Best of the Bronx: What to do and see in the northernmost borough now

November 5, 2019

You’re probably familiar with the big attractions in the Bronx: Yankee Stadium, the New York Botanical Garden, and the Bronx Zoo. But the borough has a lot more going on, from historic and cultural treats and treasures to new breweries and restaurants and acres of beaches, parks, trails, and gardens. Read on for a collection of destinations in the city’s northernmost, greenest, and most diverse borough that are worth the trip, wherever you’re coming from.

View of Madonia Bakery in 2018; Map data © 2019 Google

In addition to being New York City’s furthest north borough, it’s the only one that isn’t an island. Also, the U.S. Census considers the Bronx to be the most diverse area in the country, telling us that there is an 89.7 percent chance that any two randomly-chosen residents would be of different ethnicity or race. Its many ethnic enclaves include Belmont’s Little Italy section surrounding Arthur Avenue (which also counts among its residents Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, African Americans, Italians, Dominicans, Albanians, Koreans, and Jamaicans). And the verdant estates of Riverdale and Fieldston could not be more different from the South Bronx neighborhoods whose recent rebirth as a center of culture and community has been the subject of both pride and controversy. And, of course, the boogie-down Bronx was the birthplace of hip-hop.

As the greenest borough, about one-fourth of the Bronx is open space, occupied by Woodlawn Cemetery, Van Cortlandt Park, Pelham Bay Park, the New York Botanical Garden, and the Bronx Zoo. These undeveloped areas sit on land that was reserved in the late 19th century to protect them from the urban development that threatened from all directions. The city’s largest park, Pelham Bay Park, is three times the size of Central Park. And Orchard Beach is one of the city’s best beaches.

the bronx, grand concourse
Photo of the Grand Concourse via Wikimedia Commons

Culture, history and the arts

The borough’s historic architectural highlights might well begin with the Grand Concourse, modeled after the wide Champs-Elysées of Paris. That’s where you’ll find an assembly of Art Deco and Art Moderne style architecture spread along four miles–the nation’s largest collection of its kind–on Deco Row.

Mott Haven Historic Districts Association, Mott Haven rowhouse, Samuel Brooks Bronx, Samuel Brooks Mott Haven, Mott Haven Historic District, Mott Haven Decorator Show HousePhoto taken by Erin Kestenbaum exclusively for 6sqft.

The Mott Haven historic district is the borough’s first designated historic district. Located within the gentrifying South Bronx (which seems to have narrowly escaped the “SoBro” moniker), it’s also home to blocks of picturesque row houses dating from the 19th century.

the lit bar, bookstores, south bronx, bronx mott havenPhoto courtesy of The Lit Bar.

Take a day to gallery-hop around Grand Concourse and points south: The South Bronx has become a hub of art galleries and museums. Their longtime anchor has been the venerable Bronx Museum of the Arts, one of the city’s most respected arts destinations. Additional must-see art spaces include Bronx Documentary Center, Bronx Art Space, Wallworks NY gallery, and Longwood Gallery of the Arts. A new wave of informal art spaces includes The Lit. Bar, the Bronx’s first independent book store. To revisit the early days of hip-hop and the ongoing celebration of its culture, check out the street art at Whitlock Avenue and Hunts Point.

arthur avenue, the bronx, little italyArthur Avenue between 186th Street and 184th Street. Photo by Leonard J. DeFrancisci / Wikimedia Commons

Another cultural treasure can be found along Arthur Avenue in the borough’s Belmont neighborhood. Known as the Little Italy of the Bronx, the street is lined with Italian-accented food shops, restaurants, and specialty stores whose stories reflect the borough’s diversity. No matter what the flavor, it’s definitely worth a taste.

poe cottage, bronx, edgar allan poeEdgar Allan Poe’s house in the Bronx. Photo by Zoirusha / Wikimedia Commons

The Edgar Allan Poe Cottage, built circa 1812, is a New York City and State landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Now a historic house museum, the house was the final residence of the writer.

