New York City is everything its supporters and critics claim: an adrenaline-charged, history-laden place that never sleeps, rarely apologizes, and works harder and longer hours than anywhere else. It’s also a town of icons, both past and present – you’ll find it hard to move about the city without encountering a view of something world-famous, from the lovely green sward of Central Park to the mammoth Brooklyn Bridge to the cathedral-like Grand Central Terminal. The city’s boundless energy and spirit will suck you in and make you want to come back again and again.

New York buzzes round-the-clock: not only can you find, buy, or enjoy almost anything 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but there are also enough cultural attractions to fill months of sightseeing. That said, there are some key activities and sights that travellers simply should not miss. Take the city’s patchwork of vastly different neighbourhoods: a stroll from Chinatown through Soho and Tribeca to the West Village reveals the variety of life wedged together in down-town Manhattan. Then there’s the city’s astonishing architecture – you can walk past glorious Art Deco skyscrapers on one block and rows of genteel brownstones on the next – as well as its excellent museums, both the celebrated, like the Met and the American Museum of Natural History, and the less well-known but equally worthy, such as the Frick Collection and the Brooklyn Museum. As if the sights weren’t enough, New York has an exhaustive selection of shops, and world-class restaurants and bars that cater to any taste, budget, and schedule. It is justifiably famous for its diverse theater scene, with dozens of venues offering everything from high-gloss Broadway musicals to scruffy avant-garde performance pieces. And if it’s night life you’re after, look no further: the city’s throbbing, jam-packed clubs are known for their cutting-edge parties and music. In other words, just plan on sleeping once you get home.

Sandwiched between the bohemian chic of the East Village and the opulence of midtown, the knot of close-knit neighbourhoods east of Fifth Avenue might seem rather bland in comparison. Yet while it sees far less tourists, this part of town is equally dynamic, with a spate of new construction projects, some of the city’s best restaurants and stores, and several of New York’s most historically significant buildings and landmarks. Chief among the latter is Union Square between 14th and 17th streets, a bustling open space that breaks up Broadway’s pell-mell dash north.

To the north-east is the posh neighbourhood of Gramercy Park, with its private clubs and members-only park. Straddling Broadway north-west of Union Square and running up to 23rd Street, the Flatiron District was once the center of Manhattan’s fine shopping and still retains a certain elegance and energy, while foodies should make the pilgrimage to revitalized Madison Square Park to sample the celebrated burgers at Shake Shack. It is here, as you head north in the blocks between Third, Park, and Fifth avenues, that midtown Manhattan’s skyscrapers begin to rise from down-town’s generally low-lying buildings.

Photo by bobjagendorf on Flickr