U.S holidays: The best places to chill out in New York, from hotels to independent bookshops

U.S holidays: The best places to chill out in New York, from hotels to independent bookshops 2
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The buzz of the Big Apple thrills visitors like no other city, but it can be so full-on there inevitably comes a time when you will need to take a breath and step back from all the excitement. 

And amid all the bustle it is possible… here are some of the best pockets of calm hidden away across New York.

The Met Cloisters, Washington Heights

To find a pocket of calm in New York, head to the sun-dappled Met Cloisters in Washington Heights (pictured)

To find a pocket of calm in New York, head to the sun-dappled Met Cloisters in Washington Heights (pictured)

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One of the manicured outdoor areas within the Met Cloisters, which is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

One of the manicured outdoor areas within the Met Cloisters, which is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Sit in these sun-dappled cloisters after strolling through silent chapels and you could easily think you were in a medieval monastery in Europe.

This branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, dedicated to art and architecture from the Middle Ages, was purpose-built to incorporate everything from a French Cistercian chapter house to a 12th Century Spanish chapel. Be sure to see the impressive Unicorn Tapestries, but also less-heralded treasures such as the only complete deck of illuminated playing cards from the 15th Century.

It takes some effort to get here, taking the A train way uptown, then trudging up the hill in Fort Tryon Park, but it’s worth it.

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Closed Wednesdays. Entry £19pp (metmuseum.org).

Morgan Library and Museum, Midtown

Escape the hubbub of Grand Central Station and head to the 'fantastic little enclave' of The Morgan Library and Museum, pictured, which is located nearby

Escape the hubbub of Grand Central Station and head to the ‘fantastic little enclave’ of The Morgan Library and Museum, pictured, which is located nearby 

Above is the stunning ceiling within the Morgan Library and Museum, which was developed by banker J. P. Morgan to house his collection of books

Above is the stunning ceiling within the Morgan Library and Museum, which was developed by banker J. P. Morgan to house his collection of books

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Not far from the hubbub of Grand Central Station lies this fantastic little enclave developed by banker J. P. Morgan (1837-1913) to house his collection of books.

You’ll find the rarest manuscripts in a vault in his study, lined with red silk damask walls and an intricate wooden ceiling. Through the marble rotunda lies the library, with secret spiral staircases behind tiers of books. If that’s not peaceful enough, a modern extension designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano houses a cafe where students play classical music on Sundays between 1pm and 3pm.

Open daily except Mondays, £16pp. Free on Tuesdays and Sundays, 3pm-5pm, and Fridays, 5pm-7pm (themorgan.org).

The Frick Collection, Upper East Side

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Above is the grand Roman atrium at the Frick Collection, filled with columns, plants and trickling water

Above is the grand Roman atrium at the Frick Collection, filled with columns, plants and trickling water

Have Old Masters to yourself in this former home of industry titan Henry Clay Frick, just off Central Park.

Admire Vermeers and Rembrandts, van Dycks and Constables in the setting of a grand private home, with wood-panelled walls, marquetry cabinets and ornaments (check out the 18th Century vase shaped like a ship). The Living Hall is almost exactly as it was when Frick lived here in the early 1900s, with Holbeins of Sir Thomas Moore and Thomas Cromwell either side of the fireplace.

The best bit, though, is the grand Roman atrium, filled with columns, plants and trickling water.

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Open Thursday to Sunday, £16pp – no children under ten. Pay what you want on Thursdays, 4pm-6pm (frick.org). 

Hammock Grove, Governors Island

On Governors Island you'll find 50 red hammocks which lend themselves to a spot of relaxation

On Governors Island you’ll find 50 red hammocks which lend themselves to a spot of relaxation

Hang out in the 50 red hammocks on Governors Island and contemplate the New York skyline. Or hire a Surrey (a covered four-wheel cycle) to tour the former military base that has been converted into a park and cultural area. It is a great picnic spot away from the madness of Manhattan – there are food trucks as well as festivals and exhibitions.

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Open daily. Take the ferry from the Battery Maritime Building (govisland.com).

Boating lake, Central Park

City oasis: The boating lake in Central Park is adjacent to Strawberry Fields, a quiet zone where no musical instruments, sports or skateboarders are allowed

City oasis: The boating lake in Central Park is adjacent to Strawberry Fields, a quiet zone where no musical instruments, sports or skateboarders are allowed

New York's boating lake covers 20 acres so it’s easy to find a patch to yourself among the pavilions and coves

New York’s boating lake covers 20 acres so it’s easy to find a patch to yourself among the pavilions and coves

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Yes, it sounds touristy to go rowing in Central Park, but the boating lake here isn’t your typical one. For starters, it covers 20 acres so it’s easy to find a patch to yourself among the pavilions and coves.

The lake is adjacent to Strawberry Fields, a quiet zone where no musical instruments, sports or skateboarders are allowed. Be wary of peak summer, though, as there’s no shelter from the overhead sun.

It’s open April 1 to the end of October, £15 an hour (centralpark.com).

