NYC travel guide for tourists coming back after many changes

Welcome back, all you Big Apple-starved, high-spending tourists from abroad! There’s so much new to see and do in The World’s Greatest City since you last plunked down your pounds, francs, and remnimbi on our great hotels, shops and restaurants.

A lot has changed — for good and not-so-good — in the 18 months you were away. Here’s a handy primer on what to expect.

The good

The new must-sees

Since March of 2020, the city has enjoyed an explosion in just-launched restaurants, parks and other public-friendly attractions. They’re almost too many to count.

  • Manhattan West, an office/restaurant/shopping/residential complex between Ninth and Tenth avenues in the West 30s. It boasts a pretty park, a hotel and a major Italian restaurant, Ci Siamo, from Danny Meyer. An NHL-branded ice rink is coming soon. It sure beats the exposed sunken rail yard that came before it.
  • Sky-high observatories — Summit at One Vanderbilt, a 1,000-foot-tall office skyscraper next to Grand Central Terminal which is also home to Daniel Boulud’s great new restaurant Le Pavillon. You can also enjoy the views from Saga, a pricey restaurant at the top of 70 Pine Street where brave guests can step outside onto spindly terraces.
  • Little Island, a rolling-landscaped 2.4-acre park in the Hudson River near West 14th Street that’s actually a pier disguised as an island. Mostly paid for by Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg, it’s been a public favorite since it opened last spring.
  • Pier 17 at the South Street Seaport which partially opened pre-pandemic but has since added fine restaurants from Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Andrew Carmellini.
  • A luxurious, 14-screen Alamo Drafthouse cinema complex at landmark office tower 28 Liberty Street.
  • The world’s largest Harry Potter store at Broadway and East 22nd Street.
  • New waterfront hotels — The Graduate on once-sleepy Roosevelt Island and the Rockaway in Far Rockaway, Queens, both with rooftop lounges and excellent views.

Aerial - Little Island. Thursday, September 2, 2021
Little Island spans 1.5 acres on the Hudson River.
Paul Martinka

Alfresco cafes

Your eyes might pop at the sight of a zillion outdoor restaurant dining sheds on sidewalks and in the street. They sprang up in the darkest days of 2020 when indoor dining was forbidden and quickly became part of the landscape — for better or worse. The 10,000-plus venues are loved by many, hated by others. But there’s no question they changed our dining scene for good. Check out Second Avenue in the East 70s, Amsterdam and Columbus avenues in the West 70s and 80, Koreatown on 32nd Street or almost anywhere Greenwich Village or the Lower East Side.

Meanwhile, indoors…

Proof-of-vaccination gives diners inside a greater sense of safety.  Pent-up demand for going out to party makes the mood more festive than before. But beware sticker shock: dishes that were priced in the $30s might be in the $40s, and $500 is the new $400 for four people having a typical modern-American, French or Italian meal. And at steakhouses? Check your credit card balance first.

Pier 17
Pier 17 offers diners wonderful options to chow down on at South Street Seaport.
Getty Images

Back from the dead

Times Square was the world media’s favorite “ghost town” in the worst months of 2020. But the bright lights stayed on even when theaters and hotels were closed. Today the fabled entertainment district again teems with show-goers, visitors, and those annoying Elmos and Big Bird characters. The born-again “Crossroads of the World” is the single most dramatic symbol of Big Apple resiliency.

Museum heaven

Our great repositories of fine art and culture have reached the sweet spot between near-desolate (as they were last spring) and mobbed (as they soon will be again). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, the Whitney, the Frick (temporarily at 945 Madison Ave.) are currently at their most enjoyable density despite needless mask rules. The Met’s big “Surrealism Beyond Borders” show was a pleasure to navigate but not the least lonely. Go now before the holiday-season crowds descend.  

Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art remains an NYC staple for visitors.
Liao Pan/China News Service via Getty Images

On the meds

Walk-in urgent care centers, once rare in the city, became commonplace during the pandemic. They’re just the thing for the minor aches,  pains and upset tummies that can spoil a vacation. Facilities such as CityMD and MedRite came along in time to fill storefronts vacated by pharmacies and bank branches. Their friendly, fully-accredited staffs can spare you a visit to a hospital ER and potential exposure to Covid or other diseases. 

The bad

Getting around is harder: Watch the closing doors — and the strangers around you.

  • The subways — usually the fastest way to get anywhere — rallied from the spring 2020 nadir when ridership fell by ninety percent. But a crime uptick includes horrendous cases where roaming psychotics shoved passengers onto tracks and assaulted people of Asian appearance with no provocation.
  • Buses, we’re sorry to say, move slower than treacle. An Uber trip can cost as much as it took to build the Second Avenue subway — if the driver doesn’t cancel the trip first.
  • Yellow cabs are harder to find. But don’t think about getting behind the wheel yourself. Vehicular congestion has never been worse thanks to mushrooming bike lanes, “plazas,” parking lanes in the middle of streets and no-turn rules. The whole city can feel like a no-way-out, gridlocked maze .

New York has made a strong return after a tumultuous 2020.
New York has made a strong return after a tumultuous 2020.
Jacob Dahlin

Gone but not forgotten

Don’t look for these beloved institutions that we lost:

  • The hotel toll includes the atmospheric Roosevelt, the once-hip Hudson and bargain-basement Pennsylvania.
  • The towering Four Seasons Hotel on East 57th Street has been shuttered since early last year and might or might not reopen.
  • The retail reaper swept away giant department stores — Barney’s on Madison Avenue, Neiman Marcus at Hudson Yards and discount-heaven Century 21 downtown.
  • So many other big names are gone, including Brooks Brothers’ Madison Avenue flagship, that “shop till you drop” could be replaced by “shop anywhere that’s still open.”
  • The restaurant graveyard swallowed up the 21 Club (where even the famous jockey figures outside have been removed), TAK Room, Aquagrill, Esca, Mission Chinese, egg cream-heaven Gem Spa and Chinatown’s immense Jing Fong.

Squalor in the square

Beloved Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village took a nosedive in the past year. The leafy retreat for families, NYU students, artists and musicians gave way to after-dark crime and decay. The Post found a wave of “drugs, lawlessness and late-night raves.” It’s still worth a visit — but in daytime. And don’t let your kids out of your sight.

Trash left over by party goers at a rave party at Washington Square Park earlier in 2021.
Trash left over by party goers at a rave party at Washington Square Park earlier in 2021.

Open-air despair

Although the situation isn’t as bad as in American cities such as Seattle and San Francisco, New York has more homeless people living on streets than were there two years ago. Many sleep in makeshift encampments in and around Penn Station and the Port Authority Bus Terminal. But don’t be surprised to see them all over Manhattan, especially under unsightly “sidewalk bridges” that darken storefronts and scare away customers.

Whey you’ve got to go…

You’re out of luck. Outdated fears of virus spread by surface contact resulted in locked rest rooms all over town — not only in subway stations but in classy stores such as Polo Ralph Lauren. Relieve yourself before you go out to avoid accidents.