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.
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.