New Local's Guide to the NYC Boroughs

Estimated read time: 5 minutes

If you're new to New York City, you may be surprised to learn there's more to it than just Manhattan. You might even be surprised to learn that Manhattan and New York City aren't one and the same.

If the Big Apple is your new home, well, for starters, you'll need to stop calling it the Big Apple since only out-of-towners and writers refer to NYC in this way. Instead, simply say "the city," learn more about the five boroughs, and you'll be on your way to sounding more like a local (except for your accent–that's right, you have one, not us New Yorkers!).

What's a borough?

Simply stated, a borough is a major neighborhood of a larger place or city, usually divided by some kind of geographical or architectural feature. In New York City, there are five:

  1. The Bronx
  2. Brooklyn
  3. Manhattan
  4. Queens
  5. Staten Island

Fun facts about these boroughs

  1. Boroughs have a history

    The lines that divided these places were established more than a hundred years ago

  2. The small places are the densest

    The five boroughs that comprise NYC establish nearly half of New York State's total population

  3. Manhattan isn't as populated as you might think

    Contrary to popular belief, Manhattan is not the most populated borough (read on to see which borough the most people call home)

  4. Brooklyn and Queens are actually on Long Island.

    Yes, they are on the tangible, physical island known as Long Island. However, they're not actually part of Long Island. They don't fall under Long Island jurisdiction (Long Island as an entity is comprised of two counties, Nassau and Suffolk). Brooklyn and Queens are two counties that are physically located on Long Island but fall under the jurisdiction of NYC.

  5. There's only one borough that's on the U.S. mainland

    The Bronx is the only part of New York City that's not surrounded by water. They may not be tropical, but the remaining four boroughs are all located on islands.

Brooklyn (Kings County)

Brooklyn used to be the working man's place. Once upon a time, Brooklyn was considered the place where folks who wanted to work in Manhattan could live for a more reasonable rent. Those times have changed, with Brooklyn emerging as a new "it" place. In fact, it's so popular that it's become the most populated borough, with more than 2.5 million people calling Brooklyn home.

Kings County has come into its own. First of all, you'll recognize landmarks everywhere you turn: scenery for Saturday Night Fever, glimpses of famous bridges at every turn, the midway of Coney Island, and the arches of Prospect Park. This is also where you can find hipsters (looking at you, Park Slope) and Little Russia (hello, Brighton Beach). Speaking of beaches, you can also explore the southern part of the borough (the Lower Bay) for summer fun.

With its own distinct flavor, proximity to Manhattan, and ease of transportation, Brooklyn is undoubtedly popular, so it costs big big bucks to live here. However, it offers a big bang for it in terms of convenience, restaurants, nightlife, parks, and festivals.

The Bronx (Bronx County)

Everyone thinks New York City is pancake-flat–the lack of mountainous terrain is usually a dead giveaway. Well, if you want to build your quads, venture up some non-flat terrain, and avoid living on an island, move to the Bronx. It's one of New York City's two hilly boroughs (Staten Island is the other). You'll need the workout after devouring some sfogliatelli and other Italian pastries on Arthur Avenue, the Little Italy of the Bronx.

Some folks think of this as the greenest borough thanks to Pelham Park. Since it's three times larger than Central Park, Pelham can claim that it's the biggest park in New York City. There's also a bunch of nice beaches here (you wouldn't know this if you didn't live here, but check out City Island when you visit the Bronx). Of course, this borough is also home to Yankee Stadium and the Bronx Zoo, which is the biggest zoo in the United States. It's also the birthplace of hip-hop (what's up Grandmaster Flash!) and the borough that houses some seriously legit castles and other neighborhoods of proper swankiness.

Rents are usually more affordable here in da Bronx; however, the drawback includes with subpar subway service in and out of Manhattan. You can still get to a train…just not as easily as you could in another borough. Also, travel within the Bronx usually takes place by car or bus or on foot, so if you're looking for a place in NYC where it's a smart idea to have a car, check out the Bronx.

Manhattan (New York County)

This is what most of the world thinks of when they think "New York City." It's where almost everybody works, and yes, it's the most expensive borough to live in overall. Midtown is where you'll find your Macy's Day parade, your Miracle on 34th Street, your breakfast at Tiffany's, and all of your other made-in-Manhattan movie scenery. However, there's more to Manhattan than Broadway, Central Park, and Battery Park (although there are definitely some awesome, iconic places worthy of visiting). The tiny island with a ton of people known as Manhattan is filled with beautiful architecture, unique neighborhoods, and bountiful culture. As the saying goes, if you can make it here…!

Queens (Queens County)

Queens County is far too big for a label–and we mean that in terms of geography and diversity. Queens County is the most ethnically diverse county in America, and it also happens to be the biggest borough in New York City. Coming to Queens is like taking a bite out of the most sumptuous fondue–the melting pot here is divine. You can find restaurants, bakeries, delis, and grocery stores from every nation, and it's wonderful.

The neighborhoods are friendly (and more wallet-friendly than adjacent Brooklyn). You can cheer on the Mets at Citi Field or head to the Rockaways (Breezy Point is the best!) for beach days in the summer.

Queens has some of NYC's best public schools and plenty of green space. Queens is the easternmost borough, bordering Nassau County on Long Island, and while it has a bit of a suburban feel to it, it's certainly not "the burbs." However, this borough is the furthest from the heart of Manhattan, so your commute might be more on the 30-45 minute side, but no worries. Train service to Manhattan is widely available. Getting around Queens, however, because of its sheer size, takes more time.

Staten Island (Richmond County)

More than half a million people call Staten Island home. That's remarkable, isn't it? Especially when you consider that Staten Island isn't even NYC's most populated borough!

There's good news and bad news when it comes to transportation in this borough. Let's start with the bad and peel that bandage off quickly: two-thirds of the borough's rail lines shut down in 1953, and they haven't run a day since then, which put a dent in getting around Richmond County easily. However, the good news is that you can ride the Staten Island Railway, which runs down the east side, for free until you reach the final two stops for the Staten Island Ferry. More good news: the Staten Island Ferry is also a free ride! And when you're on the boat, it doesn't matter which side you ride on–you're guaranteed spectacular views of Manhattan. This ferry also happens to be the best way to get back and forth from the two islands.

On Staten Island, you'll find a greenbelt, loads of beaches, affordable rents, and a slower pace than the rest of New York City. With green spaces aplenty and the lowest crime statistics of anywhere else in the city, Staten Island is a great place to call home.