As with all large cities, Manhattan consists of many distinct neighborhoods, each with its own character. The following is a partial list (in alphabetical order):
- Battery Park City
- East Village
- Financial District
- Fort George
- Greenwich Village
- Hell’s Kitchen
- Harlem (includes East Harlem, Harlem, Spanish Harlem)
- Koreatown (Manhattan)
- Little Italy
- Lower East Side
- Marble Hill
- Murray Hill
- Roosevelt Island
- Upper East Side and Upper West Side
- Washington Heights
The triangle below Canal Street, TriBeCa for short, is a neighborhood that has been recycled from a manufacturing and warehouse district into a community of art galleries and some of the best restaurants in town.
Just to the west of the triangle is the Woolworth Building, St. Paul’s Chapel, City Hall, and the imposing Municipal Building behind it, where you go to get married “at City Hall.” On Chambers Street, the Surrogate’s Court is modeled on the Paris Opera, and around the corner is Foley Square, dominated by the United States Courthouse and the New York County Courthouse.
If there is any joy connected with jury duty, it is having lunch nearby in Chinatown, the largest Asian community in North America, where there are hundreds of restaurants ranging from dim sum parlors to places where you can enjoy a banquet at any time of the day or night.
There are also exotic shops and food stalls to explore.
The blocks south of Houston (pronounced HOW-ston) and north of Canal streets are the city’s largest concentration of cast-iron fronted buildings, built as warehouses and manufacturing spaces, but converted to living spaces, called “lofts,” for artists and sculptors who appreciated the elbow room.
The area quickly filled with art galleries, restaurants, and fashionable shops and just as quickly by people with deep pockets who decided that if SoHo was a nice place to visit, it was a nicer place to live.
The neighborhood became too upscale for starving artists who moved to less costly neighborhoods like DUMBO (down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass) and Williamsburg, Brooklyn. But SoHo is still a center of creativity although now, in addition to its art galleries, people are drawn by its trendy boutiques and restaurants.
It is named SoHo because it is the area South of Houston Street.
The heart of Little Italy is Mulberry Street. In the second half of the 19th century, NYC’s Italian immigration reached its peak, with several Italian parishes and an Italian-language newspaper. Today, there are fewer than 5,000 Italians living in Little Italy, but the heavenly aromas of the Italian bakeries and restaurants still waft around Mulberry and Grand Streets.
The filmmaker Martin Scorsese shot the classic Mean Streets in this neighborhood, but today it couldn’t be friendlier or safer!
Landmarks include Old St. Patrick’s Church and the Police Building. It’s a popular neighborhood, filled with Old World atmosphere and many excellent eateries, among them Umberto’s Clam House, Da Nico, Casa Bella, and Original Vincent’s.
Mid-September is a great time to visit for the most exciting annual event in the neighborhood, the ten-day Feast of San Gennaro. During this celebration, Mulberry Street is renamed Via San Gennaro and the shrines and relics of this saint are paraded through the streets – don’t be surprised to see the faithful pin dollar bills to the saint as he passes by – and the tantalizing smell of fried pastry and sausages fills the air. The crowds enjoy Italian foods of all types, rides, games, entertainment, and audience-participation singing and dancing. Tarantella, anyone?
Not so long ago, only a few noteworthy shops dotted the landscape east of Broadway in Lower Manhattan. The neighborhood known as NoLIta, or North of Little Italy, seemed quaint, a living postcard of narrow streets, mom-and-pop stores, and reasonable rent.
Then, during the mid 1990s, many designer refugees from celebrity-clogged, high-rent SoHo and TriBeCa fled eastward and turned tiny pizzerias and shoe repair shops into shops to purvey their creations.
By 1999, a number of low-attitude boutiques blossomed on Mulberry, Mott, and Elizabeth Streets, offering gorgeous one-of-a kind, designer goodies – bejeweled and embroidered purses, rainbow-colored shawls, hand-tooled boots, and custom-designed jewelry.
South of Canal Street lies bustling Chinatown, which has over the years expanded into the Lower East Side and Little Italy. The largest Asian community in North America can be found among the narrow streets between Worth and Hester and East Broadway and West Broadway; its main street is Canal Street.
