London claims the oldest underground train system in the world and Boston the oldest in the Americas, but New York City is home to the most famous. The NYC subway opened in 1904, and the century-old 7 Line travels through several ethnic enclaves between the 34 St/Hudson Yard station in Manhattan and Flushing/Main St in Queens, earning the nickname the International Express. The 7 Line’s fame is such that the White House included it among the 16 National Millennium Trails honored in 2000 for historical and cultural value. The only subway line on the list sat alongside such iconic routes as the Underground Railroad, the Appalachian Trail and the Lewis & Clark Trail. The White House characterized the International Express as “a metaphor for the migration of all the world’s people to America’s shores.”
A traveler doesn’t need 80 days to go around the world on the 7 Line. Buy an unlimited-use week pass (single-day passes don’t exist) for $31 (as of December 2016), and start traveling the globe without ever leaving NYC. As this adventure includes many culinary stops, order small bites at as many spots as your belt will allow.
34 St-Hudson Yards/Times Sq-42 St
The Hudson Yards will truly be something when phase two of the work-live-play development is completed in 2025, but it is not there yet. Likewise, Times Square qualifies as Dante’s 10th Circle of Hell, so feel free to skip these first two stations.
The 5 Ave station is the best place to start if embarking on this journey from Manhattan. Located at West 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, the station sits underneath the New York City Library where the Ghostbusters crew encountered their first real spirit in the 1984 film. Non-locals might enjoy a stroll north on Fifth Avenue to see the legendary stretch of overpriced designer shops that start several blocks up, and the 19th-century Neo-Gothic St. Patrick’s Cathedral at East 50th Street kind of/sort of contrasts the materialism that surrounds it.
Image: NYC & Company/TaggerYanceyIV
Visiting a train station might sound strange, but Grand Central qualifies as a U.S. National Historical Landmark. While the original structure opened in 1871, the rebuilt Beaux-Arts style terminal celebrated its millennial anniversary in 2013. Surprisingly, the 48-acre Grand Central is home to several first-rate dining options, from the not-so-fast-food Shake Shack to the New Nordic restaurant Agern. The latter, opened by Noma co-founder Claus Meyer, has superstar Icelandic chef Gunnar Gíslason manning the pots and pans.
Vernon Blvd-Jackson Ave
This is where the International Express gets interesting! The first stop east of the East River is Long Island City, Queens, an industrial wasteland-turned-condo jungle with gorgeous views of midtown Manhattan. Head west on 50th Avenue for riverfront parks with front-row city views, which include the United Nations directly across the water. Hungry? Head straight to Casa Enrique, an acclaimed Mexican restaurant that scored Queens its first Michelin star.
Skip the next stop, Hunters Point Ave, which is primarily industrial.
The Long Island City Courthouse and the Master Cabbie Taxi Academy occupy the space outside the station, but head a few blocks over to MoMA PS1, the hipper extension of the Museum of Modern Art. Founded in 1971, PS1 is more exhibition space than art collection, and its curators focus on experimental trends in contemporary art. Along the way to PS1 on Jackson Avenue, you’ll pass the previous location of 5 Pointz, the graffiti mecca that fell victim to development, which inspired Brooklyn street art gilf! to hang “Gentrification In Progress” police tape across the site.
“The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world,” said character Nick Carraway to Jay Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Queensboro Plaza sits atop the start of the Queensboro Bridge that connects Queens and Manhattan, and it is also the bridge from Woody Allen’s Manhattan and the topic of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy).” Subway riders can also see a sign for Silvercup Studios, a production facility that served as the primary filming facility for the HBO hits Sex and the City and The Sopranos, among other shows and movies. Brave souls can head west for better views of the bridge and Manhattan at Queensbridge Park, which sits next to the infamous Queensbridge Houses. Individuals who once called this public housing complex home include rapper Nas, basketball player Metta World Peace and “Shook Ones” rappers Mobb Deep, while Queensbridge residents MC Shan and Marley Marl started the Bridge Wars feud with Boogie Down Productions when they dropped “The Bridge.”
33 St-Rawson St
This marks the start of Sunnyside, a little neighborhood drawing lots of Manhattanites priced off the island. Just south of the station is City Ice Pavilion, an NHL-sized ice rink open to the public. Right next door, Indoor Extreme Sports offers laser tag and paintball with themes like zombies, black ops, “old school warrior style” archery and even a kidnapping experience (no, it doesn’t involve a weird Uber driver). If needing a sugar rush, the Doughnut Plant crème brûlée donut is an NYC classic—has one of its four locations near the station. The first shop, opened in the Lower East Side in 1994, was started by a third-generation baker using his grandfather’s recipes.