An Insider's Guide to Manhattan
For many people, the borough of Manhattan IS New York City. Founded in 1683, the borough consists of Manhattan Island as well as a few small islands nearby. As the most densely populated of the five boroughs, Manhattan seems to have more than its fair share of economic, commercial and cultural attractions. Though it has the smallest land area of the five boroughs, Manhattan still has the third-largest population and is often considered to be the financial and cultural capital of the world. Attractions like Broadway, the Empire Station Building, and Time's Square all exist here, but that's only a small portion of the appeals of this tiny island. The real intrigue of Manhattan lies just below the surface in some of the places that tourists don't always make it to, the places that only an insider would know to visit.
We want you to have the best experience in Manhattan possible, so we've compiled this insider's guide of the top highlights of the ten most famous neighborhoods. If you use this resource to help you plan your trip, you'll be sure to travel through New York City like a local.
Whether your interests are urban green spaces or expansive shopping centers, you'll be sure to find something in this guide to help you have the fantastic time in Manhattan you are seeking.
Manhattan is a big place, but thankfully there are plenty of options for getting around. Below are some suggestions to help you explore, no matter what mode of transportation you choose to take.
By Plane: If you choose to fly into Manhattan, the closest airports are LaGuardia Airport and the John F. Kennedy International Airport.
By Train: The Amtrak runs to Pennsylvania Station, the main intercity railway station in Manhattan. From there, you can take numerous forms of transportation to get to the neighborhood you want to explore.
By Subway: The subway is easy to use and runs throughout New York City. A map of the main routes through Manhattan can be found here, and information about prices and passes is here.
By Taxi: Taxis are ubiquitous throughout New York City and are an ideal way to get around. They tend to be easy to hail, but if you prefer to call ahead, you can at (800) 609-8731.
By Foot: Each neighborhood within Manhattan is pedestrian friendly and you can cover most of the tourist areas by foot. To best get around, make sure the your phone is fully charged and comes equipped with a GPS, bring a paper map with you, or, better yet, ask a local for some directional help.
Regions of the Manhattan Borough
There are dozens of distinct neighborhoods within the Manhattan borough, all with their own vibes and attractions. This guide goes through ten of the most visited regions of the borough and shows you some of the highlights of each area and the places that you absolutely can't miss out on.
As one of Manhattan's most intriguing neighborhoods, Little Italy's history began when thousands of Italian immigrants flocked to the cheap tenant houses in the neighborhood during the 19th and 20th centuries. Along with their hopes for a better life, they brought with them their traditional customs, including a robust food culture that has taken on a life of its own in America. The neighborhood once made up over 50 square blocks but has since been diminished by over a third, both due to the dissolution of the Italian population in the neighborhood as well as the construction of Highway 15 through the center streets.
Even so, Little Italy lives on today as a smaller, though still culturally robust region that celebrates its heritage through enormous Italian flags and fragrant salamis in butcher shop windows, as well as plenty of pasta.
One notorious side of Little Italy was the amount of organized crime that took place there in the early 1900s. Some of the Italian Mafia's most powerful members were active in Little Italy, including Ignazio “The Wolf” Lupo, Michele “Big Mike” Miranda and John Gotti, to name a few. The fictional Corleone crime family from The Godfather fame also called Little Italy their home, helping to spread the lore of this infamous district to another generation.
You won't have to worry about encountering any Mafia members in Little Italy today, just incredible Italian food and plenty of national pride. Below are some of our top suggestions for maximizing your time in this neighborhood.
Top Tourist Spot
The Center for Italian Modern Art: This museum promotes modern Italian art, both produced in the United States and Internationally.
Ferrara: This small bakery has been in the same spot since 1892 and has been the go-to place for high quality Italian desserts and Espressos ever since.
Mulberry Street Cigars: It's as close to Cuba as you're going to get in Little Italy, but the quality of cigars will make you forget about the lack of tropical climate, especially if you take one the Italian way- with a little espresso on the side.
Feast of San Genneraro: This Italian-American Catholic annual festival happens on Mulberry Street every September and is a highlight of the neighborhood.
Mulberry Street: As the main street through Little Italy, this is the best place to run into traditional Italian shops and restaurants where you can find the bowl of past you've been craving.