Within these boundaries, you’ll find traditional Chinese herbal-medicine shops, acupuncturists, food markets filled with amazing varieties of fish and exotic vegetables, funky pagoda-style buildings, stores selling all manner of items from beautiful jewelry and silk robes to hair accessories and plumbing parts, and hundreds of restaurants serving every imaginable type of Chinese cuisine, from dim sum to fried noodles to extravagant Cantonese, Hunan, Mandarin, or Szechuan banquets.
The many signs in Chinese, the music pouring into the streets from open windows, the delicious smells from the restaurants, noodle shops and tea houses packed side by side, and the sound of the language swirling around you make it easy to feel like you’ve flown half way around the world in the short time it took to get downtown.
Although the neighborhood is known for its excellent Chinese cuisine, perhaps one of its more secret highlights is the Eastern States Buddhist Temple on Mott Street.
Step inside – your spirit will be refreshed, and your eyes will be delighted by the sight of 100 golden Buddhas shimmering in the candlelight. Frequent festivals and parades (especially during the January and February Chinese New Year celebrations, when paper puppet dragons, firecrackers, and beating drums rule the streets!), as well as the galleries and curio shops create a glorious celebration of Chinese culture.
Roosevelt Island is a long, narrow island in the East River in New York. It was earlier named Blackwell’s Island, then renamed Welfare Island and devoted to hospitals and asylums.
In recent years the island has been developed as a residential community with a number of high-rise apartment buildings; the long-term care facilities remain at the southern end of the island.
Roosevelt Island is connected to Manhattan by subway and aerial tramway, and to Long Island City in Queens by a short bridge and by subway. The Roosevelt Island Tramway, although also interesting for tourists, is claimed to be the only aerial tramway in North America directed mainly at commuters.
The Tram to Roosevelt Island
60th. & Second Ave
Spectacular views from tram linking Manhattan and Roosevelt Island. Visit the island’s historic landmarks. Parks/recreation, waterfront promenades, sculpture center.
Greenwich Village – also known as the West Village or the Village – is more upscale than the East Village and is the original corner of cool, the closest any American neighborhood comes to a corner of Paris. This part of town has been home to artists and writers, nonconformists, entertainers, intellectuals, and bohemians since the turn of the 20th century. Downtown charm is personified in lots of low-rise townhouses, thumbnail size gardens, secret courtyards, and a wacky serpentine layout of streets.
Washington Square Park and the rows of townhouses around it with charming alleys behind them are all frozen in time. The park, with its arch famous from much movie exposure, is the heart of the Village. This 9 ½ -acre park at the foot of Fifth Avenue is an oasis and circus combined, where skate boarders, jugglers, stand-up comics, sitters, strollers, sweethearts, chess players, fortune tellers, and daydreamers converge and commune.
Washington Mews and Mac Dougal Alley are quiet cobblestone lanes right off the square. Legendary streets such as McDougal, Astor Place, and Bleecker (famous Beat and hippie hangouts) are lined with super-hip boutiques, delis displaying esoteric beers from around the globe, and cafes and restaurants of all stripes.
It makes sense that New York University is in the Village, an area that has been home to some of the world’s most famous writers and artists including Henry James, Edith Wharton, Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Eugene O’Neill, Norman Rockwell, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, and Beat writers Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
At night, Greenwich Village comes alive with sounds from late-night coffeehouses, cafés, experimental theaters, and music clubs. Bars and restaurants ad infinitum serve everything from cranberry martinis and celestial sushi to pita-wrapped shwarma. Searching for the soul of the Beat generation? At fabled coffeehouses like Caffe Reggio and Café Figaro, you can order a double espresso or cappuccino and pretend for a few minutes that you’re Allen Ginsberg, Jack Keruouac, or William Burroughs.
The Village is home to a large community of gays and lesbians. Across 7th Avenue is Christopher Street, site of a historic clash (in front of the Stonewall bar) in 1969 between city police and gay men, marking the beginning of the gay rights movement.
During the 19th century, millionaires like the Astors and Vanderbilts had homes in East Village, but the waves of Irish, German, Jewish, Polish, and Ukrainian immigrants who flooded into New York City in the 1900s soon displaced the elite, who moved uptown.
Since then, the area has been home to the Beat generation of the 1950s, hippies in the 1960s, and punks in the late 1970s and 1980s. Today it’s still a young person’s neighborhood, with its experimental music clubs and theaters and cutting-edge fashion.
