The five boroughs of New York are often confusing to newcomers. Are they cities? Are they neighborhoods? Are they all New York City?
Ok, let’s take it back to the beginning: the five boroughs were created back in 1898 when today’s current boundaries were established. The five boroughs– Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten Island— are all collectively New York City although each is in a separate county. Although each borough has its own unique flavor, travel between them is common and it’s not unusual to travel between two or more boroughs in a day. Here’s a super basic guide to what’s up with each borough.
Queens is the most ethnically diverse urban area in the entire world. Queens has the largest land area of any of New York’s boroughs, connecting to Brooklyn on the south end and just across the river from Manhattan. Queens takes advantage of having a bit more space with more outdoor options and dining/drinking options with more elbow room and, generally, a little easier on the wallet. If a worldly selection of dining options has you drooling, Queens has got you covered, from Greek in Astoria to Sichuan in Flushing.
Pros: The rent in Queens is still just this side of affordable and is developing its own art, music and comedy scene of creative types priced out of Manhattan. It’s a cool opportunity to build a creative community instead of fighting your way into an established one.
Cons: New restaurants, breweries and shops are starting to venture in, but if you want your New York experience ready-made, you’ll have to travel south to Brooklyn. Also, there’s a swath of northeastern Queens that’s inaccessible from the subway system. That should be a deal breaker for anyone new to New York: stick to the areas within walking distance to the subway lines.
Getting around: Both the 7 and the E line are magical trains. They’re lightning fast and as it goes through Midtown Manhattan, where you’ll have options to connect to almost any train you’d ever want. You can grab either by way of the local stops on the F, V, R or W lines.
Consider: Jackson Heights, Astoria, Woodside
With a population of over 2 million, Brooklyn is the most populous borough in New York. It’s been the most popular borough for young adults for years and its average age in 2014 is 35 for women and 32 for men. It’s equally loved and hated as the birthplace of hipster– Brooklyn is home to artisanal everything, from pickles, salt and charcuterie to dandelion soda, reclaimed wood furniture and hand-crafted men’s dress hats.
Pros: If art, culture, food and people-watching are your wheelhouse, it’s hard to beat Brooklyn. It’s a big city that feels like a cluster of small towns all tied together in a swelling sense of Brooklyn pride. With so many watering holes and pretty people, it is a great place to meet a special someone. So good, in fact, Brooklyn’s having itself a bit of a baby boom right now.
Cons: It’s like Brooklyn is in a race to catch up to Manhattan for ridiculous rent rates. Commutes into Manhattan vary from easy breezes over the bridge to over an hour chugging along on a local F or R train. While once-sketchy areas like Bushwick and BedStuy are becoming safer, areas around East New York are still dangerous with Brownsville coming in as the murder capital of NY.
Getting around: Brooklyn is an easy no-car city with most areas accessible by the subway. Boerum Hill and Prospect Heights are a mecca of subway stops, although the convenience gets pricey. The G is a nightmare of inconsistency and there isn’t much of a backup option when the train goes down, so aim for being either north enough to hoof it to the JMZ or south enough to grab the AC line. If you go way, way out to the Flatlands, Bergen Beach and Mill Basin, you’ll reach the end of the subway line into No-man’s land. (It bears repeating: don’t even consider living in a neighborhood that’s more than a quick walk to the subway.)
Consider: Sunset Park, Kensington, Prospect Heights
The Bronx still has a reputation for being the “lost borough”, a vast crime scene where buildings burn and random crime is part of everyday life. While it’s true that that past decades were not kind to the Bronx, it’s a far cry from its Jimmy Carter era reputation. There’s an optimistic air of social activism in the Bronx’s community groups. Ironically, most of the borough has a quiet, small-town vibe and remarkably friendly residents with artists and performers steadily moving in and opening up creative spaces.
Pros: If you spent your whole life dreaming about the raw, unfinished artist’s loft life, the Bronx is your last chance for the romance. Act fast though– the rent is skyrocketing as the south end rebrands itself with the (slightly repugnant) moniker, “SoBro.” Restaurants and upscale bars are slowly but surely making their way to the south end of the Bronx.
Cons: The neighborhood safety can be spotty. Sure, it’s come a long way from its “Bonfire of the Vanities” days of being literally on fire, but violent crime, drugs, prostitution and food deserts remain. Hunt’s Point continually ranks as one of the most blighted neighborhoods in New York.
Getting around: South Bronx has an easier commute into Manhattan than most of Brooklyn and Queens, although this decreases the further north you go. Staying central is the key since you’ll have access to at least a second subway line with the 2/5 pairing or the 4/B/D lines. The Bronx isn’t usually serviced by Yellow Cabs, so you’ll want to have the number of a local livery cab on hand. Several train lines service the area by Yankee Stadium and although you’ll want to avoid them on game day, the express commute in is very fast.
Consider: Mott Haven, Concourse Village, Williamsbridge
Staten Island is always the last borough listed and it’s constantly throwing its elbow to nudge New Jersey back from taking over as New York’s fifth borough. It’s the smallest in both size and density and has a vibe completely unlike the other four boroughs. It’s the least diverse borough and the only one not accessible through New York’s Metro. Still, it’s hard to argue against the Staten Island Ferry. It’s open air, free, consistent and if you want to grab a drink and a snack on board, they’ll sell it to you without much of a markup. Staten Island is by far the quietest and least expensive borough.
Pros: Apartments are super cool and very affordable. If constant noise rattles your nerves, Staten Island’s your place. If having a freestanding house with multiple bedrooms is a must, Staten Island’s vintage charmers are surprisingly affordable and it’s touted as a good place for people with kids.
Cons: If you were excited about moving to NY, Staten Island will surely disappoint. There’s none of that hustle-and-bustle of the other boroughs and not being able to just hop on the subway can be a damper on your social life.
Getting around: Oh boy. While the Staten Island Ferry is a sightseeing delight for visitors from the other boroughs, a slow-moving, chilly boat being one of your only links to the rest of New York is a deal breaker for a lot of people. That said, it is remarkably consistent and free. Staten Island does have a railway, but it doesn’t go anywhere but Staten Island and the schedule can be pretty dicey. If you’re connected at the soul with your car and can’t bear to put the poor thing in storage, you’ll be happy to know that nearly all Staten Islanders drive and take the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge into Brooklyn.