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Exploring the Neighborhoods of New York City

New York, the largest city in the United States, is a collection of distinctive neighborhoods covering more than 472 square miles. Home to 8.5 million people, New Yorkers are proud and hard working, ambitious and love their city and individual neighborhoods.

New York is made up of five boroughs; The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. Within the boroughs are numerous neighborhoods. Below is a list of my favorites, but please note I was not able to visit all the boroughs or all the neighborhoods. My twelve days in the city were incredibly busy, but even so I didn’t see it all. I would love to go back for even more exploration. So with that in mind, here is what I discovered, exploring the neighborhoods of New York City.

I’ll start in Lower Manhattan and work north up Manhattan Island before coming around clockwise to Long Island. Again please note, this is not all neighborhoods, just the ones I was able to briefly visit.

Manhattan Skyline

Lower Manhattan

Lower Manhattan – lower Manhattan encompasses a variety of unique places including Wall Street, the September 11th Memorial and Museum, NYU and much more. Here I have broken out four neighborhoods from lower Manhattan; Chinatown, Gramercy Park, Little Italy and Greenwich Village. But there is much more to Lower Manhattan.

Views of the Statue of Liberty, the free ferry to Staten Island, great restaurants, shops and museums; Lower Manhattan has a great vibe and should not be missed. It’s the jumping off point for most tours to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty

Recommendation The Tenement Museum, Katz Deli, Wall Street

Lower Manhattan
Lower Manhattan
Tenement Museum
Lower Manhattan

Chinatown

Population 100,000

Lower East Side covering 2 square miles

Recommendation Spicy Village for handmade noodles and dumplings

Manhattan’s Chinatown today is a bustling gritty area of businesses and restaurants. In the 1800’s it was a cluster of immigrants trying to survive. Unlike the European immigrants who arrived through Ellis Island, most of the Chinese arrived from the West Coast, fleeing from violence and discrimination there. The majority of those arriving in New York were males who took on jobs considered “women’s work” including laundry and restaurants still prevalent today.

Worth a visit today to experience the amazing food, fresh fruit stands or shop in the wide variety of tiny stores.

Chinatown
Chinatown
Chinatown

Gramercy Park and Neighborhood

Population 27,000

Lower Manhattan about 172 acres.

Some famous residents of Gramercy Park include Jimmy Fallon, Julia Roberts & Uma Thurman

Recommendation – just take a stroll. Or if you can afford it, visit Gramercy Tavern. (I did not)

In 1831 Samuel Ruggles purchased a swamp in farmland in lower Manhattan. He spent 180,000 to turn the land into a private park surrounded by 66 parcels of land. Residents of the 66 parcels still today are the private users of Gramercy Park, the neighborhood known as Gramercy.

This is an upscale area with beautiful homes and even more beautiful people. Visitors are not allowed in the park but you can walk the sidewalk that surrounds it.

Gramercy Park
Gramercy Park
Gramercy Park

Greenwich Village

Population – 28,000

Lower Manhattan (nearly to Midtown) 0.3 square miles

Famous people who live in the village are many including Ralph Fiennes, Daniel Radcliff, and Chris Noth.

Recommendation – stroll, people watch, eat. In my opinion this is the most beautiful neighborhood in New York. Check out the Washington Square Park, art shops and music clubs.

“The Village” is one of the oldest neighborhoods in New York, dating to the 1600’s. Visitors will notice the narrower, tree lined streets (some with cobblestones). Greenwich was laid out prior to the grid system the rest of the city has. It is one of the things that give the neighborhood such a quaint village feel. Once the home to a Bohemian scene in the 1960’s and today it retains its individual vibe with a young and vibrant scene. The architecture has the look of Alexandria Virginia with a colonial feel.

Greenwich Village
Greenwich Village

Little Italy

Population – 5000

Lower Manhattan – 3 blocks of Mulberry Street with some surrounding blocks included

Famous People from Little Italy include Robert DeNiro

Recommendation- Zia Maria Italian was delicious. Come in the evening to stroll.

Originally Little Italy was a much larger part of immigrant Lower Manhattan. Home to tenements and working class people. Today, it is a shell of it’s original self, mostly catering to tourists, with few Italians still living in the area. It is however a wonderful place to find delicious authentic Italian food, on the three block Mulberry area designated at Little Italy.

