The best neighborhoods in Manhattan to explore offer a variety of different attractions that entice folks to come and visit. In general I’d say neighborhoods need 3 things – great food, rich history and memorable experiences to warrant a visit (especially from first time tourists to NYC). Nobody wants to wander aimlessly through the mundane city blocks.
In an effort to make my family and friends’ visit more fruitful I’ve ranked (what I deem to be) the best neighborhoods in Manhattan to explore. Although people often refer to New York City as a “tiny island” there is so much to see. Focusing primarily in Manhattan is the most productive use of time during a first visit.
Although not a comprehensive guide to every neighborhood, the list is my suggestions as to where to direct your planning, There is so much to see in New York City and I encourage folks to do research (preferably on this site) but lets get the ball rolling on the best neighborhoods in Manhattan to explore!
Visiting New York City? If you haven’t decided where to stay (yet) check out our helpful guide on Where to Stay in New York City (The best neighborhoods for first timers +2 to avoid). Don’t have time? Here’s our favorite hotel in NYC, hands down.
Best Neighborhoods to Explore in Manhattan
#11. Upper West Side
Although most people consider the Upper West Side a sleepy residential neighborhood (is anything really sleepy in NYC?), that doesn’t necessarily mean in isn’t one of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan to explore.
The crown jewel of the UWS has to be the American Museum of Natural History, famed for the giant T-Rex skeleton guarding its entrance. After hanging with the ensemble of exhibits from Night at the Museum, visitors can do a number things. Check out the 5th largest church in the world, walk the Columbia University’s campus, or take in an original Banksy art piece.
In terms of food – nobody will be going hungry in the Upper West Side. There’s something around every corner. I’m partial to Asset thanks to their happy hour drinks, but there’s something to suit every palette.
If you’re anything like me you’ll have to finish with something sweet. *Levain Bakery has entered the chat.* Stop by the original location for the absolute best cookies in New York City. Then continue on your merry way to the other neighborhoods in Manhattan to explore.
Further Reading: 20+ EPIC Things to Do in the Upper West Side (Local’s Guide)
Manhattan’s Chinatown is home to the largest population of Chinese people in the western hemisphere, in other words, it’s authentic. During its formative years Chinatown served as a sanctuary and launching pad for Chinese immigrants coming to America, but in present day it has become one of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan to explore.
There’s an abundance of history (and flavor) in Chinatown. Nom Wah Tea Parlor is the oldest dim sum restaurant in New York City, having first opened its doors over 100 years ago. The fried sesame balls with lotus paste are enough to bring me here alone.
There’s also the MOCA, (Museum of Chinese in America) which gives guests a deep dive into not only the history of Chinatown but also of the whole of the Chinese communities in our country. Artifacts on display include traditional wear as well as tools used by immigrant workers in the buildings of America. Authenticity and history are the primary reasons I consider Chinatown one of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan to explore.
Further Reading: Doyers Street in Chinatown is among 15 EPIC Murals in New York City that Prove We Don’t Play Second Fiddle
#9. Little Italy
The walk down Mulberry street is one my favorites during a summer day. The street has everything that warrants considering Little Italy one of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan to explore. Restaurants are full and running on all cylinders, an array of green, white and red flags decorate the streets and it seems everybody’s come to this small collection of city blocks. The only ones missing are the cast from The Sopranos.
When I think of Little Italy I think of one thing, food! There’s salespeople outside their restaurants holding up menus enticing people to come in and give them a try. If you were to weigh me before and after walking down Mulberry Street there’d be a 10 pound weight difference, and not in the direction my wife wishes it’d go.
If you could only visit once a year, the days to do so would be during the Feast of San Gennaro. September 15 through the 25th Little Italy celebrates their (and Naples’) patron saint, and over the decades its evolved into a festival that also commemorate the Italian culture as a whole.
My favorite event from the Feast of San Gennaro is the annual cannoli eating competition. Joey Chestnut has nothing on me in this competition!
Further reading: More info on the Feast of San Gennaro
#8. Upper East Side
The Upper East Side has been portrayed in television and movies as the place where wealthy and socialite circles live and hang out. In reality, oh wait – it is. Posh cafes and shopping destinations serve as the playground for the upper class in the Upper East Side, making it one of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan to explore.
Among the affluent stores and restaurants visitors will find the best museum in New York City, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. With more than 2 million pieces of art spanning 5,000+ years, the Met is the largest museum in the country and the fifth largest museum in the world. Making a pit-stop at the Met is a non-negotiable when visiting New York City, it single-handedly brings loads of tourists and locals alike to one of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan to explore.
Francophiles visiting the UES also need to make it a priority to check out the Albertine Bookstore. It’s home to the largest collection of French-language books in the United States. Even better, Albertine Bookstore is located within the Payne Whitney Mansion (within the French Embassy), which was designed by the same architect responsible for the Washington Square Arch — Stanford White.
Further Reading: 15+ Great Things to Do in the Upper East Side
#7. Lower East Side
Bagels and New York City are synonymous, and when enjoying the best neighborhoods in Manhattan to explore there’s no better way to start your morning than with a bagel from Russ & Daughters. Russ & Daughters has expanded over the years but I suggest visiting the original store on the Lower East Side. Nothing beats the original. 😉
Another iconic New York City institution is Katz Delicatessen. The interior walls are adorned with photos of celebrities that can’t resist the mile high thick-cut pastrami sandwiched between rye. The exterior walls are adorned with long lines of locals and tourists, eager to get their hands on the tantalizing sandwiches.
Okay you might have to be rolled after all the great dining in the Lower East Side, but you can’t afford to miss the Tenement Museum. It’s a museum dedicated to the stories of immigrants who came to America, but also where they lived. There are tours available of old, recreated apartments that showcase where and how New York’s immigrants lived and in a lot of cases flourished against all odds.
