Inspirational New York

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Inspirational New York
New York has cast aside its dangerous reputation and many once crime-ridden neighborhoods have completely reinvented themselves. The grit and energy are still palpable but the city’s most iconic monuments and cultural museums are allowed to shine.
By Megan Eileen McDonough, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Nel Lopez
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    Touch the Sky
    The juxtaposition of old and new is New York in a nutshell. One of the most recognizable attractions is the Empire State building. Towering 1,454 feet above Manhattan, visitors can get a bird’s eye view of the city from the 86th and 102nd floor observatories. The copper-wrought Statue of Liberty, also known as Lady Liberty, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site but it once stood as a beacon of hope for millions of immigrants who traveled to the United States. The monument is charged with emotion for many second- and third-generation families, as well as for visitors.
    Photo by Nel Lopez
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    Bright Lights and Bombastic Billboards
    Locals may avoid Times Square like the plague but that’s because they’ve already gotten their fill. The area is notoriously packed with tourists, and for good reason. This pedestrian plaza stretches from West 42nd to West 47th Street, with hotels and theaters flanking each side and plenty of oddball entertainment prowling the streets, like the world-famous Naked Cowboy. Get ready for a serious sensory overload in the form of large, shiny advertisements from multi-billion dollar brands, commercial shopping stores, impromptu street performers, and everything in between. This is also where the ball drop occurs every New Year’s Eve, which definitely contributes to the hype and mystique surrounding the area.
    Photo by Lindsay Davis
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    A Multitude of Museums
    New York has dozens of museums catering to all interests. The American Museum of Natural History is a hit with parents and kids thanks to their impressive dinosaur halls and the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life. The Metropolitan Museum of Art collection numbers more than two million works of art and covers a multitude of civilizations, from ancient Egypt all the way to the present day. Learn what life was really like for immigrants during the 19th and 20th centuries at the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side. An entrance ticket grants you a guided tour that takes you into an actual apartment where immigrants lived. Contemporary art galleries are scattered throughout the city—Chelsea has a slew of them.
    Photo by Charissa Fay
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    Take In a Show on Broadway
    New York is synonymous with creative expression and one of the most enjoyable ways to experience this is through the performing arts. Many tourists manage to squeeze a Broadway musical into their trip; if you’re worried about the hefty price tag you can snag discount tickets at TKTS. To participate in the action yourself, sign up for one of Alvin Ailey’s many dance classes—including Afro-Caribbean and Capoeira dance styles—or just stick around for a performance from the professionals. Lincoln Center hosts various theatrical performances throughout the year; in the summer you can listen to—and watch, on a big screen—an opera outside on the plaza as part of their HD Festival.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Explore New York's Neighborhoods on Foot
    New York dances to the beat of its own drum. It doesn’t take an expert to see that every neighborhood has a different vibe. Broome Street takes you through China (Chinatown), Italy (Little Italy), and elsewhere in Europe in less than half an hour. Park Avenue in the Upper East Side might feel familiar, but head west toward Central Park and you’ll notice small differences. For a sample of different neighborhoods, start on Ludlow Street and walk west until Little Italy and then north toward Nolita. You can stop for coffee at McNally Jackson Books, visit St. Patrick's Old Cathedral, or shop for trinkets at Nolita market. Alternatively, walk the High Line for great aerial views of Chelsea and the Meatpacking District.
    Photo by Charissa Fay
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    Vast Parks and Innovative Green Spaces
    When it comes to outdoor park and green spaces, Central Park is a no-brainer. This public park spans 843 acres from 59th Street at Columbus Circle to 110th Street and there are countless ways to explore every peak and valley. Rent bikes by the hour or by the day, or take a romantic paddleboat ride on the lake. To witness one of New York’s most innovative green spaces, head to the Meatpacking and Chelsea neighborhoods and walk along the High Line. This 22-block-long urban oasis begins on Gansevoort Street and goes up towards West 34th Street. Wooden lawn chairs, art installations, and food vendors make it tough to leave.
    Photo by Charissa Fay
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    Flea Markets: Antiques to Art Deco
    Weekend street markets are one of the most interactive ways to get to know New York. Shop for vintage items at the Chelsea Flea Market on West 25th Street or hunt down odds and ends at the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market – both of which belong to Annex Markets. Vendors sell everything from antique trinkets to art deco furniture. To see what the local designers have up their sleeves, check out the Artists & Fleas Market (Williamsburg and Chelsea) or The Market NYC (Williamsburg and Nolita). The Brooklyn Flea has two locations, one in Fort Greene and the other in Williamsburg. Both are mixed bags: One day you might pick up a second-hand jacket, and the next you’re shopping for intricate gardening tools.
    Photo by Karl F. Schöfmann/age fotostock
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    Take In the View from Brooklyn Bridge
    Manhattan is an island and bridges make the city accessible for both vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Brooklyn Bridge is by far the most iconic route but also the most crowded. Completed in 1883, the bridge connects Manhattan and Brooklyn along the East River. Make sure to stay within the pedestrian lane and out of the bike lane because locals use this as a form of transportation rather than as a touristic site; they don’t respond well to dodging tourists. From Manhattan, the route begins near City Hall and ends in DUMBO, Brooklyn, or just east of Brooklyn Heights, depending on which exit you take. The Manhattan Bridge and the Williamsburg Bridge are also fit for walking and are just as scenic.
    Photo by Van Nguyen
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    Magnificent Libraries
    Visiting a library might not sound enticing but New York has two magnificent exceptions. The main branch of New York Public Library, at the eastern edge of Bryant Park, is truly a sight to behold. Entrance is free, as are tours, which are offered daily. Don’t leave without taking a peek at the Rose Main Reading Room (closed for repairs until Fall 2016), with its grand chandeliers, brass lamps, and 52-foot-high ceilings covered in colorful murals. If time permits, stop by the nearby Morgan Library & Museum and take a look at Pierpont Morgan's collection of literary manuscripts, printed books, and drawings. The museum also houses the autographed manuscript of Symphony in D Major, K. 385, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
    Photo by Charissa Fay
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    Exploring the Boroughs Beyond Manhattan
    You could easily spend your entire trip touring around Manhattan, but skipping New York’s four other boroughs would be a mistake. In the past two decades in particular, Brooklyn’s neighborhoods have transformed themselves into cultural hubs. Williamsburg was once a run-down area of warehouses and former factories, but today there are art galleries, restaurants, consignment shops, and low-key bars filled with an international crowd and young artists. Park Slope, another Brooklyn neighborhood, is where many families, writers, and other creative professionals choose to live. Wander through Prospect Park or grab lunch along Flatbush Avenue. Astoria neighborhood in Queens is known for its excellent and authentic Greek restaurants.
    Photo by Cameron Gidari
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