Many happy returns: the city spaces that bring joy to our correspondents and writers

The Mansion diner, New York City

1634 York Avenue, New York, NY 10028

New York at its most archetypal: The Mansion
New York at its most archetypal: The Mansion

When the Covid-19 lockdown caused Manhattan to freeze in place in 2020, The Mansion — the local diner in the Yorkville district where I live — erected a gigantic loudspeaker system in the street, through which it played the iconic song “New York, New York” at full blast each night. Cheering residents in the surrounding block leaned out of their doors and windows to sing along. When restrictions eased, each night we danced outside The Mansion — six feet apart.

Today, that loudspeaker is gone and the restaurant is fully open, with indoor dining and an outdoor space. But The Mansion remains one of the happiest spots in my neighbourhood: at dawn, it is filled with NYPD officers coming off their night shift, sitting next to young mothers with babies who have woken early; at lunch it bustles with pensioners sipping soup and swapping gossip; in the early evening, there are harried professionals who do not want to cook at home; and late at night there are hordes of teenagers eating chicken nuggets and drinking milkshakes. Is the food tasty? Not particularly. But the stodgy pancakes, fries, bagels, burgers and spinach pie scream “I love New York — for better or worse!” It makes my soul sing, even without the music. (Website; Directions)

— Gillian Tett, editor-at-large and columnist

Dulwich Park, London

College Road, London SE21

‘My place of peace’: Dulwich Park, one of south London’s most beautiful green spaces
‘My place of peace’: Dulwich Park, one of south London’s most beautiful green spaces © Kayode Fashola/iStock/Getty Images

What, after my home, is my place of refuge in London? The answer is Dulwich Park, just five minutes’ walk from my front door. When we first came here 37 years ago, we used to take our two young sons and then our daughter to the park. Nowadays, it is where we go with their children.

The park is where I enjoy brisk walks and quiet reflection. It is where I marvel at the blooming rhododendrons and azaleas of the American Garden in spring. This legacy of the Victorians opened in 1890. Restored to its original layout, it offers a café, a pond full of waterfowl, running tracks, football pitches, tennis courts, cricket nets and even a bowling green. The park also used to have a metal sculpture by Barbara Hepworth. Alas, vandals cut it from its plinth in 2011, presumably for its value as scrap.

The Victorians knew that people need green space. Dulwich Park has long been my place of peace, especially so in the months of lockdowns. (Website; Directions)

— Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator

Cafe Milano, Washington, DC

3251 Prospect Street NW, Washington, DC 20007

Cafe Milano: DC power-dining par excellence
Cafe Milano: DC power-dining par excellence © Joseph Victor Stefanchik/The Washington Post/Getty Images

I thought twice before choosing Cafe Milano — a glitzy Italian restaurant in Georgetown — since it has become a byword in DC for elite shoulder-rubbing. But according to my calendar, it is the place to which we went the most during the pandemic, not least because it is a few blocks from where we live. Given pandemic restaurant inflation, its hitherto bubble prices now seem almost reasonable. Moreover, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have left town, so we no longer have to curse fate for coinciding with their Secret Service entourage. Most of all, though, Cafe Milano has a nice menu and is never dull. It almost feels as though you are in London or New York. (Website; Directions)

— Edward Luce, US national editor and columnist

The Thames Path, London

Hammersmith Bridge, West London

A stroll along the Thames either side of Hammersmith Bridge recharges Russell’s batteries
A stroll along the Thames either side of Hammersmith Bridge recharges Russell’s batteries © Andrea Pucci/Moment/Getty Images

In pre-pandemic times, I would have faced an agonising choice over this commission: which of my happy places should have top billing? The old friends’ desert retreat in the Karoo, which ideally would feature in my every February? The foothills of the Carpathians, where everyone should go to dream, and for a glimpse of the bucolic landscape of yesteryear? That secretive wine bar, unknown to FT colleagues, near St Paul’s?

