Geographically, New York is a city with 5 boroughs, 59 community districts and hundreds of neighborhoods. With over 7 million residents and hundreds of neighborhoods, New York is the largest city in the US. It is filled with a diverse mixture of inhabitants including immigrants from many countries. Some of its many neighborhoods, such as Chinatown, Little Italy, and Spanish Harlem reflect the rich ethnic heritages of the resident’s original homelands. Below you will find descriptions of New York’s better known neighborhoods and outer boroughs.
The economic boom of the 1990s revitalized many long-blighted areas of the city, not the least of which were neighborhoods in the Bronx. A mainly residential community almost due north of Manhattan on the mainland, the Bronx is home to Yankee Stadium, a world-class zoo and botanical garden.
Located across the East River on the southwestern tip of Long Island, Brooklyn is accessible via bridge or tunnel. This borough is nearly four times as large as Manhattan Island and has a population of about four million. It is one of the primary bedroom communities for New York City. Unlike Manhattan, there are few tall buildings in Brooklyn. Typically, the tree-lined streets are filled with brownstone townhouses and small apartment buildings. Coney Island Beach and Amusement park are located along the southern shore and John F. Kennedy Airport lies just east of Brooklyn. The steep climb in Manhattan rents during the 1990s drove many artists and residents from lower Manhattan to such neighborhoods as Williamsburg and DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). These areas are now home to funky galleries, bars and restaurants. Brooklyn Heights is a lovely historic district with quiet, tree-lined streets and dignified brownstones.
A semi-industrial section of town, sandwiched between busy 34th Street and Greenwich Village, that until recent years was known primarily as the heart of the garment and wholesale flower district. (Weekday mornings, plants and flowers are still stacked up along the sidewalks in the vicinity of 6th Avenue and 28th Street, and the area bustles with activity.) Though it always has had a smattering of fringe-y nightclubs and bars, Chelsea now boasts a number of off-Broadway theater companies, several fine restaurants and a new crop of avant-garde art galleries. Most of the exhibition spaces are clustered in the western part of the neighborhood, past 9th Avenue. Chelsea has also surpassed Greenwich Village as the neighborhood of choice for gays, and the area thus has a host of gay bars and other gay-owned businesses. For a glimpse of bohemian history, drop by the atmospheric Chelsea Hotel, on 23rd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues. It’s been a favorite stopping place for artists, writers and musicians, including Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and Bob Dylan. (It’s also the spot where punk rocker Sid Vicious killed his girlfriend, Nancy.) Farther west, where 23rd Street meets the Hudson, is Chelsea Piers. The modern sports complex is where New Yorkers congregate to ice skate, whack golf balls, take swings in the batting cage and so on. At the north end of the neighborhood, on 32nd Street and 7th Avenue, is the legendary Madison Square Garden, which regularly hosts basketball, hockey and other sporting events. Chelsea stretches from 14th Street to 34th Street, 6th Avenue W. to 10th Avenue.
Its labyrinth of narrow streets has open-air storefronts that dispense everything from herbal remedies to cleavers to back-scratchers to all manner of iced seafood. Canal Street is the main drag, but its offerings are skewed toward electronics parts, machine tools and industrial paints. The real activity takes place south of Canal, where narrow streets of restaurants and shops ram into each other at odd angles. For a treat, stop in at a restaurant that serves dim sum or stop by the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory on Bayard Street. Mott and Pell Streets also contain nice, small eateries. Located in Lower Manhattan, Chinatown extends from Canal Street to Pell Street and from 6th Avenue as far east as the Bowery.
Though just a barren strip of scrubland off the southern tip of Brooklyn when Henry Hudson discovered it in 1609, Coney Island became the country’s premiere playground by the turn of the 20th century. Millions of New Yorkers traveled to Coney to enjoy its three original amusement parks – Luna, Steeplechase and Dreamland – each packed with a riot of fancifully painted joy rides, wonderfully eerie freak shows and an endless bounty of boardwalk confections. The colorfully named avenues, Surf, Neptune and Mermaid, were routinely packed in summer.
Coney Island fell into decline during the latter half of the 20th century, and the original amusement parks slowly went under. However, like many downtrodden areas of the city, Coney Island enjoyed a bit of a resurgence during the 1990s.
A10-minute walk down the boardwalk leads you to the neighboring community of Brighton Beach. Home to a large Russian community (you won’t hear much English), its beachfront is lined with restaurants serving traditional Russian dishes.
This counterpart to better-known Greenwich Village used to be one of the more unsavory sections of town. In the 1970s and 1980s it was replete with performance artists as well as young New Wave and punk bands like Blondie and the Talking Heads. These days it hosts scores of funky boutiques, hipster bars and good restaurants but has somehow managed to hold on to a bit of its spicy reputation. In general, the neighborhood gets less shiny as you head east: 3rd and 2nd Avenues are the most upscale; 1st Avenue and Avenue A still have some gritty bars and a handful of fringe types; Avenues B and C still have some grimy dives and old-school bodegas and corner stores. The neighborhood is good for shopping (many small stores selling vintage clothes, records and the like) and even better for people watching. You’re likely to see the retro-1980s punk-rock look – mohawks, tattoos and very tight leather are not uncommon. The area also retains some of its eastern European heritage from more than a century ago, though now this flavor lingers mostly in the form of Polish and Ukrainian restaurants and bars. The East Village covers roughly the area from Houston Street north to 14th Street, Lafayette east to Avenue D.
