I highly value tourists. You are open-eyed and willing to bring monetary compensation to the great destination you have chosen to visit. Your time is limited, though, and I don’t want you to be steered wrong by people with intentions other than your amazement, entertaining education, value, and general well-being. You shall not be swindled by PR companies, empty monikers, and fake monks. You shall not wait in line at brunch, at the awkward spot in the bar, or huddled in the pre-lobby, money in hand, waiting to be taken, liked on social media, then exited with a hollow sense of accomplishment.
Queens is an amazing place. If Queens were a city in itself (and I am all for the break-up of the boroughs, btw), it’d be the 4th largest city in the U.S. – Nearly as big as Chicago. Now, if places like Charleston, Dallas, and Salt Lake City are major tourist destinations, then Queens should be just as much, if not moreso. I’ve been down on New York City many times, but the unrepeatable traits of Queens have taken a stronghold on my stay. My history is based on immigration and entrepreneurship, and my future is to make it better. If Queens is not the number one place in the world for this, then I will consider another turret for progression.
From my tours, I’ve realized that tourists who come to Queens have a little more time on their hands – and they want the NYC alternative experience. They’ve already done Central Park, Staten Island Ferry, Top of the Rock, Harlem, Times Square, and the Highline. Most people who take my tours come to Queens because they have heard about all the cultures from TV and online, and all the food – but they don’t know where to start. So I’m going to give you a simple one day excursion of all killer, no filler places to go and things to eat. Queens is full of great, local experiences, but for this post I’m going to concentrate on World-Class destinations, guaranteeing you a great time in Queens no matter where you are from. There are many articles online with recommendations for Queens, but from my experiences with travelers from all over the world, this aims to be a concise guide without being esoteric. I have no kickbacks and while I do give tours as a part of what I do, I will refrain from boostering anything directly involved with me. I won’t even link to it.
The biggest challenge Queens faces in gaining tourism dollars is the East River and Manhattan. With so many tourists staying in Manhattan, crossing a major geographic object appears daunting (ask most NYers if they want to go all the way to another borough). Also, how can PS1 compete with the MoMA? How can Donovan’s Pub compete with McSorley’s or Shake Shack in terms of convenience mixed with quality? LIC Flea with Smorgasburg? They can’t. Those places are for us. Unless you are a burger junkie or modern art obsessive, I say it doesn’t make sense to travel all the way to Queens for these activities, and others that are frequently recommended. That is why this article is necessary. You need not be steered into something 2nd to some. Queens is a jewel of the world. On the spiderweb of cultural movement, all lines lead to Queens. Other cities, including Manhattan cannot compete. Here is an itinerary for a day in Queens, of which no other city can compete. And here is a spoiler:
——————————– YOUR ITINERARY ———————————–
MID-MORNING – Astoria for the MoMI
The Museum of the Moving Image is a world-class, destination museum. It is THE museum for film and film history, and it’s located on a TV lot (which you probably won’t have any access to, sorry). It’s not huge, so you’ll be able to do the whole thing in an hour or two’s time. They also have film showings, but how can you sit there and watch a movie when there is so much going on outside?? Well, if it’s raining or you have a special interest, they are probably worth the cinematic experience.
For the purposes of this day, I recommend eating near where you are staying because we need to space our meals as far apart as possible; but if you haven’t had breakfast yet and it’s before the 10:30am opening time, head to Queens Kickshaw for coffee and food that raises the bar; if you want to get a taste of Brazil, start your day at Pão de Queijo.
Museum of Moving Image
36-01 35th Ave, Astoria, Queens 11106
40-17 Broadway, Astoria
Pão de Queijo
31-90 30th St, Astoria
AFTERNOON – Jackson Heights to the Unisphere
The Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue subway station is the center point of an unmatchable number of cultural enclaves (and therefore food options). From the Himalayan Heights directly north of the station to Little Manila at Roosevelt/69th St, Little Bangladesh at 73rd St/37th Ave, Little India at 74th St/37th Rd, Calle Colombia at 82nd St where along the way you’ll find Mexican, Ecuadorian and Peruvian places, ThaiTown at Woodside Avenue/76th St, and one of the city’s five Chinatowns at Broadway/Whitney that hosts Chinese, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Indonesian among possibly other nationalities currently moving in.
