The jewel of NYC



If Flushing Meadows-Corona Park sprawled across Manhattan's Midtown instead of a former ash dump in East Queens, it'd be the jewel of New York City. Tourists would swarm to it, clog up the internet with a million Instagram snaps of it, and coo about it endlessly to jealous friends and colleagues once they returned home. 

Not only is the park a vast lung of greenery and flora, it's a movie set; plenty of sights that belong there will have caught your eye on the silver screen and your own TV. There are attractions to rival any seen elsewhere in the city, world-famous sporting venues too. Best of all? There are rocket ships. And UFOs. Beat that, Central Park.

As it is, the majority of tourists (and New Yorkers, too) rarely stray too far from the close and familiar, and perhaps the park is all the better for it. The families who set up vollyball nets between trees and enjoy the endless parades of lawns and cherry blossom are mostly locals from Corona, a predominantly Latino neighbourhood. The footpaths aren't thick with impatient joggers and torturously slow packs of tourists despite the park being easy enough to reach; pick up the 7 subway from Times Square or Grand Central and head out under the East River into Queens and keep going until 111th St.

The site was originally transformed from an ash dump to host the 1939 World's Fair and again for the 1964 World's Fair. It's the second of these spectacles that provided the obvious landmarks we know and recognise today. The star attraction is the Unisphere, a steel globe 12 storeys high surrounded by frills of fountains and lights. The backdrop to the Unisphere is a concrete spectacle of towers and angles; the World's Fair observation decks and the US State Pavilion. Neither the observation towers nor the pavilion are open to the public; the saucer-shaped decks are in fact disguised flying saucers, or at least they were in their leading role at the climax of Men In Black, while the pavilion provided the stage for the Stark Expo in Iron Man 2.

A short amble away are both the Queens Museum of Art and Queens Zoo. The Museum is housed in the only building that remains from the first World's Fair and provided a base of operations to the United Nations before their move to Manhattan. The prize exhibition remains one commissioned and built for the 1964 World's Fair; the Panorama is a scale model of New York City that sprawls across 9,000 square feet of floorspace and details every single building in NYC standing in 1992. Queens Zoo also makes use of a World's Fair building; a giant geodesic dome that has been repurposed as the zoo's aviary.

If you visit by subway, your first sight of the park will likely be of rocket ships, a pair of pristine Atlas and Titan rockets that blasted the Mercury and Gemini astronauts into space. They're part of the New York Hall of Science, built in 1964 and in operation ever since. It's hands-on stuff with plenty for kids to do inside and out, but then who doesn't love rockets? To the north of the park, the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center is the current home of the US Open, and Citi Field provides grandstand views of NYC's other baseball team, the New York Mets. To the south, visitors row their hired boats across the calm expanse of Meadow Lake.

It may not be a place for the first-time, or even second-time visitor to NYC - it's a city rudely spoilt with sights and activities - but when you return next, set aside half a day for exploring Queens. Tennis, baseball, rockets, art, cityscapes, lakes and UFOs - Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is a jewel of New York City, but it's one that few travellers discover.


"Twitchhiker – How One Man Travelled the World by Twitter" is Paul's book about his social media adventure around the world, published by Summersdale and available on Amazon.
Paul's next book, "Tales from the Edge of America" will be published in Spring 2012. You can subscribe to the book's mailing list to find out more.