New York University is in the area, so there’s no shortage of clientele here. Foodies take note: this neighborhood reputedly contains the most varied assortment of ethnic restaurants in New York City, from the crush of Indian eateries on the south side of East Sixth Street (sometimes called “Little Bombay”) to McSorley’s Old Ale House, a pub that seems unchanged since it first opened in 1854. Nearby, in what was once the home of the Astor Library, the restored Public Theater has been the opening venue for many now-famous plays.
For more trend-setting street life, head east toward Alphabet City (named for avenues A, B, C, and D)- still a little rough around the edges but with many reasonably priced, fun, and gamut-running places to eat, drink, and shop…and, if you’re really getting into the scene, some very cool tattoo parlors.
A haven from the pressure of classes at New York University, students regularly gather around the Alamo at Astor Place. The Alamo is a 15-ft (4.5m) steel cube designed by Bernard Rosenthal that revolves when pushed. Cooper Union, a school that holds many interesting public lectures and exhibits, was established in 1859 just in time for Abraham Lincoln to make a campaign speech in its auditorium.
Today, Blue Man Group performs its popular Tubes Off-Broadway audience-participation performance art extravaganza at the Astor Place Theater.
Lower East Side
This is New York’s landmark historic Jewish neighborhood, which was once the world’s largest Jewish community. It was here that the New York garment industry began. Today it is one of New York’s favorite bargain beats, where serious shoppers find fantastic bargains (especially along Orchard Street on a Sunday afternoon), cutting-edge new designers, and hot bars and music venues – and possibly the best place to get a great pastrami sandwich, pickles out of a barrel, and the world’s best bialys!
Try Katz’s Delicatessen (205 East Houston St.), the oldest and largest real NY deli, founded in 1888. Bounded by Houston Street, Canal Street, and the FDR Drive, the neighborhood’s center is Orchard Street.
Once a Jewish wholesale enclave, this street is a true multicultural blend, with trendy boutiques, French cafés, and velvet-roped nightspots sprinkled among dry-goods discounters, Spanish bodegas, and mom-and-pop shops selling everything from T-shirts to designer fashions to menorahs. Orchard is lined with small shops purveying clothing and shoes at great prices.
Grand, Orchard, and Delancey Streets are treasure troves for linens, towels, and other housewares, and the traditional Sunday street vendors (Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, is observed by many shopkeepers as a day of rest) offer great opportunities to hone your bargaining skills! At Shapiro’s Winery visitors can taste one of their 32 flavors of wine, and at Streit’s bakery, matzoh mavens can sample the freshly baked unleavened bread as it rolls off the conveyor belts behind the counter.
Upper East Side
From the Plaza Hotel at the edge of Central Park at 59th Street to the top of Museum Mile at El Museo del Barrio at 105th Street, this is the city’s Gold Coast. The neighborhood air is perfumed with the scent of old money, conservative values, and glamorous sophistication, with Champagne corks popping and high society puttin’ on the Ritz.
On the corner of Lexington and 59th Street is Bloomingdale’s – one of the NYC shopping icons, a beloved sanctuary for stylish consumers. On Madison Avenue, window shopping can be intoxicating: so many tempting boutiques, so many famous names to flaunt on everything from socks to shoes to satin sheets to chocolates.
Between Lexington and Madison Avenues, Park Avenue is an oasis of calm with wide streets meant for strolling, lovely architecture, and a median strip that sprouts tulips in season and sculptures at other times of the year. Railroad tracks ran in this median before World War I. This grand street stretching down to midtown is one of our city’s most coveted residential addresses.
Once Manhattan’s Millionaire’s Row, the stretch of Fifth Avenue between 72nd and 104th Streets has been renamed Museum Mile because of its astonishing number of world-class cultural institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum. This stretch is lined with the former mansions of the Upper East Side’s more illustrious industrialists and philanthropists.
The neighborhood is a cornucopia of treasures, including the intimate Frick Collection, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the National Academy of Design’s 19th 20th-century collections of American Art, the Jewish Museum’s Gothic-style mansion bursting with artwork and ceremonial objects tracing over 4,000 years of history, and the graceful Cooper-Hewitt Museum (now officially the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Design). An added attraction to strolling along Fifth and Park Avenues are the many fascinating non-museum displays on view to the careful observer, especially in the evenings, many apartments keep their window treatments open, so it’s possible to get a discreet peek inside the posh residences and maybe pick up a decorating idea or two.
