Times Square, New York City

Times Square Love it or hate it, the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Ave (better known as Times Square) is New York City's hyperactive heart; a restless, hypnotic torrent of glittering lights, bombastic billboards and raw urban energy. It's not hip, fashionable or in-the-know, and it couldn't care less. It's too busy pumping out iconic, mass-marketed NYC – yellow cabs, golden arches, soaring skyscrapers and razzle-dazzle Broadway marquees. This is the New York of collective fantasies – the place where Al Jolson 'makes it' in the 1927 film The Jazz Singer , where photojournalist Alfred Eisenstaedt famously captured a lip-locked sailor and nurse on V-J Day in 1945, and where Alicia Keys and Jay-Z waxed lyrically about this 'concrete jungle where dreams are made.

For several decades, the dream here was a sordid, wet one. The economic crash of the early 1970s led to a mass exodus of corporations from Times Square. Billboard niches went dark, stores shut and once grand hotels were converted into SROs (single-room occupancy) dives, attracting the poor and the destitute. What was once an area bathed in light and showbiz glitz became a dirty den of drug dealers and crime. While the adjoining Theater District survived, its respectable playhouses shared the streets with porn cinemas, strip clubs and adult bookstores. That all changed with tough-talking mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who, in the 1990s, forced out the skin flicks, boosted police numbers and lured a wave of 'respectable' retail chains, restaurants and attractions. By the new millennium, Times Square had gone from 'X-rated' to 'G-rated,' drawing almost 40 million annual visitors and raking in more than $1.8 billion annually from its 17,000 hotel rooms.

For a panoramic overview over the square, order a drink at the Renaissance Hotel's R Lounge, which offers floor-to-ceiling glass windows of the neon-lit spectacle. It might not be the best-priced sip in town, but with a view like this, who's counting?