a warrior pose beneath an obelisk, while being regaled with titbits about the park from a charming yogi.

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