Perhaps the most diverse location known to the world, New York welcomes visitors from every corner of the globe and those who’ve stayed have made the five boroughs of New York culturally rich places, offering plenty to see, do and experience in the ‘big apple’.
Each borough has its own unique atmosphere, a distinctive culmination of the multicultural residents that call them home. The assorted flavours, sights and sounds you’ll find in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island are well worth experiencing, but with such an expanse to cover, where do you start? From city skyscrapers to suburban history, follow our guide to exploring New York City’s attractions and proudly eccentric boroughs. Here are New York city's boroughs explained...
New York City Map
- The Empire State Building
- Wall Street
- Iconic places
Manhattan is the most iconic of all the NYC districts and its world class attractions, fine dining and proximity to New York shopping outlets mean there’s never a dull moment on this island.
The business heartland of the USA, Manhattan is more simply referred to as ‘the city’ and many of the most important decisions in NYC’s history have been made in this borough. It’s a place where entrepreneurial spirit mixes with high-brow culture and sophisticated taste to offer the best of the best to see and do in New York.
The Empire State Building is a beacon of aspiration, rivalled by no other building in the New York skyline. Opening in the 1930s, it’s also the most recognisable artefact of art deco architecture in the world, so much so, it was named one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. The orderly frames and towering smooth walls are a nostalgic reminder of how the magnificent giant may have brought hope to the city’s residents during the Great Depression. Today, the viewing deck at the top of the Empire State Building is the best way to take in the vast scenery – as long as vertigo isn’t a problem as this building stands at a staggering 1,454 ft. from pavement to antenna tip.
The beauty of Manhattan has been showcased in endless films and TV series – one such show is Friends. Loved by millions, the six buddies living the apartment life in New York helped to put Central Park on the map for viewers around the world. Honour your favourite characters with a trip to The Sensuous Bean, in close proximity to the famous Park. Enjoy a cup of joe and perk yourself up before you take a stroll.
The borough is a must for experiencing the city at night. Manhattan is where Broadway was born after all. Times Square in particular comes alive at night, as the billboards light up this central commercial crossing and yellow taxis whizz by. This scene has inspired artist Bert Monroy who calls it the “Crossroad of the World”.
His digital painting, titled for the place, captures the stimulating atmosphere of Times Square. Bert explains: “My painting of Times Square took 4 years to create. I chose it because it is one of the brightest spots in the world filled with every type of entertainment imaginable! Times Square can easily take up the better part of a day to soak in all the excitement that it generates!”
New York in general is an inspiration for Bert, who says: “The bottom line is that NYC offers something for everyone! Music, food, Broadway the list goes on and on. It is a place that needs to be visited a few times and for a good length of time each. The one thing you will not find in NYC is boredom.”
The Bronx Highlights
- The Bronx Zoo
- Yankees Baseball
- Diverse music scene
- Little Italy
The Bronx is the original underdog done good story, where community heroes created the mega-industry hip-hop scene and baseball fans watched from the stalls as their home team the Yankees became an icon for the area, if not the entire state.
At a time when immigrants were building the New York we cherish today, the Bronx was once a wealthy upwardly mobile borough experiencing a major boom in residential construction – one of which became home to the renowned poet Edgar Allen Poe. Prohibition saw the Bronx adopted as a playground for gangs in the 1920s and while the face of the mob may have changed over the years, it’s a stigma that the borough has been challenging up until recent decades. Multiple outreach programmes and local intervention have helped to turn the aberrant area into a lively, community-orientated area working together to promote the Bronx’s interesting history and tourism appeal.
Bronx Zoo has become a favourite with families visiting the area and, of course, the Yankee Stadium is a must for sports fans.
The borough dances to its own beat, so it’s fitting that the Bronx boasts several high energy music scenes. New York’s Latin quarter, in more ways than one, is fondly nicknamed El Condado de la Salsa or ‘the borough of Salsa’ since Latino music can be heard all over the neighbourhood. Visitors can explore the area’s passionate past at the oldest Latin music store in NYC. Casa Amadeo has been introducing younger generations in the Bronx to their roots since 1941 and is an official entry on the National Register of Historic Places. Alongside this genre, smooth jazz, fun doo wop and upbeat Garifuna music from Africa have helped to cement the Bronx’s claim to the best music in all of New York. “And of course, it is known world-wide for being the cradle of hip hop”, says Elena, Co-Artistic Director at the Bronx Music Heritage Center on Louis Nine Blvd.
