There are 8.6 million people living in New York City. How many live in Manhattan? About 1.6 million. That leaves 7 million people living in boroughs not named Manhattan.
Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island have plenty to see and do -- amazing history, parks, museums, and much more. Next time you are in New York, I suggest that you venture out into one of the boroughs. They are not far and will give you a multi-layered sense of the city. Here are my suggestions for where to start.
Experience International Queens
The 2.3 million people who live in Queens speak more than 150 languages. The most-known attractions are Shea Stadium (home of the New York Mets) and USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center (home of the U.S. Open). Of course, there is much to do right nearby these two places.
1. Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Flushing Meadows Corona Park is one of the largest parks in New York City, and it’s a must-see if you are in Queens. It was the home of two World’s Fairs (1939 and 1964) and the first meetings of the UN General Assembly.
Your first stop in Flushing Meadows should be the enormous Unisphere, built for the 1964 World’s Fair. It is 120 feet in diameter and weighs 350 tons. It’s the perfect spot for a selfie.
3. The Queens Museum
If you keep walking past the Unisphere, you’ll come to the Queens Museum, a local gem. The museum is very supportive of local artists and the community. This is where the UN General Assembly met. One of the permanent displays is the Panorama of the City of New York, a replica of New York City that was built by Robert Moses for the 1964 World’s Fair and then updated to include every building in all five boroughs as of 1992.
Flushing Meadows Corona Park is across the way from Shea Stadium. The Tennis Center is officially inside the park. If you are visiting either, come early and enjoy the park first.
Directions: Take the 7 train to Mets-Willets Point stop (the second-to-last stop). The museum is a 15-minute walk from the subway (to the right of the Unisphere), so sneakers or good walking shoes are in order.
Entry Fees: Under $10 for adults; under $5 for seniors; free for children.
4. New York Hall Of Science
The New York Hall of Science is also located in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, but on the Corona side. It is a very engaging, hands-on science museum that is a great stop for families and anyone interested in science. It is housed in one of the remaining buildings from the 1964 World’s Fair. The Science Playground and Rocket Park Mini Golf are great for children.
Directions: Take the 7 train to 111th Street station. Walk along 111th Street toward 47th Avenue. Note that it’s a long walk.
Entry Fees: Adult admission is under $20, and admission for children and seniors is under $15.
Queens Food Tip: Flushing’s Chinatown is the largest in the city and just one subway stop past Flushing Meadows. Alternatively, the Queens Night Market operates from spring to early fall and features food from around the world, plus performances and art. You’ll find it behind the New York Hall of Science.
Walk The Gardens In The Bronx
The Bronx has historical sights, a thriving art and food scene, and more than 30 parks. It even has golf courses accessible by subway. Below are two of the most beautiful places in NYC’s northern borough.
5. New York Botanical Garden
Central Park and the Highline are unique -- and very crowded -- NYC experiences. For a less-crowded and equally beautiful garden, take the subway up to the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. The garden is known for the Holiday Train Show (great for children) and an amazing Orchid Show. If you want to go to those shows, book ahead and go on a weekday morning. For families, make sure to check out the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden.
The garden’s walking paths are paved, but there are some hills throughout. It is manageable with a good pair of walking shoes.
The garden is also accessible. I’ve pushed my mother in a wheelchair through the entire park many times, and wheelchairs are available to be borrowed (first-come, first-served) if you or a companion isn’t traveling with their own. Assistive listening devices are available and there is T-coil loop for those who can benefit from assisted listening opportunities. The tram is also wheelchair accessible.
Directions: Take the B, D, or 4 train to Bedford Park Boulevard. You can also take Metro North (Harlem Line from Grand Central Station).
Entry Fees: Under $30 for adults and under $15 for children. The garden is free on Wednesdays and from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Saturday mornings (check ahead as these times may change).
6. Wave Hill
Wave Hill is a public park and garden that overlooks the Hudson River and the Palisades. With lovely gardens and nice walking paths, it is on the National Registry of Historic places. A hundred years ago, you might have seen Theodore Roosevelt or Mark Twain wandering its lawns. They both resided at Wave Hill House for a spell.
Directions: Take the 1 train to West 242. The Bronx is very hilly, so take advantage of the free shuttles to the park from the subway. If you are really adventurous and don’t mind hills, you can bike from Manhattan up to Wave Hill.
Entry Fee: Adults $10; students and seniors, under $10.
Art And History In Brooklyn
7. Brooklyn Museum
When you think about art and NYC, what pops into your mind? Perhaps MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney, or the Guggenheim. Well, the Brooklyn Museum is the third-largest museum in NYC. Just steps from Prospect Park, the museum has a wonderful center for feminist art as well as an extensive collection. Judy Chicago’s iconic piece “The Dinner Party” is a long-term exhibit. The 2018 Frida Kahlo exhibition was one of the hottest tickets in NYC. The museum has music and performances on the first Saturday evening of the month.
Directions: Take the 2 or 3 train to Eastern Parkway Brooklyn Museum.
Entry Fees: Adults, under $20; seniors and students, $10.
8. Green-Wood Cemetery
Green-Wood Cemetery is the final resting place for many famous New Yorkers, from F.A.O. Schwarz (of the toy store) to William and Henry Steinway (piano makers) to Louis Comfort Tiffany (of... well... Tiffany’s).
There are a number of important women buried in Green-Wood, too. You can find the resting place of Susan McKinney Steward, the first African-American woman physician in New York state, and Alice and Phoebe Cary, poets and women’s rights activists in the mid-1880s. You’ll also find Caroline Weldon, an artist and confidant of Sitting Bull (the 2018 movie Woman Walks Ahead details her life among the Sioux). More unique sites in the cemetery include Jane Griffith’s grave, which has an intricate depiction of her last day, and the Spritz cookie gravestone, which has a recipe on it.
Directions: Green-Wood Cemetery has 4 entrances. The main entrance is at 500 25th Street. The closest subway is the R to 25th Street. Make sure to pick up a map at the entrance.
Entry Fee: Free
9. The Ferry To Staten Island
Taking a short ferry ride to Staten Island has two benefits. First, it’s a lovely ride that will afford you great (free) views of the Statue of Liberty and the New York City skyline. Second, Staten Island is a hidden gem with many things to do, from outlet shopping to visiting the Sri Lankan Arts and Cultural Museum and the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden. You could spend a weekend in Staten Island and only just scratch the surface.
For a touch of history, visit the Alice Austen House. Born in 1866, Alice was a documentary photographer and lived her life openly as a lesbian in a time when it was extraordinarily difficult to do so. To get to Alice Austen House, take bus S51 to corner of Hylan Boulevard and Bay Street. The house is open from 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the weekends. The entry fee is $5 to go inside, but walking the grounds is free.
Directions: The Staten Island Ferry leaves from Whitehall Terminal every half hour. Take the 1 to South Ferry, the R or W to Whitehall, or the 4 or 5 to Bowling Green. The ferry is free and takes about 25 minutes. Avoid rush hour, when the ferry is packed.
Some of the Staten Island sites are near the ferry terminal; others require a bus ride. Walking shoes and a sense of adventure are a plus. If you have limited time, you might focus on the area near the ferry terminal: the Historic St. George Theatre, Borough Hall, or the National Lighthouse Museum.
It’s best to go to Staten Island on Thursday, Friday, or the weekend. Some of the museums and cultural centers are closed on Monday and Tuesday; many are only open in the afternoon.
Whether you are going to New York for your first visit or your 20th, spend some time outside of Manhattan, and get to know the rest of the city. In the boroughs, you’ll find out where New Yorkers live, play, and eat and have an authentic experience of the city. Happy exploring!