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The 5 Boroughs of New York City Explained

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For many people around the world, New York City means Manhattan.

But, to truly know NYC, one should know at least a bit about all five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island.

If you are visiting New York City, here’s a short guide to the boroughs and some suggestions of what to see in each of them.


What is a Borough?

Boroughs (pronounced burrow) are formal subdivisions of cities that have some aspects of self-government.

For example, New York City has one mayor, but each borough has its own borough president. 

Boroughs are not unique to NYC. London and Montreal also have boroughs.

In NYC, boroughs have official districts, with their own government representatives. 

Within New York City, there are hundreds of neighborhoods (such as Greenwich Village and SoHo) that are areas within each borough with no formal boundaries.

Our post, New York City Neighborhoods Explained, goes into more detail.

Below are the five boroughs of NYC explained, Further on in this post we list some top attractions and neighborhoods within each of the boroughs.


Manhattan

Manhattan feels like the center of New York City and rightfully so. It is where New York City was settled back in 1624 (then as Dutch New Amsterdam). 

Many of its iconic attractions, like Times Square, the Empire State Building and Central Park, are known around the world. 

aerial view of Manhattan

Though geographically small, compared to the other four boroughs, there are over 60 neighborhoods, many of which deserve a visit.

It’s also where most tourists stay since there are hundreds of hotels.


Brooklyn

With an estimated population of 2.6 million, Brooklyn is home to the most number of New Yorkers.

If it were its own city, it would be the fourth largest city in the United States.

Brooklyn Bridge

There are over 70 neighborhoods, and Brooklyn has an enormous diversity of ethnic backgrounds, architectural styles, and great food!

From hipsters and street art to historic neighborhoods and amazing skyline views of Manhattan, Brooklyn has something for everyone.


Staten Island

With only half a million people, Staten Island is not a big tourist destination.

In fact, many New Yorkers from other boroughs never go there, simply because it is overwhelmingly residential.

Staten Island Ferry

It does have some historical sites and lots of green space. There are even some local beaches. 

The highlight for visitors is taking the free Staten Island Ferry.


The Bronx

Though much of it is residential, the Bronx has some great reasons to visit. 

Yankee Stadium

It’s home to the New York Yankees, the Bronx Zoo, and Arthur Avenue, the Bronx’s answer to Little Italy.

There is lots of green space and the city's third-largest park as well as the Bronx Botanical Gardens.


Queens

Many visitors to New York City visit Queens without realizing it! Both John F. Kennedy and Laguardia Airports are in Queens.

But there is much more to Queens than runways!

Flushing is home to one of NYC’s largest parks, like Flushing Meadows, and the city’s second-largest Chinatown.

Flushing Meadows

Queens (pop. 2.2 million) is one of the most ethnically diverse urban areas in the world.

With at least 138 languages spoken throughout the borough, one could travel the world just by exploring Queens.

Much of the borough is residential, but that doesn't mean sleepy, quiet streets. Neighborhoods like Long Island City, Greenpoint and Astoria, have vibrant art and music scenes. 


What to See in Manhattan

Times Square

Known around the world for its New Year's Eve gathering and the ball drop, Times Square is a must-see neighborhood.

There’s nothing quite like its energizing atmosphere.

Times Square at Night

In addition to seeing Broadway shows, there are lots of things to do in Times Square. Find out here.


Central Park 

Central Park is a whopping 6% of Manhattan's land area! It’s so big that it would take you all day and some of the night to see it all!

Sheep Meadow in Central Park

From its spacious grand lawns to its wooded areas and bodies of water, Central Park is not to be missed.

Be sure to read our Things to Do in Central Park when you plan your outing!


Midtown Manhattan

Midtown is the center of NYC. Hundreds of thousands of people work here or pass through this part of Manhattan via Grand Central Terminal on their way to work in other parts of Manhattan.

Grand Central Station

 

Midtown is where you will find the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, the Museum of Modern Art and much more. 

It’s also where the largest concentration of hotels are. See our post on where to stay in NYC with specific listings in Midtown Manhattan.


Lower Manhattan

This part of Manhattan has some great attractions and historic sights.

lower manhattan

It’s where you’ll find Wall Street, the 9/11 Memorial, and One World Observatory with its breathtaking views of Manhattan, Brooklyn and beyond.

