Are you looking for things to do on the Upper West Side of New York City?
Well, you’re in the right place. Not only did I live on the Upper West for many years, but it’s also a favorite and loved NYC neighborhood of mine.
Each NYC neighborhood has its own character and attributes that set it apart from other areas. The Upper West Side is no different and in this detailed guide, you’ll see why…through the eyes of a local.
14 Things to Do on the Upper West Side NYC
As New York City’s population expanded in the late 1800s & early1900s, the need for housing grew. The Upper West Side was sparsely populated and ripe for residential development.
This residential feel is still present today, as evidenced by the large pre-war apartment buildings and brownstones that line the neighborhood’s quieter streets.
However, it would be a miss to skip this iconic NYC neighborhood! With decidedly local eateries, world-famous museums, 2 gorgeous parks, and a glimpse of daily life in New York City, you’re bound to fall in love with all that sets the Upper West Side apart from other NYC neighborhoods.
Where is the Upper West Side?
The Upper West Side of Manhattan is sandwiched in between Riverside Park to the west & Central Park to the east. On the northern end, it borders W.110th street down south to Columbus Circle at W.59th street.
This map of the Upper West Side shows its location relative to the rest of Manhattan.
If you happen to be staying in another area of Manhattan NYC, there are a number of subway lines (more details below) that run through the Upper West Side.
I’d also recommend walking around as much as you can. It’s the best way to get a feel for the neighborhood.
As a local resident, I put together a list of things to see and do so you get the most of your time on the Upper West Side!
1. Stroll through Riverside Park.
Central Park usually gets top billing in NYC as far as parks go but Riverside Park is a true gem beloved by locals. The park stretches 4 miles from 72nd street to 158th street.
It’s been designated a scenic landmark and you’ll know why after you’ve had a chance to stroll through the park. It’s a waterfront park, running along the Hudson River. The river is so close in certain spots it looks like you can reach out and grab it.
I lived one block away from Riverside Park and spent a considerable amount of time here. In Spring, the blossom trees line the pathways with pinks, purples, and whites. And in Fall, the foliage lights up as the sun descends in the western sky over the Hudson.
Without a doubt, Riverside Park is a real gift to the residents of the neighborhood. It’s also a great place for visitors to soak up local life and a completely different part of Manhattan compared to the lights and bustle of midtown.
To say NYC is a busy place is an understatement, for sure. But, there are areas where you’d never know you’re in a city with over 8 million people. Riverside Park is one of those special places.
One of the best things to do is to use the park’s paths, including the Hudson River path, to walk, bike, and jog. For locals and visitors looking to get outdoors and swap the noisy streets for leafy pathways and spectacular water views, Riverside Park is just the place.
ProTip: The Hudson River Greenway is a 5-mile walking, running, and biking trail along the Hudson River that connects Battery Park & Riverside Park.
If you save time for the trail, you can spend some time outdoors in Riverside Park and then rent a Citibike to head down the path along the Hudson River to visit other popular neighborhoods on Manhattan’s West Side like Chelsea or Greenwich Village.
They are some interesting and historic places to visit in the park, as well.
The General Grant National Memorial is the final resting place of President Ulysses S. Grant and his wife. The beautiful and imposing mausoleum is located at 122nd Street and Riverside Drive.
The National Parks Service manages the site, including the mausoleum hours. The memorial isn’t something topping things to do in NYC lists, but it’s a total hidden gem historic site!
The Soldiers and Sailors Monument at 89th Street and the Firemen’s Memorial at 100th street are 2 other monuments in Riverside Park that are worth a visit. In fact, the Firemen’s Memorial Monument is where the FDNY holds a memorial service every September 11th.
If you do nothing else while on the Upper West Side or it’s your first time in New York and you’re looking to explore outside of the general touristy areas in midtown, don’t miss out on spending some time in Riverside Park. It’s one of the easiest ways to escape the hustle of the city and blend in with the locals.
2. Visit the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
When you think about New York City and Cathedrals, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is the first one that comes to mind. It’s not only the largest cathedral in NYC, but it’s also the largest gothic-style cathedral in the U.S, as well as a popular spot when visiting New York City at Christmas.
