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Page last updated at 13:30 GMT, Friday, 22 October 2010 14:30 UK

The Real New York

Ginger Adams Otis
Travel writer

The Empire State Building and a US flag
New York is a global centre for business, finance, fashion and media

For all its daunting madness, New York City is not hard to figure out.

It's actually comprised of five boroughs, but let's face it, Manhattan is the heart and soul of the city. There's plenty to see and do in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and even Staten Island - the outer boroughs, as they're known. But Manhattan is the New York of most people's dreams.

From the lush green of Central Park to the neon lights of Times Square and the laid-back life of the West Village to the hustle and bustle of Harlem, something in this city is sure to fascinate you.

The city is big, brash and sprawling, yet when you get right down to it, it's just a series of interlocking neighbourhoods, each exciting and vibrant in its own way, and each with a singular pace.

Old money and high culture

Starting at the north of this 23-mile island, you'll find Harlem, home to the historic Apollo Theater, numerous jazz clubs, and an increasing rush of gentrification as swank new condos go up alongside old brownstone homes on shady, tree-lined streets.

Glittery midtown is where New York's business gets done.

Harlem runs into the Upper West Side and the Upper East Side. On the west side, you'll find a neighbourhood filled with wealthy intelligentsia and successful, working artists, many of them musicians, actors and dancers.

On the east side, it's all about old money and high culture. The city's wealthiest live along Fifth and Park Avenues, just a short walk to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, the Whitney and the Museum of Modern Art.

Glittery midtown is where New York City's business gets done. Steel skyscrapers and mobs of workers exist happily amidst iconic landmarks like the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, the Chrysler Building, the glamorous theatres of Broadway and the haute-couture energy of the Fashion District.

Chelsea, the gay-friendly, art-oriented neighbourhood below Midtown on the West Side, is a great place for long walks and gallery hopping - or a night of dancing and drinking.

It conveniently blends into the Meatpacking District, another area full of nightclubs, bars and swanky hotels, plus rows and rows of boutique shops.

Residential buildings in Manhattan
The 1867 tenement law made fire escapes compulsory

Below 14th Street, the city's vibe changes. Greenwich Village is a quaint and homey residential spot. None of the anarchist furore that made it famous as a hangout for Beat Generation poets and writers remains.

But don't worry - there's still some life in downtown Manhattan yet, it's just on the other side of the island. The East Village and the Lower East Side, while sleepy and laid-back during the day, are buzzing with foot traffic and club crawls at night.

Enclaves

At the bottom of the island is Lower Manhattan, famous for its trendy, celebrity-heavy enclaves like Tribeca, Soho, Nolita and Noho.

Together these pocket-sized neighbourhoods account for a tremendous amount of New York's glamour with their multi-million dollar lofts, luxury shops, a few remaining art galleries (only the creme de la creme, of course) and high-wattage hangouts like Nobu and Macao.

In the midst of this jumble, looking a bit out of place, is Chinatown, a working-class immigrant community. Cantonese is the predominant language spoken, but as migration patterns shift, more and more Mandarin is heard, as well as smatterings of Vietnamese, Malaysian and Cambodian.

The heart of Chinatown is cacophonous Canal Street - an explosion of tacky t-shirts, cheap souvenirs and brand-name knock-offs of fancy watches, hand bags and clothes.

The island comes to an end among the small, wandering streets of old, colonial New York, near Battery Park and Ground Zero, the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Some of the streets and buildings below Wall Street - the heart of the financial district - are among the oldest in the entire city, dating back to the earliest days of the American Revolution, and even the pre-colonial times when New York was nothing but a small Dutch settlement.



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