New York City, arguably the world's most vibrant and sprawling metropolis, occupies five boroughs, each with its own distinct identity. After all, before the historic 1898 consolidation, Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island were each independent municipalities.
Manhattan, home to the most recognizable sites, dominates popular perception of New York City. Its most famous districts are listed below:
Wall Street & the Financial District
New York's first district remains its most historic.
Long the national epicenter of African-American culture,
At the turn of the 20th Century,
Artists, students and young professionals have gone a long way towards gentrifying the long poor and multi-ethnic neighborhood. Even today, the artistic spirit that initially brought about change remains, evident in such vibrant cultural establishments as
Soho & Tribeca
Once home to massive factories, artists moved in and transformed the area into a bustling urban mecca. Galleries, designer shops, sophisticated restaurants and trendy bars followed soon after. Among many others in the area,
Lower East Side
This area once housed some of the city's worst slums, well-chronicled by the
Asian restaurants, grocery stores and trinket shops line the ever-crowded streets of
Frank Sinatra, Italian restaurants and kitsch draw tourists to the lively neighborhood of
Gramercy & Flatiron
Once a working class community, Chelsea has also become a posh address. As rents in Greenwich Village rose, the vibrant gay community moved upwards to occupy Chelsea's many brownstones and loft spaces. Others followed, and today it reflects all of New York's ethnic and cultural diversity. West Chelsea is home to many art galleries, and there are a number of great restaurants, such as
As the name implies, Midtown is smack in the middle of everything. Nobody is really sure where Midtown begins (most would say somewhere at the 30-block), but most agree it stops around
Times Square & Hell's Kitchen
Some New Yorkers miss the former seediness of Times Square, as the
Upper East Side
Park, Fifth and Madison have always been posh avenues. Whether in the gilded manors of yesterday, like
Upper West Side
When the co-ops of the East Side were freer to restrict residents, the Upper West Side became home to new money. Then, as "modernist" Eastsiders tore down their pre-war palaces, Upper West Side residents kept their old buildings, such as the famous
This massive borough stretches from festive
From Flushing to Astoria, Queens is experiencing a quiet renaissance, as refugees from Manhattan's high rents continue to discover what this working-class borough offers its residents. Inexpensive ethnic restaurants pepper the borough. Queens is also home to the
This borough boasts the
New York offers a dizzying array of entertainment options. So much so that the enormous number of choices often overwhelms even the most jaded New Yorker.
Walking down Fifth Avenue or St. Marks Place (two streets as different as they can be) entertains New Yorkers far more than most Hollywood movies. If the outdoor entertainment is not enough, catch a movie at AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 with IMAX or Cinema Classics. Art films from all over the world play at the Film Forum, while the historic Ziegfeld Theater mesmerizes moviegoers no matter what it shows.
Galleries & Museums
Whatever the month, art museums and galleries put on shows and street performers entertain in the parks. Year round, most museums offer a day of free admission during the week. Many other galleries and museums are free all the time. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is technically free, although they do push you for an optional donation. Other nearby museums include the Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). Other interesting museums in the city include the American Folk Art Museum, the ever popular American Museum of Natural History and the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.
Those without means will find summertime particularly rich with options. From concerts by the New York Philharmonic to Shakespeare in Central Park, free culture is everywhere. Catch all types of performances at Symphony Space.
Downtown, with its traditionally youthful edge, offers numerous free choices. The Sidewalk Cafe is a great venue overflowing with every kind of band trying to make it in this big, bad city. Some are better than others. See well-known bands up close at the Bowery Ballroom.
Frank Sinatra was wise when he sang, "If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere..." The world's best performers know that without success in the Big Apple, they aren't really successful, and a good measure of achievement is the chance to perform at Madison Square Garden. From the latest diva at the Metropolitan Opera House to Irving Plaza's hottest band, the best of the best make it all look easy.
New York is the very last word in club culture, with places in every corner of the city blasting music all night long. S.O.B.'s showcases world music, while the Knitting Factory provides a mixed bag of music, spoken word and art. If you're looking for a trendy, upscale establishment, Tenjune fits the bill; for the hipsters there's Niagara.
Even without a concert, from Belvedere Castle to Sheep's Meadow, Central Park itself provides numerous amusements for its visitors.
Bowling at Bowlmor Lanes and spending a day at the Bronx Zoo are longstanding New York City pastimes.
For some local and national history, take a trip on the Circle Line and pay a visit to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and its immigration museum, both important landmarks for the melting pot that is America.
Many days, visitors may choose between a pricey Broadway extravaganza or one of the city's numerous free parades. Adventurous theatergoers eschew Broadway for off- and off-off-Broadway while those seeking to express themselves haunt the city's many nightclubs. Meanwhile, divas and drag queens prove nightly that cabaret is not a thing of the past.
