Central Park, New York City in spring season with the Plaza Hotel.

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New York City

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The cultural and financial capital of the US, if not the world, New York City is an adrenaline-charged, history-laden place that holds immense romantic appeal for visitors. Its past is visible in the tangled lanes of Wall Street and tenements of the Lower East Side; meanwhile, towering skyscrapers like the Empire State Building serve as monuments of the modern age. Street life buzzes round the clock and shifts markedly from one area to the next. The waterfront, sometimes salty, sometimes refined, and the landscaped green spaces – notably Central Park – give the city a chance to catch its breath. Iconic symbols of world culture from the neon of Times Square to the sculptures and murals at Rockefeller Center always seem just a stone’s throw away. For raw energy, dynamism and social diversity, you’d be hard-pressed to top it; simply put, there’s no place quite like it.

New York City comprises the central island of Manhattan and the four outer boroughs – Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island. Manhattan, to many, is New York; certainly, this is where you’re likely to stay and spend most of your time. The island is broadly divided into three areas: Downtown (below 14th St), Midtown (14th St to Central Park/59th St) and Uptown (north of 59th St). Though you could spend weeks here and still barely scratch the surface, there are some things to do in New York that you won’t want to miss. These include the different ethnic neighbourhoods, like Chinatown, and the more artsy concentrations of Soho and the East and West villages. Of course, there is the celebrated architecture of Midtown and the Financial District, as well as many fabulous museums – not just the Metropolitan and MoMA, but smaller collections like the Frick and the Morgan Library that afford days of happy wandering. In between sights, you can eat just about anything, at any time, cooked in any style; you can drink in any kind of company; and enjoy any number of obscure movies. The more established arts – dance, theatre and music – are superbly presented. For the avid consumer, the choice of shops is vast, almost numbingly exhaustive, in this heartland of the great capitalist dream.

Manhattan is a hard act to follow, and while the four, largely residential outer boroughs, inevitably pale in comparison, they do have many virtues. There’s the ragged glory of Coney Island, the trim brownstones of Brooklyn Heights and the hip nightlife of Williamsburg, all in Brooklyn; the innovative museums of Long Island City and Astoria, both in Queens; and the renowned Bronx Zoo and adjacent botanical gardens in the Bronx. Last but not least, a free trip on the Staten Island Ferry is a sea-sprayed, refreshing good time, though there’s no reason to do anything on the other side other than turn around and come right back.

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