Things To Do In Lower East Side: Top 15 Most Unique Spots | Stanton House Inn
Early morning in the Lower East Side

Things to do in Lower East Side: Top 15 Most Unique Spots

Historical Lower East Side street with diverse architecture and people

New Yorkers often have their home turf, their own corner of the Big Apple. But there’s also that other neighborhood, the one they wish was theirs. And often enough, it’s the Lower East Side. After all, this place becomes a hotspot when the sun goes down, filled with trendy bars and eateries.

 

But the Lower East Side isn’t just about the nightlife. It’s a living version of the city’s immigrant history. Synagogues and museums dot the area, each telling a unique story. This neighborhood is a blend of history and modern buzz.

 

So, if you’re wondering what to do in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, remember this. You’re in one of the city’s most vibrant, historical neighborhoods. Every corner has a story, every location is iconic. The Lower East Side is anything but boring.

 

Ready to explore the best things to do in the Lower East Side to experience all the action? Let’s get into it:

 

Quick Hits

  • Rich in history and culture, the Lower East Side boasts a diverse immigrant background, ranging from Eastern European Jews to Latin Americans, with many historic sites preserved on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
  • The neighborhood invites visitors to explore its attractions, such as Houston Street, the scenic Tompkins Square Park, the culinary delights at Essex Market, and the unique film experiences at the Anthology Film Archives.
  • Known for its lively nightlife, the area also offers trendy shopping, informative walking tours, and stunning cityscape views from landmarks like the Williamsburg Bridge, while providing easy access to and from nearby areas like Greenwich, CT.

 

What is the Lower East Side?

The Lower East Side has clear boundaries. To the north, it’s bordered by East 14th Street. The East River marks its eastern edge. Fulton and Franklin Streets define the southern limit, while Pearl Street and Broadway form the western boundary. Interestingly, this neighborhood also encompasses Chinatown, the East Village, and Little Italy.

 

A Brief History of the Lower East Side

New York City, crowded entrance to the East Side Synagogue on Jewish New Year in 1905.

The Lower East Side’s story began with humble and, like much of the City, agrarian beginnings.

 

Early Settlement

Like all Manhattan, this section was once the territory of the Lenape tribe. They were a nomadic group, spending their summers fishing. When the seasons changed, they moved inland to gather crops and hunt. Their main trail is what we now know as Broadway.

 

The first settlers made their homes below Fulton Street. They lived on small plantations and large farms, known as “bouwerij” or bowery. Surrounding these farms were communities of free or “half-free” Africans. They served as a buffer between the Dutch and the Native Americans. One of the largest of these communities was located along what we now call the Bowery, between Prince Street and Astor Place.

 

As the 17th century rolled in, the boweries and farms grew. They were consolidated into larger parcels of land. A significant part of the Lower East Side was included in the Delancey farm. James Delancey owned a farm east of the city’s post road, now known as the Bowery. His legacy lives on in the names Delancey Street and Orchard Street. If you look at a modern map of Manhattan, you can see the grid of streets from Division Street north to Houston Street. This grid is from the old Delancey farm.

 

Corlears Hook

Corlears Hook was named after Jacobus van Corlaer, a schoolmaster who settled there in 1638. Eventually, the land was sold to Wilhelmus Hendrickse Beekman, a figure still prominent in New York’s history.

 

In 1643, the area became a battlefield. During Kieft’s War, forty Wiechquaesgecks were killed at Corlears Hook by volunteers from the New Amsterdam colony. Despite the bloodshed, Corlaer’s name remained attached to the area for three centuries. It served as a significant landmark for those navigating the East River.

 

That said, Corlears Hook gained a dark reputation. It was a refuge for thieves and prostitutes. The term “hookers” originated from the streetwalkers who frequented the area. The cholera epidemic in 1832 brought more hardship.

 

In 1833, Corlears Hook became the site of New York City’s first tenements. The area was even mentioned in the opening page of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Today, the original location of Corlears Hook is obscured by shoreline landfill. The name endures in Corlears Hook Park, located at the intersection of Jackson and Cherry Streets along the East River Drive.

 

Immigration

Former tenements

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Lower East Side of New York City became a hub for immigrants. They were Germans, Italians, Eastern European Jews, Greeks, Hungarians, Poles, Romanians, Russians, Slovaks, and Ukrainians. These diverse groups settled in crowded tenements. The Jewish neighborhood was particularly large, housing 400,000 people by 1920.

