When I dreamed about visiting New York it was not because of the familiar list of landmarks: the Statue of Liberty, Trump Tower, Ground Zero. Rather, I wanted to go out and explore the different neighbourhoods. Feel the flavour of local life. Experience the raw nature of this city.
Armed with comfortable walking shoes, Google maps, and a faint idea of what I wanted to see, I set off to explore a more intimate side of Manhattan. I sought out the likes of Greenwich Village, the Lower East Side, and Chinatown.
Read here which Manhattan neighbourhoods I recommend to visit. I will also introduce you to great places to eat, and explain what to do while there.
Hell’s Kitchen: Great for People Watching
Since our hotel was in Hell’s Kitchen, we had plenty of time to experience this diverse and always surprising neighbourhood.
Few steps away from the major tourist hub of Times Square and Broadway, we found ourselves in a different world altogether. Drug addicts and people left behind by society were just as common as groups of students and pairs of young men walking hand in hand down the street.
We particularly loved dining in Hell’s Kitchen, with lots of cool and cheap eateries offering a variety of food from around the world. For breakfast, try Morning Star, for Thai food Yuqi’s, and for something hip The Meatball Shop (all within a couple of blocks on 8th Avenue).
Greenwich Village: A Bohemian Feel
It is hard to believe these days that Greenwich Village in the centre of busy Manhattan used to be an independent village.
Today, it neatly blends into the grid of the city. Yet at the same time, it is retaining a very bohemian atmosphere of historic brownstone mansions and leafy side streets. Greenwich Village is a popular backdrop for film and TV productions, and will appear familiar to anyone who loved to watch the show “Sex and the City”.
In Greenwich Village, walk down Bleeker Street to check out the hip and expensive boutiques. Fetch some cupcakes from famous Magnolia Bakery, and rest your feet at delightful Washington Square Park. Highly recommended: Lunch at Mexican restaraurant Tacombi which is perfectly located to soak up this very special village feel.
Chelsea: Shopping and the High Line
As you walk the High Line (as you will probably do as a visitor to New York), you will pass by Chelsea and the Chelsea Market. The latter is a must-do when in the area.
The former cookie factory is today a popular and thriving indoor market with a range of great eateries, fun shops, and lots of character. The historic halls of brick and rusty metal are a great example of repurposed industrial design. From the fresh food market in the basement of Chelsea Market to the young designer market on ground level, there is a lot to explore.
As you continue on the High Line, check out the great architecture, street art projects and flowering urban garden spaces of Chelsea.
Lower East Side: Tenements and History
One of the first areas settled by Europeans in New York, the Lower East Side has a long history of urban development. From early farms the area soon developed into a more suburban part of Manhattan. The small family homes with gardens were soon replaced by four to five storey high tenements.
These buildings were usually home to way too many people. Families of eight to twelve people were crammed into tiny apartments with little fresh air or daylight, nor running water.
Today, many of these tenements with their characteristic iron fire stairs still line the streets of the Lower East Side. The best way to learn more about the area is by joining a guided tour of the Tenement Museum. For lunch or dinner, try the excellent Persian Restaurant Ravagh (their green dip and bread it to die for!) or world-famous Katz’s Delicatessen.
Chinatown: Exotic Flavours and Cheap Eats
Chinatown in New York is like the mother of all Chinatowns. So please don’t give it a miss because you think you know what to expect from “a” Chinatown. We found New York’s Chinatown, in particular the area around Canal Street, overwhelming, impressive, and out of this world.
The crowds in the street market, the variety of things on offer, and the very different, very foreign atmosphere are special. Check out the fresh fish stores, the Chinese medicine pharmacies, the snack bars and tea shops.
We had a quick, yummy and very uncomplicated lunch at Nice Green Bo Restaurant. Try the taste-and-sample lunch menu which is great value for two people, or steamed dumplings, their speciality.
Why we Loved Visiting Manhattan Neighbourhoods
We had a fantastic time exploring the many different areas of Manhattan. Granted, you will need to walk a lot to cover some ground and see the many surprising details. But then, this is what you would want to take with you from a city as fascinating as this: Unforgettable experiences and new impressions.
New York is far more than just the tourist sites, like a living, breathing organism. And if you’re looking to explore more than just New York City, there are a ton of Brooklyn neighborhoods to check out as well, which you can read about in this post.