American Museum of Natural History
Founded in 1869, this museum began with a mastodon's tooth and a few thousand beetles; today, its collection includes more than 30 million artefacts, interactive exhibits and loads of taxidermy. It's most famous for its three dinosaur halls, which underwent a complete overhaul several years ago and reflect current knowledge on how these behemoths behaved.
Enthusiastic guides roam the dinosaur halls ready to answer questions, and the 'please touch' displays allow kids to handle many items, including the skullcap of a pachycephulasaurus, a plant-eating dinosaur that roamed the earth 65 million years ago.
Other treasures in the permanent collection include the enormous (fake) blue whale that hangs from the ceiling above the Hall of Ocean Life and the Star of India sapphire in the Hall of Minerals and Gems. Newer exhibitions, such as the Hall of Biodiversity, feature a strong ecological slant, with a video display about the earth's habitats. The Butterfly Conservancy is a popular recurring exhibition, open from November to May and featuring 600 butterflies from all over the world (admission is extra). The building itself is amazing: turn the corner to admire the 77th St facade.
This vast rectangle of green is a welcome contrast to the concrete and traffic mosh of the rest of Manhattan. Inevitably the city's commotion does seep in, through skaters, joggers, musicians and tourists, but there are quieter areas to be enjoyed, along with free theatrical performances in summer.
There's a small zoo in the park, organised and casual sport (predominantly baseball and Frisbee) to watch or play and a swimming pool.
Empire State Building
New York's original skyline symbol, the Empire State Building, is a limestone classic built in just 410 days during the depths of the Depression. It stands 102 storeys and almost 449m (1472ft) tall. The famous antenna was originally to be a mooring mast for zeppelins, but the Hindenberg disaster put a stop to that plan.
One airship accidentally met up with the building: a B25 crashed into the 79th floor on a foggy day in July 1945, killing 14 people. Taking the ear-popping lift to the 86th or 102nd floor observation desks can entail a bit of waiting around, but it's worth it when you get there. Come very early or very late; a late-night trip to the top makes a wonderfully romantic interlude.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Upper East Side is home to New York's greatest concentration of cultural centres: 5th Ave above 57th St is known as Museum Mile. The big daddy of these is the Metropolitan Museum of Art ('the Met'), New York's most popular tourist site, which functions something like a self-contained cultural city-state with three million individual objects in its collection. It's best to target exactly what you want to see and head there first, before culture and crowd fatigue sets in. Exhibitions range from Egyptian mummies through to baseball cards so even if (when?) you get lost, you're sure to stumble upon some interesting stuff. Museum of Modern Art
The new MoMA, back where it belongs in renovated Midtown digs after a two-year stint in Queens, is undoubtedly one of New York's finest museums. In its new location on W53rd st, between Fifth and Sixth Aves, the MoMA is a perfect excuse to explore its 100,000-plus paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, architectural models and design objects.
Its collection of masterpieces includes Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon , Van Gogh's Starry Night and Piet Mondrian's Broadway Boogie-Woogie . Claude Monet's Water Lilies rates a whole gallery to itself.
Although the pulse of New York's finest art galleries beats in West Chelsea these days, SoHo (from 'south of Houston') retains its trendy appeal with a bumper crop of upmarket designer-clothing stores and shoe boutiques selling oh-so-precious curios. The district is a paradigm of inadvertent urban renewal, having transmogrified from the city's leading commercial district in the post-Civil War days to a tuned-in artists colony in the 1950s, to the impossibly expensive platinum card excesses of today. Its beautifully restored cast-iron buildings are some of the best examples of this style in the world, take a good look around.
Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty stands at the crossroads of Old World and New. The Lady with the Lamp represents not only the shining ideals of democracy but, over the years, has become a shorthand visual for the immigrants' lament inscribed on her base: 'Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free...'
Back in 1865, however, it was only even meant to be a rather grand gesture on the part of political activists Edouard René Lefebvre de Laboulaye and sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi. The two of them came up with the idea at a dinner party and went away to build a monument, their paean to the American conception of political freedom, which they would then donate to the Land of Opportunity. Twenty-one years later, on 28 October 1886, the 45m (151ft) Liberty Enlightening the World , modelled on the Colossus of Rhodes, was finally unveiled in New York Harbour before President Grover Cleveland and a harbor full of tooting ships. It's a 354-step climb to the statue's crown (currently closed), the equivalent of climbing a 22-storey building, and if you want to tackle it, start early to avoid the crowds - it's hard to contemplate the American dream with your nose to the tail of the person in front.
Dubbed the 'Great White Way' after its bright lights, Times Square has long been celebrated as New York's glittery crossroads. The Square went into deep decline during the 1960s when the movie palaces turned XXX-rated and the area became known as a hangout for every colourful, crazy or dangerous character in Midtown. A major 'clean-up' operation removed most of the sleaze and now the combination of colour, zipping message boards and massive TV screens makes for quite a sight. Up to a million people gather here every New Year's Eve to see a brightly lit ball descend from the roof of One Times Square at midnight, an event that lasts just 90 seconds and leaves most of the revellers wondering what to do with themselves for the rest of the night. Tribeca
This neighborhood of old warehouses and loft apartments has a fair share of sceney restaurants and bars, along with Robert De Niro's Tribeca Films production company. It's not unusual to spot a star hanging out at a local restaurant or bar, and Tribeca's desolation chic makes the area a favorite for fashion photographers.
Though not as touristy or architecturally significant as SoHo, Tribeca has an even cooler etymology: it's the 'TRIangle BElow CAnal' St. The neighborhood went through an amazing transformation prior to September 11, with huge lofts, top restaurants, historic bars and a strong shopping and arts scene. The tragedy of 9/11 rocked the area as it bordered the WTC site and is only just recovering. West (Greenwich) Village
The Village is one of the city's most popular neighbourhoods, and a universal symbol for all things outlandish and bohemian. It's still a vibrant area, packed with cafes, shops and bars, all of them huddled around Washington Square Park, purportedly the most crowded recreational space in the world.
The Village (as New Yorkers call it) is kept humming by the endless supply of New York University (NYU) students and nostalgic tourists. Once known throughout the world for its swinging, smoky arts scene, the neighborhood can seem downright somnolent these days. The area's reputation as a creative enclave can be traced back to at least the early 1900s, when artists and writers moved in, followed by jazz musicians who played at famous (still functioning) clubs like the Blue Note and Village Vanguard. By the 40s the neighborhood was known as a gathering place for gay people. The coffeehouses on Bleecker St hark back to New York's beatnik 50s and hippie 60s. Bob Dylan reputedly smoked his first joint in the Village, Jimi Hendrix lived here and the Rolling Stones recorded here.
Of course nobody can afford to actually live in the Village today, perched high in the Manhattan real estate stratosphere. Yet somehow it still packs some kind of energy.