Queens is off-the-beaten-path New York, and a tremendous place to explore. It's not the everyday tourist to NYC who comes to Queens, but then not everyone wants to see the same sights. It's not Manhattan. It's Hong Kong-style dumplings sold across from historic English churches. It's avant garde art in a former public school. And it's unforgettable. The tour options--guided and do-it-yourself--are as diverse as the borough.
In Queens there's history to discover, everything from jazz legend Louis Armstrong's home, to the Dutch colonial heritage of religious freedom. Plus there's what's going on now in the arts and culture, and the amazing diversity of eating and shopping brought by immigrants from around the world. Queens is the ultimate New York--and American--"melting pot" where more languages are spoken than anywhere else in the world. In one afternoon it's easy to "visit" a baker's dozen of different countries.
Guided Tours of Queens
Flushing Town Hall's Jazz Trail offers a monthly tour of the neighborhoods, clubs, and museums of Queens' jazz legends, including a visit to the Louis Armstrong House.
- Flushing Town Hall, 137-35 Northern Boulevard, Flushing, 11354, 718-463-7700
- First Saturday of every month, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., $26, $20 FCCA Members
Marc Preven's NEWrotic New York City Tours (NEWrotic as in a neurotic New Yorker) are "urban adventures tours." What that means is that they require a MetroCard, good walking shoes, and a hunger for what he calls "honest, ethnic eats" and experiences. He leads groups through Elmhurst's Chinatown, Latino Jackson Heights, all the way to the arts community in Long Island City. Every block has him telling a new story, whether it's about the family with the corner dumpling stall or the architecture of a Carnegie library.
I personally recommend his tours.
The Queens Council on the Arts leads tours along the route of the #7 subway, a.k.a. the International Express, through many immigrant communities. The White House has designated the 7 subway the only living heritage trail representative of the American immigrant experience.
- Queens Council on the Arts, 718-647-3377
The Queens Historical Society often has walking tours available, especially in the Flushing area.
- Queens Historical Society, Kingsland Homestead, Weeping Beech Park, 143-35 37th Avenue, Flushing, 11354, 718-939-0647, x17
- Greater Astoria Historical Society, 718-278-0700
The Skyline Princess, a triple-decker yacht, sails out of the World's Fair Marina at Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Cruise down the East River for Manhattan views, or head east for a tour of Long Island's Gold Coast.
- Skyline Princess, 718-446-1100
Do-It-Yourself Tours of Queens
For a self-guided tour of Queens you need a map and a MetroCard. Most destinations, especially in Western and Central Queens, are readily accessed via subway and bus. But head east and a car becomes a more practical option. (See more about maps and getting around Queens.)
Self-guided tours and attractions in Queens, from Queens.About.com
- Top Ten Things to Do in Queens: The must-see, must-do list. It's a crash course in what makes Queens so great.
- Flushing Chinatown Tour: Downtown Flushing is the City's second largest Chinatown, and has amazing dining and shopping options.
- Tour of Jackson Heights' Little India neighborhood: A section of Jackson Heights is home to a large immigrant community from South Asia (India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh). The curries are authentic and the deals on saris, tablas, and Bollywood DVDs are the best in NYC.
The Queens Council on the Arts (QCA) offers the Queens ArtMap, a great map of cultural activities throughout the borough. It's easy to read, comprehensive, and cheap. The QCA also publishes a map of the contemporary arts in Western Queens, a booklet on Queens cemeteries, and a brochure on the neighborhoods along the 7 subway.
The Richmond Hill Historical Society has an online walking tour map of Old Richmond Hill--the area of Kew Gardens and Richmond Hill adjacent to Forest Park--which is known for its Victorian architecture.