Top 5 Favorite NYC Spots Outside Manhattan

The new buzzword in travel is “overtourism”. This is the idea that travel has increased so much, it now has become a burden on many cities and national parks. First discussed in cities like Venice or Barcelona, these concerns have spread across the world. Because locals have always tended to hate tourists, no matter the amount, local governments are largely not responding in a smart way, with better urban planning, but rather with knee-jerk bans. Amsterdam has instituted several bans on tours. Paris is banning sightseeing buses in their city center. Even here in NYC, the National Parks Service has banned organized tours inside the structures on Liberty & Ellis Islands. Here in NYC, better city planning is the real key… ie. pedestrianizing more areas, like Times Square was a decade ago.

One solution New York is trying is to encourage more visitors to venture outside the Manhattan areas where most tourists tend to congregate. I wholeheartedly endorse this initiative. Most of what people think of when they hear “New York City” is just core Manhattan… but it is actually the smallest borough by size, and only third-largest by population. We are a city of 5 boroughs, and there is plenty of room for all, and so much to explore that even most locals never get the time to see it all.

So, on that note, here are my top 5 recommendations of fun ways to spend a day outside Manhattan:

1. Flushing Meadows-Corona Park: Best known to most as the site of the annual US Open tennis tournament, this 897-acre park began its life as as the home of the 1939 Worlds Fair, and more famously later re-used for the 1964 Worlds Fair. Numerous remnants of those fairs remain, most famously the Unisphere, and towers of the New York State Pavilion. Part of the site now houses institutions like the Hall of Science, Queens Zoo, a boating lake, and of course the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. But the must-visit is the Queens Museum, a building retained from the ‘39 Fair, and the original home of the United Nations General Assembly. Besides many great exhibitions, the museum also houses the must-see Panorama of the City of New York, a scale model of every block and building in the entire city. It is amazing to behold. And, if the Mets are in town, a pop over to adjacent CitiField for a ball game is another must. If there’s no home game, hop back on the 7 train to explore any of the other amazing immigrant neighborhoods along the line… there’s a reason Queens is called “the world’s borough”!

2. The Bronx, Belmont area: Take a quick ride on Metro-North rail to the Fordham station from Grand Central, and you’ll be in the Bronx neighborhood of Belmont… aka, the Bronx’s Little Italy. The Bronx as a whole has many great places to explore— Yankee Stadium, Wave Hill gardens, City Island, numerous historic districts— but this area has the best concentration of attractions for visitors. After getting off the train, take a quick detour west to see the former cottage home of Edgar Allan Poe. Then, double-back and head down Arthur Avenue, the area’s old-world-feel main stretch of restaurants, shops, and bakeries. The indoor Arthur Avenue Retail Market will be your main stop, where dozens of vendors congregate selling everything from cheese to beer to pastas to fresh-rolled cigars. A short walk away from this stretch is the Bronx Zoo, one of America’s largest zoos. A great spot for families to spend several hours. Just north of the zoo is the New York Botanic Garden, a wonderful open space with many great seasonal events and attractions. This area of the Bronx alone can eat up an entire day… Mangia!

3. Street art: An increasingly popular attraction in New York City, and a specialty of mine, is that— as the birthplace of graffiti— it has some of the world’s best spots for street art and other types of graffiti art. You can find amazing street art along the 6 line in the Bronx, at Welling Court in Astoria Queens, or Manhattan’s Lower East Side. But the best neighborhood to explore for unique art lovers is Bushwick, Brooklyn. The main hub in this vibrant community is off the L train, where the “Bushwick Collective” organizes sanctioned murals over several blocks, replacing each wall every year, ensuring fresh art even for return visitors. This project alone encompasses dozens of huge, gallery-quality murals. All the gaps in between in the area have been filled with independent street art works and raw graffiti. The art tourism has led to a great explosion in the area of bars and restaurants. If the Collective scene isn’t enough, more art can be found further west on the L line, and another big hub along Brooklyn’s Broadway for the “JMZ Walls” project. A whole days worth of urban art exploring in just one (large) neighborhood.

4. Prospect Park + beyond: The most famous park designed by the team of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux is Central Park, but they said their favorite was Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. With great trails, a massive lake, and the sprawling Long Meadow, it is Brooklyn’s backyard. The park also houses an old Dutch farmhouse, a skating rink (ice in winter, roller in summer), and a small zoo. Across Flatbush Ave from the Grand Army Plaza entrance to the park are three significant Brooklyn institutions: the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and the Brooklyn Museum. The latter, founded in 1895 and designed by McKim, Mead and White, was Brooklyn’s answer to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Besides a great collection of American and European art, the museum also houses the city’s second largest collection (after the Met) of Egyptian works, as well as the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. These institutions, and the park, are surrounded by numerous gorgeous historic districts such as Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, and more. Well worth a day of exploring.

