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New York City

empire state building Check out Big Apple Greeter for free two- to four-hour tours of neighborhoods of your choice -- hosted by knowledgeable, volunteer New York City residents who can meet you at your hotel. These personalized experiences are available for groups of one to six people, and requests are required at least three weeks in advance. But we recommend up to eight weeks of advance notice to increase your chances of landing a greeter. The program is swamped with requests -- especially in the summer.

The American Museum of Natural History is best known for the largest collection of dinosaurs, fossils and skeletons in the world. A life-size replica of a blue whale, which towers over the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, is not to be missed. Ditto for the 563-carat Star of India sapphire and the 34-ton Ahnighito, the largest meteorite ever retrieved from the earth's surface; it is 4.5 billion years old. Of course, the Hall of Dinosaurs is a hands-down favorite for many. Definitely include the Rose Center for Earth and Space -- located next door -- in your visit; it's home to the Hayden Planetarium, which offers space shows that take you to the outer reaches of the universe.

Check out the Empire State Building -- completed in 1931 after just over one year of construction -- for a dramatic King Kong perspective on classic city views from the 86th-floor observation deck, where Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan had their fateful soppy meeting in "Sleepless in Seattle" and where Cary Grant waited for Deborah Kerr in "An Affair to Remember." Currently the city's tallest building, the Empire State Building gives you up-close-and-personal views of other enduring landmarks like the Chrysler Building. See them by day or night, but nighttime views are absolutely spellbinding, and elevator lines are a bit shorter.

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The White Star Line's Titanic was scheduled to arrive at the Chelsea Piers on April 16, 1912 at the conclusion of her maiden voyage. Fate intervene, and the ship struck an iceberg and sank on April 14. The 675 passengers rescued did arrive here on Cunard Line's Carpathia on April 20. Today, the pier's waterfront features a 30-acre sports and entertainment complex that includes a 40-lane bowling facility, batting cages, a matching set of ice rinks open year-round and -- for a very hip and different way to see the city's skyline -- kayaking at Pier 40, Houston Street and the Hudson River.

Chinatown is a sprawling, mostly frenetic blend of tiny, winding, cobblestone back streets -- most of which are dotted with family-owned restaurants, ready to serve silky stuffed dumplings, Peking duck and crispy shrimp any time of day. Head over to Division Street and East Broadway, both slicing under the Manhattan Bridge, for a part of Chinatown where tourists seldom tread. Some of the food you see for sale will be a complete mystery.

central park new york city Set on 843 acres of city land between Fifth and Eighth Avenues and 59th and 110th Streets, Central Park is a grassy, wooded stretch of pastoral splendor. Park highlights include two zoos (one for small children), Belvedere Castle (perched above Turtle Pond), Wollman Skating Rink (which morphs into a Victorian amusement park in the summertime) and, of course, Yoko Ono's ode to John Lennon -- Strawberry Fields. For those who wish to see where Lennon was slain, just head out from Strawberry Fields to the corner of 72nd Street and Central Park West, where you'll find the stunning Dakota apartment building where he lived.

The Naumburg Bandshell and Rumsey Playfield's SummerStage are the sites of concerts -- some free -- and the Delacorte Theater is where you'll find Shakespeare in the Park in the summer. A bit north is the Great Lawn, occasionally the venue for big-name concerts but most often used by baseball clubs. For the kids, take a spin to the tunes of a calliope on a 1908 carousel – one of America's largest -- near the 65th Street Transverse. Or visit the 19th-century Swedish schoolhouse to see marionettes playfully dance across the stage near 79th Street and Central Park West.

Ellis Island was the gateway through which more than 12 million immigrants passed between 1892 and 1954 (including Irving Berlin, Bob Hope and the von Trapp family) in their search for freedom. You can hear oral history interviews, see films and live theatrical productions, and view hundreds of photos of immigrants and exhibits of items they brought with them. The American Immigrant Wall of Honor, the longest wall of names in the world, commemorates more than five million first-generation Americans. A computer allows you to see if your last name appears anywhere on the wall. You will also have easy access to the ships' passenger manifest records through a searchable database. You can only get to Ellis Island via Statue Cruises, which offers regular service from Battery Park.

