Best of New York's boroughs

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There’s a different New York City outside of Manhattan, full of family restaurants, tree-lined streets, old country traditions and avant-garde art. It only takes a subway pass and a little exploration to find the cobblestone byways of Brooklyn, the bucolic wonders of the Bronx, and hidden culinary delights of Queens.

Start with a jaunt across the Brooklyn Bridge. To the right is New York’s gaping harbor, home to the Statue of Liberty, Governor’s Island, and Staten Island. Over your left shoulder, if you’re gazing northwest, you’ll see midtown Manhattan. The silver point is the Chrysler Building.

Follow the staircase exit on the left to Washington St. Welcome to Brooklyn. If you head left on Washington St, you’ll reach DUMBO (aka Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), a former industrial wasteland that’s been taken over by artists and turned into a gallery and loft-heavy residential space – with a few rough edges.

Swing by the Front St Galleries just up the road, before making a bee-line to Bubby’s, a former warehouse that’s now a luxury loft building - take in stellar East River views while you sample the homemade pies. Or, for a coffee and croissant fix, turn right onto Water St and stroll to Jacques Torres Chocolate (take an outdoor table overlooking the waterfront).

Now follow the 10-block stretch of leafy Brooklyn Heights Promenade, which overlooks the nabe’s gorgeous brownstones. Detour down Willow St to No 70 – that’s where Truman Capote wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s. No visit to Brooklyn would be complete without stopping by one of the borough’s knockout landmarks: the white pillared beaux-arts Brooklyn Museum of Art - a subway ride away to Eastern Parkway.

Change the Brooklyn vibe from pastoral to offbeat with a trip to Coney Island. Grab a train to the Brooklyn coast and step off into the brisk sea air. Stretch your legs along the famous three-mile Coney Island Boardwalk, buffeted even in the summer by stiff Atlantic breezes, and check out the crazy Wonder Wheel and other 1940s freak show attractions that once made Coney Island the premier location for family fun.

Further east along the boardwalk toward Brighton Ave is an area known as Little Odessa, a nod to the Russian immigrants who started flocking here decades ago. Brush up on your Russian as you navigate food shops, delicatessens, bookstores and more, all selling trinkets and items from the homeland, from samovars to sturgeon.

From Little Odessa, jump on the subway and head uptown and beyond to the bustle and grit of the Bronx. It’s a feast for the senses along Arthur Ave, New York’s real Little Italy, full of old-school bodegas selling gourmet-cured meats, specialty cheeses, imported olive oils, pastas, sauces and breads. The street contains every cliché you can imagine, brought to vivid life: shouting children playing stickball, black-clad thick-ankled nonnas heading to mass, singing butchers carving meat.

From Arthur Ave, pick up the flavor of Japan by heading to Queens and one of its most delightful – and hard to find – museums. The indoor/outdoor Noguchi Museum has 13 galleries inside a converted factory building with granite and basalt installations delicately placed in contemplative locations around the gardens.

The heart and soul of Queens is still in nearby Astoria, the old Greek neighborhood that’s bursting with energy and activity, and studded with outstanding tavernas and gyro shops. Along Broadway, the center of hipster Queens, you’ll find the restaurants, bars and clubs have a decidedly Latin tone. Steinway, another main drag, has recently been dubbed Little Egypt for all its hookah-friendly cafés and shops.

Enjoy a beer at the Bohemian Beer Garden along with a  a cross-section of cultures on a sunny afternoon before searching out some of the local Greek delights. Try Mezzo Mezzo, an Aegean hideaway, or nearby Ovelia on Thirtieth Ave.

There’s one more “best” to experience in New York’s boroughs: don’t leave Queens without sampling Astoria’s baklava, sold in every neighborhood restaurant and coffee shop. It’s better than anything you’ll find in Manhattan.

This article is an abridged version of the Best of the Boroughs chapter from the New York, Washington DC & the Mid-Atlantic book in our Trips series.

Also check out threads like this or this on our Thorn Tree forum for recent traveler tips.