But after 20 uninterrupted months in the UK — and this after I assumed on reaching adulthood I would be permanently peripatetic — I face no agonising: for me it is the stretch of the Thames Path that winds east and west for a mile or so from the forlorn spans of Hammersmith Bridge. I have paced that bank hundreds of times in the last two years, sometimes in silence cooking up commissions, sometimes in ennui, but more often animatedly inspired by the companionship of a dear friend. Here I have refashioned intros, line-ups, Lunches, festival plans and much more. I have also been reminded of the strength of humanity, the greatness of our capital and what counts — and it also has several of the finest pubs in London! (Website; Directions)

— Alec Russell, FT Weekend editor

Parc Monceau, Paris

Boulevard de Courcelles, 75008 Paris

The Corinthian colonnade around the edge of the pond in Parc Monceau
The Corinthian colonnade around the edge of the pond in Parc Monceau © Franck Legros/Alamy

An outdoor respite from the office life of Paris’s 8th arrondissement, with grass to lie on, trees for shade, benches on which to sit and eat your sandwiches, a pond for ducks and moorhens, and a playground and miniature ponies for the children: the 18th-century Parc Monceau has all these and more behind its wrought-iron gates. Even by the high standards of statuary in the parks of the French capital, it boasts an exceptional collection of sculptures of artists and mythical figures, including Chopin and Maupassant. And the park has secured a little place in history as the first drop zone for a parachute jump: on October 22 1797, André-Jacques Garnerin rose 700m above the park in a montgolfière, before detaching the balloon and plummeting in the basket towards the ground until his descent was slowed by a sort of fabric umbrella that had yet to be named. Thus parachuting for pleasure and warfare was born. (Website; Directions)

— Victor Mallet, Paris bureau chief

The British Library, London

Euston Road, London NW1

‘Part monastery, part social club’: the British Library
‘Part monastery, part social club’: the British Library © Sung Kuk Kim/Alamy

The British Library doesn’t have all the books ever published, but it has enough for several lifetimes. Part monastery, part social club, it is the spiritual home of numerous London writers, the place where the lonely challenge of research becomes a shared endeavour. When inspiration dries up, you can lounge in the courtyard or walk along the canals of King’s Cross. During the various lockdowns, I missed the austere pleasure of summoning up books from the archives and taking notes quietly in pencil (per the house rules). I can’t wait to get back there regularly so I can complain about the prices of the cafeteria. (Website; Directions)

— Henry Mance, chief features writer

Laveta Stairs, Los Angeles

Laveta Terrace, Los Angeles, CA 90026

The skyline of downtown LA can be seen in the distance from the historic Laveta Stairs
The skyline of downtown LA can be seen in the distance from the historic Laveta Stairs © Timothy Swope/Alamy

When I need a quick sunshine fix, a bit of exercise or a moment to clear my head, I dash across the street from my house and climb an elegant set of steps dating back to the days when the people of Los Angeles moved around the city on streetcars and trolleys. In one direction I can look down and see the neon and streetlife on Sunset Boulevard; cast my gaze a little higher and there is the downtown skyline. In the other direction is a wide street lined with towering palms. I never tire of looking at them.

The staircase is part of a network of steps built in the 1920s in some of LA’s hillside communities to help residents connect to shops and public transport. The stairs are a connection to a lost Los Angeles, but with smart urban planning they could also point to its future. (Website; Directions)

— Christopher Grimes, Los Angeles bureau chief

Plaza de Olavide, Madrid

Plaza de Olavide, 28010 Madrid

‘As quiet as central Madrid gets’: the tree-surrounded, octagonal Plaza de Olavide
‘As quiet as central Madrid gets’: the tree-surrounded, octagonal Plaza de Olavide © John James Wood/Photodisc/Getty Images

