I’ve been walking the streets of New York City neighborhoods for the last 3 weeks. I was hired to do a photo project capturing NYC neighborhoods, restaurants, parks, activities, and hotels for a new NYC Travel Website. Every day I’d ride the subway to a new neighborhood and scour it.
It’s been 10 years since I lived in New York City, so the neighborhoods were familiar to me; however, in many instances, I was reacquainting myself with them. Sometimes that reunion felt joyous as I found new parks and green spaces that didn’t exist in the past. But sometimes it was disheartening seeing the old family-run businesses and old apartments being torn down for new chain stores and condos; essentially pushing the gritty, artistic side of New York City out of Manhattan.
It was hard for me to go by the famous Katz’s Deli on the Lower East Side and see that it was the only thing left standing on the block. All of the other little family-run stores and run-down buildings had been (or were in the process of being) torn down to make way for the shiny, organic NYC. It made me think a lot about progress, wondering if was good or bad.
Regardless, it was rewarding to walk around the neighborhoods seeing the old intermix with the new. Each neighborhood has such a different personality, and that’s what I love about NYC – it’s diverse – and it shows up even in their neighborhoods.
My last 3 weeks have been full of photography, so I thought I’d show you some of my favorite sites, experiences, and food from the various New York City neighborhoods. You’ll easily be able to see some of the differences between the neighborhoods.
Which New York City Neighborhoods Are For You?
Upper West Side
This neighborhood was my old home 10 years ago and still is my favorite. The sidewalks are wide, there are lots of new families living here, and you are surrounded by Central Park, Riverside Park, and the Hudson River Bike path – what’s not to love? It is also a big area for the arts with Lincoln Center being the crown jewel and the Natural History Museum close by. The Upper West Side isn’t gritty, it’s just livable.
Upper East Side
The Upper East Side is a mirror image practically of the Upper West Side, but with fewer subway lines and a bit more old money. Of course, you have Park Avenue, high-end hotels, all of the famous museums, Central Park, and lots of nannies.
The throngs of tourists intermix with locals going to work. If you are a local in NYC this is not even a place you want to be as it’s so crowded and touristy! However, Midtown is full of great sites for everyone; Grand Central Station, Times Square, the Intrepid Air and Space Museum, high-end hotels, the library, and plenty of theaters. My favorite thing was re-discovering Bryant Park. When I used to live in NYC the park was rarely used, but now there are tons of people out sitting in the park – it’s alive! The park organizes a bunch of different activities such as music, story readings, movies, and more for the summer and a holiday market, and ice skating in the winter.
This is a mix of the Flatiron District, Gramercy Park, and Union Square areas. There are a lot of great markets here like the Union Square farmers market, and Eataly. Plus you’ll also find the Empire State building on 34th Street of course. Stop in for a hamburger at the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park, but go early when they open to avoid lines!
Chelsea, the newest growing neighborhood is full of galleries and old factory buildings that are being re-imagined, and it’s home to the most innovative park in NYC – the High Line Park. In fact, the High Line has totally brought this side of the city back to life. When I lived here nothing was on 10th Ave, but now it’s full of bars, restaurants, and the High Line; it’s been totally revitalized.
The home of NYU and Washington Square Park. There are lots of old history in Greenwich village including the Stonewall Riots. You’ll find cheap eats here and lots of college-type bars intermixed with hipsters who can still afford the city. It feels like NYC here, with its small streets and narrow sidewalks.
The more sophisticated side of the village where the streets are no longer straight and it’s possible to get lost wandering down little brownstone-filled streets. You’ll also find a number of homes of the rich and famous in this part of the city. A charming neighborhood in the city that you shouldn’t miss. They’ve also recently really rebuilt the park along the Hudson River and now you’ll find it full of people and new little bars, art sculptures, and green space!
The grittier side of NYU where you can still find a few artists. You’ll find lots of little public gardens among the densely packed old buildings. You’ll also find that this is a hotbed of bars and music venues late at night. It is the place to be if you want to see the real NYC nightlife.
And don’t forget to go a little further than that and check out NYC’s Chinatown while you are there!
