The Essential One-Day Tour of Queens

  • 01 of 05

    Tackle Queens in a Day

    Flushing Meadows Corona Park
    © NYC & Company - Phil Kline

    New York City is one of those destinations that simply demands repeat visits, so it's little wonder that many travelers opt to return, again and again. While the first itinerary or two may tend to hone in on the more iconic sights of Manhattan, more and more visitors have taken an interest in NYC's other four boroughs, too. Of these, Queens is the largest in size and most diverse in its population. Indeed, Queens is enormous, virtually a city unto itself, with many off-the-beaten-path yet altogether worthwhile experiences just waiting to reward adventurous explorers. However, if you only have one day to explore, here are the essentials you should check out for the perfect one-day tour of Queens.

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  • 02 of 05

    Morning & Lunch: Explore Long Island City (Morning & Lunchtime)

    Hunter's Point South Park, Queens, New York City
    Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

    Start your morning off right at Gantry Plaza State Park. This waterfront park was once barely known outside of the local L.I.C. circle, but it's now recognized as touting one of the city’s best views of Midtown Manhattan. From the beautifully reimagined waterfront piers, you will have the most panoramic experience of the city possible, with some of Manhattan's most iconic buildings — the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, and United Nations included — looming in the distance, just across the East River.

    The park gets its name from the giant urban archaeological artifacts that remain on the waterfront: the gantries (transfer bridges), which were used to load and unload cargo from the barges and trains that once met here. The piers are also an ideal location from which to witness "Manhattanhenge" (derived from the words Manhattan and Stonehenge, a term that was coined by famous astrophysicist and cosmologist Neil deGrasse Tyson), a twice-a-year occasion when the setting sun aligns perfectly within the Manhattan street grid, and onlookers can watch the sun sink between the canyons of glass and steel. Within Gantry Plaza State Park, you'll also find a gigantic and beloved relic of the neighborhood's industrial past: the oversize Pepsi-Cola sign that adorned the Pepsi bottling plant that once stood here.  

    To grab some grub-on-the-go, head for the seasonal LIC Flea & Food, set just outside of the park; it's open on weekends from 11am, from spring through fall. Sample a quick bite or two from one of the many local culinary entrepreneurs on hand here and, time permitting, pop across the street to the Rockaway Brewing Company, one of Queens's oldest establishments amidst an ever-growing batch of microbreweries. Pull up a seat in the taproom to try their flagship brew, Rockaway ESB — you can’t go wrong with their delicious Rockaway Nitro Black Gold, either.

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  • 03 of 05

    Afternoon: See the World and Then Some in Flushing Meadows Corona Park

    Queens Museum
    © NYC & Company - Julienne Schaer

    The massive Flushing Meadows Corona Park, straddling the Flushing and Corona neighborhoods, is the fourth largest park in NYC, and home to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Citi Field ballpark, Queens Museum of Art, New York Hall of Science, Queens Theatre in the Park, Queens Zoo, and New York State Pavilion — not to mention a slate of sculptures, fountains, and sports fields, too. Suffice to say that this is a park that you can spend the entire day in, but we’ll keep it to just a few must-sees.

    In its early stages, the park was developed as the site of the 1939/1940 New York World’s Fair, and was also host to the 1964/1965 New York World’s Fair. The theme of the latter fair was “Peace through Understanding”; the symbol of that theme and centerpiece of the fair itself was the Unisphere, a 350-ton, 120-foot-diameter globe made of rust-proof stainless steel. The water from the surrounding fountains obscures its pedestal, giving the illusion that the Unisphere is floating in space. In the off season, with the fountains turned off, you might spot skateboarders doing tricks off the surface of the pool floor.