Mornings in Madrid can be cold, because the city is on a plateau about 700m high, but by Spanish lunchtime (3pm or so), the autumn sun is blazing down and it feels 20C. I’m sitting on the tree-lined, octagonal Plaza de Olavide, on the terrace of one of the square’s pleasant but unexceptional restaurants, having an aperitif of Albariño white wine. Like in all the best Spanish squares, there’s a playground in the middle, so parents are de-stressing while the kids go wild. Handsome bourgeois apartments overlook us. The adjoining streets are pedestrianised, so it’s as quiet as central Madrid gets. The three-course lunchtime fixed menu costs a ludicrous €13 or so. At moments like this, Spain is the world’s most liveable country. Here is the European dream. (Directions)

— Simon Kuper, FT columnist

St John’s Wood Church Grounds, London

Wellington Road, London NW8

St John’s Wood’s 19th-century burial ground became a public garden in 1886
St John’s Wood’s 19th-century burial ground became a public garden in 1886 © Daniel Lynch/Evening Standard/Eyevine

I’m sitting on a bench surrounded by scruffy grass, the shouts of small children in the little playground, someone moving giant chessmen on the abbreviated board; over the road is Lord’s, where my dad took me to the cricket in the 1950s as he said it was the only place he could get a good sleep; nearby are the remains of John Sell Cotman (a very underrated water colourist) — and I know I’m back home. Sure, there are crumbly headstones but this is one of the least gloomy places in the world for me. Tough-guy flowers poke through the grunge and the dog doo-doo; the pearly light of London mantles this little corner of the rowdy city; it’s a short walk to some fine smoked salmon and sea bream at Brown’s fishmonger, and why wouldn’t I be wearing a big fat smile of homecoming? (Website; Directions)

Simon Schama, FT contributing editor

Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin

Potsdamer Strasse 50, 10785 Berlin

The Ludwig Mies van der Rohe-designed Neue Nationalgalerie reopened in 2021 after a six-year renovation
The Ludwig Mies van der Rohe-designed Neue Nationalgalerie reopened in 2021 after a six-year renovation © Thomas Bruns

The spring and summer of 2021 was a time of long-awaited openings as Germany gradually came out of the coma of lockdown. Few of them, though, could be classified as a major cultural events. The exception was the inauguration of the Neue Nationalgalerie, which opened its doors last August after a six-year, €140m renovation.

It’s housed in one of Berlin’s most spectacular buildings — a temple-like construction by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, one of the pioneers of modernism. I remember being struck speechless on my first trip to Berlin in 1988 by the sheer abundance of great works it contains by Kirchner, Dix and Beckmann. Coming to live in the city in 2015, I thought I’d spend every other weekend there, only to discover it was shut for repairs. Now at last it has reopened, and it has quickly reestablished itself as a place of pilgrimage for Berlin’s art lovers. After all those months of sensory deprivation, nothing can compare with the intense colours, energy and lyricism that pulse out of every painting and can cure even the worst bout of pandemic blues. (Website; Directions)

— Guy Chazan, Berlin bureau chief

Venice Beach, Los Angeles

One of the lifeguard towers on Venice Beach
One of the lifeguard towers on Venice Beach © iStock/Getty Images

Had Thomas Mann moved to LA in time, I like to think Death In Venice would have dramatised the Pacific and not the Adriatic coast. The morose Aschenbach would come out to one of the widest tracts of sand, around Lifeguard Tower 32, where the hubbub of the boardwalk feels almost as remote as Japan on the other side of the drink. He might find it most curative in winter, when the beach would be his but for the odd meditator and lost skater. The rest of the world takes on a pleasing irrelevance. He is free. (Website; Directions)

— Janan Ganesh, chief US political commentator and columnist

Trafalgar Square, London WC2

‘Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses)’ by Paul Cézanne at London’s National Gallery, which Rose recently left feeling ‘dizzy with it all, seeing brushstrokes in the clouds’
‘Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses)’ by Paul Cézanne at London’s National Gallery, which Rose recently left feeling ‘dizzy with it all, seeing brushstrokes in the clouds’ © The National Gallery, London/Uwe Deffner/Alamy

Recently I went to the National Gallery to see the Albrecht Dürer exhibition. Slightly lost on my way to the exit, and for once in no particular hurry, I wandered slowly through one airy — and largely empty — labyrinthine room after another, past the drapery and dimples of the Titians and Tintorettos, turning left into the Netherlands, through the richly coloured, expressive physiognomy of Bruegel, Massys and Gossaert. Before I knew it I was floating through the gossamer worlds of Claude and Poussin, past swashbuckling Velázquez portraits and Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro showstoppers.

