• Anita Kenna

DOWNTOWN NYC (Part 1) - 9 Areas to Visit Downtown

"New York is Always a Good Idea"

Brooklyn Bridge arch with USA flag and blue sky in background..

I've been to New York 15 times and still long to go back! There is always something new to discover. Check out my NYC series to read more tourist tips and advice on where to eat, where to stay, and, what to do in Uptown, Midtown, and, Downtown.


Many first-time tourists to NYC will likely spend most of their time in Midtown - only venturing Downtown to visit the Financial District. However, there is so much more to explore Downtown! It quickly became one of my favorite areas of New York. Away from the crowds of Times Square and Fifth Avenue are some fantastic neighborhoods that are quieter and have outstanding eateries, boutiques, and bars to discover. I understand that a first-time visitor may have their days booked up with the usual tourist items but, if you have the time (or are a returning visitor), I recommend exploring more of Downtown too!

Downtown is at the bottom of Manhattan - see the NYC Tourist map if you want a good breakdown of the different areas of Manhattan. One thing to note when traveling Downtown is that it is not as easy to navigate as Uptown and Midtown. Its streets are not in a gridline/ordered by number. I heavily rely on Google maps when Downtown! Subway stations offer free wifi so you can pop into one of them to do a google search if you end up lost!


  1. Financial District

  2. Tribeca

  3. Chinatown

  4. Little Italy & Nolita

  5. East Village

  6. Lower East Side

  7. SoHo (including Hudson Square) & NoHo

  8. West Village (Greenwich Village)

  9. Meatpacking District




1. FINANCIAL DISTRICT


There is a lot to do in FiDi, including, One World Trade, Wall Street, Seaport, Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty, and the Irish Hunger Memorial. I thus wrote a separate post exclusively on the Financial District.


2. TRIBECA


Tribeca is just above the Financial District. It is roughly a 10-minute walk from the Irish Famine Memorial/World Trade Center. The area was once an industrial warehouses area but is now known for its trendiness. You will find plenty of artists, actors, and models here. It is one of the most desirable areas to live in Manhattan - with fashionable boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, and bars. It has some interesting architecture such as a windowless skyscraper and the unusually built Jenga building. Tribeca is great if you wish to visit good restaurants and stay in a pleasant and stylish (mainly residential) area. However, if it's sightseeing/the hustle and bustle that you are after, then Tribeca is perhaps not for you.


BARS/DINING


A New Yorker brought me to Brandy Library bar so I knew it was going to be good! It's always great to take advice from a New Yorker rather than some of the tourist recommendations! The bar did not disappoint. It was elegant and sophisticated, perfect for a date or a relaxing evening with some impressive cognac drinks (it's not a place for a rowdy drunken night out!). The bar is included on Time Out magazine's best bars in Tribeca. Another popular bar to visit is the pretty little pink townhouse Tiny's.


For brunch, popular spots include an American-style brunch at Bubby's or the artisanal bakery Sarabeth's. For further food recommendations, check out a list of the best places to eat in Tribeca.


SIGHTSEEING


Pier 25: During the summer, I imagine Pier 25 is a fun spot. It includes an 18-hole miniature golf course amongst other facilities such as sailing lessons, skateparks, and beach volleyball.

Poster House: A small museum dedicated solely to posters! This museum is not for everyone. However, for those interested in art, marketing, graphic design, or politics, it may be worth a visit! I can't want to check it out in December, I will keep you posted!


City Hall: Archive tours are available for those interested in politics and history. It is one of the oldest City Halls in the States that is still used and houses its original governmental functions.


OTHER


Featured on The Tonight Show and Real Housewives of New York, Blood Manor looks like such a fun spot if scaring yourself stupid in a Haunted House is your idea of fun!! Also, check out the famous HQ Firehouse of Ghostbusters (14 N Moore St)!


3. CHINATOWN


Adjacent to Tribeca is where you will find Chinatown, Little Italy, and NoLita. I had previously visited Chinatown in San Francisco, the largest Chinatown found outside of Asia, and I was blown away by it! Though Chinatown NYC is not as impressive as San Francisco, it is still worth visiting. You can take a colorful walk along Mott Street (considered the Main street of Chinatown) and detour along its intersection at Canal street. Canal street is a famous strip known for bargain shopping - fake handbags, wallets, perfumes, and watches. On the busy sidewalks of Chinatown, you will also find street vendors, low real estate, souvenir shops, tea and herbs, and food markets.


DINING


If you are a foodie, particularly of Chinese and South Asian food, then read this Time Out article on the best restaurants of Chinatown! For a treat, stop off at the renowned Chinatown Ice Cream Factory.