 

Living conditions in these areas were far from ideal. New zoning laws did bring some improvements, though. They required new tenements have air shafts for fresh air and light. Reform movements, like the Henry Street Settlement, worked to alleviate the area’s problems. They established settlement houses and welfare agencies.

 

In 1935-1936, the city constructed the First Houses in East Village. This was the first public housing project in the United States.

 

Early 20th century

New York City’s Lower East Side in the early 20th century was a hotbed for radical politics. It was also home to a wave of African Americans and Puerto Ricans.

 

There was a sizeable German population too. Their numbers dwindled due to the General Slocum disaster and anti-German sentiment during World War I. After World War II, this neighborhood played a pioneering role. It became New York City’s first racially integrated neighborhood. Some areas, predominantly Spanish-speaking, were known as Loisaida. In case you’re wondering, that’s the Spanish way to pronounce the neighborhood.

 

The 1960s brought further change. The influence of Jewish and Eastern European communities declined. Many residents left for the suburbs, leading to a period of poverty, crime, drugs, and abandoned housing.

 

Gentrification

East Village shops and art galleries, near Ludlow Street

In the 1960s, the East Village began to differentiate itself. Hipsters, musicians, and artists moved in, altering the area above Houston Street. It was real estate brokers and the media who popularized the term “East Village” by the mid-60s. From then on, the East Village and the Lower East Side were distinct neighborhoods.

 

The 1980s brought stability to the Lower East Side. It became a magnet for students, artists, middle-class folks, and immigrants from various countries.

 

Fast forward to the early 2000s, the gentrification that had swept through the East Village extended to the Lower East Side. This transformation made it one of Manhattan’s trendiest neighborhoods. Orchard Street, once known as the “Bargain District”, was now home to upscale boutiques and fashionable restaurants.

 

But gentrification didn’t stop there. It continued to spread south. After 2005, new restaurants, bars, and galleries started appearing below Delancey Street. The Blue Moon Hotel, the neighborhood’s second boutique hotel, opened on Orchard Street just south of Delancey Street in early 2006.

 

The Best Things to do in the Lower East Side

Food stand with fresh produce and local vendors in the Lower East Side

The Lower East Side is a trove of unique attractions and activities. From iconic landmarks and lush parks to bustling markets and cultural institutions, there’s something for every taste.

 

Let’s explore some of the most intriguing places in York City’s neighborhood.

 

Houston Street

Houston Street is the pulsating heartbeat of the Lower East Side. Popular restaurants and bars line its streets. Just a short walk from Essex Street, whether you’re craving:

 

  • Chopt Creative Salad Co. for a fresh and nutritious salad
  • Gregorys Coffee for a perfectly brewed cup of coffee
  • SOB’s – Sounds of Brazil for a night filled with vivacious Brazilian music and dance

 

Houston Street has got you covered.

 

But the allure of Houston Street doesn’t end with its culinary scene. Just a short walk away, Delancey Street offers a unique shopping experience with shops like Russ & Daughters, Ludlow Coffee Supply, and Assembly New York. And for history buffs, the historic Puck Building in Nolita and the Red Square rental building, topped with a statue of Vladimir Lenin, are must-see landmarks.

 

Tompkins Square Park

Relaxing green space with people enjoying the outdoors at Tompkins Square Park

Tompkins Square Park, originally envisioned as a marketplace, transformed into an urban oasis in the heart of the Lower East Side. This local favorite offers:

 

  • a baseball field
  • basketball courts
  • two playgrounds
  • the city’s first dog run

 

Over the years, it has become a hub for community events.

 

Having enjoyed the park’s atmosphere, head to a nearby sit down restaurant. A10 Kitchen, a budget-friendly brunch spot, offers all dishes under $20 and crafty cocktails for no more than $15.

 

East Broadway

East Broadway is a cultural melting pot. The area reflects the diverse heritage of the Lower East Side. From Chinese bakeries to Ukrainian museums, this street showcases the neighborhood’s rich tapestry of cultural influences. In the 1980s and 1990s, immigrants from Fuzhou, Fujian, China began to settle in what is now known as Little Fuzhou. They transformed the eastern part of Chinatown into a lively neighborhood.

 

Meanwhile, Little Ukraine offers a glimpse into Ukrainian culture, featuring:

  • St. George’s Catholic Church
  • Ukrainian restaurants
  • Butcher shops
  • The annual Ukrainian Heritage Festival

 

Latin American immigrants, mainly from Central America and Puerto Rico, have also left their mark. They’ve set up their own stores and brought their native products and cuisine throughout the local community.