Specifically, for a small party of one or two, try Dhaulagiri Kitchen for an experience that will make you feel like you’ve left not only NYC but the US of A. It’s Nepalese, so a few words will help you order like a local: “Thali” for a whole meal, “Momos” for dumplings, and “Samabajji” for a snack platter. For a bit more space, and just as much of an experience, try Phayul or Little Tibet for Tibetan. If you are a chef and want learn about food, try GangJong Kitchen at an off-hour so you can talk to Tenzin the owner and chef. Walk off lunch by visiting one of the many markets in the area or snack places listed below and when you are ready for your respite from food, take the 7-train to the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
Dhaulagiri Kitchen – Nepal
37-38 72nd St
Phayul – Tibet
37-65 74th St
Little Tibet – Tibet
72-19 Roosevelt Ave
GangJong Kitchen – Tibet/Indian
72-24 Roosevelt Ave,
Dera – Pakistani
Apnaa Bazaar – Bangladeshi Market
7220 37th Ave
ThaiThai Grocery – Thai Market
76-13 Woodside Ave
Phil-Am Mart – Filipino Market
7002 Roosevelt Ave
Hong Kong Supermarket – Chinese, Malaysian, Vietnamese
The Unisphere is an incredible thing to see, something which will be THE ICON of your trip to NYC – only the Statue of Liberty might give you a more iconic view (yet with a bit more hassle to get to). I recommend taking the 7-train to 111th Street to get to the Unisphere. You’ll see a great section of Ecuadorian and Mexican street food just outside the subway station at 111th/Roosevelt NW corner, then your walk south to the Unisphere will cross through some of the neighborhood then a diverse array of sights as you walk through the the park. Just south of the Unisphere is an amazing, neglected treasure/ruin of New York City – The New York State Pavilion.
Unisphere / New York State Pavilion
Flushing Meadows-Corona State Park
SUNDOWN – Flushing
Flushing is arguably the biggest Chinatown in New York. While Manhattan’s Chinatown is home to Cantonese and Fujianese, Flushing holds populations from many more regions than perhaps anywhere outside of China. It’s not difficult to have an enthralling time in Chinatown Flushing, I recommend a food court like in the basement of the New World Mall, and a stroll down Main Street and around to Union St and you’ll see a transformation to Korean. There is A LOT. Use Yelp for more assistance.
New World Mall
4021 Main St
AFTER-HOURS – Terraza 7
For the night, come back on the 7 train to 82nd Street and head to one of the coolest bars I’ve ever been to: Terraza 7 Cafe. Most nights of the week, you’ll get a great performance with jazz and experimental bands playing on the loft. It’s such an interesting space that you’ll never be able to capture with your lens.
40-19 Gleane St, Elmhurst, NY 11373
Want more? Depending on the specifics of your interests, Queens is a great place to get surrounded by just about any culture you aim for. Astoria is home to large pockets of Egyptian, Lebanese, Greek, Italian, Brasilian, and most recently Japanese among many other cultures. Elmhurst has emerged as Thai Town, with tastes of Malaysia, China, Indonesia and Vietnam. For pizza, slice versions cannot be beat by the likes of Rosa’s in Maspeth, John’s of Elmhurst, and Amore of Flushing. For Latin American, there’s Peruvian, Ecuadorian, Colombian and Mexican in Corona and even a drop Portuguese in Jamaica. Peruse my own site here about mostly Roosevelt Avenue as well as Yelp, Foursquare, Real Cheap Eats, Serious Eats, Amuse Bouche by Bradley Hawks, We Heart Astoria, Chopsticks and Bone Marrow, Ridgewood Social, Edible Queens (in hibernation) for more local stuff, and if you have time, a Met game at CitiField. Highly impressive books, “Food Lover’s Guide to Queens” by Meg Cotner, “Queens: A Culinary Passport” by Andrea Lynn, “New York Street Food” by Jacqueline Goossens, Tom Vandenberghe and Luk Thys – all of whom are good friends and I am in awe of what they have accomplished.
I hope the same care can be provided to me when I come to visit your great city. Comment at will.