Most of us struggle a bit with geography. When we visit New York City, we land at an airport and then catch a ride into Manhattan. There’s a lot more to the Big Apple, though. But what are the five boroughs of New York City? And what exactly can you do in each one?

To help you out before your visit, or just for your information if you’re not going anytime soon, here’s a look at the five boroughs of New York, City, as well as other information and what you can do in each one.

If you’re looking for the too-long-don’t-read, here it is: There are five boroughs in New York City (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island). But there’s a lot of other interesting information about the five boroughs, which you can see below.


What is a Borough?

The word “borough” is a derivative of the German term “burgz,” which roughly translates to “fort.” You can see similar derivative in city names that end in bury, burgh and brough (like Waterbury, Pittsburgh, etc.).

But the term “borough” means different things in different parts of the world. In general, a borough is a small town that is run by its own independent government. In New York City, though, a borough simply means a subdivision of a larger city — with the city having its own independent government. That is, when you serve as mayor of New York City, you are mayor of all five boroughs.

New York City isn’t the only city with boroughs organized in this way. London, Montreal and other cities worldwide use a similar setup. As you’ll see below in the brief history of New York City, the organization of today’s boroughs is something that emerged in the last quarter of the 19th century.


A Brief History of How the Five Boroughs Came to Be One

The five boroughs haven’t always been one. In fact, you look back at a list of the largest cities in the United States in 1850, and you’ll find that New York was the largest with 515,547 people and Brooklyn was the seventh-largest with 96,838 people.

But, starting in 1874, what was known simply as “New York” began annexing surrounding areas. In 1874, New York annexed the portion of the Bronx extending west of the Bronx River. In 1898, New York added the rest of the Bronx, Brooklyn, Staten Island and the western portion of Queens County. These annexations created what became known as the “City of Greater New York.”

There’s a bit of a conspiracy theory around why New York made these annexations. During the 19th century, Chicago was growing quickly, and many thought it would someday catch New York for largest city in the United States. When New York annexed the surrounding areas, Chicago was left in the dust.


The Five Boroughs of New York

Today, the five boroughs form what we know as New York City. Here’s a look at what the five boroughs are, in no particular order.


Manhattan is the best-known of the five boroughs. And island itself, Manhattan sits across the East River from Brooklyn, which rests to Manhattan’s east. The Harlem River separates Manhattan from the Bronx, which is to the east and north of Manhattan. And Manhattan sits just north of Staten Island, which is across the Upper Bay.

What about Queens? Queens is not adjacent to Manhattan, as it is located on the east side of Brooklyn.

Manhattan is a tourist’s paradise, the borough where you will find Times Square, the Empire State Building, Wall Street, Central Park, Broadway, the Metropolitan Museum, the 9/11 Memorial and much more.


Queens is technically a part of Long Island, and it sits on the eastern edge of Brooklyn. Queens is not a popular tourist area, unless you’re going to see the U.S. Open tennis tournament or a Mets baseball game.

Some of the most visited sites in Queens included two major airports (LaGuardia and JFK), as well as 5 Pointz, the John Bowne House, Citi Field, Arthur Ashe Stadium, Aqueduct Racetrack, the Jamaica Performing Arts Center and more.


Brooklyn is a popular hotspot for families and hipsters. Sitting just east of Manhattan and just west of Queens, Brooklyn includes a number of tourist hot spots, including the Brooklyn Bridge, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Coney Island, the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, the New York Transit Museum, Prospect Park and the Barclays Center — where you can see the NBA’s Nets and the NHL’s Islanders play.

The Bronx

The Bronx is the farthest north of the five boroughs, located across the Harlem River from Manhattan. The Bronx is home to Major League Baseball’s New York Yankees, which are known as the Bronx Bombers. You can also visit the Bronx to find the New York Botanical Gardens, the Bronx Zoo, the Maritime Industry Museum, th eBronx Museum of the Arts and the Pregones Theater.

Staten Island

If you’re ever asked to name the five boroughs, Staten Island might be the one that’s hardest to guess. It sits on the southwest side of New York City, and its divided from the rest of the city by the Upper and Lower Bays.

If you take the Staten Island Ferry to or from Manhattan, you’ll pass right by the Statue of Liberty. You can also find other things to do and see on Staten Island, including Historic Richmond Town, the Staten Island Zoo, the National Lighthouse Museum, the New York Wheel (under construction) and more.


Which is New York City’s Largest Borough by Population?

The short answer: Brooklyn, with the smallest being Staten Island. Here’s a full list of New York City boroughs by population as estimated in 2016:

  1. Brooklyn (2,648,771)
  2. Queens (2,358,582)
  3. Manhattan (1,664,727)
  4. The Bronx (1,471,160)
  5. Staten Island (479,458)

A census of the United States is taken every 10 years. While we have numbers from 2010, the numbers above are better estimates of population today. The 2020 numbers most likely won’t be available until 2021 at the earliest.


Hey, What About Long Island and Harlem?

Portions of Long Island are part of New York City. Queens and Brooklyn sit at the western edge of Long Island. But the rest of Long Island that extends east is full of separate cities and towns, including the beach communities collectively known as “The Hamptons.”

Many also wonder what borough Harlem is in. Harlem is part of Manhattan, located on the far northern end of the island and just across the Harlem River from the Bronx.


Final Thoughts on the Five Boroughs of New York City

Many who visit New York City spend the bulk of their time in Manhattan. Which makes perfect sense given that Manhattan is full of entertainment, great food, historical sites and much more. But the other boroughs have a lot to offer, too. So, next time you find yourself in the Big Apple, branch out a little bit and try Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island or the Bronx. You might be surprised at just how much fun you have.

Do you have a favorite borough? If so, let us know in the comments section below, or you can always send us a message via our contact form.