When you hear about Newark, New Jersey, making a trip there to “see the sights” is probably not the first thing that pops into your mind. You might think about Senator Cory Booker, the former Mayor and current presidential candidate. Or, you might think about poverty. Maybe you think of it as a de-industrialized city that has fallen on hard times. Or, possibly, you think about the “Newark Renaissance.” Well, Newark NJ is all of this. And more. This list of the Best 12 Things to do in Newak NJ will hopefully give you a new perspective.
Newark, New Jersey is the largest city in the state. Sure, it’s overshadowed by the Big Apple–New York City. But it’s also a city with tons of interesting history, culture and places to see.
We advise you to hop on the PATH (New Jersey’s subway) and take the short 25 minute ride from New York City to Newark. If you haven’t been there yet, now is the time to go.
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Founded by Puritans in 1666, Newark is one of the oldest cities in the US. In the early 1900s the city was the central of leather production. When railroads arrived, Newark became a center of shipping and manufacturing. In the 1950s and 1960s, most of the white and Jewish population left for the suburbs and Newark became one of the first majority African American cities in the US. The 1967 Newark riots were sparked by an incidence of police brutality as well as poverty, unemployment, corruption and de-industrialization and other challenges that the city was facing. For decades after, Newark was abandoned.
Newark today remains a city of contrasts. There has been much written about the corporate investment in the downtown area, but Newark is so much more than that. Much of the city is poor. At the same time there is a vibrant and growing arts and culture. The Newark Art Museum and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) are just one end of this (corporate supported) spectrum. There are local artists, street art and many other places to see.
Is Newark Safe to Visit?
Yes. Newark is no different from New York City. The downtown area is very safe and easy to get around. If you want to gain a deeper understanding of Newark and its neighborhoods, it’s best to travel by car. And, to support the growth of Newark, consider including a youth program on your trip. Newark’s youth need our support to create the next decade of Newark’s history.
Best Things to Do in Newark NJ
Newark has everything–arts, culture, food, museums, parks. Here is our list of the best that Newark has to offer.
Visit the Newark Art Museum
The Newark Art Museum, formerly called the Newark Museum, is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. It has one of the best Tibetan Buddhist art collections in the country. It also has a broader collection, a small planetarium and more. Don’t miss the Tibetan Altar on the 3rd floor. Ballantine House (remember Ballantine beer?), part of the Museum since 1937, will give you a sense of old Newark. Built in 1885, the house has beautiful stained glass windows and architectural details from the Victorian era.
The New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC)
NJPAC was part of the revitalization of downtown Newark. It brings in world class artists, orchestras and performers from around the world. Beautiful and acoustically strong, you can see a show at a fraction of the cost of NYC event.
In 1666, Military Park was the Middle Commons. It was a campground for General Washington and his troops during the revolution. President Andrew Jackson appeared at the Park. As you can see, it has a lot of history. Many of the churches and other buildings around the park are historic and worth seeing. Don’t miss the Wars of the American monument by Gutzon Borglum (he worked on Mt. Rushmore).
Branch Brook Park
Branch Brook Park is known for the cherry blossoms (more than 5,000 trees) but it can be visited any time of year. The park was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead (he also designed Central Park). It has a butterfly garden, roller rink and plenty of paths to wander.
Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart
Located right next to Branch Brook Park, the Cathedral is beautifully lit at night and can be seen for miles. Built in French Gothic revival style, both the inside and outside are worth an up-close look. In 1995, Pope John Paul II visited the Basilica. Check the schedule and you might be able to hear a concert or the Schantz organ. If the Church is closed when you visit, walked around to the office and ask to go inside.
From top performers to professional ice hockey to college basketball to the Harlem Globetrotters to Disney on Ice, you can see it all at the Prudential Center. The Center is also home to the only Grammy Museum on the east coast.
New Jersey Historical Society
The New Jersey Historical Society has a diverse collection of artifacts from a silver teapot circa 1750 to weathervane from 1809 to a women’s bathing suit from the 1900s and everything in between. You are sure to find an interesting exhibit at the Museum.
Support the Local Art Scene
Newark has been the home of art and artists for generations. Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), Philip Roth, Queen Latifah, Whitney Houston, Sarah Vaughn, Gloria Gaynor, Jerry Lewis and many others called Newark home.
While in Newark, stop by some of the local galleries and organizations to get the local experience. In addition to the places below, you can also go to Gallery Aferro, Paul Roberson Galleries at Rutgers University in Newark, PES Studios (Gateway Project Spaces), or Newark School of the Arts.
Newark is full of street art. Some murals were created by local artists and organizations while others are part of a program started by Mayor Ras Baraka. The Gateways to Newark project is the longest street art wall on the east coast. It spans 1.4 miles and has murals by 18 local and international artists, including Gaia, Sonni, Adrienne Wheeler, Mata Ruda, Gera & Werc and Layqa Nuna Yawar.
Jersey City is a 15-minute drive from Newark and has great street art.
City Without Walls (cWOW)
Established in Newark since 1975, cWOW does a variety of exhibitions—indoor at the gallery, outside urban murals, online and traveling. Through their mentorship program, they match young artists in high school with prominent artists. cWOW also works with neighborhood organizations to create public murals throughout the city.
New Jersey All Stars Project
The All Stars Project is a national youth organization that uses performance to help young people to see new possibilities and create success in their lives. It has been in Newark since 1999 (I was on staff to raise the funds to open the Newark center). Stop by on a Saturday and you will find young people from Newark’s poor communities performing in a talent show or doing improv with police officers as part of their award-winning Cops and Kids program.
Glassroots is our favorite glass school and program in New Jersey. We have taken fusion, glassblowing and flameworking classes there. Glassroots runs programs for Newark’s youth to teach them teamwork, creativity and entrepreneurship. Stop by for a class or to visit the gallery and shop to support Glassroots and the young people.
Where to Eat in Newark
The food scene in Newark downtown area is a mix of longtime restaurants and newer places.
The Ironbound has been a culinary gem in Newark since the 1960s featuring Portuguese, Spanish and Brazilian food.
Fornos is known for the Paella Valencia. It is on the pricier side.
Seabra’s Marisquiera is the best for seafood and is reasonably priced.
Fernandes Steakhouse is good for steak and Brazilian cuisine.
Mompou Tapas Bar is our favorite for tapas and a more modern take on traditional Portuguese and Spanish food.
Having a craving for traditional Portuguese pasteis de nata? Try Teixeira’s Bakery.
Restaurants in the Central Business District
27 Mix is a bistro with a full bar and good food. Try some of the small plates to get a sampling of the food. It is 3 blocks from the Newark Art Museum.
Burger Walla is an inexpensive burger place on Halsey Ave two blocks from the Newark Art Museum.
Hobby’s Delicatessen & Restaurant has been a Newark institution since 1962. It’s the place to go if you are craving Jewish food—pastrami, potato pancakes, corn beef.
If you are going to NJPAC, consider splurging for a meal at Nico Kitchen and Bar. Full bar, new American cuisine with a modern twist.
Looking for more to do while you are in New York City? Cooperstown is a good weekend trip from New York.
Have Thoughts or Comments? We’d love to hear them.
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