Queens: A Weekend Guide for the Curious Traveler - Atlas Obscura

Weekend Guides for the Curious Traveler
Queens

New York City's most diverse borough is also its most rewarding.

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Day 1
Around the Horn

From the river's edge to the center of it all.

Street Art

1. Welling Court Mural Project

It may take a while to reach your first destination of the day, but it's well worth the trek. The Welling Court Mural Project, which covers entire city blocks of wall space with eye-catching street art, is a good 20-minute walk from the nearest subway station. It started in 2009 and has been growing ever since, with a fresh slate of visiting artists coming in each year to leave their mark. There are now roughly 140 murals in the collection, so leave yourself plenty of time to explore the neighborhood. 

11-98 Welling Ct, Astoria, NY 11102

Detail of Untitled (Gem) 2018, Virginia Overton. Courtesy the Artist, Bortolami Gallery, White Cube, and Socrates Sculpture Park/ Nicholas Knight
Museum

2. Socrates Sculpture Park

On the edge of the East River you'll find Socrates Sculpture Park, a small outpost dotted with monumental sculptures. The park is relatively modest (as always in New York, space is at a premium), but it's home to fascinating sculptural works year-round. Be sure to head to the back of the park, where huge metal installations that aren’t technically on display can be glimpsed like caged animals behind shrubbery and a fence. If you still need more art, note that the Noguchi Museum is less than a block away. Founded by the artist Isamu Noguchi, the museum offers a uniquely serene atmosphere. Don’t let the fact that it's across the street from a big-box shopping center deter you.

32-01 Vernon Blvd, Long Island City, NY 11106

Lhasa Fast Food. An Rong Xu/The New York Times/Redux
Restaurant

3. Lhasa Fast Food

Jackson Heights is incredibly diverse, and the food options in this area reflect that. You can't go wrong at Lhasa Fast Food, a tiny, five-table Tibetan spot tucked away behind a cell phone store. Delicious traditional dishes including spicy beef glass noodles and momo dumplings are served in the no-frills backroom. There are only two photos on display at Lhasa Fast Food: a large picture of the Dalai Lama hanging over the counter, and a snapshot of Anthony Bourdain, who once paid them a visit. If you can't snag a table here, the acclaimed Jackson Diner is just across the street, offering family-style Indian food.

37-50 74th Street, Jackson Heights, NY 11372

Forms in Transit. Michael Inscoe
Park

4. Flushing Meadows–Corona Park

Wandering through Flushing Meadows–Corona Park, you never know what remnants of the future you might stumble across. The most iconic attractions are the Unisphere and nearby World’s Fair Pavilion, famous for their appearance in the movie Men In Black. But there's plenty more to see here that many visitors miss. Closer to the action is the bronze sculpture known as Rocket Thrower. Also worth a look is Forms in Transit, a dilapidated retro-futuristic spaceship, which can be found near a service road behind the New York Hall of Science.

11101 Corona Ave, Flushing, NY, 11355

The panorama at the Queen's Museum. Michael Inscoe
Exhibit

5. Panorama of the City of New York

At the foot of the Unisphere is the Queens Museum, home to the Panorama of the City of New York, an incredible scale model of the city that's been painstakingly updated several times since 1964. Conceived as a celebration of municipal infrastructure by World’s Fair President Robert Moses, the Panorama was originally built by a team of more than 100 people over the course of three years. Be sure to stay for an entire dawn-to-dusk lighting cycle, and note the tiny airplanes that take off and land at little La Guardia airport. 

New York City Building, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens, NY 11368

Houdini's grave. Michael Inscoe
Cemetery

6. Harry Houdini’s Grave

The famed magician's grave can be found in the Hungarian section of the sprawling Machpelah Cemetery in Ridgewood, Queens. The cemetery itself is a rangy Jewish burial ground spanning multiple blocks. Among tall weeds and jumbled gravestones is a wide cement horseshoe that marks Houdini’s final resting place. The monumental bench is topped with a bust of the magician—it's actually been stolen and vandalized in the past. Just below that is Houdini’s grave, a spot where pilgrim illusionists leave cards, coins, and even handcuffs for the deceased escape artist. Tensions between the cemetery and the magic society that once cared for the grave have allowed it to become somewhat overgrown and run down, but its current state only serves to make the site seem all the more supernatural.