Angelo's of Mulberry Street: Established in 1902, Angelo's is flush with fancy waiters and old fashioned décor that will make you think you've done back a country and a century. Their homemade pasta sauces are so delicious you'll probably buy some to take home with you.
Original Vincent's of Little Italy: The heart of this restaurant can be found in its pasta sauce, which is based on an original 1904 recipe that keeps their regulars coming back for more.
Buy some sausage: Italy is known for its savory meats, so buy some sausage right out of a shop window and take it home to enjoy.
The urban oasis of Central Park is like nothing else. This 843 acre green space was designed by the esteemed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted in 1857 after he won a competition to improve the unused patch of city land. He proposed building a park which he named the “Greensward Plan”. After his plan was approved, the construction of the park began immediately and continued throughout the Civil War until Central Park was expanded and officially completed in 1873.
In many ways, Olmsted's park plan was well ahead of his time. Central Park is artfully designed to contain lush green meadows, tranquil ponds and stunning views of the nearby skyscrapers, giving visitors the sense of being in a peaceful oasis far away from the chaos of New York City. The park is bursting with recreational activities fit for every interest, from biking, ice-skating, carousal riding, visits to the zoo, formal English gardens, live concerts and even just laying down in the grass to read a book. Central Park is the most visited urban park in the world, as over 40 million people walk through the premises every year.
Any visit to Manhattan is incomplete without a visit to Central Park. If you need some suggestions about where you should venture first, you can follow this guide for help.
Top Tourist Spots
Central Park Zoo: This 6.5 acre zoo is located right in the park and is full of exotic animals and petting zoo creatures alike. The animal exhibits were dramatically renovated in the 1980s to provide more natural habitats for the zoo's inhabitants.
Belvedere Castle: Built on one of the highest spaces in the park, Belvedere Castle provides an old world exploring experience and is a wonderful site to watch birds flit through the park.
Go for a Hike: With thirty six acres of trails waiting to be explored, you can spend several hours wandering through Central Park and stopping at the many benches, ponds and scenic vistas you see on the way.
SummerStage: This outdoor concert series is held at Rumsey Playfield and is an area highlight, as the mostly free concerts are the perfect way for everyone to enjoy the music scene of NYC.
Friedsam Memorial Carousel: The vintage charms of this carnival ride has caused it to remain a park favorite since it was first installed in 1872. You can whirl around on one of over 52 wooden horses, all while listening to old fashioned organ music.
Kerbs Boathouse: Located on the east side of Conservatory Water, the famous model boat pond can be enjoyed from the Kerbs Boathouse where a lunch cafe is convenient for relaxing with a light snack.
Alice in Wonderland Statue: You aren't tripping on 'shrooms, this statue park really is kid friendly and meant to be climbed over, though odds are good that kids won't understand quite how weird these statues really are.
Named after a district of London whose name literally translated to “chalk wharf”, Chelsea is a large neighborhood on the west side of Manhattan filled with stunning examples of late 19th century townhouses and other beautiful residential buildings. The land of Chelsea was originally part of the Clement Clarke Moore estate, a family that also owned much of the land that makes up Queens.
In recent years, the area has become more diverse in its ethnic and social population, and is well known for having a large population of LGBTQ identified residents. Chelsea is also a prominent part of the New York City art scene and contains over 200 art galleries within the neighborhood.
Whether you come to Chelsea to admire the architecture, step in a gallery or simply to walk around, there is plenty for you to do in this peaceful Manhattan neighborhood.
Top Tourist Spot
Highline Park: Making use of the abandoned New York Central Railroad line, Highline Park is a green space created as an aerial greenway and public park. Designed and started in 2006, the park is the perfect way to reconnect with nature in the middle of the city.
Chelsea Piers: As the ocean liner terminal used for luxury ocean liner, Chelsea Piers is where the RMS Titanic was headed before the iceberg collision. Today the pier space is used as a park and sports complex.
Beer Bourbon and Barbeque Festival: This festival features all-you-care-to-taste of 60 beers, 40 bourbons and plenty of barbeque to go around.
Joyce Theater: Located in the former Elgin theater, the Joyce theater was built in 1941 and soon developed into a porno theater. Today, it has been renovated to be a world class dance studio.
