Post Overview: Best Things to Do in the East Village
As a New York City local, I consider the East Village one of my favorite areas to explore. This neighborhood feels like the most colorful part of the city, filled with quaint cafes and charming bars, I find myself gravitating here quite often.
Known for quirky vintage shops, vibrant nightlife and great eats, there’s a ton of fun things to do in the East Village.
Despite the area’s popularity, it maintains an authenticity few NYC neighborhoods can match (which means the people-watching opportunities are endless).
I’m not one for small talk, let’s dive right in!
Best Things to Do in the East Village (Meet the Author) | This post was written by Antonina P., a New York City local that enjoys sharing her love for the Big Apple with others. If you’re digging this article, you can follow her weekly updates here.
Best Things to Do in the East Village
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.
#15. Grab a Beer at McSorely’s Old Ale House
If you’re searching for one of the best historic things to do in the East Village, consider stopping by McSorley’s Old Ale House for some ale.
Opened sometime between 1854 and 1862 (the exact year is debated), McSorley’s Old Ale House is one of the most historic bars in New York City.
So entrenched in history, not a single item has been removed from the walls since 1910. You can find Houdini’s handcuffs on a bar rail and wishbones hung by young men going off to World War I.
This beloved NYC pub has hosted notable patrons throughout the years. Famous names include Abraham Lincoln, Ulyssess S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, John Lennon, Houdini and E.E. Cummings.
Address: 15 E 7th St, New York, NY 10003
#14. Enjoy a Traditional Tea Ceremony at Setsugekka East Village
I stumbled upon Setsugekka East Village innocently enough. While aimlessly wandering the streets of the East Village, I came across this cute little shop which instantly piqued by curiosity.
I visited Japan in 2019 and have since found myself enthralled by the culture. As such, popping into Setsugekka East Village felt like a must, so I did.
Offering high quality matcha, tea and traditional sweets, this charming Japanese tea house is the perfect was to slow down time while visiting the East Village.
They offer hour-long traditional tea ceremonies for $60 per person. The ceremony is helmed by tea master, Souheki Mori. Mori has been performing tea ceremonies for 25+ years.
The ceremonies are not offered often, so if you see a time that works with your schedule, I suggest snatching it! Any way you slice it, this is one of the most relaxing East Village activities.
#13. Get lost in the Strand Bookstore
Beloved by locals and visitors alike, the Strand Bookstore is one of the most iconic bookstores in New York City.
Founded in 1927, the Strand is the only remaining bookstore from “Book Row.” Which was a coalition of 48 bookstores that lined 4th Avenue. Every single bookstore, with the exception of the Strand, closed during the Great Depression.
Today this large NYC bookstore is home to 2.5 million books and serves as a safe-haven for insatiable bookworms far and wide. So, if you’re a bookworm in search of the best things to do in the East Village, I suggest popping in.
Address: 828 Broadway, New York, NY 10003
Further Reading: 12+ Charming New York City Bookstores You Can’t Help But Love.
#12. Go Vintage Shopping
The East Village is known for vintage shopping. There’s a few great shops to choose from but L Train Vintage seems to take the cake.
Since opening their doors in 1999, this family owned business has became the go-to spot for New Yorkers in search of vintage apparel. How do we know? Well, they’ve since spread to 9 locations in NYC.
Unlike most vintage shops in the city, L Train Vintage doesn’t rely on donations, opting for scheduled shipments of vintage clothes instead (to keep the inventory fresh and exciting).
Address: 204 1st Ave., New York, NY 10009
Further Reading: 12 UNIQUE Thrift Stores in NYC to Find Hidden Gems
#11. Order Pierogis at Veselka
This Ukranian Diner has been a staple of the East Village since 1954. Even as “Little Ukraine” dwindled, Veselka remained a popular destinations and has served as a reminder of the abundance of Ukrainian families that call this area home to this day.
If you’re looking for a traditional meal, I suggest ordering some pierogis (dumplings) and a bowl of borscht (beet soup), considered to be the most iconic slavic dish.
The restaurant has helped introduce Eastern European cuisine to generations of New Yorkers, especially those in need of sobering up at 2am.
With affordable dishes and the welcoming atmosphere, it’s no surprise Veselka is on our list of best things to do in the East Village.
Address: 144 Second Ave, New York, NY 10003
#10. Wander St. Mark’s Place
Before my first trip to NYC, I asked some friends for suggestions on what to see and do. A few folks recommended wandering St. Mark’s Place, a bustling street full of small shops, vendors and tiny restaurants.
I’m glad I followed suit. The street is perfectly colorful and gritty, which made it feel so authentic (for lack of better words). Simply wandering the street is a joy (it isn’t very long).
Pop into shops that pique you interest and then decided on a restaurant to park yourself at for a few hours.
#9. Attend an Event at the Book Club
Part bookstore, part wine bar, all fun. The Book Club is an independent book store that has a full service bar (and offers coffee and snacks).
The cozy community space is perfect for any occasion. Whether you’re catching up with a friend over coffee/wine or looking for an afternoon pick-me-up, Book Club has you covered.
After 7PM this beloved local bookstore becomes a laptop-free zone and hosts interesting events (like author talks).
Visiting Book Club is one of the best things to do in the East Village for anyone who is looking to crack into a community of book lovers from all walks of life.
Address: 197 E 3rd St, New York, NY 10009
#8. Visit Ray’s Candy Store
If you’re looking for unique things to do in the East Village, look no further than Ray’s Candy Store. Open 24 hours a day, Ray’s has been serving the community with late-night treats since 1974.
The shop is tiny and sells a little bit of everything but Ray’s claim to fame comes from the delicious homemade egg cream (similar to an ice cream float) and fried Oreos.
