Post overview: A rundown of things to do in Chelsea
Chelsea is known as Manhattan’s art district, so it comes as no surprise that the charming neighborhood is chock-full of beautiful and unique things to do.
With an endless amount of bars, restaurants and art galleries to choose from, you could spend days exploring Chelsea and still barely scratch the surface.
A once very industrial part of New York City is now vibrant and full of life and with so many things to do in Chelsea, it can get overwhelming trying to create the perfect itinerary. That’s where I step in!
I’ve created a list of the best things to do in Chelsea including (free) art galleries, restaurants and historical spots that can’t be missed and I’m confident there is something for everyone in this guide.
So without further ado, let’s get to it.
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 Things to Do in Chelsea
#20. Grab drinks at LOULOU
Named after owner Mathias Van Leyden’s rescue dog, LOULOU is a French restaurant that’s just as adorable as his pup. Colorful flowers adorn the outside of the restaurant, stopping folks in their tracks to take pictures.
Serving classic French fare, making reservations at this popular bistro is one of the best things to do in Chelsea.
What makes this restaurant stand out (aside from the amazing food) is that the lower level of the bistro is a speakeasy, churning out creative cocktails, nightly.
The drinks are not only innovative and clever, but they’re presented in some of the cutest glasses I’ve ever seen. Just take a look at the menu and you’ll understand the hype as to why visiting is one of the best things to do in Chelsea.
I can’t recommend the croissant French toast (yes it’s a real thing!) and the “world is yours” cocktail (Gin, Sake, creme de peache & edible flowers served in an orb) enough. Both are delicious and warrant a visit alone.
Address: 176 8th Ave, New York, NY 10011
#19. Enjoy a traditional breakfast at Empire Diner
If you’re feeling nostalgic, one of the best things to do in Chelsea is grabbing a bite at Empire Diner. It’s a modern take on the old-school, classic diner look. The best part? Empire Diner has been serving the neighborhood since 1976 with traditional American food.
You can expect typical diner fare, from the traditional eggs & bacon breakfast to a juicy burger with fries. Regardless if you’re stopping by for breakfast or a late lunch, the freshly baked buttermilk biscuits are non-negotiable and must be ordered.
Since having a meal at Empire Diner is one of the best things to do in Chelsea, I recommend starting your day here to avoid having to wait in any lines.
Address: 210 10th Avenue New York, NY 10011
#18. Go gallery hopping
If you’re looking for one of the most affordable things to do in Chelsea, look no further. Chelsea is chock-full of free art galleries, so much so, you could easily spend your whole day bouncing between exhibits.
With over a hundred spots to choose from, finding one that suits your liking shouldn’t be a problem. Most of the exhibits can be found between 18st-28st street and 10th- 11th avenue.
If at all helpful, these are some of my favorite exhibits to check out when in the area:
- Pace Gallery: Contemporary art | Address: 540 W 25th St, New York, NY 10001
- Sundaram Tagore: Contemporary art with an emphasis on art that combines Western culture with global influences. | Address: 542 W 26th St, New York, NY 10001
- Lehmann Maurine: Representing a diverse range of contemporary artists and estates from around the world. | Address: 501 W 24th St, New York, NY 10011
- David Zwirner: Contemporary art | 525 W 19th St, New York, NY 10011
- 303 Gallery: Contemporary art by contemporary American artists | 555 W 21st St, New York, NY 10011
#17. Get an espresso martini flight at Starbucks Reserve
I know what you’re thinking, what the heck is Starbucks Reserve? And trust me, before I moved to New York City I too had no idea such a place existed. It’s elegant, chic and down right amazing — a non-negotiable for any coffee lovers looking for things to do in Chelsea.
Essentially, Starbucks Reserve is an upscale version of the beloved coffee shop and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. For starters, the place is huge and offers cocktails, food and even souvenirs.
Starbucks Reserve is meant to be an immersive experience where folks can talk to the roasters and learn about the world of coffee. Upon entry you’re greeted with an intense aroma of coffee and you can even watch the beans get roasted right in front of you.
Stopping by Starbucks Reserve is one of the best things to do in Chelsea because it is one of only six locations, globally and the experience is unforgettable.
I recommend trying the espresso martini flight, made up of three cocktails for $27 (that’s a win in this pricey city!). The martini flavors are Orange Cacao, Molé Spice and Cherry Limone.
“Starbucks Reserve is a selection of the rarest, most extraordinary coffees Starbucks has to offer. It’s where we push our own boundaries of craft, developing a unique roast for each individual lot before experimenting with coffee as an art form—brewing, aging, infusing and blending it into imaginative and often surprising creations. Through our Roasteries and bars, we share our discoveries and the enjoyment of exceptional coffee with the world.”Starbucks Reserve
Address: 61 9th Ave, New York, NY 10011
#16. Play games at Barcade
Ever played arcade games, buzzed? It’s one of the best things to do in Chelsea, especially on a rainy day. Barcade is a laid-back, relaxed spot to enjoy after work brews and blow off some steam on arcade games.
Tokens are 25 cents and can be used on over 70 arcade & pinball games. There’s plenty of classics, most of the machines are from the 1980’s.
And if you get hungry while chasing that high-score no need to head out. There’s classic bar food like burgers & tater tots. All this to say, spending the day at Barcade is one of the best things to do in Chelsea and will keep you entertained for hours.
Address: 148 W 24th St, New York, NY 10011
#15. Explore the Chelsea Piers
Got any kids you’re desperate to keep entertained? Some of the best things to do in Chelsea happen to all be bunched together on the Chelsea Piers.
Located on the Hudson River, The 28-acre waterfront offers a plethora of things to do in Chelsea to keep the family busy. Such as bowling, rock climbing and ice skating to name a few.
