Without the skyscrapers of Manhattan or the hipster flair of Brooklyn, the Bronx is often, unfairly, overlooked on Big Apple vacations. But “the Boogie Down” merits a trip in its own right. (New York’s northernmost borough earned its nickname when hip-hop music emerged here in the 1970s.) The storied baseball field of Yankee Stadium now doubles as a concert venue for big-ticket musicians. The New York Botanical Garden and Bronx Zoo attract nature lovers. And the family-owned, Italian-American restaurants, cafés and bakeries of Arthur Avenue serve outstanding pasta, pizza and cannoli. No wonder the Bronx has been showing up more and more on visitors’ radar.
Things to Do: Each year, some 3.5 million fans visit the Bronx’s Yankee Stadium, making it one of New York’s top attractions. You can root for the home team from April through autumn, tour the stadium (which replaced the original in 2009) or attend a concert (past performers include Paul McCartney, Jay-Z and Madonna). The borough’s other big draws are less flashy. The New York Botanical Garden includes 50 gardens and 50 acres of old-growth forest. Its Victorian-style conservatory hosts a popular orchid show each spring. The Bronx Zoo, the largest urban zoo in the world, pioneered the idea of modeling enclosures after the animals’ native habitats and is home to hundreds of species, including endangered snow leopards, red pandas, gibbons, giraffes and elephants.
Restaurants: There’s no shortage of Italian food in the Bronx. The borough is home to some of the best pizza, cannolis, homemade mozzarella and pasta in the entire city, if not the country. In the borough’s many mom-and-pop restaurants and specialty-food stores, recipes have been handed down, direct from Italy, through generations — particularly in the Morris Park neighborhood, in East Bronx, and the Arthur Avenue area, in the Belmont section of the Bronx.
Shopping: Fordham Road, between 185th and 186th Streets, in the Fordham neighborhood of the West Bronx, is a very busy commercial district. Out-of-towners will find many familiar national brands here, from the Gap to Best Buy. For more unique souvenirs, try the African Center Mall, on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in the West Bronx, which specializes in handicrafts, clothing, foods and decorations from Africa.
Hotels: Compared to Manhattan and Brooklyn, the Bronx does not have a large hotel scene. The majority of its accommodation options are found in the southern Bronx, particularly near Yankee Stadium, where a string of motels cater to out-of-towners attending games. In recent years, the boutique hotel trend arrived in the southern Bronx, too, and a few inns popped up within subway-service reach of Manhattan.
Theater and Nightlife: Good news for budget-conscious culture buffs: The Bronx is home to world-class music, dance and theater performances that you can attend for a fraction of what you’d pay for comparable shows in Manhattan. The Lehman Center for the Performing Arts, in the northwest Bronx, hosts musical-theater shows and nationally recognized singers, such as Patti LaBelle, while the Bronx Dance Theatre in the West Bronx, showcases local flamenco, classical ballet and hip-hop dancers.
Neighborhoods: The Bronx is divided by the Bronx River into two sections: the East Bronx, which lies closer to Long Island, and the West Bronx, which is closer to Manhattan. Residential neighborhoods dominate the whole borough, with apartment buildings and houses far outnumbering commercial buildings. Skyscrapers are scarce in the Bronx, but there is still plenty to see and do. Foodies head to the East Bronx’s Morris Park and the West Bronx’s Belmont neighborhoods for Italian fare, while animal- and nature-lovers congregate at the Bronx Zoo and New York Botanical Garden, both in the West Bronx, close to Belmont.