This historic bohemian enclave has gone upscale – many of its nicest old town homes have been gobbled up by celebrities and sundry millionaires in the last 20 years – but it still has a great atmosphere. It’s full of coffeehouses, swanky restaurants, off-Broadway theaters and bars serving all sorts of professionals and monied hipsters. Live music also abounds, but tends to skew more toward jazz than rock and pop. To the west of 6th Avenue (the neighborhood’s main artery), on streets like Barrow, Bedford, Morton and Perry, are the old town houses and small apartment buildings that give the Village its distinctive architectural flavor. East of 6th Avenue is much of the New York University “campus” (really an amalgam of buildings), as well as the fabled Washington Square Park, where skate boarders, families, Rastafarians, students, chess players, old men, drug dealers and others amuse themselves.
Among the notable east-west streets that cut across the Village is 8th Street, a once-popular hangout for punk rockers that’s still a fun place to shop for records and various curiosities. South along Bleecker Street are scores of cafes and bars popular with NYU types and tourists. At West 3rd Street and 6th Avenue is a fenced-in schoolyard basketball court where some of the best amateur players in the city – and occasional college and pro notables – match up on a regular basis. (Don’t even think about trying to call “next.”)
The district is also famous for its gay community (especially in the West Village). The building at 51-53 Christopher Street was where the Stonewall Riots of 1969 began – the event that launched the gay-rights movement in the U.S. The building has recently been recognized as a National Historic Landmark. On weekends many out-of-towners go to the Village to party, so the neighborhood loses some of its charm. The area runs from Houston Street north to 14th Street, Broadway west to the Hudson River.
The African-American community of Harlem, rich in history and culture, lies at the northern end of Manhattan, above Central Park. Although large areas of Harlem are blighted by crime and poverty, the area around 125th Street is coming back to life. Even former President Clinton backed out of a posh Midtown office deal, opting instead for office space in Harlem. If you’re interested in checking out the area, we suggest taking one of the established tours. Most include stops at a soul-food restaurant such as Sylvia’s and at the famous Apollo Theater. Others take you to a Sunday-morning gospel service. You can also visit the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem. It has a large gallery of changing art exhibitions dealing with the African-American experience as well as an impressive collection of African-American literature. Or visit Sugar Hill, an area of lovely brownstones that was the home of such African-American luminaries as Duke Ellington, Joe Louis and W. E. B. Du Bois.
In the more rundown parts of Harlem, several projects are making headway in revitalization. On 135th Street between Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard and St. Nicholas Avenue you’ll find new storefronts and sidewalks as well as a wider street. A waterfront park called the Harlem Beach Esplanade has also been completed, but ask someone knowledgeable about the safety of the area before visiting: It’s in a remote area that may be dangerous, especially at night.
The size of this district has dwindled significantly over the years as neighboring Chinatown has expanded, but it remains the best place in Manhattan to find authentic Italian breads, meats, pasta, cheeses and desserts. Though it’s gone now, the Ravenite Social Club at 247 Mulberry St. was the hangout of Mafia boss John Gotti and his henchmen, and it was there that federal officials planted the listening devices that eventually brought about his downfall. Don’t be put off by possible links to organized crime, though: Little Italy is considered quite safe and draws many, many tourists. During warmer months you can eat alfresco at the restaurants. Little Italy is located in lower Manhattan, just north of Chinatown, and extending from Mott to Mulberry on Hester Street and from Hester to Grand on Mulberry Street.
North of Brooklyn on the tip of Long Island, Queens is a residential community with many high-rise apartment complexes. LaGuardia airport, Shea Stadium and the crumbling ruins of the old World’s Fair are located there. Well-established Greek, Indian and Asian communities offer a host of ethnic eats that reflect this borough’s diverse population.
Staten Island – Due south of Manhattan across the main harbor basin, Staten Island is most easily reached via the Staten Island ferry from Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan. The ferry ride offers spectacular views of the New York skyline and the Statue of Liberty and is absolutely free for all pedestrians. Staten Island has a small town atmosphere with many single-family homes. Largely residential, little Staten Island may be best known for the Fresh Kills Landfill, where the city buried most of its garbage for decades. The landfill was closed in 2001, but was reopened following the September 11th terrorist attacks, to take in rubble from Ground Zero. Also on the island is Snug Harbor, historically a fishing town that’s now home to a thriving arts community.