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The Statue of Liberty -- a gift of international friendship from France, commemorating the centennial of the Declaration of Independence in 1876. The statue, which was completed in 1884, first arrived in 350 individual pieces and packed in 214 crates. The dedication took place in 1886 -- a centennial gift that was 10 years late. Like Ellis Island, it's only accessible by taking a Statue Cruises ferry, departing year-round from Battery Park. Be prepared for airport-style security and long lines during the summer holidays.

The Financial District is home to high finance, power breakfasts and most of Manhattan's history. Head up the steps to the Federal Hall National Monument, across from the Stock Exchange, to see where George Washington accepted his presidency. In an area defined by skyscraper towers and narrow, cobblestone streets, standout American icons are the New York Stock Exchange, the Federal Reserve Bank, Trinity Church, St. Paul's Chapel, the Canyon of Heroes (a section of lower Broadway, home to the famous ticker-tape parades) and -- perhaps the most recognizable -- the site of the lost World Trade Center. While construction continues on the Freedom Tower, tourists can visit the National September 11 Memorial.

The Astors developed Times Square in the 1830's as a silk-stocking neighborhood, but its current name is a result of the New York Times moving there in 1904. The grime and grunge of this area were washed off by the early 1990's, making it a family destination and headquarters for the likes of Conde Nast and Reuters, along with hundreds of other companies. It also boasts 25 percent of the city's hotel rooms, almost 200 restaurants and dozens of historically landmarked theaters. Times Square is most famous for its flashy neon advertising signs and the New Year's Eve ball drop. "Good Morning America" is televised from Times Square every weekday morning as a competitor to Rockefeller Center's "Today Show." With more pedestrian traffic than anywhere else in North America, it can be wall-to-wall people.

If you can stand to wait in line for a while, the TKTS booth at Times Square is an excellent source for discounted same-day tickets to Broadway and off-Broadway shows, as well as some dance and music events. Discounts are 25, 35 or 50 percent, depending on the show or event, plus a small service charge. For shorter lines, try the South Street Seaport or downtown Brooklyn booths. No need to worry that one location will have what you want and the others won't -- it's all computerized.

Home to one of the finest collections in the world, the Metropolitan Museum of Art boasts more than two million works of art that span 5,000 years. More than 50 galleries are devoted solely to vast collections of European art, and there are nearly as many for American art. The ancient Egyptian art rivals anything outside of Cairo, and the restored Greco-Roman galleries are filled with some of the most important pieces in the world. Don't forget to see Rembrandt's sketch of DaVinci's "Last Supper," Botticelli's "Annunciation" and even a living room designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Your kids will love the Arms and Armor collection, as well as the magnificent 15 B.C. Temple of Dendur -- both on the first floor. The American Wing is graced with paintings by James McNeil Whistler, Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent, as well as sculptures by Frederic Remington and John Quincy Adams Ward. It's also where you can see the massive "George Washington Crossing the Delaware" by Emanuel Leutze.

The Frick Collection consists of a series of interconnecting galleries, housed in a fabulous setting -- the elegant former mansion of industrialist Henry Clay Frick. The furnished rooms were opened in 1935 to exhibit works by Constable, Gainsborough, Goya, El Greco, Holbein, Manet, Monet, Rembrandt, Renoir, Turner and Whistler. Also featured are French porcelains, Italian bronzes and period furniture. The audio guide is excellent.

The Guggenheim Museum is the only New York City structure designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, though he died before it was completed in 1959. Vaguely funnel-shaped, like a modernist tornado, the museum is best experienced by taking an elevator to the top and then strolling downward, along the spiraling gallery corridors. As you descend, you'll pass Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, modern and avant-garde paintings and sculptures. Don't miss Chagall's "Green Violinist," Picasso's "Woman Ironing" and Kandinsky's "Composition 8."

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) offers one of the world's very best collections of 19th- and 20th-century paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, architecture, photography, film and industrial design. Artists represented include Chagall, Klee, Magritte, Dali, Stieglitz, Wyeth, Pollock, Mondrian, Rauschenberg and Oldenburg. Famous works include Van Gogh's "Starry Night" and Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d' Avignon."

