New York City is physically in the United States but culturally, it’s all over the map. Between its dozens of ethnic enclaves where immigrants and their descendants live and keep the mother country alive, to museums that celebrate global art and culture, NYC is the ultimate global city. So if you’re in the mood to travel but you’re hindered by your bank account (or a pandemic), here is how you can travel the world without leaving NYC.
How to Visit Africa
Historically, Harlem has been called Black America’s national capital, but it’s becoming the center of African immigrant life too. Around 116th Street between Lenox Avenue and Malcolm X Boulevard in Central Harlem, you’ll find Little Senegal, aka Le Petit Senegal. Despite this area’s name, it’s not just a hub for Senegalese culture and cuisine, but for a lot of other African nationalities. Take your pick of African cuisine and be sure to check out the Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market to feast your eyes on African clothes, crafts, and other products. If you’re more of a museum person, head south to 110th Street and Fifth Avenue to visit The Africa Center (where you can also experience African “fast casual” food).
How to Visit Asia
If you’re interested in Asian cultures, there are plenty of places you can go in NYC. For Chinese culture in action, NYC has not one but three(!) Chinatowns spread across Manhattan, Sunset Park (and Bensonhurst), Brooklyn, and Flushing, Queens. New York is also home to a Koreatown in Midtown Manhattan, a Little Sri Lanka in Staten Island, a Little Manila in Woodside, Queens, and a tiny Thai Town in Elmhurst, Queens. Museum lovers have many options, but my favorites are the Rubin Museum of Art (which focuses on Himalayan art), the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art (which feels more like spiritual retreat), and Japan Village (which isn’t a museum, but is a cool market and food hall within Industry City).
How to Visit Europe
Europeans aren’t migrating to New York in the massive numbers they did in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, but European cultures are definitely still represented around the five boroughs. If you’re looking to immerse yourself in a neighborhood, try Brighton Beach in southern Brooklyn, which has earned the nickname Little Odessa because it’s a hub for Russian and Eastern European immigrants. If you’re searching for more of a Mediterranean vibe, visit Astoria, Queens, which still has a small Greek community. It would be irresponsible and downright mean of me to tell you to go to Manhattan’s Little Italy if you’re in search of Italian culture and cuisine. Most of the Italians who lived in this neighborhood are long gone. But if you’re dying to get your hands on an authentic cannoli, trek all the way up to Belmont in the Bronx. There, you’ll find the true taste of Italy.
If you’re more of a sightseer than a neighborhood wanderer, you have hit the jackpot. There are so many museums and spaces devoted to different aspects of European cultures; far more than the ones I’m about to mention. For your French fix, visit the dreamy Albertine Bookstore, located on the Upper East Side. A block away, you’ll find the Ukrainian Institute of America, an underrated gem on Museum Mile. At Neue Galerie, you can admire Austrian and German art. Make sure visiting the hauntingly beautiful Irish Hunger Memorial is on your bucket list, as well as seeing an actual piece of the Berlin Wall located near Brookfield Place in lower Manhattan.
How to Visit the Caribbean
If you need some sunshine and soca in your life, head to Flatbush, Brooklyn for a Caribbean getaway. From Caribbean cuisine to crafts to clothes, here, you’ll find the best of island life. It would be negligent of me not to mention that Queens also has a vibrant Caribbean community in the neighborhood of Richmond Hill. Take the A train to Lefferts Boulevard to experience its Indo-Guyanese culture. Pro-tip: start at Sybil’s Bakery.
How to Visit Latin America
It’s a no-brainer why East Harlem is nicknamed Spanish Harlem. Since the end of World War II, the area has had a strong Latino (especially Puerto Rican) presence. Further uptown, you’ll find that Washington Heights holds it down as a Dominican enclave, and across the East River, Bushwick and Sunset Park are bastions of Mexican culture in New York. Prepare for fun colors and flavors as you explore these neighborhoods. Bushwick and East Harlem have a particularly strong street art scene.
For more cultural background, be sure to stop by El Museo del Barrio and the Hispanic Society of America.
This is nowhere near an exhaustive list of the different cultures you can experience in NYC (sorry, Oceania and the Middle East). But with some determination and some googling you can find something from every culture on Earth represented in New York City. So the next time you feel the urge to globetrot but you don’t have an ample amount of funds or time, remember that you can easily travel the world without leaving NYC.