 

Allen Street

Colorful street art adorning the walls of Allen Street in the Lower East Side

Allen Street is a living canvas showcasing the neighborhood’s creative spirit. The 100 Gates Project transformed the area by painting street art murals on 100 security roll-down gates. Meanwhile, The New Allen project turns Allen Street into an outdoor gallery featuring graffiti and street artists’ work.

 

Lower East Side Museums

Explore the Lower East Side’s museums to uncover the neighborhood’s lively history and present. These institutions provide a glimpse into:

 

  • The lives of immigrants
  • The transformation of urban spaces
  • The area’s cinematic heritage

 

All of which contribute to the neighborhood’s dynamic character.

 

Tenement Museum: Echoes of Immigrant Life

Authentic tenement building with preserved historical artifacts at the Tenement Museum

Step back in time at the Tenement Museum, a tribute to the immigrants who once called the Lower East Side home. The museum showcases the original conditions of the tenements, providing an authentic glimpse into the daily lives and struggles of past inhabitants.

 

Preserving History at the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space

The Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space (MoRUS) celebrates the grassroots activism and community efforts that have transformed abandoned spaces into community spaces and gardens. Founded by the environmental group Times Up!, MoRUS showcases New York City history through various media and authentic artifacts.

 

Anthology Film Archives: A Cinematic Gem

For film enthusiasts, the Anthology Film Archives is a hidden gem. This unique cinema is all about independent movies, providing a refreshing break from mainstream films. The Archives’ history dates back to the early 1960s and has worked with influential cinema figures like Vito Acconci, Peggy Ahwesh, and Kenneth Anger.

 

Shopping and Fashion in the Lower East Side

Men people watch on an afternoon at the line of restaurants that New York magazine called one of the hippest in NYC

Get ready to shop ‘til you drop in the Lower East Side. From unique clothing to one-of-a-kind accessories, the neighborhood offers trendsetting boutiques and vintage stores.

 

Vintage Treasures and Thrift Store Finds

Unearth hidden gems at the Lower East Side’s best vintage shops and thrift stores. Stores like No Relation Vintage in the East Village, James Veloria, and Beacon’s Closet are famous for their high-end vintage clothing.

 

Restaurants and dining in the Lower East Side

One of the restaurants East Village

The Lower East Side is a foodie’s paradise, offering a smorgasbord of cuisines on a food tour that reflect the neighborhood’s diverse heritage. The area is also known for its lively bar scene. Must-visit establishments include the speakeasy-style Attaboy. Whether you’re a fan of comfort food, international dishes, or avant-garde gastronomy, the Lower East Side is sure to satisfy your cravings.

 

Katz’s Deli

Deli menu at Katz's Deli, the place

Katz’s Deli is a renowned neighborhood institution that Jewish immigrants founded. Famous for its pastrami sandwich on rye, it’s a place that food lovers can’t resist. Some complain the atmosphere is more than a bit dated. But that doesn’t stop the crowds! It’s even made its way into pop culture history. Remember the movie “When Harry Met Sally?” Well, Katz’s is where that iconic lunch scene took place.

 

There’s another place worth here mentioning – Yonah Schimmel’s. This neighborhood gem, established in 1888, is known for its knish. So, if you find yourself in the Lower East Side, make sure to visit these places. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Russ & Daughters

Russ & Daughters is a unique place to visit. This isn’t your typical grocery store – it’s a family-owned Jewish deli with deep roots. They recently opened a new location in Hudson Yards. And yet, it’s the original shop on Houston Street that holds over a century of history.

 

One of their specialities is the classic bagel & lox sandwich, made with Gaspe Nova smoked salmon. The store offers a wide variety of seafood, including lox, gefilte fish, sturgeon, herring, trout, salmon, bagels, white fish, and caviar. The store was first opened in 1914 by Joel Russ, a Polish immigrant. It has now been in business for over 100 years and has expanded to include a cafe on 127 Orchard Street.

 

Their secret to success? It’s all about the “schmear” technique. This involves lightly coating a bagel with a thin layer of cream cheese. Simple, yet undeniably delicious.

 

Essex Street Market

Coffee shop accoutrements in the East Village

This spot is a food lover’s dream. Groceries, unique ingredients, and a myriad of dining experiences are all available at the Essex Street Market. The market is a culinary showcase, offering a taste of the neighborhood’s diversity. Here, you can find everything from Vietnamese pho to Jewish matzo ball soup.