Chinese Scholar’s Garden, Snug Harbor, Staten Island

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The Chinese Scholar's garden at Snug Harbor Cultural Center And Botanical Garden includes eight pavilions, a bamboo forest path, waterfalls and a koi-filled pond

The Chinese Scholar’s garden at Snug Harbor Cultural Center And Botanical Garden includes eight pavilions, a bamboo forest path, waterfalls and a koi-filled pond

Nothing beats a Chinese Scholar’s Garden for peace – they flourished in the Ming Dynasty as places to escape the stresses of worldly concerns. The one at Snug Harbor Cultural Center And Botanical Garden, a former retreat for ‘aged, decrepit and worn-out sailors’, includes eight pavilions, a bamboo forest path, waterfalls and a koi-filled pond.

Also explore the Secret Garden, with a castle and maze, an elegant Tuscan Garden and a Healing Garden dedicated to the 267 Staten Islanders who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks.

Snug Harbor entry is free apart from the Chinese Scholar’s Garden, which costs £4, open Wednesday to Sunday. Head there on the free Staten Island Ferry, with views of the Statue of Liberty (snug-harbor.org).

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WHERE TO STAY  

Library Hotel, Midtown

The Library Hotel in midtown has a literary theme running throughout, from the rooms to the communal areas

The Library Hotel in midtown has a literary theme running throughout, from the rooms to the communal areas

This quiet hotel on Madison Avenue is organised on the lines of a library classification system, with floors such as literature or technology, while the 60 rooms are further subdivisions of those themes, each incorporating relevant books and artwork.

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The Writer’s Den and Poetry Garden, on the 14th-floor roof terrace, hosts Bookmarks Lounge in the evening, offering literary-themed cocktails such as the F Scotch Fitzgerald or Tequila Mockingbird. It’s open to non-residents after 4pm.

B&B costs from £217 per night (libraryhotel.com).

Nu Hotel, Brooklyn

Think a hammock in your room is gimmicky? It’s not if you’ve been pounding the streets and want a cool place to hang out.

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The Nu Hotel’s spacious Urban Suites also come with a large sunken bed, while the regular rooms are generally bigger than those in Manhattan. Staff are super-friendly and there is a gym.

Double rooms cost from £150 per night with breakfast, Urban Suites from £212 (nuhotelbrooklyn.com).

Equinox Hotel, Hudson Yards

For a good night’s kip in the city that never sleeps, check out Equinox Hotel in the new Hudson Yards development

For a good night’s kip in the city that never sleeps, check out Equinox Hotel in the new Hudson Yards development

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Rooms at the Equinox Hotel have uber-thick walls, no air-conditioning noise and no pesky red standby light on the TV

Rooms at the Equinox Hotel have uber-thick walls, no air-conditioning noise and no pesky red standby light on the TV

Equinox Hotel is located near the High Line (pictured) - wander peacefully along the planted walkway after your hotel stay

Equinox Hotel is located near the High Line (pictured) – wander peacefully along the planted walkway after your hotel stay

For a good night’s kip in the city that never sleeps, check out Equinox Hotel in the new Hudson Yards development. Rooms have uber-thick walls, no air-conditioning noise and no pesky red standby light on the TV.

There’s even bodywash in the shower designed for winding down, and a televised sleep ritual.

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Equinox is famous for its gyms, and fitness classes are included in the room rate. Alternatively, just step outside and walk the High Line, the elevated former railway track that has been converted into a 1½-mile-long park.

Double rooms cost from £530 a night (equinox-hotels.com).

WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK

McNally Jackson, Nolita

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McNally Jackson in Nolita features book-page wallpaper and ceiling lights crafted using hardbacks

McNally Jackson in Nolita features book-page wallpaper and ceiling lights crafted using hardbacks

This independent bookshop is a great place to head, not just for its books (and regular literary events) but also for its small cafe.

With its book-page wallpaper and ceiling lights crafted using hardbacks, relax as you sip a coffee or tea and tuck into a bagel or soup.

Better still, it’s just down the road from the Basilica of Saint Patrick’s Old Cathedral, which offers tours of its catacombs by candlelight.

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Cafe open daily 10am-8pm (mcnallyjackson.com). Cathedral tours cost £28 (tommysny.com)  

La Mercerie Cafe, Soho

French fancy: La Mercerie Cafe, above, is hidden away in Soho and is a 'fantasy of a French cafe'

French fancy: La Mercerie Cafe, above, is hidden away in Soho and is a ‘fantasy of a French cafe’

TRAVEL FACTS 

Virgin Atlantic has return flights from London to New York from £392 (virginatlantic.com). Holiday Extras (holidayextras.co.uk) offers a meet-and-greet airport valet parking service from £85 for six days.

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Also in a furniture showroom and under the radar of most tourists, La Mercerie, just off Canal Street, is a fantasy of a French cafe selling croissants, crepes and coffee as well as more substantial fare.

Along with your menu, you’ll find a card detailing the price of the tableware – but with one particularly lovely black glass lamp costing a cool £2,695, it might be better to stick with the beef bourguignon for a more reasonable £34.

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Open daily 11am-3pm and 5pm-10pm (lamerceriecafe.com).

RH, Meatpacking district

You might be forgiven for thinking you’d walked into a hotel lobby at this swish furniture showroom near the end of the High Line – there’s even a concierge desk – but up on the fifth floor is its Rooftop Restaurant with views of downtown Manhattan. 

Try the burger (£16) and you’ll see why it’s the most popular dish.

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Open daily 10am-9pm (rh.com).

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