Little Italy has been the setting for many iconic movies and films including the three Godfather movies. It has also seen its own real life Mafia. For much of its history the Italian Mafia operated out of Little Italy, including John Gotti.

Little Italy
Little Italy
Little Italy (Zia Maria)

Midtown

Population 105,000

Middle Manhattan 3 square miles

Recommendations – Museum of Modern Art, Broadway Shows, Carnegie Hall, Il Corso Italian Restaurant

Midtown is a thriving business district and home to Grand Central Station, the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, the Crysler Building, the United Nations and much more. Bustling center of retail and commerce, Midtown is home to a wide array of fantastic dining. Times Square and the Broadway theater scene is part of the Midtown neighborhood reach.

Hell’s Kitchen, a small neighborhood of Midtown, is home to hundreds of restaurants, many with ethnic flavors from Greek to Cuban, Italian to Spanish, Vegan and Indian. Everything you might desire.

Fifth Avenue, famous for Saks, Rockefeller Square and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral is a great place to stroll and window shop and people watch.

Midtown
Radio City Music Hall, Midtown
St Patrick’s Cathedral, Midtown
Rockefeller Center Midtown

Upper West Side

Population 215,000

Upper West Manhattan bordering the entire west side of Central Park about 2 square miles with the Hudson River to the west.

Many celebrities call the Upper West Side home including Antonio Banderas, Jerry Seinfeld and Randy Rainbow (see more)

Affluent residential area that is also home to Central Park, the American Museum of Natural History, Columbia University and Lincoln Center. High rise apartments and upscale hotels surround restaurants and shopping. The area was not developed until the 1800’s, although there was shipping and industry along the Hudson River.

The development of Central Park and an elevated railway helped boost the growth of the area and it is today one of the most sought after neighborhoods in the world.

Recommendation – Central Park, American Museum of Natural History, Lincoln Center, Crave Fish Bar and many restaurants

Upper West Side
Upper West Side
Upper West Side
Upper West Side from Lower Manhattan

Upper East Side

Population – 125,000

Upper Manhattan covering all of the east side of Central Park to the East River. 1.75 square miles

Famous people born in the Upper East Side include Woody Allen, Elizabeth Arden and Herb Alpert. Today some of the celebrities who make their home there include Samuel Jackson, Drew Barrymore, Mariah Carey and Bill Murray.

Early on the Upper East Side was a fashionable address, and was home to famous New Yorkers such as the Rockefellers. Developed earlier than the west side of the park and therefore it is home to many elegant post Civil War brownstones and apartments. The Upper East Side Historic District is a registered National Historic site.

Today the quiet tree lined streets continue to house the cities elite and beautiful. The Museum Mile, 5th Avenue along the East side of Central Park, is home to several museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim.

The Upper East Side has its own small neighborhoods such as Yorkville. Throughout the Upper East Side you will find designer shops as well as humble markets, five star restaurants as well as tiny diners and takeout.

Recommendations – Metropolitan Museum of Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Central Park, Bloomingdales. Window shop and enjoy any of the amazing ethnic restaurants. For something fun, take the gondola over to Roosevelt Island.

Upper East Side
Guggenheim, Upper East Side
Upper East Side
Upper East Side, The Met

Harlem

Population 198,000

North Manhattan Island 1.5 square miles

Famous People from Harlem – Cicely Tyson, Sammy Davis Jr., Ed Sullivan, Lou Gehrig (more). Matt Damon is a current resident.

Recommendation- Jazz Clubs, Apollo Theater and Sylvia’s Diner the Queen of Soul Food. Don’t miss the northern most part of Central Park also in Harlem, a less manicured, more forested section of Central Park.

Founded by the Dutch in the 1600’s, the area was predominately Jewish and Irish in the 1800’s and until the Great Migration of Afro Americans began in the early 20th century. Harlem has experienced wide swings of boom or bust, depression and success. It is the home of the “Harlem Renaissance” in the 1920’s and 30’s as African Americans defined the music and art scene. Many legendary Jazz and R&B artists are from Harlem.

Harlem has fought the “gentrification” of it’s name and neighborhood and all though it has changed, it holds onto its roots as a family and working class neighborhood.