Top Restaurants and Shopping
Chelsea Market: This festival marketplace has tons of shopping options, from baked goods to fresh fish and so much more.
Peter McManus Cafe: As one of the oldest family-owned bars in the city of Manhattan, Peter McManus's is regionally famous for their Irish-pub food options.
Rubin Museum of Arts: If you want to brush up on your understanding and appreciation of the art of the Himalayas, this museum dedicated to its preservation is the place to go.
Sleep No More: This innovative theater experience is like no other, from the half mask that every audience member must put on to the over 90 different spaces where the action takes place. You'll get the sense that you are a cast member of a movie filmed right in front of you.
As the original Chinatown of New York City, Chinatown Manhattan was begun in the 1850s when the first Chinese smoke shop opened in the neighborhood. As Asian immigrants continued to settle in the area over the next decades, the neighborhood became the most distinct ethnic enclave in all of New York City. Today, Chinatown Manhattan is the largest Chinatown in New York City and has a population of over 100,00 people, the majority of whom are all ethnically Chinese and speak Mandarin.
The neighborhood faced massive setbacks after the September 11 attacks because it was located so close to Ground Zero, causing it lose a large amount of tourism and outside business. Since then, the neighborhood's economy has picked back up and the flow of tourists have been increasing for years.
A visit to Chinatown is like stepping across the world, as the smells and sounds of the neighborhood are reminiscent of any good sized Chinese city. You'll get the chance to taste traditional Chinese foods, buy handcrafted goods and even get an opportunity to practice your foreign language skills. No matter your interests, you're sure to find a visit to Chinatown Manhattan to be a fun, informative experience.
Top Tourist Spots
Museum of Chinese in America: This converted industrial space opened as a museum in 1980 and is one of the best places in the world to view exhibits about the Chinese-American experience for the millions of immigrants that now call America home.
Columbus Park: This bustling park is the perfect way to get a sense of the true diversity of Chinatown, as a wide array of residents are continuously using the park for Chinese acrobatics, tai chi practice and even mah-jung games.
New Kam Man: This large grocery is the perfect place to stop to pick up the Chinese ingredients on your shopping list. Fresh roasted meats, bubble tea and medicinal herbs are all available for purchase here.
Kamwo Herbal Pharmacy: As one of the oldest and larges herbal pharmacies in the entire country, walking into Kamwo is like stepping back in time. It's the perfect place to pick up the essential herbs used in Chinese medical practices.
Chinese New Year: Taking place on January 28, 2017, the Chinese New Year celebration is an elaborate event filled with parades, floats, fireworks and plenty of dragons.
Kimlau Memorial Arch: This arch was erected in 1962 as a way to honor the Chinese American soldiers that died abroad fighting during WWII. It's named after Benjamin Ralph Kimlau, a Chinese-American lieutenant who became a casualty when his plane was shot down.
Manhattan Bridge Entrance: Designed by Carrere and Hastings, one of the best architectural firms in the early 20th century, this bridge is built with a stately archway and colonnade and is essential for traveling from Manhattan into Brooklyn.
Top Restaurants and Shopping:
Aji Ichiban: Known to locals as the “Munchies Paradise”, this candy store is filled with savory and sweet Chinese treats that are all sold individually.
Jing Fong: If you want the full Chinatown dim sum experience, the Jing Fong restaurant is where you need to be. This massive venue is more than likely New York City's largest Cantonese restaurant, and the extensive menu is sure to leave you satisfied.
Kung Fu Tea: Bubble tea is becoming famous throughout the world, and no visit to Chinatown is complete without some. Try your taste buds out on these tapioca balls and choose from several different flavors to enjoy this specialty drink.
This large neighborhood on the north side of Manhattan has been a major African American cultural space since the 1920s. The Dutch village origins of the neighborhood can be seen in the name, which was copied after the Dutch city of Haarlem. The economic history of the neighborhood has been full of boom-and-bust cycles and dramatic shifts in population that have prevented the neighborhood from experiencing the same level of stability of other Manhattan neighborhoods.
