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Geography

A Guide to the 5 Boroughs of New York City

By Bennett Kleinman
Read time: 9 minutes

The Big Apple is one of the world’s most popular places to visit. As America’s largest metro area, New York City contains five distinct boroughs — Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Staten Island. These five boroughs not only have their own presidents and local government, but they also boast their own unique cultural heritage. The differences between the various boroughs and neighborhoods within them are part of what makes New York such a fascinating city to so many. Have you visited all five boroughs? Dive into these interesting facts about each of the five boroughs of New York City.

The Bronx

Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx, New York City
Photo credit: Linda Harms/ Shutterstock

Approximately 1.4 million New Yorkers live in the Bronx’s 42 square miles, bordering Westchester County at the northernmost end of New York City. A quarter of the Bronx is covered by parkland, making it the Big Apple’s greenest borough.

From Pelham Bay Park to Van Cortlandt Park — home to America’s first public municipal golf course, opened in 1895 — the Bronx has no shortage of natural escapes within the city. The Bronx is also home to the New York Botanic Garden, which houses historic plants such as a Japanese winterberry and columnar tulip tree planted back in 1895, as well as a 155-foot-tall tree located in the Azalea Garden. One of the Bronx’s most popular attractions is its namesake zoo, which has been at the forefront of wildlife conservation in the area since first opening in 1899. Today the Bronx Zoo is home to over 11,000 animals from upwards of 650 individual species, which are spread out across 265 acres.

For other cultural attractions, the Bronx is where you’ll find Yankee Stadium, home to the 27-time World Champion New York Yankees baseball team. The current stadium was built in 2009 and is located across the street from Heritage Field, built on the spot where baseball legends such as Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle once played. And while Edgar Allan Poe is more commonly associated with the city of Baltimore, the Bronx is home to the cottage where he resided from 1846 through 1849 — a period during which he wrote classics such as Annabel Lee and The Bells. 

Food lovers in the Bronx can enjoy Italian cuisine up and down the streets of Arthur Avenue. Not to be confused with the Little Italy of downtown Manhattan, Arthur Avenue has origins dating back as far as the 1700s, when the area was home to a tobacco company. In the 20th century, Italian immigrants began migrating to the neighborhood, turning it into the place to visit if you wanted authentic and delicious Italian food. That reputation persists today in local culinary institutions such as Teitel Brothers — which opened its doors in 1915 — and Casa Della Mozzarella — where you can enjoy hand-pulled fresh mozzarella.

When in the Bronx, it’s also worth trekking over to City Island, a quaint fishing neighborhood unlike anywhere else in the city. This hidden gem is home to delicious seafood eateries, serving up fresh catches from just a few hundred feet away. City Island is also home to several unique bird species, such as the bright green parrots that were brought in from South America and can be frequently seen flying about the island.

Brooklyn

View of Williamsburg Bridge between brick buildings in Brooklyn
Photo credit: Sergi Herrera/ Shutterstock

If Brooklyn were its own city, it would be the third-largest city in America, as its 2.7-million-plus residents put its population in line with the entire city of Chicago, Illinois. This historic borough is also a cultural mecca, with the longest-standing public library system in New York City, as well as the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the oldest performing arts center in the U.S., established in 1861. 

But these communities aren’t just tall buildings and concrete streets — many Brooklynites reside along the borough’s 30 miles of shoreline, which contains the oceanside neighborhood of Coney Island. It’s here that you can enjoy some funnel cake along the boardwalk, or take a ride on the Cyclone — a wooden roller coaster that opened in 1927 which remains the world’s second-steepest wooden roller coaster

Brooklyn is also home to Prospect Park, a 526-acre greenspace that opened in 1867. At the time, Prospect Park cost $9.9 million to build, equal to roughly $205 million dollars today. But the investment paid off:  Prospect Park has long been a highlight of the borough — particularly amongst picnickers, as it was illegal to picnic in Manhattan’s Central Park in the 19th century. It’s also a popular filming location for Hollywood movies, including Sophie’s Choice, Wolf of Wall Street, and As Good As It Gets.

Adjacent to Prospect Park is the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which was founded in 1910 as a means for conserving local flora. In the decades that followed, the gardens expanded to incorporate many Japanese elements as well, including the Japanese Hill and Pond Garden, plus a vast bonsai collection.

Finally, one of the borough’s most popular landmarks is the Brooklyn Bridge, which spans across the East River and connects Brooklyn to Manhattan. This 5,989-foot-long bridge became the world’s first steel suspension bridge upon its opening in 1883. Strolling or biking across the bridge is one of the quintessential Brooklyn experiences.

Manhattan

View of Brooklyn Bridge and Lower Manhattan skyline
Photo credit: Gary Brewster/ iStock

Manhattan is New York City’s smallest borough by area, totalling only 23 square miles of land. But what really separates Manhattan from other boroughs is its population density — it’s home to 1.63 million people and is also the most densely populated county in the U.S.  The borough is home to Art Deco skyscrapers such as the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building, as well as One World Trade Center, which is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere at 1,776 feet.

