The city seems to pull in the best and the brightest from every corner of the country. The city's ethnic flavor has been nuanced by decades of immigrants whose first glimpse of America was the Statue of Liberty guarding New York Harbor and by large expatriate communities such as the United Nations headquartered there. Just minutes from the multimillion-dollar two-bedroom co-op apartments of Park Avenue, though, lies some of the most dire urban poverty in America. But the attendant crime that affects New Yorkers and visitors alike has seen a continued dramatic reduction from 1993 to 2004—NYC has a murder rate half that of cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago, in part as the result of a concerted effort by local agencies. But for all its eight million residents, New York remains a city of neighborhoods, whether it's avant-garde Greenwich Village, bustling Harlem, the ultra-sophisticated TriBeCa, or one of the ethnic enclaves such as Little Italy or Chinatown. And a cleaner, brighter, safer New York is attracting people from around the world who are coming to enjoy the city's renaissance.
Designed by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted, Central Park is home to 843 acres of verdant views, vibrant flora and hidden histories. The best way to see it all? By bicycle. For an early morning jaunt, head to the park anytime after 6 a.m. You can rent a bike for two hours and go solo for $20, or you can book a two-hour expedition through Central Park Bike Tours, which takes off at 9 a.m. and costs about $47 per person. With well-marked routes of 6.1, 5.2 or 1.7 miles, you can take your time cycling through the hilly terrain, stopping to see the model sailboats at the Conservatory Water, the Alice in Wonderland sculpture, Belvedere Castle atop Vista Rock, or the Bow Bridge — one of the park's most photographed locations. Completed in 1862, the Bow Bridge's cast-iron arch stretches 60 ft. over the lake, connecting Cherry Hill and the Ramble.
If you must visit an ultra-touristy site, the Empire State Building (ESB) is the one. The stately deco architecture rivals the nearby Chrysler Building for Best in Class honors and it is, once again, New York's tallest structure. The view from the 86th-floor observation deck is breathtaking. You won't be the only one who's decided to visit, so prepare to wait in line; to avoid the throngs, the best times to come are at 8:30 a.m. or during lunch and dinner hours, Monday through Wednesday. Tickets are steep, but worth it: $22 for adults; $45 for an "express pass" that whisks you pass the hordes. For an extra $15 you can buy a ticket to the more intimate 102nd-floor observation deck. Buy your ticket online to reduce waiting-in-line time.
The Statue of Liberty is New York City's most recognizable landmark, a gleaming beacon for generations of immigrants seeking a better life in America. To visit the monument, buy tickets online in advance of your trip at statuecruises.com. (Though you can see Lady Liberty from land, the short ferry ride to Liberty Island will bring you up close and personal.)
The nearby Ellis Island Immigration Museum provides a fascinating view of a historic crossroads. At this site, visitors can explore the building that served as the first port of entry in the United States for approximately 12 million immigrants, as well as search ship manifests for passenger names in the American Family Immigration History Center.
This neighborhood of quaint brownstones clustered along tree-lined cobblestone streets remains virtually unchanged since the 19th century. You'll need a map to navigate the puzzling geography — how does West 4th Street intersect with West 10th Street, exactly? — as it's one of the few areas in Manhattan that strays from the orderly street grid. Better, though, to just wander aimlessly. Highlights include the Jefferson Market Courthouse, a former women's detention center that once held Mae West, and the shops along Bleecker St. and Commerce St. — the most beautiful block-long side street in NYC. Ignore the temptation to join the curiously long line outside Magnolia Bakery (they're queuing for cupcakes). Head two blocks west instead to the Spotted Pig, a bustling gastropub where you can recharge your batteries with a cask-conditioned ale.
The memorial portion of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center was dedicated on September 11, 2011—the 10th anniversary of the attacks—with a ceremony for the families of victims, and opened to the public the following day. Admission to the memorial is free, and visitor passes are not required. Eight acres in all, the Memorial Plaza features more than 400 trees and provides a sanctuary for quiet contemplation. Waterfalls flow into two large reflecting pools, in the towers' footprints, and the names of the men, women and children who lost their lives are inscribed in bronze parapets that surround the pools. The museum, located beneath the Plaza, houses exhibitions with artifacts, pictures, videos and accounts from people from around the United States and the world, amounting to a jointly told history of September 11, 2001.