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Five must-do’s while visiting the Bronx

Five must-do’s while visiting the Bronx

By Benjamin Garstka


Simply say the name and it conjures up images of poverty, crime and extreme urban depression. However, in recent times the Bronx has become New York City’s most underappreciated borough.


Take a ride north on the 4 or D train and visitors will see for themselves that this former poster child for inner city problems is now thriving thanks to renewed investment, diminished criminality and a slew of motivated neighborhood initiatives that have cleaned up the streets yet retained the character. 


With Manhattan and Brooklyn suffering from an influx of gentrifiers, yuppies and tourists, the Bronx has managed to stay under the radar and keep the spirit that New York was built on.


Walk down Grand Concourse, Webster Ave or one of the many cross-streets and you’ll hear anything from hip Hindi slang to nostalgic intonations of Italian to the beautiful rolled R’s of the Dominican Republic. The borough, simply put, is bursting with diversity. 


Cultures, customs and incomes all meet in this little slice of New York just north of Harlem. 


If you’ll be visiting New York, don’t make the mistake of many guests and limit your time to the southern half of Manhattan. Hop on the subway or catch a train from Grand Central and spend at least a day exploring the “real” New York in the gritty-but-pretty neighborhoods of the Bronx! 


After calling it home for four years, these five activities always get me nostalgic for the good old BX and make for a great day away from the increasingly mono-cultural Manhattan. 


(1) Shopping on Fordham Road

Hop on the subway and exit at Fordham Road and Grand Concourse. Walk south down East Fordham Road and you’ll be at the center of an outdoor boulevard full of urban fashions, sneakers and hats. 

This stretch of street has characters selling papaya, roasted nuts, cart coffee, street meats and more. In terms of shops, sneaker heads can’t afford to miss Fabco, Dr. Jays and Footaction. These shops are have a stock of custom and creative colors and styles from Nike, Adidas, Jordan and Converse that aren’t commonly seen in the rest of the city..or country for that matter. 

Shopping on_Fordham_Road_3

For the ladies, this is the place in New York City to score fashion forward looks at bargain prices. Jeans, snorkel jackets, casual looks and sports attire are most prevalent, but the prices are what make the journey worth it. Don’t expect upscale name brands, but rather smaller retailers offering an outlet for what could be called more urbane H&M looks. Find the full list of shops here [PDF].

Also be sure to pick-up a slice of pizza at one of the many $1 vendors where you won’t believe such quality pizza can be sold at such a price! 


(2) Marvel at nature in the city

Smack in the middle of the Bronx are two of New York City’s best forays into the natural world: the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Gardens

Conveniently located across the street from each other, the two parks are among the best, cleanest and most interesting in New York. Covering more than 260 acres, the zoo holds nearly 4,000 animals from over 600 species. Some of the most popular exhibits include the Congo Gorilla Forest, the Wild Asia Monorail and the Madagascar exhibition. 



Along with houses of reptiles, insects and an amazing selection of birds of prey, the zoo is truly top notch and you could easily spend a day meandering through the oasis in warm weather. 

Or divide that day and pay a visit to the Botanical Gardens. Around the same size as the Bronx Zoo, the New York Botanical Gardens covers 250 acres and hosts nearly a million visitors per year. 


At the heart of the gardens is the last example of native old growth forest, which allows for a glimpse of what Manhattan and the New York area looked like prior to the arrival of colonists. Other highlights include the Azaela Gardens in late fall, the cherry blossoms in April, the rock garden for alpine plants and the ornamental year-round conifers. 

Sometimes it’s necessary to have a moment of peace amid the hustle and bustle of the city. In New York, the Botanical Gardens and Zoo in the Bronx are some of the best places to find that tranquility. 


(3) Visiting the House that Ruth built: Yankee Stadium

An emblem for city on hats all over the world, the home of the famed New York Yankees is in fact at East 161st Street in the Bronx! After building a new stadium in 2008, the old Yankee Stadium was torn down in 2010 and now forms part of a new park called Heritage Field.    

New York_Yankees


But no worries! The new Yankee Stadium is bigger, better and already playing host to some of the most exciting rivalries in baseball. Although it’s quite difficult to get tickets to a game, the stadium also offers tours that are well worth it for those curious about the great American pastime. 

Running about 45 minutes, the tour allows visitors to go into the dugouts, explore the New York Yankees Museum and learn about the history of Monument Park! 


(4) Getting gluttonous in Little Italy (of the Bronx)

When talking about Little Italy in New York, it’s necessary to specify which one is being discussed. While the Manhattan neighborhood around Mulberry Street is increasingly encroached upon by Chinatown, the more authentic Little Italy is now around Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. 


This enclave of commercial businesses clustered around Arthur Avenue serves mostly the Italian communities around 187th street and Morris Park. The reason for visiting this street is that it’s a New York culinary gem. We’re talking excellent delis, restaurants, bakeries, markets and cafes with a touch of old world charm. 


Walking down the avenue, be sure to sample some delectable cheese from Casa Della Mozarella (604 E. 187th St), buy fresh cold cuts and meats from Biancardis (2350 Arthur Ave), and wonder at how quick cigars can be rolled at the Arthur Avenue Retail Market (2344 Arthur Ave). 


In terms of restaurants, you’ll want to grab breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert here because the gastronomic goodness is unmatched. For a mid-range Italian meal with the family head to Trattoria Zero Otto Nove (2357 Arthur Ave).

With a spacious interior and impeccable service, it’s one of the finest restaurants in terms of quality qua price in the neighborhood. Celebrating a special occasion? Reserve a meal at Emilias and be treated like family while dining on the luxurious portions of homemade, authentic Italian fare. For dessert, get to Madonia Brothers Bakery (2348 Arthur Ave) where they only fill your cannoli once you order it. 

Possibly the crowning jewel of this neighborhood is the pizza at Full Moon (600 E 187th St). Words don’t do this corner shop’s slices justice. Thin crust baked just right, thick sauce with a special spice mix and a range of toppings make this a must if you’re looking for the perfect slice. 


(5) Admiring world class art amid local culture

The Bronx is full of culture, both global and local. Of the museums and institutions located around the borough, the best known is the Bronx Museum of the Arts. World class in every sense, the Bronx Museum of the Arts maintains a focus on American artists and the diverse influences of contemporary creatives. Recently representing the U.S in the 2013 Venice Biennale, the collection includes works by Alvin Baltrop, Juan Downey and Raphael Montañez Ortiz among others. 


Going from contemporary to the historical is also possible in the Bronx. In fact, one of America’s most treasured literary icons took up residence in the area during the mid-1800s. Edgard Allan Poe of Raven fame moved to a small house in the Fordham area in order to get medical assistance for his ailing wife Virginia. She would end up dying in the home while Poe became more and more distraught. 


Today, the Edgar Allan Poe Cottage is a museum run by the Bronx Country Historical Society where visitors are able to meditate on the works of Poe and the melancholic life of one of the most notorious poets of the Romantic Movement in the U.S. 


Edgar Allan_Poe_Cottage_Bronx

Peel back another layer of New York history and discover the oldest building in the Bronx: the Van Cortlandt House Museum.

Constructed in 1748, the mansion sits on the larger Van Cortlandt park and was commissioned by the merchant family of the same name. 


The first historic house museum in the city, a visit to the Van Cortlandt House tells an alternate history of the Bronx and the development of New York around it.


Browse the rooms that retain period décor and experience what life was like for the early merchants and aristocrats in America!

Although this is just a sample of all that awaits visitors in the Bronx, think of it as an entry into the most lovable borough of the city!





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