New York Newb

Our neighborhood guide for New York is broken down by borough (with the Manhattan guide cut in half) and on each page you’re guided by area.  New York City isn’t homogenous.  Each neighborhood is known for something slightly different than the others.  While it’s all part of New York, some areas can have you feeling like you’re in a nice, quiet suburb.  The same goes for other neighborhoods, which can leave you feeling like you just trudged through a war zone.  This isn’t the thorough, end-all be-all guide to NYC, but it is designed to give you a sense of the atmosphere of each neighborhood, as well as a few points of interest.

Guides and Tips

Neighborhoods    |    Traffic    |    Trains    |    Safety    |    Social    |    Homeless    |    Pro-Tips

Manhattan - On the East Side

East Harlem - From 96th Street up to the water, Fifth Avenue to the river

East Harlem has it’s own flavor to it, distinct and much more Spanish than Harlem.  You can see the process of gentrification clearly on everyone as they watch the tell-tale signs of a changing environment going up like Starbucks and rent hikes.

  1. Surprise! Central Park is still here too.

  2. From Amor Cubano on 111th to Creole on 118th, good food is all around.

  3. On 103rd, you can walk over the Ward’s Island bridge to Ward’s Island.

  4. Marcus Garvey Park is up on 120th, straddling the east and west sides of the island.

The Upper East Side - From 59th to 96th Street, from Fifth Avenue to the river

The upper east side finds a way to balance an air of snobbery with actual utility for city residents looking to have fun, dine, and see cool stuff.

  1. Central Park
    Central Park, also an inhabitant of the west side of the island, is pretty self-explanatory.  From the zoo and the cafe to the stage, the lawn, the ice-skating rink and the obelisk, you can get lost for hours and cannot see everything in one go.  Just make sure not to stay in the park alone late at night, it isn’t safe when it’s dark.
  2. Museums abound stretching along both sides of the park.  The east side harbors the Met, the Guggenheim, and plenty of lesser museums.  Make sure to visit the Egyptian exhibit at the Met (and its accompanying obelisk outside).

  3. Hunter College has their own 6 train stop on 68th Street.  If you’re a student, it might be good to know that your school is over here.

  4. 86th Street has plenty of life to it, and deserves a walk from the train to the park at least.

Midtown: East Side - 34th Street to 59th, Fifth Avenue to the water

Midtown on the east side is an eclectic mix of the Gramercy and Downtown atmospheres.  Unless you work here you can pretty much skip this neighborhood, besides the UN and Grand Central there isn’t anything too heart-stopping. Slightly more happening than downtown but slightly less exciting than Gramercy, it is the second big lump of beautiful skyscrapers in the city.

  1. The United Nations
    The United Nations is out here far to the east.  If you want to see the capital of planet Earth, look no further.  If aliens ever land they’ll probably stop here to say hello first.  Aliens and protesters.
  2. Grand Central is an incredible, awe-inspiring transportation hub built into what feels like a cross between church and museum.  You will most likely frustrate plenty of commuters by standing in the middle of everything just admiring how cool it is, but this is one situation where it’s permissible and everyone expects it.  Take a second to enjoy it before you realize how expensive that snack is that you’re about to buy.

  3. St. Patricks Cathedral
    Saint Patrick’s Cathedral is awesome if you’re Catholic, but still cool even if you aren’t.  Bring a camera that takes good pictures in dark lighting if you need to, just don’t use the flash (that would be such a hardcore party-foul).
  4. While it’s a little north and far east of the real Midtown, I added the Queensboro bridge to things to do here because you can walk over it, and few people do.  Taking you into Queens, you can hike/cab/bus up into Astoria for some Greek cafe/club action if you’re into that, but admiring the city from bridges is always something you shouldn’t pass up.  You can also see Roosevelt Island from here, and watch people get stuck when they ride the tram on their way over.  Good times.

Gramercy - 14th Street to the late 20s, early 30s from Fifth Avenue to the water

This neighborhood is home to... umm... some CUNY buildings, a hospital, a theater and the Shake Shack.  It’s a pretty sanitized area devoid of much culture, but the architecture is just as pretty as the rest of the city.  Oh, and the Museum of Sex is in there somewhere too.  Despite it being composed of more than ten short blocks in length, it somehow only takes 10-15 minutes to walk straight through Gramercy without ever realizing you were there.