De La Guarda and Blue Man Group are totally funky yet accessible ongoing off-Broadway shows.
In addition to being a museum, the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) is a performance and cinema mecca.
See world-class comedians perform at Dangerfield's and Carolines on Broadway. The Metropolitan Opera and The New York City Ballet dazzle at Lincoln Center.
Ice-skating at Wollman Rink is a great way to see Central Park. Watch the Rangers and the Knicks defeat their rivals at Madison Square Garden.
New York, a city of staggering contrasts, diversity and culture, ranks among history's great trade and cultural centers. From Wall Street to the United Nations, the world's most powerful and influential men and women prize success in New York above all other places. Its population hails from every country on the globe, bringing a variety of culture and viewpoints. However, above all else New York has always been about money and ambition.
Europe's first contact with this area occurred in 1524, when Italian explorer Giovanni de Verrazano viewed New York from the base of Manhattan. The following year, a Portuguese explorer named Esteban Gomez reached the Hudson River. Despite these early encounters, the Dutch settled in New York first, after explorer Henry Hudson lent his name to the world's largest tidal river. In 1625, six farms called "bouweries" were started in Manhattan.
The next year, Governor Peter Minuet purchased Manhattan from the Native Americans for USD24 worth of trinkets. By 1640, the predominately Dutch New Amsterdam (as it was then called) was teeming with the diversity of the New World, as the tolerant Dutch welcomed all.
Rapid expansion soon pitted early Dutch Manhattanites against English Puritans who had moved to the colony. Less than tolerant, the Puritans had banned bowling and even the celebration of Christmas. While initially seen as outsiders, the prosperous and hardworking Puritans soon had the political upper hand. After an invasion by British troops in 1664, an Anglo-Dutch treaty handed the city over to the English.
Under British rule, the renamed New York City saw its population grow from 6,000 to 20,000 by the end of the 17th Century. Events in Europe also brought turmoil to the city. Wars between England and France gave birth to privateering, or legalized piracy, that allowed the likes of Wall Street resident William Kidd to capture enemy ships off the coast of New York. During this time, New York City tolerated (and in some circles encouraged) the slave trade, and a large and prosperous slave market was located on Wall Street.
As the 18th Century wore on, England's passage of restrictive acts of trade and imposition of tariffs on the American colonies brought about protest and ultimately revolution. New York City was strategically vital during the American Revolutionary War. Early on, from Brooklyn to Harlem, General George Washington's army suffered a series of defeats and barely escaped capture. The British took the city and stationed troops there. At the end of the war, Washington was sworn in as the first president on the steps of New York's Federal Hall.
New York's stint as the United States capital was short-lived. Political wrangling dictated the newly created District of Columbia would be the new nation's capital. However, the 1792 founding of the New York Stock Exchange launched the city as a financial center.
Explosive expansion and revolutionary inventions in the 19th Century forever transformed New York City. The Erie Canal, in its day the world's greatest engineering feat, had New York's ports at its terminus and strengthened the city's position as a national trade center. Later, the city commissioned Central Park, designed and planned to save breathing space as the population boom moved uptown.
The American Civil War brought much sorrow and misery to New York, but also great prosperity as war profits soared. Yet, New York's status as a Union stronghold became threatened with the passage of the nation's first conscription act. Poor immigrants, angered that the wealthy could buy their way out of the draft, rioted violently.
As the century passed, New York displayed more technological marvels. A workforce thousands strong constructed the Brooklyn Bridge—then the tallest and longest in the world. Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, and soon electric streetlights illuminated lower Manhattan. The Statue of Liberty, a gift from France, was erected near the Battery. The present St. Patrick's Cathedral was also built. At the end of the 19th Century, a string of palatial mansions rose along New York's Fifth Avenue.
At the same time, economic conditions in Europe brought massive immigration to New York City, primarily consisting of Irish, German, Italian and Eastern Europeans. Immigrants worked long hours under harsh conditions and lived in unhealthy tenements. Reformers, galvanized by the success of the abolitionist movement as well as the gaining momentum of the suffragist and temperance movements, actively joined the fight to assist the immigrant poor.
By the 1920s, all of Manhattan was populated. Harlem, which had started as a Dutch farm, now attracted New York African-Americans as well as those migrating from the South. Jazz and blues and Prohibition-era speakeasies made the neighborhood an entertainment mecca for all races. African-American musicians, artists and writers together formed a movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. On Broadway, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein along with George and Ira Gershwin led the popular music industry. The hedonistic decade ended however with a crash on Wall Street, leading to the Great Depression.
A backlash against corrupt politics ushered Fiorella LaGuardia into the mayor's office, and the city began to work its way out of the Depression. Robert Moses built parks and the Rockefellers erected Radio City Music Hall and Rockefeller Center.