I wanted more time in Harlem, but I didn’t get it. I’ll see more on my next visit.

Harlem
Harlem
Harlem

The Bronx

Population – 1.5 million

Just across the Harlem River from Manhattan, The Bronx is the only borough on the mainland. 57 square miles

Recommendations – Yankee Stadium, New York Botanical Gardens, The Bronx Zoo

Famous people from The Bronx; Jennifer Lopez, Carl Reiner, Kerry Washington, Lauren Bacall, Billy Joel, Al Pacino (more)

Once a violent and poor, gang-infused area of New York, today The Bronx is safer and more family oriented , although still home to one of the poorest congressional districts in the US. Just across the Harlem River from Manhattan, The Bronx is the home of the New York Yankees as well as the beautiful campus of Fordham University. As a visitor the New York Botanical Gardens are not to be missed or the famous Bronx Zoo.

The name “The” Bronx (sometimes capitalized but not always) comes from Swedish born Jonas Bronck who is credited as the first settler and farmer of the area. One story goes Manhattanites headed to “The Broncks” as a weekend getaway.

The Bronx history includes bootlegging center during prohibition and poverty and crime in the 1960’s. In the 1980’s the Bronx Expressway created even more poverty by destroying neighborhoods and housing. In the late 80’s and 90’s a revitalization plan by the city helped and today The Bronx continues to search for it’s place in this huge city and to deal with it’s social issues. That said, a visit to NYC should include a visit to The Bronx.

The Bronx
Yankee Stadium, The Bronx
New York Botanical Gardens

Brooklyn

Population 2,800,000. If Brooklyn were it’s own city it would be the third largest in the nation

West end of Long Island 71 square miles

Famous People from Brooklyn – Barbra Streisand, Jerry Seinfeld, Anne Hathaway, Joan Rivers (more). Current residents John Krasinski and Emily Blunt, Daniel Craig and Spike Lee.

Recommendation – Pizza, Bushwick Collective, Brooklyn Bridge

Named after the Dutch village of Bruekelen, Brooklyn is a hub of New York life. One of my favorite neighborhoods for food and people watching, Brooklyn is connected to Manhattan by numerous bridges and tunnels including the iconic Brooklyn Bridge. Once a working class area, Brooklyn has become “gentrified” with housing prices skyrocketing and entrepreneurs flocking to the community.

The Dutch arrived in the 1680’s to find Native Americans (Nayak and Carnasee) growing corn and crops in the rich soil of the region. Over the next two centuries Brooklyn would attract immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Britain and after World War II Italians.

I wanted more time in Brooklyn. It will definitely be a place I visit again.

Brooklyn
Brooklyn
Brooklyn, Bushwich Collective
Brooklyn Bridge

Exploring the Neighborhoods of New York City

Even if you lived in New York, you could never explore it all. It is one of the most unique, vast, interesting and most beautiful cities in the world. It is constantly in motion and always changing. I love it and I can’t wait to go back and see even more. I hope you will consider visiting and exploring the neighborhoods of New York City.

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6 Comments

  • Reply Teja

    I think this is the best New York travel article I’ve read. Not because it’s comprehensive or anything, but it gives me a sense of direction for the city, and where what kinds of attractions are, and clues as to why. If I ever go to NYC I’ll come back to this.

    May 13, 2022 at 5:57 pm
    • Reply Laureen

      Thank you for this great comment!

      May 13, 2022 at 6:43 pm
  • Reply Renee

    I love this article. Each time I go to NYC, this is how I experience it – through its neighbouhoods. I’ve been to Lower, mid, upper west, little Italy, and Chinatown. I love doing it this way for its cultural differences and of course the food.

    May 14, 2022 at 1:55 am
    • Reply Laureen

      Yes! I totally agree. Thanks so much.

      May 14, 2022 at 3:11 am
  • Reply Linda (LD Holland)

    Your post made me realize that are several NYC neighbourhoods that we really need to spend more time in. I love the idea of just strolling through “The Village”. And of course, eating my way through Little Italy!

    May 14, 2022 at 8:31 am
  • Reply Heather

    You did New York proud! Probably saw more of it than I have lol! Awesome to meet up with you here too.

    May 14, 2022 at 8:52 am
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