Welcome to Queens, New York: The World's Borough
The most diverse large county in the U.S., Queens is a paradise for foodies and for those curious about other cultures
New York City is expected to have a total of about 61 million visitors before the end of 2023, with most staying in Manhattan, enjoying attractions like Central Park, the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.
NYC has five boroughs, each with their own unique neighborhoods and demographics.
If you watch TV, you'll think New York is composed primarily of concrete sidewalks and gargantuan apartment and office buildings, with no suburban houses, backyards or trees outside of parks. If you watch "Law and Order" reruns, you'll think the city has an astronomical crime rate, with dead bodies lurking in every garbage dump. Neither is true.
If you come to Queens, you'll get a much more well-rounded picture of New York City, and you'll have a day that you will never, ever forget.
Welcome to the World's Borough
NYC has five boroughs, each with their own unique neighborhoods and demographics. Queens, nicknamed "the world's borough" to reflect its status as the most diverse large county in the U.S., has an infinite variety of things to see, smell, taste, touch and hear. It's a paradise for foodies and for those curious about other cultures.
According to recent statistics, nearly 50% of the more than two million Queens residents are foreign-born (the majority from Asia, Latin America or South America) and there are at least 150 languages spoken here, including Waray-Waray and Chavacano, both dialects indigenous to the Philippines.
As a psychotherapist living and working in Queens, I've counseled patients from almost 30 countries, including Guyana, Korea, Ecuador, Egypt, and even tiny Saba, population of roughly 2,000.
It's well worth the half-hour ride on the elevated #7 subway train, known as the International Express, to spend a day in the outer borough.
If you're flying somewhere and have a layover at John F. Kennedy International Airport or LaGuardia Airport, both in Queens, you can hop into an Uber and see some sights.
If you're staying in "the city," as Queens residents call Manhattan, it's well worth the half-hour ride on the elevated #7 subway train, known as the International Express, to spend a day in the outer borough.
What's to see in Queens? At the former site of the 1964-1965 World's Fair, you can duck under the iconic 140-foot-tall stainless steel Unisphere, the world's largest globe, still standing proudly in the middle of Flushing Meadow Park.
Also in the park is the Queens Museum, home of the Panorama of the City of New York. Built by a team of more than one hundred people over three years, the Panorama is a 9,335-square-foot architectural model of New York City, now, after a remodeling, containing 895,000 individual structures, including every building in the city as of 1992.
Corona is the home of the Louis Armstrong's House Museum, where the trumpeter and his wife spent 28 years until his death in 1971. The house tour allows visitors to view the retro living room, with a well-worn sofa and ashtrays on the tables, the bathroom with marble sinks and wraparound mirrors, and the lacquered blue, custom designed mid-century kitchen.
As of July 2023, the original house museum was joined by the Louis Armstrong Center, a permanent home for the 60,000-piece archive of Louis and Lucille Armstrong, which will feature a 75-seat theater offering performances, lectures, films and educational experiences. An exhibition, "Here to Stay," will be a retrospective of Armstrong's extraordinary career as a musician, archivist and community builder.
A delightful exhibition honoring Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets, showcases the work of this beloved puppeteer, animator and filmmaker.
The Museum of the Moving Image, in Astoria, was the first in the country to be dedicated exclusively to the art, history and technology of film, television and video. There are numerous exhibits such as "Behind the Screen," interactive games, a voice-dubbing workshop, industry artifacts, and displays of film costumes, vintage appliances and photos galore.
Movie screenings and frequent lectures and discussions with directors, filmmakers, and other members of the entertainment industry abound. A delightful exhibition honoring Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets, showcases the work of this beloved puppeteer, animator and filmmaker.
Next door is Kaufman Astoria Studios. "Sesame Street" is produced there, and the studio has been responsible for the production of movies such as "The Age of Innocence" and "The Bourne Ultimatum."
Interested in going to a Chinatown in Queens? The original and largest Queens Chinatown, initially a satellite of the one in downtown Manhattan and known as Little Taipei, is in Flushing, but there are other ones in Elmhurst, Corona and eastern Queens.
These ethnic enclaves house a diverse Chinese immigrant population who have brought their own regional cuisines with them, leading to a vast array of Asian restaurants serving Shanghainese, Zhejiang and Mongolian foods among many others.
Hungry in Queens? Now you're talking! The food choices in this borough of diversity are, as you can imagine, diverse, flavorful and exciting. The eateries, markets and bakeries showcase cuisines as emblematic of the cultural mosaic as the people who live, work or shop there.
Numerous Peruvian restaurants in Jackson Heights feature ceviche, their national dish, or Parihuela, a Peruvian-style seafood soup, which can be accompanied by Chicha Morada, a non-alcoholic purple drink made from dried corn.
In Colombian restaurants, you might be served tongue cooked in criolla, their famous red sauce. If you go to Rego Park, which has a large cohort of people from Uzbekistan, you might try nakhot garmack, veal tail in a spiced chickpea sauce.
If you have a sweet tooth, you'll find everything from kunafa, a cream or cheese stuffed dessert popular with the Arab world, to a traditional Chilean Thousand Layer Cake filled with dulce de leche and walnuts, or the Indian dessert Gulab Jamun, pastry similar to a sweetened donut hole served in a floral-scented sugary syrup. The possibilities are endless!
That's Not All
When you're happily full, there are a few other fascinating places in Queens that might be worth a stop, such as:
· Rockaway Beach, with seven miles of beachfront on the roaring Atlantic Ocean, is the largest urban beach in the U.S. It contains the only legal surfing beach in NYC. Because of the large number of Irish Americans living there, for many years it was known by the nickname "the Irish Riviera."
· The home of the Hindu Temple Society of North America, popularly known as the Ganesh Temple, is set in a residential neighborhood in Flushing. This intricately carved homage to Ganesha, one of the most worshipped Hindu deities, was built by skilled craftsmen from India. A flourishing place of worship and popular gathering place, their community canteen serves South Indian dosas that will make your mouth pucker in delight.
· In Addleigh Park, a subsection of St. Albans, you can see the homes of musicians such as Ella Fitzgerald and James Brown and sports stars like Jackie Robinson, Joe Louis and Babe Ruth.
· Forest Hills Stadium was built to be the home of the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament, now taking place in another venue in Queens. In the 1960s, it became a popular concert venue, hosting legendary performers like the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Frank Sinatra. This summer it hosted the Rock the Bells Festival, celebrating fifty years of hip-hop.
Queens cemeteries include former residents Dizzy Gillespie, magician Harry Houdini, and renowned photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.
Many famous people were born in Queens – Annie Sullivan, the amazing teacher who gave Helen Keller language, Paul Stanley of KISS fame (who, when he attended my high school, was named Stanley Eisen), Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel (who performed in my elementary school auditorium when they were Tom and Jerry), Ethel Merman, Tony Bennett, and Fran Drescher of "The Nanny," known for her raspy voice with the "New Yawk" accent.
Queens cemeteries include former residents Dizzy Gillespie, magician Harry Houdini and renowned photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.
But the people in Queens who are alive are very much alive, chatting in their native languages, wrapping themselves in saris or burkas, munching on shrimp crackers or chikki, a traditional Indian type of brittle, and enjoying the myriad pleasures of life in the world's (best) borough.