Long overshadowed by its smaller but better known sibling to the west, Queens has emerged from the shadows of Manhattan to take its place as one of New York's most fascinating boroughs. In recent years, Queens has seen the rise of microbreweries, boutique hotels, a reinvented seaside and a burgeoning art scene – all of which has given a big boost to local pride.
The biggest borough by size, Queens is home to over 2 million people, which would make it the fourth largest city in America if it were uncoupled from greater New York. More impressive than its population, however, is the borough's unrivaled ethnic diversity, with residents from every corner of the globe. If 'all the world's a stage,’ head to Queens for front-row seats.
A brewery bonanza
Brewmasters, with ambitions both large and small, have shaken up New York's biggest borough, and if you're after what's new and cutting-edge in the brewing scene, Queens is the place to be. Tucked away in a once-industrial area near the Pulaski Bridge, Transmitter Brewing is one of a new breed of small-batch breweries (so-called 'nanobreweries') creating innovative (but highly drinkable) quaffs. Recent hits range from a classy Belgian golden ale to an oak-aged plum sour. The better known SingleCut Beersmiths in Astoria has a buzzing tap room where beer lovers from across the city come for unusual varieties, like the Kim, a tart lager infused with hibiscus. Ever pushing the envelope, Finback Brewery creates imaginative beers like the Double Sess(ion), a spicy witbier with ginger, Szechuan peppercorns and chamomile. Long Island City has even more brewers, including Big Alice Brewing with a small but impressive output, and Rockaway Brewing Company, which began inside a beachside bungalow before moving to Long Island City.
Beaching it in Queens
Speaking of Rockaway, this narrow coastal strip has become NYC's favorite summer destination. Locals looking for sand and sun but without the Hamptons' fuss (the prices, the traffic, the 'tude), flock to this beach in outer Queens. Wait, Queens has a beach? Indeed, and you can reach these Atlantic-kissed sands on the subway — or better yet on the ferry service that began operating in 2017. Aside from wave frolicking, surfing (as immortalized by the Ramones) and people watching, the chief draw is the burgeoning eating and drinking scene that has sprouted near the boardwalk. On summer weekends, you can stop in for burgers, beers and live jams at Rippers, a hipster haunt facing the waterfront. Further west, Caracas serves up delicious Venezuelan-style arepas (cheese- and meat-filled corn patties) and frozen cocktails to garrulous crowds who stroll up from the beach.
Although it’s located beside the elevated train tracks, Rockaway Beach Surf Club has a music-filled back patio that makes a fine setting for munching on tacos and sipping margaritas after playing in the waves. Nearby, Sayra’s Wine Bar & Bier Garden is the go-to spot for wine and tapas, best enjoyed in the lush back garden. And for something completely different, there’s Uma's, with its Central Asian menu and rock-loving soundtrack — there’s even live music throughout the year.
The art scene
Although few visitors realize it, Queens has a world-class art scene. And it has only gotten bigger and better in recent years. Massive makeovers to iconic institutions like the Queens Museum and the Museum of the Moving Image have married state-of-the-art galleries with high design, while greatly expanding their collections. Meanwhile, shows like PS1's famed ‘Warm Up’ summer series continue to put the art in party, with ambitious installations and DJ sessions in the courtyard. The art scene is ever growing, with a surging gallery scene (Ridgewood has seen an influx of artists and gallerists) and free events like the Socrates Annual, featuring a thought-provoking collection of outdoor art on view from October through early March. In the warmer months, Socrates Sculpture Park also hosts free outdoor cinema, dance and music performances, a farmers market and fitness classes. Queens even has its own arts district — a 24-block-radius section of Astoria that’s one of only three such designations in the city.
Hot hotels in Queens
Gone are the days when checking into a NYC hotel meant (invariably) bunking in a small, pricey room in Manhattan. The accommodation scene has spread across the East River, with a new crop of boutique hotels and upmarket hostels springing up in Queens (and Brooklyn). Rooftop bars, creative American on-site restaurants and magnificent Manhattan views – not to mention cheaper rates – are a few features luring visitors across the river. Highlights include the Paper Factory Hotel, with an aesthetic of reclaimed lumber, polished concrete, vintage maps and artfully displayed machine parts (no prizes for guessing what was once made here). Another Long Island City gem is the Z Hotel, which offers snug but stylish quarters and a rooftop bar with jaw-dropping views over the metropolis.
Queens, New York’s meltiest melting pot
One of the best features of Queens is the astonishing diversity found in its patchwork quilt of neighborhoods. In fact if your idea of New York is the global melting pot, then Queens is the obvious place to look. Quite simply Queens is one of the most ethnically diverse places on earth, home to over 100 nationalities speaking some 160 different languages, with nearly half of its residents foreign born.
Exploring Queen's densely packed streets means swishing past colorful saris in Jackson Heights, listening to the sing-song call of vendors hawking South American delicacies against a crackling salsa soundtrack along Roosevelt Avenue, and breathing in the scent of strong coffee and flavored tobacco outside a hookah bar in Astoria. Flushing, incidentally is home to New York's biggest and best Chinatown, and its sidewalks are awhirl with sizzling food stalls, Asian grocery stores overflowing with exotic fruits, and glittering malls where nary an English word is spoken. For foodies, the authentic ethnic dining of Queens is a major draw and one of the biggest reasons why no other place quite measures up when compared to their own hometown borough. Check out our video on Uncovering Queens for a tour.