The Tenement also offers walking tours, one of them being “building on the Lower East Side” which goes in depth into one of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan to explore.
One of many neighborhoods in Manhattan that have abbreviated names, Tribeca Stands for Triangle Below Canal St. In reality – it’s not a triangle, it’s somewhere between a rhombus and parallelogram. (just showing off my geometry in case Mrs. Berry is reading.)
Home to the iconic Woolworth Building, this is one of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan to explore. It was the tallest building in the world when it opened in 1913. Today, over 100 years later, it’s still a beloved fixture on the NYC skyline. Private tours are available, and although I haven’t done one myself yet, it’s high on my list of priorities.
Also home to the internationally famous Tribeca Film Festival, stars join the fun in one the best neighborhoods in Manhattan to explore every spring. Speaking of stars, there’s a famous building in our midst. The Ghostbuster headquarters is Firehouse, Hook & Ladder Company 8 at 14 North Moore Street.
#5. Flat Iron District
Okay I’m sure you’re wondering “what makes the Flatiron District one of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan to explore?” – I’m here to tell you.
First – you have to check out Eataly. It’s an Italian market that houses multiple different restaurants where you can pull out a barstool and enjoy a hot meal right inside the store. There’s also a charming rooftop restaurant named Serra by Birreria I encourage you to get reservations for.
After lunch you can check out the local hotspot Madison Square Park. Although it’s far from the biggest park in the city, it places you right in the middle of all the bustling streets really adding to the New York vibe.
And oh yeah, I almost forgot. You should check out it’s namesake, the Flatiron Building (but you already knew that didn’t you, you little local!)
Today the cobble stone streets of SoHo are home to some of the best shopping in New York City, but that wasn’t always the case. Back in the day this area was covered by factories and warehouses, which have since been converted into expensive condos equipped with storefronts at the ground level.
The best shopping is done by getting lost in SoHo, one of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan to explore. So allow yourself to roam from one block to the next aimlessly, just make sure you start with the most impressive shopping street in NYC first, Broadway.
There’s also never a shortage of great cafes and restaurants to pop into if you need to decompress. I especially enjoy popping into Balthazar Bakery, one of the best bakeries in New York City. The neighborhood oozes with New York City charm, hence why I consider it one of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan to explore.
#3. Financial District
When folks think about the best neighborhoods in Manhattan to explore, they often think of skyscrapers. Therefore my biggest suggestion when touring the Financial District is to take a trip to the observation deck in the One World Trade Center. The building caps out at 1,776 feet and the towering height is no coincidence — 1776 is the year our nation declared its independence.
I also encourage everyone to pay their respects at the 9/11 Memorial, and take a tour of the museum. It’s a powerful and moving experience that will be sure to create an inerasable memory.
Other popular sites include Wall Street’s Charging Bull, the Fearless Girl statue, The New York Stock Exchange and the enormous Oculus Mall.
Although not technically in the financial district, The Statue of Liberty can be viewed from the Financial District. If you want to see it up close book a boat tour while you’re enjoying one of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan to explore.
The Chelsea neighborhood has seen quite a transformation over the last two decades. The area has become an epicenter for nightlife in NYC, full of lively bars that are open into the late hours of the evening, trendy restaurants and plenty of clubs. Young folks (and the young at heart) will consider this one of the best Manhattan neighborhoods to explore.
The transformation is largely thanks to the High Line, an epic elevated park that can’t be missed by anyone looking for the best things to do in New York City. In the area you’ll also find Chelsea Market, one of my favorite places to dine when I want one thing and my wife wants another. (Our usual picks are Los Tacos No. 1 for me and Very Fresh Noodles for her.)
Nearby, in Hudson River Park, you’ll find Pier 57 and Little Island. The views are spectacular and the experience feels like being on an adult playground.
Fun Fact: The Chelsea Market is housed in the old Nabisco factory building – this building is the birthplace of the Oreo cookie!
#1. Greenwich Village (The Village)
Greenwich Village is arguably the most charming neighborhood in New York City (and the best neighborhood in Manhattan to explore). In fact, it is often the highlight of almost everyone’s trip to NYC. But let me tell you, once you experience it for yourself, you’ll know exactly why.
Between the cobblestone streets, old brick townhouses, ivy covered buildings and the most endearing corner cafes and restaurants, you can’t help but feel like you’re in a movie set. And while we’re on said movie set, be sure to check out the iconic building from the iconic TV show “Friends” or Carry Bradshaw’s apartment from “Sex and the City”.
One of the (many) restaurants I love in Greenwich Village is Palma. It offers the perfect Italian escape for anyone craving a vacation but lacking the vacation days, sky-miles, funds, etc. to do so. Ask to be seated outside since they have an incredible back patio covered in vines and oozing an irresistible Italian charm.
For dessert here’s my go-to. Magnolia Bakery took the world by storm, thanks in large part to making appearances in Sex and the City. The bakery is known for making decadent cakes and delicious cupcakes, but the banana pudding is where it’s at. The original location happens to be in the Village so make sure to make a pitstop during your visit to the best neighborhood in Manhattan to explore.
Further Reading: There’s so much more to enjoy in the West Village, make sure to check out 22 Exciting Things to Do in New York City’s Charming Greenwich Village!
Map of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan to explore
Best neighborhoods in Manhattan to explore (Post Summary)
- Greenwich Village
- Financial District
- Flatiron District
- Lower East Side
- Upper East Side
- Little Italy
- Upper West Side
And there you have it my friends – a quick roundup of the 11 best neighborhoods in Manhattan to explore. I hope you enjoyed the post!