5. Red Hook, Brooklyn: My favorite Brooklyn neighborhood was once the busiest port in the United States. Popularized in such works as Arthur Miller's “A View from the Bridge” or the 1954 film “On the Waterfront”, the area has a great past as a major industrial hub… numerous buildings & structures from this era remain today. Known to most New Yorkers are the home to the city’s Ikea, it has seen a larger resurgence trading in on its seaside & industrial legacy. Tours can be found there of whiskey distilleries, two chocolate factories, small-batch wineries, glass and woodworking facilities, and much more. Stroll along old Belgian block streets. Visit Pioneer Works, a fantastic art studio and gallery space. Grab groceries inside a beautifully-restored Civil War-era warehouse building. Grab a great meal at any of the popular eateries, such as Brooklyn Crab. Or just sit on a pier, watching boats go by, and soak in the amazing view of the harbor and the Statue of Liberty. For a slightly more authentic experience, walk over to Defonte's Sandwich Shop, operating in Red Hook since the 1920s. The area is a quick trip from Wall Street on the South Brooklyn ferry line.

Bonus!: Technically part of the borough of Manhattan, so I didn’t put it on this main list, but I’d be remiss not to mention Governors Island, my favorite in-city New York day trip (open May-October). A very quick ferry ride from lower Manhattan, the harbor’s largest island has a whole grove of hammocks waiting for you. In 1783, it became a US Army base, and then a Coast Guard in its final decades, before being shut down in 1996. In 2005, the island reopened as a public space and has been growing & evolving since. For history buffs, you can tour the Governors Island National Monument side of the island, passing old Army & Coast Buildings, and tour historic forts like Castle Williams or Fort Jay. Those seeking just a relaxing day can lounge in the plentiful park space, rent a bike, or eat & drink away the day at Island Oyster. A must-do is the Hills, which features the best panoramic view in the harbor. Art fans will also find numerous exhibitions around the island. For those looking to expand their time here, the Collectives Retreat offers a fun overnight “glamping” experience (just avoid Saturday nights, when party boats in the harbor will make sleep difficult). We recommend arriving early in the day, before the boats fill up.

And that’s our list. Feel free to send us any feedbacks or your own recommendations & faves!

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Tour-tle Power

Here at Custom NYC Tours, my specialty is, of course, custom tours. Many tour guides have a niche specialty in their realm of NYC tourism— food tours, gangster/crime tours, Broadway tours, etc. I certainly have my own NYC passions, but my real specialty is a little bit of everything. Name me a topic or theme, and I promise you I can craft you an amazing custom tour out of it. I sincerely believe that is not something most NYC guides can do, and my goal has always been to provide people with unique New York experiences.

I’ve gotten some great custom tour requests in the past— helping people trace their family’s ancestry & heritage in Brooklyn, TV & movie site requests, & more— but I got my favorite request so far last month. I was asked to create a tour themed around the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as the customer’s two children were huge fans. This would be a fun family tour. My first instinct was to think of the filming locations for the original 1990 live-action TMNT film, but since that came 20+ years before the kids were even born, I guessed correctly they hadn’t seen it (my own nephews love the current cartoon series, and I knew that’s the current way most know that universe). Since-- don't tell the kids, shhh-- the Turtles don't actually exist, I decided to approach the tour as "the New York City that the world of TMNT inhabits". So more of that old-school New York.

The goal was to make the tour as enjoyable for the adults, as well as the kids.

The tour began in Tribeca by the Ghostbusters Firehouse (always a fun destination) to discuss historic old New York, and how it is represented in pop culture. This, not Times Square or Hudson Yards, is the type of New York we see in TMNT. Beautiful old cast-iron buildings, smokey streets, windy alleys. We then headed toward Chinatown, via Cortlandt Alley, NYC's most filmed & photogenic alleyway. Now the TMNT are supposed to be of Japanese origin, but there is no Japanese neighborhood like this in NYC, so Chinatown did the trick, and the adults loved the neighborhood. Our main stretch was Mott St where we stopped at a martial arts store that sells authentic ninja gear (costumes, swords, nunchucks, etc). Kids loved that. Then, we headed to historic Doyers St (aka: "the bloody angle") and talked about the old clans and gangs of Chinatown and that bloody history, as well as the related history of the Five Points. From there, it was a short walk down to the scenic Civic Center. Our final stop: the Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall subway station, to take the 6 train loop through the old, decommissioned 1904 City Hall station (in the second movie and other iterations, they depict their lair as being in that station). Everyone loved that. Then we wrapped up at a nearby pizza place as the Turtles, living every child’s fantasy, subside on a diet of entirely pizza.

This was a wonderful tour on a lovely Spring evening, creating a unique experience for my Canadian visitors, and was the type of experience that made me want to be a professional guide in the first place.

Looking for a similar experience? Contact me today to begin planning your own custom tour!

This ad was part of a recent initiative by the NYC tourism bureau to encourage family tourism into New York. The Turtles were chosen as the official ambassadors of this campaign which featured numerous ads around the region.

This ad was part of a recent initiative by the NYC tourism bureau to encourage family tourism into New York. The Turtles were chosen as the official ambassadors of this campaign which featured numerous ads around the region.

