Joined at the hip by subways and bridges, light rail and roads to the massive metro area of New York City across the Hudson to the west, Newark might look small next to its near neighbour but it’s still the largest city in the entire of the Garden State.
That means travelers who make their way here across state borders are in for a medley of history going back to 1666 (this is actually one of the oldest cities in the US to boot!), unique art, heritage and cuisine, all infused and powered by a multicultural mix of Jewish, Creole, African-American, Italian, Irish and a whole load more influences besides.
In this list, we flit between the blossoming parks of cherry trees on the edge of the city, along the riverfront walkways with views of Jersey City in the west, back to the downtown theatres and art centers, and into some of the enticing little eateries and jazz bars that pepper the inner districts of Newark itself. Here’s the best things to do in Newark, Enjoy!
1. See a show at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center
For almost 20 years the New Jersey Performing Arts Center has reigned as one of the largest and most prolific performing arts centers in the entire United States.
With a mission to showcase a diverse range of live entertainments and performances both home-grown and from abroad, the institution hosts everything from stand-up comedians to jazz jam sessions to R&B gigs to classical ensembles, drawing whopping great crowds from both New York and the larger Garden State.
The spot also has regular festivals, like Newark’s only major jazz fest – the TD James Moody Democracy of Jazz Festival in November – and the Sounds of the City: a not-for-profit event that sprawls onto Theater Square during the summer.
2. See the cherry blossoms at Branch Brook Park
One of the many pockets of urban greenery dotting the districts of Newark, Branch Brook Park covers more than 359 acres of land over the northern reaches of Essex County. However, it’s not the size that draws walkers and nature lovers here.
It’s the cherry trees. With more than 14 different species of blossoming tree and more than 4,000 individual trees, the Cherry Blossom Festival that’s held here every April promises blooms of pink and white to rival even Tokyo.
During the rest of the year, visitors can explore the winding pathways, cross elegant bridges and even spy out the looming Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the eastern fringes of the gardens.
3. See Tibetan treasures at the Newark Museum
The largest museum in the entire Garden State can be found nestled between the city streets just a stone’s throw back form the waters of the Newark Reach.
Eclectic to say the least, the exhibitions here range from masterworks of American realism to curious relics plucked from the far reaches of the Tibetan Plateau.
In fact, the collection of Buddhist treasures at the Newark Museum is considered to be one of the finest Sino-Tibetan exhibits in the world, encompassing a whopping 5,000 artifacts and including an altarpiece blessed by the Dali Lama himself.
There are also some enthralling science rooms to see, including an acclaimed planetarium and hands-on exhibitions about energy and waste.
4. Wonder at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart
Standing tall and proud in a glorious array of Gothic Revivalism on the edge of the blossoming Branch Brook Park, this truly colossal church hails in as one of the largest basilicas in all of America.
Construction began on the building way back in 1898, taking a whopping 29 years to complete, as the designers played with adding Anglo-style flying buttresses and French medieval spires.
Today, the cathedral is a great place to come and listen to soothing chamber music, to wonder at the ambitious building project that gave rise to its 71-meter-tall towers, or to unravel the mixture of architectural styles that came across the Pond from Europe in the early 20th century.
5. See the city lights twinkle from Riverfront Park
Clinging to the meanders of the Passaic River as its bends and turns around the districts of central Newark, the city’s Riverfront Park is perhaps the best spot around for sunset watching and seeing the city lights go on after dark.
The spot is currently undergoing something of an urban revival, with an eclectic mix of art installations and refurbishments taking place.
For example, the walkways are now dressed in all-new boardwalks, while there are picnic spots aplenty and even public sunbeds for that spot of summertime bathing.
And talking of the summer, heading here during the warmer months also means oodles of street entertainers, rowing races and festivals!
6. Sample the multicultural flavors of the Ironbound neighbourhood
Some call it Little Portugal, others mini Spain. Some flock here for the Argentine empanadas, or the bubbling paellas, while the gaucho steaks and spicy chorizo straight out of Madrid are also real hits.
Yes sir, this criss-crossing maze of streets south of the Passaic River and east of the Newark Penn Station is arguably the king of all the culinary hotspots in the Garden State, offering a multicultural mix of eateries, restaurants and holes-in-the-wall like no other.
Check out Lopes Sausage Company for Iberian meats, while Nasto’s Ice Cream has the finest Italian sorbets and cones, and Fornos and Mompou mean tapas that’s simply to-die-for!
7. See urban art at its best at the City Without Walls
Situated in a post-industrial space on Crawford Street, City Without Walls (cWOW for short) has been leading the wave of cutting-edge art and creativity in Newark since opening its doors.
The aim is to provide a space for contemporary artists working and living in the city to showcase their pieces.
That means visitors can expect a truly eclectic range of exhibitions throughout the year, with everything from avant-garde sculpture pieces to installation works gracing the rooms.
