Manhattan is just one of the five boroughs that make up the very Big Apple. And while it has the lion's share of attractions (including the docks for the Statue of Liberty, the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Natural History, the 9/11 Museum and Memorial, Central Park, and more), Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens have sights that would be stand-outs in any other city of America and ethnic neighborhoods that are fascinating to explore. They also have the best views of Manhattan (I'll loop in Staten Island on that last one). So cross a bridge, take a tunnel or a ferry, drive or ride, but do get out of Manhattan for at least one day. You'll be glad you did.
Brooklynites are quick to tell you that their borough is the fourth-largest city in the United States. That's because this borough is about pride and attitude. And though it has been over 50 years since the team left, don't even talk about the Dodgers.
Brooklyn is also about neighborhoods and diversity; the borough is a pleasure to explore, though gentrification is creeping into many of the once diverse neighborhoods. Some highlights include New York's first historic district, Brooklyn Heights, with its elegant brownstones; the Promenade, with its spectacular view of Manhattan; and the romantic River Cafe. Truman Capote lived here in the 1950s and wrote a wonderful essay about the experience, A House on the Heights. Luckily, it has now been reissued in book form, published by the Little Bookroom. He captures much of the magic of the place. (In fact, the novels and stories about, and set in, Brooklyn are legion - from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to The Fortress of Solitude. If you have time, check out a few. A guidebook - even one as good as this one - can only take you so far.) To get to Brooklyn Heights, take the A or C to Jay Street; the 2 or 3 to Clark Street; or the M (during rush hours) and R to Court Street.
One of the first Brooklyn neighborhoods to undergo major gentrification was DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). What was once a scattering of warehouses is now a thriving (far from starving) artist's colony, with those warehouses now converted into expensive lofts, and just about impossible for most artists to afford. The main drag is Washington Street, and businesses are beginning to populate the area. It's here where you'll find Jacques Torres Chocolate, the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, and Juliana's (far better pizza than Grimaldi's nearby). The best way to get to DUMBO is the F train to York Street or the A or C to High Street.
Brooklyn's now-way-past-hip neighborhood (though the very hippest say it's "over") is Williamsburg. In the early 1990s, artists began to flee Manhattan's high rents to live here among the Hispanic and Hasidic communities already there. Now, though, the pioneers have seen their once independent and inexpensive enclave being transformed into Brooklyn's version of SoHo. There are a number of funky, youth-oriented boutiques along the neighborhood's main drag, Bedford Avenue, but Williamsburg is also the home of that venerable red-meat institution, Peter Luger. The best train to take to get to Williamsburg from Manhattan is the L to Bedford Avenue.
Other emerging neighborhoods are Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, and Boerum Hill. Smith Street cuts through all three and has become a booming restaurant destination. To get to Smith Street, the best train is the F, with stops at either Carroll Street or Bergen Street.
Downtown Brooklyn off Flatbush Avenue is probably best known for BAM, the Brooklyn Academy of Music. You'll also find a number of department stores and one of the borough's most beloved landmarks, Junior's, the diner noted for its cheesecakes. Many subway lines converge in downtown Brooklyn at the Pacific Street/Atlantic Avenue station, including the 2, 3, 4, 5, B, D, N, Q, and R, as well as the LIRR commuter railroad (you can catch a train at Penn Station in Manhattan).
Park Slope is probably the heart of Brooklyn; it is here and in nearby Prospect Heights where you find the Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, and Prospect Park and the Richard Meier glass condos, symbolic of the change that is enveloping Brooklyn. The 2 and 3 trains to Grand Army Plaza will land you close to all of the above.
In its heyday during the early 20th century, Coney Island was to New York what South Beach is to Miami. This was where everyone flocked to escape the heat and grime of a New York summer day. Few remnants of Coney Island's past remain, such as the long-defunct parachute ride; but during the summer, you can still ride on one of the best roller coasters anywhere, the famous Cyclone. After several fits and starts, Astroland, the famous amusement park, closed in the fall of 2008, though the city took over the property and opened Luna Park in the spring of 2010. For an idea of what the place was like in its heyday, have a look at Ric Burns's film, Coney Island. Coney Island is also the home of the New York Aquarium and the Mets' minor-league baseball team, the Cyclones. To get to Coney Island, take the F or Q to West 8th Street, Brooklyn.
Perhaps the most famous destination in the Bronx, and next to Rome's Colosseum maybe one of the most celebrated sports arenas in the world, is Yankee Stadium - although 2008 was the old stadium's last season. Even if you are a Yankee hater, you will be awed by the new Yankee Stadium, a modernized replica of the House that Ruth Built (some are calling the new stadium the House that Jeter Built). The 4, B, or D trains all stop there. The Bronx is also the home of the United States' largest metropolitan animal park, the Bronx Zoo, and the New York Botanical Garden. Both are wonders worthy of an excursion. To get to the Bronx Zoo, you can take the 2 or 5 train to East Tremont Ave/West Farms Square and walk to the zoo's Asia gate entrance (Gate A). To get to the Botanical Garden, you can take Metro-North Harlem local line from Grand Central Station to the Botanical Garden station.
While visiting the Bronx Zoo or the Botanical Garden, stop at the Little Italy of the Bronx, Arthur Avenue, for a mouthwatering walk past meat markets, delis, vegetable stands, fish markets, cafes, and restaurants. To get to Arthur Avenue, take the 4, B, or D train to Fordham Road and transfer to the no. 12 bus east, or the no. 2 or 5 train to Pelham Parkway and the no. 12 bus west.
Queens is the largest borough in New York and it's also the city's most ethnically diverse. There are more languages spoken in its 109 square miles than anywhere else on the planet. All that ethnicity translates into an adventurous eater's paradise. We've dined on Thai, Peruvian, Indian, Guyanese, Greek, Colombian, and Brazilian here, and we've barely scratched the surface. But there's more to Queens than just food.
Astoria, with its large Greek community, is also the home of the fabulous Museum of the Moving Image, dedicated to film, television, and digital productions. To get there, take the R to Steinway Street or the N or Q to 36th Avenue.
With former warehouses and factories being converted to expensive condos, Long Island City, directly across the river from Manhattan's Upper East Side, is becoming Queens's version of DUMBO. It is also where you will find a number of museums, including the Noguchi Museum, Socrates Park, and the P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center. The best train to take to get to Long Island City is the no. 7, also known as the International Express, running through one ethnic community after another; get off at just about any spot and you'll see signs in an assortment of languages. The no. 7 train will also take you to Flushing, where you'll find the new Citi Field, home of the Mets, replacing the old Shea Stadium; the Louis Armstrong Stadium and the Arthur Ashe Stadium at Flushing Meadow Park, where the U.S. Open is held each September; and the Queens Museum on the grounds of the 1964 World's Fair.
Staten Island is the most remote of the boroughs and most enjoyably reached by ferry. There is a suburban feel to the borough, making it a haven for commuters. The free Staten Island Ferry gets you to the borough. If you decide to spend time in Staten Island, take in a Staten Island Yankees minor-league baseball game. The stadium is within walking distance of the ferry and has lovely views of downtown Manhattan. In 2019, the city's only outlet mall opened, though the brands carried aren't the most enticing. Still, some values are to be found.
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