When asked what the “hot” borough is, most New Yorkers will tell you it’s either Manhattan or Brooklyn. And there’s plenty of great stuff to do in both, without a doubt. But that’s not to discredit their eastern neighbor, Queens. In a city as unique as New York, Queens still stands out. It might not boast the brunches of neighboring boroughs, but it’s still got a whole lot to offer, and is rich in history. Here are some facts you might not know about Queens:
It’s really big: With 2.3 million residents, Queens has just 400,000 less people than Chicago. If it seceded from the rest of New York, it would be the fourth largest city in the US; the country’s current fourth-largest city, Houston, is a few thousand residents behind.
It’s actually named after a Queen: Like many places in Colonial America, Queens is named after a British monarch: Catherine of Braganza, the Portuguese wife of Charles II. When the British took the area from the Dutch in the 1660s, the region got some new anglophile names: “Nieuw Amsterdam” became “New York” in honor of the reigning monarch’s brother, the Duke of York, while the neighboring counties were renamed “Kings” and “Queens” in honor of the reigning monarchs.
It’s the final resting place of Harry Houdini: Located a good distance from any subway line, Machpaleh Jewish cemetery is fairly nondescript. However, it’s the site of Houdini’s grave, a popular mecca for Halloween revelers and aspiring magicians. It’s fastidiously looked after by The Society of American Magicians and the Houdini Museum in Scranton.
The Rockaways is New York’s premier surfing spot: Located at the very end of the A train, the Rockaways is arguably New York’s best beach. Hurricane Sandy hit it hard, but it’s been making a major comeback, and its beach is home to some great waves. Even without a board, it’s well worth the trip.
It’s the most diverse neighborhood in the world: New York’s always been a diverse place; when it was a remote trading post with only 400 people living there, there were 18 different languages. But Queens brings that to a whole new level; the 2000 Census counted 138 languages spoken in the borough, yet some experts estimate that number to be around 800. Furthermore, a lot of these languages can’t be heard anywhere else in the world.
The food is amazing: The brunch spots in Queens might not be as well-known as Brooklyn’s or Manhattan’s, but that’s not to discredit the food scene in Queens. The neighborhood’s ethnic diversity means that you can get a whole lot of delicious and authentic food you can’t find anywhere else in the city.
Some of the world’s best pianos are made in Astoria: Although New York was historically a center of manufacturing, that’s changed recently due to high taxes and expensive real estate. Yet the piano company Steinway & Sons, founded in Astoria in 1853, is staying just where it is, and has been using the same factory for 100 years.
It’s the site of a major film studio: Kaufman Astoria Studios is an historic movie studio, and home to New York’s only backlot. Classic films and TV shows such as “Animal Crackers”, “Goodfellas” and “Sesame Street” have all been filmed there. It’s also the home to New York’s Museum of the Moving Image, a great museum chronicling film history.
There’s an abandoned Civil War fort in Queens: In 1862, the government built a fort to watch over the ships entering and leaving New York Harbor. Although Fort Totten Park never saw battle, it had a long history as a base and training station for the US Army. Some of it remains a training ground for the army reserves, but the public part is a great park.
It’s the hometown of a lot of big names: The Ramones, Simon & Garfunkel, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Cyndi Lauper, Tony Bennett, Nicki Minaj, 50 Cent and Louis Armstrong are just a few famous musicians who come from or have lived in Queens over the years.