SIGHTSEEING


From the Ice Cream Factory, you can enjoy a 2-minute stroll to Columbus Park. Here, you will find many of the Asian community with chess, card players and perhaps see some tai chi and traditional Chinese music happening. For those interested in the immigration of Chinese to NYC, check out the small Museum of Chinese in America. Also, you can visit the peaceful, and New Yorks' largest temple, Mahayana Buddhist.


4. LITTLE ITALY, NOLITA


DINING


If you are a foodie, the Italian bakeries and restaurants of Little Italy should be on your list! Little Italy is known for its amazing food. Many of the Rat Pack and Mafia visited bars and restaurants around Little Italy back in the day! Grotta Azzura was known to frequently have members of the Rat pack stop by for a meal. Along the most well-known street in the area, Mulberry street is where the prior Ravenite Social Club was known as a meeting place of the Italian Mafia bosses (this club is now a shoe store). Frank Sinatra was also known to frequent Mulberry Street Bar - several Soprano episodes were filmed here!

Lombardi's is famous for its pizza and, if you are a pizza lover, it's not to be missed! Not quite in the Italian theme, but one of the several Butchers Daughter restaurants (vegan and vegetarian) is close by Lombardi's too. I love this spot for brunch! Time Out's article on some of the best restaurants of Little Italy is worth a read before visiting.



FEAST OF SAN GENNARO


I stumbled upon the streets of Little Italy during the Feast of San Gennaro and loved how alive and colorful the streets were! There was a fantastic atmosphere and smell of beautiful Italian food as people sat outside in the sun, dining over a glass of Italian wine! San Gennaro is an American-Italian festival held each September along Mulberry Street. It was originally a 1-day religious commemoration to celebrate Saint Januarius. It has now grown into an annual festival of food, drink, and an 11-day street fair (parades, family activities, free concerts, a cannoli eating competition, etc.). Worth a wander if you visit in September!


SIGHTSEEING


To learn more on the history of American gangsters, head over to the East Village (circa 20-minute walk) to the Museum of the American Gangster! Another museum that looks good in this area is the Italian American Museum. Little Italy is also known to have some great street art pop up too! Check out the Lisa Project tour if you are interested in street art!


NOLITA

NoLita is a small area and quieter than the likes of SoHo and Little Italy. It is known to have a charming, relaxed, and community feel (while still having fashion-forward boutiques, vintage stores, and coffee houses). NoLita has started to lose its Italian neighborhood character in recent times due to real estate, and it is now a very pricey neighborhood. Quite a few famous actors and musicians live/lived here, including David Bowie.


SIGHTSEEING


The most popular tourist attraction in NoLita is likely the Basilica of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral. Another is the Exhibition space Storefront for Art & Architecture. I have not ventured to either of these as yet - I will update once I do!


DINING


There are plenty of good places to eat both here and in the closeby neighborhoods (Soho and Little Italy). Popular locations include the Australian Ruby's Cafe, Rice to Riches (specializing in rice pudding!), a burst of pink at Pietro Nolita, and brunch spot Egg Shop.


5. EAST VILLAGE

Dark street image of a store front door and windows. Building states "Overthrow Boxing Club" and is covered in graffiti, posters and orange lights stating "Home of Underground Boxing NYC".
Photo by John Vincent Saulan on Unsplash

This area is between the Lower Eastside and the Eastside - collectively known as Little Germany. It is composed of Alphabet City, Little Ukraine, and Bowery. The 1960s saw East Village separate from the Lower Eastside as it attempted to distinguish itself from this immigration area. There was even a time when part of this area was the wealthiest residential neighborhood in the city! A victim of its success, it became an expensive area, and many art galleries shut/moved circa the late 1980s. There were sparked protests following the gentrification (for example, the 1988 Tompkins Square Park riot over proposed curfew targeting the homeless in the park) - this slowed down the pricing for a while. However, by the end of the 20th century, prices again rose rapidly. The area saw a lot of gentrification in the mid-2000s with students, artists, and musicians.

SIGHTSEEING


As mentioned, the Museum of the American Gangster is in the East Village. Tompkins Square Park is a nice small park to take a break in while wandering the area. Its website states its annual lineup includes the outdoor drag festival Wigstock, the Howl Festival commemorating Allen Ginsberg, and the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival.


MUSIC SCENE


East Village is well-known for its music and art scene - it still has some good art galleries. It is also known for its gay and punk rock clubs. The East Village has seen performances from Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, RuPaul, and Bruce Springsteen. The Bowery is along the boundary of East Village. Here you will find the renowned Bowery ballroom and Bowery Electric - popular with punk bands. Mercury Lounge is also a fantastic venue for live music.


BARS/HOTEL


A fantastic speakeasy cocktail bar that I visited was Angels Share. I've recently spotted it a few times online as it seems to have grown even more in popularity. We all complimented the service and the outstanding cocktails on our visit! Directly across from it, you will find McSorley's bar (the oldest Irish saloon in NYC). A very cool rooftop bar to visit in the area is Moxy. For a combination of a bar and vintage video games, visit Barcade. Another famous speakeasy in East Village is Please Don't Tell (PDT).


