Separated from Manhattan by the Harlem River, the Bronx was once considered the wrong side of New York City. But perceptions are changing. And, today, the area offers the curious traveller a glimpse into its diverse, raw, gritty and glam identity.
The Bronx is a unique corner of the Big Apple and, despite its rough edges, it's a diverse and exciting place, attracting travellers in droves with its mix of highlights.
Some of the poorest households in the US are found in the Bronx, right alongside affluent, upper-income areas. The range of races, languages and cultures makes our Rainbow Nation seem one-dimensional. It’s reported that more than 75 languages can be heard on the streets of the Bronx in a single day.
Live ghetto glam like a NYC insider!
While the gentrification process is well underway, the area hasn’t been transformed beyond recognition just yet.
Go while you can still peel back its many layers. Scratch just beneath the graffitied surface of the Bronx and you'll be rewarded.
10 things you’re gonna want to do in the Bronx
1. Cheer on the Yankees
You may know absolutely nothing about baseball but, in New York, the Yankee Stadium, home of the New York Yankees, is sacred ground.
Catch a game during the Major League season, which runs from late March to September for an unbeatable atmosphere. Sports enthusiasts can also join a tour of the stadium.
2. Find some grass
It wouldn’t be ghetto glam without some greenery. Far from just urban sprawl, the Bronx has two particularly large and lush green spaces: the New York Botanical Garden, which houses more than one million plants in its 50 gardens and glasshouse, and Wave Hill, a 28-acre public garden and cultural centre that overlooks the iconic Hudson River, the perfect spot to relax.
3. Walk the streets for art
Soak up the culture with a street art and graffiti tour. From Yankee Stadium to Bruckner Boulevard, there are many graffiti murals and street art sprawled across the South Bronx – you just need to know where to look. Join a tour led by a reputable local guide to delve deep into this art form safely.
4. Get cultured
Aside from the Bronx Museum of the Arts, “for culture lovers, the Longwood Art Gallery in the South Bronx, which exhibits work of local artists, and the Bronx Documentary Centre, which hosts exhibitions, screenings and public programming from internationally renowned photographers and filmmakers, are a must,” says Chris Heywood, NYC & Company’s Executive Vice President of Global Communications.
5. Rap it out
Hip-hop got its start in the Bronx. In this cradle of rap and hip-hop, to truly uncover the soul of the rich musical heritage, you need to mingle with local musicians. Join a tour such as Hush Hip Hop Tours’ The Boogie Down Bronx, visiting iconic sites, murals and unearth the history of the borough. From hip-hop to salsa, the soul beats of music and dance still connect Bronx locals.
6. Burn your credit card
Give that South African credit card a run for its money by shopping like an insider. You can find it all in the Bronx, from retro glam to indie boutiques and cheap and fierce fashion outlets. You’ll even find department stores still housed in pre-World War 2 buildings and general traders with racks of every type of fashion.
Visit the Bronx Boutique Couture on Bruckner Boulevard. Owner and designer Jerome LaMaar has clients including Beyoncé and Hailey Baldwin.
7. Eat the world
With a population this ethnically and racially diverse, it’s no wonder that the food scene is a delicious melting pot of flavours and culture. Dine in Bangladesh one night, Ghana and Papua New Guinea the next, or Puerto Rico, then Italy, India and Mexico.
“Expect big and bigger when dining in New York City,” says Teresa Richardson, Managing Director of The Travel Corporation in South Africa, the parent company of guided holiday brands Trafalgar and Costsaver.
“We always take guests travelling on our Costsaver itinerary for a real American breakfast of waffles and pancakes in trendy Brooklyn, sister-borough to the Bronx,” says Richardson. “The Brooklyn Diner is a New York institution serving up American comfort food in that classic diner setting. It’s a must-do when you’re in the city.”
“End the evening with the South Bronx Mexican favourite, Xochimilco Family Restaurant, followed by a walk to the hip neighbourhood Mott Haven, where visitors can sip wine and browse literature at the borough’s newly opened independent bookstore The Lit. Bar,” adds Heywood.
Arthur Avenue for delicious Italian, and the area's neighbourhood soul-food restaurants are also recommended.
8. Visit Paris in the Bronx
The Grand Concourse in the Bronx was fashioned after the elegant Champs-Élysées in the 1890s and still boasts a selection of Art Deco buildings. In true ghetto glam style, some are still grand while others a little less so. Join a tour led by a local guide to learn more about the history of the area.
9. Wear out those sneakers
Walking and public transportation is always the best way to experience a new destination, especially the ghetto. You'll familiarise yourself with neighbourhoods by people-watching while travelling from point A to B. For South Africans, public transport is also an excellent way to save.
To help budget for your NYC adventure, Flight Centre’s Travel Stokvel is a popular group savings product. "Stokvel has seen incredible growth since its inception in 2018,” says Lance Nkwe, Head of New Markets at the Flight Centre Travel Group. “The power of group buying and communal savings allows travellers to pool their resources to get travelling faster and easier.”
10. Be street-smart
“Don’t let all your South African street-smarts flee when you land,” advises Sue Garrett, Flight Centre Travel Group General Manager for Marketing and Product.
“The crime rate is relatively low in New York City, but be vigilant, especially when visiting quiet areas of the city or lower-income neighbourhoods in the Bronx, and don’t flash expensive items.”
Travellers are also advised to be aware of pickpockets and not to ride empty subway cars or walk alone at night in deserted areas. Most tourists tend to congregate around the Hudson River area.
Stats also show that New York City is the safest big city in America.
This December, United Airlines is due to launch the first-ever non-stop flight between New York City and Cape Town by a US carrier.
“With this new seasonal flight [and] non-stop flights from Johannesburg via South African Airways [and Delta], it’s never been easier for South Africans to get to New York City,” concludes Heywood.
For the diversity-seeking, culture-hungry, street-smart savvy Afropolitan traveller, the Bronx is the proverbial diamond in the rough.