Thursday, December 2, 2010

Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens and Staten Island: Ten Reasons to Visit The Other New York City

The Mets Citi Field Stadium, Flushing Meadows, Queens (photo courtesy of

New York is and will always be my favorite city in the world. It has everything: theater, restaurants, fashion, sports, green spaces, business, interesting people, impressive architecture, great public transportation and a vibrant buzz. And I'm not even talking about Manhattan. There is much more to NYC than first meets the tourist eye. Brooklyn, the Bronx, Staten Island and Queens are the overlooked jewels in the crown of New York City. Most tourists are only vaguely aware of the Outer Boroughs (and come to think of it, the same is true for many Manhattanites), but the boroughs are treasure troves of culture, history, excellent food and interesting people. Once you’ve hit the major tourist sites of Manhattan, hop the subway to the rest of New York City…you will be pleasantly surprised. Here’s a short list to get you started:

Summer rose in bloom, Brooklyn Botanic Gardens (photo by Simone Cannon)

1) Brooklyn Museum/Brooklyn Botanic Gardens: less crowded than Manhattan's Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Brooklyn Museum is the place to go for a relaxing day of art. Take the 2 or 3 subway line to the Eastern Parkway/Brooklyn Museum stop and stroll through the galleries before visiting the nearby Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. The gorgeous museum features extensive collections in various styles from all over the world including Asia, Africa, America and Europe as well as Islamic and Modern Art. The stunning botanical gardens change with the seasons and are within walking distance of the museum, so you can make a day of viewing world-class art in the morning and the art of nature in the gardens in the afternoon (or vice versa, depending on the weather).

2) Queens’ Ethnic Restaurants: die-hard foodies already know that Queens is one of the culinary meccas of New York. Some of the best food in the city can be found in the distinct ethnic neighborhoods of Queens: Greek, Indian, Italian, Russian, Armenian, Turkish, Korean, Japanese, Venezuelan, Brazilian, Jamaican and Chinese restaurants are just the tip of the iceberg. For the best experience, travel around the world: eat your appetizer in one “country”, your main course in another and go for dessert in a third. The pleasant bonus of this eater's paradise is that the food is generally much less expensive and the atmosphere is more casual than in Manhattan.

A park visitor takes a break on a trail bridge, Greenbelt Park, Staten Island (photo courtesy of
3) Staten Island Parks: take the Staten Island Ferry in the late morning, after the morning crush of commuters has left Whitehall Street Station, and cruise to Staten Island for a day of wilderness hiking. Although just a few minutes from Manhattan by boat, Staten Island is probably the least explored of all the boroughs, yet it is filled with some of the most beautiful green spaces in New York. When you arrive at the port, head for parks such as the Greenbelt, at 2,500 acres, Staten Island's largest park or Wolfe's Pond Park, a 170 acre park with 20 acres reserved for swimming, boating or fishing. Walk the trails, observe the wildlife (e.g. blue herons, purple martins, squirrels), people watch, breathe the air and unwind.

4) The New York Transit Museum, Brooklyn: even if you’re not a fan of public transportation per se, this well-organized and interesting museum is worth a visit for insight into the history of NYC. Another good choice if you are traveling with kids, the museum maintains a fleet of subway cars from past eras which you can explore, as well as collections of old tokens and other memorabilia, exhibits on the construction of the extensive Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) system and even has facilities for hosting birthday parties. The museum store features unique NYC souvenirs such as subway token jewelery, MTA Christmas ornaments and silk scarves imprinted with the MTA subway map. Check the directions and hours on the MTA website; which subway you take will depend on where you start out.

A baby lemur clings to his mom, Bronx Zoo (photo courtesy of

5) The Bronx Zoo: This popular and wonderfully maintained zoo is just a subway ride away and a relaxing way to spend a day, especially if you are traveling with kids. The animals roam freely in large, landscaped enclosures and the zoo offers numerous educational programs for both children and adults. Exhibits include the Congo Gorilla Forest, The Wild Asia Monorail, Tiger Mountain and the newst exhibit, Madagascar! From Manhattan, take the 2 or 5 train to East Tremont Ave/West Farms Square stop and look straight ahead for signs to the zoo (or just follow the crowds).

6) Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn: if you’re a history buff or a dead celebrity watcher, the Green-Wood Cemetery is the happenin’ place to be. Built in 1838, the beautifully landscaped cemetery is still functioning and is the final home of over 600,000 souls including such diverse residents as artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, composer Leonard Bernstein, mobster Joey Gallo, birth control advocate Margaret Sanger and William Marcy "Boss" Tweed, the infamous and corrupt New York political leader. Guided tours are available and highly recommended as the knowledgeable guides provide history and fascinating stories which will greatly enhance your visit. Take the R train to 25th Street Station and walk east one block.

Movie goers at the Brooklyn Bridge Park (photo courtesy of Julienne Schaer/

7) Brooklyn Bridge Park's Movies With a View: every summer, the Brooklyn Bridge Park and SyFy host outdoor movies at Pier 1 in the Brooklyn neighborhood of DUMBO. Film goers bring blankets and picnics, and sit on the large expanse of grass, watching movies and gazing at the jeweled night skyline of Manhattan. Last years movies included Annie Hall, The Big Lebowski, Rear Window, Brokeback Mountain, Dreamgirls, Blues Brothers, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. What better way to spend a summer night?

8) Citi Field Tours: baseball fans flock to the new Mets stadium, Citi Field, in Flushing Meadows, Queens, not just for the games, but for the well-guided tours. The one-hour tours are $10 a person (discounted group rates are also available) and include such highlights as the Clubhouse, Field and Dugout, Productions Area (scoreboard control room), Press Box, Suite Levels (Sterling and Empire) and the Mets Hall of Fame and Museum. The tours are very popular so it's best to call ahead or reserve tickets online. Construction of the new stadium was completed in 2009 and replaced the aging Shea Stadium. The new stadium is also used as a concert venue, with Paul McCartney and Dave Matthews performing in 2009 and 2010. Take the 7 train to the Mets–Willets Point station.

A green on Van Cortlandt Golf Course, The Bronx (photo courtesy of

9) Van Cortlandt Golf Course, The Bronx: if you thought that NYC was the last place that you'd find a lush golf course, think again. There are several courses of varying size in the outer boroughs, but golf history buffs will want to take a trip to Van Cortlandt. Known as "Vanny" by locals, the Van Cortlandt Golf Course is the oldest course in the US. Constructed in 1895, it sits in the North Bronx, close to Yonkers and is the most easily accessible golf course by subway (take the 1 train directly from Manhattan; the stop is just a few blocks away from the course). After a recent four million dollar renovation, the course features seven new greens, additional cart paths and upgraded bunkers. Past golfers have included Babe Ruth, Sidney Poitier and Willie Mays. Take No. 1 or 9 trains to 242d St.

10) Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island: at the entrance to New York Harbor, on Staten Island, lies one of the oldest and most important military sites in US history. Built in 1663, it was the longest continually manned fort until 1994. Now managed by the National Park Service, park rangers give regular tours of the fort and surrounding area, including the old catacomb-like passageways, Battery Weed and some of the most panoramic views in the city. An excellent and interesting choice for military or history buffs, but worth the trip just for the incredible vistas of New York Harbor and the New York City skyline.

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