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Spots to visit in New York City while the crowds are small

An aerial view of Central Park in Manhattan.

An aerial view of Central Park in Manhattan. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/Ingus Kruklitis

One reason some Long Islanders avoid the landmark and iconic sights of New York City is the struggle with hordes of tourists, but thanks to the health crisis, the world is not coming to the Big Apple as in years past. Although dozens of states and territories remain under the Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's quarantine, a trip to the Five Boroughs is still only a drive or train ride away for Long Islanders who have spent years coming into NYC for fun, food and frolick.

With fall still a reasonable time to be outside, and COVID-19 hospitalizations (as of Sept. 1) at the lowest point since March 16, here are some places you may want to see — or see again — in the Big City (just be sure to bring a mask):

GO UP

Unfortunately, while Liberty Island is open again, both the pedestal and crown of the Statue of Liberty remain closed to interior visitors. However, if you’d like to get really high off the ground, the 1,454-foot-tall Empire State Building (20 West 34th St., Manhattan; 212-736-3100, esbnyc.com) is welcoming guests to both its 86th and 102nd floor observatories; you’ll need to buy time-and-date tickets in advance ($42, $36 for ages 6-12, kids under 6 are free), seven days a week between 11 a.m. and 10:15 p.m. You’ll also be temperature-screened; the usual capacity has been slashed by half to allow for social distancing.

Hudson Yards (between 10th-12th Avenues and West 30th-34th Streets, Manhattan; 332-204-8500, hudsonyardsnewyork.com) is not yet two years open, but its outdoor Edge sky deck — which at 100 stories high claims to be the highest outdoor sky deck in the Western Hemisphere — provides a breathtaking look straight down between your feet via a glass floor as well as 360-degree views of the city.  The deck reopened to the public Sept. 2, with time-and-date tickets purchased in advance ($36, $31 for ages 6-12, kids 5 and under are free); visit times are between noon-7:30 p.m. Also opening that day is its Vessel, a honeycomb-like structure with interwoven staircases that also provides unique views (plus lots of walking); tickets are free, but also must be reserved date-and-time in advance through the facility’s website (from 11 a.m.-6:30 p.m.)

To stay somewhat closer to the ground, the former railway-turned-green space High Line (212-500-6035; thehighline.org) is open between its Gansevoort and 30th Streets entrances (starting Sept. 5) — but you can only enter at Gansevoort (at Washington Street) or at 23rd Street (between 10th-11th Avenues), with other stairways serving only as exits. Foot traffic is only moving in one direction (northbound), and pathways are marked to ensure social distancing. Tickets are free, and while walk-up tickets are being made available, park officials are asking the public to choose timed-entry reservation in advance through the High Line website (noon-8 p.m. daily). The food and shopping vendors are still closed, but once you get up there, look for art exhibitions such as “Untitled (Four Arches)” near 13th Street, the “Sister of the Road” sculpture at 16th Street, “The Baayfalls,” a mural close to the park at 22nd Street and the “Brick House” sculpture, found on the Spur at 30th Street and 10th Avenue.

GO OUT(DOORS)

At more than 840 acres, Central Park (between 110th-59th Streets, 5th-8th Avenues, Manhattan; 212-360-3444, centralpark.com) is THE oasis of Manhattan, with its open green spaces, wooded sections and glimmering waters. For now, the visitor centers, restrooms in areas that require admission or are maintained by outside organizations and the lower portion of the East Meadow (which served as a field hospital site) remain closed. But the Great Lawn, Sheep Meadow and North Meadow are available. Several in-park tours and programs are also on hold — but the Central Park Zoo has reopened, as have the playgrounds, with capacity limits; check the website to confirm what is currently doable.

About 18 blocks downtown but still in midtown, Bryant Park (between W. 40th-42nd Sts., 5th-6th Aves., Manhattan; 212-768-4242, bryantpark.org) is another al fresco option, and much like the rest of the world, what will be available to do today, tomorrow and next week remains to be fully determined, but lawn games like pétanque (you’ll have to bring your own equipment, 7 a.m.-8:30 p.m.) and pingpong (equipment can be borrowed, 11:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. daily) can be played, while fitness fans can come by 7:30 a.m. Tuesdays to try Tai Chi or learn to juggle (dates, times vary) at no charge. Hungry park-goers can eat outdoors at the Bryant Park Grill or at a number of food kiosks — and while live entertainment is hard to come by these days, there’s presently 12:30 p.m. in-person piano playing Monday -Tuesday and Thursday. 

