Literary buffs might also want to visit the Edgar Allan Poe Cottage, the last home of the brilliant but troubled author of The Raven, The Tell-Tale Heart, and other masterworks.
And to learn about life today in the Bronx, as well as the history of the borough, sign up for one of the terrific tours sponsored by the Bronx Tourism Council (tel. 718/590-3518; www.Ilovethebronx.com) and the Bronx Council on the Arts (tel. 718/931-9500; www.bronxarts.org). These include walking tours of the borough's fabulous "Little Italy" Arthur Avenue, as well as music tours focussing on either latin rhythms or hip hop.
It’s easy to link visits to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and Prospect Park, as they’re all an easy walk from one another, just off Grand Army Plaza. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux as a suitably grand entrance to their Prospect Park, it boasts a Civil War memorial arch designed by John H. Duncan (1892–1901) and the main Brooklyn Public Library, an Art Deco masterpiece completed in 1941 (the garden and museum are on the other side of the library, down Eastern Pkwy.). The area is a half-hour subway ride from Midtown.
Brooklyn Tours -- What better way to experience history-rich Brooklyn than A Slice of Brooklyn Pizza Tour (tel. 917/678-9733; www.asliceofbrooklyn.com). And Brooklyn has no dearth of good pizza. Guided by affable and knowledgeable Brooklyn native and pizza aficionado Tony Muia, the bus tour begins in Manhattan and heads over the Manhattan Bridge for a look at DUMBO, the Brooklyn Bridge, and Fulton Ferry Landing, and then stops at Grimaldi’s for Neapolitan pizza. From Grimaldi’s, the bus keeps to the south of the borough, passing the Brooklyn waterfront, the neighborhood of Red Hook, and then into Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst, where Tony will show you film locations for movies such as Saturday Night Fever, Goodfellas, and The French Connection. The bus stops at L&B Spumoni Gardens in Bensonhurst for authentic Brooklyn Sicilian pizza, and then on to Coney Island where, if it is summer, you can ride the famous Cyclone roller coaster and attempt to keep all the pizza you have just eaten in your stomach. The 4 1/2-hour tour is $80 ($70 children 11 and under), including pizza at both pizzerias and soft drinks.
There are New York natives and there are Brooklyn natives—please don’t confuse the two. Norman Oder is the latter and proud of it. His New York Like a Native tours (tel. 718/393-7537; www.nylikeanative.com) cover the borough, the fourth-largest city in America, as extensively as anyone, from his “Brooklyn 101,” which takes visitors to the heart of Brooklyn, Grand Army Plaza, Prospect Park, Park Slope, and Brooklyn Heights, to the more neighborhood-specific tours like that of the Polish-populated Greenpoint and the Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish Borough Park.
Here are five Brooklyn sights that, according to Norman Oder of the above-mentioned “New York Like a Native” tours, are often missed by guidebooks but much appreciated by Brooklyn natives.
1. Downtown Brooklyn: The 1907 Beaux Arts-style Dime Savings Bank is a spectacular example of the financial cathedral.
2. Williamsburg Art & Historical Center: Located in the 1867-built Kings County Savings Bank at 135 Broadway, this is the largest gallery space in Williamsburg.
3. Prison Ship Martyrs Monument: In Fort Greene Park (www.fortgreenepark.org), this oft-overlooked monument, designed by the legendary architectural firm of McKim, Meade & White, was dedicated by President Taft in 1908 and commemorates the sacrifices of more than 11,000 patriots during the Revolutionary War.
4. Pratt Institute: Before Brooklyn native Pete Hamill went on to a celebrated writing career, he studied art here. The campus has a terrific sculpture garden and a wide array of works, surrounded by buildings both modern and classic.
5. Brooklyn Lyceum: On the edge of the very residential neighborhood known as Park Slope, this quirky and cavernous performance space for music, theater, and more was once a public bathhouse.
It is also, arguably, the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in the United States, as you'll discover if you ride the so-called International Express. The no. 7 train—which originates in Manhattan at Times Square, makes three stops in that borough, and then snakes, mostly above ground, through the heart of ethnic Queens—is also popularly known as the International Express. Built by immigrants in the early 1900s, the no. 7 IRT (Interborough Rapid Transit) brought those same immigrants to homes on the outer fringes of New York City. That tradition has continued as immigrants from around the world have settled close by the no. 7’s elevated tracks. Get off in Sunnyside and see Romanian grocery stores and restaurants; a few stops farther in Jackson Heights, you’ll see Indians in saris and Sikhs in turbans; go all the way to Flushing and you’ll think you are in Chinatown. You are—Flushing’s Chinatown, as big or bigger than Manhattan’s. In 1999, the Queens Council on the Arts nominated the International Express for designation as a National Millennium Trail, and that resulted in its selection as representative of the American immigrant experience by the White House Millennium Council, the United States Department of Transportation, and the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. For more information and for events, visit the Queens Council on the Arts website, at www.queenscouncilarts.org (tel. 347/505-3010).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.