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Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty, the most enduring symbol of New York City - and indeed, the USA - can trace its unlikely origins to a pair of Parisian Republicans. In 1865, political activist Edouard René Lefebvre de Laboulaye and sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi went to a dinner party and came away with the notion of building a monument honoring the American conception of political freedom, which they would then donate to the Land of Opportunity. Twenty-one years later, on 28 October 1886, the 151ft (45m) Liberty Enlightening the World , modeled on the Colossus of Rhodes, was finally unveiled in New York Harbor before President Grover Cleveland and a harbor full of tooting ships. It's a 354-step climb to the statue's crown, the equivalent of climbing a 22-story building, and if you want to tackle it, start early to avoid the crowds - it's hard to contemplate the American dream with your nose to the tail of the person in front.

Greenwich Village
The Village (as New Yorkers call it) is one of the city's most popular neighborhoods, and a symbol throughout the world for all things outlandish and bohemian. The area's reputation as a creative enclave can be traced back to at least the early 1900s, when artists and writers moved in, followed by jazz musicians who played at famous (still functioning) clubs like the Blue Note and Village Vanguard. By the '40s the neighborhood was known as a gathering place for gays. The coffeehouses on Bleecker St hark back to New York's beatnik '50s and hippie '60s. Bob Dylan reputedly smoked his first joint in the Village, Jimi Hendrix lived here and the Rolling Stones recorded here. Greenwich Village is still a vibrant and varied area, packed with historic sites, cafes, shops, gay bars, and Washington Square Park, purportedly the most crowded recreational space in the world.


Empire State Building
New York's original skyline symbol, the Empire State Building, is a limestone classic built in just 410 days during the depths of the Depression. Standing 102-stories and 1454ft (436m) above 5th Ave and 34th St, it's on the site of the original Waldorf-Astoria. The famous antenna was originally to be a mooring mast for zeppelins, but the Hindenberg disaster put a stop to that plan. One airship accidentally met up with the building: a B25 crashing into the 79th floor on a foggy day in July 1945, killing 14 people. Taking the ear-popping lift to the 86th or 102nd floor observation desks can entail a bit of waiting around, but it's worth it when you get there.


Central Park
It's easy to see what a boon Central Park is when you're standing up the top of the Empire State: the 843 acre (337 hectare) rectangle of bobble-topped green bits are a welcome contrast to the concrete and traffic mosh jostling in the rest of Manhattan. When Central Park was officially opened in 1873 it was intended to be an oasis from the city's bustle. However the commotion which is New York seeps into the botanic calm in the form of joggers, skaters, musicians and tourists. Quieter areas are above 72nd St, where the crowds thin out and the well-planned landscaping becomes more apparent. There's a small zoo in the park, organized and casual sport (predominantly baseball and Frisbee) to watch or play, a swimming pool and various free performances.


Times Square
Dubbed the 'Great White Way' after its bright lights, Times Square has long been celebrated as New York's glittery crossroads. The Square went into deep decline during the 1960s when the movie palaces turned XXX-rated and the area became known as a hangout for every colorful, crazy or dangerous character in Midtown. A major 'clean-up' operation removed most of the sleaze and now the combination of color, zipping message boards and massive TV screens makes for quite a sight. Up to a million people gather here every New Year's Eve to see a brightly lit ball descend from the roof of One Times Square at midnight, an event that lasts just 90 seconds and leaves most of the revelers wondering what to do with themselves for the rest of the night.


Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Upper East Side is NewYork to New York's greatest concentration of cultural centers: 5th Ave above 57th St is known as Museum Mile. The big daddy of these is the Metropolitan Museum of Art ('the Met'), New York's most popular tourist site, which functions something like a self-contained cultural city-state with three million individual objects in its collection. It's best to target exactly what you want to see and head there first, before culture and crowd fatigue sets in. Exhibitions range from Egyptian mummies through to baseball cards so even if (when?) you get lost, you're sure to stumble upon some interesting stuff.


Museum of Modern Art

One of New York's greatest museums as well as one of its most architecturally significant buildings, the Museum of Modern Art, 11 W 53rd St, has a first-rate collection and puts on important retrospectives each year. Known as 'MOMA,' the museum boasts a permanent collection of masterpieces including Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, Van Gogh's Starry Night and Piet Mondrian's Broadway Boogie-Woogie. Claude Monet's Water Lilies rates a whole gallery to itself. MOMA also has an outstanding photography collection and a very cool gift shop.


Other Museums
In addition to the heavyweights, New York has dozens of museums that would bring tears of joy to any self-respecting Rotarian in a mid-sized town. Museum Mile's Solomon R Guggenheim Museum is a distinctive spiral space designed by Frank Lloyd Wright to hold one of the 20th century's greatest private bequests. The Whitney Museum of American Art, which specializes in contemporary art, is nearby.

American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West and 79th St, is most famous for its three large dinosaur halls but don't dismiss the rest of the permanent collection (which numbers about 30 million artifacts). Temporary exhibitions often have an emphasis on hands-on or interactive displays, making the museum extremely popular with kids. Couch potatoes should definitely check out the Museum of Television & Radio, a great place to head when it's raining or when you're simply fed up with walking. Over 75,000 US TV and radio programs are available from the museum's computer catalog and you can sit down and veg out at one of 90 consoles.


