Admit it. You kind of think of Newark as the red-headed stepchild of its bigger, more glamorous sister, New York City. Wrong! Visit Newark with an open mind and a list of great spots to discover — you’ve only got a small amount of time, you know — and you quickly learn it’s a great destination for anyone. Any local will tell you it certainly doesn’t lie in any city’s shadow. Get ready to explore what gives Brick City its charm with these six things to see and do.
Drop in to Newark Penn Station
New York City’s Grand Central Terminal gets all the press, but Newark Penn Station is every bit as awesome. Designed by McKim, Mead, and White (the same firm that designed Penn Station in NYC), it looks like a love letter to Art Deco design. Even if you aren’t taking a train, it’s worth stopping in just to see it for yourself. The best features include gleaming terrazzo floors and sculptural wall medallions. Don’t think that’s cool enough? The doorways are topped with Art Deco sunbursts, and the waiting area is decorated with all the zodiac signs.
Go Outside and Play
Think you can’t escape the concrete jungle? Think again! Newark’s home to several parks, including Branch Brook Park, possibly the best of the bunch. It offers miles of pathways, fields for tossing a ball or playing frisbee, a fishing hole, plenty of greenery, and some fun playground equipment for kids. If you can’t imagine how awesome it is, just remember it was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the same dude who designed Central Park in New York City.
Best of all, if you’re lucky enough to visit in spring, you get to see the amazing cherry blossom display that blows Washington D.C.’s right out of the water. In fact, Branch Brook Park has more cherry blossom trees than anywhere else in the world outside of Japan.
Commune with Nature
If the greenery in the park isn’t enough for you, head over to the Greater Newark Conservancy, located on 1.5 acres downtown. You’ll feel like you’re far from the city as you stroll down the garden paths, explore the 10 themed gardens, and relax by the pond. It’s the perfect spot to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the city.
Visit North America’s 5th Largest Cathedral
Holy Moly! The Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart is a popular spot on lists of things to see, so don’t be surprised if it’s a little crowded — but it’s totally worth it. If you love amazing architecture, you may have trouble dragging yourself away from the amazing French Gothic style. Even if you’re not in to cool buildings, you might recognize the cathedral from “The Sopranos.” It was in the background of scenes from time to time.
Go Gallery Hopping
By now, you shouldn’t be surprised to hear that Newark’s art scene is pretty awesome. The standout spots? Too many to mention, but start with Gallery Aferro, founded by two artists in 2003. It has won several Citations of Excellence from New Jersey’s State Arts Council for its variety of artist talks, performances, screenings, and roster of 12 to 15 exhibits. And that’s not the only gallery in town. Other spots to check out include:
- City Without Walls (CWOW): This is the city’s oldest contemporary art space, and it combines exhibits and traveling art shows with an educational and outreach program that connects budding young artists with mentors. CWOW gets the street cred for many of Newark’s best public murals.
- Aljira: If you find yourself strolling along the waterfront, be sure to stop at this gallery. If you’re lucky, you might catch a live performance or an exhibit from a soon-to-be-famous artist. It’s known for promoting diversity and showing under-represented artists.
- Paul Robeson Galleries: This group of four galleries is part of Rutgers University. It includes lots of cross-cultural work from students and famous artists.
Head to Seamen’s Church Institute
Newark Museum is great, but if you want to get a feel for Newark’s unique vibe, Seamen’s Church Institute is the place to go. Located in the center of Port Newark, it lifts the curtain on how goods make it to store shelves. Walk among towering cranes, dodge straddle carriers, and hobnob with seafarers. Bonus points for taking a selfie by the hugest pile of salt you’ve ever seen!
While you’re in town, grab a hoagie, an order of disco fries, and a slice of tomato pie — yep, tomato — to eat like a native. After your return, we have tons of inspiration for your next destination waiting for you on Twitter.