The Great Migration of the early 20th century caused thousands of African Americans to move into the neighborhood, and the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 30s created a massive amount of art, theater productions and music in the neighborhood that positively impacted the region for years after. The decades after renaissance were difficult for Harlem though, and job losses during the Depression and during the de-industrialization period after WWII impacted the population level significantly.
Today, the cultural impacts of the renaissance can still be felt, though the region has been going through gentrification for the past decades, to the point now where the African American community in Harlem makes up the minority.
A visit to Harlem is a wonderful experience of African American culture in the United States and will leave you with better appreciation of the way that American history has unfolded in this highly unique neighborhood.
Top Tourist Spot
Apollo Theater: As one of the most famous icons in Harlem, the Apollo theater has programing almost every night and is must stop on all Harlem historical tours
Abyssinian Baptist Church: As the first African-American Baptist Church in all of New York, the Abyssinian Baptist Church moved to its Harlem location in 1923 and has been been a staple in the community ever since. Tourists are welcome to the 11am Gospel worship services on a first come, first serve basis.
Harlem Week: Learn what this distinct neighborhood really has to offer during Harlem Week, a festival in late July that celebrates Harlem's cultural heritage through food, drink and lots of music.
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture: This museum and research center strives to document the trials and triumphs of black life throughout America. The ever-changing exhibits are free and open to the public.
Top Restaurants and Shopping
The Cecil: Though not on the radar of most foodies, this restaurant is not to be missed. A wide variety of food options are available, from Jasmine fried rice to traditional hamburgers. You'll get to experience a global plethora of tastes inspired from African, Asian and American cuisine. It's a culinary experience not to be missed.
Carol's Daughter: For those that know the difficultly of finding high quality natural hair and skin products, Carol's daughter is the perfect option. Celebrities like Brad Pitt are fans of the products, which range from handmade soaps to moisturizing lotions, body scrubs and in-house manicure treatments.
Graffiti Hall of Fame: Created in the 1980s as a place for New York City artists to show off their graffiti skills, the Graffiti Hall of Fame is always an interesting place, so stop by to witness some incredible street art.
As the home to a thriving population of artists, beatniks, punk rockers and hipsters, the East Village is a millennial paradise filled with wild late night spots, consignment stores and incredible, innovative food options. This Manhattan neighborhood is located on the eastern side and used to be a Dutchman-owned farm in the 1650s until land was sold off by the family generations later. The neighborhood became home to a large number of eastern European immigrants in the early 19th century, though in the 1960s the neighborhood attracted a decidedly more artistic and hippy-inspired population. Artists, students and musicians all flocked to the neighborhood for the cheap rent and counterculture movements taking place in the area venues.
Today, the East Village community is incredibly diverse, though gentrification is certainly changing the character of the neighborhood. Nonetheless, a visit through the village will will offer plenty of activities for you to take part in, from wandering through some of the best parks in New York City to sipping some of the highest quality coffee around.
Top Tourist Spot
Nuyorican Poets Cafe: Slam poetry lovers know that this venue is the place to go for innovative poetry readings and just plain good coffee.
Coffee Project NY: It goes without saying that this art and music haven runs on coffee, but the Coffee Project takes their coffee game more seriously than most. Whether you want a deconstructed latte or a simple, strong cup, you'll be happy to linger in your seat and enjoy the taste of a coffee made by someone who really cares about quality.
Little Tokyo: Because Japanese immigrants never settled in a single region of New York City, Little Tokyo is a relatively small enclave with just enough Japanese cultural elements for it to deserve the name. Even so, its well worth a stop.
Top Restaurants and Shopping
Prune: This popular restaurant has a reputation far bigger than its tiny venue. You'll get to enjoy expertly crafted dishes with fresh ingredients. The extensive brunch menu is not to be missed.
Community 54: This store is your solution to shopping for all things street wear. You'll be able to sort through vintage designer labels and unusual, one of a kind items in the ever-changing collection of merchandise.
Blue Man Group (Astor Place Theater): Watch the famous blue hued men in action as they act out their deadpan performance filled with weird, audience-engaging antics.
When most people think of New York City, what they're really picturing is the glitz and glamor that makes up Times Square. As the iconic snapshot of NYC, everything in Times Square is amped up to an eleven, from the restaurants and theaters to the shopping centers and art exhibits.