But there’s another Cathedral on the Upper West Side that should also be on your list of places to see. The Cathedral of St. John the Divine majestically rises up on the corner of 112th street & Amsterdam avenue. The Cathedral grounds are immense, too!
Built in 1892, the Cathedral is over 125 years old. And like other renowned Churches & Cathedrals around the world, it also seems to be in perpetual construction. In fact, St. John’s is also known as St. John’s the Unfinished.
Don’t be fooled by how old or medieval St. John’s looks. Originally built in the Romanesque style, it was eventually updated to reflect a Neo-Gothic style, and the work continues.
You can do your own self-guided tour. You can also drop in for or reserve a spot on one of the Cathedral’s guided tours, as well.
When you visit, look for the Cathedral’s 3 most beloved congregates, Harry, Jim, and Phil.
These guys are peacocks (yes, you read that correctly!) who actually live and roam on the Cathedral grounds. I bet you never thought you’d see free-roaming peacocks on your trip to New York City!
3. Catch a Show at Lincoln Center.
The heart of NYC’s culture is its connection to the arts.
Lincoln Center is a centerpiece of New York City’s performing arts scene and a major source of pride for Upper West Siders. As you come upon Lincoln Center, you’re literally entering a campus of entertainment.
Within the nearly 16 acres of space are buildings that are home to multiple organizations all focused on theater, music, and dance. Think cultural hubs like the New York Philharmonic, the New York City Ballet, the Julliard School of Music, and the Metropolitan Opera.
It’s no wonder that millions of visitors come to Lincoln Center each year to take in a show. Seeing a live performance whether at Lincoln Center or on Broadway is a must whether you’ve got 4 days in NYC or 4 weeks!
If you’re in town and can’t get to a show, Lincoln Center is still worth a visit. I like to go at night as the nights come on! The outdoor square and stairs light up and the central fountain is a great spot to stand and take in the iconic location.
ProTip: There’s also no shortage of places to eat or get a drink in the area. Some of my favorites include The Smith, PJ Clarkes, Rosa Mexicana, & Shun Lee West.
4. Learn about Humans and Animals at the American Museum of Natural History.
The American Museum of Natural History is a symbol of the city and a top place to visit in NYC.
I remember first visiting as a kid on a school trip completely in awe while walking through the exhibition halls. Many return trips later, the halls are just as fascinating!
The Museum of Natural History is located right across the street from Central Park at W.81st Street. A great day on the Upper West Side in NYC is combining a museum visit with time in Central Park.
It would be impossible to see everything in the museum in just 1 day. It’s large with several levels and nearly 50 exhibition halls filled with fossils, artifacts, minerals, meteorites, and many other interesting items.
A better plan is to choose the exhibit halls you really want to visit and start there. You can always see more if you have time and/or feel energized to keep going.
The Museum of Natural History is also included with the New York CityPASS. Sightseeing passes like this are a great way to streamline entry and save money with the bundled discount.
And, be sure to check out the Planetarium accessible via the Lower Level. Travel through the wonders of space in the Black Hole Theater where hundreds of scientists and researchers have used their knowledge to show you accurate maps of the planets and stars, as well as all kinds of amazing discoveries about the universe!
5. Eat Cookies from Levain Bakery.
Oh, how many times I walked past this place and literally had to cover my eyes and keep moving!
Seriously, this might be the best chocolate chip cookie you will ever taste! Don’t be discouraged by any potential line to get in either. There’s a reason visitors and locals alike wait.
Levain has opened another location just a few blocks from their original spot on W. 74th Street. (If you never visited before, the location was about the size of a closet with only room for customers to buy a cookie from the counter and eat outside.) The newer location is on Amsterdam Avenue between W.76 & W.77th Streets.
And if (somehow) you’re not a classic chocolate chip cookie fan, Levain also makes oatmeal raisin, dark chocolate peanut butter chip, and dark chocolate chip cookies.
And worry not. I’ve done the legwork and can confirm they’re all rated a 10 out of 10 in my book! 😉
6. Shop and Eat at Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle.
Columbus Circle is where the Upper West Side starts and Midtown ends.