  1. Madison Square Park is a very nice park hugging Fifth Avenue where people take their lunch breaks to stand in line at the Shake Shack.  Good food and great shakes.

  2. 28 East 20th Street is home to the birthplace of Teddy Roosevelt.  Came across that one day on a lunch break.  That’s New York... lunch break -> discover the most gangster president’s birthplace.  Keep in mind that the building is not the original building, which was torn down in 1916, however; they rebuilt it just for us to tour.

  3. Chop’t has good salad on 17th; Chat N Chew has your diner/shake/burger experience on 16th Street.  Both are just west of Union Square, but not past 5th Avenue.

  4. Beth Israel Medical Center is over here, so if you were looking for some place to get treatment for those sores you haven’t told anyone about, you might want to stop by here.

  5. One of the best theaters in the city is here at Kips Bay from 30th to 33rd on Second Avenue.  Huge, clean place.  So if paying extravagant sums of money to watch remakes of old movies (they play all the current movies not just horrible remakes so don’t worry) suits your fancy, you’ve found a great spot to check out.

St. Marks and Avenue A

The East Village - Houston to 14th Street, Broadway to Alphabet City

The east village used to be an amalgam of good music, rats, community gardens, heroin and homelessness (there was other stuff too, but who cares).  Over time, the east village has converted into a slightly cleaner, much safer nightlife extraordinaire with more bars and restaurants than you can consume.  Here, we’ll try to ignore the trend-of-the-month fetishes like Pizza-By-Weight and Thimble-Sized-Cupcakes to focus on what makes it great in the east village.  Just do me one favor, and stop using words like Nolita until it’s considered normal a few years from now.  Every time I hear someone say that I want to ask which tourist map they heard that from.  Nolita?  Ugh.

  1. St. Marks - formerly a punk rock street filled with excellent scoundrels.  Now it’s a mix of restaurants and regular bars.  Go for the vendors and funny t-shirts that make you look stupid, stay for Crif Dogs, Grassroots, and La Palapa.
  2. Avenue A - plenty of bars and plenty of restaurants.  Less in-your-face themed than St. Marks, Avenue A hosts many decent places to eat and more than enough to drink.  Walking up, make sure to grab drinks at Sophie’s for your dive bar plus jukebox fix (assuming it’s working), Cherry Tavern for cheap Tecate, Hi-Fi for a fair happy hour and a history lesson on Brownie’s, and BarOnA across the street for a quieter atmosphere and perhaps a burlesque show (?!).

  3. Astor Place - Astor place has a giant, rotating cube in the center, making it tough to miss.  Here’s your ticket to NYU, Broadway for shopping and the best haircutters in the city (Astor Place Haircutters, I love your factory style).

  4. Parks - Washington Square Park used to be awesome, but has gone into permaconstruction mode.  Thompkins Square park, known for the Thompkins Square Riots, is one of those few places where you’ll find all types of people from Shady to Skater and from Hipster to Sunbather.  Union Square - the last major park of the East Village - is pretty full for it’s offerings. Street art, chess players relocated from Washington Square, a stable farmers market and people sitting on steps make it a great place to hang out.

The Lower East Side - Houston to Delancy, Bowery (3rd Avenue) to Essex, maybe Clinton if you’re adventurous

Hipster bars, Hipster stores and Katz Overpriced Deli.  Trust-fund children live here when they’re able to afford the high-life.  Best route here is from to walk west on Houston and turn right onto Ludlow. 

  1. Ludlow - some cool bars on this street if you’re alright with trendy clothes and trashy people.  Go down Ludlow, grab a drink at Pianos and marvel at how cool everyone is, then either get a bite to eat at San Loco (just west of Pianos) or head down to The Delancy (on, surprise, Delancy) to fight for a rooftop seat or watch a good band play.

  2. The center is in the nightlife here.  In terms of live music, three of the better clubs in the city are here... Mercury Lounge, The Delancy and Arlene’s Grocery.  Bowery Ballroom is right next door on Delancy and Bowery.

Little Italy - Houston to Delancy, mostly on Mulberry Street

It’s all about Mulberry Street.  One of the few places in the city where each restaurant employs a go-getter to catch passersby and bring them in to eat.

  1. In the summer, Mulberry hosts a street festival over the weekend afternoons and evenings.  All of the restaurants are on full parade to try to bring you in and the dessert shop near Delancy rocks with awesomeness and a resident cat.