And then, after the national treasure chest of Turners, Constables and Gainsboroughs, a sudden, welcome blaze of modernity: Cézanne’s luminous bathers. After that, all is lightness, sunflowers, lilies, lazy days on the Seine. Emerging blinking into Trafalgar Square, I realised I felt just the way I used to feel on numerous afternoons there as a teenager — dizzy with it all, seeing brushstrokes in the clouds. For anyone with unsated wanderlust, there is no more transportive place to lose a few hours. Turn off your phone, switch on your senses and simply drift. (Website; Directions)

— Rebecca Rose, FT Globetrotter editor

The Surfrider inn, Malibu

The roof deck at The Surfrider
The roof deck at The Surfrider © Brecht Van’t Hof

The Surfrider, a reborn icon of the Malibu scene, is a source of surf history and celebration — immediate in the majestic ocean views and in anticipation of riding the waves below. More specifically, the perfect place is the roof-bar corner table, looking across the Pacific Coast Highway out to the line-up at First Point — where the legendary Malibu right-hander breaks.

During the day, it’s the ideal perch to plan your surf session. In the evening, sit back with a sundown Negroni and survey the elegant longboarders ride clean lines all the way to Surfrider Beach, erstwhile playground of Gidget and Miki “Da Cat” Dora, with a combination of awe and envy. If you watch often enough, you recognise the regulars, like the guy in the cowboy hat whooping along the wave towards the pier. Never seen him less than “stoked”, no matter how many thousands of waves he has ridden. And like the pinball wizard — never seen him fall. If you are in luck, dolphins roll by Malibu pier. But it’s hard to feel out of luck out there. (Website; Directions)

– John Ridding, FT CEO

Hoi Ha Wan, Hong Kong

The waters of Hoi Ha Wan are a source of ‘joy and quietude’ for Mattu
The waters of Hoi Ha Wan are a source of ‘joy and quietude’ for Mattu © Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images

Hoi Ha Wan, a wondrous bay ringed by dense forest in the east of Hong Kong’s New Territories, always brings me joy and quietude. I come here often, alone or with my wife and three boys, to kayak its clear and clean waters or to just sit on the beach with a book and watch and listen to the sea. It is part of a marine park that is home to 60 coral and 120 fish species. Areas have been cordoned off to boats to allow the coral to replenish and are ideal snorkelling spots, where you can see the world coming back to life beneath the surface.

What keeps Hoi Ha so special is how hard it is to reach. You can only get here by public bus or taxi — no cars are allowed without a permit, except for those very few who live in the country park — which makes it all the more becalming. And if you are lucky enough to get here on a weekday, there is a decent chance you will have it all to yourself. (Website; Directions)

— Ravi Mattu, deputy Asia news editor

Big Echo Karaoke, Tokyo

3-1-10 Akasaka, Minato-Ku, Tokyo 107-0052

Tokyo’s Akasaka district, where Lewis belts out his favourites at Big Echo
Tokyo’s Akasaka district, where Lewis belts out his favourites at Big Echo © Konrad Zelazowski/Alamy

The Big Echo in Akasaka is one of thousands of karaoke joints in Tokyo, but this one perhaps best qualifies as the most harmonious (usually) of happy places. It has been, through its stumbling proximity to the bar and restaurant cluster of Akasaka, both fastigium and finale of truly magnificent evenings spent with a beloved cadre of dearest and loudest friends. A private room where the lyrics are projected onto the walls; a dimming of the lights; an all-you-can-drink deal. Glorious. Surprises will co-mingle with beloved predictability. The corporate lawyer will sing Avicii, the Goldman guy will do Manilow, the tech entrepreneur will take on A-ha. They will ask for Billy Idol, but my voice will be shot by then. It’s perfection. (Website; Directions)