OTHER


If you want to explore this area further, read 15 things to do in the East Village.


6. LOWER EASTSIDE

The Lower Eastside was predominately a working-class and immigrant area until gentrification in the mid-2000s. It became a popular spot for artists and musicians and is now considered quite a hip neighborhood - especially the upscale boutiques of Orchard Street and trendy restaurants on Clinton Street.

MUSIC/ART


As mentioned, Bowery Ballroom and Bowery Electric, which is popular with punk bands, are found close by here. The Slipper Room is another popular venue. It is known for its Burlesque - Lady Gaga, Lenord Cohen, and U2, among others, have appeared here. Art venues include the New Museum of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Street Art. Also, you can check out the immersive Van Gogh exhibition showing at Pier 36.


DINING/COCKTAILS


The long-standing (over 100 years) Russ & Daughters Cafe and Katz's Deli are worth considering for brunch. Katz's is said to have the best pastrami on rye in NYC! For food on the go, check out Essex Market. The Infatuation website provides a thorough list of restaurants in Lower Eastside. Visit Economy Candy for all things candy, nuts, and dried fruit. For great cocktails, check out Garfunkel's speakeasy.


TENEMENT MUSEUM


I had visited New York many times before visiting Tenement Museum as I am not a huge history buff. However, it has such great views that I was finally curious and booked the tour. To my surprise, it touched me so much that I visited a second time too! The Museum is more than a historical tour - the guide tells the stories of real-life people who lived in the tenements. In the bright lights of this expensive city, where one may get caught up in materialism, this museum brings you right back down to what is truly important. On each tour I took (the Hard Times and Irish Outsiders), we walked through the lives of families who once lived in the building. Standing in the homes of these people, you can't help but feel connected to them.


OTHER


For over 20 vintage arcade games, check out Two Bit’s Retro Arcade. Drop by Pier 35, where you will find oversized swings to relax on and watch a beautiful sunset over Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridge.

7. SOHO & NoHo

SOHO (including Hudson Square)

If upscale designer boutiques are what you are after, visit Soho! This area was popular in the 70s and 80s for artists and art galleries. It was popular with artists due to the large lofts, with large windows, that provided great light. However, as gentrification increased, many galleries moved to Chelsea.


Soho is a pretty area to wander. Due to its beautiful cast-iron architecture, it is listed under SoHo–Cast Iron Historic District and declared a National Historic Landmark. It has very pretty cobblestone streets! Soho is one of the most expensive areas for real estate in NYC - you may even bump into a celebrity or model here!


SHOPPING


Many expensive boutiques are here (as well as chain outlets). It has become one of the cities most prime shopping locations. The streets can get quite busy due to how popular it has become - for tourists and residents. If visiting, check out 25 essential stores to visit in the area.

DINING/BARS


There are many great restaurants and boutique hotels in SoHo. It is the location of the two fantastic French bakeries - Balthazar (renowned for celeb sightings) and Laudurée. SoHo Lauduree has a beautiful outdoor garden area to dine in. Lola Taverna is another garden-style Greek restaurant in SoHo. Treat yourself to food and cocktails at Crosby bar or Jimmy at the James Hotel rooftop bar. However, both of these are not on the cheap side! Jimmys has a rooftop pool that looks amazing for Summer evenings!

OTHER


The creative and fun Museum of Ice cream is a colorful museum to visit. There are still many small art galleries in the area for art lovers to explore. The Color Factory is pricey but looks like another colorful and fun museum to visit (great for kids and Insta pics too!). The New York City Fire Museum is another worthy museum to mention.


NOHO

Just above SoHo, between the West and East Village, is the small neighborhood of NoHo. It's another pretty Boho, trendy, and chic area. One very famous past resident is Andy Warhol.


You can check out emerging artists at The Hole Art Gallery. For open mic and improv poetry, head to Bowery Poetry. For a theatre show, check out the Public Theatre. Joe's Pub is also part of Public Theatre and showcases music performances. Past performances include Lady Gaga to Leanard Cohen. Also, the off-broadway Blue Man group performs at The Astor Place Theatre.


8. West Village (Greenwich Village)

Once a very arty and bohemian area, it's also gone through a lot of gentrification in recent times and is now an expensive area. West Village played a big part in the LGBT movement, with Christopher Street (especially Stonewall Inn) considered an international symbol of gay pride. There are many pretty streets to experience a slower pace, wandering by the brownstone buildings, small boutiques and, people walking their dogs. It still maintains a village feel to it and a lot of famous people live here. I like to finish the High Line walk here and wander over to Greenwich Village.


DINING