  2. Beyond the food, the atmosphere is always lively during the summer festival days.  With jesters in dunking games, plenty of contests and insanely intimidating Italian guys guarding miscellaneous buildings while smoking cigars, it’s a New York experience that has to be enjoyed.  Before it all becomes part of Chinatown.

Chinatown - Technically south of Canal from Broadway to the East River, it’s quickly expanding to engulf the rest of Manhattan.  Fake Chinatown (where you see the McDonalds in Chinese and all the vendors) is on Canal Street from around Broadway to Bowery -> 3rd Avenue.  Real Chinatown is between Grand Street and Catherine Street, mostly from Bowery to the river but also everything south of Little Italy that isn’t a jail or courthouse.

  1. Canal Street - uh oh, being on Canal Street automatically makes you a tourist!  It doesn’t matter, you’re not here to ogle at languages older than any other existing civilization, you came to Canal Street because you want to buy sunglasses and the like.  Knock-offs are worth it and here you can get any style of sunglasses, bags and whatever you want for next-to-nothing.  They’re cheap and will certainly break within six months, but who cares?  You can buy five or ten pairs before you get to the price of regular sunglasses! Just south of Canal on Lafayette, you’ll find an awesome Chinese restaurant where the dumplings rock.  If you don’t speak Mandarin or Cantonese, look at the pictures in the menu and point to what you want.  Easy, isn’t it?

  2. Real Chinatown - I call it “Real Chinatown” because it definitely isn’t made for tourists.  If you get off the F train on East Broadway and walk towards the Manhattan Bridge, you’ll come across the real deal.  What’s that?  Street signs in Chinese?!  Yup.  Ninety percent of store signs are in Chinese?  Bingo.  Dead (and sometimes living) fish in huge crates in front of stores? Check.  Different menus for Westerners?  Ta-da!  You’re in Chinatown.  If you want cheap fruits and vegetables, you can’t beat the prices here as long as you thoroughly, thoroughly wash before eating.  Check out the best dumpling shacks in the city on Eldridge Street (turn right immediately prior to the Manhattan Bridge while on East Broadway).  Great Chinese pastries can be found on East Broadway too, as well as inexpensive clothes in the malls that reside within the bridge itself.  If you walk up Catherine and cross Bowery, you’ll find some great Asian restaurants including good Peking Duck, among other authentic dishes from Shanghai to Vietnam.

Downtown - South of Worth Street

Downtown is lively and bustling during the daytime and a ghost-town at night.  Tourists might drive you crazy when you’re rushing to get your lunch but seeing tourist groups grope the bull by it’s masculinity makes up for your troubles.

  1. Battery Park - From here you can catch the Statue of Liberty ferry, or see the statue for free (from a distance) by riding the Staten Island Ferry.  Battery Park is home to memorials to the Holocaust, the Korean war and the Merchant Marines, among others.  After September 11th, it was turned into a military camp.  Quite surreal seeing army vehicles and tents in the park, but now that’s all over and it’s been recaptured by the homeless and downtown joggers.

  2. Canyon of Heroes - On Broadway from Battery Park to City Hall, this is the Canyon of Heroes where they host ticker-tape parades.  If any sports team (and by that I mean the Yankees) wins a World Series, your attendance at the parade is required.  It’s worth it even if you aren’t a fan of whoever they’re throwing it for, just to see the stream of ticker-tape flowing from the sky.  You’ll also find The Bull down here, and marvel at the artistic accuracy in it’s physical appearance... it’s junk is ridiculously large.
  3. WTC/City Hall - The World Trade Center site doesn’t have much to behold, so there isn’t too much to gather from going, however; right next to it is Century 21 for shopping and a really old church where an extraordinary number of famous people are buried.  From here, head back up to Broadway to catch City Hall, the Brooklyn Bridge entrance and further down Lafayette/Centre Street you’ll find the Supreme Court buildings where they always film Law and Order, and every other show that involves a courthouse.

  4. You have to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge at least once if you live out here, but that should be pretty easy when the next blackout or MTA strike happens.  Watch which lane is marked for pedestrians versus which lane is marked for bicycles.  Bikers get pretty pissed when they have to swerve to avoid crushing you.
  5. Seaport is located on the east side of the island, just south of the Brooklyn Bridge off of Fulton Street.  It’s a great little mall with hustle and bustle on the boardwalk. Here you can shop, but really it’s just a cool place to visit, eat, look at the Brooklyn Bridge, see some old ships, and rest before your next stop.