Woodlawn Cemetery, in addition to being among the city’s largest, is a designated national historic landmark. Its tree-lined roads lead to unique memorials designed by famous American architects like McKim, Mead & White and Cass Gilbert. Opened during the Civil War in 1863, it is notable in part as the final resting place of great American figures from Herman Melville to Irving Berlin and Miles Davis.

If you’re a golfer, a treat awaits: Van Cortlandt Golf Course in the North Bronx is the oldest public golf course in the USA. It’s also the most easily accessible NYC course to mass transportation.

The Bronx Brewery, NYC breweries, Port Morris Bronx, Chris Gallant, Damian BrownImage courtesy of The Bronx Brewery.

Nightlife, breweries, bars and music venues

Following in the footsteps of early German immigrants, the South Bronx has been making use of available former industrial spaces for brewing craft beers and ales. Launched in 2011, The Bronx Brewery in Port Morris creates top-quality beer and traditionally-crafted pale ales with a passion for local culture. Look for DJ nights, food trucks, and other events in the taproom and the extra-large backyard. Newcomer Gun Hill Brewing Company is rising to the top of the quality heap with its complex-flavored beer.

In Mott Haven, trendy newcomer Bricks and Hops Beer Garden serves up brews and fun, and if beer’s not your thing, try the classic, yet somehow-just-right Charlie’s Bar & Kitchen. Hit the Bronx Beer Hall for local beers, trivia, or karaoke, or Clinton Hall for beer, adventures, and outdoor games after a visit to Arthur Avenue. Bronx Alehouse is the place to go if you’re in Riverdale, Kingsbridge, or Van Cortlandt Park, or you’re just incredibly serious about your beer. Further afield, a favorite gathering and quaffing spot is the beloved Irish pub An Beal Bocht Cafeoffering music, theater, cafe food, and drink in quiet, reserved Fieldston.

For cocktails in surroundings that are a little different, check out the bar car nights at the Botanical Garden when the Holiday Train Show hits during the winter holiday season. And if you’re exploring City Island, The Snug is a charming and cozy hit.

Images via Bronx Night Market

Restaurants, cafes, and food markets

Among Arthur Avenue‘s tempting Italian fare, it’s hard to go wrong. Zero Otto Nove features experimental pizzas and escape-to-Italy interior decor. Casa Della Mozzarella highlights fresh mozz in signature paninis. For classic family-style Italian fare, try Dominick’s. A dessert must-try is the classic Madonia Brothers Bakery, in the neighborhood for three generations churning out savory breads, cookies, and cannolis. Teitel Brothers offers a bounty of market goods at the crossroads of Jewish and Italian cultures, and the Calabria Pork Store offers Italian meats beneath a “chandelier” of hanging sausages.

In the South Bronx, top choices include trendy Hip-Hop-themed newcomer Beatstro, Bronx Public and The Hill Bistro. Mott Haven Bar and Grill shines at brunch and after dark, but also serves the community with classes and gatherings. Mottley Kitchen and the hip-hop-focused Boogie Down Grind Cafe keep the caffeine beat covered.

More options for authentic ethnic eats include La Morada (Oaxacan Mexican in the South Bronx), Havana Cafe (Cuban in Schuylerville) and Nano Billiards Cafe (in a basement across from Yankee Stadium, it’s been called the city’s best Dominican restaurant). Moss Cafe is a favorite for kosher vegetarian in Riverdale. On City Island, the City Island Lobster House is an old-school seafood favorite.

The Bronx Night Market claims to be the largest celebration of cuisine and culture in the Bronx, Westchester County, and Uptown Manhattan. In its debut season, 80,000 people visited Fordham Plaza to partake of the market’s 35+ food, drink, and artisan vendors, catch live music and meet up with friends, all after sundown. The market is free and happens every Saturday from May through October. Look for special celebrations after the season, like a November harvest festival.

Bronx ZooPhoto by Postdlf / Wikimedia Commons

For the whole family

Yankee Stadium needs no explanation, but a new addition is the Plymouth Rock Kids’ Clubhouse. Built to resemble a miniature baseball field, this new kids’ space features Yankees-themed playground equipment, interactive exhibits, and an area for parents to watch the game.