8230 Cypress Hills St, Ridgewood, NY 11385

Restaurant

7. Houdini Kitchen Laboratory

Keep the spirit of Houdini going and stop by the nearby Houdini Kitchen Laboratory. While the restaurant might not hide as many tricks up its sleeves as its namesake, it does offer wood-fired pizzas from inside an old brewery. Located in a traditionally industrial area of the neighborhood, it’s not the first place you might think to go for artisanal Italian food, but it does the trick.

1563 Decatur St, Ridgewood, NY 11385


Day 2
Green Queens

Discover this busy borough's many serene spaces.

The side entrance to the Ganesh Temple. Michael Inscoe
House of Worship

1. Ganesh Temple

Start the day with some peaceful contemplation at the Ganesh Temple in Flushing, also known as the Hindu Temple Society of North America. Ornate religious stonework rises from the top of this long, squat building. Inside the temple, the glimmering statuary is no less jaw-dropping. Once you’ve removed your shoes, you can enter the main hall, which is home to dozens of shrines to individual Hindu deities, represented by golden idols adorned with jewels, flowers, and other offerings. An active place for worship, the long main hall is also blissfully silent. Ganesh claims to be the first traditional Hindu temple in the United States—whether this is strictly true or not, it's without a doubt an unforgettable experience. If you’re hungry, the canteen in the basement offers traditional dosas and other South Indian dishes that are both authentic and inexpensive.

45-57 Bowne St, Flushing, NY 11355

The Queens Botanical Garden. The All-Nite Images/ CC BY-SA 2.0
Garden

2. Queens Botanical Garden

Not far from the temple is one of the borough’s sometimes overlooked green spaces. The Queens Botanical Garden offers an open and wide-ranging experience, from a tiny forest to a rose garden where the air smells divine. The garden is a welcome respite from the relative insanity of the neighborhood’s nearby main street. Take some time to relax. If you’re looking for a private spot in all the greenery, look out for the somewhat hidden path that leads to the roof of the visitor’s center. The entire roof is its own little garden, fed by rainwater. A serene mix of plants and architecture.  

43-50 Main St, Queens, NY 11355

Inside the Golden Shopping Mall. Michael Inscoe
Food Court

3. Golden Shopping Mall

Queens' original Chinatown offers an overwhelming plethora of options for food and shopping, much of which isn’t advertised in English. The epicenter of it all is the bustling Golden Shopping Mall food court. This basement bazaar has received some attention in recent years thanks to visits by the late Anthony Bourdain, but it still maintains its often impenetrable (unless you speak Chinese) charm. Like the streets above, the space is packed with people, but the noodles, dumplings, and specialty dishes on offer are like nothing else in the city. 

41-26 Main St, Flushing, NY 11355

Fort Totten. Michael Inscoe
Park

4. Fort Totten

After you’ve filled up, head out to the open fields and overgrown ruins of Fort Totten Park. Located in the farthest reaches of the borough’s northeast corner, the park is a hilly lump of land right on the water, which holds the remains of a disused Civil War battery. Initially built to defend the East River from Confederate naval attacks, the base remained in use until the 1970s, when it was converted into semi-public space. Now you can walk through the ruins of the old concrete defenses and take in stunning views of Little Neck Bay and the Throgs Neck Bridge. The ruins themselves are sometimes locked up in the morning, but if you get there too early, you can still check out the nearby historic buildings left over from when the fort was operational.

Totten Ave. & 15th Rd, Bayside, NY 11359

Chickens at the Queens Farm Museum. Michael Inscoe
Museum

5. Queens County Farm Museum

The Queens County Farm Museum is a working farm with vegetable crops, livestock, and even a replica windmill, located on the longest continuously farmed piece of land in the state, with a history that dates back to the 1600s. You can feed the alpacas, tucked away in a paddock at the back of the farm, or pet the soft wool of the lambs nearer to the front. They also have a seasonal market where you can buy some of the farm’s homegrown produce. Every so often, hints of the surrounding city manage to creep in (is that a streetball court just beyond the goat enclosure?), but for the most part, it’s easy to get the feeling that you’re out in the country. You’ll probably want to splurge on a taxi to take you to and from this stop, as it’s slightly out of the way, but well worth the trip.