Space Invader in NYC: A Guide

Most street art fans are familiar with the work of French artist Invader. Taking his name from an early arcade game (and his style from those early 8-bit graphics), Invader began a global project in 1998 called Space Invaders, affixing tile mosaics to the sides of buildings. Today, his work can be found in large cities in dozens of major countries. He is one of the world's most famous (and still anonymous) street artists.

Invader has visited NYC several times and left behind numerous installations. Many, as happens often, have been removed, vandalized, or stolen. My aim is to create a list of all remaining pieces in NYC (as of 2018) that I have personally verified. If I am missing any, or if any are gone since I last saw them, please comment below!

Manhattan:

  1. Lower East Side: On Ludlow St, between E. Houston & Stanton, look across from the Hotel Indigo, for a classic Invader

  2. Lower East Side: Also on Ludlow, between Delancey & Broome, look up on the east side of the street for a crowned Invader.

  3. Lower East Side: On Broome St, between Allen & Eldridge, look above the pizza shop awning for Leonardo of the TMNT.

  4. Lower East Side: On Bowery, between Broome & Delancey, look up on the east side of the street for Michelangelo of the TMNT.

  5. Lower East Side: On the intersection of Kenmare & Mott, look above the doorway for a spray-can piece.

  6. Lower East Side: On Mulberry St, between Grand & Hester, look up on the east side of the street for superhero character.

  7. Lower East Side: On Bowery, between E. Houston & Stanton, look up on the east side of the street for a drinking Invader.

  8. Lower East Side: On Lafayette St, between Prince & Spring, look up on the east side of the street for a flowery Invader.

  9. Lower East Side: On Orchard St, between Stanton & Rivington, look up on the west side of the street for a soda can.

  10. Lower East Side: On Bowery, between Hester & Canal, look up on the fire escapes on the west side of the street, for a strip of Invaders.

  11. Chinatown: On Division & Orchard, look up on the west corner, for Raphael of the TMNT.

  12. Chinatown: On Canal St, btwn Rutgers & Ludlow, look up on the south side of the street for a classic Invader.

  13. East Village: On Avenue A, between E. 9th & E. 8th, look up on the corner for a classic Invader.

  14. East Village: On St Marks Place, look above Crooked Tree for a mosaic of Lou Reed.

  15. East Village: On Avenue A & E. 3rd, look up on the northeast corner for a classic Invader.

  16. East Village: On Bowery & Great Jones St, look up on the southwest corner for a beat-up Invader.

  17. East Village: On Houston & Bowery (to the left of the Bowery Mural), look up for a colorful Invader.

  18. West Village: On 6th Ave & Waverly Place, look above the diner for a burger-chomping Invader.

  19. West Village: On Minetta & Bleecker, look up above the cafe for two classic Invaders

  20. Chelsea: On W. 14th St, between 8th & 9th Aves, look up on the south side of the street for a large Big Apple Invader.

  21. Chelsea: On W. 22nd St, btwn 10th & 11th, look on the south side of the street for a Pac Man ghost-style Invader.

  22. Chelsea: On W. 38th St, btwn 10th & 9th Aves, look on the north side of the street for a red Invader with mirror eyes.

  23. Meatpacking District: On Washington St, between E. 13th & Little W. 12th, look up on the west side, under the Standard hotel, for Buster Bunny

  24. Meatpacking District: On 10th Ave & W. 17th St, look above Artichoke Pizza for Donatello of the TMNT.

  25. Tribeca: On Thompson St, between Broome & Watts, look up, on the west side of the building, for a rainbow Invader.

  26. Hudson Square: At Pier 40, look on the south end of the building for a classic Invader.

  27. Hudson Square: On Varick St, between Downing & Clarkson, look up on the west side of the street for a classic Invader.

  28. Upper East Side: On E 61st St, between 2nd & 3rd Aves, look up above a doorway on the south side of the street, for a key-holding Invader

  29. Upper East Side: On 2nd Ave, between E. 94th & E. 95th, look up on the west side of the street for a flowery Invader.

  30. Williamsburg Bridge: On the pedestrian path of this bridge, closer to Manhattan, just before the FDR Drive, look to the right on the tower. On the arch, there is a small Invader facing west.

Brooklyn:

  1. Bushwick: On Troutman St, between Wyckoff & Irving, keeping looking up on the west side of the street for a tribute to Cost & ENX.

  2. Bushwick: On Gardner St, between Johnson Ave & Randolph St, look up on the west side of the street for Joey Ramone.

  3. Williamsburg: On Bedford Ave, by S 5th St, look up on the NE corner for a beat-up orange Invader.

  4. Williamsburg: On the SE corner of Metropolitan & Wythe, look up for a tribute to NYC graffiti legends Rev & Cost.

  5. South Williamsburg: At Broadway, between Keap & Rodney Sts, look above KidSuper for a classic Invader.

  6. Greenpoint: At the corner of Nassau & Kingsland, look above Vinnie's Pizzeria for pizza-munching Invader.

  7. Bed-Stuy: On St. Johns Place, between Utica & Rochester, look up on the south side of the street for a speeding Invader.

Any questions? Please comment below!

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