What to see in Queens and, most of all, why choosing to visit it, if you consider the huge tourist offer regarding Manhattan and the increasing interest if the “new” and more “tranquil” Brooklyn and Harlem. And what about safety, how can you walk around the street fearing that someone will rob you or worse?!
Normal and valid questions, for those who have never been to New York. Often I have to give explanations to these questions, especially when people ask for advice and tips for itineraries in New York, including also “unusual” locations.
This is how I usually answer.
For its cultural diversity (that is the richest and most authentic than in any other borough in New York), it is like travelling around the world in one day.
For its impressive food variety, it is a direct consequence of what just said above.
In Queens, it is really possible to taste all kinds of street food or to stop and have lunch in a greek, Asian, Italian or Mexican restaurant (I could continue with at least another ten countries), chatting away with the owners about their country and the stories of how they got here.
For its cultural and “social” offer, so varied and different.
Queens means visiting different kinds of museums, admiring open-air art works (of artists like Warhol and Dalì), gasping in front of entire districts dedicated to street art, used to restore areas that were once not accessible. Queens is also discovering everyday life and stories connected to unforgettable characters like Louis Armstrong, or just sitting down to rest on a bench along the East River, like in the final scene of a Woody Allen movie.
All this is enjoyable without any fears. The areas is not as problematic as it was ten years ago. Like in any other part of the world, you just have to pay some attention.
This is why I thought on an itinerary (subway stops and tips included) that will let you discover (and taste) a good slice of Queens in absolute leisure: habits, people and original lifestyles included (unimaginable for most of us in a city like New York).
A day off Manhattan, comfortable shoes and a lot of curiosity.
First, get to the Mets Willets Points stop on line 7 (usually it’s the purple line on the map); this is the line coming from Midtown and that goes to Bryant Park and Times Square.
Once you come out from the subway, you will find yourselves in the Roosevelt Ave underpass, which separates the famous Mets’ City Field (you must stop by for a photo next to the giant red apple, symbol of the stadium) from the Flushing Meadows Corona Park, a beautiful 500 hectare park that was built for the 1939 Expo. This park is easily recognized thanks to Queens’ famous logo, the Unisphere, the world’s biggest steel globe.
Once you go over the pedestrian bridge that takes you to the park, stop by to have a look at the mosaics at the beginning of the staircase, at the entrance square.
Inside the two circles, you will see the ones created by Warhol and Dalì (they are properly marked). They both represent famous town planner Robert Moses, who designed the whole Expo complex, and a weird Venus with a double pointed tail.
Continuing towards the Unisphere, you will find yourself crossing a long tree-lined avenue.
On the left you can see the sport complex of the US Open and on the right there is a wide clearing with a big fountain in the background: this is a really crowded area at the weekends where families and groups of youngsters go for relaxation and cool down from the heat of the city.
After the Unisphere, come out of the park passing through the New York Hall of Science and take the 108th Street.
My advice is to continue walking a little more because this is the best way to admire city habits and the amazing cultural variety of Corona.
Once you pass Roosevelt Avenue, continue on 108th St., until you cross 37th Avenue, turn left and then right into 107th Street (it is important to follow accurately these directions because street indications aren’t clear). You will finally get to the house museum of one of the 20th century jazz legends: Louis Armstrong.
Guided tours start every 50 minutes and last more or less the same time.
Tours cost 10$ and, believe me, they are real fun.
You will get to know the private life of Louis Armstrong, his easy-going, disrespectful and generous side; you will learn about amusing aspects and facts of his life and shows, you will listen to his voice and admire some of his special trumpets.
You will leave with a smile on your face (it is a promise) and the umpteenth confirmation of how rich, amazing and different a city like New York can be. It can be even more, if you experience the city as a whole.
Returning on Roosevelt Ave, don’t miss out the unique Botanica shops, where you can buy natural remedies and “potions” of any kind. Also don’t miss the South American colorful markets, and the ethnical food trucks (take away little vans on the edge of the street).
After noseying around a little, head towards 103rd St Corona Plaza station.
Here take the purple line again, toward Manhattan, change at Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Ave and take the M-line (orange), towards Manhattan and get off at Steinway St., Astoria.
Continue along Steinway St. for just a few meters towards the crossing with 35th St. Before turning, stop by for a quick (or slow, you choose) snack or Mexican lunch at Spot Gourmet at n.34-18; you will be greeted by three lovely Mexican guys who will cook any speciality for you at a really convenient price. Desserts and coffees are also very good and wi-fi is fast.
Continuing on Steinway St, turn right into 35th St. and reach the Museum of the Moving Image.
I highly recommend this visit, especially if you love cinema and American cult tv-series, in a period that goes from the 30s to nowadays.
It is a real 4D experience, you will relive the different phases of the making of a movie, special effects, soundtracks, dubbing and screenplay included.
Do you remember Mork and Mindy, the famous series that launched Robin Williams, or The Exorcist, Planet of the Apes, Mrs Doubtfire, Grease (and many more)? Here you will find the most incredible relics and many of the costumes and original masks used during shooting.
IF you aren’t too tired once you exit the museum, get a map and reach Wellington Court, 30 minutes walking or 10 minutes by subway up to 30th Ave stop (yellow line N and Q).
Within just a few block, you will be able to admire a beautiful wall painting exhibition made by street artists from all over the world.
This is a project which aim is to transform the entire district (Astoria’s oldest) into a breathtaking public art experience.
Discovering all the different paintings (each of them has its own meaning) is incredible. Explore, discover, take pictures and post them on your social networks; doing this will let this project grow and the district will be able to open even more to tourism.
Take the subway at 30th Ave station for one last important stop, before heading back to Manhattan.
Change at Queensboro Plaza with line number 7 and get off at Court Sq. You will find yourself right in the middle of Long Island City, near another important museum, a sort of younger brother of MOMA, the MoMA Ps1. The complex is at 22/25 of Jackson and it offers a really good alternative to Midtown’s exhibitions, in terms of contemporary art.
From the museum, finally head to Gantry Plaza State Park, a tranquil park on the East River, famous for its huge advertising installation of Pepsi Cola.
Sit down on one of the benches along the river and wait for sunset, like in the final scene of a Woody Allen movie (he shot a lot of movies right here), admiring the first evening lights over Manhattan.
The near Vernon Boulevard-Jackson Ave subway station (purple line) will take you right into Midtown.