One of the most popular neighborhoods in Manhattan is the Theater District, more colloquially known as Broadway, which spans an area from around 41st Street to 52nd Street between Sixth and Eighth Avenues. The first musical believed to have taken place in Manhattan was 1866’s The Black Crook, which paved the way for many shows that came later. This includes the record Broadway run of The Phantom of the Opera, which was performed a staggering 13,981 times at NYC’s Majestic Theatre between 1988 and 2023.

Manhattan is also home to legendary cultural institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. At the northern tip of Manhattan sits the Cloisters, America’s only museum dedicated exclusively to Middle Age-era art and architecture. The Cloisters first opened its doors in 1938 and is highlighted by three medieval chapels and several gardens found throughout the property. 

Manhattan also has a few interesting quirks, including the Hess Triangle in Greenwich Village. This 500-square-inch concrete triangle is the smallest piece of private property anywhere in New York City. Though it serves no real purpose, it exemplifies the strange and unique history of the island as a whole. 

Queens

Buildings of the New York State Pavilion from 1964 World's Fair in Queens' Flushing Meadows Park
Photo credit: Gary Brewster/ iStock

Queens is New York’s largest borough by area, spanning 109 square miles of land and 69 square miles of additional water area. With just over 2.4 million residents who call the borough home, Queens is a melting pot of many immigrant cultures. This includes a large Mexican community in the Corona area of the Jackson Heights neighborhood, a sizable Korean population in Fresh Meadows, and a huge concentration of Filipinos in Forest Hills, just to name a few. All told, Queens is so diverse that its many residents speak almost 150 different languages

One of the most popular cultural attractions in Queens is Citi Field, which opened in 2009 and is the home of the beloved baseball underdogs known as the New York Mets. The Mets have played in Queens since 1964 — two years after they began as a baseball franchise. During their storied existence, many baseball Hall of Famers have taken the field in Queens wearing Mets colors, such as Willie Mays, Nolan Ryan, and Tom Seaver. Queens is also home to the annual U.S. Open tennis tournament, whose finals are held at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing. 

Queens is home to both major New York City airports, LaGuardia and JFK. At JFK, the historic and architecturally stunning TWA terminal —  designed by Eero Saarinen in 1962 — has been repurposed into a boutique hotel. Many of the terminal’s original retro features have been preserved and restored, including an old airplane that’s been converted into an Instagram-worthy cocktail bar. 

Many historic events have occurred in Queens, including the world’s first-ever road paved exclusively for cars, created in 1908 in the Hollis Hills neighborhood. Queens’ Flushing Meadows-Corona Park was also the site of the 1964 world’s fair, which introduced concepts like videoconferencing, push-button telephones, and the Ford Mustang automobile. Furthermore, the borough served as a hub of the burgeoning jazz scene of the 1940s. Artists such as Louis Armstrong — whose Louis Armstrong House Museum is located in the Corona neighborhood — and Ella Fitzgerald moved to Queens to escape segregation amongst music clubs elsewhere in the city at the time.

Staten Island

Yellow-painted Staten Island Ferry at dock
Photo credit: Bjorn Grotting/ Alamy Stock Photo

Of the five New York City boroughs, Staten Island is by far the least populated, with just under 500,000 of the 8-million-plus people who call the Big Apple home. But despite its comparatively small population, Staten Island is the third-largest borough by land area, covering 59 square miles, with an additional 44 square miles of water area falling within the borough’s limits. Staten Island was initially inhabited by the Lenape peoples long before European explorers first arrived in 1524. By 1661, the Dutch established a permanent colony on the island, as the Lenapes largely moved westward.

Today, Staten Island is home to one of the largest Sri Lankan communities outside of Sri Lanka, and many of the borough’s earliest immigrants first arrived in the 1950s and 1960s. The Little Sri Lanka neighborhood is home to many eateries serving up delicious regional cuisine, as well as the Sri Lankan Art and Cultural Museum — the only museum located outside of Sri Lanka dedicated specifically to that nation’s heritage. Visitors can also take a look back at the early history of Staten Island by paying a visit to Historic Richmond Town. This themed historical museum features actors and interpreters who discuss what life was like in Staten Island during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Staten Island is home to a whopping 170 parks encompassing 12,300 acres of protected land. A new park — the largest to be developed in the city in over 100 years — called Freshkills Park is being built on the site that once served as the world’s largest landfill. When all phases of construction are finally completed in 2036, it will be nearly three times the size of Central Park in Manhattan.

Staten Island is also home to cultural institutions inspired by locations around the world, including the New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden, which is based on Ming Dynasty-era gardens and is one of just two authentic classical outdoor Chinese gardens in the U.S. The Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art showcases art from Tibet, Mongolia, and China within its stone buildings, which are designed to mimic Buddhist mountain monasteries. 

However, no trip to Staten Island is complete without an excursion aboard the famed Staten Island Ferry. These commuter ships run between Staten Island and Lower Manhattan 24 hours a day. The ferry is one of New York City’s truly free experiences, taking passengers along the scenic New York Harbor past the majestic Statue of Liberty.

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