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Here’s How to Plan the Ultimate Day Out in the Bronx

Travel + Leisure logo Travel + Leisure 11/17/2019 Darren Tobia
a bridge over a river © Courtesy of Madeline Bilis

For a day trip filled with plants, animals, and delicious Italian food, look no further than the Belmont neighborhood of the Bronx, where all three can be found in spades. You’ll want to start at the New York Botanical Garden to ogle some specimen succulents, make your way over to the Bronx Zoo for zebra-watching (and a top-notch ropes course), then sit back with a heaping plate of pasta on Arthur Avenue. Here’s how to plan the perfect Saturday.

Where to Go

The Bronx’s Belmont neighborhood, famous for its family-run bistros and specialty shops, owes its existence to two institutions. The Bronx Zoo, more than a century after it was built by Italian laborers who settled nearby, is still at the forefront of worldwide conservation efforts. The zoo’s 265 acres are home to the rarest, most endangered animals, whose daily care and reintegration is poignantly documented in the Animal Planet series The Zoo.

a large tree in a forest: Courtesy of Ebba Pero © Courtesy of Ebba Pero Courtesy of Ebba Pero

The zoo also offers a thrilling treetop adventure course, allowing zoo-goers to glide over the Bronx River on a zipline, climb through the trees, and more.

a close up of a flower garden: Courtesy of Madeline Bilis © Courtesy of Madeline Bilis Courtesy of Madeline Bilis

Although the New York Botanical Garden, which was also completed in the 19th century by the same immigrant workforce, is best known for displaying exotic plants, the park has hundreds of native flower species, like the eastern prickly-pear cactus, that are sometimes just as strange to locals. For an even quieter escape from the city noises, walk the trails of the Thain Family Forest, which is the city’s largest patch of old growth. With massive oaks and towering hickories, these woods — once a hunting ground for the Lenape tribe — is now a safe haven for wildlife, including the great horned owl, whose courtship call can be heard in the fall. “This forest is a refuge for biodiversity in the city,” said Jessica Schuler, director of the Thain Family Forest. “It’s a way to connect people to nature.”

a store filled with lots of fresh produce: Courtesy of Madeline Bilis © Courtesy of Madeline Bilis Courtesy of Madeline Bilis

What to Eat

If the endless rows of fruits, veggies, meats, and cheeses don’t clue you in, the Arthur Avenue Retail Market is the perfect place to be when you’re hungry. The produce stalls are a treat for the eyes, but you’ll want to make a prolonged stop at Mike’s Deli. On any given trip, you’re bound to see a cheesemonger stretching out a hunk of mozzarella behind counter—and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a shout from owner Dave Greco himself, who’s appeared on Throwdown! With Bobby Flay. The deli also serves smoked mozzarella, burrata, and a host of other cheeses, not to mention delicious Italian sandwiches made to order. Once you’re sufficiently stuffed, swing by the Bronx Beer Hall, just a few steps over, for a pint of blueberry ale.

food on a grill: Courtesy of Ebba Pero © Courtesy of Ebba Pero Courtesy of Ebba Pero

For a classic sit-down meal, you’ll need to pore over the extensive menu Mario’s, a century-old institution in the neighborhood. There are no wrong choices, of course, but there is a must-have: chicken francese, a delectable chicken breast that’s egg-battered and tossed with lemon, butter sauce, and wine. If you don’t fill up on pasta and chicken, you’ll want to try the margherita pizza, calamari fritti, potato croquettes, and spinach gnocchi.

a person with graffiti on the side of a road: Courtesy of Ebba Pero © Courtesy of Ebba Pero Courtesy of Ebba Pero

How to Get There

Start your trip at the New York Botanical Garden. The most foolproof way to get to there is from the east side of Manhattan is the Metro-North’s Harlem local line train from Grand Central to the Botanical Garden Station. You’ll disembark right across the street from the garden’s Moshulu entrance. Via subway, take the 4, B, or D (the D train runs express!) to Bedford Park Boulevard station. Walk eight blocks southeast down Bedford Park Boulevard, then turn left on Southern Boulevard and walk until you reach the Mosholu entrance. Both the Bronx Zoo and the delicacies of Arthur Avenue are within walking distance from the garden.

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