And speaking of neighbors, the mayor lives up here too, but not in Gracie Mansion. Gracie Mansion, the usual mayoral abode, is a historic house on 88th Street and East End Avenue overlooking the East River and surrounded by a waterfront park.
Central Park lines Fifth Avenue. Go into “the yard” and discover a zoo, a castle, a reservoir, an an ice-skating rink, a boathouse where you can rent rowboats, a gorgeous “secret” conservatory garden, and plenty of trails for walking, jogging, bicycling, and horseback riding. It’s a park for all seasons, from ice skating in winter to free, summertime performances of Shakespeare’s plays and concerts on the Great Lawn that crescendo to dazzling displays of fireworks. After the show, you could head over to the bar at one of the neighborhood’s tony hotels, like The Mark or The Carlyle.
A Mecca for African-American culture and life for more than a century, Harlem started out as Nieuw Haarlem, a prosperous Dutch farming settlement. By the turn of the 20th century, black New Yorkers started moving uptown into Harlem’s apartment buildings and town houses.
The neighborhood prospered and by the 1920s, Harlem had become the most famous black community in the United States, perhaps in the whole world.
The Harlem Renaissance, generally regarded as occurring between 1919 and 1929, was Harlem’s golden era, when local writers such as Zora Neale Hurston, W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, and Ralph Ellison achieved literary recognition.
The Depression hit hard here, but happily, today the neighborhood is well on the way to new glory days: young people and families are moving into the newly restored brownstone and limestone buildings, and the combination of architectural treasures, crackling vitality (even Bill Clinton chose Harlem for his post-presidential office!), great music and culture, and honest-to-goodness, lip-smacking soul food make Harlem a must-see destination.
Harlem is safe to explore on your own but there are a number of tour companies that will happily show you around.
Harlem’s main thoroughfare is 125th Street.
The Apollo Theatre, a concert venue for luminaries as well as a rite of passage for rising musicians, is on 125th Street. Count Basie, Bessie Smith, Nat King Cole, Marvin Gaye, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Aretha Franklin have all played here and past winners of its weekly, wild and crazy amateur night include Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, and the Jackson Five.
The high-energy production Harlem Song, which rejoices in the astonishing creativity of Harlem from the 1920s to today, opened here in June 2002.
253 West 125th Street, New York City (Harlem)
The Apollo Theater is also a strong force in the Harlem community, hosting a number of special events, including health fairs, daily Apollo Historical Tours, community arts initiatives, and talent showcase competitions for seniors and for children.
Drawing 1.3 million visitors annually, Harlem is Manhattan’s third most popular tourist destination, and the Apollo remains Harlem’s top attraction.
Former Manhattan Borough President and attorney Percy Sutton purchased the Apollo Theater in 1981 and launched a spirited campaign which revived interest in the theater. In 1983, the Apollo Theater received national, state and city landmark status and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
It celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 1985 with a grand reopening gala and nationally broadcast television special Motown Salutes the Apollo.
The historic theater is now managed by The Apollo Theater Foundation, a non-profit organization founded in 1992.
The Studio Museum of Harlem is one of the community’s showplaces, housing a large collection of sculpture, paintings, and photographs and specializing in African American artists and artists of African descent.
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (part of the New York Public Library’s Division of Negro History) on Lenox Avenue, is an eye-popping literary treasure trove, comprising more than 5,000,000 books, documents, and photographs recording black history and more than 400 Black newspapers and 1,000 periodicals from around the world.
The Dance Theatre of Harlem, a world-class dance company, founded by Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook, is celebrating over 30 triumphant years.
The Harlem Week/Harlem Jazz & Music Festival is an annual summer festival with food tasting, art exhibits, concerts, seminars, music, street entertainment, sporting events, and an auto show. And don’t miss the The Greater Harlem Historic Bike Tour in early August.
The Urban World Film Festival takes place in August every year.
More things to do and see in Harlem
As Langston Hughes put it, “there is so much to see in Harlem,” and among other wonderful things to explore here are Hamilton Grange, the country estate of Alexander Hamilton;
Riverbank State Park, with its wonderful carousel and a spectacular view of the George Washington Bridge; the beautiful architecture ofCity College (CUNY) ; the lovely Row houses of Hamilton Heights (often called Sugar Hill) that have been home to Count Basie, Chief Justice Thurgood Marshall, and boxing great Sugar Ray Robinson.
