New York is a city of neighborhoods in a way that few others are. Wander through Manhattan, and you’re taken on a tour through New York’s colorful and diverse history. Little Italy, Greenwich, East Village: all these are names which trip off the tongue of foreign and domestic visitors alike. However, if you’re not from the city, you may not have much idea of what each district is actually like. That’s why we’ve put together this run-down of the best of each of New York’s most famous neighborhoods. Wealthy visitors arriving in the city on cruises from Southampton, and student backpackers on cheap flights from Canada should both find this guide equally useful. Take it, and use it to devise your own walking tour through the heart of New York.
We’ll start in one of the oldest parts of the city, right at the bottom tip of Manhattan. Battery Park is so-named because of the battery of canons put here by the Dutch, who landed there in 1623 and named their new colony ‘New Amsterdam’. It is home to Castle Clinton, built to protect the city in 1812, and later used as an immigrant processing center until Ellis Island was opened in 1892. Tickets to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty can be bought from Battery Park.
The Financial District
Just next to Battery Park is Wall Street and the financial district that surrounds it. The area is not as accessible as it once was: pre 9/11 it was possible to tour the New York Stock Exchange, for example, but security in the area is now understandably higher. Despite that, The Stock Exchange, Customs House and Federal Hall National Monument are all worth visiting just to see the architecture. Also visit the South Street Seaport, just east of Wall Street. It’s a fascinating living museum which recreates New York’s 19th century seaport.
A heaving mass of color and people, Chinatown is one of the most exciting parts of the city. Walk down the street there and you’ll find yourself surrounded by hawkers and shopkeepers selling pretty much anything you could think of. Relax, go with it and if you want to buy, haggle. If all that shopping makes you hungry, head to Mott Street for steaming plates of authentic Asian food.
Once a much bigger area, Little Italy has shrunk and the Italian culture on which it is based absorbed into the wider city culture. Despite this, it is still a distinctive area, worth visiting for a taste of real Italian food, NY style.
Lower East Side
Once home to some of New York’s worst slums, the Lower East Side was the first dwelling place of many an immigrant. Today, it has begun to rapidly gentrify, but the old character is still there. The Lower East Side’s tenement blocks are quintessential New York for many.
North of the Lower East Side, the New York melting pot continues. The area is traditionally home to many East Europeans, especially Ukranians: there are lots of good, cheap Ukranian restaurants in the area. The area was famous in the 1960s as the home of the city’s hippies and artists, although it has since become gentrified.
Greenwich is famous the world over as the heart of the city’s bohemian culture. Take in the café culture, the small theaters and music clubs. It is also home to many of the city’s rich and famous, so if you enjoy a bit of celebrity spotting, it’s the place to be.
The Meatpacking District
Inelegantly named, the Meatpacking district was once a gritty industrial area which provided jobs for many poor immigrant workers. Today, you are more likely to find bars and nightclubs than meat packing firms (though a few do remain).
The Theater District
The Theater District is home to the glamorous world of Broadway and Times Square. The area is full of bright lights and neon, and even if you don’t end up seeing a show, it’s worth wandering around just to take in the atmosphere. The presence of the theaters means there are plenty of restaurants around serving good food at cheap prices.
Sitting right by the Theater District, Midtown is home to some of New York’s most iconic sights, including the Empire State Building. It is home to Grand Central Station, and a good place to start a Manhattan walking tour. It’s also great for shoppers: Bloomingdale’s, Saks and other well-known stores are to be found there.