 

But there’s more to explore. The Market Line, an underground extension of the market, is a hot spot for food enthusiasts. You’ll find a mix of new vendors and old New York classics. For example, Dhamaka serves up some of the city’s best provincial Indian cuisine. Shopsin’s General Store is another standout, offering unusual combinations like Mac & Cheese Pancakes.

 

And if you have a sweet tooth, you’re in luck. Peete’s Pie and Whipped Urban Dessert Lab offer delectable treats. Vegetarians also have plenty of options at The Market Line and Dirt Candy.

 

Indulge at the Best Cupcakes and Coffee Shops

The Lower East Side is also home to some of the city’s best cupcakes and coffee shops. Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery is a local favorite, famous for their delicious cupcakes and banana pudding. Supermoon Bakehouse, known for its unique pastry creations, is another must-try. Their Thai iced tea doughnut, lavender cruffin, and blackberry elderflower croissant come highly recommended.

 

Nightlife and Music: From Speakeasies to Dance Clubs

As the sun sets, the Lower East Side comes alive with a vigorous nightlife scene. From secret speakeasies to pulsating dance clubs, the area promises a night to remember. The Back Room and Please Don’t Tell (PDT) are some of the popular speakeasy bars in the area. Garfunkel’s, tucked away on the second floor of a 1920s bank building, offers a unique experience.

 

From jazz to house and punk to blues, the neighborhood is a haven for music lovers. Whether you’re into big clubs or small dive bars, there’s something for everyone. And for a dose of entertainment, places like The Slipper Room offer burlesque, variety, and vaudeville shows, featuring both famous artists and beloved local entertainers.

 

Bridges and Views: Connecting with the Cityscape

Riding a bike under the Williamsburg bridge on a rainy day

Take in the stunning cityscape from the Lower East Side’s iconic bridges and waterfront parks. Whether you’re a photographer, a nature lover, or just someone who appreciates a good view, you’re in for a treat. Be sure to take advantage of a Manhattan walking tour to see the best angles.

 

Williamsburg Bridge: A Path to Brooklyn

Stroll or bike across the Williamsburg Bridge, a beloved local landmark that connects the Lower East Side with the trendy neighborhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. From the bridge, you can take in breathtaking views of the Manhattan skyline and the East River.

 

Once you cross into Williamsburg, Brooklyn, you can check out attractions like Peter Luger’s famous steak house. Or stick to free things to do in Brooklyn, NY, like walking the city streets. Hopefully, you’ll be able to see why it’s one of the trendiest neighborhoods in the world. And why gentrification elsewhere has turned into “Brooklynification”.

 

Directions to the Lower East Side of Manhattan from Greenwich, CT

Whether you’re planning a day trip or a weekend getaway, getting to the Lower East Side from Greenwich, CT is a breeze. The drive is about 33 miles and takes approximately 36 minutes via the cheapest route.

 

While there’s no direct train from Greenwich, CT to the Lower East Side of Manhattan, there are multiple train and subway options that make the journey easy and convenient. Take the train to Grand Central Terminal, then hop on the subway.

 

Staying in Style: Boutique Hotel Guide to the Lower East Side

Curved staircase of one of the most unique hotels in the entire city

The neighborhood boasts an array of stylish boutique hotels that offer top-notch amenities and comfortable accommodations if you’d rather stick around.

 

Moxy NYC

For a chic stay in the heart of the Lower East Side, Moxy NYC is a solid pick. This boutique hotel stands out for its trendy design, one-of-a-kind dining experiences, and tech-savvy amenities.

 

The hotel offers various room options, including Queens, Bunks, Suites, and even quad bunks. Whether you’re traveling alone, with a partner, or in a group, you’re sure to find a room that suits your needs. Plus, guests can take advantage of a 24-hour fitness center, free Wi-Fi, pet-friendly accommodations, and an on-site restaurant.

 

Citizenm Bowery Hotel

Another stylish accommodation in the Lower East Side is the Citizenm Bowery Hotel. Known for its innovative design, this hotel offers luxury at an affordable price. Art-infused interiors and a panoramic rooftop bar provide guests with stunning city views. The rooms boast high-tech amenities and king-sized beds for a comfortable sleep. With its blend of inspiration and comfort, the Citizenm Bowery Hotel stands out as a top choice for art-loving and comfort-seeking travelers.

 

That said, this writer wouldn’t say it’s one of the best areas to stay in New York City. You may have noticed it’s popular for nightlife, so it’s noisy.

