Travel: Comfiest way to take on New York

For the ideal base from which to enjoy New York's famous landmarks, hidden treasures and sheer dynamism, Mark Atkinson will take Manhattan

New York is a hive of activity at all times of the day. Pic: Getty
New York is a hive of activity at all times of the day. Pic: Getty

Eight in the morning on a warm, balmy Saturday in Central Park, New York. Even at this early hour, it’s starting to fill up. There are dog walkers, joggers, children, adults, street vendors, people-watchers… and then there’s me, in my shorts and T-shirt, perched on a rock doing yoga as the early sun beats down.

What better way to start the weekend in one of the world’s most vibrant cities. NYC is a hive of activity, but Central Park is one of the few places where you can find green space and sanctuary from the hum of bustle. With a jam-packed itinerary of sightseeing, food, drink and culture ahead of me, a little bit of relaxation time is necessary.

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Hence the yoga excursion. My hotel, the Loews Regency on Park Avenue, has cannily teamed up with Fit Tours NYC to offer its residents the chance to do keep-fit classes in the park at any time in the morning. Yoga is probably the most sedate one on the list, but it’s the perfect way to tour the park. There’s about an hour of power-walking, with yoga interspersed in between.

The Loews Regency Hotel in New York certainly excels from a comfort perspective. Pic: TSPL

I’m set up for the day after my wellness session. New York is a city best taken on when you’re fresh and clear-minded, especially when you have a reasonably tight timescale. I’ve only given myself a couple of days to visit NYC and I’m on a mission to take in the top sights and the unheralded gems. You’ve got the world famous tourist haunts, such as the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and so on – and they are, of course, all worth seeing – but part of NYC’s charm is its hidden treasures, its unknown quantities, the things the guide books don’t necessarily point you to.

Getting to NYC from Scotland has never been easier. Flying direct from Edinburgh and Glasgow is possible, but going via London still appeals for cost and comfort. British Airways are the latest airline to open up more NYC routes and going via Gatwick is affordable and doesn’t add a great deal more time. I arrive into JFK airport after an extremely comfortable flight – and, remarkably, even immigration doesn’t take longer than 30 minutes.

For me, staying in Manhattan is a must when tackling NYC. Nothing wrong with Queens, Brooklyn or even The Bronx these days, but Manhattan is linked up to everything you want to see. I’ve decided to bide in Midtown, at the all-encompassing Loews Regency. It caters for everyone, with exceptionally comfortable standard rooms right up to luxurious apartment-style suites that, quite frankly, would put many others to shame. Its spa branch, Julien Farel, is also there for the use of guests. Prices are reasonable too, but it’s the location, only ten or so blocks from Grand Central Terminal and a stone’s throw from Central Park, that really makes it a winner.

Having already taken the free ferry between Lower Manhattan and Staten Island – by far and away the best introduction to the Statue of Liberty as you cruise pretty close to her – I make my way to the City of New York Museum, which plays second fiddle in many ways to the Met or the Museum of Modern Art. Quite unfairly, in my opinion. An eye-opening 30-minute video tells the story of NYC’s history, and after that there’s an eclectic mix of displays on show, my personal favourite being a vast selection of cartoons from Roz Chast, whose comical depictions of New Yorkers are well worth a browse.

Yoga in Central Park is one of the best ways to kick off the weekend. Pic: TSPL

Another museum that doesn’t leap off the page but needs mention is New York’s Society of Illustrators. Nestled away from the hustle in an old Midtown carriage house, it’s a small, cosy museum, founded in 1901, and spans six steep floors. However, some of the drawings there are sensational, and the collection includes a Rockwell from 1935. Any New York illustrator worth their salt is a member here and you could spend hours getting lost within the pictures. And if you stay at Loews, you can take part in nude modelling sketching classes on a Tuesday night.

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In need of some fresh air, I spend an afternoon strolling up and down the main avenues of NYC. They are all different in their own ways, but one has a little more glitz and glamour than the others: Madison. If you have a shop on this thoroughfare in New York, then you know you’ve made it. All of the major fashion designers are here, but there are also more low-key yet extremely chic and high-end labels such as De Beers and Aurélie Bidermann – which offers quirky jewellery items such as a swan’s feather dipped in gold – and my personal favourite, Moynat, which sells handbags that even the most manly shopper would be tempted by.

Nighttime in New York is arguably the best time in this city. Of course, it never sleeps, and there’s so much to see and do even into the small hours. A Broadway show has to be high on anybody’s New York bucket list, and on this occasion I take in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, with a pre-theatre meal at one of NYC’s most established restaurants, Sardi’s on Times Square.

Afterwards, I head for the Empire 
State Building. Open until 2am, going late avoids the queues and promises a quite breathtaking view of the city by night.

The Loews Regency Hotel in New York certainly excels from a comfort perspective. Pic: TSPL
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After a brilliant sleep – Loews’ bed is the most comfy I’ve been in for a long time – I rise nice and early to take in one of the hotel’s USPs, the power breakfast, aimed at busy New Yorkers. The restaurant is packed to the gunnels at 7am as businessmen chomp and 
chat. Good use of time, some would say, while others would argue you shouldn’t mix work with play. I, however, am a convert.

Next stop is the Highline. A converted railway in the meat-packing district next to the Hudson, it’s an hour-long stroll above the streets with greenery and art in plentiful supply. It’s a favourite with locals and tourists alike – presumably because it’s so unique in a city packed with buildings.

After refuelling in Chinatown, it’s off to the Met. It’s a colossal museum. In all honesty, it’s a little like the Louvre in Paris in that there’s too much to see in one go. The Met often decants exhibits from the main museum to its little brother, the Met Breuer, which is much more palatable. All manner of wares are in there, including two identical busts, although one is made of soap and the other of chocolate. Surprisingly, nobody has had a nibble. After all, pretty much everything in the Big Apple tastes fantastic.

Loews Regency Hotel, Park Avenue, New York. Prices start from $429 (£300) per night. www.loewshotels.com

Yoga in Central Park is one of the best ways to kick off the weekend. Pic: TSPL

British Airways flies from Edinburgh and Glasgow to New York JFK and Newark, with up to 14 daily departures, via London Gatwick from as little as £450 return. www.ba.com/newyork