Although Astoria is largely a residential neighborhood, it is filled with unique mom-and-pop shops, trendy boutiques, a plethora of dining options representing cuisines from around the world, and lush green spaces where you can relax, walk along the East River, or just enjoy the Manhattan skyline.
The atmosphere is laid back and almost small-town. In addition to luxury condos, pre-war buildings, single-family and semi-detached brick buildings, you will find low-rise buildings with apartments available at lower rents than are available in nearby Manhattan. If you enjoy shopping, you will find everything from locally handcrafted apparel and decor items to vintage treasures just waiting to be repurposed.
Astoria has long been known as a hub of Greek culture, with a burgeoning Greek community. You can barely walk a block without an opportunity to eat Greek food or experience some aspect of Greek culture. The Italian community is also quite large and well-represented in Astoria. Lately, there has been an influx of immigrants from all corners of the globe, making Astoria truly multicultural, and giving rise to eateries that offer unique gastronomic treats.
Astoria Park. This is the park to visit in Astoria. There is an Olympic-sized pool that was used for the US Olympic swimming and diving team tryouts for both the 1936 and 1964 Olympics. Along the east end of the pool are two unusual fountains, created from the Olympic Torches used in those two Olympic Games. The park also has magnificent views of the Hellgate and Triborough (RFK) Bridges. If you can, plan to go to the park the day before the 4th of July. Pack a picnic and plan to spend the day to get a good seat for evening fireworks and an orchestral performance. The park also has a tennis and basketball court and a running track. If you go before 9:00 a.m., you can play with your dog off-leash. Located on 19th Street between Astoria Park South and Ditmars Boulevard.
Steinway Street. In the early days of the Steinway factory, an entire village was built up in the area for the Steinway factory workers so they could live in close proximity. Steinway Street ran right through the middle of this Steinway Village. Today, Steinway Street is the heart of this multicultural neighborhood, where people from nearly 100 countries now live, work, and play. It is a bustling shopping area, with many little shops with ethnically themed wares. Steinway Street also boasts some of the finest Middle Eastern eateries in all of NYC in the area known as “Little Egypt.” As a bonus, you can stop into one of the many hookah cafes for a smoke and some tea. Runs from NY 25A in Astoria to Berrian Boulevard in Ditmars.
Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden. Looking for a spot to cool off in the heat of summer? Stop by NYC’s oldest beer garden, claim one of the shaded picnic tables and slake your thirst with an icy pitcher of beer and tuck into hearty Czech food and BBQ. Enjoy the convivial atmosphere and thump your stein in time with the music. If you live nearby, you could make this your regular hangout. Located at 2919 24th Avenue.
Museum of the Moving Image. Part of the Kaufman Astoria Film Studio complex, which dates back to the 1920s when Paramount Studios filmed there, this modern museum chronicles the developments in the film and television industries. This museum has exhibits that contribute to the understanding of the digital arts, television, and film-making. As the exhibits are mostly in chronological order, you can see the evolution of this industry. Located at 3601 35th Avenue.
Socrates Sculpture Park. This is a relatively undiscovered jewel of a waterfront park that is generally uncrowded. Not only will you find modern sculptures, but also works of outdoor art created by local artists that work in many different media, often on large-scale pieces. You would never guess this beautiful park was built on a landfill. With the Manhattan skyline, Roosevelt Island, and the East River as a backdrop, you can enjoy dance and musical performances, participate in outdoor yoga and tai chi, and watch weekly movie screenings in the summer. Located at 3201 Vernon Boulevard.
What You Might See
With its emphasis on old-world culture that was brought to Astoria with Greek and Italian immigrants, you might be lucky enough to see a Bridal Procession, where the bride and her attendants and well-wishers don their wedding finery and walk through the neighborhood on the way to the wedding ceremony in one of the local churches. Along the way, people will line the sidewalks, stomping, clapping and cheering the bride on her way to be wed. This practice is an homage to the way weddings were traditionally held in villages in old-country Greece and Italy. Feel free to join in!
During the warmer months of the year, many parts of the neighborhood hold street festivals. They are an opportunity for local artisans, food vendors, musicians and the public to come together and celebrate the good weather, socialize, enjoy ethnic cuisines and music from around the world, and just revel in being alive. There is at least one street festival every weekend from May through October.
What’s In The Future
A large residential mega-project is underway on the Astoria waterfront at Halletts Point. There will be seven buildings in total, eventually providing over 2,000 apartments. There will be a mix of housing price points, with about one quarter of the apartments being offered as affordable housing, allocated by lottery. The distinguishing feature of these apartments is floor-to-ceiling windows that offer views of Roosevelt Island, the East River and the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
What You Might Not Know
Steinway & Sons, founded in 1853 by German immigrant Heinrich Englehard Steinweg (he later changed his name to Henry Englehard Steinway), makes the finest pianos in the world, right here in Astoria. Each piano is made entirely by hand and takes approximately one year from start to finish, as each of more than 12,000 individual pieces are crafted and assembled. Each piano key, alone, has 57 parts. Steinway & Sons hold over 120 patents on tools, parts, and processes used in making its pianos. For a time in the late 1800s, Steinway & Sons manufactured parts for Mercedes cars and their engines, as well as boat engines.
Astoria was named for John Jacob Astor, a humble fur trader who built a monopoly, and rose to prominence as America’s first multi-millionaire.
The second deadliest naval tragedy in US waters occurred off the Astoria Park shoreline. On June 15, 1904, over 1,300 members of St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran church climbed aboard the passenger steamship General Slocum for a church picnic on Long Island. As it was passing what is now Astoria Park, it caught fire and sank in about 15 minutes. Over 1,000 of the church party were killed in NYC’s largest loss of life until the September 11, 2001 tragedy.
What We Love
Astoria is ideally located close to Midtown Manhattan via subway, and the Bronx and Harlem via the Triborough Bridge. Real estate is still quite affordable, and you can find great apartments in smaller buildings on quiet side streets within easy walking distance of great eateries, shopping and museums.
Astoria is known for its Greek and Italian food, and in recent years it has become home to cuisines from around the globe: Spanish, Mexican, Tex-Mex, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Brazilian, Egyptian, Afghani, Czech, Australian, and yes, even classic American comfort food! It’s worth a trip to Astoria, just to sample the food, where you can find everything from casual outdoor cafe seating to gourmet fine dining.
If you are looking for a neighborhood that is family-friendly and community-oriented, with ample street parking, and less crowds than you’ll find in Manhattan, yet with very similar amenities when it comes to bars, theaters, restaurants, parks and fun things to do, Astoria may be the right neighborhood for you.