The borough’s legendary creators include the likes of hip hop masters: “The founder DJ Kool Herc from the Sedgwick Avenue, DJ Afrika Bambaataa from Bronx River Houses and Grandmaster Flash from Morrisania as well as many other pioneers; Grandmaster Caz whose lyrics form the song that helped to make hip hop go mainstream, "Rapper's Delight", DJ Red Alert, among others.
“The Bronx Music Heritage Center presents all this music and many others that are part of the Bronx's incredible musical legacy” explains Elena. Visitors can study up on the Bronx’s high notes in her film FromMambo to Hip Hop: A South Bronx Tale.
The Bronx has always been an exciting borough, but now more than ever, the district is devoted to showcasing talent and skill in the area. Alongside those represented by the Bronx Music Heritage Center, popular graffiti artist Crash’s work decorates walls all over the borough and for performance art visitors need look no further than the Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education.
The Bronx is a melting pot of ethnicities, just walking around the block you’ll discover the influence of several exotic places around the world. Grab a slice of Italian culture on Arthur Avenue, all things pizza, pasta and beyond inspire dining options. The avenue in New York’s Little Italy is a warm bustle of European migration preserving its patriotic pride for the old country. You’ll find artisanal food stalls and an array of restaurants, delis and grocers serving up traditional fare.
Bronx Little Italy’s Alyssa adds: “This authentic Italian culture found in this vibrant community sustains a thriving business district. The neighbourhood is filled with a superb assortment of pasta shops, meat markets, cheese shops, bakeries, gourmet coffee houses and more! These shops are not only high quality but are great value and simply cannot be missed!”
- Brooklyn Bridge
- Prospect Park
- Coney Island
- Junior's famous cheescake
- Brooklyn Brewery
Hot on the tail of Manhattan, in the last decade Brooklyn borough has become a top choice for those sightseeing in New York with plenty of parks, museums and cultural pursuits to soak up during your visit.
Brooklyn was once an independent city until it merged with NYC in 1898. Today the borough retains its own distinctive style, atmosphere and appeal, with individual neighbourhoods that reflect the heritage of the diverse cultures that dominate them. Brooklyn has the largest population of all the boroughs in New York and offers entertainment for people from all walks of life.
Naturally, the best way to get an introduction to the borough is via the famous Brooklyn Bridge, a designated National Historic Landmark that is a firm favourite amongst residents and visitors alike. First-time holidaymakers to New York can make a big entrance with a bicycle tour across the Brooklyn Bridge.
Brooklyn is a haven for families, its huge outdoor spaces and child-friendly restaurants provide a welcoming break for those travelling about the city with little ones. Prospect Park has an impressive 585 acres of public parkland to roam and features playgrounds, a carousel and even a splash pad in the summer months to keep children occupied. Bigger kids can get involved in the park’s sporting activities and maybe pick up a new skill along the way. From horse-riding to volleyball, there’s plenty of things to do at Prospect Park, and we would recommend visiting for a day’s break from pounding the pavements in the city.
The borough is also home to the one and only Coney Island. The seafront resort has been entertaining visitors for generations and aside from the beach and board walk, Deno’s wonder wheel amusement park offers two arcades, 21 mechanical rides for the brave and live entertainment in the evenings. Over the summer months visitors can marvel as the recognisable Ferris wheel is lit up by a fireworks show every Friday from mid-June.
Feeling peckish? Hungry holidaymakers should head to Junior’s, the landmark location restaurant boasting the “world’s most fabulous cheesecake”. Standing proudly on the corner of Flatbush Avenue Extension in downtown Brooklyn, the Junior’s fun and friendly atmosphere makes it the ideal watering hole for visitors in the area. While the traditional vanilla cheesecake is rumoured to have given rise to the classic baked New York dessert, the restaurant also serves up a range of alternative bakery goods and deli staples. Guests can also get a feel for the neighbourhood inside Junior’s with Brooklyn memorabilia hidden amongst retro diner décor.
For older guests to the borough, it’s well worth a trip to Brooklyn Brewery, namesake of the popular Brooklyn beer and lagers range. The iconic logo acts as a seal of approval, stamping the outside of the long brewery building on the borough’s North side. The tour gives a behind-the-scenes look at one of the better-known craft breweries providing refreshment today. Those visiting the brewery will get the chance to sample some of the brand’s best-loved beverages in the dedicated tasting room on site. It’s a must for hop lovers and fans of artisanal beers.