    Several prominent buildings from both World’s Fairs also remain in the park, symbols of futurism, as well as homages to the glories of antiquity. Those buildings have since been repurposed and today house different art, theater, and educational institutions. If you have time for just one, make it the Queens Museum, which presents regular art exhibits that relate to urban life and speak to the diverse multicultural community of Queens. Permanent collections here include photography, memorabilia from the World’s Fairs, and an impressive collection of Tiffany glass, but, by far, the most well-known permanent exhibit is the Panorama of the City of New York. Constructed for the 1964 World’s Fair, the Panorama is a celebration of New York City’s infrastructure, a mini metropolis that covers an area of 9,335 square feet and recreates a small-scale version of the five boroughs, with their buildings, bridges, and all 320 square miles of New York City. At the 1964 fair, it was billed as an indoor simulated helicopter ride of New York, providing a “God’s-eye” view of Gotham. Without the helicopter ride intact these days, you’ll feel more like a giant God-like Godzilla as you walk around the skyscrapers and many neighborhoods below you: There’s nothing quite like it.

    If it's baseball season (April through October) and you're in town for a home game, consider catching the New York Mets at bat at Citi Field. Except for a brief period of time in the '60s and '80s, the New York Metropolitans (aka "the Mets") have been considered the less popular team in New York City, playing little brother to the world-famous and much more successful New York Yankees. But make no mistake about their fan base: despite underdog status and years of disappointment, they remain rabidly loyal and loud. If you can't catch a game, but still want to take a peek at the stadium, ballpark tours are offered once or twice a week; check Citi Field's website for availability.

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  • 04 of 05

    Evening: Dig Deeper into Queens… and Discover Asia!

    Flushing culinary scene
    NYC & Company - Julienne Schaer

    Want to visit New York City’s most thriving Chinatown? Forget the one in Manhattan, which has shrunken in size, owing to waves of gentrification. Instead, go to the Chinatown in Flushing, Queens — one of the largest Chinese enclaves outside of Asia — where you can check out colorful street life, and more Chinese and Korean restaurants and stands than you can shake your chopsticks at. The New World Shopping Center is a great place to start eating; located in the heart of downtown Flushing, it has a food court with more than two dozen different ethnic food vendors. From there, just walk the streets and take it all in — a veritable feast for the senses and the belly.

    Nearby, the 152-year-old landmark building at Flushing Town Hall presents exceptional jazz and world music concerts. Check their website to see if a scheduled performance syncs up with your visit to Flushing for the perfect finale to a whirlwind day of Queens discovery.

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  • 05 of 05

    Have Time? Stay the Night in Queens

    View from rooftop of Z NYC Hotel
    © NYC & Company - Tom Perry

    For considerably less cost than a Manhattan hotel room, you can book a stay in the Queens neighborhood of Long Island City (L.I.C.), which is just a quick taxi or subway ride away from Manhattan or Brooklyn. Some hotels here even offer regularly scheduled free shuttle service to and from Manhattan, for the utmost in convenience.

    Long Island City is a once-industrial zone that's in the midst of an ongoing transformation into a buzzing residential, arts, and tourism district, with many of its older manufacturing buildings and warehouses having been repurposed to spectacular effect. Would you like to spend the night in an old factory? Then book a room at the Paper Factory Hotel, which, as you might have gathered, was an actual paper factory back in the 1970s (with stints before that that included radio manufacturing in the 1920s) — it's now been reinvented as a stylish and artsy hotel with an industrial chic aesthetic.

    For small-budget backpackers and solo travelers, the organically social environment of a hostel is good for teaming up with other venturing vagabonds. And in an area that hosts several labor unions (aka “locals”), you’ll find The Local hostel, a cool and affordable little spot with its own street-level café scene and a young, hip staff to direct you on the path for adventure.

    The Z NYC Hotel offers the most impressive L.I.C. rooftop, with 360-degree vistas over Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan. When gazing upon Manhattan, you might rightly recall a scene from the film Highlander, in which a climactic sword-duel between two immortals reveals an epic view of the illuminated Manhattan skyline, as seen from Queens. That fight sequence took place on the rooftop of Silvercup Studios, which neighbors the Z NYC Hotel. So, the view is downright cinematic and unique, and as the characters say in the film: “There can be only one!”