Can’t tell Gramercy Park from the Greenwich Village? If you’re confused about Manhattan neighborhoods, you’re not alone. To know New York, you need to know New York neighborhoods—and this guide can help.
Read on to learn which Manhattan neighborhoods are worth a visit on your next trip to the Big Apple.
Don't Miss: Top Tours in New York City
You can’t visit Manhattan without visiting Midtown, its skyscraper-filled central business district. Here you’ll find major sights such as the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, and, of course, Times Square. The grime and grunge of Times Square were washed off by the early 1990s, making it a family destination and headquarters for the likes of Conde Nast and Reuters, along with hundreds of other companies. Times Square is most famous for flashy neon advertising signs, Broadway theaters, and the New Year’s Eve ball drop. Be warned: With more pedestrian traffic than anywhere else in North America, parts of Midtown can be wall-to-wall people.
The Financial District is home to high finance, power breakfasts, and most of Manhattan’s history. Head up the steps to the Federal Hall National Memorial, across from the Stock Exchange, to see where George Washington accepted his presidency. In an area defined by skyscraper towers and narrow, cobblestone streets, standout American icons are the New York Stock Exchange, the Federal Reserve Bank, Trinity Church, St. Paul’s Chapel, the Canyon of Heroes (a section of lower Broadway, home to the famous ticker-tape parades), and—perhaps the most recognizable—the site of the lost World Trade Center. Visitors can read the names of the victims of the September 11 attacks at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, with its twin pools.
Chinatown is a sprawling blend of tiny, winding, cobblestone back streets—most of which are dotted with family-owned restaurants, ready to serve silky stuffed dumplings, Peking duck, and crispy shrimp any time of day. Head over to Division Street and East Broadway, both slicing under the Manhattan Bridge, for a part of Chinatown where tourists seldom tread. Some of the food you see for sale will be a complete mystery. Want a guide? Check out Chinatown tours from SmarterTravel’s sister site, Viator.
The city’s oldest residential neighborhood is Gramercy Park. From 24th Street to Union Square between Third and Fifth Avenues, it’s a walking paradise—particularly along Irving Place. The neighborhood is famous for Teddy Roosevelt (he was born at 28 East 20th Street), the Gramercy Park Hotel (11-year old John F. Kennedy lived there), and the National Arts Club, which is the city’s largest Victorian mansion. Pete’s Tavern also holds a place of honor as the city’s oldest bar, and O. Henry is said to have written “Gift of the Magi” there.
Greenwich Village is divided into the East Village and West Village. These days, you’ll find cool shops and 20-something haunts in the East Village. In the West Village, you’ll stroll narrow streets dotted with 19th-century brick Federal, Greek revival, and Italianate buildings. Don’t miss Bleecker Street for antique browsing and Bedford Street to see the neighborhood’s narrowest house at No. 75 1/2. Christopher Street’s Stonewall Inn (No. 53) was the site of the Stonewall Inn uprising in June 1969—considered the beginning of the modern gay rights movement. Check out Greenwich Village tours from Viator.
Between Chelsea and the West Village is the 150-year-old Meatpacking District. This style-setting Manhattan neighborhood overflows with “Sex and the City” types, drawn like magnets to the dozens of establishments that have opened there—including some of the latest, most trendy places to shop, dine, and drink. The High Line, a popular new park built along an elevated rail line, runs from the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street. The neighborhood is also home to the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Little Italy‘s streets are lined with 19th-century tenements and long-held traditions—and Mulberry Street is considered its heart. The hugely popular Feast of San Gennaro, which begins the first Thursday after Labor Day and lasts for 10 days, is a city favorite wherein Mulberry Street is transformed into fairgrounds filled with rides, games, music, and great food. Check out Little Italy tours.
A wonderful place to shop, stroll, and eat, the once-Bohemian area of Soho has been gentrified into one of the most expensive and chic Manhattan neighborhoods. (Keep your eyes open for incognito celebrities who live here.) Architecturally, however, Soho is quite distinct. Of particular note are historic, pre-Civil War, cast-iron buildings and sidewalks made of Belgian bricks (not cobblestone) and bottle glass. High-end furniture stores and fancy fashion boutiques—especially on West Broadway, Prince, Spring, and Mercer Streets—are great for browsing, and some of the city’s most elegant restaurants can be found along West Broadway and Spring Street. Check out Soho tours.
Adjacent to SoHo is Tribeca, where cobblestone streets are lined with smart shops, glorious art galleries, and some of the city’s best food stops, as well as cavernous, cast-iron-fronted warehouse loft apartments. The nightlife is nearly nonstop, plus the neighborhood has its own world-class film festival—the brainchild of actor Robert De Niro.
Upper East and West Sides
On either side of Central Park’s vast green lawns are the Upper West Side and the Upper East Side, two leafy (and wealthy) Manhattan neighborhoods. Notable sights on the Upper West Side include Lincoln Center, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, while the Upper East Side offers a panoply of museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Frick Collection, and the Guggenheim, among others.
Harlem is a combination of stylish cool and spirited visuals where gentrification is old news. The atmosphere along 125th Street is Maya Angelou meets Starbucks and Old Navy. During the 1920s, Harlem enjoyed its first golden age—the Harlem Renaissance—when jazz musicians such as Duke Ellington and Count Basie played in nightspots like the Cotton Club, Savoy Ballroom, and the Apollo Theater. Today, Harlem’s historic enclaves are still beautiful and are a constant reminder of the glory of the 1920s. Don’t miss Hamilton Grange (once the country estate of Alexander Hamilton) or the rowhouses in Sugar Hill, where Count Basie, Chief Justice Thurgood Marshall, and boxing champ Sugar Ray Robinson made their homes. Other draws are historic churches such as Abyssinian Baptist Church (where Adam Clayton Powell once preached). Check out Viator’s Harlem tours.
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—Original reporting by Theodore W. Scull