New York emerged from the Depression and World War II with a new fervor for industry and construction. The United Nations complex started the post-war boom and was completed in the 1950s.
In 1972, a major change to the lower Manhattan skyline occurred with the completion of the World Trade Center, the 110-story structures commonly known as the "Twin Towers." On September 11, 2001 these towers fell—the result of a terrorist attack.
Since then, plans are well along for the construction of several new World Trade Center buildings on the site, as well as a September 11 museum and memorial. New Yorkers are uniting to build a better city than ever before. Fifth Avenue is still a bastion of the wealthy, and numerous other neighborhoods are home to yet another wave of immigration from Latin America, the Far East and Eastern Europe. New York still attracts hordes of ambitious people. Historian Peter Quinn, commenting on New York's nature, said the city that started with Peter Minuet's 24-dollar purchase is still the same, and if possible, even more so: "Donald Trump would have tried to pay 22 dollars.”
To learn more about the city, here are just some of the places you may wish to look:
Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden
Ellis Island Immigration Museum
National Museum of the American Indian
New York Historical Society
Despite all its diversity, New York City social life revolves around a single ritual—dining out. Whether it be a power broker paying hundreds for a meal at Asia de Cuba or a slacker scraping together some money for a pizza at Lombardi's, each experiences the city's unique culinary fusion. Add lively conversation with friends, and voilá!—you've found the real New York City. With the sheer number of ethnic influences, talented chefs making a name for themselves, hot spots, hidden gems, delis and diners—New York offers something for everyone's palate.
Diners enjoy gastronomic delights across the five boroughs, but the following districts are particularly noteworthy:
Old money dines at prestigious and elegant classics like 21 Club. Meanwhile, cell phones ring and young turks wheel and deal at hip locales like the China Grill. Superstar Jean-Georges Vongerichten reinvents fine dining at his eponymous Jean-Georges. For something completely different (but quintessentially Big Apple), true New Yorkers stop by the famous Carnegie Deli for a massive sandwich.
A few steps west of the Times Square tourist trap lies this former slum now transformed into an enclave of eclectic eateries, many ideal for pre- and post-theater dining. From the spicy and romantic Puttanesca to the family-run Chez Napoleon, there's something for everyone. You can also grab a bite at Five Napkin Burger. After, or even instead of the meal, the Cupcake Cafe supplies some of the best desserts in town.
Gramercy & Union Square
This notable area of fine dining boasts top-rated, understated establishments like the Gramercy Tavern and Union Square Cafe. A neighborhood rich in history, the landmark Pete's Tavern still draws a relaxing pint and serves up old-fashioned pub grub after over a century in the business.
World-class restaurants like the favorite Gotham Bar & Grill and the stunningly romantic One if by Land, Two if by Sea work their magic in the brownstones of this historic neighborhood. If you're craving delicious Italian food, try famous chef Mario Batali's restaurant and enoteca, Babbo. Other options in this neighborhood include some of the city's best falafel at Taim, and great brunch and coffee at the small French cafe, Tartine.
Funky, inexpensive ethnic restaurants and hip bars draw people here from all over the city. Well-known bargains like the Life Cafe are usually filled with local hipsters and students as well as visitors. Meanwhile, traces of old New York can still be found at the Lanza Restaurant.
Where the art world congregates, trendy dining establishments follow. The Mercer Kitchen serves some of the city's most innovative cuisine as the world's most fabulous people vie for tables there (not to mention a couple of blocks over at Balthazar). Elsewhere amongst the galleries and posh shops, black-clad sophisticates socialize at oh-so-very-Soho classics, Raoul's and Boom.
Among Tribeca's spectacular loft spaces, masterful restaurateur Drew Nieporant has created a mini-kingdom for himself, along with friend and investor Robert DeNiro. Nieporant offers diners amazing Japanese food at Nobu and New American cuisine at Tribeca Grill. For something outside Nieporant's empire, try the flashy Odeon or just sip champagne at the Bubble Lounge.
That's amore! Along bustling Mulberry Street, old-country restaurants blare Frank Sinatra into the street while barkers summon the crowds. For those who love red sauces with their pasta or veal, choices abound. From Pellegrino's to Casa Bella, it's difficult to go wrong. For pizza, Lombardi's serves some of the best pies in the city.
Like a trip to Asia but without leaving Manhattan, the scores of restaurants on Chinatown's dynamic streets offer every variety of Asian cuisine (often at bargain prices). For those in search of quality dumplings, Joe's Shanghai Restaurant is the place. Seeking Chinese-style barbecue? Big Wong King fits the bill; and if one craves noodles at three in the morning, New York Noodle Town always hits the mark.
What? Where's my Peter Luger, you say? Or what about the River Cafe with its glorious views? New York City's selection of amazing places to feast and imbibe is ever growing, ever changing and always exciting.