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Inspirational New York

Touch the Sky
Inspirational New York
If your perceptions of New York have been shaped by films from the 70s, you may be surprised to discover it's now the U.S.'s safest large city. It has cast aside its dangerous reputation and even many once crime-ridden neighborhoods now boast farm-to-table restaurants, designer boutiques, and art galleries. The grit and energy are still there but it's never been easier to explore the city's cultural highlights. 
By Megan Eileen McDonough, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Nel Lopez
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    Touch the Sky
    Touch the Sky
    New York is one of those cities that is perhaps most inspiring when viewed from above, whether it's taking in the grid of streets lined with skyscrapers or one of the world's most remarkable natural harbors. 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 is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site but it has also long been a beacon of hope for millions of immigrants arriving in the United States. The monument, as well as nearby Ellis Island, 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
    Bright Lights and Bombastic Billboards
    Locals may avoid Times Square but that’s probably because they’ve already gotten their fill. 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.
    Photo by Lindsay Davis
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    A Multitude of Museums
    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, the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, and the relatively new Rose Center for Earth and Space with its planetarium. 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. Admission includes a guided tour that takes you into an actual apartment where immigrants lived. Contemporary art galleries are scattered throughout the city, with the highest concentration of them found in Chelsea.
    Photo by Charissa Fay
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    Take In a Show on Broadway
    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. Also check out the listings in the New York Times, the New Yorker, or Time Out New York for off-Broadway, and off-off-Broadway, shows which are more affordable. At Rockefeller Center's Radio City Music Hall you can check out the Rockettes and other seasonal spectaculars, as well as simply performances by top pop, rock, and country stars in a landmarked space. 
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Explore New York's Neighborhoods on Foot
    Explore New York's Neighborhoods on Foot
    It doesn’t take long to realize that every neighborhood in New York City has its own unique vibe. Washington Square Park is the town square of Greenwich Village—long the bohemian heart of the city. While young artists and writers have largely been priced out of the neighborhood, you can still wander along the cobblestone streets where Hart Crane, Anaïs Nin, William Faulkner, and Eugene O'Neill (among many other notable figures) all lived at different points. Central Park is the backyard for two very different neighborhoods—the Upper West Side, which has long had a liberal, intellectual bent (thanks in large part to Columbia University's presence) and the Upper East Side, traditionally one of the city's most expensive neighborhoods and home to Museum Mile on Fifth Avenue. The adventurous willing to venture beyond Manhattan will be rewarded with walks among the beautiful 19th-century townhouses of Brooklyn Heights, the converted industrial spaces of DUMBO, and neighborhoods like Flushing in Queens, where the city's tradition on attracting immigrants from around the world continues to this day. 
    Photo by Charissa Fay
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    Vast Parks and Innovative Green Spaces
    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 to 110th Street and from Fifth Avenue to Eighth Avenue (Central Park West) 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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    Take In the View from Brooklyn Bridge
    Take In the View from Brooklyn Bridge
    Only one of New York's five boroughs sits on the mainland—the Bronx. Two are their own islands—Manhattan and Staten Island. Brooklyn and Queens sit at the western end of Long Island. Perhaps needless to say, a number of bridges connect the city's different parts to each other, as well as New Jersey. The Brooklyn Bridge is the most iconic of them. Completed in 1883, the bridge spans the East River, connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn. Make sure to stay within the pedestrian lane (on the harbor side of the walkway) and out of the bike lane—you may be here to admire the views, but for many locals this is a commuter routes and they don’t always respond well to dodging tourists. From Manhattan, the route across the bridge begins near City Hall and ends in DUMBO, on the Brooklyn side, or just north of Brooklyn Heights, depending on which exit you take. The Manhattan Bridge and the Williamsburg Bridge also have both pedestrian and bike paths, but far fewer tourists. 
    Photo by Van Nguyen
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    Magnificent Libraries
    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 (recently reopened after extensive renovations), with its grand chandeliers, brass lamps, and 52-foot-high painted ceiling. At the nearby Morgan Library & Museum, you can take a look at Pierpont Morgan's collection of literary manuscripts, printed books, and drawings. Its collection isn't limited to literature: It houses an autographed manuscript of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Symphony in D Major. 
    Photo by Charissa Fay
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    Exploring the Boroughs Beyond Manhattan
    Exploring the Boroughs Beyond Manhattan
    Many visitors to New York spend their entire stay in Manhattan (except for, perhaps, a stop in Queens when they first land). It's hard to blame them as there's no shortage of sights to see there. Taking time to venture out to at least one of the other boroughs, however, will make your visit that much richer. Brooklyn is the most popular of them, with Williamsburg the main draw for many with its busy restaurant and bar scene (the Ides Bar, Tørst, and Roberta's are some favorites in the neighborhood). Brooklyn's Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Museum, adjacent to the park, are also worth including on your itinerary while BAM (the Brooklyn Academy of Music) has a crowded calendar of cultural events—dance, theater, lectures, and even its own art-house cinema. In Queens, the Noguchi Museum and PS1 (part of the Museum of Modern Art) draw art-lovers to Long Island City. And in the Bronx, the New York Botanical Garden is one of the gems of the city, with 250 acres of grounds, many landscaped but also including a tract of primeval forest that has survived unchanged even as the city has grown up around it. 
    Photo by Cameron Gidari
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