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If this is your first trip to New York, it will be impossible to take in the entire city. Because New York is almost unfathomably big and constantly changing, you could live your whole life here and still make fascinating daily discoveries.

Decide on a few must-see attractions, and then let the city take you on its own ride. But inevitably, as you make your way around the city, you'll be blown off course by unplanned diversions that are just as much fun as what you meant to see. After all, the true New York is in the details. As you dash from sight to sight, take time to admire a lovely cornice on a pre-war building, linger over a cup of coffee at a sidewalk cafe, or just idle away a few minutes on a bench watching New Yorkers parade through their daily lives.

Neighbourhoods define the character of this sometimes unwieldy but always engrossing city. Some, like the Lower East Side, are defined by a landmark like the Eldridge Street Synagogue and the conservative and Hasidic Jews who live and work there. Others, like artsy-chic Soho, barely resemble their original form – Soho was once seedy and filled with sweatshops, then reinvigorated and gentrified.

Places of Interest

American Museum of the Moving Image

Head here if you truly love movies. Unlike Manhattan's Museum of Television & Radio, which is more of a library, this is a thought-provoking museum examining how moving images, film, video, and digital, are made, marketed and shown. It encourages you to consider their impact on society as well. It's housed in part of the Kaufman Astoria Studios, which once were host to W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers, and more recently have been used by Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby and Sesame Street.

The museum's core exhibit, Behind the Screen, is a thoroughly engaging two-floor installation that takes you step-by-step through the process of making, marketing and exhibiting moving images. There are more than 1,000 artifacts on hand, from technological gadgetry to costumes, and interactive exhibits where you can try your own hand at sound effects editing or create your own animated shorts, among other simulations. Special-effects benchmarks, from the mechanical mouth of Jaws to the blending of past and present in Forrest Gump, are explored and explained. And in a nod to Hollywood nostalgia, memorabilia that wasn't swept up by the Planet Hollywood chain is displayed, including a Hopalong Cassidy lunch box, an E.T. doll, celebrity colouring books, and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis hand puppets. Also on display are sets from Seinfeld. Even better are the daily hands-on demonstrations, where you can watch film editors, animators and the like at work.

'Insiders' Hour' tours are offered every day at 2pm. Additionally, the museum hosts free film and video screenings, often accompanied by artist appearances, lectures or panel discussions. Seminars often feature renowned film and TV pros discussing their craft; past guests have included Spike Lee, Terry Gilliam, Chuck Jones and Atom Egoyan, so it's definitely worth seeing if someone's on while you're in town.

Bronx Zoo Wildlife Conservation Park

Founded in 1899, the Bronx Zoo is the largest metropolitan animal park in the United States, with more than 4,000 animals living on 265 acres, and one of the city's best attractions.

One of the most impressive exhibits is the Wild Asia Complex. This zoo-within-a-zoo comprises the Wild Asia Plaza education centre; Jungle World, an indoor re-creation of Asian forests, with birds, lizards, gibbons and leopards; and the Bengali Express Monorail, which takes you on a narrated ride high above free-roaming Siberian tigers, Asian elephants, Indian rhinoceroses and other non-native species. The Himalayan Highlands is home to some 17 extremely rare snow leopards, as well as red pandas and white-naped cranes. The 6 1/2-acre Congo Gorilla Forest is home to Western lowland gorillas, okapi, red river hogs and other African rainforest animals.

The Children's Zoo allows young humans to learn about their wildlife counterparts. Kids can compare their leaps to those of a bullfrog, slide into a turtle shell, climb into a heron's nest, see with the eyes of an owl and hear with the acute ears of a fox. There's also a petting zoo. Camel rides are another part of the summertime picture, as is the Butterfly Zone and the Skyfari aerial tram.

If the natural settings and breeding programs aren't enough to keep zoo residents entertained, they can always choose to ogle the two million annual visitors. But there are ways to beat the crowds. Try to visit on a weekday or on a nice winter's day. In summer, come early in the day, before the heat of the day sends the animals back into their enclosures.


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