New York City once solely consisted of Manhattan; the other five boroughs were only added after 1898, thanks to the construction of multiple bridges and the subway system. But these days, it’s hard to imagine New York City without the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island (listed alphabetically to not show favoritism; borough pride is a real thing!). Each borough is special for its own right, and offers its own set of worthwhile sights and activities. Whether you’re a visitor with a bucket list, or a local that needs to venture outside his or her comfort zone, here are some highlights of each borough that makes up New York City.
Home to the world famous New York Yankees (or Bronx Bombers as the locals call them) and the birthplace of East Coast hip hop, the Bronx has experienced significant development over the last few decades. Suburban enough that residents water their grassy front lawns and having a car is nearly required, there’s no shortage of landmark activities and old school restaurants to pass the time.
EAT Some of the best Italian food can be found along famous Arthur Avenue, a street rooted in pride and old-school charm. Sit down for a traditional Italian meal in the “real Little Italy of New York” at Roberto’s Restaurant. Pizza lovers’ best not skip the greatest slice in the Bronx at Louie & Ernie’s Pizza on Crosby Avenue, before heading down the block to family owned Zeppieri & Sons Italian Bakery for a sugar rush.
STAY The recently opened Residence Inn New York The Bronx at Metro Center Atrium is a top choice. It features modern suites that include spacious living areas and fully-equipped kitchens. Generous amenities include complimentary breakfast and pet-friendly rooms, plus close proximity to public transportation for daily excursions.
HIGHLIGHT A trip to the Bronx would not be complete with visiting the famed Bronx Zoo, the largest metropolitan zoo in the U.S. Ride the monorail through Wild Asia and get up close to gorillas in Congo Forest. After a day in the wild, consider heading next door to the New York Botanical Garden for a picnic among the foliage, or check out Gun Hill Brewery for some delicious local beers.
The second most recognized borough (after Manhattan) is undoubtedly Brooklyn, where the neighborhoods vary as much as the weather, from trendy DUMBO and cool-kid Williamsburg to hipster Bed-Stuy and beachfront Coney Island. The music and art scene runs through the streets faster than the L train, with new art exhibitions, concerts and pop-ups happening around almost every corner.
EAT Reserve a table at Maison Premiere in Williamsburg for a stylish date night, where dining on oysters in the fern-covered garden is the perfect aphrodisiac; Instagram your heart out at Sunday in Brooklyn (also in Williamsburg), where everyone is drooling over stacks of malted pancakes; or make the trek to Midwood and stand in line with other pizza fans for the prized slices at Di Fara Pizza.
STAY Inspired by Brooklyn, The William Vale is an independent hotel in Williamsburg featuring all-balcony hotel rooms and some of the very best views of the Manhattan skyline. A 60-foot pool (the longest outdoor hotel pool in Brooklyn) with cabanas and an adjacent 5,000-square-foot terrace make this hotel one of the most sought-after spots in BK.
HIGHLIGHT The Brooklyn Bridge, a cable-suspension bridge connecting lower Manhattan to DUMBO, is likely the most popular attraction in Brooklyn. Walking across this landmark bridge as the traffic moves below is iconic. Adventure seekers ought to visit Coney Island to ride the 90-year-old Coney Island Cyclone, a wooden rollercoaster that is sure to make anyone’s hair whip.
New York’s most famous borough is commonly mistaken as the whole of New York City. While the island of Manhattan is just 1/5 of the destination, it consists of 53 different neighborhoods and is home to a majority of the tourist attractions, from the Empire State Building to Grand Central Terminal and Central Park.
EAT Chic ABC Kitchen near Union Square is a New American eatery from Jean-Georges that transforms local, organic ingredients into a sensory stimulating culinary experience; for those with a fondness for Mexican-fare and tequila, contemporary Cosme near Madison Square Park is the way to go; newcomer Don Angie in the Village dishes out lasagna pinwheels that will leave you wanting more.
STAY The Park South Hotel is a four-star boutique property located on the crossways of nearly three different neighborhoods (NoMad, Kips Bay and Flatiron), making it the perfect base for all sorts of Manhattan exploring. Home to one of the city’s most non-pretentious rooftop bars, Roof at Park South, and serving up deliciously deadly frozen cocktails, you’ll almost never want to venture outside the hotel.
HIGHLIGHT Pass through Times Square’s blinding lights and see one of the longest-running musicals on Broadway, including Wicked or Phantom of the Opera; hang on to the playbill and wait after the show to potentially snag a performer’s autograph. Aside from the classic tourist sites and “must-do” attractions and museums, seeing the city from the Hudson River is a unique experience. Consider a glass-roofed boat cruise with Bateaux or a casual seafood dinner aboard North River Lobster Co.
Queens is the largest and fastest developing borough. Ethnically influenced, a visit resembles a condensed round-the-world trip: Head to Flushing and you’re transported to China; go to Astoria and you’re in Greece; visit Elmhurst and it’s quite similar to Thailand. No wonder Queens is home to two airports, LaGuardia and the JFK.
EAT Seafood lovers should head to Taverna Kyclades, a well-known and traditional Greek restaurant; locals love Vite Vinosteria for its rustic-chic décor and home-style Italian fare, plus ample varieties of wine; for the best sandwiches, pick up a panino from Il Bambino. All three restaurants are located in Astoria.
STAY Rest up at the hip Boro Hotel in Long Island City and enjoy chic rooms with designer bedding, a garden terrace with a modern café, and a rooftop bar with panoramic city views. Explore emerging Long Island City neighborhood or take a short 4-minute walk to the subway and be in Manhattan within minutes.
HIGHLIGHT A trip to CitiField is a must if visiting during baseball (or concert) season, thanks to the major culinary upgrade it recently received, including Denmark-based Mikkeller Brewery with 60 beers on tap, plus burgers and hot dogs. For the culturally inclined, check out MoMAPS1 for contemporary art and frequent happenings.
Staten Island is the southernmost and least-known borough. Although nicknamed the “forgotten borough” and only accessible by boat or car (as Staten Island is not connected to New York City by subway), its removed position does not make it any less desirable. Filled with history, art and acres of parkland, plus major upcoming developments, Staten Island should not be skipped.
EAT Known for its dense population of Italian families, it’s a no-brainer to enjoy home-style Italian cuisine, especially at Enoteca Maria, where the kitchen is staffed by nonnas from around the world. For live music or a livelier brunch, head to Phunky Elephant for American comfort food and a cool backyard patio, where you can also sip beer from Flagship Brewery.
STAY Travel back in time to the 19th-century at the exceptional Victorian Bed & Breakfast of Staten Island, and enjoy the original 1860 decor, full home-cooked breakfasts and afternoon tea, and rooms decorated with antiques. This Port Richmond B&B is close to major attractions like the Staten Island Zoo, Ellis Island, and Snug Harbor.
HIGHLIGHT The Staten Island Ferry receives millions of riders each year for its free access and breathtaking views. Hop on for the 25 minute ride and get up-close-and-person with Lady Liberty herself. Once docked, check out the Chinese Scholar Garden and Snug Harbor Cultural Center before taking the ferry back to the mainland. Although not yet complete, the ongoing project of constructing the New York Wheel, Staten Island’s 630-foot observation wheel (think: London Eye), will be a must-visit attraction once it finally opens.
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