The two massive stone lions that flank the entrance to the New York Public Library grabbed my attention as I rushed past one day recently, and I realized that I’d never set foot inside. Minutes later, the idea of a hometown weekend staycation crossed my mind.
New York City welcomed more than 60 million visitors in 2016, so why not be a tourist in my hometown and focus on “first” visits to the library, Rockefeller Center, Governors Island, and Roosevelt Island—places I’ve wanted to see but never had the time.
There’s been a lot of restoration, rejuvenation, and buffing up of cultural attractions and other New York sights in the past few years, resulting in engaging, interactive exhibits and public performances. The library, for example, has an ongoing calendar of exhibits open to the public in its stately rooms and salons all year long.
Our first task was to find a hotel conveniently located near the sights and attractions we wanted to see. The city’s building boom has included lots of new high-rise hotels with chic accommodations for every budget. Two hotels, each located on opposite sides of Manhattan’s main crosstown thoroughfare of 42nd Street, seemed like the perfect compromise: the LUMA Hotel Times Square near Bryant Park (home of celebrity chef Jose Garcis’ new Ortzi restaurant), and the $68 million refurbished Millenium Hilton New York One UN Plaza near the East River.
In each hotel our room was compact and well designed with terrific city views. Public spaces and lobbies were welcoming and relaxing, without hordes of tourists hunkering down for free wi-fi.
New York Public Library, Rockefeller Center
On the first night we stayed at the LUMA, just steps away from the New York Public Library which stretches from 40th–42nd Street along Fifth Avenue. Formerly a defunct city reservoir, the Beau-Arts building opened to the public in 1911 with an inventory of more than a million books. Today, all the lovingly restored reading rooms and galleries are a wonderful living history of the city. Make sure to see the excellent 45-minute film about the history of the library in the comfortable screening room off the lobby. You’ll learn about all its different resources, like the genealogical department, useful for those searching family tree descendants.
Next stop was Rockefeller Center, the iconic 1930’s Art Deco plaza and office complex dominated by a giant gilt statue of Prometheus. The entire complex includes 19 high-rise commercial buildings and covers 22 acres between 48th and 51st Streets along Fifth Avenue and Avenue of the Americas.
Not only does Rockefeller Center boast its own “Top of the Rock” 65th-floor observation deck, but also, during the holiday season, the city’s tallest Christmas tree and a skating rink. The plaza is also home to NBC Studios, and underneath it all is the largest underground shopping mall in America. During the week, Bar SixtyFive on the top floor is open for drinks along with spectacular sunset views.
We ended our day with a relaxed dinner at Ortzi in the LUMA, a culinary discovery of Basque-inspired dishes. The colourful fava bean salad, a zippy Zarzuela seafood stew, and roasted king crab are standouts from the menu, along with the delicious flan custard dessert.
Roosevelt Island, Governors Island
The following morning, after settling into a guest room at the Millenium Hilton New York One UN Plaza and admiring the spectacular views of the East River, we stopped for a light breakfast at the Ambassador Grill restaurant and then walked uptown to catch the cable car to Roosevelt Island.
Taking in the breathtaking views from our aerial cabin, we alighted on the 148-acre island at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park. Inaugurated in 2012, the four-acre park celebrates the Four Freedoms Roosevelt articulated in his 1941 State of the Union address.
Back in Manhattan, we headed downtown to catch a ferry to Governors Island, a 172-acre island across from Lower Manhattan. Governors Island got its name in 1699 and over the years has gone from being an army and air force headquarters between the two world wars to being the United States Coast Guard’s largest installation until 1996. In 2003, the U.S. government sold 150 acres of the island to the people of the City and State of New York.
Grand, deserted homes and barracks dot the island, and some of the homes have been turned into retreat-style artists’ residences and public exhibitions. With a newly landscaped park and grounds, the island hosts a number of large-scale events during the summer, such as a polo match and a jazz festival.
A few blocks away from the ferry depot in Lower Manhattan is the National Museum of the American Indian, another attraction worth visiting (and it’s free). Located in the majestic Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, the museum explores the diversity of the Native peoples of the Americas with programs and exhibits.
By the end of the weekend, while we learned a lot about the history and heritage of some of the city’s most significant sights, we realized that there were lots more must-sees to add to our bucket list for another staycation!
Isabelle Kellogg is a writer and public relations consultant in the luxury sector, with a passion for diamonds, jewelry, watches, and other luxury products, including travel.