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If civic politics is the American religion, then Washington DC is the nation's holy city. White houses, capital and pentagonal buildings, supreme courts - these monumental Lego shrines are rarefied with real power. A patriotic combination of history and histrionics: BYO wiretap. Sightseeing in DC is a steady diet of museums and monuments. History, ethnography, flora, fauna, antiques and ancestral bones - anything you can display in a glass case, commemorate on a plaque, or stick in a cage - is available free of charge to the visitor.

Calling the quaint and charming city of Boston the 'Athens of America' might seem a bit braggadocio, but the city's 19th-century glory radiates through its grand architecture, its population of literati, artists and educators and its world-renowned academic and cultural institutions. The image of brownstone Boston bounces off the shiny mirrored skyscrapers around it but, at street level, it's still a history buff's favourite American city. The past is everywhere, from colonial buildings downtown to the grand 19th-century mansions in South End to cosy musuems.

Los Angeles has littered the world with its paraphernalia. Disneyland, movie stars, TV, fast-food and hype - it's all here in overdrive. LA may be a figment of its own imagination, but if you long to stand in the footsteps of stars and breathe their hallowed air, you've come to the right place.

Things to do in LA tend to gravitate around a common theme - stars. There are so many tours and shows to attend you could forget to do anything else. However, there is culture: it is housed at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. A night at the Hollywood Bowl is also a treat.

It used to be called 'God's Waiting Room' because of the many octogenarians eking out their last moments by the pool, but today the old folks mingle with fashion designers, bikini models and Cuban émigrés, and the city that once had the highest murder rate in the US attracts millions of tourists.

Miami's steamy hedonism, stay-forever beaches and propensity for neon tack can blind the casual visitor to its more subtle charms. If you dig a little, you'll turn up some truly impressive art, and architecture aficionados and amateurs alike will be knocked out by some of its streetscapes.

New Orleans
New Orleans seduces with Caribbean colour and waves of sultry Southern heat. Enshrouding us in dreams and ancient melodies, its sweet-tasting cocktails are laced with voodoo potions. The unofficial state motto, laissez les bons temps rouler ('let the good times roll'), pretty much says it all.

The heart and soul of the city is undoubtedly the French Quarter, all of which is a National Historic District. Most of the city's museums, historic houses and markets are found here. The Tremé district was first home to the city's black population, and the cemetery here is a grisly highlight.

New York City
They don't come any bigger than the Big Apple - king of the hill, top of the heap, New York, New York. It's got its fair share of the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses, but it also has world-class museums, big statues, even bigger buildings, outrageous excess, and a whole lot of whooo-wheee!

From the top of the Empire State Building to the bottom of a glass in a Manhattan nightclub, New York has it all. For a closer look at the city, wander through Times Square and the streets of Greenwich Village and Soho, check out the Wall Street super traders, or hop a ferry to Staten Island.

Although it's dear to the hearts of America's flag-wavers, there's a lot more to Philly than the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. However, despite the support of patriots and the cappuccino set, the 'City of Brotherly Love' has long been the butt of jokes by WC Fields and other laugh-a-minute types.

Philadelphia: a year of high-school history lessons condensed into an attractive school excursion package. Start with the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, where both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were signed. For culture fiends there are museums and galleries a-plenty.

San Francisco
San Francisco has an atmosphere of genteel chic mixed with offbeat innovation and a self-effacing quality so blatantly missing from brassy New York and plastic LA. Its hilly streets provide some gorgeous glimpses of the sparkling bay and its famous bridges.

The city's steepness makes for some wonderfully panoramic viewpoints. Spread out below you is an appetising mix of colourful neighbourhoods, bohemian history, mind-teasing art, innovative architecture and restorative parks. Go explore - by foot if you're particularly sprightly, by cable car if not.

Why is NYC Called the Big Apple?
In the 1920s, a sportswriter for the Morning Telegraph named John Fitzgerald overheard stablehands in New Orleans refer to NYC's racetracks as "the Big Apple." He named his column "Around the Big Apple." A decade later, jazz musicians adopted the term to refer to New York City, and especially Harlem, as the jazz capital of the world. There are many apples on the trees of success, they were saying, but when you pick New York City, you pick the big apple.

The Bronx: How Swede It is
The Bronx was settled in 1639 and is named for the Swedish settler Jonas Bronck. There are more than 60 landmarks and historic districts in the Bronx, including the Edgar Allen Poe Cottage on the Grand Concourse and the stately Van Cortland House Museum in Van Cortlandt Park.

Why Cabs Are Yellow
John Hertz, who founded the Yellow Cab Company in 1907, chose yellow because he had read a study conducted by the University of Chicago that indicated it was the easiest color to spot.

