Manhattan is generally considered to be the cultural and financial capital of the world. It hosts the United Nations Headquarters, is home to Wall Street and the world's two largest stock exchanges as well as many multinational media conglomerates, many of the country's most prestigious museums, and an incredibly diverse population. Manhattan is accessible through many world-renowned bridges, such as the Brooklyn bridge and it hosts some of the most famous skyscrapers in the country.
The island is said to have been purchased from the Native Americans by the Dutch for the equivalent of $1,050 (60 guilders / $24 in 1626). Since then, Manhattan real estate has become among the most expensive in the world. The value of Manhattan, including its real estate, is estimated to exceed #3 trillion as of 2013.
Manhattan is coterminous with New York County, and while it is the second smallest county by land area in the country, it is the most densely populated county in the United States. Manhattan's population is about 1.6 million, all living in 22.8 square miles which is about 72,000 residents per square mile. On weekdays, the population of the island increases to 3.9 million due to the influx of commuters from outer boroughs and neighboring cities.
New York City received nearly 60 million tourists in 2015 and is home to 3 of the 10 most visited tourist attractions in the world: Times Square, Central Park, and Grand Central Terminal. Beyond tourist attractions, Manhattan is home to some extremely historically significant places: Chinatown is the highest concentration of Chinese people in the Western Hemisphere, Stonewall Inn is considered to be the birthplace of the gay rights movement, to name just a few.
The name "Manhattan" derives from the word Manna-hata, as written in the 1609 logbook of Robert Juet, an officer on Henry Hudson's yacht Halve Maen (Half Moon).The word "Manhattan" has been translated as "island of many hills" from the Lenape language.
The public transportation system is expansive and may seem intimidating at first, but it runs 24/7 and services millions of commuters and tourists daily. The subway charges a single fare between any two destinations, whether you are traveling one stop between Times Square and Herald Square (a 10 minute walk), or from Columbia University's medical school campus to JFK International Airport (a 19 mile trek). For those living farther away, there are several light rail trains that serve folks to the North (Metro North), East (Long Island Rail Road), and West (the New Jersey PATH train). Those who live due South of Manhattan take a ferry (The Staten Island Ferry and New York Waterways ferries).
Mayor Michael Bloomberg's decade in office saw a dramatic increase in NYC support for bikers. Countless miles of new bike lanes, some separated by medians. Citibike also came online in 2013 providing short term rental bikes and docking stations all over the city (just don't keep it for longer than 45 minutes). While biking alongside seemingly reckless cab drivers, aggressive bus drivers, and blind-spot laden delivery trucks is not for everyone, a bike during rush hour traffic can often be faster than any other mode of transportation, especially when there is no direct subway line to your destination.
Before the Dutch settled the island that is now Manhattan, it was inhabited by Native Americans. The first European to visit the area was Giovanni da Verrazzano, who arrived in service of King Francis of France in 1524.
The area was not mapped until Henry Hudson came across the island in 1609. A permanent European presence began in 1624 in New Netherland, beginning with the founding of a Dutch fur trading settlement on Governor's Island. In 1625, construction was started on the citadel of Fort Amsterdam on Manhattan Island, in what is now Lower Manhattan. This establishment is recognized as the birth of New York City.
In 1664, the English conquered New Netherland and renamed it "New York" after the English Duke of York and Albany, the future King James II. The citizens of the former New Netherland were able to retain their previously attained liberties, including freedom of religion, under the new colonial English rulers.
New York quickly grew as an economic center. By 1810, it had surpassed Philadelphia as the largest city in the United States, largely due to Alexander Hamilton's policies and practices and with the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 which connected the Atlantic port to markets in the midwest.
In the 19th Century, the rate of immigration from Europe grew steeply. Following the Civil War, New York became the first stop for immigrants seeking new lives in the United States. France dedicated the Statue of Liberty to the United States a testament of this. The huge influx of Europeans brought social upheaval, however. The city became heavy with tenements and poorly paid laborers from across the world. The city became a hotbed for revolution, syndicalism, and unionization.The construction of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883 established connections to Brooklyn across the East River, which in turn created a large and more diverse area of land.
The construction of the Subway, which opened in 1904, bound the city together, as did the addition bridges that were built across the East River into Brooklyn. In the 1920s, Manhattan experienced large arrivals of African Americans from the South. NYC became the most populous city in the world, overtaking London in 1925 which had reigned as such for a century. The majority white ethnic group of Manhattan declined from 98.7% in 1900 to 58.3% in 1990.
The 1970s brought job losses due to industrial restructuring which caused NYC to suffer economic problems as well as rising crime rates. Despite a resurgence in the financial industry, NY's crime rate continued to increase through the 1990s.
New York generally is very safe by comparison to other large cities, and Manhattan in particular is extremely safe. In 2011 New York had the lowest crime rate among the US's 25 largest cities according to the FBI Uniform Crime Reports. You should check out crime statistics for individual neighborhoods, as there is variation even among Manhattan neighborhoods.