- Diverse culinary palate
- Socrates Sculptural Park
- Art and sculpture hotspots
Queens is notably the most diverse of all the boroughs. In this one area alone, more than a hundred languages are spoken and nearly half of its residents were born overseas. The borough may not have a single dominant native tongue, but people from all over the world have come together to create an eclectic cultural medley in Queens.
Queens dining options mirror its diverse cultural palate so all tastes are catered for. A wide choice of eateries take visitors on a whistle stop tour of the world, from the opulent orient to authentic street food straight from the ‘calles’ of Mexico.
Walk off your dinner with a ramble around Queens’ Socrates Sculptural Park, a free outdoor space where sculptors showcase their best work in 3D. Families can bring a picnic and critique the latest exhibition in this tranquil waterside garden. When it’s time to sight see elsewhere, simply catch the LIC Art Bus, a free shuttle bus service connecting tourists to some of the borough’s best spots for culture vultures throughout the summer months. Stops include the SculptureCenter, Noguchi Museum and sister gallery to the world renowned modern art museum MoMA PS1.
MoMA PS1 is one of the largest non-profit art institutions in the States. Innovation is key in the art it chooses to display, expect quirky modern works or new creatives to the art scene, as the museum promotes experimental approaches and cutting-edge trends. Pipilotti Rist’s Selfless in the Bath of Lava, for example, is a unique experience with visitors asked to view this permanent video artwork through a small hole in the lobby’s floorboards.
Not quite as surreal but no less important to Queens, is the Unisphere that sits central to Flushing Meadows – Corona Park. Originally commissioned for the 1964-1965 New York World Fair, this 12-storey-high steel sculpture of the Earth holds a special place in the hearts of locals and is a welcome sight for those visiting the area too.
Art in Queens extends to music and film too, with the Louis Armstrong House Museum celebrating the life and work of the great jazz mogul and the Museum of the Moving Image preserving the history, technology and techniques we have all admired on the silver screen.
Staten Island Highlights
- Staten Island Ferry
- Maritime History
- Colonial architecture
There’s only one way to arrive at this borough and that’s on the iconic bright orange Staten Island Ferry, which offers fantastic views of the Statue of Liberty as it sails past.
Staten Island is a peaceful area away from the busy city mainland of New York. Here visitors will find all things from NYC’s history, with museums and historic homes dedicated to preserving the past. That’s not to say that Staten Island is lost in time, in fact the borough is changing rapidly. The entire waterfront is under development and in the coming year there are plans to build a string of hotels, restaurants and outlet malls as well as the globe’s largest observation wheel. These additions are set to modernise traditional Staten Island.
One place already providing 21st century fun is 5050 Skatepark, the only indoor facility where would-be pro skateboarders can practise their moves and check out the competition in the Stapleton neighbourhood. 5050 Skatepark’s Angelica says the area has a lot to offer tourists. “Stapleton is a hub for arts and culture, with many small restaurants, café shops, and bars and an artist gallery,” she explains. If your youngsters are new to alternative sports, the team at 5050 Skatepark offer one-on-one lessons to get them ruling the ramps in no time.
More fun awaits kids at Staten Island Children’s Museum, where creativity and curiosity are nurtured to help children learn about the world around them through a range of interactive activities. The fun and games include a green living room, where your child will discover how Earth-friendly low carbon wind energy works, or dress the part and become a firefighter learning to use all the right gear. The museum is housed in the island’s Snug Harbour Cultural Center & Botanical Garden, a unique venue converted from the first home for retired sailors in the US into a buzzing regional arts centre. Combining creativity with a horticultural mission and a heaving calendar of upcoming events, the attraction has plenty to see and do for those visiting the borough.
Maritime roots run deep on Staten Island and aside from the National Lighthouse Museum, visitors can get a feel for its seafaring ways in the many restaurants serving up the freshest catch of the day. Try the Marina Café for perfectly prepared New England lobster set against the stunning views of the Great Kills Harbour.
If you’re looking for tradition, the homely values of Historic Richmond Town are unrivalled in olde world charm. The 100-acre site explores American history from colonial days to the present. Guests can marvel at some 130,000 original treasures from as early as the mid-1600s or experience the farming town’s past first-hand with a daily tour.
If you're planning a trip to the Big Apple, then be sure to check out the great range of New York attraction tickets from AttractionTickets.com, that will save you precious time and money in the City That Never Sleeps.
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Image credit: Jef Kratochvil, Matthew Trump, Postdif, Hamza Qureshi, Ben Franske (wikipedia.org), Reading Tom, Rosa Menkman, H.L.I.T., Edward Blake, Charles Smith, Forgemind ArchiMedia (flickr.com)