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. Wall Street investment banks coexist with landmarks like Trinity Church. Battery Park draws people for its panoramic views. The World Trade Center was also one of the area's most popular destinations, until its tragic destruction on September 11, 2001, which took the lives of many New Yorkers and affected the entire nation. New World Trade Center buildings and a September 11 memorial and museum are under construction.
Long the national epicenter of African-American culture, Harlem was home to the Harlem Renaissance, arguably this country's most influential artistic, literary and cultural movement. Harlem is known for its jazz clubs and Southern restaurants.
At the turn of the 20th Century, Greenwich Village drew free spirits from around the nation, including poet Edna St. Vincent Millay and playwright Eugene O'Neill. As the years went on, rents inevitably rose. Now, its townhouses are some of the most expensive in the city. New York University students gather here in Washington Square Park. A diverse array of shops, bars and music clubs exist along Bleecker Street.
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 St. Mark's-in-the-Bowery Church. Urban gardens, like Tompkins Square Park and art exhibits sit beside cafes, craft shops and vegetarian restaurants.
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, Hundred Acres is a great restaurant, with fresh seasonal cuisine and an upbeat atmosphere. Today, tourists flock to the area and rents have risen sky high.
Lower East Side
This area once housed some of the city's worst slums, well-chronicled by the Lower East Side Conservancy. Today's higher rents mean that the only people who can afford to live here, and want to, are young professionals. The historic Orchard Street Shopping District is home to several hip bars and nightclubs.
Asian restaurants, grocery stores and trinket shops line the ever-crowded streets of Chinatown. Dim Sum and other favorites attract diners on practically every corner, especially on famous Mott Street.
Frank Sinatra, Italian restaurants and kitsch draw tourists to the lively neighborhood of Little Italy surrounding Mulberry Street. The Feast of San Gennaro still welcomes its throngs, but the neighborhood is fast becoming surrounded by nearby Chinatown.
Gramercy & Flatiron
The majestic Flatiron Building lords over this beautiful, eclectic district marked by loft spaces to the west and pre-war residences to the east. More than a century after their construction, the apartment buildings and townhouses around Gramercy Park remain coveted residences.
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 Cookshop, which serves seasonal American cuisine. Chelsea still retains some reminders of its more conservative past, as evident by the General Theological Seminary and the Church of the Guardian Angel.
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 Central Park. Publishing houses, financial firms, import/export companies and fashion houses all do business here. Trump Tower entices shoppers, along with all those glorious stores along Fifth Avenue. Ice skaters twirl at Rockefeller Center and the spectacular St. Patrick's Cathedral offers serenity and spirituality.
Times Square & Hell's Kitchen
Some New Yorkers miss the former seediness of Times Square, as the World of Disney has replaced age-old bookstores and entertainment venues. However, most people begrudgingly admit that it is better this way. Visitors adore everything from souvenir shops to enormous billboards and Broadway musicals. A few blocks west lies Hell's Kitchen, a community filled with eclectic restaurants, such as Five Napkin Burger, bars, shops, and, of course, the Actors Temple.
Upper East Side
Park, Fifth and Madison have always been posh avenues. Whether in the gilded manors of yesterday, like Gracie Mansion in Schurz Park, or the area's high-rise modern apartments, old money and high society have long made their home here. Consequently, shops to serve them line Madison Avenue. Baby Gap coexists with art galleries and antique shops. Further east, new money has overtaken the old Yorkville slum.
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 Ansonia and the Dakota; renters now value the neighborhood's attractive real estate. Meanwhile, bars and restaurants catering to Long Island and New Jersey folk (aka, the “Bridge and Tunnel” crowd) continue to sprout up along Columbus and Amsterdam avenues.
This massive borough stretches from festive Coney Island to elegant Brooklyn Heights. But wherever Brooklynites hail from, they remain a largely proud lot. They can boast of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the gorgeous bridge that bears the borough's name, the Brooklyn Museum, and a growing restaurant scene.
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 Museum of the Moving Image and Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
This borough boasts the Yankees, one of the nation's finest zoos, and an extraordinary Botanical Garden. Areas including the South Bronx have benefited from economic booms.