 

More Neighborhoods to Explore Near the Lower East Side

Chinatown

Venture beyond the Lower East Side to explore nearby NYC neighborhoods. Each offers its unique charm, history, and attractions.

 

Chinatown NYC

Just south of the Lower East Side lies Chinatown, a neighborhood still teeming with life. Since the 1870s, Chinese immigrants have settled around Mott Street, shaping the neighborhood into what it is today.

 

Chinatown offers a feast for the senses, with attractions such as:

  • Nom Wah Tea Parlor
  • Columbus Park
  • The Museum at Eldridge Street
  • Mahayana Buddhist Temple

When this writer was in high school and college, we used to take the train into the city just to walk around this neighborhood. With vendors loudly hawking their (often still alive) wares, it was quite exotic.

 

East Village

Biking past unique architecture in the East Village

After soaking in the vibrant history of the Lower East Side, make your way to the East Village for another flavor of New York City’s diverse cultural landscape. Known for its bohemian and punk-rock heritage, the East Village welcomes visitors with its indie shops, avant-garde theaters, and a variety of bars and eateries. Wander down St. Mark’s Place to discover vintage treasures, savor a craft cocktail in a snug speakeasy, or experience innovative theater. Each corner of this neighborhood offers a delightful surprise, embodying the artistic soul of the city.

 

Lower Manhattan

Lower Manhattan, also known as Downtown Manhattan or Downtown New York, boasts a rich history dating back to its establishment as a Dutch fur trading post in 1626. Today, it’s the third-largest business district in the United States, housing:

 

  • Wall Street
  • The New York Stock Exchange
  • The Federal Reserve Bank of New York
  • The World Trade Center complex

 

Lower Manhattan is known as the financial and fintech capital of the world.

 

The area is also home to several must-see attractions, including:

  • The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum, a tribute to the nearly 3,000 people who lost their lives in the September 11, 2001, terror attacks at the World Trade Center site
  • The Staten Island Ferry
  • One World Trade Center
  • Battery Park

 

Midtown Manhattan

Radio City Music Hall in Midtown Manhattan

Midtown Manhattan, a must-visit destination in New York City, dazzles with its iconic skyscrapers and electric atmosphere.

 

Here you’ll find famous landmarks such as:

  • Times Square
  • The Empire State Building
  • Rockefeller Center
  • The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

 

For shoppers, Fifth Avenue offers high-end boutiques, and the world’s largest Macy’s store beckons. Culinary delights abound, from Hell’s Kitchen’s diverse eateries to the food carts along Sixth Avenue. Theater enthusiasts flock to Broadway and the Theater District for unforgettable performances. Central Park provides a serene escape with opportunities for leisurely strolls, picnics, and boat rides. And thanks to Midtown Manhattan’s central location, visitors have easy access to other parts of the city, including Chelsea, Upper East Side, and Greenwich Village.

 

Tl;dr

With its rich history, animated culture, and exhilarating nightlife, the Lower East Side presents a distinct New York City adventure. It’s a neighborhood that always has something fresh for both the newcomer and the well-acquainted New Yorker. Don’t hesitate—begin your exploration of the Lower East Side ASAP, don’t download the New York City travel guide before you!

 

Frequently Asked Questions

 

Is Lower East Side a good area?

Yes, the Lower East Side is a dynamic neighborhood. It has an average violent crime rate and a property crime rate that is below average for New York City, making it a desirable place to live. The area offers a dense urban atmosphere filled with attractions such as bars, restaurants, coffee shops, and parks, contributing to its popularity as a residential area.

 

Is Lower East Side New York expensive?

Yes, the Lower East Side of New York is known for its higher rent. Whether you’re looking for a studio, one-bedroom, two-bedroom, or three-bedroom apartment, expect to pay more than in other nearby cities.

 

Is Lower East Side family friendly?

Despite its bustling nature, the Lower East Side is family-friendly, offering an array of activities and places that cater to children. With the Tenement Museum and numerous play areas, families with elementary-aged children will find it an appealing destination for outings.

 

Is East Village a good area in NYC?

The East Village in NYC offers a vibrant, diverse neighborhood with a mix of luxury condos and a quirky, indie vibe. Residents enjoy a dense, urban setting with plenty of dining and entertainment options.

 

What can I expect to see on a walking tour of the Lower East Side?

A walking tour of the Lower East Side offers a rich tapestry of experiences including unique shops, live music venues, and historical sites. This journey provides an immersive glimpse into the neighborhood’s immigrant history, culture, and vibrant present.

 

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