Though the New York Botanical Garden is one of New York City’s most famous attractions for locals and tourists alike, it’s still a bit off the beaten track. Located north of Manhattan in the Bronx, it can take travelers 45 minutes to an hour by train from Midtown. But the trek is worth it: a gorgeous botanical oasis in the middle of a densely populated urban neighborhood with a constantly rotating series of unique exhibits.
But if you’re going all the way to the Bronx, you’re probably going to want to make the most of your time at the NYBG as well as the surrounding neighborhood. You might get hungry hiking the 50-acre forest trails, for example. For expert tips, we tapped Henry Cabrera, the Associate VP of Visitor Experience at the NYBG going on 11 years now—he also happens to be Bronx-born-and-raised and lives in the “beautifully diverse” nearby Pelham Parkway neighborhood.
“NYBG has the special ability to instantly transport you from the bustling city into a 250-acre place of natural beauty,” he says. “No matter what season you visit, you’ll leave with a better appreciation of the natural world—at a time when it’s never been more threatened, and it’s preservation and appreciation is critical.”
Here, Cabrera gives us the ultimate beginner’s guide to the New York Botanical Gardens—and where to eat, shop, and explore within reach.
What’s your absolute favorite spot on the grounds?
Whenever I visit the Rock Garden, I feel as if I went down a rabbit hole and emerged in another world of wonder and calm. It’s a small, but powerful space that I wish more visitors would explore to relax and replenish. To me, it’s our most special little treasure.
Take us through your ideal approach to visiting the NYBG. Where should you start, where would you end?
I suggest starting out with our stunning glasshouse—the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. Here, we invite visitors to explore lush tropical rain forests, cactus-filled deserts, palms from around the world, aquatic and carnivorous plants, and much more. From there, explore the adjacent Perennial Garden and Seasonal Walk for a burst of color and year-round landscape design interest. You also don’t want to miss the world-renowned Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden to smell the roses! And of course, stop by NYBG Shop for wonderful books, plants, home goods, and much more to take home.
What should you order at NYBG’s Hudson Garden Grill for lunch?
Our full-service restaurant serves up amazing seasonal dishes—order the buffalo-style cauliflower to start, followed by the falafel burger, and don’t forget to share a dessert. If you eat meat (I stopped 2 years ago), go for the crispy chicken cobb salad—it’s delicious and I quite miss it!
Best coffee near the NYBG?
Our favorite local diner—Webster’s Café— is just a couple of blocks away and makes an amazing cup of coffee. Ask for a Spanish coffee, and don’t ask for any customization. It’s perfect as is.
Where do you take visitors out to dinner near the museum?
Outside of the Garden, we’re fortunate enough to be a stone’s throw away from the real Little Italy, known as Arthur Avenue. While there are many, many great restaurants to choose from, my favorite is Zero Otto Nove. Order anything there—you can’t go wrong! Another favorite is Roberto’s, where I fell in love with their Radiatori in Cartoccio. This meatless dish is delicious, simple, and filling.
What other attractions are worth visiting near the NYBG?
I also encourage exploration of the Arthur Avenue Market and the local small businesses such as pastry shops, butchers, bread makers, fish markets, and pasta makers dispraised throughout the neighborhood. If you have time, stop by the Bronx Zoo, which is a quick ride from our Main Entrance. Like the Garden, it’s a glorious institution, worthy of dedicated time and exploration. Further west, the Bronx Museum of the Arts on Grand Concourse (not too far away from Yankee Stadium) consistently puts on thought-provoking exhibitions and events—and it’s free to visit.
Best kept secret/hidden gem in or near the NYBG?
Outside of the Garden, you will find the Edgar Allan Poe Cottage, which was the final home of the writer. This Bronx treasure is also a quick ride from our Main Entrance.
Where do you go for some quiet time or to relax in the NYBG?
I like to explore the native forest trails since there’s one not too far away from my office building, so it makes for a quick escape when I need to decompress among canopies of centuries-old oaks, tulip trees, sweetgums, and maples.
What do you love most about working at the NYBG?
As a local Bronx resident, a person of the LGBTQ community, as well as the son of foreign-born Latino parents, I’m enormously grateful to have a voice and a seat at the table when it comes to how such a large organization like NYBG engages with the community. Disadvantaged and marginalized populations, especially in the Bronx, don’t necessarily know how to navigate the cultural spaces of NYC, so having NYBG here to say, “Come in! Enjoy the outdoor gardens, the public programs, the forest, the rushing water of the Bronx River,” is a fulfilling experience. I continue to be anchored in The Bronx because its diversity extends to its expansive outdoor spaces (with the most green space of any borough), its cultural institutions, its people, and of course, amazingly delicious food!