The city's oldest residential neighborhood is Gramercy Park. From 24th Street to Union Square between Third and Fifth Avenues, it's a walking paradise -- particularly along Irving Place. The neighborhood is famous for Teddy Roosevelt (he was born at 28 East 20th Street), the Gramercy Park Hotel (11-year old John F. Kennedy lived there) and the National Arts Club, which is the city's largest Victorian mansion. Pete's Tavern also holds a place of honor as the city's oldest bar, and O. Henry is said to have written "Gift of the Magi" there. Dining and bar options are plentiful in the neighborhood, particularly on and around Park Avenue South.

Greenwich Village is divided into the East Village and West Village. These days, you'll find cool shops and 20-something haunts in the East Village. In the West Village, you'll stroll narrow streets dotted with 19th-century brick Federal, Greek revival and Italianate buildings. Don't miss Bleecker Street for antique browsing and Bedford Street to see the neighborhood's narrowest house at No. 75 1/2. (The oldest is No. 77, and No. 102 is an off-kilter chalet.)

Recently designated as a national historic landmark, Christopher Street's Stonewall Bar (Nos. 51 to 53) was the site of the Stonewall Inn uprising in June 1969 -- considered the beginning of the modern gay rights movement. Of course, you must walk through the Stanford White-designed arch in Washington Square and along the adjacent streets that make up New York University's main campus.

At the most western portion of Greenwich Village is the 150-year-old Meatpacking District. A tiny stone-covered marketplace that spans four blocks, it received landmark designation in September 2003. This style-setting neighborhood overflows with "Sex and the City" types, drawn like magnets to more than 60 establishments that have opened there -- including some of the latest, most trendy places to shop, dine, and drink.

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At the world's largest naval museum, the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, climb aboard to see two dozen aircraft on its flight deck, as well as the space shuttle Enterprise. Take a ride inside the Virtual Flight Zone simulator, where the thunderous roars shake your seat and projectiles fly through the cockpit glass. Or fly an F/A 18 Hornet at mach speed with the G-Force Encounter. Visit the adjacent U.S.S. Growler submarine -- the only diesel-powered nuclear guided missile submarine in the world -- and visit the cockpit and cabin of a British Airways Concorde.

rockefeller center Built in grand style in the 1930's, Rockefeller Center is a marvelous Art Deco shopping and office complex, sited from 48th to 52nd streets between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. It is perhaps most famous for its annual Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in early December, the Promenade with its changing plant and flower displays, and the ice skating rink, topped by a famous Paul Manship gold sculpture of Prometheus. Tours are offered of Radio City Music Hall -- or catch a performance.

For equally spectacular and different views than those at the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock allows you to see across the tri-state region and gives an excellent view of the city, including the Empire State Building and Central Park. Lines are shorter than at the Empire State Building.

America's first performing arts center, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, opened in 1962. This large complex is home to a number of arts organizations including the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Opera, the New York City Ballet and the Julliard School, among others. The complex is packed with special events year-round. Tours of the center can include meet-the-artist events and in-progress rehearsals.

Little Italy's streets are lined with 19th-century tenements and long-held traditions -- and Mulberry Street is considered its heart. A dozen or so blocks within this district are known as NoLita, a stomping ground for a young, fashionable crowd. The hugely popular Feast of San Gennaro, which begins the first Thursday after Labor Day and lasts for 10 days, is a city favorite wherein Mulberry Street is transformed into fairgrounds filled with rides, games, music and great food. Fewer than 1,000 Italian-Americans live here now as Chinatown has expanded into the neighborhood.

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum brings the immigrant story to life in restored living quarters of a tenement building at 97 Orchard Street. The rooms belonged to Irish Catholic, Italian Catholic, German Jewish and Sephardic Jewish families at different time periods. The building was home to some 7,000 people from 20 countries between 1863 and 1935. Hear their poignant tales of survival on one-hour guided tours that leave from the museum shop at 108 Orchard. Advance reservations are highly recommended.

The Morgan Library & Museum houses the vast and valuable collection -- which rivals great libraries of Europe -- that financier J. Pierpont Morgan began assembling in 1890. Three historic buildings (mid-19th century to 1924) got a new neighbor in 2006 when Renzo Piano built an additional 75,000 square feet of exhibition space and a 280-seat performance theater. The collection includes medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, printed books (including three copies of the Gutenberg Bible), and various bindings, drawings and prints.

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The mission of the Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust is to educate people of all ages and backgrounds about the 20th-century Jewish experience before, during and after the Holocaust. There are thousands of photographs, artifacts and documentary films.