The Time Warner Center is the massive double-tower structure that overlooks Central Park. Prime real estate indeed. The building is a combination of residential condos, a 5-star luxury hotel, restaurants, shops, and Whole Foods, which is always buzzing with people.
It’s very festive during the holidays with impressive decorations and is across from a pop-up holiday winter market.
The Time Warner Center is great for combining upscale shopping and delicious food. A couple of my favorite spots to nosh are Momofuku Noodle Bar, Bluebird, and Porter House.
It’s also a handy stop if you’re in need of a restroom or a respite from the rain or cold. Locals are known to stop in Whole Foods on the lower level and head home with their dinner. But visitors can pop in and grab snacks and then head into Central Park for an impromptu picnic.
ProTip: A night of jazz at Dizzy’s Club in the Time Warner Center is also a great night out with live music and gorgeous NYC views.
7. Uncover NYC and U.S. History at the New-York Historical Society.
Founded in 1804, the New-York Historial Society has the distinction of being New York City’s first museum.
Located on Central Park West at 77th Street just next to the American Museum of Natural History, the museum is home to countless works of art and artifacts that detail the history of New York and the United States.
George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Alexander Hamilton (of course!), and many, many others play prominent roles in the museum.
If you want a full dose of U.S. history, not to worry! The New-York Historical Society is an absolute must with millions of documents, photos, maps, books, & newspapers that tell the story of the nation.
Like most locations in the City, there is a subway station not too far away. The B & C train at W. 81st Street or the 1 train at W. 79th Street are the closest stations to the museum.
8. Spy a Banksy Work of Art
This famous street artist has left his mark in murals around the world. Luckily for the Upper West Side, there is an off-the-radar spot where you can check out one of his pieces that dates back to a 2013 trip to NYC.
At W. 79th Street and Broadway, look to the DSW on the corner. On the side of the wall on 79th Street, look for “Hammer Boy.” It shows a small boy swinging a hammer and aiming it towards a real red fire hydrant just next to him.
It’s covered with plexiglass to protect it but if you take a photo next to it you’ll undoubtedly be seen as an honorary local for having found such a non-touristy spot.
ProTip: NYC has great street art to discover. This street art tour takes you to one of the best neighborhoods in Brooklyn to discover a continually changing area of murals.
9. Get Tickets for a Show at the Beacon Theater.
The legendary Beacon Theater at W.74 Street and Broadway has seen it all over the years.
The historic theater has been an entertainment mainstay on the Upper West Side since 1929, originally opening as a movie house before becoming home to major events in arts & entertainment.
The Beacon has hosted big-time musicians for decades and has been home to the biggest night on Broadway, hosting the Tony Awards in 2011, 2012, & 2016.
What makes the Beacon a special place to see a show is its size. At just under 3,000 seats, the theater is small and intimate, which enhances the acoustics and makes you feel so close to the performers compared to bigger arenas like Madison Square Garden.
If you’re planning a trip to NYC, it’s worth looking to see who’s performing at the Beacon.
The subway is just two blocks from the theater at W.72nd and Broadway. If you go or even just pass by, peek your head around the corner to the theater’s side entrance. You just might spot a cool tour bus or even the main act signing autographs. 😉
10. Shop at Zabar’s for a Classic New York City Market Experience.
There might not be a person, place, or thing that’s more synonymous with the Upper West Side than Zabar’s.
Do you really want to know where the where local Upper West Siders shop? Look no further.
Zabar’s has been a cornerstone “in the neighborhood” for 80 years and has remained in the same family through 3 generations. Founded by Louis & Lillian Zabar in 1934, this iconic market started as a small shop at W. 80th Street & Broadway and has grown into over 20,000 square feet of deliciousness.
Smoked fish, homemade roasted coffee, baked goods, and artisanal cheese are just some of the fan favorites at Zabars.
What should you get? Smoked salmon on a bagel with cream cheese of course! Pair it with a freshly brewed cup of coffee and head towards Riverside or Central Park. You’re guaranteed to look like a local!
