New York has a diverse geography. The southern part of the state consists of Long Island and several smaller associated islands, as well as New York City and the lower Hudson River Valley, most of which lie within the wider Atlantic Coastal Plain. The large region known as Upstate New York consists of several ranges of the wider Appalachian Mountains, including the Allegheny Plateau and Catskills along New York's Southern Tier, and the Adirondack Mountains, Thousand Islands archipelago, and Saint Lawrence Seaway in the Northeastern lobe of the state. These more mountainous regions are bisected by two major river valleys—the north-south Hudson River Valley and the east-west Mohawk River Valley, which forms the core of the Erie Canal. Western New York is considered part of the Great Lakes Region and straddles Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. Between the two lakes lies Niagara Falls. The central part of the state is dominated by the Finger Lakes, a popular vacation and tourist destination.
New York had been inhabited by tribes of Algonquian and Iroquoian-speaking Native Americans for several hundred years by the time the earliest Europeans came to New York. The first Europeans to arrive were French colonists and Jesuit missionaries who arrived southward from settlements at Montreal for trade and proselytizing. In 1609, the region was claimed by Henry Hudson for the Dutch, who built Fort Nassau in 1614 at the confluence of the Hudson and Mohawk rivers, where the present-day capital of Albany later developed. The Dutch soon also settled New Amsterdam and parts of the Hudson Valley, establishing the colony of New Netherland, a multicultural community from its earliest days and a center of trade and immigration. The British annexed the colony from the Dutch in 1664. The borders of the British colony, the Province of New York, were similar to those of the present-day state.
Many landmarks in New York are well known to both international and domestic visitors, with New York State hosting four of the world's ten most-visited tourist attractions in 2013: Times Square, Central Park, Niagara Falls (shared with Ontario), and Grand Central Terminal. New York is home to the Statue of Liberty, a symbol of the United States and its ideals of freedom, democracy, and opportunity. In the 21st century, New York has emerged as a global node of creativity and entrepreneurship, social tolerance, and environmental sustainability. New York's higher education network comprises approximately 200 colleges and universities, including Columbia University, Cornell University, New York University, and Rockefeller University, which have been ranked among the top 35 in the world.