The Paley Center for Media is best known for its enormous video and audio library. Nearly 150,000 radio and television programs and famous commercials are available for listening and viewing. You can watch "I Love Lucy" episodes or look up more obscure relics of pop culture. The museum presents a wide variety of programs from its collection. To see what's playing, pick up a copy of the daily schedule. The museum also hosts seminars and screenings, followed by discussions led by performers, journalists, critics and artists.

The Neue Galerie is in a 1914 Carrere & Hastings Louis XIII-style mansion that was once the Vanderbilt home. It's an opulent, world-class showcase for German and Austrian art, furniture, and design from 1890 to 1940. In it, you'll find works by Gustav Klimt, Max Beckmann, Erich Heckel and more. Also offered are chamber music concerts and cabaret performances, along with the usual lectures and films.

We all know George Washington slept around, and his real-life army bed, along with thousands of other treasures, is on display at the New York Historical Society -- the city's oldest museum in continuous operation. You can see 135 Tiffany lamps and one of the largest collections of miniature portraits in the nation. There's a research library with more than two million manuscripts, 10,000 maps, and hundreds of photographs, prints and other materials.

The seat of New York's Roman Catholic Archdiocese, the enormous and ornate Gothic-style St. Patrick's Cathedral seats 2,200 people. The building was designed by James Renwick and houses a St. Louis altar by Tiffany & Co. and 70 stained glass windows by renowned artists in Chartres, France; Birmingham, England; and Boston, Massachusetts. The nave opened in 1877, nearly 20 years after construction began, and was finally completed in 1931.

Much older than Trinity Church down the street, the English-style St. Paul's Chapel -- completed in 1766 as part of Trinity Parish -- received George Washington after he was sworn in as the first American president. Visitors may enter daily to see memorabilia left by police officers, firefighters, rescue workers and ordinary citizens from around the world after 9/11. (St. Paul's survived the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings across the street with no physical damage.)

united nations un building new york city flags The home of the world's largest international governmental organization, the United Nations, was donated by John D. Rockefeller in 1946. Made of three connecting buildings -- the boxy Dag Hammarskjold Library, the glass-walled Secretariat tower and the low-slung General Assembly -- the United Nations is considered international territory. Colorful flags of nearly 200 countries fly along First Avenue and present one of New York's best photo opportunities. Guided tours last about an hour and end with a visit to the famous General Assembly Hall.

A wonderful place to shop, stroll and eat, the once-Bohemian area of SoHo has been gentrified and burnished into one of the most expensive and chic neighborhoods in the city -- keep your eyes open for incognito celebrities who live here. Architecturally, however, SoHo is quite distinct. Of particular note are historic, pre-Civil War, cast-iron buildings and sidewalks made of Belgian bricks (not cobblestone) and bottle glass. High-end furniture stores and fancy fashion boutiques -- especially on West Broadway, Prince, Spring and Mercer Streets -- are great for browsing, and some of the city's most elegant restaurants can be found along West Broadway and Spring Street.

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Adjacent to SoHo is TriBeCa, where cobblestone streets are lined with smart shops, glorious art galleries and some of the city's best food stops, as well as cavernous, cast-iron fronted warehouse loft apartments. The nightlife is nearly nonstop, plus the neighborhood has its own world-class film festival -- the brainchild of actor Robert De Niro.

Trinity Church, a Gothic-Revival structure tucked away in the heart of Manhattan's Financial District, is one of the oldest church parishes in the city. First built in 1696 and 1697, it was then considered the tallest building in America. After fires there destroyed two churches, Richard Upjohn built the current structure -- including the flying buttresses, vaulted ceilings and doors modeled after Ghiberti's "Gates of Paradise" in Florence, Italy -- in 1846. The original burial ground includes the graves of many historic figures, including Robert Fulton and Alexander Hamilton, who was killed during a New Jersey duel with former U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr in 1804. Its museum offers a permanent collection of historical documents and artifacts, along with special exhibitions that offer a true sense of what life was like during the American Revolution, the Civil War and even the turbulent 1960's.

Kids love the four-story Sony Wonder Technology Lab, filled with gizmos, gadgets and cool information. Frankly, you don't have to be a kid to love it there. You can produce a TV show, perform a virtual open-heart surgery, design an animated character or just chill out and watch HD/TV in their state-of-the-art theater.