The Bronx Zoo is one of the nation’s largest, spanning 265 acres with over two million visitors each year. Highlights are too many to list, but check out the bug carousel and the “secret” fountain of youth. In winter, the holiday light display dazzles.

Jupiter Joe’s Sidewalk Astronomy is an outreach program designed to educate the public on astronomy and space-related sciences, teaching future astronomers about the solar system and lunar exploration, and constructing paper models of mysteries from robots and Mars habitats. You’ll never know where Joe will pop up–unless you check his website and social media.

thain family forest, new york botanical garden, the bronx, nybgThain Family Forest. Photo by Allison Meier via Flickr.

Nature and the great outdoors
With over a million annual visitors, The New York Botanical Garden is one of New York City’s most compelling attractions. Located within Bronx Park, the NYBG hosts over one million living plants. It’s also a major educational institution and operates one of the world’s largest plant research and conservation programs. Highlights include the Thain Family Forest, the largest expanse of New York’s original wooded landscape. Another don’t-miss event is seasonal: The Holiday Train Show.

Another of the borough’s botanical treasures is Wave Hill. The 28-acre estate in the Hudson Hill section of Riverdale offers public horticultural gardens and a cultural center with dazzling views overlooking the Hudson River. The historic estate offers a multi-room art gallery and a cultural center as well as a garden. Concerts, classes and other programs are frequently offered.

Orchard Beach. Photo by Dan DeLuca / Flickr

At over three times the size of Central Park, Pelham Bay Park is the city’s largest park. Stop by the Bronx Equestrian Center in the park for $5 pony rides or go horseback riding along a trail. Orchard Beach, the Bronx’s only public beach, was once known as “The Riviera of New York.” The 115-acre, 1.1-mile-long beach features a promenade, a central pavilion, snack bars, food and souvenir carts, playgrounds, picnic areas, and 26 courts for basketball, volleyball, and handball, plus changing areas and showers.

The 1,146-acre Van Cortlandt Park is the city’s third-largest and offers golf courses, running paths, athletic facilities for baseball, basketball, cricket, cross-country running, football, horseback riding, lacrosse, rugby, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis and track and field as well as lots of hiking trails. It also contains the largest freshwater lake in the Bronx.

Photo by Elena Gaillard on Wikimedia

Paddle the Bronx RiverThe Bronx River Alliance invites visitors to explore this 23-mile “hidden gem in New York City” that flows for eight miles through the heart of the Bronx including borough’s gorgeous forested northern areas.

Cool and out-of-the-ordinary

city island, bronxCity Island Marina. Photo by Jim Henderson / Wikimedia Commons

City Island is both a neighborhood and an actual island located at the extreme western end of Long Island Sound. The island is 1.5 miles long by a half-mile wide, and while it–and the seaport community it supports–has a unique small-town vibe that seems miles away from the big city, it’s very much a part of the borough’s history. The island offers a variety of boating, recreational and cultural activities, museums and art galleries in addition to historic homes, restaurants and bars. MTA buses serve City Island, and The Bronx Tourism Council runs the Free City Island Land Ferry.

After traveling to France to visit the famous grotto in Lourdes, Msgr. Lombardo constructed a replica of it on the grounds of St. Lucy’s Church in hopes that it would convey to parishioners and visitors the intimate and spiritual nature of the original. Completed in 1939, Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto at St. Lucy’s Church is made of fieldstones stacked together in a 30-foot-high cave in which steps lead up to an altar filled with candles lit by visitors. Though it’s gated within the churchyard and rarely open to the public, the grotto is easily visible from the street.

Additional photo credits used in lead image: New York Botanical Garden conservatory by King of Hearts / Wikimedia Commons; Yankee Stadium by Matt Boulton / Flickr; elephants at the Bronx Zoo by Julie / Flickr; Spaghetti by jeffreyw / Wikimedia Commons


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