Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to this Bronx Walking tour. As a native Manhattanite, I made my fair share of jokes about the Bronx in my younger days. “Is the Bronx just one giant zoo?” I would ask. “Clearly. And the name of that zoo is Yankee Stadium.”
Clearly I could not have been more wrong. The Bronx is just like Manhattan’s top hat. And like a top hat, it is classy and useful when you want to go dining out. Join me for 24 hours with a Bronx walking tour and we will feast on Italian food on Arthur Avenue, see the most striking plant constructions in the world, and…head back to Manhattan for a show in the evening.
But don’t feel sad, Bronx, because I prefer Manhattan for nightlife. Nobody’s perfect.
Just be aware, this is a Bronx Walking Tour itinerary I use around Christmas time. Specifically the period in between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I call this time of year 5 Borough Christmas, and I insist on doing something Christmas-related in all 5 boroughs. It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
(For those of you who are not New Yorkers, New York City is divided into five counties, known as boroughs. They are Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island.) But you don’t have to do this Bronx Walking Tour itinerary only at Christmastime. I promise to explain how to do it during other times of the year as we go.
24 Hours: Bronx Walking Tour
Where Do I Stay?
I always laugh hysterically when people ask me this question. I have lived in the same apartment in New York City my entire life. That means I have never stayed in a New York City hotel. However, if you really want to maximize this itinerary, try staying on the Upper East Side. It won’t be too inconvenient for you to get from there to Arthur Avenue to start your Bronx Walking Tour.
If I had unlimited funds, I’d stay at the Hotel Carlyle for the glamour and the bar with the Madeline drawings on them. Or I’d stay at the Plaza, so I could pretend that I was Eloise from the adorable children’s books. I’m basically a Very Fancy Eight Year Old Girl who refused to grow up.
If you’d like to explore great deals on over 1400 other hotels in New York City, click here.
24 Hours: Bronx Walking Tour
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
If the weather is rainy or snowy, which happens quite often in NYC, I recommend the Asgard Rain Boots. They are comfy/cozy and keep my feet dry all day. Plus they’re cute enough that I can wear them out without feeling like some gauche tourist with gross feet.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!
24 Hours: Bronx Walking Tour
Morning: Arthur Avenue Food Tour
Arthur Avenue is often known as “the real Little Italy”. The Little Italy in Manhattan has become so small and gentrified that it’s hard to recognize any remnant of its formerly thriving Italian-American community. But Arthur Avenue in the Bronx has still stayed authentically Italian. It’s full of the mom and pop shops selling food like Grandma used to make. Any 24 hours in the Bronx has to include a stop here.
There’s almost too much great food in Arthur Avenue, but we can get our 24 hours in the Bronx started with…
Approximately top 5: Bronx Walking Tour
1) Belmont Library
Before you start the food portion of the Bronx Walking Tour, peek into the Belmont Library and Enrico Fermi Cultural Center. This branch of the New York Public Library always has displays honoring the contributions Italians have made to American and world cultures. You can see tributes to famous Italians from the poet Dante Aligheri to New York’s famous former mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. Plus you’ll learn that Italians have invented everything from the battery to the pretzel. (More on that later.)
Arthur Avenue has a million different food stores, so this Bronx Walking Tour is all about the shopping! That’s why we start in the Arthur Avenue Retail Market. This Market was opened so that the pushcarts who used to roam the streets pushing their wares would have a safe and clean place to work instead of always needing to be outside, shouting in the cold Bronx air. Sadly none of the original pushcarts are still in business. But you can still buy anything in the market from hand-rolled cigars to small, fresh, skinned rabbits for a stew.
Cheese please? If you’re a fan of dairy mold, you’ll love Calandra Cheese Shop, which offers approximately 1,000,000 cheese samples per day. They’re all delicious, especially the aged grana padano and the piquant pecorino calabrese. But I purchased the Prima Donna, which is Gouda blended with Parmesan. It’s just as delicious as Parm, but much less expensive.