Lower East Side
It’s still the home of Katz’s Deli, but other than that it looked rather foreign to me. Even the Tenement Museum got a facelift since I last saw it. It looks lovely, but more importantly go check out the tenements – it’s fascinating. This is the old immigrant NYC, where people landed after Ellis Island. You’ll see a mix of run-down buildings, clever street art, and lots of little hip shops at street level.
It used to be known as the artist enclave, but it’s now morphed into a retail enclave. It still has a quaint feel in places with its little brick streets and loading docks. However, it has mainly become a high-end shopping neighborhood now where you’ll find all of the big brand names. The narrow sidewalks are crowded full of people and tables of vendors selling jewelry, hats, socks, and anything you can really imagine. You can still find little art galleries and a neighborhood feel along the outskirts of Soho if you don’t feel like shopping.
Here you’ll start to see lots of men in suits; Tribeca feels more corporate than the village neighborhoods. Look up and you can see the World Trade Center from nearly every angle in Tribeca reminding you how close you are to Lower Manhattan. Pier 25, along the river in Tribeca, is a hive of activity for families. You’ll find mini golf, a water playground, sand volleyball courts, a wine bar, a small soccer field, and plenty of seats to just hang out and enjoy the view. Walk or bike the Hudson River Park Trail along the water then you’ll run into the Irish Hunger Memorial – a fascinating and creative look at why the Irish immigrated to NYC.
Where the Wall Street and corporate types intermingle with tourists; Lower Manhattan is a sea of people and iron. You’ll be surrounded by tall buildings including the One World Trade Center; go up to the viewing platform and get the best view of the city and boroughs. There are still many new buildings and park areas under construction in Lower Manhattan since 9/11. You’ll find the 9/11 Memorial at the base of the One World Trade Center. This is also the jumping-off point for getting to Brooklyn and Stanton Island (via ferry), and visiting the Statute of Liberty and Ellis Island.
And if you want see where these place are on a map, here’s a map of NYC neighborhoods to check out.
Get a unlimited ride subway ticket and go explore the diverse New York City neighborhoods and see what gems you find!
By Jared July 26, 2016 - 11:24 am
Loving these images Sherry. Makes me miss NYC a bit, but not the summer humidity and resulting smell of garbage wafting through the streets 🙂 Still my favorite city on earth. My wife and I had our first date at Katz’s. I had corned beef sandwich (of course) and she got a hot dog. That place is legendary and one of the last authentic Jewish delis left in its original location.
By Wynne July 26, 2016 - 11:51 am
This is wonderful! And reminds me of places I’ve yet to see (and do) that have long been on my list (Tenement Museum, for one). Thanks for such a robust listing of NYC’s top neighborhoods!
By Bridget DeMouy July 26, 2016 - 1:37 pm
Beautiful photos and really interesting angles here! You are making me think about getting really low for a photo. Great work!
By Sherry July 29, 2016 - 10:03 am
YES! put that camera on the ground occasionally!!!
By Rebecca July 27, 2016 - 11:47 am
I lived in NYC decades ago, also the Upper Weet Side, and continued to visit for years afterward. However, it had been another couple of decades since I’d been, when I returned last August. Like you, I found a lot familiar, but also some startling changes. The two biggest, for me, were Harlem and the financial district.
I’d never been to Harlem before, and it’s fabulous now. At least, the part I saw. Beautiful buildings and great places to eat. And when I lived in the city, the financial district was dead in the evenings and on weekends. It was a place people went to work, and nothing much was there outside of business hours. Now there are lovely green spaces that look great for sitting outside during lunch. And though it was still a little quiet on weekends for Manhattan, we found wonderful places to eat and drink.
NYC will always be one of my favorite places ever. I can’t wait to go back.
By Sherry July 29, 2016 - 10:02 am
Yes – I was going to include Harlem in this post but it was already so long! Harlem has changed immensely. I have mixed feelings about it. And yes – I was also surprised to see so many families living in the downtown financial district area. That’s new since 9/11
By Noah July 27, 2016 - 9:34 pm
One of the world’s great cities … I always discover something new and awesome every time I go!
By Sherry July 29, 2016 - 10:01 am
By Kelly February 10, 2020 - 5:00 pm
What a great synopsis; I really enjoyed it. Thank you. I can’t wait to be back in NYC in May for my annual pilgrimage to one of my absolute favorite cities. (BTW, I think you’ve got a typo in the lower Manhattan section: Stanton).