Where the Famous Go to Rest
Green-Wood Cemetery, in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park, is one of the world’s most beautiful cemeteries. With a spectacular harbor view and 478 acres filled with trees and flowering shrubs, Green-Wood is the eternal resting place of a who’s who of famous folks, including Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Morse, F.A.O Schwartz, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Charles Tiffany, and "Boss" Tweed.

Looking for Main Street?
You won’t find it in Manhattan. There is, however, a Main Street in each of the other boroughs and on Roosevelt Island.

A City of Islands
Manhattan and Staten Island are islands; Queens and Brooklyn are on the western tip of Long Island. So, of New York City’s five boroughs, only the Bronx is part of the mainland. However, there is an island that ‘s part of the Bronx and yet feels like a New England fishing village: City Island, a marine-related community offering fishing, boating, and a wide range of restaurants and snack bars.

Statue of Liberty Stats
The Lady in the Harbor is 101 feet tall from base to torch, 305 feet tall from pedestal foundation to torch. She has a 35-foot waist and an 8-foot index finger, and she weighs 450,000 pounds.

Did you know…?
There are 6,374.6 miles of streets in New York City.

Broadway's Original Name was the Wiechquaekeck Trail. It was an old Algonquin trade route.

The Times Square Business Improvement District (212/768-1560) dropped a ball designed and crafted by Waterford Crystal for New Year’s Eve 1999.

The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is so long – 4,260 feet – that the towers are a few inches out of parallel to accommodate the curvature of the earth.

New York City has 578 miles of waterfront.

Some of the immigrants who passed through Ellis Island and went on to illustrious careers are: Irving Berlin, musician, arrived in 1893 from Russia; Marcus Garvey, politician, arrived 1916 from Jamaica; Bob Hope, comedian, arrived in 1908 from England; Knute Rockne, football coach, arrived in 1893 from Norway; and the von Trapp family of "Sound of Music" fame, arrived in 1938 from Austria. (Source: “Ellis Island & Statue of Liberty,” Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island, 212/363-7620).

The Consolidated Edison electrical substation, built in 1975, has an illusionistic mural of the Brooklyn Bridge by Richard Haas on one side to help it blend in with its historic neighbor.

The Bronx is the only New York borough connected to the mainland.

Since the 1920’s, Queens has been the ‘home of jazz,’ the residence of choice for hundreds of jazz musicians, including such notables as Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Dizzy Gillespie (source: The Queens Jazz Trail Committee, 718/463-7700).

Built circa 1680, the Conference House (also known as the Billop House) was the site of a fateful meeting in 1776.

The British, represented by Admiral Lord Richard Howe, and the Continental Congress, represented by Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Edward Rutledge, engaged in an attempt to forestall the American Revolution.

The 2˝ mile boardwalk at Staten Island's South Beach (718/390-8000) is the fourth longest in the world.

The New York City Department of Transportation is responsible for approximately 5,700 miles of streets and highways and 753 bridge structures and tunnels.

The triangular shape of the Flatiron Building (an early skyscraper on 23rd Street) produced wind currents that made women’s skirts billow and caused police to create the term ’23 skiddoo’ to shoo gapers from the area.

The world’s largest gothic cathedral is the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine (212/316-7540) – and it’s still under construction. Its first stone was laid in 1892.

The nation’s largest public Halloween parade is the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade (914/758-5519).

The New York Mercantile Exchange (212/299-2000) is world’s largest physical commodity futures exchange.

Macy’s, the world’s largest store, covers 2.1 million square feet of space and stocks over 500,000 different items.

The New York Botanical Garden (718/817-8700) is home to the nation’s largest Victorian glasshouse, the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, a New York City landmark that has showcased NYBG’s distinguished tropical, Mediterranean, and desert plant collections since 1902.

The Panorama of the City of New York in the Queens Museum of Art is the world’s largest architectural model, containing 895,000 individual structures at a scale of 1 inch equals 100 feet.

The Sandy Ground Historical Society (718/317-5796) offers a look at the oldest continuously inhabited free black settlement in the nation.

The oldest schoolhouse still standing, built in 1695, is situated in Historic Richmond Town (718/351-1611).

The country’s oldest municipal golf course, opened in 1895, is in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx.

Number of bird species in Central Park is 215.

Most Popular Baby Names in NYC
1898: Mary
1948: Linda
1998: Ashley

1898: John
1948: Robert
1998: Michael

First in the Field:
The first children’s gardening program ever established at a botanic garden was begun at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (718/622-4433) in 1914.

The Brooklyn Children’s Museum (718/735-4402) is the world’s first museum for kids.

Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (212/875-5000), America’s first performing arts center, held its first performance on September 23, 1962.

