If you think you know America's most visited city, you may want to take a second look. Over the past year, the tallest office building (One World Trade Center) and tallest residential building (432 Park Avenue) in the Western Hemisphere have topped out, at 1,776 feet and 1,396 feet respectively, part of a crop of bold new skyscrapers that are transforming the celebrated New York skyline. Public spaces, too, have been revitalized, from the waterfronts of lower Manhattan and Brooklyn to the High Line and the new Whitney Museum on the west side.
The view from One World Trade Center's 102nd floor observatory? Stunning. The view from a helicopter? Utterly surprising, revealing hidden nooks, rooftop gardens, and everyday activity made novel with a different perspective. The gray-brown metropolis becomes quilted with white in winter; in spring, pockets of color bloom. You almost can hear Frank Sinatra belting out, "I'll make a brand-new start of it, in old New York." —George Steinmetz
When to Go: Year-round
How to Get Around: Use the free NY Waterway mobile app to buy an all-day pass ($12 on weekdays, $18 on weekends) on the East River Ferry. Riding the ferry from Midtown south to lower Manhattan (with stops in Queens and Brooklyn) is one of the best and cheapest ways to see the skyline. For aerial sightseeing tours, contact Liberty Helicopters or New York Helicopter.
Where to Stay: For a room with a Manhattan skyline view, head across the East River to Long Island City in Queens and the 14-story Z Hotel. All 100 rooms face Manhattan. Best bet: Ask for a mid-tower floor (six to eight) to minimize noise from the streets below and the rooftop bar above.
What to Eat or Drink: Take the elevator to the top of 30 Rockefeller Plaza for Sunday brunch at the iconic Rainbow Room. It's pricey ($95 plus drinks), but the 65th-floor vistas—north over Central Park and south toward the Empire State Building—are unbeatable. Wear your Sunday best (jackets for men), and make reservations.
What to Buy: Purchase advance tickets to visit One World Observatory, located on floors 100 to 102 of One World Trade Center. Standard admission ($32 for adults, $26 for children) is for a specific time and date. Add on the One World Explorer iPad option ($15) for an interactive, virtual helicopter tour of the skyline.
What to Read Before You Go: The Heights: Anatomy of a Skyscraper (Penguin Books; reprint edition, 2013) by Kate Ascher uses simple diagrams, illustrations, and non-technical text to explain how the world's tallest buildings are designed, built, and maintained.
Fun Fact: The southwestern tip of Manhattan is home to the world's only Skyscraper Museum. The small, nonprofit museum chronicles New York's vertical history from the 1870s to the present. Among the permanent exhibits are miniature, hand-carved wooden models of Manhattan and the History of Height mural, depicting the monumental rise of buildings from the 481-foot Great Pyramid of Giza to the 2,717-foot Burj Khalifa in Dubai.