The new New York

By Margaret Scheikowski

City shows off newcomers 9/11 Museum and One World Observatory as well as the old faithfuls, writes Margaret Scheikowski.

New York City's three iconic landmarks, the Statue of Liberty, Freedom Tower and the Empire State Building. Photo / Getty Images
New York City's three iconic landmarks, the Statue of Liberty, Freedom Tower and the Empire State Building. Photo / Getty Images

Ah, the exhilaration of seeing the dazzling lights of New York City shortly before we land at JFK International Airport.

And that exhilaration and pure adrenalin drives our whirlwind five-day visit, as we face the unanswerable question of which of the many sights to see.

For the newcomer, there are the attractions that seem ingrained in our collective psyche from TV and the movies — the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Times Square and Central Park.

But the constant evolution of the city throws up more offerings such as the haunting 9/11 Museum and Memorial and its neighbour, the One World Observatory on the 100th, 101st and 102nd floors of One World Trade Centre.

The new observation deck at the World Trade Centre, offering spectacular views across the city, is testament to the city's regeneration.

The tallest office building in the Western Hemisphere, the Trade Centre, also known as Freedom Tower, welcomed its first tenants last year.

Built on the site of buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001 attacks, it was constructed to a total height, antenna included, of 1776 feet (541.3m), to honour the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Operators expect three to four million visitors a year will take in the 360-degree views from 380m, from the Statue of Liberty, to Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge and New Jersey to the west.

On a clear day, you can see for 80km, says David Checketts, chairman and chief executive officer of Legends, the company that operates the observatory.

"We can start to see the curve of the Earth on a clear day," he says.

It is a panorama that many never expected to see again, which Checketts says is testament to the resilience of New Yorkers.

"This is like a fist-bump, saying we put it back up, and the construction and restoration of neighbourhoods around downtown make it really feel like New York is back," he says.

The lift — one of the quickest in the world — takes 47 seconds to reach the 102nd floor and is a journey in itself. Floor-to-ceiling LED technology provides visitors with a virtual time-lapse that recreates the development of the city's skyline from the 1600s to present day.

Oh, just in case you too wondered, "Can I bring my licensed firearm?", features in the FAQs on its website.

It's a relief to read: "There are absolutely no firearms permitted."

Freedom Tower. Photo / Getty Images
Freedom Tower. Photo / Getty Images

A sombre mood prevails among the many visitors at the 9/11 Memorial's twin reflecting pools, featuring two man-made waterfalls within the "footprints" of the fallen Twin Towers.

The names of the 2983 people who died in the 2001 and 1993 terrorists attacks are etched in bronze on the ledges around the pools.

NYPD counter-terrorism officers are everywhere, all seemingly cheerful as they acquiesce to non-stop requests to pose for photos with tourists.

The huge underground museum contains a myriad exhibits. They range from recordings of emotional emergency calls, images of fleeing people and the burning buildings, to poignant flyers about missing loved ones, plane fragments and everyday personal items like glasses and shoes found at the scene.

The Survivors Staircase is there, the last visible piece of the buildings after the attacks, used by many to run for their lives.

New York Times arts critic Holland Cotter eloquently refers to the "theatrical, voyeuristic and devotional" experience of moving through these rooms.

We are used to museums generally depicting events far removed from us.

But this one seems more poignant, more real and more sobering because we were part of the global audience who followed the unfolding horror on our screens.

It's also just one of the many Manhattan museums well worth a visit if only time was on your side.

The Whitney Museum of American Art last year moved out of the Museum Mile to the Meatpacking District, near the Hudson River.

Check out its collection and special shows, but the new building itself is also a marvel, with indoor and outdoor galleries.

From the wide large terraces, there are great views of the surrounding district including the river and the start of the High Line public park.

The museum's Jeff Levine says the outdoor stairways to each terrace "were inspired by the fire escapes which are such an essential part of New York".

Built on a disused, historic freight rail line elevated above the streets, the beautifully designed 2.33km-long park features wildflowers, grasses, seating, artworks and more great views.

It's just one of the free Manhattan sights.

Others include the ferry to Staten Island, walking around the bustling Grand Central Terminal with its astronomical ceiling painting and the impressive New York Public Library with its marble edifice, chandeliers, wide staircases and famous Rose Main Reading Room.

Or there's just walking the streets of the borough's fascinating districts, checking out the locals, the steady stream of yellow taxis, the street food vendors — some attracting long queues — and those skyscrapers.

Back on the museum trail, the possibilities are endless, ranging from the compact, beautiful, rounded Guggenheim to the gigantic, overwhelming Metropolitan Museum of Art with a permanent collection of more than two million works spanning more than 5000 years of world culture.

It could take a month of Sundays to see them all.

Look out at Manhattan and beyond from One World Observatory. Photo / Getty Images
Look out at Manhattan and beyond from One World Observatory. Photo / Getty Images

A casual wander reveals an Egyptian temple, the stunning Tiffany "Autumn Landscape" leaded-glass window, a beautiful, furnished living room by Frank Lloyd Wright, and sculptures, paintings and drawings from around the globe.

Speaking of large scale, the American Museum of Natural History is another colossus with its 32 million specimens and artefacts from Earth and beyond.

For many the highlight is the huge collection of dinosaur fossils, but there are also Halls of Human Origins, Biodiversity, Ocean Life and Meteorites.

I particularly loved the dioramas of North American mammals, including a towering brown bear in front of snow-capped mountains.

School excursions were never this exciting in my time.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Helloworld has deals for New York, flying with Air New Zealand.

Further information: nyandcompany.com.

- AAP

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