Newark's Best Attractions & Activities (Besides The Airport)

Quick: name something (or someone) famous that came out of New Jersey. If you mentioned the Jersey Shore, the place, as opposed to Jersey Shore, the TV show, you are one step ahead of many. By the way, Jersey is the reason Frank Sinatra existed. If that isn't reason to go and pay tribute, we don't know what is.

Newark, New Jersey is an experience unlike any other. Where else are you prohibited from pumping your own gas (well, Oregon, but we digress)? Where else can you eat a Jersey breakfast (Taylor ham, egg and cheese)? Newark is truly a diamond in the rough. 

You can go to the world-class New Jersey Performing Arts Centre (or NJPAC) for everything from dance performances to reality shows (America's Got Talent has been filmed here). Newark is also home to the fifth-largest cathedral in North America. The imposing Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart is an imposing French Gothic Revival cathedral. During Christmas, hundreds of candles are lit on the inside, reflecting off of the stain glassed windows. It is a sight to behold as much today as it was in 1954 when construction completed.

Any of these attractions and activities in Newark will make you see the true heart and soul of New Jersey.


"The only thing that you absolutely have to know," said Albert Einstein, "is the location of the library." Although the physical locations of books may be less popular with the invention of tablets, libraries still hold clout and intrigue as well as thousands of books. Rutger's-Newark's main library is named for library pioneer John Cotton Dana who they refer as "The First Citizen of Newark." The Institute of Jazz studies on the fourth floor houses one of the largest jazz collections in the world. Available by appointment only, you can even view a trumpet belonging to Dizzy Gillespie. Plus, there are all those books to leaf through.

The New Jersey Historical Society and Museum is aptly named. Housed in the former headquarters of the Essex club, it was founded in 1845 by intellectual and business leaders of New Jersey. Although it was originally in Trenton it only took one year to move to Newark and stay there for good. The Georgian style building has been added to the National Register of Historic Places. The physical records in the museum display the good and the bad of New Jersey's past and present. From a letter penned by a New Jersey born WWII soldier to a silver tankard crafted in 1767, this society encourages others to appreciate the roots of New Jersey.

Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art, is different from most of the art galleries you have probably been to, in that the walls are hung with artists who are not yet famous. Aljira as a word comes from the Australian Aboriginal word for dreamtime, and it is a place dedicated to making artistic dreams come to life. Emerging and under-represented artists are showcased, while public understanding is strengthened through community-based educational programming. Guest curators bring their hearts and souls to refreshing exhibitions, from giant murals to gory portraits. Saturdays occasionally bring jazz concerts to expand your cultural repertoire even further.


Glassroots declares that they can forge lives through fire and glass. Lest you scoff, this nonprofit New Jersey initiative is ready to prove you wrong. It is a youth-serving glass studio that welcomes students who don't do as well in traditional school environments. They have workshops to bring out the artist in anyone, from ladies night flameworking to sweetheart sandblast around Valentine's Day. Rather than shopping for an item, you can make an item that you are proud to display in your home. If you do prefer to leave the artistry to the professionals, it is possible to buy bowls, vases and other items on their website.

Located in Newark's Downtown Arts District, this huge multifaceted museum features 80 galleries of art and natural science exhibits. The extensive collection includes Native American, Asian, and African arts and artifacts, as well as the largest exhibit of Tibetan art in the Western Hemisphere. A planetarium, sculpture garden, and restored 1885 mansion are just some of the other highlights. Admission to The Alice and Leonard Dreyfuss planetarium is charged in addition to the museum admission. A shop carrying gifts and jewelry from around the world is located inside the museum open during museum hours. Numerous special programs and events are offered throughout the year.

This downtown park seems to be the hub of activity in Newark, particularly on a blue-skied day. A dramatic revitalization took this once decaying space and pepped it up with a new restaurant, beautiful gardens and farmer's markets. A weekly program includes everything from Yoga to Zumba to Meditation classes. The imagination playground is a huge hit with kids and adults can stimulate their own brains with a rousing game of chess or a lecture from a distinguished speaker. Be sure to see the Wars of America statue, an enormous bronze of 42 humans and 2 horses. Set on a base of granite, it was erected 8 years after WWI ended and is a source of great pride for locals.

Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart

If you haven't had the opportunity to view European architecture first thing, Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark comes pretty darn close. From the moment you walk into the sanctuary, you notice the Rose Window, which is 37 feet in diameter and one of the most beautiful and encompassing visual displays in the entire cathedral. Thankfully, the French Gothic architecture has been preserved. You can feel the sanctity reverberating all around you when the organ sounds clearly throughout this magnificent building. A regular schedule of concerts is offered, and the cathedral shop features recordings of some of them.

This multi-purpose indoor arena has only been open since 2007, but has quickly made great strides. Home to the NHL's New Jersey Devils and the NCAA's Seton Hall Pirates men's basketball, it can hold up to 18,711 rowdy fans. It has been nicknamed as "The Rock" after the corporate logo of Prudential Financial, the Rock of Gibraltar. Located in Newark's central Business district, just two blocks from Newark's Penn Station, the venue has also hosted the nation's largest gospel music competition (Gospelfest) as well as greats like Bruce Springsteen, Janet Jackson and Rihanna. Some say that the Prudential Center has played a major role in the revitalization of downtown Newark.

Designed by the Olmstead brothers firm in 1900, this park encompasses 360 acres and is about four miles long. Wandering paths, a lake, and winding streams feature predominantly, but perhaps the crowning glory of Branch Brook Park is its cherry trees. It is the largest collection of cherry trees in the United States. Thousands flock to the park's annual Cherry Blossom Festival, held during peak bloom time in April. They also enjoy playgrounds, ballfields, tennis, a roller rink, and the Saturday morning Farmers' and Community Market, which operates from mid-August to late October. Branch Brook Park is listed on both the state and National Historic Registers.

This ultra-modern art center houses the 2,750-seat Prudential Hall and the 500-seat Victoria Theater. It plays host to an array of annual cultural events and arts programming, including concerts by the esteemed New Jersey Symphony, the Vienna Boys Choir and even Jerry Seinfeld (although he didn't sing). The NJPAC also offers two on-site dining options: Nico Kitchen and Bar, celebrity chef's Ryan DePersio's "Italian without borders" concept, and Tier 3 Cafe's buffet style dining option at less than $25 a person. In 2012, the arts centre commenced its own jazz festival in tribute to Newark native James Moody. Enjoy outdoor concerts for free all summer long.


Meet Courtney Sunday

Courtney Sunday has lived in England, Switzerland, Canada and the US, finding her way into the professions of freelance writing and yoga teaching in between travel opportunities. She learned...  More About Courtney