As you no doubt know, New York City is divided into five boroughs, but what you may not know is that each of these boroughs is its own county. So New York City is unique in that it consists of five counties, each with their own sub-government. It’s not uncommon for first-time visitors to want to spread their trip out among the New York City boroughs, as a more complete look at the city. There is definitely some wisdom in that notion, but this city isn’t really constructed that way, and unless you’ll be spending over a week in town, you might want to reconsider that strategy. Here’s why:
New York City is an incredible experience for visitors due largely to the fact that at least 95% of everything they’ve ever heard of or are interested in seeing is in Manhattan. And not just that, it’s really the lower two-thirds of Manhattan that contains everything. There’s Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, and a few random museums in Brooklyn and Queens, but aside from that everything has been collected up and put into one convenient and compact area for you. New York City is massive, but you could literally walk from one extreme of the attractions in the north to the other extreme at the southern tip of the island, in under three hours.
And unless you have a really great reason to do otherwise, by all means stay at a hotel in Manhattan. As discussed in the New York City hotels section in greater detail, the trade-off of staying in some obscure neighborhood in an outer borough (which means the four boroughs that are not Manhattan) to save a few dollars a night is not worth it. It’s unfortunate, but the clusters of hotels in the outer boroughs are mostly run-down and inconveniently located in weird areas.
This is the largest and most populated borough, and large sections of it are gentrifying rapidly and becoming respected residential neighborhoods, but for the visitor the attractions are few and far between. The edgy and expensive neighborhood of Williamsburg just across the East River from the East Village in Manhattan is a worthwhile destination for artsy and hipster types, but aside from that you’d be best off saving an exploration of Brooklyn for a future trip.
This borough shares a border with Brooklyn, and a lot more as well. The two NYC airports are in Queens, but both in neighborhoods that are otherwise worthless to visitors. Just as with Brooklyn, there are many interesting mini-neighborhoods in Queens that are dominated by one ethnic group. In fact, Queens County is one of the most ethnically diverse areas on earth. There are over 130 different languages spoken by its citizens, and in many neighborhoods hearing English is rare.
You’d think this diversity would make Queens a mandatory stop for most intelligent travelers, but the reality is that everything is spread out and disorganized so that actually getting a good sense of this diversity would take many days, if not weeks. If you have one or two specific ethnic neighborhoods that appeal to you, it’s pretty easy to come to Queens for a visit to see what they are like. But to get a broad sense of the cultural mix is a major project in and of itself.
As mentioned, Yankee Stadium sits proudly in The Bronx, but that’s about it for most visitors. The South Bronx is famously one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country, although things have improved a bit. The northern sections of The Bronx are actually very suburban, and some are quite ritzy. There is really nothing here for visitors unless you have a very specific interest in something esoteric.
Not only is there nothing in Staten Island for visitors, but it’s hard to get to as well. Actually, the Staten Island Ferry can be an enjoyable ride, especially in summer. The fact that it’s free and goes right by the Statue of Liberty for an excellent photo opportunity makes it even better, but it’s best to just stay on board and cruise right back to Manhattan. It’s probably a nice place to live, but even if you insist on seeing parts of the other four New York City boroughs, this one is a waste of time.