Long ago, the square was the center of the city's carriage trade businesses, though the rising popularity of the “horseless carriage” quickly made the center obsolete and cleared a path for theaters and other businesses to begin to establish themselves. The square got its name from the New York Times, the newspaper whose primary address was located within its borders.
Now, the square is both a thriving business district and an entertainment hub for theater patrons around the world. It is famous for being the home of Broadway as well as countless incredible restaurants.
Visitors everywhere adore Times Square and enjoy staying in the square's centrally located hotels just so that they can be in on all the action. When planning your visit to this legendary place, be sure to consider visiting the following places.
Top Tourist Spot
The Square: Times Square has made New York City one of the most visited places on earth, and over 300,00 people travel through the famous square every day of the year.
Kaufman's Army and Navy: Having been in its current location since 1946, this military surplus store has an extensive collection of both modern and vintage military apparel.
Drama Book Shop: If going to the theater on Broadway is just too trendy, you can stop at the Drama Book Club and look through old playbills and manuscripts of past plays instead.
New Years Eve: Everyone in America that has a TV knows that Times Square is the place to be when the big ball drops, and the thousands of people that fill the square every New Years make it the busiest time of the year.
Broadway: As the home to over forty theaters, Broadway is where the country's top plays premiere. No matter which show you choose to watch, an evening on Broadway ensures you're in for a treat.
Top Restaurants and Shopping
City Kitchen: As one of the newest restaurant establishments in Times Square, the City Kitchen serves dozens of different food options in a fun food-hall setting.
MAC Cosmetics: This enormous make up store is over 1,700 square feet and is full of make up artists happy to help you find your best new look.
Ripley's Believe It or Not: See the weird, the fantastical and the plain old record breaking at the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum, home to some of the weirdest attractions from around the world.
Midnight Moment: From 11:57 until midnight every night, the billboards in the square light up with a coordinated display of digital art. Be one of the few to witness it!
Madame Tussaunds New York Wax Museum: If you've ever wanted the chance to meet your favorite celebrities, this wax museum might be the next best thing. Many of the figures look so realistic your friends might not know the truth when you show them pictures.
Located in Lower Manhattan, SoHo is a small region that got its name from the term 'South of Houston'. Though SoHo once was known only for its farms and forests, the region is now a renowned arts and shopping district with a thriving nightlife scene.
In the mid 20th century, SoHo was a sleepy industrial region with plenty or warehouses. The neighborhood was forever changed in 1969 with the proposal of the Lower Manhattan Expressway, a highway system that would have decimated much of the infrastructure. The proposal was eventually defeated by SoHo residents, and in response the neighborhood transitioned into a trendy upscale boutique region filled with art galleries and relatively affordable artist lofts.
The architectural style is defined by the cast-iron fire escapes and facades that have become the face of this upscale shopping area. Cast iron was a less expensive building material than harder to source brick and stone in the 19th century, leading to its widespread use in the manufacturing sector of SoHo.
A walk through SoHo will lead you to some of the best restaurants in New York City, as well as a stunning historic district and more shopping opportunities than you would pursue in a month. There is truly something in SoHo for every interest.
Top Tourist Spot
Cast Iron Storefronts: SoHo is home to the largest amount of cast iron architecture in the world, and much of it has been used for upscale restaurants and shopping centers. Many of these buildings date before the 1850s.
The Market NYC: If you're looking for vintage designer clothing, jewelry, hand made crafts and more, you need to visit the Market NYC, a flea-market style shopping area filled with items that can be found nowhere else.
SoHo International Film Festival: The SoHo International Film Festival prides itself on showcasing local film producers as well as major hits from around the world. This multi-day event in early summer is a must see.
Mulberry Library: As a former chocolate factory, the Mulberry Library's architecture highlights the best of SoHo design. Come to borrow a bestseller or check out the exposed brick walls, either way you'll be sure to find what you're looking for.
Pegu Club: As one of the most famous bars in all Manhattan, the Pegu Club creates legendary cocktails that people travel from all over to experience.
Balthazar: This trendy restaurant is a place where you can rely on receiving consistently incredible food. Their famous three-tiered seafood platter is one of the most famous dishes in the region.