— Leo Lewis, Asia business editor

The Cleveland Arms, London

28 Chilworth Street, London W2

The Cleveland Arms is a classic London pub with a smart contemporary sheen
The Cleveland Arms is a classic London pub with a smart contemporary sheen

In 1943, George Orwell published a famous essay on his favourite pub, praising its superior qualities and revealing at the end that this idyll was, in fact, too good to be true. Overall he described a place with Victorian fittings where sustenance was satisfying, the atmosphere convivial and family-friendly, and the staff knew customers by name. Now, 79 years later, I have what Orwell desired.

Tucked away on a quiet street near Kensington Gardens, The Cleveland Arms was one of the last and first places we visited as London locked down and opened up (with takeaway pints for the park happily purchased in between). Warm and welcoming, it’s a classic old boozer with a modern menu: short, seasonal and gratifying, with taps to please most tastes.

The Cleveland Arms is a place of real community in our sprawling metropolis, helmed until recently by an exuberant Italian named Toni, who was adored by the pub’s patrons, their progeny and pups. If the option were available, I’d be tempted to seek a government contract for Toni. He made every visit (and ours are frequent) memorable. We are spoiled with good pubs in this corner of west London — but this one is something special. (Website; Directions)

— Niki Blasina, FT Globetrotter deputy editor

Central Park, New York City

Ice-skating in Central Park
Ice-skating in Central Park © Ed Rhodes/Loop Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Nearly all of my happiest moments throughout these past two pandemic years occurred in Central Park. In those 1.3 square miles, I took countless evening walks around the Harlem Meer after long work days, picnicked on Sheep Meadow and brunched at Tavern on the Green with friends, ice-skated with friends to celebrate my birthday, watched a Shakespeare play in the open-air theatre and raced rowboats rented from The Loeb Boathouse. Central Park has long been one of the liveliest places in this city, but the pandemic transformed it into the epicentre of daily life for the Covid-conscious. (Website; Directions)

— Taylor Nicole Rogers, US labour and equality correspondent

Kronberger, Frankfurt

Vogelsbergstrasse 19, 60316 Frankfurt am Main

Pick up an array of freshly baked products at Kronberger bakery

Few things can temper Germany’s bleak midwinters like the wares of your local baker. This is a country that values quality loaves, with makers here required to become masters in the art of breadmaking before opening their own premises. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a brilliant one on my doorstep here in Frankfurt’s Nordend district.

Entering Kronberger on a cold winter day — usually after queueing for a short while — feels like walking on to the set of your favourite Christmas movie, shunning the ever-present grey for the vibrant delights of their festive fare, from Lebkuchen to chocolate Christmas trees and decorations with hundreds and thousands of sprinkles. Baking is on site, and products are as fresh as one might imagine. Its attractions survive the winter months intact. Indeed, while I’ve been working from home, it has become a ritual to go there at the end of my daily walks and pick up a Rosinenbrötchen (teacake) and a slice of their delicious quiche, and forget for a minute or two about the pandemic raging here and elsewhere. (Website; Directions)

— Claire Jones, FT Alphaville global economy reporter

‘The great reveal’, New York City

the New York City subway

Sudden snapshots of New York from the subway take Raptopoulos to her happy place
Sudden snapshots of New York from the subway take Raptopoulos to her happy place © Kamil Polak/Alamy

In New York, my happy place is transient it happens in a lot of different places at a lot of different times. Usually I know it’s coming. It’s most exciting when I don’t. I call it “the great reveal”: a stop or two on the subway, where the train emerges from underground to a spectacular view. I picture the great reveal in snapshots: standing at the door on a crisp sunny day, studying the longview of Brooklyn to the Verrazzano Bridge. Lounging at midnight in a near-empty car, feet on the seat, transfixed by the lights of Manhattan for the billionth time. A glance up from my phone to catch the sun setting over a tiny Statue of Liberty that I could pick up and put in my hand. It happens on the Q train as it crosses the Manhattan Bridge, or the 7 in multiple spots in Queens. But my local great reveal is on the F train in Brooklyn. The train sets free at a height and hugs a curve, bending us down into the city and revolving it, like a plane or a planet. New York from that arc, between Fourth Avenue & Ninth Street and Carroll Street, feels somehow grand and also contained, unknowable and also entirely mine. (Website)

