My parents are in town for the week and, as usual, there's nothing to do. On Saturday, though, I hit on something that would play to their interests (for dad, maps and geography; for mom, hanging out with me in a place that isn't a record store) -- and in fact, it should be essential viewing for all visitors. It's only the second best thing in all of New York!*
Here's what you do: You take the subway out to the farthest stretch of Queens, walk in to the Queens Museum of Art, plunk down $5 (suggested!), check out the Panorama and let your mind be blown. What is the Panorama, you ask? Oh, just a 9,000 sq ft, three-dimensional, fully scale model of the five boroughs of New York City, complete with 895,000 buildings, not to mention every street, bridge, and park -- all that's missing are the giant piles of garbage on the sidewalks. It is awesome.
You enter the room viewing "the city" from the west, and as you stare out to distant Queens and Brooklyn, the vastness of the whole thing kinda -- and I'm serious here -- takes your breath away. The detail on the buildings, bridges and landmarks shows a level of workmanship that actually makes you realize how impressive and formidable this whole city actually is. Oh, and there was nobody there! If this were Manhattan, there'd be timed tickets and lines and over-priced food trucks outside and people ruining the entire scene. There are no secrets in this city of 8.2 million people, but the Panorama -- humble, unassuming, hand-crafted and largely unchanged in 47 years -- feels special in a way that other attractions don't.
I used to think that visitors should go to the top of the Empire State Building. Erroneous. It's a $38 elevator ride! Why settle for a view of one borough when you can have all five? And in Queens, after your half-sawbuck entrance fee, you've still got $33 that you can use to buy a steak AND a bottle of wine at the neighborhood Argentine joint filled with locals, the kind of people who built this city. (The real one.)
* No. 1 best thing in all of New York -- nay, America -- is the Statue of Liberty.