SoHo

SoHo (from 'south of Houston') is the city's leading area for art galleries, clothing stores and boutiques selling oh-so-precious curios. The area is a paradigm of inadvertent urban renewal, having transmogrified from the city's leading commercial district post-Civil War, to a tuned-in artists colony in the 1950s, to the impossibly expensive gorgeousness of today. Its beautifully restored cast-iron buildings are some of the best examples of this style in the world. Some cutting edge cats (self-styled, of course) say it's all over for SoHo - too self-conscious, too trendy, too pricey - but the galleries are undeniably good and no-one's forcing you to buy autographed tea-cosies from hustler-designers with wares to sell.


Tribeca
Though not as touristy or architecturally significant as SoHo, Tribeca has an even cooler etymology: it's the 'TRIangle BElow CAnal' St. This neighborhood of old warehouses and loft apartments has a fair share of sceney restaurants and bars, along with Robert De Niro's Tribeca Films production company. It's not unusual to spot a star hanging out at a local restaurant or bar, and Tribeca's desolation chic makes the area a favorite for fashion photographers. As yet, the neighborhood isn't overrun with boutiques and chain stores, and some of the warehouses are still derelict. It won't stay like this for long though - the music of Tribeca is a chorus of cash registers pinging in developers' heads.

Off the Beaten Track

Atlantic City
The Jersey shore is where the good folk of New York City head when summer heats up and the big apple gets a bit squishy. The New Jersey coast stretches 127mi (205km) from Sandy Hook in the north to Cape May in the south. The towns along the coast offer something for everyone, from public drunkenness to Victorian gentility.


Belmar
Belmar is the quintessential party town, although things have quietened down somewhat in recent years since one giant beach party turned into a full-scale riot. All bars now close at midnight and the police take a hard line on loud parties and drinking in public.

Spring Lake, also known as the Irish Riviera, has a bevy of quiet and charming Victorian inns, B&Bs and hotels, and is one of the most expensive towns on the Shore. Bay Head, at the terminus of the North Jersey Coast train line, is the quietest town on the coast. There's public access to the beach, which is lined with Cape Cod-style homes, but no boardwalk. Belmar has good fishing, Long Branch (about 15 miles/10km north of Belmar) is good for surfing, and Bay Head and Belmar have the best swimming.

Hamptons
The Hamptons, in Long Island's far east, are the hot summer spot for the West Coast movie crowd. Although soaking up the glitzy atmosphere is half the fun of a visit here, you can also have a look at the Whaling Museum in Sag Harbor, the impressive Parrish Art Museum in Southampton or play a round on the fine Montauk Downs golf course. East Hampton is the heart of the Hampton scene, and worth a visit if you enjoy envying the lifestyles of the rich and famous. It also has some excellent restaurants and nightspots.


Hudson Valley
Just north of New York City, the Hudson Valley is littered with charming towns. The area is particularly beautiful in autumn, and many New Yorkers head up this way just to see the leaves change colour. For a scenic drive, take Route 9 along the eastern side of the river, or take the Taconic State Parkway if you're in a hurry. Trains run here from Grand Central Station, or you can take a boat tour of the Hudson River. There is very little reliable public transport around the valley, but it's a lovely spot for cycling.

On the river's western bank, Harriman State Park is a good place for a hike or a swim in one of the park's three lakes. Adjacent Bear Mountain State Park, popular with New York's nature lovers, with hiking, wildflowers, swimming, fishing, cross-country skiing, sledding and ice skating. West Point, to the park's north, has been grinding independent thought out of cadets since 1802. Military luminaries such as Grant, MacArthur and Eisenhower did their training here (and so did the slightly less successful Edgar Allen Poe). The campus is an impressive collection of red-brick and graystone Gothic and Federal buildings set in rigidly formal gardens.


Hyde Park
Overlooking the river from the eastern bank, Hyde Park is something of a Roosevelt theme park - this is where FDR had his summer White House. The Franklin D Roosevelt Library and Museum has old photos, tapes and the Pres' specially made Ford Phaeton. FDR and the first lady are buried in the grounds. Because the President's mother lived at Hyde Park, Eleanor Roosevelt (who wasn't a big fan) set up house two miles east of Hyde Park at Val-Kill, now the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site. Two miles (3.2km) north of Hyde Park, the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site is a spectacular Beaux Arts mansion - a mere summer cottage for the railroad dynasty.

Jones Beach
Jones Beach is the least exclusive beach area on Long Island. Tens of thousands of people converge on its 6 mile (10km) stretch of ocean, and there's parking for nearly 25,000 cars. Nevertheless, the sand is clean, and it can be a welcome respite from a sweltering city summer. Robert Moses State Park, to the east, is almost as crowded. The neighboring villages of Fire Island, accessible only by ferry, make up the country's leading gay resort area.

Long Island
From bustling, booming Brooklyn and the beachy nostalgia of Coney Island to the sophisticated wineries of North Fork, Long Island is a study in geographic and economic contrasts. For most visitors, crossing the East River from Manhattan means a trip to the beach, whether the destination is crowded Jones Beach or Fire Island in Nassau, quiet Shelter Island or the showy Hamptons. You can get to Long Island on the Long Island Expressway from Manhattan or catch one of the many buses running from the East Side (the bus drivers know all the short cuts and may well get you there quicker than driving). A train also runs between Long Island and New York's Penn Station. There's plenty of public transport once you get there.


Wine District
In one of life's ironic twists, the wine district is the only part of Long Island where you'll need a car to get around. Thirteen wineries are clustered together on Long Island's North Fork, mostly around the town of Cutchogue. Pindar Vineyards is the largest, with frequent tours, daily tastings and wine festivals throughout the year. When your cup runneth over, head for the charming 17th-century town of Orient at the eastern tip of the North Fork. It's a very pretty collection of white clapboard houses and former inns, with a nearby beach and oyster ponds.



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