Stronger, and bolder

TEN years ago, with the rubble of the World Trade Centre still smouldering away after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, prospective visitors to New York wondered whether they should put off their trips, or keep a respectful distance.

But Rudy Giuliani was unambiguous.

Tourists should absolutely come, the then-mayor said. Not only that, but they should spend money, enjoy the city and soak up everything it had to offer. “We’re going to come out of this stronger than before,” Giuliani vowed. “The skyline will be made whole again.”

It has taken a decade for the skyline to replenish — the new Tower One has just passed 80 stories as it rises over Lower Manhattan en route to a projected height of 1,776 feet, commemorating the year of the US Declaration of Independence.

But the tourists never went away. And when you think about it, why would they? New York was the greatest city break in the world before 9/11, and it remains so ten years later.

Autumn brings out the best in the Big Apple. After the late summer scare of Hurricane Irene, the boroughs are settling into a period of crisp, cooler weather. Come October and November, you can see your breath mingling with the falling leaves of Central Park. But you can still leave your hotel without a hat.

Autumn is the perfect time to visit (or re-visit) big hits like the American Museum of Natural History (amnh.org). Ever since my five-year-old daughter watched Night at the Museum, this venerable old institution has taken on a magical aura for me — though don’t even pretend you’ll see more than a fraction of the 30 million specimens it cossets away over four city blocks.

The big hits are the dinosaurs, including near-complete T-Rex and stegosaurus skeletons and, in the foyer on the 79th street entrance, a monster rearing up to protect its cub.

Step out the same entrance, and you’re just across the road from Central Park, surrounded by towering apartment blocks like the Majestic and the Dakota Building, outside of which John Lennon was shot in 1980 (Strawberry Fields, the memorial park, is a stone’s throw away).

You can’t miss the architecture, of course, and New York has no end of tours scrutinising its skyscrapers in nerdy detail. But you don’t need a tour to appreciate classics like the Chrysler Building or the Daily News building, whose giant globe recalls the old Superman movies.

A newer hotel worth stepping into is the Ace on 29th Street. Darina Allen raved about the grub here in Food & Wine magazine recently, but tables are hard to come by, and the public areas are just as impressive anyway. Beneath high ceilings, an array of bookshelves, vintage couches and funky art populate a very hip space — and some of the rooms have Smeg fridges instead of mini-bars.

Further downtown, the Merchant’s House Museum (merchantshouse.org) is like a Marie Celeste afloat in Manhattan. Walk through the doorway of 29 East 4th street and you’re in another world — 1832, to be precise. Original books, clothes, gas chandeliers and other possessions illustrate life in the 19th century city — a crossroads between colonial port and modern metropolis.

New York is full of these magical moments. One minute you are bug-eyed in the Met or MoMA, the next you’re caught in rush hour in Grand Central Station. The first time you step on the subway is another — the blast of warm air, the gritty functionality, the studied lack of eye contact.

And then, of course, there is autumn on Broadway.

“Broadway in the fall is like going back to school — only with jazz hands,” says nycgo.com. “There are new characters to meet, new songs to learn and new schedules to follow.”

New openings this season include the Alicia Keys produced Stick Fly and Noel Coward’s Private Lives starring Kim Cattrell.

If you don’t like theatre, what about joining a TV audience? You can book tickets in advance for The Daily Show, Letterman, Steven Colbert and more — their websites have all the info.

Then there is the food. !You’ve got stalwarts like Gramercy Tavern or the River Café, overlooking the skyline from Brooklyn. You’ve got delis like Zabar’s (don’t leave without trying a knish). You’ve even got the Big Gay Ice-cream Truck — run by a professional bassoonist who sidelines in soft-serve ice-cream with toppings ranging from wasabi pea dust to olive oil and sea salt.

“There are two worlds in New York City,” as streetvendor.org puts it.

“The difference between them is the difference between the Union Square Greenmarket, where foodies peruse organic heirloom tomatoes at $4 per pound, and the Forsyth Street Market in Chinatown… where $4 will get you three pounds of onions, a pound of peppers, three pounds of bok choy, and a couple mangoes. With a dragon fruit thrown in if you speak Chinese.”

I’d say two worlds is an underestimate. There are eight million stories in this naked city, as newspaperman Jimmy Breslin famously quipped — a place that is defined as much by the twinkling window displays in Tiffany’s as the decaying rides of Coney Island; a place where it costs $125 to see Woody Allen’s Monday night jazz show at the Carlyle, but the Staten Island Ferry is free.

Riding that ferry, of course, even ten years on, it’s hard to get used to the sight of Lower Manhattan without its Twin Towers.

Tomorrow, on the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks, the 9/11 Memorial will be dedicated in a special ceremony for victims’ families. Its centrepiece consists of two reflecting pools set within the footprints of the former towers. (911memorial.org).

The largest manmade waterfalls in North America, and the 9/11 museum to follow next year, will continue to ensure that Ground Zero remains one of the most visited sites in Manhattan.

All over the city, museums and galleries are remembering that terrible day. At the Brooklyn Museum, an exhibition of artwork integrates comments from local families, survivors and first responders about the work on display (brooklynmuseum.org).

Perhaps the deepest connections can be made at the Tribute WTC Visitor Centre (tributewtc.org). A project of the September 11th Families’ Association, it runs walking tours and exhibits from its base centre at 120 Liberty Street.

As the tenth anniversary tributes prove, despite the devastation terrorists visited on the city that day, New York lives on. And living is the best revenge.

SIGHTS

If you’re travelling before the end of October, pop along to the Statue of Liberty. October 28 is the 125th anniversary of its dedication, and following a day of music, entertainment and special tours, the iconic harbour attraction will close for a year-long makeover.

WHERE TO EAT

For pizza, try Lombardi’s on Spring Street. For food on the run, check out streetvendor.org/vendys, which lists the best street food in the city. The New York Times’ iPhone App, ‘The Scoop’, includes the 50 favourite restaurants of its restaurant critic, Sam Sifton. The list is dubbed ‘The Sifty Fifty’.

WHERE TO SHOP

NYC is one of the best shopping towns on the planet. Whether you’re thinking of a pre-Christmas hit or the January sales, you won’t be disappointed. New to the city is Chelsea’s Limelight Marketplace (nyclimelight.com), a ‘festival’ of fashion, beauty and food.

TRAVEL

Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com), Continental (continental.com/ie) and Delta (delta.com) operate direct flights from Dublin to New York. Sunway (01 231-1858; sunway.ie) has three nights from €595pp, departing December 3 from Dublin. American Holidays (021 236-4636; americanholidays.com) has a three-night January sales trip from €539pp — both based on four sharing.

WHERE TO STAY

The new Flatiron Hotel (flatironhotel.com), has rooms in December from $319/€220. Apple Core’s Hotel at Times Square (thehotelattimessquare.com) has B&B from $295/€204 per room, with kids under 12 staying free.

OTHER INFO

Passengers should arrive at Dublin Airport three hours before US flights. Irish travellers to the US must register with the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation. Registration costs $14/€9.70. See https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov.

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