For a city park that you won’t need to cross any rivers to visit from LI: 

Prospect Park (between Prospect Park West-Parkside Ave., Prospect Park Southwest-Washington Ave., Brooklyn; 718-965-8951, prospectpark.org) has reopened its zoo plus its playgrounds and adult recreation areas — and that includes cool stuff like roller skating at the LeFrak Center (noon-6 p.m. daily; weekdays: $6, weekends: $10, skate rentals: $7) plus boat and bike rentals (11 a.m.-7:30 p.m., weekends, 10 a.m.-7:30 p.m.; rates vary per age and length of rental). Additionally, water play at the Splash Pad water play area is slated to stay open through September (10 a.m.-7 p.m. daily).

Not all parks are meant for play, as the Socrates Sculpture Park (32-01 Vernon Blvd., Long Island City; 718-956-1819, socratessculpturepark.org) provides a public space where artworks are displayed outdoors at no charge. The current showing is titled “Monuments Now,” a series intended to convey how monuments move us, but here represent people whose personal experience and culture may not be properly recognized by mainstream society (until March 2021).

GO WILD

Some parks have zoos, but for a pure experience the Bronx Zoo (2300 Southern Blvd.; 718-220-5100, bronxzoo.com) lays claim to being the world’s largest urban such wildlife park. It’s open to visitors, but all (timed-entry) tickets must be reserved online and in advance. Tickets (starting at $34.95; $24.95 ages 3-12) include park entry plus unlimited access to any attractions available that day; admission only tickets ($24.95; $16.95 ages 3-12) are a cheaper possibility and are free on Wednesdays. The same rules apply at the Queens Zoo (53-51 111th St., Corona; 718-220-5100, queenszoo.com) but for far less dough ($9.95 daily, $6.95 ages 3-12). For a more marine experience, the NY Aquarium (602 Surf Ave., Brooklyn; 718-265-3474, nyaquarium.com) is also following a reserved timed-entry policy ($26.95 daily, $22.95 ages 3-12), with free Wednesday afternoon tickets made available Mondays online at 3 p.m. Healthcare workers, emergency medical technicians, medical professionals and paramedics can also score a free visit to the Aquarium until Sept. 30 (limited to one ticket per order).

GO TO THE MUSEUM

Among the major draws in New York City are the museums, and these mainly indoor institutions were hit hard by the health crisis. However, the most recent reduction in restrictions allows for doors to reopen, with capacity and health rules in place, as one might expect. The American Museum of Natural History (Central Park West and 79th St., Manhattan; 212-769-5100, amnh.org) is back in business starting Sept. 9, albeit without the Hayden Planetarium and some of the more touchable exhibits — but the halls holding such literally massive favorites as the Blue Whale and the Titanosaur are open — as are the special “T. rex: The Ultimate Predator” and “The Nature of Color” exhibits. The AMNH will only open 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Wed.-Sun. and timed-entry tickets must be reserved in advance online — however, the standard pay-what-you-wish system is still in place for New York State, New Jersey and Connecticut residents (ID required; general admission is otherwise $23, $13 ages 3-12).

The Museum of Modern Art AKA MoMA (moma.org) is a two-part story: the Manhattan outpost (11 West 53 St.; 212-708-9400) came back in August, but MoMA PS1 in Queens (22-25 Jackson Ave., Long Island City; 718-784-2084) won’t be up and open again until Sept. 17. Head to Manhattan for free timed-entry admission Tues.-Sun. through Sept. 27, and look at a new exhibit focused on iconic French art figure Félix Fénéon and “Cinematic Illumination,” a stunning 360-degree panoramic projection installation created in the 1960s by Shuzo Azuchi Gulliver. Over in Queens, complimentary timed-entry admission tickets will be available for PS1 starting Sept. 10 (also through Sept. 27) with hours set at noon-8 p.m. Thurs.-Mon.

 Back on the LI side of the river, the Brooklyn Museum (200 Eastern Pkwy., Prospect Heights; 718-638-5000, brooklynmuseum.org) reopens Sept. 12, minus the Museum Cafe and The Norm restaurant, which like all in-person tours and indoor public programs have been nixed for the rest of 2020. However, the museum's first and fifth floor galleries will be open 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Wed.-Sun. (and until 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat.). Museum patrons who had hoped to catch the “Studio 54: Night Magic” exhibition now have until Nov. 8 to see the museum’s retrospective focused on the legendary nightclub, while new exhibitions will start to arrive in late October.

Then again, if a deep trip into NYC is too much of a haul, the Queens County Farm Museum (73-50 Little Neck Pkwy., Floral Park; 718-347-3276, queensfarm.org) is only a couple of miles from the Nassau County border, and claims that its 47-acre parcel of farmland is the longest-continuously farmed site in New York State, dating to 1697. Open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. for free (not counting special events), the facility has already announced a seasonal farm stand open 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Wed.-Sun., its “Amazing Maize Maze” corn labyrinth Fri-. Sun. through October (plus Monday, Oct., 12; advance tickets $12; $8 ages 12 and younger) and on two Saturday nights (5:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Oct. 3, 24: $15, $10 ages 12 and under).

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