It's been more than 400 years since Henry Hudson first explored the area's waterways and islands for the Dutch, who proceeded to set up a small settlement on the tip of the island of Manhattan in the 1620s. The Dutch began to trade furs with the Lenape tribe, who had inhabited the region for thousands of years. Over time, the settlement grew, control fell to the British (spurring a change of name from New Amsterdam to New York), and new towns sprang up in what are now the boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island. The development of the Erie Canal in the 1820s, connecting the Midwest to the East Coast and the world beyond, transformed New York into the nation's preeminent city for commerce and trade. In the first decades of the 20th century, the city prospered, as millions of immigrants settled in the five boroughs of "greater New York," and its iconic skyline of granite and steel rose from the bedrock.
More recently, New York City has undergone a renaissance, fueled by a new influx of immigrants, particularly from Asia and Latin America, and by the high-tech revolution that consolidated the city's role as a center for international finance and digital industries. That postindustrial revival can be seen in Brooklyn's emergence as a world-famous cultural touchstone; in Queens' emergence as the most diverse county in the nation; and in the renewal of downtown Manhattan, where a once-forlorn stretch of waterfront warehouses has become the booming High Line district, anchored by the new Whitney Museum of American Art, and where the recent opening of One World Observatory fulfills the city's promise to rebuild the World Trade Center site.
Thanks to New York City's long-standing role as an entry point for immigrants, the city is a living embodiment of America's "melting pot" culture. Of New York's 8.4 million residents, more than 3 million (roughly 37 percent) are foreign-born. And they've come from nearly every country on the map. Exploring this rich cultural mosaic is as easy as stepping right outside the door. As many as 200 languages are spoken on the streets of New York City, and each of its five boroughs boasts its own distinctive history and culture, along with its own network of neighborhoods and ethnic and national enclaves.
A visit to the Museum of Chinese in America sets the stage for a visit to any (or all) of the city's three major Chinatowns: Flushing in Queens, Sunset Park in Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan's original and ever-expanding Chinatown. Also, visitors can sample authentic Italian fare in Manhattan's Little Italy along Mulberry Street, along Arthur Avenue in the Bronx or all throughout Staten Island, which has the highest percentage of Italian Americans of any county in the US. Brooklyn's large Caribbean community, centered in Flatbush, throws an annual Labor Day carnival with a parade that draws millions of spectators to Eastern Parkway, while the Polish enclave of Greenpoint has become a go-to spot for pierogi, kielbasa, and old-country comfort foods.
The cityscape of NYC is as diverse as its people. From the Gothic Revival Woolworth Building to the art deco Chrysler Building to the high modernist Seagram Building to the postmodern confections along the High Line, New York City serves up a melange of architectural styles, not to mention a living history of the skyscraper. A recent super-high-rise building boom has raised the city's count of 1,000-plus-foot skyscrapers to seven (with four more under construction), more than any other city in the U.S.
Back down on the ground, the city has abundant parkland—more than 28,000 acres—and 14 miles of public beaches, which adds up to plenty of room for outdoor enthusiasts to explore. No trip to New York City would be complete without a stroll through Central Park; visitors can ride the historic carousel or take a gondola ride on the lake. In winter, there's outdoor ice-skating in Brooklyn's Prospect Park at LeFrak Center at Lakeside. At The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, the largest such garden in any city in the United States, visitors can enjoy the orchids in the Victorian-era greenhouse, the tulips and daffodils and seasonal delights of the sprawling outdoor gardens, and the 50-acre old-growth forest, a taste of the vast woodlands that once covered the city. Also in the Bronx, Wave Hill is a more intimate garden set on the grounds of a historic estate overlooking the Hudson River and the Palisades.
And then there are New York City's attractions—the city's storied museums, famed entertainment, multiple sports teams and expansive nightlife. On any given evening, groups could see the finest in ballet, opera, and classical music at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts; or a show on Broadway (or Off-Broadway). During the day, they could explore 2 million works of art, from Egyptian to European, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art; the world-class modern art at MoMA; or the Brooklyn Children's Museum's kid-friendly exhibits, which have been delighting families for over 100 years. One World Observatory has recently claimed honors as the city's highest viewing spot, but the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock observatories remain iconic must-see experiences. New York City's attractions and cultural life are like New Yorkers themselves—dizzyingly diverse, always welcoming of visitors, and without a doubt, beyond compare.