New York neighborhoods
The short stretch (55th Street to 59th Street, to be exact) that separates the Theater District from Central Park has a markedly different feel than its southern neighbor, as though the magical line of 55th Street separates the Times Square chaos from this more refined sector where Carnegie Hall, high-end shops and many a glitzy hotel hold court. Fortunately for Cheapos, though, there are a few affordable gems in the midst, offering convenience, comfort and that oh-so-coveted proximity to all things luxe.» See hotels in Central Park South.
Bordered by the West Village to the south and the Garment District to the north, Chelsea boasts a staggering concentration of art galleries. In addition, it's home to the Dia Center for the Arts, the Chelsea Art Museum, and the Joyce Theater—a Mecca for modern dance lovers.
Chelsea is also the epicenter of New York's gay scene, with countless businesses, ranging from nightclubs to yoga centers, catering to its vibrant gay community. Hip restaurants, swanky boutiques, and bars abound. However, at its heart, Chelsea is a residential area, characterized by long streets lined with century-old brownstones.
By the water you'll find the massive Chelsea Piers Sports and Entertainment Complex. Along with the usual gym facilities, Chelsea Piers houses an ice skating rink, golf club, bowling alley, and the city's best indoor rock-climbing wall.
The down and dirty East Village really isn't so down and dirty anymore. It used to be New York City's troubled teen—a hub for bad-boy rock-and-rollers and other rabble-rousers. But things took a turn in the late '80s and '90s: the homeless squatters were ousted from Tompkins Square Park, and the drug dealers were cleared from (most of) the street corners of Alphabet City—the area between avenues A and D.
Now it's all about NYU students, quirky shops, cheap food, raucous pubs, and sleek little bars. There's still a little edge left to the East Village. St. Marks Place, for example, has its share of freaks. Traces of the neighborhood's Ukrainian community remain, there's a cluster of back-to-back Indian restaurants, and quite a few eateries catering to Japanese expats.
History buffs should check out McSorley's, New York's oldest pub, and Cooper Union, the design college where Abraham Lincoln delivered an important anti-slavery speech in 1860.
Watch some intense b-ball at the caged courts on West Fourth Street. Munch on a seriously sweet cupcake from the Magnolia Bakery. Tap your feet to the offbeat at a not-so-smoky jazz club, and get your, uh, anything pierced on Eighth Street. Welcome to "the Village."
Running west from Lafayette Street and north to 14th Street, Greenwich Village is, in many ways, classic New York—brimming with history, culture, and lively characters. It's also home to New York University, which, despite having no conventional campus, completely permeates the area with its presence and purple flags. And there are more than enough cafes, used book shops, and cheap restaurants to accommodate its students. Washington Square Park attracts impromptu picnickers, street performers, vendors, dog lovers, and contemplative chess players. On weekend nights, Greenwich Village becomes a cacophonic melee as out-of-towners, bent on partying it up in the "real New York," and underage students fill up the bars and comedy clubs around Bleecker Street and MacDougal.
The West Village, which begins after Seventh Avenue, is one of the most charming places in Manhattan. Buildings are never more than a few stories high, and the narrow, diagonal, and dead-end streets offer a pleasant change from the rest of the grid-happy Manhattan. Gourmet food shops, stylish boutiques, intimate restaurants, beautiful brownstones, and leafy green trees round out the perks. For a little history with your hops grab a drink at the White Horse Tavern, made famous by Dylan Thomas, or at Chumley's, a former speakeasy.
The westernmost area of Midtown stretches from Eighth Avenue out to the Hudson River, bounded by 34th Street to the south and 59th Street to the north. Originally lush meadows that the Dutch had called "Bloemendael" (anglicized as "Bloomingdale"), the area's evocative name refers to its tumultuous history—through much of the 19th and 20th centuries—as a concrete jungle notorious for its crime, slaughterhouses, docks and tenements.
In the '50s the murderous "turf wars" raged on in the "West Side," even while the the musical they inspired ("West Side Story") snapped, sang and high-kicked a few blocks away. These days, many of the speakeasies that dominated in the Prohibition years have been replaced by chic eateries, and tenements have given way to luxury condos. But in the midst of this new glitz, Hell's Kitchen holds tight to some of its signature grit, as well it should—it's earned it.
Ah, gentrification. The Lower East Side, which extends southwest from the intersection of Bowery and Houston Street, is an area in flux. Since the 1800s, it's been a neighborhood of immigrants: starting with the Irish, Germans, Jewish, and Eastern Europeans, whose often unbearable living conditions are well-documented at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.
However, these days the LES is known more for its hipster denizens than anyone else. Beginning in the late 1980s grungy artist types started moving into the area. Fifteen years later the trendy masses followed, bringing their French bistros and funky boutiques with them. But don't be fooled by the 20-something fanfare. Walk a few blocks beyond the bars and newly renovated buildings, and you'll find that the neighborhood is much the same. Immigrants still form the bulk of LES residents, only now they come from China, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic.