Cerini Coffee and Gifts probably has the best and most affordable Italian coffeemakers in the city. But you can also get small condiments here at great prices, like a bottle of award-winning balsamic vinegar for only 14 dollars. Remember balsamic can cost over a hundred dollars, so 14 is basically nothing. I can’t see myself spending a hundred dollars on balsamic unless I were serving that salad to the Queen of England and she was planning to knight me.
If you’ve ever wondered what a chandelier made of meat would look like, step into the Calabria Pork Store. You can get sweet or spicy sausages here from right off the walls. (Sweet sausages aren’t actually sugary; they’re just not spicy. Also, I’m joking about them taking these sausages off the walls to serve you. I’m pretty sure that would damage the structural integrity of the building.
24 hour treasure: borgatti’s pasta
The last shopping stop on the Bronx Walking Tour is at Borgatti’s for fresh pasta. Even if you don’t order anything here, it’s a blast to watch them press and cut the fresh pasta dough by hand using the giant machines in the back. I was lucky because they had fresh squid ink pasta in that day. Squid ink pasta is the black noodles pictured above. I never get fresh squid ink noodles because it’s too hard for me to make on my own. Now I’m going to eat squid ink pasta every day for lunch for a week! And they said dreams don’t come true!
The greatest eating experience on Arthur Avenue is sucking on some raw oysters from Cosenza’s fish market. The small oyster here was a Beausoleil and the larger a Bluepoint. The Beausoleil was sweeter and the Bluepoint a little more salty. But I don’t care! Eating an oyster makes me feel like I’m living out my childhood fantasies of being Ariel from The Little Mermaid. Some people have issues with the oyster’s texture. I say, just remember you’re eating a sea creature’s corpse! What texture do you expect it to have?
4) Madonia Brothers Bakery
Madonia Brothers is one of the many 100 year old bakeries on Arthur Avenue. They are famous for their made-to-order cannoli, but there are so many Italian treats here that you can’t find in most bakeries. One example is this taralli pictured above. Taralli are a kind of Italian pretzel/bagel that is made by boiling dough before baking it. I wonder if this is what the Belmont Library meant when they said Italians invented pretzels. I remain…unconvinced!
Taralli come in both sweet and savory disguises. This one was more on the savory side, made with fennel and black pepper. The pepper was cracking fresh, which gave the treat a nice kick. Apparently you would often dip the taralli into wine. I would feel a bit naughty dunking anything into wine! It’s not an Oreo! But that’s all the more reason to try it.
5) Pastry Shops
This self-guided tour has not one, but two sweet pastry stops. The cookies would be reason enough for me to take this tour. I have a sweet tooth to rival Count Chocula. Our first pastry stop was for nut cookies at Egidio’s Pastry Shop. The pine nut cookie and the rainbow cookie made with almond cake were both moist and fresh. Also, Egidio’s was recently featured on the cover of the Extremely Fancy New Yorker magazine. Look!
The lady who is pictured on the cover was actually the lady who served me my cookies. I am famous by extension!
I know I’m supposed to be humble and begin my thoughts with “in my opinion”. But I’m not a humble person, so forget that. Cannoli are the greatest Italian dessert of all time. The combination of the crunchy pastry shell with the sweet, but not too sweet ricotta filling is truly one of the greatest experiences a human can have.
We bought this chocolate chip topped stick of perfection at Gino’s Pastry shop. The lady behind the counter kindly threw some sambuca, which is an Italian anise liqueur, in my serving of espresso, which I muchly appreciated. More people should go around just randomly giving people alcohol. The world would be a friendlier place.
Some people say Parmesan is the greatest Italian cheese. But for me, you can’t go wrong with mozzarella. It’s just so fresh and voluptuous, as if Marilyn Monroe were a cheese. And I was in luck once more because Joe’s Italian Deli makes their own fresh mozzarella.
Each one of these little glomps of heaven exploded in my mouth like a milk cloud. I have to admit that I prefer buffalo mozzarella to the cheese made from cow milk, but we don’t keep buffalo in the Bronx. And anyway, no use crying over spilt buffalo milk!
