Though the zoo and botanical garden are next door to each other, to visit both in one day would require much fortitude, as both are very large. It’s smarter to opt for one, and combine it with a meal or coffee and dessert on Arthur Avenue.
The botanical garden is at its best in May and June.
One of the most beloved of New York institutions is the enormous Bronx Zoo (Fordham Rd. and Bronx River Pkwy., 718/367-1010, www.bronxzoo.org , 10 a.m.–5 p.m. daily Apr.–Oct., adults $15, seniors and children 2–12 $11, reduced hours and admission prices in winter), where New Yorkers have been spending weekends with their families for generations.
It’s among the world’s largest and most important zoos, housing over 4,000 animals, many of which roam relatively freely in large landscaped habitats. The Bronx Zoo was one of the world’s first wildlife centers to adopt this technique.
Among the 250-acre zoo’s most popular attractions is its Wild Asia Express, a monorail ride above a 38-acre savanna inhabited by elephants, Siberian tigers, rhinos, and many different kinds of deer. In the World of Birds, centered on a towering waterfall, about 100 species flit from tree to tree.
Just north of the zoo is the 250-acre New York Botanical Garden (Southern Blvd. and 200th St., 718/817-8700, www.nybg.org , 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Tues.–Sun., reduced hours in winter, grounds admission adults $6, seniors and students $3, children 2–12 $1). Made up of both the cultivated and the wild, the park contains dozens of constituent gardens, such as a rose garden and an herb garden, an arboretum, a hemlock forest, a children’s garden, and—best of all—the enormous, shimmering, Victorian-style Enid Haupt Conservatory (separate admission: adults $7, seniors and students $5, children $3).
Here, you’ll find over 100 varieties of palms, tropical plants, desert flora, and ferns, and changing seasonal exhibits. The 1902 conservatory, with its 11 glass pavilions and many reflecting pools, was inspired by Kew Gardens in London and is the largest building of its type in America. The quirky Holiday Train Show features model trains rumbling past New York landmarks made entirely of plant parts.
To reach the botanical garden from Manhattan , take the No. 4 or D train to Bedford Park Boulevard and walk a half-dozen or so long blocks east. Or, take a Metro North train (212/532-4900, www.mta.info ).
Just west of Bronx Zoo is the Italian community of Belmont. A stable, middle-class haven of spick-and-span streets and small backyard shrines, Belmont is chock-a-block with Italian restaurants, pastry shops, butcher shops, and food markets. Most are located along Arthur Avenue or 187th Street.
At the heart of things is the indoor Arthur Avenue Retail Market (2344 Arthur Ave., at 187th St., 718/295-5033), where some of the city’s freshest and cheapest fruits and vegetables can be found, along with fresh mozzarella, ravioli cutters, and espresso machines.
Just up the street are Madonia Brothers Bakery (2348 Arthur Ave., 718/295-5573), selling mouth-watering crusty bread, and Biancardi’s (2350 Arthur Ave., 718/733-4058), selling whole baby lambs and goats (no place for the squeamish).
Down the street is the Calabria Pork Store (2338 Arthur Ave., 718/367-5145), its ceiling densely hung with meats and sausages, and Randazzo’s Fish Market (2327 Arthur Ave., 718/367-4139), piled high with crab, sole, scrod, and the like. In warm weather, Randazzo’s operates a raw seafood bar out front.
A number of pastry shops and cafés are on 187th Street. DeLillo’s Pastry Shop (606 187th St., 718/367-8198) serves both pastries and homemade gelato and spumoni. Egidio (622 187th St., 718/295-6077) is renowned for its miniature pastries.
On Arthur Avenue, Mario’s (2342 Arthur Ave., between 184th and 185th Sts., 718/584-1188, $16) serves huge portions of Southern Italian food, and may be Belmont’s best-known restaurant; it was featured in the film The Godfather. Dominick’s (2335 Arthur Ave., at 187th St., 718/733-2807, $12) has some of the neighborhood’s best food, served family style at long tables covered with red tablecloths. Good pizza joints can also be found along Arthur Avenue.
To reach Belmont from the zoo, walk west seven long blocks, or catch the Bx22 bus on East Fordham Road. From the garden, walk south through the campus of Fordham University.