From James Baldwin’s novel Another Country to Jonathan Larson’s rock musical Rent, the most enduring stories about New York City seem always to focus on its outsiders—those groups, immigrant or otherwise, still searching for a place to fit in. These stories tap into the reality that New Yorkers live with every day: theirs is a city of stunning diversity and of constantly shifting demographics. Despite changing trends, the cultures that built this vast metropolis—Irish, Polish, Jewish, Mexican, and Chinese, to name only a few—remain very much alive. In fact, they are responsible for some of the more interesting attractions and things to do across the five boroughs.
Built largely by Irish and Italian immigrants, The Bronx is home to several eclectic art museums and the city’s largest park system. One of the borough’s main attractions is the massive Bronx Zoo, where more than 6,000 animals prowl across 265 acres of themed enclosures that mimic their natural habitats. Check out exotic frogs, turtles, and snakes at the World of Reptiles, spy tapirs amongst the mangroves of Jungle World, and take a journey to the furthest reaches of Siberia at Tiger Mountain.
Brooklyn’s rich history and iconic brownstone architecture are on proud display in the Victorian neighborhoods surrounding Prospect Park. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the 585-acre park constitutes just one part of a vast network of 19th-century parks and recreational facilities, including a plant conservatory and museum. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden blooms with more than 1,000 species of colorful flora, and the Beaux-Arts building of the Brooklyn Museum houses exhibits that range from contemporary and Native American art to a renowned collection of Egyptian artifacts.
Away from the neon lights and news tickers of Times Square, theatergoers can get a real taste of the city’s thriving arts scene at smaller, off-Broadway venues in the West Village. The Lucille Lortel Theatre, for example, has produced plays by the likes of David Mamet and Eugene Ionesco. Manhattan’s world-renowned culinary scene spills into the East Village, home to hip restaurants such as Apiary and DBGB Kitchen & Bar.
Whether exploring the modern art at MoMA PS1 or watching the Mets play a home game at Citi Field, it’s hard to run out of things to do in Queens. The borough is renowned for its restaurants, each of which draws on the ethnic character of its neighborhood. In Astoria, [Cavo specializes in authentic Greek seafood; in Flushing, Fu Run fries up pork and vegetable dishes from China’s Northeast; and in Corona, Tortilleria Nixtamal’s chefs craft tortillas from scratch.
The Staten Island Ferry drops its passengers off in what many refer to as New York’s “Forgotten Borough.” Though you won’t find any skyscrapers on Staten Island, the borough does boast a range of cultural attractions. Walk the garden paths at Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden and experience 17th-century colonial life in Historic Richmond Town.