Manhattan will always be New York's main draw, but the outer boroughs – particularly Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx – are catching up. Indeed, post-Giuliani, they might even be considered more authentic NY than Manhattan. I went to look.
First off, the Bronx. Hang on, said a voice inside my head. Isn't that a dangerous war-zone of rotting tenements? Well, the reputation lingers – and that's one of the reasons why Bronx Trolley was started in 2002, a reproduction old-time bus that takes tourists to Bronx attractions: the Bronx Zoo, the Botanical Garden and the delightful public garden, Wave Hill.
We drove over New York's folkloric Rubicon of 110th Street into Harlem, then crossed into the Bronx. Yes, there were a few dodgy blocks but it then opened out into a leafy, rather genteel scene, and by the time the Trolley arrived in Riverdale, where Wave Hill is located, it was positively aristocratic, with 19th-century houses looming in pine woods.
At Wave Hill I was greeted by gardener Charlie Day – so English that he dances with New York's only Morris side, the Bowery Boys. We strolled around the gardens, and paused at Wave Hill's great asset: the view of the Palisades, the great rocky bluffs overlooking the Hudson, rendered more astonishing by its location. "Guess what?" said Martha Gellens of Wave Hill, with a wave of her hand. "You're looking at New Jersey."
Back on the bus we drove further, past rocky shores and brackish inlets. And was that really a fly fisherman in New York City? Yup, it was. Then I was in the Bronx's next surprise, City Island.
I would never have expected this little maritime settlement in New York. Local guide Susan Birnbaum of guiding service SusanSEZ Walkabouts took me around the frontage, past restaurants such as King Lobster that catered to day trippers. "It's sometimes called the Latino Riviera," she said. With yacht clubs, antiques shops and an appealing shabbiness, I was mildly surprised that it hadn't become more of a top-end resort. But one place that signposted City Island's potential was the Le Refuge Inn, which offered lobster ravioli and historic rooms, too. "You could visit Manhattan and stay out here," said Susan. "It'd be about 40 minutes back." It'd be like staying at West Wittering after a night in the West End.
The next morning I went over the East River to Brooklyn, particularly Williamsburg, which was the first outer borough to fall to the pierced pioneers. I nosed through its galleries, vintage clothing shops and coffee houses, enjoying the killer skyline from across the water.
Then I went to the Brooklyn Museum. If Manhattan's Metropolitan Museum of Art is overwhelming and dutiful, the Brooklyn Museum is a breeze. In several galleries I was entirely alone, contemplating Georgia O'Keefe paintings and historic room-sets. I then strode into Prospect Park, to try to fathom the direction to Queens.
After navigating a vast Americanascape of graffitied warehouses and intersections, I located PS 1, a contemporary art space in Queens allied to the Museum of Modern Art. It's a great rambling old school, tweaked into blank-walled perfection, which hosts a series of summer Sunday jams called Warm Up – a kind of art-rave-performance event.
Refreshed, I set out into the part of Queens called Astoria, and downed calamari at Zenon, a Greek restaurant that was the living embodiment of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Then I returned to London as relaxed as if I'd been in Paxos. If you want a NY experience without high blood pressure, then learn to leave Manhattan behind.
How to get there
Virgin Atlantic (08705 747 747; www.virgin-atlantic.com ) flies from London Heathrow to New York from £329 return.
A double room at 6 Columbus (001 212 204 3000; www.sixcolumbus.com ) costs from $225 per night.
NYC & Company ( www.nycgo.com ).