73-50 Little Neck Pkwy, Queens, NY 11004

Restaurant

6. The Last Jahn’s

Indulge in something sweet at the only remaining outpost of a once-widespread New York franchise. Jahn's has been around in one form or another since the 19th century (the first location opened in the Richmond Hills neighborhood). The franchise made its name thanks to its signature “Kitchen Sink Sundae,” a massive pile of ice cream flavors meant to feed a group of people. Today the only remaining Jahn's is located in Jackson Heights, but they still maintain the historic atmosphere, even as they’ve expanded the menu to include diner-style offerings. 

8104 37th Ave #1, Flushing, NY 11372


Where to Stay
Paper Factory Hotel

There are plenty of great places to stay in Queens, but you could hardly do better than one of the beautifully appointed boutique hotels in the Long Island City neighborhood. The Paper Factory Hotel has turned a former industrial space into luxury lodging, without erasing its charm. There’s a bar, gym, coffee shop—all the amenities you could need.

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Hidden Haight-Ashbury

In 1967, 100,000 artists, activists, and hippies gathered in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood for the Summer of Love. Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix played free concerts for fields of college dropouts, and San Francisco established itself as a countercultural capital. More than 50 years later, in a city increasingly known for Twitter and tech rather than art and activism, travelers who come on a pilgrimage are often disappointed to find expensive, skin-deep psychedelia. But if you know where to look, you’ll find a walk down Haight Street to be wonderfully weird, full of historic links to hippiedom and modern takes on the vibe.

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Tour de Gastro: New York City

More than eight million diverse individuals call New York City home, and many of them share their heritage through food. To celebrate this vast culinary landscape, we’ve assembled an eat-around-the-world scavenger hunt across the five boroughs. From July 11 to July 25, 2019, we invite you to join us in exploring some of the city's most extraordinary restaurants and vendors. As you journey from a Bhutanese billiards hall to a Chinatown durian stall, post photos of these foods and drinks with the hashtag #TourdeGastro. Visit at least four spots to receive a gift for participating (here's how). Happy hunting!

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There's magic to be found all across the French Quarter.

Hidden French Quarter

It may be famous for Mardi Gras, but New Orleans has subtle, surprising wonders on tap all year long—even in the touristy French Quarter. Around every cobblestoned corner, you’ll find historic ephemera, bits of Creole culture, environmentalism, and no shortage of spooky stories, whenever you happen to visit.

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art

From the street, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is hard to miss: The institution’s two-million-square-foot main building, at 1000 Fifth Avenue, spans four New York City blocks and stretches into Central Park. Inside the galleries, you’ll find thousands of objects spanning 5,000 years of world history. With so many treasures under one roof, it's inevitable that some fascinating pieces are tucked into the museum's lonelier nooks and crannies, hiding in plain sight. The next time you spend a day at the museum, keep an eye out for these overlooked wonders.

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The RV/MH Hall of Fame.

Motown to Music City Road Trip

Detroit and Nashville are synonymous with two all-American music genres. It’s no surprise that visitors flock to these cities each year to get a feel for the places where artists such as Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross & the Supremes, Johnny Cash, and Dolly Parton began their careers. A (relatively) straight, north to south route connects the two cities, as does musical heritage. Load up the RV, make sure your speaker system is in tip-top shape, and create a playlist filled with old-school Motown and Country hits. If you're not driving on the trip down south, you should be dancing.

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The East Texas Bayou.

Gulf Coast Road Trip

The terrain along the Gulf of Mexico is sometimes called the “Third Coast,” but for an offbeat road trip, it’s second to none. Starting in Houston and ending in Pensacola Bay, this journey takes you through some of America’s most diverse landscapes. You’ll cross Cajun swamps, drive along sparkling white sand beaches, and even spend some time in the Big Easy. Take an RV and camp along the way to truly immerse yourself in this wondrous region. The world’s largest gulf, it turns out, holds some of America’s best-kept secrets.

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Coachella Valley Preserve.

Hidden Coachella Valley

The Coachella Valley and its environs boom in the spring, when tens of thousands of music lovers flock to catch their favorite artists perform in front of a dramatic, mountainous backdrop. But this region stays wonderfully weird all year long. If the festival drew you to the area and you only have a day to explore, choose a direction: Either head north, toward Joshua Tree and Landers, or southeast to the Salton Sea and nearby oases for a blissful respite. If you can spare a couple of days, lucky you—go forth and see it all.

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A view of L.A. from the top of Highland Park.