It’s also where you catch the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.


The Top Neighborhoods in Manhattan to Visit

Of the nearly 60 neighborhoods in Manhattan, these are the ones you should definitely consider checking out.

Chances are you have them on your list of places to see already! 

Read more about New York City’s neighborhoods and what there is to do in each of them.


What to See in Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Bridge

Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge is something that tourists and locals love to do.

Completed in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was a feat of engineering at the time.

Though its innovative architecture has been long outdone, the bridge remains one of the most beautiful bridges in the world.

The views from the bridge are expansive and include parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Way off in the distance, you can see the Statue of Liberty!


Brooklyn Heights

This stunning neighborhood located next to the Brooklyn Bridge is one of the oldest neighborhoods in NYC and the site of significant moments in American History. 

Its charming residential streets are lined with houses of different architectural styles. The oldest house dates back to 1824. 


DUMBO

Also located right next to the Brooklyn Bridge, DUMBO is both artsy and historic. Some great wall murals are here as well as spacious parks along the waterfront.

If you are looking for great skyline views, DUMBO is for you! 


Coney Island

Once called America’s Playground, Coney Island is a fun place to visit. 

Besides the famous boardwalk and beach, there’s Luna Park, an amusement park with thrilling rides, the New York Aquarium, and the Annual Mermaid Parade every June.


Bushwick Collective

The Bushwick Collective is one of the biggest open-air galleries of street art and murals in the world.

Bushwick Collective

Some of the most famous muralists have been showcased here. Local artists are also featured.

Here are more places to see street art in NYC.


What to See in Staten Island

The Free Staten Island Ferry 

For spectacular views of Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty, hop on the Staten Island Ferry for a free ride into New York Harbor.

You can come right back to Manhattan or explore Staten Island a bit.


Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden

Opened in 1883 as a home for retired sailors, this botanical garden covers 83 acres and has 20 different gardens.  


Historic Richmond Town

Richmond Town is a living history museum that takes visitors back in time to the 1600s when the Dutch settled the island.

There are 15 restored buildings over 100 acres. Guides are dressed the part and various aspects of colonial life such as craft demonstrations and country fairs are held. 


What to See in the Bronx

Bronx Zoo

The Bronx Zoo is the largest city zoo in the country with more than 7,000 resident animals. 

Bronx Zoo

What makes this zoo exceptional is that the animals live in habitats that recreate, as best as possible, their natural habitats. 


Yankee Stadium

Yankee Stadium is home to the New York Yankees baseball team. The ‘Bronx Bombers’, as they are affectionately known, have won the World Series 27 times.

It’s a quick subway ride from Manhattan, so if you want to see a baseball game, head to the ‘da Bronx! 

Baseball lovers can take a Yankee Stadium Tour!


Arthur Avenue

Located in the Belmont section of the Bronx, Arthur Avenue is what locals say is the “real” Little Italy. 

Certainly, that’s true of the population. There are more people with Italian heritage living in Belmont than in Manhattan’s Little Italy.

Food-wise, Arthur Avenue is quite a treat. Shops sell homemade mozzarella and sausages. The bakeries are fantastic. Dine out for some of the best spaghetti and meatballs in NYC.


What to See in Queens

Rockaway Beach

A popular destination for locals in the summer, this Queens beach is easily reached by subway or the East River Ferry.

Rockaway Beach

Besides swimming, sunbathing and surfing, there are festivals and family-friendly events. 


Citi Field 

Home to The Mets, Citi Field is a great alternative to seeing the Yankees in the Bronx. It’s easy to reach by subway and the stadium is relatively new, having replaced Shea Stadium in 2009.

Throughout the year festivals and major concerts are held here, such as Christmas Lights festivals.


Jackson Heights

This immigrant-dominated neighborhood is a perfect place to take yourself on a self-guided food tour

You’ll find foods from South and Latin America, China, Thailand, Mexico, India and even Tibet!


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About The Author

Courtney

Courtney is a lifelong New Yorker fascinated with the city’s history, culture and cuisine. She loves exploring the world, as well as sharing her travel expertise with others. She joined the Free Tours by Foot team in 2011, first as a guide and then as a writer. She has a law degree, a teaching degree and a worn-out passport. Her motto is “Have backpack, will travel”.
Updated: January 4th, 2023
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