Getting to Know the Bronx

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Travel with Terri

Getting to Know the Bronx

Story and Photos by Terri Marshall

When you visit New York City for the first time your itinerary will most likely include visits to Times Square, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, and Central Park. It’s just what you do. But if you really want to get to know New York you should check out the other four boroughs. One that may surprise you is the Bronx. More than graffiti and noise, the Bronx is a cultural haven most visitors to New York City never explore. Here are four must do experiences in the Bronx.

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The Heart of the Bronx Zoo

The Bronx Zoo

Home to more than 6,000 animals, the Bronx Zoo spans 265 acres that re-create the diverse natural habitats of its fascinating and entertaining residents. The Zoo Center – originally known as the Zoo’s Elephant House – is the historic center of the Bronx Zoo. Built in 1908 it was designed to look like a palace and is a New York City Historic Landmark.
Escape the urban jungle for a walk through the Congo Gorilla Forest, JungleWorld, and the World of Reptiles. Visit the Butterfly Garden, the World of Birds, and even Madagascar to get acquainted with the fascinating creatures with whom we share this planet. You will share the sidewalks with peacocks as the males strut about spanning their vibrant feathers to impress their ladies. And in the Mouse House you can hang out with every imaginable type of rodent – if you dare.

Dinosaurs will return to the zoo this summer at Dinosaur Safari: Mysteries Revealed. Discover clues to our prehistoric past through fossils. Watch mothers protecting their nests from lurking predators and witness a T. rex stalking an injured Triceratops. Don’t forget to watch out for dinosaur goo from three spitting Dilophosauruses.

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Pretty as a Peacock at the Bronx Zoo

Van Courtlandt Park

If you think Central Park is big wait until you see Van Cortlandt. At nearly 1,200 acres, Van Cortlandt Park is New York City’s third largest green space behind Pelham Bay Park (also in the Bronx) and the Staten Island Greenbelt. Since its opening in 1895, the park has been a favorite spot for recreation and celebrating nature. The park has playgrounds, picnic areas, greenways, bicycling and hiking trails, sports fields, running paths and dog-friendly areas, a stadium and one of the largest freshwater lakes in the city. Van Courtlandt is also home to the Van Courtlandt Golf Course – the oldest public golf course in the USA. Known as “Vanny” by the locals, over the years many famous people have played there including Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson, Joe Lewis, and the Three Stooges.

The Van Courtlandt House Museum, a Georgian-style fieldstone manor built in 1748 is the oldest house in the Bronx and serves as the landmark centerpiece of the park. Sign up for a walking tour and educational programs geared toward families at the Van Courtlandt Nature Center. For a great walk through the woods that will make you forget you’re in the middle of the country’s largest city take the Putnam Trail (a former railroad track) from the park into Westchester County. Along the way you’ll find 11 massive stones originally placed in this wooded location over 100 years ago to test the wear and tear of the elements to see which type of stone would be best for building Grand Central Terminal.

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A walk in the Bronx

New York’s Botanical Garden

Stretching over 250 acres in the Bronx, New York’s Botanical Garden is celebrating its 125 year anniversary in 2016. This treasured institution has been dedicated to excellence in horticulture, plant research, education and conservation since 1891.
Each season brings a unique experience. Explore a winter wonderland with tours, musical performances, and children’s activities. In warmer months the Haupt Conservatory displays a stunning array of orchids. In autumn take in the visual splendor of the Fall Flower Festival. And during the holiday season enchanting model trains weave through a display of 150 landmarks including Grand Central Station, the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, and Yankee Stadium, each re-created with bark, leaves, and other natural materials all under a canopy of twinkling lights at the Holiday Train Show.

The real Little Italy of New York

Most tourists have heard of Little Italy in Manhattan located on Mulberry Street just outside Chinatown where hawkers sell knock off designer bags and fake Rolex watches. But the real “Little Italy” is in the Belmont section of the Bronx along Arthur Avenue where you will find a seemingly endless number of shops selling fine Italian-American foods including bread, pasta, meat, pastries, fish, cheese, Italian sausage, and more. The quality and values of the shops and restaurants repeatedly earn more “Best Buy” status ratings by Zagat Survey than any other neighborhood in New York City.

Generations of Italian families have remained or returned to Arthur Avenue to manage businesses started by their immigrant ancestors and have managed to preserve the neighborhood’s unique small-town character. The entertainment industry has roots here with Arthur Avenue being the setting for the movie A Bronx Tale. Joe Pesci was discovered by Robert DeNiro while working as the maitre’d at a neighborhood restaurant. It’s virtually impossible to get a bad Italian meal at the array of restaurants along the avenue. Amazingly, many New Yorkers have never heard of the place, while for others it’s home away from home. It’s truly one of the Bronx’ best kept secrets.