Highland Park

Los Angeles’ Highland Park is a diverse, eclectic neighborhood that Native Americans and Latinx communities have inhabited for centuries. Celebrated for its history, art scene, ethnic diversity, and cuisine, Highland Park is filled with surprising delights that more and more people are discovering every day. Exploring the neighborhood's nooks and crannies is one of the most rewarding ways to spend a day in L.A.

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The heart of Venice.

Venice

Once referred to as “The Coney Island of the Pacific,” L.A.’s beachfront neighborhood of Venice has long been a popular tourist destination. Its colorful characters, quirky architecture, and carnivalesque atmosphere are well-known the world over. But take a moment to look past the kitsch, and you’ll discover a place where artistic ingenuity thrives more than a century after Abbot Kinney endeavored to bring a grandiose version of Venice to America. The bohemian beehive has always attracted artists and performers, and everyone is welcome to enjoy the show.

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Artist Colette Miller's tribute to the City of Angels.

L.A.’s Downtown Arts District

The 1970s brought a wave of artists into this former industrial area in Downtown Los Angeles. They sparked a fuse of creative imagination that burned for years. Up-and-coming creators took advantage of the then-low rents and built a foundation for the creative mecca that exists here today. In its infancy, L.A.’s Downtown Arts District came to life behind-the-scenes, with artists mostly working in closed studios. Today, the art has spilled onto the streets in the form of colorful murals, attractive gallery spaces, and stylish storefronts. But the curious explorer can still find literal and figurative traces of the ‘70s. In addition to the more historic spots that remain, a creative, entrepreneurial spirit abounds.

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The Whitehall Banqueting House is full of topsy-turvy views.

Hidden Trafalgar Square

Wedged between Charing Cross and Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square is known for the throngs of people flocking to its famous attractions. Weave around the tourists on the National Gallery stairs and dodge the crowds clogging the street corners. Instead, duck down dreamy alleys and pop into unique, overlooked museums and shops. There, a secret side of this busy area waits to reveal itself.

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An elevator shaft in Tribeca opens to reveal a museum of small wonders.

Secrets of NYC’s Five Boroughs

Few cities on Earth are as well-trodden as New York–but as any intrepid traveler knows, the more you explore a place, the more wonders you find. You may not be able to discover all of these spots in a single trip, but that could be a good thing. No matter how many times you return, the city that never sleeps never ceases to surprise. Visit NYCGo to uncover more of the city’s secret spots.

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Plenty of sweet treats are on offer at Pastelería Ideal

Mexico City's Centro Histórico

Anchored by the Zócalo plaza and the architectural splendor of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City's historic center rightfully draws scores of visitors from around the world. If you look, smell, and taste carefully, you’ll also find a universe of culinary offerings that tells stories of immigration, adaptation, and imagination. With the help of Culinary Backstreets, we assembled a primer on eating and drinking your way through the district.

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View of the Hollywood Sign from Babylon Court

Hidden Hollywood

Hollywood Boulevard is world-famous—for the Oscars and the Walk of Fame, for schlocky souvenir shops and crowded tour buses. But beyond the terrazzo stars and the occasional celebrity sighting, there’s plenty left to discover. Here’s how to make Hollywood’s acquaintance, whether you’re a visitor or a local who keeps a practiced distance from these busy, saturated blocks. Look closer and you'll find a neighborhood full of nature, history, and wonder.

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A subway entrance in Times Square.

Hidden Times Square

There's the Times Square you know, full of blazing billboards, selfie sticks, and costumed characters. Then there's the less familiar one, beyond the lights—the nooks and crannies that most visitors to Midtown Manhattan overlook. They're not obvious, but surprises can still be found along this world-famous stretch of real estate.

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Upper Hoh Road, Olympic National Park, Oregon.

Summer Radio Road-Trip

Follow along on our 2,200-mile adventure with NPR's 'All Things Considered.'

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Amsterdam

Forge your own path in this tourist magnet, toward places that are less crowded but no less wondrous.

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Buenos Aires

Find faded grandeur and vibrant street life in Argentina's largest city.

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Chicago

Just when you thought you knew the Windy City, it finds new ways to surprise you.

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Detroit

Find secret vistas, labyrinthine bookstores, and eclectic public art.

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The dome of Estrela Basilica in Lisbon.

Lisbon

In the homeland of explorers, your best bet is to keep looking.

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Miami

Go beyond the beaches in the continental United States’ only truly tropical city.

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San Diego

Southern California's second city holds plenty of sparkling secrets.

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Savannah

Find surprises around every corner in a U.S. city that embraces history like no other.

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