And Striver’s Row (a reference to the upward mobility of the doctors, lawyers and other middle-class professionals who purchased homes here) on 138th and 139th Streets, an elegant row of early 20th-century town houses designed by famous period architects such as Sanford White.
Gospel Any day is a good one to come uptown, but Sundays are, for many, the best time to hear gospel singing at churches like the Gothic-style Abyssinian Baptist (where the charismatic Adam Clayton Powell once preached), Canaan Baptist, Salem United Methodist, and Metropolitan Baptist.
Visitors of all races and religions are given a warm welcome (remember to please dress appropriately for church). The New York Gospel Matinee is also a possibility.
Upper West Side
The Upper West Side is separated from the Upper East Side by Central Park. This is the traditional stronghold of the city’s intellectual, creative, and moneyed community, but the atmosphere is not as upper crust as the Upper East Side.
Elegant, pre-war buildings along the boulevards of Broadway, West End Avenue, Riverside Drive, and Central Park West meet shady, quiet streets lined with brownstones. Much of the area is protected by landmark status, and the neighborhood’s restored townhouses and high-priced co-op apartments are coveted by actors, young professionals, and young families.
The Upper West Side boasts an impressive list of “firsts”: The oldest Baptist congregation in the U.S. (founded 1753; First Baptist Church, Broadway and 79th St.); the oldest Spanish and Portuguese Jewish congregation in New York (established 1654; Congregation Shearith Israel, Central Park West and 70th St.); the world’s largest bible collection (American Bible Society, with 37,000 items); the first fireproof building in NYC (122 West 78th St., built by Rafael Guastavino in 1883); the oldest school in the U.S. (Collegiate School, West End Avenue and 77th St.; founded 1628); and the world’s largest carillon (the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Carillon, in Riverside Church, and the largest tuned bell, the “Bourdon”).
The famous Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts sits between 61st and 66th Streets on Broadway. It is home to the New York State Theater, New York City Ballet, the New York City Opera, the Metropolitan Opera House, Avery Fisher Hall, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the Vivian Beaumont Theater, Jazz At Lincoln Center, the Library and Museum of the Performing Arts, Alice Tully Hall for chamber music, and the world-famous Julliard School of Music. The Walter Reade Theater is the home of the center’s film society.
Its central plaza is the focus of summer outdoor performances of all kinds and dance nights (free salsa, tango or swing lessons, anyone?). In early winter, the Big Apple Circus pitches its tents here.
Sidewalks in this neighborhood are always crowded during the day with performers rushing to auditions and families pushing their babies in imported strollers. In the evenings, however, the action moves inside, where singles mingle in myriad restaurants and bars. Stroll along Columbus Avenue to investigate the glitzy boutique-and-restaurant strip; walk along Amsterdam Avenue with its mix of bodegas, bars, and boutiques. Along Central Park West are such titanic habitats as the buff colored, castle-like Dakota, where John Lennon was killed and Yoko Ono still lives (respects may be paid across the street in Central Park’s Strawberry Fields memorial). Other interesting architectural jewels along the avenue include The Lanhgam (a 1920s Italian Renaissance-style high rise); the twin-towered San Remo (home sweet home over the years to such luminaries as Rita Hayworth, Dustin Hoffman, Paul Simon, and Diane Keaton); and The Kenilworth, with its impressive pair of ornate front columns, once the home of Michael Douglas.
Cultural attractions include the dinosaur-filled American Museum of Natural History and Rose Center for Earth and Space, the New-York Historical Society (whose collection reaches from the 1600s to today), and the Children’s Museum of Manhattan.
Dining choices include two of the city’s most beautiful restaurants – the romantic Café des Artistes and fantastical Tavern on the Green, plus a mind-boggling variety of cafés and restaurants along Columbus Avenue, serving everything from deli sandwiches to burritos to haute cuisine.
Venturing further uptown one finds the world’s largest gothic Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, Columbia University, Grant’s Tomb, Riverside Church, Audubon Terrace (home of the Hispanic Society), and the Morris-Jumel Mansion, a colonial treasure. For greenery, Riverside Park is a real haven.
The only state park situated on Manhattan Island, this 28-acre multi-level park rises 69 feet above the Hudson. Keep going, just past the George Washington Bridge, to the very tip of the island, and you will discover the Cloisters, which houses the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s medieval art collection. In Fort Tryon Park, the Cloisters displays the famous unicorn tapestries and other 12th-16th century treasures.