Blood Manor: If your idea of a good time involves lots of zombie gore, you'll want to spend time in this 5,000 square foot labyrinth of horror. Lines are long, so make sure to come early.
As the region of Manhattan that is home to Times Square, Central Park and Broadway, Midtown is truly what iconic New York is all about. From its roots as Dutch-American owned farmland in the 17th century, Midtown benefited from its central location and proximity to the thriving financial district.
As the largest central business district in the world, Midtown is some of the most densely-used piece of land in the entire world. The region comprises much of New York City's best entertainment, commercial and media venues, and is forever full of business execs, students, and thousands of tourists. From the easily identified skyline to the Rockefeller Center and Empire State Building, there are few people in the world that wouldn't recognize the highlights of Midtown right on sight.
A visit to Midtown is an impressively hectic experience, as you will likely brush shoulders with thousands of people and have hundreds of options of ways to spend your time. Nonetheless, there are some top destinations that every NYC tourist should be sure to hit.
Top Tourist Spot
Grand Central Station: The romance of all of New York City can be summarized at this station, which is one of the last remaining historic train stations in the United States. A late 1990s renovation effort has restored the station to its original grandeur, making it truly a site to see.
New York Public Library: Flanked by Patience and Fortitude, the two iconic lions at the entrance, the New York Public Library is a rich public resource filled with books and periodicals covering every subject imaginable.
NYC Marathon: This elite race brings in thousands of runners every year that run through all five boroughs of New York, though most of their time is spent in Midtown, Manhattan. Come cheer on the runners or enter the race yourself, either way it's a great event to be part of.
Empire State Building: As one of the most recognizable skyscrapers in the world, the Empire State Building has been a landmark of New York City for 85 years. A variety of light designs are highlighted on the building, making it worth looking at every night.
Top Restaurants, Attractions, Shopping
Rockefeller Center: For those that take their shopping seriously, the Rockefeller Center is a 22 acre complex filled with unique stores, restaurants and plenty of green space that is used for the city's world famous Christmas tree lighting.
Saks Fifth Avenue: As one of the oldest stores in America, Saks Fifth Avenue is a luxury department store filled with more shopping options than you can look through in a week.
African Burial Ground: As the grave site of hundreds of slaves, the African Burial Ground is a national monument site were over four hundred caskets of African Americans have been found. The visitor center is the perfect place to learn about the more troubling side of African American history in New York City.
Though technically part of Manhattan, Roosevelt Island feels like its own entity in the East River. Historically called both Blackwell's Island and Welfare Island, this sliver of land was used primarily for hospitals while also housing criminals and mental patients in the on site insane asylum and prison. It was only in the 1970s that the Island was named Roosevelt Island after Franklin D. Roosevelt and became able to be reached by land through the subway.
Today, the island is home to almost 10,000 residents and is a popular tourist destination. Though the prison and asylum are no longer functional on the island, you can still see their ruins.
A trip on the Roosevelt tram is reason enough to visit the island, but once you arrive you will find plenty to see and do.
Top Tourist Spot
Roosevelt Island Tramway: Constructed in 1976, the tram is still one of the best ways to access Roosevelt Island, as much of the island is designated as car free.
Southpoint Park: As one of New York's newest Parks, Southpoint Park is a memorial to FDR and contains ruins from the long abandoned smallpox hospital that once existed one the premise.
4th of July at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park: Celebrate the birthday of the United States in style at this park, which showcases some of the best fireworks in the whole city.
The Octagon: Built in 1834, the Octagon once served as the main entrance for the New York City Lunatic Asylum, and is now all that remains of the infamous building.
Top Restaurants, Attractions, Shopping
Riverwalk Bar and Grill: As one of the few places to get food on the island, the Riverwalk bar is a great place for beer and wings.
Women's Lunatic Asylum: As the location of Nellie Bly's work Ten Days in a Madhouse, all that remains of the Asylum today is some rubble.
For such a small piece of land, Manhattan crams a massive amount of culture and attractions into its many neighborhoods. Any trip to New York City will be filled with more attractions can you can possible cover, but hopefully this guide has helped you to narrow down the list to the top options in this borough for you to experience.