SoHo takes its name from its location: SOuth of HOuston Street (pronounced HOW-ston). It borders Greenwich Village, its neighbor to the north, and like the Village, it’s a place to shop, stroll and eat. SoHo, too, is a once-Bohemian area that has been gentrified and burnished into one of the most expensive and chic neighborhoods in the city. (Keep your eyes open for incognito celebrities.) Architecturally, however, SoHo is quite distinct. Unlike the Village, where town houses abound, SoHo is made up of converted warehouses containing expansive loft-style apartments, artist studios and galleries. On their ground floors, these buildings hold all manner of high-end furniture stores and fancy fashion boutiques, especially on West Broadway, Prince, Spring and Mercer Streets. Lots of cozy Italian restaurants and French bistros offer good eats (many are pricey). Along Broadway, the neighborhood’s eastern border, there are less-expensive restaurants and a number of large fabric stores and used-clothing outlets.
South Street Seaport
This historic seaport district offers cobblestone streets, waterfront piers, shops, restaurants and a great view of Brooklyn and the New York Harbor. It’s considered a tourist trap by many New Yorkers who shun it, though the bars and restaurants attract locals for lunch and happy hour gatherings and upscale clothing shops attract the J. Crew crowd. Here you will find historic ships and harbor boat tours as well as a great vantage point for the July 4th fireworks. East River at the foot of Fulton Street.
Don’t expect a square: Named for the nearby New York Times headquarters, this famed strip is where the West Side’s two main streets – Broadway and 7th Avenue – intersect. Predictably, there are a lot of cars traveling through Times Square, and lots of people, too. What’s most distinctive about the area is its collection of enormous lighted signs, so you should visit at night. The news is broadcast round the clock on a huge screen over the square, and theater marquees and hotel signs shine from every angle. Aside from the lights, though, it reminds us of the touristy restaurant/shopping areas found in many U.S. cities. There are theme restaurants, sidewalk caricature artists and corporate shops – a Disney store, a Virgin megastore for music and a huge Toys ‘R’ Us with an indoor Ferris wheel. The new office towers house media behemoths like Conde Nast, Reuters and MTV. Because it overlaps the Theater District, there are several Broadway theaters in the area. Some longtime New Yorkers will grouse that the current Times Square is the soulless (though more pleasant-looking and -smelling) result of a mid 1990s move to banish the run-down arcades, dive bars, sex shops and porn palaces that used to be found there. Actually, the grime just seems to have been swept to the west a bit: 8th, 9th and 10th Avenues retain a modestly sleazy vibe. Times Square is located along Broadway and 7th Avenue, between 42nd and 47th Streets.
Upper East Side
Stretching from the East River to Central Park and from 59th Street to 96th Street, the Upper East Side has traditionally been considered the elegant and sophisticated neighbor to the more liberal, earthy West Side. With the mansions of 5th Avenue and the swanky apartments of Park Avenue in its borders, the Upper East Side’s reputation is not wholly false. Add to the list 5th Avenue’s fabled Museum Mile (a stretch that includes the Guggenheim, the Met and the Frick), the mayoral residence (Gracie Mansion) and the haute-couture shops on Madison Avenue in the 60s, and the picture would seem fairly accurate. However, like all thumbnail sketches, this one fails to include some key details. More easterly avenues like 3rd and 2nd, for instance, have a number of very affordable and down-to-earth restaurants and bars. In fact, the far east 70s and 80s (an area sometimes called Yorkville) are among the most affordable places to live in Manhattan these days and are popular with young singles and professionals. The Upper East Side is also home to important public institutions like Hunter College and a slew of major hospitals. Still, the neighborhood does tend to get a bit quieter at night than the West Side, and there are fewer subway lines that service it. Both facts undoubtedly contribute to West Siders’ allegations – mostly false – that nothing ever happens on the other side of Central Park.
Upper West Side
Across Central Park from the Upper East Side, this part of town has conventionally cast itself as more progressive, down-to-earth and hip than its neighbor. From the 1950s through the mid 1980s, the Upper West Side was a bastion of middle-class families, bookish intellectuals and politically active liberals who occupied the expansive prewar apartment buildings along Riverside Drive and West End Avenue. While those fine buildings remain today, the character of the residents and the neighborhood has changed noticeably. The economic boom of the 1980s and 1990s has brought in a younger, wealthier and more professional crowd, and the Upper West Side is now considered quite upscale.
Broadway is lined with fancy shops, large chain stores and multiplex cinemas, giving it an almost “suburban-mall-in-the-city” feel. (It’s nonetheless an excellent place to shop and eat.) The northern part of Broadway, from about 108th Street to 116th Street, is a Columbia University haven and contains somewhat more affordable restaurants and bars. The 70s and 80s are the most fashionable part of Broadway. One street to the east is Amsterdam Avenue, the area’s main drag for nightlife. Bars, most of them packed with monied folks in their 20s and 30s, line the avenue between 76th and 86th Streets. Another block east is Columbus Avenue, home to some of the West Side’s fanciest restaurants and clothing stores, especially between 66th and 86th Streets. Central Park West, the avenue east of Columbus, runs alongside the park and contains some of the city’s priciest real estate – it’s a favorite celebrity address. The main cultural attractions on the Upper West Side are undoubtedly the Museum of Natural History and Lincoln Center.