Babe Ruth hit the first home run in Yankee Stadium in the first game ever played there.

Opened in 1633 in the Market Field, which is now the financial district, was the first public brewery in America. Colonists loved their beer and often had a mug with their breakfast.

Only in New York City:
The Cloisters (212/923-3700), a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is the only museum in America dedicated exclusively to medieval art.

The Caribbean Cultural Center (212/307-7420) is the only cultural organization in the U.S. that represents all of the diverse artistic expressions and traditions of the African diaspora.

New York City History:
In 1898, the five boroughs – The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island – were incorporated into a single entity, known as Greater New York.

Ellis Island Immigration Station officially opened its doors to the world on Friday, January 1, 1892. Annie Moore, a 15-year-old Irish girl, was the first to be questioned in the immigration station’s second-floor Registry Room. (Source: “Ellis Island & Statue of Liberty,” Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island, 212/363-7620).

From 1892 to 1924, 12 million immigrants entered the United States through Ellis Island.

The Titanic was scheduled to arrive at Chelsea Piers on April 16, 1912 at the conclusion of her maiden voyage. Fate intervened, and the “unsinkable” ship struck an iceberg and sank on April 14, 1912. Of the 2,200 passengers aboard, 675 were rescued by the Cunard liner Carpathia, which arrived at the Chelsea Piers on April 20th. (Source: Chelsea Piers Sports & Entertainment Complex, 212/212/336-6666).

Downtown NYC Fun Facts
Courtesy of The Downtown Alliance

Downtown Manhattan was the site of the nation's first capital.

As late as the 1840s, thousands of pigs roamed Wall Street to consume garbage - an early sanitation system

Under the Dutch, Wall Street - where there really was a wall - was the city limit.

Author Jack London once lived as a hobo in City Hall Park.

Federal Hall National Memorial was the site of George Washington's first inauguration.

The New York Stock Exchange is the world's largest exchange.

New York City's first theater was on Beaver Street.

Castle Clinton was built to defend he harbor against the British during the War of 1812.

Downtown's only remaining philately business has been here over 65 years.

St. Paul's Chapel is Manhattan's oldest public building in continuous use.

Bowling Green is the oldest park in New York City.

Castle Clinton has functioned as an opera house, an aquarium, and a gateway for over 8 million immigrants.

The New York Stock Exchange has an annual trading volume of $5.5 trillion.

46% of leisure visitors to Downtown come from outside the United States.

When built, 120 Broadway's Equitable Building cast a 7-acre shadow, leading to the creation of zoning setback laws.

200 ticker-tape parades have taken place in Lower-Broadway's 'Canyon of Heroes.

In 1664, the city's tallest structure was a 2-story windmill.

Alexander Hamilton and Robert Fulton are buried in the Trinity Church graveyard.

Legend has it that Peter Minuit paid $24 in trinkets to purchase the island of Manhattan from Leni Lenape Indians at Bowling Green.

The vaults of the Federal Reserve Bank on Maiden Lane store more than one-quarter of the world's gold bullion.

The Woolworth Building - the 'Cathedral of Commerce' - was the tallest building in the world from 1913 to 1929.

Without firing a shot, the British seized control of Nieuwe Amsterdam from the Dutch in 1664 and renamed it New York City.

Downtown was the shipping capital of the world in the 19th century.

The first ticker-tape parade celebrated the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in 1886.

Broadway began as an Algonquin trade route called the Wiechquaekeck Trail.

Master architect Cass Gilbert designed six Downtown buildings including the US Custom House at One Bowling Green.

A 7,000-pound bronze 'Charging Bull' mysteriously appeared one day in 1989 in front of the New York Stock Exchange - the bull is now at Bowling Green.

The Brooklyn Bridge was the first bridge to be lit using electricity.

The New York Stock Exchange began in 1792 when 24 brokers met under a buttonwood tree facing 68 Wall Street.

On completion, the Brooklyn Bridge was the world's longest suspension bridge and the city's tallest structure.

The trading area of the New York Stock Exchange is about two-thirds the size of a football field.

The New York Mercantile Exchange began as the Butter and Cheese Exchange in the 1750s.

J.P. Morgan's former apartment on the 31st floor in 14 Wall Street is now home to a popular French restaurant.

Washington Irving, the great American writer, was born in 1783 at 131 William Street.

When it built its headquarters at 26 Broadway, Standard Oil Company was the largest U.S. corporation and its founder, John D. Rockefeller, was the wealthiest person in the world.

Phillippe Petit walked a tightrope between the rooftops of the World Trade Center towers in 1974.

The northern façade of City Hall was left unfinished when the building was erected in 1803 - no one foresaw that the city would expand beyond Downtown.