The cWOW gallery also runs Newark’s City Murals project, which aims to adorn downtown Newark with thought-provoking art murals, engage international artists for the creation of street art, and teach kids the methods and techniques of urban mural painting.
8. Get in touch with your jazzy side at The Priory
Housed in an adjoining section of Newark’s Saint Joseph’s Church in the heart of University Heights, The Priory is nothing short of legendary on the line-up of jazz bars on offer in The Brick City.
Famed for its swinging, bluesy backing track, the artists here come with a distinct Caribbean, Creole, New Orleans edge, fielding some of the finest Gospel this side of the Dixie Line. Friday nights are particularly popular, when crowds of locals descend on the joint to let loose and dance the evening away. Sunday lunchtimes, meanwhile, mean brunches, cooked up in the hearty tradition of Creole cuisine.
9. Fill up at Hobby’s Delicatessen & Restaurant
For more than 50 years Hobby’s Delicatessen & Restaurant has been serving up its legendary corned beef – homemade, hand-cured and pickled in-house – to the residents of Newark. Billed as a traditional Jewish Deli, the joint has risen and risen to become one of the go-to local dives for hearty American, Eastern European and Italian cuisine.
The menu touts everything from fiery burger patties loaded with Cajun spices to colourful veggie salads and German frankfurter sausages, all next to Philly cheese steaks and – of course – the trademark corned beef baps.
There’s also a range of branded clothing for patrons who particularly like the sarnies, while the joint gets rowdy on game days, when fans of the New Jersey Devils come by their droves.
10. Wander between the sculptures in Military Park
Right in the middle of downtown Newark, hemmed in by the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and the New Jersey Historical Society, Military Park remains one of the oldest urban green spaces in the city.
During the years of the American Civil War, the space was used to train Union Soldiers, later becoming the focal commons of the town. Recent refurbishments have added a restaurant and new pathways, while the huge Wars of America edifice by Gutzon Borglum of Mount Rushmore fame is still pride of place.
Be sure not to miss the regal busts of John F Kennedy and the less-visited reaches of Doane Park just to the north too.
11. See cultural past at the Jewish Museum of New Jersey
Representing, supporting and chronicling the past of the nigh on 500,000 Jews currently living and working in the state of New Jersey, the Jewish Museum of New Jersey organises everything from cultural workshops to integration programs, inter-faith dialogues and artistic representations of Judaism.
Former exhibits have included programs on the Jews of Assisi between 1943 and 44, photographic collections from Jewish-American artists, forums discussing the agricultural communities of New Jersey’s early Jews, and assessments of the Jewish place in the civil strife of 1960s America.
12. Have a tipple and the Gaslight Brewery & Restaurant
Travelers will find the Gaslight Brewery & Restaurant amidst the streets of suburban South Orange.
Here, it offers up a medley of rib-eye steaks and double-cooked chips, pizzas, sharing nachos, quesadillas, Tex-Mex and classic shrimp and grits. However, it’s the beer that takes center stage, no question.
There’s hearty standards like the Bison Brown Ale, mimicking the country brews of England, or the Big Dog Porter with its coffee-bean edge and Canadian malts, not to mention the easy-going Pin-Head Pilsner, brewed up in the styles of Czech Republic’s old Bohemian creations. And that’s just naming three!
13. Get the luck of the Irish at the Kilkenny Ale House
Oozing with all the country character of the pubs in its namesake town across the Pond on the Emerald Isle, the Kilkenny Ale House is a hearty, welcoming little Irish joint that’s certainly worth the visit.
Adorned with the occasional Celtic mural, the interior mimics the look and feel of a bona fide Irish alehouse.
And the beers don’t disappoint either, as the taps gush with hearty stouts and bespoke bitter brews.
There’s food too: a curious medley of pub grub, like cheap burgers and fries, shepherd’s pie and other homey dishes straight out of the pantries of the Gaelic land. Expect a truly warming welcome!
14. Catch the New Jersey Devils at The Rock
Hitting the Prudential Center to catch a New Jersey Devil’s game is something of a rite of passage for any first-time travelers making their way through the Garden State.
Regular contenders at the top of the NHL table, the hockey games that unfold on the ice rinks of the all-new stadium just a stone’s throw from Newark Penn Station are a symphony of chants and cries, all belying the local love and passion for their hometown team.
Games are never more raucous than when it’s the New York Rangers coming to challenge from across the Hudson, when the various restaurants and bars of the Prudential Center are packed to the brim.
15. Delve into the laboratories at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park
This protected national historical landmark is dedicated to preserving the life, times and works of one of America’s most prolific inventors and discoverers: Thomas Edison. It was here, on the industrial fringes of West Orange just some 15 minutes’ drive from the heart of downtown Newark, the great man first tested audio recording and all-new models of phonographs, batteries and even film cameras during the last decades of the 19th century.
Today, the site offers a glimpse at the master’s intricate instruments and machines, set up in much the same way that they would have been back in the 1890s!