ProTip: Shop at Zabar’s for a picnic lunch and then head into Central Park. It’s a great way to soak up the local Upper West Side vibe while people-watching and giving your weary legs a rest. You could even book a Central Park photographer to get some classic photos taken in the park.
11. Stroll the Upper West Side for Beautiful and Historic Architecture.
The pre-war building and the streets lined with brownstones and townhouses are the signature architectural styles on the Upper West Side. Even just a short stroll through the neighborhood on West End Avenue, for example, reveals its roots as a residential area.
The pre-war style describes buildings constructed between the years 1900-1939, just before WWII. New York City’s population was growing exponentially at the turn of the 20th century, and combined with more affordable elevator technology, these pre-war apartment buildings could accommodate many residents.
You know one when you walk into one of these buildings. They’re incredibly sturdy, made with stone and high ceilings. Once you’re inside an apartment, you don’t hear a thing, except the ambient noise of some street traffic.
I was lucky to live in a pre-war apartment building on the Upper West Side for many years and can attest to never hearing a thing above, below, or side to side.
Below is a mini-guide to a few notable Upper West Side buildings that illustrate this classic architectural style…along with some fascinating history. You can also choose to stroll the neighborhood on a private guided Upper West Side tour.
The Ansonia, located on Broadway between W.73rd & W.74th Streets, was completed in 1904 and originally built to serve as a residential hotel. The Gothic design and decorative ornaments make it impossible to walk by without stopping to admire its beauty.
The Ansonia was the first air-conditioned hotel in NYC and once even had a farm on the roof! Live seals even occupied the lobby fountain for a time.
Tenants enjoyed fresh eggs from the over 500 chickens that lived above them. Other animals like ducks and goats lived on the roof until the Department of Health eventually closed this down.
Babe Ruth is just 1 of the many NYC celebs and artists to have lived here. Today, the Ansonia is a registered Historic Place and reportedly one of the most haunted buildings in NYC.
The Dakota, located at W.72nd Street and Central Park West is a gorgeous pre-war apartment building that would stand out all on its own, even without the list of celebrities who’ve lived there.
Perhaps most famous was John Lennon, the world-famous member of The Beatles who was tragically killed just outside the entrance of the building. The Strawberry Fields Imagine mosaic is just inside Central Park, across from the building.
The Dakota is over 130 years old and was named a National Landmark in 1969.
The Apthorp is a majestic structure that sits on a full block between Broadway & West End Avenue in between W.78th and W.79th Streets. One of the defining features is that the building itself was constructed with a large courtyard at its center. As you walk past, you can’t help but peer into the gardens and imagine the horses and carriages that once trotted through the arched entrances.
Like many other luxury pre-war buildings on the Upper West Side, The Apthorp has been home to its fair share of celebs like Al Pacino & Conan O’Brien.
12. Spend a Day Discovering Central Park.
There’s a reason why locals and visitors alike love Central Park. It’s quite simply an extraordinary place, especially when you place it in context with the concrete jungle surrounding it on all sides.
And whether you explore on your own or as part of a guided Central Park walking tour, you’re bound to have a fantastic time in the park.
Central Park is an oasis within the hustle and bustle that you must experience. No matter the time of year, Central Park must be on your list of things to do in NYC.
If you were flying high above Manhattan, Central Park would look like a perfect rectangle occupying the uptown area. It borders 110th Street to the north and 59th Street to the south. 5th Avenue is the eastern border and Central Park West is on the west side of the park.
Within these boundaries, there are a ton of history and secret spots to discover!
Interestingly enough, Central Park isn’t the largest park in the New York City area, which also includes all the outer boroughs. At over 800 acres, it’s actually the 5th largest park in NYC.
Nevertheless, nearly 40 million people visit the park each year and the park is widely considered to be one of the most photographed locations in the world.
What can you do in Central Park?
Well, just about anything! It’s an endless list that includes anything from sunbathing and rowing boats on the lake in the Summer, riding bikes in the Fall to see the foliage, ice skating in the winter, and seeing the cherry blossoms come to life in the Spring.