Of course any New Yorker’s favorite use of cheese is on a nice slice cheese pizza. The Full Moon Pizzeria triumphs in old school slices of giant, floppy pizza with a slightly sweet tomato sauce, globs of sticky cheese, and a fine coating of cornmeal on the crust. As a New Yorker, I have to say that this is the food I crave the most when I’m traveling away from home. Just one bite and I’m transported back to my childhood. A weird childhood that sometimes consisted of folding a piece of pizza in half and eating it while standing up. But a childhood nonetheless.
24 Hours: Bronx Walking Tour
Afternoon: New York Botanical Garden
With all apologies to the Bronx Zoo, I think the New York Botanical Garden is the most wonderful place to spend a Bronx Walking Tour. Most of the area surrounding Arthur Avenue and the Botanical Garden used to be part of the estate belonging to the Lorillard Family. Apparently they made their money in tobacco, which surprised me because I didn’t learn about any tobacco magnets growing up in New York City. That’s the sort of thing they don’t teach you in second grade.
Now the reason I always go to the New York Botanical Garden for 5 Borough Christmas is because of the Holiday Train Show. This is a giant, plant-based model train set. The models depict all of New York’s most famous buildings in the past and present. But the catch is that all of the models are made out of plants! That’s right…plant New York Public Library. Plant Yankee Stadium. Plant Statue of Liberty. But even if you’re not in New York around Christmas, you can still experience the NYBG. Just go and see the rest of their verdant collection. I can help you out with…
Approximately top 5: New York Botanical Garden
At 5 Borough Christmas time, there are several scheduled carol performances throughout the day. If you follow this 24 hours in the Bronx itinerary exactly, you can attend the 2PM carol show. I don’t know what exactly caroling has to do with trees, but it made this gaggle of New Yorkers happy and cozy listening to everything from “Let it Snow” to “Silent Night”. And I’m pretty sure making New Yorkers slightly less miserable is what Christmas is all about.
Also spellcheck doesn’t recognize the word New Yorker, so it is officially dead to me.
2) Clock and tree
Any Botanical Garden worth its salt will show the plant kingdom at its most majestic with a giant Christmas tree display around December. But what if you’re visiting at another time of year? There obviously won’t be a Christmas tree. Will any tall, green symbol satisfy our need?
Behold! Your wish is granted with this stately emerald timepiece. You know it’s classy because it’s a Rolex. The design is like a time machine taking the visitor back to 1891, when the garden was founded. Basically this clock is the Botanical Garden’s flux capacitor.
3) Haupt conservatory
This conservatory is arguably the most beautiful object in the Botanical Garden. It was designed to resemble the conservatory in the Royal Botanic Gardens in London, so you know it’s got style and flair. It’s made almost entirely out of steel and glass, like the Terminator. Apparently the building fell into serious disrepair in the 1970s and almost had to be demolished.
Fortunately it was restored into the beauty we see today. I feel like a lot of things went into disrepair in the 70s. What were people doing back then? Just feathering their hair and snorting blow at Studio 54? How dare they? Didn’t they know there were greenhouses to save?
If you’re more interested in a small version of the Haupt Conservatory made entirely of plants, step inside the Holiday Train Show! Yes, that building is made completely out of plant materials, even the windows. It’s nice to know plants can be good for something.
24 hour tip
Don’t forget that you’ll need to buy a timed ticket online to be able to visit the Holiday Train Show. Do it as far in advance as possible! Also keep in mind that the train show gets crowded, so be prepared to use this trick. Step on a kid’s toe and pretend it was an accident. They’ll start crying and their parents will take them away. Then you get their spot!
4) demolished plant buildings
One of the greatest things about the Holiday Train Show is the opportunity to see miniature versions of buildings that have been destroyed to make way for progress. For example, this model is the legendary Old Penn Station that was destroyed to make Hideous New Penn Station, or Madison Square Garden. The new building was so much fuglier than the old that it actually inspired New Yorkers to begin granting buildings landmark status.
In more recently demolished building news, here’s Old Plant Yankee Stadium. I think I can hear some tiny plant boos of the Red Sox from up here. (You won’t find a model of any Mets stadium here. This is the Bronx. We’re in Yankees territory. You have to go to Queens to see Old Plant Shea Stadium.)
5) nyc landmarks
Of course most of the buildings in the exhibit are planty models of current New York City landmarks. How would you like to see the Guggenheim museum made from a mushroom?