— Lilah Raptopoulos, host of FT Weekend postcast

Grovelands Park, London

The Bourne, London, N14

The lake in north London’s Grovelands Park
The lake in north London’s Grovelands Park © Monica Wells/Alamy

My happy place is Grovelands Park, a rather beautiful and largely undiscovered park in Enfield, one of London’s northern suburbs, near where I live. Scattered across the capital, green spaces like this are welcome gaps in the sprawl — but Grovelands is lovelier than most. It has tree-lined paths, which change colour with the seasons. There’s a swan-inhabited lake, with a small opening at which delighted toddlers can be seen feeding the ducks. There’s a wood that provides shelter from noisy traffic. There’s even a pitch-and-putt golf course, which you can watch with amusement as locals hack their way around. The pandemic has transformed me into one of the joggers around the park, a place in which to unwind for half an hour before, inevitably, heading back in front of a screen. (Website; Directions)

— Murad Ahmed, sports editor

Musée de L’Orangerie, Paris

Jardin des Tuileries, 75001 Paris

One of the two curved galleries in the Musée de l’Orangerie dedicated to eight murals from Monet’s ‘Les Nymphéas’ series
One of the two curved galleries in the Musée de l’Orangerie dedicated to eight murals from Monet’s ‘Les Nymphéas’ series © Sophie Crépy

Paris is a beautiful city that charms visitors, but when one lives here it can also be loud, stressful and dirty. One of my favourite places to seek peace and perspective is the Musée de l’Orangerie in the Tuileries, just off the Place de la Concorde. My go-to spot is the pair of oval-shaped galleries purpose-built to hold Claude Monet’s Les Nymphéas murals.

Depicting the pond and gardens at his home in Giverny at different times of day, the paintings are typical of the Impressionist — saturated with colour, dreamy, and evocative. The curved walls of the galleries cradle both the murals and the observer, creating a calm, timeless vibe. Yes, we have all seen Monet’s work splashed on postcards and museum swag a million times but, for me, seeing it here never gets old. (Website; Directions)

— Leila Abboud, Paris correspondent

Indro Montanelli Gardens, Milan

Via Palestro, 20121 Milan

One of Milan’s main green spaces: the Indro Montanelli Gardens
One of Milan’s main green spaces: the Indro Montanelli Gardens © AleMasche72/iStock/Getty Images

Milan’s Indro Montanelli Gardens have been my refuge since moving to the city last year amid ongoing social restrictions and sleepless nights looking after my newborn baby. Conceived at the end of the 18th century by Archduke Ferdinand Habsburg, the Giardini Indro Montanelli in the central Palestro district was the first public park in the city. It remains one of its few green lungs and is probably the most intimate. I have enjoyed long walks in this 172,000 sq m park; I often sit at the café by one of the little artificial lakes, and I take my eldest daughter to the playground by the Via Manin gate almost every weekend.

But when I’m working at home, what I enjoy the most are my sporadic midday escapes here: I file stories, speak to sources and transcribe interviews from a quiet bench. Incidentally, the park was renamed in 2002 after the famed Italian journalist Indro Montanelli, who spent a lot of time here. As a journalist, I completely understand why, out of all the history-filled spots this bustling city has to offer, these Palestro gardens were his favourite. (Website; Directions)

— Silvia Sciorilli Borrelli, Milan correspondent

Where’s your happy place in your city? Tell us in the comments below.

For more FT Globetrotter stories like this, find us in RomeParisTokyoNew YorkLondonFrankfurtSingaporeHong Kong and Miami. And follow FT Globetrotter on Instagram at @FTGlobetrotter


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