But as you’ll see when you visit, Central Park is a hub of activity for locals and visitors. From sword-fighting classes to high school track teams doing their long-distance training to picnickers on Sheeps Meadow and people snapping photos of Bethesda Fountain and rowing boats on the lake, life is abuzz in Central Park.
In addition to movie and TV crews filming, you’re likely to come upon musicians giving concerts and even full-scale Shakespeare productions in the Summer. There are over two dozen baseball fields, multiple volleyball, basketball & tennis courts, and numerous playgrounds.
Some of the top Central Park sights to see include:
- Belvedere Castle
- Bethesda Fountain and Terrace
- The Mall and Literary Walk
- Loeb Boathouse on the Lake
- Bow Bridge
- Strawberry Fields
- Central Park Carousel
- Wollman Rink
- Conservatory Gardens
And if the park feels too big to explore on foot, please avoid a horse and carriage ride and opt for Central Park Pedi-Cab Tour instead! Without going into too much detail, the treatment of these horses is a source of local controversy.
You can also choose a guided Central Park bike tour and have a lot more flexibility about hopping on and off to take photos or stop at famous landmarks inside the park.
If you’re staying on the Upper West Side, join the locals for an early morning jog or walk around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir.
13. Shop for One-of-a-Kind Buys at the Grand Bazaar NYC.
At the corner of W.77th Street & Columbus Avenue is the biggest flea market in NYC. It’s open every Sunday all year round and features local artisans, entrepreneurs, and antique dealers who sell a wide mix of fashion, jewelry, vintage items, & antiques.
What began in the early 1980s as a yard sale for parents to raise money for their kids’ schools has the oldest shopping market in NYC.
You can make it a great Sunday on the Upper West Side by starting with a stroll in Central Park or Riverside Park, followed by some brunch, and then off to the Grand Bazaar for some one-of-a-kind shopping.
14. Dine with Locals at Upper West Side Restaurants.
When thinking of foodie neighborhoods in New York City, the Upper West Side isn’t what typically comes to mind. BUT, there are PLENTY of good eats here.
The character of the food on the Upper West Side stems from its diners, cafes, bagel shops, and delicatessens. And, of course, it’s also a neighborhood you can have a great Sunday Brunch!
City Diner at W. 90th Street & Broadway is a classic city diner, perfect for breakfast, burgers, matzoh ball soup, milkshakes, and late-night food runs!
Fred’s at W.83rd Street & Amsterdam Avenue is a local brunch and dinner favorite serving classic American fare. Other Upper West Side brunch winners include Good Enough to Eat, Sarabeth’s, and The Smith.
Cafe Lalo is a classic cafe where you can sit for lunch or meet for coffee and dessert. You might even recognize Cafe Lalo because it had a starring role in ‘You’ve Got Mail” with Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan.
A few more local favorite Upper West Side restaurants include:
- Osteria Cotta – Pizza & Wine Bar
- Fred’s – Great local pub spot and place for a boozy brunch
- The Milling Room – American Fare
- Cafe Luxembourg – French Bistro
- Red Farm – Chinese Contemporary
- Mermaid Inn – Seafood / Oysters
- Aangan – Indian
- Thai Market – Thai…one of the best in NYC!
How to Get to the Upper West Side
There are multiple subway lines that access the Upper West Side. The B, C, 1, 2, & 3 trains all make stops at various points in the neighborhood. The B & C lines will make local stops along Central Park West after departing 59th Street & Columbus Circle.
The 1, 2, & 3 trains run along Broadway, with the 1 train making local stops. Each of these lines is accessible at different stations in midtown. 72nd Street and 96th Street are the express stops after Times Square making it quick and easy to go from Midtown West to the Upper West Side.
On foot from midtown, you could get to the Upper West Side in about 40 minutes. The best part is a good chunk of that walk can lead to and through parts of Central Park.
Where to Stay on the Upper West Side
The Upper West Side is a great place to stay, especially if you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of midtown for quieter nights and for families. The neighborhood’s residential feel is all-around less stressful for visitors with young children and has access to 2 parks with open green space and playgrounds.
What would you like to do on the Upper West Side?
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