New York is the largest city in the USA and one of the world’s most populous urbanised areas. It is not, as some people think, the capital of the USA – not even of the state that also bears its name. But it is unquestionably the country’s cultural, communications, corporate and financial capital, and it takes a leading position in the fields of politics, education, industry, commerce and transport.
The city’s international stature was acknowledged after World War II when it was chosen as the site of the United Nations headquarters. Metropolitan New York consists of five boroughs – the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island – covering a total of 300 square miles (800sq km).
Most northerly of the boroughs and the only one on the mainland, the Bronx has 1.4 million inhabitants and, in the South Bronx, a fearsome reputation for violence. Settled by a Danish immigrant named Johannes Bronck, the Bronx today has a rich Italian heritage, splendid botanical gardens, the former homes of writers Edgar Allan Poe and Mark Twain and, for baseball fans, the Yankee Stadium.
Brooklyn, at the western tip of Long Island, became New York’s first suburb when it was annexed by the city in 1898. With more than 2.5 million citizens – 1 million more than Manhattan – it has cobbled streets, about 600 buildings more than a century old and a spectacular view of Manhattan.
Queens, named to honour the wife of England’s King Charles II, is the home of J F Kennedy International Airport. New Yorkers tend to think it dull, but Queens has a lively Greek community – the largest outside Greece – a South American quarter and thriving film studios.
Staten Island is connected to Brooklyn by the 1,298 m Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Most visitors, however, take the 20-minute Staten Island ferry trip from Manhattan that gives wonderful views of skyscrapers and the Statue of Liberty. The island’s attractions are scattered.
Manhattan is the place where most visitors spend most of their time. Here are the famous skyscrapers, the museums and the Broadway theatres. Here are the places known from a hundred films. As New York’s wealth increased at the end of 18th century, the immigrants began to arrive in ever-large waves, bringing with them new ideas as well as new hopes. The Germans and the Irish were the first to arrive in large numbers, followed by Italians and refugees from Eastern Europe, including many Jews. In 1884 immigrants began arriving from Near and Far East.
Each group of newcomers settled mainly with their own kind, and the city soon had recognisable ethnic communities: Chinatown and Little Italy, Jews in the Lower East Side, the Germans in Yorkville. It is a process that has continued to a large extent to the present day: the Afro-Americans in Harlem, Greeks in Astoria, Puerto Ricans in the South Bronx, Arabs along Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue and East Indians in Lower Manhattan.
Each ethnic group has had a profound effect on the city’s cultural development. Music, musical comedy, the Big Broadway musical show, drama, dance, film, art, architecture – it all adds up a culture not only characteristically American, but also uniquely New York.
New York’s skyline was changed in a matter of moments by the terrorist attack of 11 September 2001 which brought down the soaring twin towers of the World Trade Center, but visitors will still thrill at recognising landmarks they have never seen except on the screen: the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Tiffany’s, Brooklyn Bridge.
“Something’s always happening here. If you’re bored in New York, it’s your own fault” Myrna Loy
Choose your tour in New York
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