Would you prefer to take a ride on the Wonder Wheel at Plant Coney Island? (Pine Coney Island?)
Perhaps you dream of stardom? Then check out Plant Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater. I hear most of the acts are kind of wooden.
I might be more interested in Plant New York Public Library with his two plant lion statues out front. At this library, you have to weed every book from cover to cover.
Have you ever thought to yourself that you’d like to see all of New York’s most famous skyscrapers, only with more plant action? Enjoy Plant Chrysler Building and Plant Empire State Building. If you look very closely, I think you can see Plant King Kong scaling the Empire State.
The featured display this year was Plant Lower Manhattan. The sight of Plant Statue of Liberty and Plant One World Trade Center together was enough to bring plant-based tears to this jaded New Yorker’s eye. I Heart Plant New York!
24 Hours: Bronx Walking Tour
Evening: The Rockettes
The Bronx isn’t exactly hopping in the evening, so we’re going to take this Bronx Walking Tour to Manhattan for the wee hours. The Rockettes are one of New York’s most beloved Christmas traditions. I say this even though I never once went to see the Rockettes as a kid. But just like with the ballet and the opera, New Yorkers feel better knowing the Rockettes were there. And as a bonus, if you see the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular, you’ll be able to see inside Radio City Music Hall, where the show is performed.
This Art Deco masterpiece was almost demolished in the 70s, but has since been restored to its former glory. See what I mean about the 70s! People were just playing with their pet rocks and listening to the Beegees and ignoring architectural masterpieces.
The show lasts around 90 minutes and largely revolves around Santa Claus. It starts with him talking about his favorite toys and there’s a brief performance of the Nutcracker…
24 hour treasure: drummer boy dance
It’s followed by the strangest thing these sad eyes have ever beheld: a dance in which all the Rockettes dress up like drummer boys and collapse into each other.
How do they do it? I know the Rockettes’ legs are sturdy and muscular because I’ve been watching them kick all night. So how can they turn them into noodles? Fun Fact! This number was designed by Judy Garland’s ex-husband/Liza Minnelli’s father Vincente Minnelli.
Then Santa shows up in New York and there’s some City Sightseeing Bus product placement. Everyone sings and dances about how amazing New York is at Christmastime. It’s the best, Rockettes! Why do you think I’m writing this blogpost?
Then Santa meets two brothers looking for a present for their sister. The youngest believes in Santa but the oldest doesn’t, so Santa clones himself to prove magic is real. This is basically an excuse for the Rockettes to do some amazing dancing in Santa outfits. Alas, the old young boy still doesn’t believe in Santa.
So Santa does the only thing a Santa can do–whisk the two boys to the North Pole. Actually flying through the air via magical powers finally convinces Young Master Skeptic that Santa exists. Then they find a doll for their sister. Of course the doll clones itself and performs an elaborate dance because this is still a Rockettes show.
I think the Rockettes should do more clone-themed shows after the Christmas Spectacular is over for the year. They could do Multiplicity, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, or The Island… really the list goes on. And I always one thing Star Wars needed was more high kicks.
At the end, there is a traditional Nativity scene with carols and no dancing. I’m glad there’s an effort to remind the audience that Christmas is about more than kicklines and cloning.
24 hour tip
If you’re in New York City at another time of year, just see any show you’d like! We’ve always got a million things going in Manhattan. Check out the half-price ticket booth, TKTS, for great same-day deals on Broadway shows. Sadly A Bronx Tale isn’t playing anymore in New York City because that would have been great synergy with our 24 hours in the Bronx.
That’s 24 Hours: Bronx Walking Tour
What would you do with 24 hours on a Bronx Walking Tour? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in New York City right now? Why are there no more buffalo in the Bronx so we can make mozzarella with their milk? And what non-New York monument would you like to see made out of plants? (I vote for the Plant Grand Canyon.) Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours with a Bronx Walking Tour. And there’s a million other things to do in New York City. Want to spend 24 hours in Brooklyn? In New York City for Christmas? How about the Metropolitan Museum? Or the best street food in Manhattan? I’ve got you covered here!