A celebration of Queens: my ten top picks

Often considered the poor cousin to glitzy Manhattan, Queens is New York City’s largest borough and the most ethnically-diverse urban area in the world. It was my home for eight years.

Flushing Meadows Corona ParkFrom favourite diners brimming with locals to unique open spaces and vibrant neighbourhoods, Queens is perhaps also the most exciting and creative urban space in the world.

There’s a creative energy throughout Queens that no longer exists so much in Manhattan, perhaps most prevalent in artsy Long Island City where edgy galleries pop up alongside more famous counterparts like MoMA PS1, Socrates Sculpture Park and the Noguchi Museum. Performers who have called Queens home include Louis Armstrong, Paul Simon, Run-D.M.C., A Tribe Called Quest and the Ramones; people who genuinely set their own styles. Today, Queens rather clings to a legacy of innovation with scores of relics and icons. A walk through Flushing Meadows Corona Park showcases structures from the World’s Fair while the Long Island City waterfront recalls a bygone era with huge derelict docking structures framing the modern Manhattan skyline. But there’s new alongside old. Take the shiny new Citifield stadium, for example, or ambitious plans for greenways and cycle routes connecting parks and waterfront developments.

So, after spending an incredible nine years in New York City, here are my top ten things to love about my favourite New York borough: Queens…

The sheer size and diversity of Flushing Meadows Corona Park dominated on one side by the Mets’ Citifield Stadium and bordered by a botanic garden, zoo and art museum. But it’s the evocative remains of World Fair pavilions casting shadows throughout the park that make this unique:  Observation Towers from the New York State Pavilion, Terrace on the Park and the iconic ‘Unisphere’ sculpture and fountains.

Flushing Meadows Corona Park

Flushing Meadows Corona Park

Homey local hangouts in Forest Hills like the 5 Burros Mexican café, Irish Cottage pub and Dirty Pierre’s bistro; the bustle of Austin Street contrasting the sedate pace of Forest Hills Gardens and West Side Tennis Club.

Forest Hills Gardens

Forest Hills Gardens

Seeking out architectural and hidden garden gems throughout Jackson Heights, catching glimpses of colourful courtyards, churchyards and parks throughout the Landmarked historic district.

Saint Mark's Episcopal Church in Jackson Heights

Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church in Jackson Heights

A secret botanic garden – the Queens Botanical Garden – which, while lesser known that it’s Brooklyn and New York counterparts, boasts a picturesque meadow and stunning displays. Built for the 1939 World’s Fair, this is very much an urban oasis with ‘planes roaring overhead and possibly the most multicultural crowd of any botanical institution.

Queens Botanical Garden

Queens Botanical Garden

Sampling world flavours, sounds and sights during a stroll through Corona and Jackson Heights. Choose from authentic Columbian, Mexican, Italian and South Asian food from institutions like La Pequeña, Leo’s Latticini, Franco’s Deli, Tortilleria Nixtamal and Shaheen’s.

Tortilleria Nixtamal Mexican cafe in Corona

Tortilleria Nixtamal Mexican cafe in Corona

Riding the 7 train to clitter-clatter above some of New York’s most exciting neighbourhoods nosing into homes, offices and factories and peering down onto vibrant shopping districts just streets apart but countries-away from each other. My favourite part of the 7-train ride is soaring above Long Island City with the Manhattan skyline becoming more distant and the urban colour of 5 Pointz’ dazzling graffiti below.

5 Pointz art exhibit space in Long Island City

5 Pointz art exhibit space in Long Island City

Heading out to Broad Channel to experience the Venice of New York. Seemingly out of place in New York City, this fishing community is built on the water’s edge on Jamaica Bay’s only inhabited island; in fact many homes are literally clinging to the water’s edge on streets separated by canals.

Broad Channel

Broad Channel

Walking along the waterfront of Astoria where Astoria Park offers up stunning views of Manhattan beneath, above and around the iconic Hells Gate and Triborough bridges.

Hell Gate Bridge seen from Astoria Park

Hell Gate Bridge seen from Astoria Park

The peace and tranquility of Calvary Cemetery which has seen more than three million burials and is the final resting place for politicians, actors and mobsters alike. Eerie views of the Manhattan skyline are seen between perfectly aligned rows of tombs, and ornate stonework is in evidence on chapels, monuments and fallen angels.

View across Calvary Cemetery towards Manhattan

View across Calvary Cemetery towards Manhattan

Kissena Lake is just beautiful when the surrounding trees take on their autumnal shades. The lake is set in Kissena Park which forms the centrepiece of the Kissena Corridor Park… it sorta’ connects with Flushing Meadows Corona Park to the west and with Cunningham Park to the east, creating a neat green corridor through some of Queens; definitely a plus for a nice long stroll.

View across Kissena Lake in Kissena Park

View across Kissena Lake in Kissena Park

>> More photos of Queens (from my Flickr)

About Paul Chibeba

Paul Chibeba now lives in London and works for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew after having spent nine years living and working in New York City.
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