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World Travel Guide > Guides > North America > United States of America > New York State > New York City

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New York City History

This area of North America was originally inhabited by the Lenape tribe of Native Americans, specifically the Unami.

Though European settlement began around 1609, modern New York City began with the formal creation of the five boroughs in 1898, and mass immigration followed in the early 20th century.

Each new community established roots in a different neighbourhood, giving the city areas like Chinatown, Little Italy and the Lower East Side - a stronghold of Jewish immigrants. African-Americans migrated from the south and helped fuel a cultural boom of art, music and literature in Harlem.

Despite the Great Depression of the 1930s, development continued, and skyscrapers began to shape the city’s aesthetic. Art deco buildings went up, as did as bridges and parkways, right through until WWII.

A post-war economic boom saw a real expansion of the residential boroughs, as Wall Street and the United Nations led the way in world economics and political affairs. Shipbuilding and fabric production declined but hotels, restaurants and bars opened up on an astonishing scale, transforming the city into a service economy.

New York in the 1960s shook with race riots, gang wars and activism on a proactive scale. Even through to the late 1970s, much of the city remained edgy.

As Wall Street took centre stage during the materialism of the 1980s, crime and unemployment stayed high, but as the 1990s approached, reform and social recovery were in the air. The dotcom market roared into life, fuelling a building boom across the city. Meanwhile, tough-talking Mayor Rudy Giuliani tackled crime, helping make New York, America's safest big city.

2001 was defined by the horrendous terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, when 3,000 people died. The trauma eventually fortified the city, and New York set about rebuilding itself, both psychologically and physically.

The 2000s saw New York on the ascent. New projects reshaped the city, from waterfront parks on Manhattan's West Side and Brooklyn to new stadiums and ballparks (including new arenas for the NY Yankees, the Mets and the Brooklyn Nets).

Did you know?
• In 1789, New York City became the first capital city of the US.
• A B-25 Bomber crashed into the 79th floor of the Empire State Building in 1945, leaving a 20-foot hole in the side.
• In 1944, the lights in the crown of the Statue of Liberty flashed dot-dot-dot-dash which means ‘V, for Victory in Europe’ in Morse code.

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Featured Hotels

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Crosby Street Hotel

This chic downtown hotel features 86 individually designed guestrooms and suites, all with floor-to-ceiling windows, original artwork and a stylish contemporary design. Guests also enjoy the leafy garden, the private screening room and a whimsically designed bar. The hotel is beautifully located on a cobblestone street just a short stroll from the great dining and shopping in Soho and Nolita.

Ye Olde Carlton Arms Hotel

A somewhat divisive 'art' hotel that lots of people really love for its location and pricing, but which you're going to dislike if you're humourless, or are a stickler for high levels of cleanliness. The rooms are individually designed with striking, and sometimes shocking, motifs, and the casual air recalls a backpacker's hostel but with individual rooms. Bohemian, definitely.

Lowell Hotel

New York hotels don't come too much classier than this 1927 landmark building, set on a leafy street in one of the Upper East Side's most fashionable spots. Discreet and aristocratic, the liveried doormen escort you to opulent rooms crammed with period furniture and antique décor. It manages to retain an understated air, though, and is the ultimate retreat for those that can afford it.

The Greenwich Hotel

This hip downtown spot fills a renovated historic building in the Tribeca neighbourhood. From the eclectic lobby with its comfy chairs and imported Moroccan screens, to the luxurious bathrooms featuring Carrara marble and hand-laid Turkish tiles, you'll feel a rich combination of style and decadence.

The Paramount

There is nothing traditional about The Paramount, a post-modern showplace. For example, in the entrance, red roses are displayed vertically in vases set into the wall. The lobby bar, designed by Philippe Starck, has platinum walls and a glamorous staircase sweeping up to the mezzanine. Guests can gaze down from their tables to the music and theatre industry leaders reclining on the slightly off-kilter furniture below.

The Gershwin

Not far from the much-photographed Flatiron Building is The Evelyn, set in a historic building that has housed one hotel after the other since 1905. Recently renovated rooms feature soft cocoa colour schemes, crisp white linens and spacious bathrooms, and the location is superbly central.