The ever-expanding Chinatown and ever-shrinking Little Italy form the neighborhood's western border. The East Village is just north, while SoHo and the Financial District are in walking distance.
Midtown East begins at Fifth Avenue and works east toward the water, encompassing the residential (and reviving) Murray Hill along the way. More business-oriented than Midtown West, Midtown East is home to many of New York's biggest and best law firms, investment firms, publishing houses, and advertising agencies, which fill up the many skyscrapers linking the avenues.
Still, there are plenty of noteworthy tourist sights in Midtown East, including Grand Central Terminal, the United Nations headquarters, Trump Tower, the Chrysler Building, and St. Patrick's Cathedral. Midtown East is also somewhat of a shopping haven. The flagship Saks Fifth Avenue store is located here, as are Takashimaya, Chanel, Burberry, Calvin Klein, Niketown … Basically, if it isn't in Midtown East, then it's a few blocks north in the Upper East Side.
Not known for its nightlife, Midtown East is, at least, not dead after dark. Remember all those skyscrapers? Well their occupants begin to fill up Midtown East's bars, pubs, and steakhouses after office hours, keeping the neighborhood somewhat lively with suits, slacks, and skirts letting off steam. This neighborhood also offers easy access to Central Park and the many museums of the Upper East Side.
SoHo—South of Houston—once associated with bohemian artists, is now the territory of the wealthy and hip, as well as the designer stores, pricey boutiques, and swank restaurants they patronize. Prada? Agent Provacateur? Chanel? Check, check, and check! Now tour buses regularly patrol the area. And the chain stores on Broadway are slowly invading this upper-crust neighborhood.
Tribeca—the Triangle Below Canal—is still somewhat arty but increasingly filled with financial types who work in nearby Wall Street. On weekends, the area is best for brunching at a see-and-be-seen restaurant. Nighttime can seem somewhat desolate in parts, though hip shows at the Tribeca Grand or The Knitting Factory bring in music-loving New Yorkers.
Midtown West is chockablock with tourists sights, so it comes as no surprise that it's also packed with tourist-class hotels. Working west from Fifth Avenue to Eighth Avenue and stretching north from 37th Street to 55th Street, the Theater District is not only home to all the Broadway babies, but to Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, Bryant Park and the Museum of Modern Art. Whew!
And then there's Times Square—an entity within itself. Although most New Yorkers steer clear of this congested area, the neon lights, larger-than-life billboards, and wise-talking street vendors keep the visitors coming.
Once the provenance of political rallies and drug pushers, Union Square underwent a complete overhaul in the '80s and is now lined by trendy restaurants and giant chain stores, including the scene-y Coffee Shop.
Four times a week the park hosts the Greenmarket, where local vendors fill tents and stands with regionally produced products and organic vegetables. Union Square is one of the best people-watching spots in the city: New Yorkers flock to its steps and benches at the first sign of pleasant weather. Artists, avant-garde T-shirt vendors, and political activists are quick to follow.
Gramercy is an upscale area filled with elegant Victorian-style townhouses. The area garners its name from the serene Gramercy Park, built in 1831. Only residents of the surrounding square have keys to this private garden. Most visitors have to make due with admiring the greenery through its stately iron gates.
Staying in this area offers excellent subway access: the 4, 5, 6, N, R, and L are literally below Union Square. And it's an easy walk to the East Village, Greenwich Village, and the Garment District.
To some folks, the Upper East Side should be called the Upper Crust Side, drawing to mind ladies who lunch in Chanel and immaculately groomed poodles. This is not entirely undeserved. After all, the UES is one of the highest rent districts in the nation. It's home to Barneys, Bloomingdales, Cartier, and Sotheby's, as well as any number of the top designer stores along Madison and Lexington avenues. And the elegant brownstones and town houses nestled in the streets between Central Park east to Third Avenue, shelter some of the wealthiest families in the country.
It only makes sense, then that New York's Museum Mile is here, so close to so many of its donors. Along Fifth Avenue you'll find the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Frick Collection, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the Neue Gallery, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the Museum of the City of New York. The Whitney Museum of American Art is three blocks east. Oh, and don't forget about the park, which is right there too.
More laid-back, and allegedly more intellectual, than its East-Side cousin, the Upper West Side is a largely residential area, filled with tall apartment buildings and stately brownstones. This area, which begins at Columbus Circle and ends at Morningside Heights, is home to the Lincoln Center, the American Museum of Natural History, and Columbia University. However, one of its greatest attributes may be its borders: sandwiched between the iconic Central Park and leisurely Riverside Park, greenery is never more than a few blocks away.
Famous Harlem, whose importance as a historically African-American neighborhood cannot be matched, begins north of Morningside Heights. Despite its dangerous reputation, Harlem has become much safer... and much more popular with tourists.