If setting sail on a 19th-century schooner sounds good, the 11-block, historic, cobblestone South Street Seaport is the place for you. Yes, it's a bit touristy, but it's home to a world-class maritime museum with galleries and a collection of historic vessels, amid scores of restaurants and shops. The seaport also hosts a variety of special events, ranging from a spectacular music series to street festivals. The view from Pier 17 of the Brooklyn Bridge and Brooklyn Heights, across the East River, is breathtaking.

The Moorish-Romanesque 1908 Temple Emanu-El, with its vaulted roof, is one of the largest Jewish houses of worship in the world. The 2,500-seat sanctuary has a marvelous bronze ark in the shape of a Torah, decorated in spectacular mosaics by Hildreth Meiere. Be sure to note the stained glass windows, one of which is an original work by Tiffany & Co. The temple regularly hosts concerts, lectures and free tours after Saturday morning services.

The Whitney Museum of American Art was founded in 1914 by Gertrude Whitney after the Metropolitan Museum of Art declined her 500-piece art collection. This well-respected institution offers frequently changing exhibitions of 20th-century and contemporary -- often controversial -- paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, photographs, film and video. Past exhibits have featured the works of Edward Hopper, Jasper Johns, Georgia O'Keeffe and Andy Warhol.

Located in northern Manhattan on a four-acre stretch with stunning views of the Hudson River, it's definitely worth the long trip to see the Cloisters. A branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the M4 bus takes you there from Penn Station, along Madison Avenue, across 110th Street and up Broadway for a wonderful ride), it's devoted to the art and architecture of the European Middle Ages. While listening to medieval music, see five medieval French cloisters, plus the 12th-century chapter house and a Romanesque chapel. Also on display are some 5,000 works of art, including priceless unicorn tapestries and stained glass windows, circa 1500.

Harlem is now mostly an unbeatable combination of stylish cool and spirited visuals where, frankly, gentrification is old news. At the moment, its atmosphere along 125th Street is Maya Angelou meets Starbucks and Old Navy. During the 1920's, Harlem enjoyed its first golden age -- known as the Harlem Renaissance -- when jazz musicians, including Duke Ellington and Count Basie, played in nightspots like the Cotton Club, Savoy Ballroom and the Apollo Theater. Today, Harlem's historic enclaves are still beautiful and are a constant reminder of the glory of the 1920's.

Don't miss Hamilton Grange (once the country estate of Alexander Hamilton) or the rowhouses in Sugar Hill, where Count Basie, Chief Justice Thurgood Marshall and boxing champ Sugar Ray Robinson made their homes. Harlem's most enduring icon may be the Apollo Theater, but other huge draws are the Abyssinian Baptist Church (where Adam Clayton Powell once preached) and dozens of other historic churches -- like Salem United Methodist and Metropolitan Baptist.

Everything inside Harlem's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is founded on the private collection of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, a black Puerto Rican scholar and bibliophile who died in 1938. Over the years, the books, manuscripts, art objects, and even film and sheet music have grown to more than five million items -- all detailing the history and culture of people of African descent.

Historical New York comes to life through period furniture, miniatures and antique toys at the Museum of the City of New York. It covers New York from the Dutch settlers to the present day and will teach you about the city's streets and buildings. Permanent collections include New York Toy Stories, a reinstallation of the museum's beloved toy gallery that's home to more than 10,000 toys used by New Yorkers from the colonial period to present. Richard Rodgers' Broadway exhibits the output of this legendary theatrical figure, from his collaborations with lyricist Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II to his independent work. Wonderful items include Rodgers' photographs, sheet music, souvenir programs, gold cigarette lighters, personal conductor's baton and a terrific collection of posters from the 41 Broadway shows for which he wrote music.

The construction of St. John the Divine began in 1892 and still isn't finished. It is the largest cathedral in the world and is the mother church of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, as well as the seat of its bishop. Inside, you'll find priceless tapestries by Barberini, although a 2002 fire caused extensive damage to two of them.

The Museum of the Moving Image in Queens holds the country's largest permanent collection of artifacts related to motion pictures, television and digital media. It's an absolute must for film buffs. The museum hosts screenings, classes and lectures that are always well attended by area film students. The whole family will love the fascinating collection of TV and movie memorabilia and sets from favorite films and shows.

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