This little shop has welcomed thousands of folks over the years, including an impressive list of celebrities (like Anthony Bourdain).
The personal service is part of the draw. Authentically New York, you’ll feel like family whenever 90-year-old Ray himself is behind the counter.
Address: 113 Avenue A, New York, NY 10009
#7. Visit Porto Rico Importing Co.
Serving New Yorkers since 1907, stepping into Porto Rico Importing Company is nothing short of intoxicating (the smell!).
This tiny shops has over 130 varieties of coffee that span the gamut. From Indonesia to Brazil, expect to find top-notch coffee sold in bulk. Don’t need 5 pounds? That’s fine too, the shop has a little coffee bar dolling out irresistible coffee by the cup.
#6. Swing by Union Square Park
Union Square Park was originally designed as a town square in 1839. The pedestrian plaza and park serves as a safe haven for street artists, professionals on lunch breaks, busy students and eager tourist.
To that end, if you’re in the East Village and looking for things to do, consider swinging by and spending a few hours people-watching.
There’s plenty of cafes and affordable restaurants nearby, but whenever I take out-of-town visitors, I always suggest grabbing food from the nearby Whole Foods. It’s quick and easy and you can easily enjoy the meal on a park bench.
One of my favorite things about Union Square Park is the lively year-round farmer’s market. You’ll find everything from local honey to fresh baked bread and original artwork.
Further Reading: 15 ICONIC New York City Parks You Can’t Afford to Miss.
#5. Enjoy a Meal at John’s of 12th St.
John’s of 12th St. is a classic Italian restaurant that’s been serving the East Village since 1908. Something that sets John’s apart is the fact that they offer a separate vegan menu full of old-school Italian recipes.
The food is authentic and stepping foot into John’s feels like stepping foot onto a movie set. If at all helpful, I suggest ordering the veal meatballs and chicken parm (with a side of garlic bread, of course!).
John’s is one of those NYC establishments where nothing seems to change (which is quite endearing).
For any history buffs out there, John’s of 12th St. has a ton of mafia history. Visiting this restaurant is one of the more fascinating things to do in the East Village because of the stories you hear. Oh did I mention the Sopranos filmed here?
Address: 302 E 12th St New York, NY 10003
#4. Visit ChikaLicious Dessert Bar
This next spot is not for the faint of heart. At ChikaLicious we’re stepping into dangerous territory. Combining three classic treats; churros, s’mores & ice cream, we get the masterpiece that is the S’mores churro cone.
The base of this NYC delight is a perfectly fried, doughy churro. Add to that delicious soft serve ice cream and top it all off with a toasted marshmallow & graham cracker- we got the trifecta.
Attempting to eat this treat without getting a cavity is one of the best things to do in the East Village, just don’t let your dentist find out!
As if this combination wasn’t enough, Chikalicious offers a multitude of unique creations to pick from. You can go with the good old classic s’mores (my favorite!) or you can take a ride on the wild side and try something more innovative like cheesecake, charcoal sesame or tiramisu.
Address: 203 E 10th St, New York, NY 10003
#3. Grab Cocktails at Please Don’t Tell
One of my personal favorite things to do in the East Village has got to be bringing out-of-town guests to Please Don’t Tell. It’s another speakeasy that has a hidden pathway to some of the tastiest cocktails I’ve ever had.
What seems to be a typical hotdog shop called Crif Dogs, secretly turns out to be on the best things to do in the East Village.
As soon as you step foot into the shop there is a phone booth to the left of the entrance. You step into the phone booth and call a specific number. The phone booth triggers a doorbell to ring and a door will open up for you to enter into.
You’ll walk into a small and intimate set up where you can spend the night ordering cocktails or hotdogs from the spot you originally came from. The atmosphere is dark and moody making it a fun way to end the night with friends or just to escape the city for the day.
Address: 113 St Marks Pl, New York, NY 10009
#2. Brunch at Yellow Rose
If you’re in the market for a great restaurant that’s rumored to cure hangovers, consider swinging by Yellow Rose.
It’s a Tex-Mex restaurant (meaning they serve more American-styled Mexican food) that serves delicious breakfast tacos and a mean margarita (hair of the dog, anyone?).
The atmosphere of this brunch spot is laid back and offers vegan options so everyone can find something that suits their fancy here.
The margaritas pack a punch and are basically the size of your head. Eating at Yellow Rose is one of the best things to do in the East Village when you’re desperate for a meal but don’t have the energy to cook.
Address: 102 3rd Ave, New York, NY 10003
#1. Relax at Tompkins Square Park
No trip to the East Village is complete without stopping by Tompkins Square Park. The 10.5 acre park is small in size but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a visit.
The park is especially beautiful during the spring time when the surrounding trees are full of color.
If you’re in need of a break or just want to rest your legs, one of the best things to do in the East Village is parking yourself on a bench at Tompkins Square Park.
For anyone in town at the end of October, you’re in luck. Tompkins Square Park hosts an annual dog costume competition and it’s just as adorable as it sounds.
Folks from all over flood the East River Park Amphitheater with their pups dressed in ridiculously cute costumes creating one of the best fall activities in the East Village.
East Village Things to Do (Post Summary)
- Grab a beer at McSorley’s Old Ale House
- Get lost in the Strand Book Store
- Hang out at Tompkins Square Park
- Enjoy Pierogi’s from Veselka
- Go Vintage Shopping
- Catch an event at the Book Club
- Grab a late night bite from Ray’s Candy Store
- Grab drinks at The Garret East
- Explore Union Square Park
- Enjoy a meal at historic John’s of 12th Street
- Check out Please Don’t Tell
- Wander Saint Marks Place
- Grab brunch at Yellow Rose
- Try ChikaLicious Dessert Bar
- Partake in the traditional tea ceremony
Map of the best things to do in East Village
Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below.