It’s an easy way to gather the gang and spend the afternoon jumping from spot to spot, and the remarkable views of the river never hurt to look at. 😉
Address: 62 Chelsea Piers, New York, NY 10011
#14. Check out ARTECHOUSE NYC
One of the most unique things to do in Chelsea is to check out the interactive exhibit at ARTECHOUSE. This art installation is one big room but instead of art being hung on the walls, the art is projected onto the entire room.
I’m talking 360° — walls, ceiling and floor of colorful, well thought-out lights and video projections.
The theme changes often, but one things is always guaranteed – the exhibit is executed perfectly and checking it out is one of the best things to do in Chelsea.
The current innovative theme is Spectacular Factory, an immersive dive into the world of a gift factory. It will be up from November 18, 2022 to January 8, 2023.
Address: 439 W 15th St, New York, NY 10011
#13. Try Oprah’s favorite cookie at Maman
Originally started as a French bakery and cafe in SoHo, Maman quickly became renown for perfect executed baked goods.
What really set them on the map was Oprah listing their nutty chocolate chip cookie as one of her favorite things in 2017. I can think of few better things to do in Chelsea, then to try a treat hyped up by Oprah.
And you know how it goes, if these cookies caught Oprah’s eye there’s no question that they’re some of the best cookies in New York City.
What to order: The nutty chocolate chip cookie + the nutella cookie.
Address: 471 W 33rd St, New York, NY 10001
#12. Swing by The Museum at Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT)
If you have even the slightest interest in fashion, one of the best things to do in Chelsea is to check out the Museum at Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT).
The museum is full of unique garments, accessories and shoes along with constant rotating exhibits. I love coming here to check out vintage pieces and realizing how much clothing has changed over the years.
You’ll find displays of pieces from different points of history and some of the most outlandish clothes known to man. The best part about the museum? Admission is free!
Spend some time wandering through the exhibits and who knows, it may even inspire you to switch up your own wardrobe.
Address: 227 W 27th St, New York, NY 10001
#11. Peruse B&H Photo
B&H Photo is a photographer’s dream come true, and visiting their (one and only) brick and mortar store is one of the best things to do in Chelsea.
Regardless of whether you’re trying to get into content creation or a working professional, B&H Photo has everything you need. Heck, B&H even has things you don’t know you need, that’s why it’s rare to see someone leaving the store empty-handed.
The kind staff are some of the most knowledgeable folks in the industry. The store frequently has representatives from major brands hanging out, eager to answer any questions you might have.
Another reason visiting B&H Photo is one of the best things to do in Chelsea is thanks to their Event Space. The photo equipment store hosts renowned professionals to give free seminars so you can learn from the best in the game.
Address: 420 9th Ave, New York, NY 10001
#10. Rubin Museum of Art
The Rubin Museum of Art is all about the Himalayan culture and emphases exploring your mind, body and spirit through art.
The museum is made up of four different floors with interactive pieces to encourage folks to find their zen. Visiting is one of the best things to do in Chelsea, especially on a Friday after 6:00PM when admission is free.
You can expect to see religious artwork from different eras, cultures and countries. The peaceful energy can be felt the moment you step foot into the Rubin Museum of Art.
Make sure to purchase tickets (or reserve tickets for free Fridays) in advance since this is one of the best things to do in Chelsea, tickets can go quickly.
Address: 150 W 17th St, New York, NY 10011
#9. Shop at Artists & Fleas
Attached to the Chelsea Market is the Artists & Fleas market full of local vendors and small shops.
Various vendors sell everything from art and vintage clothing to hand-made jewelry and crafts. Shopping at Artists & Fleas is one of the best things to do in Chelsea because you get to support smaller business’ and it’s a great spot for souvenirs.
I brought my brother-in-law here once and he got a custom sweater made, which he claims is his favorite piece in his closet. They took his exact measurements and he got to choose the colors and stitching pattern himself, all for less than $100. Talk about a one-of-a-kind deal!
The unique experience is one he soon won’t forget and still raves that visiting Artists & Fleas was one of his favorite things to do in Chelsea.
Address: 88 10th Ave, New York, NY 10011
#8. Eat your way through Manhattan West
I like to consider this next spot on our list of things to do in Chelsea a hidden gem, since it’s new to the scene and not often talked about. Manhattan West recently opened up and is a plaza made up of shops, restaurants and office buildings.
Across from Penn Station, hidden between buildings you’ll find one of the most charming spots for grabbing a bite to eat. You can choose from the numerous restaurants, the whole foods or the Citizens culinary market.
Citizens is a food hall with 14 different vendors and cuisines to pick from. Serving everything from fried chicken to sushi, you’re bound to find a meal (or two) that will satisfy.
If you’re visiting during the winter months, Manhattan West sets up an ice rink in the middle of the courtyard. Pro tip: if you step into the NHL store, head up the stairs and get some of the best views from up above.
Address: Manhattan West Plaza, 385 9th Ave, New York, NY 10001
#7. Grab a beer at Peter McManus Cafe
One of the best things to do in Chelsea is to grab a beer at Peter McManus Cafe, the longest running family-owned bar in NYC.
A classic Irish pub establishment that’s been around since 1936 serving fantastic food and drinks. Even if you’re not a big beer drinker this historic bar has you covered and is worth the stop.
The pub has been a popular neighborhood staple for years and it doesn’t show signs of slowing down anytime soon, so make sure to grab some food with ale and enjoy of the best things to do in Chelsea.
Address: 152 Seventh Avenue New York, NY 10011
#6. Whitney Museum of American Art
The Whitney Museum has been a beloved NYC institution for modern and contemporary American art since being founded in 1930. The recently relocated museum now spans 50,000 impressive square feet (not including the 13,000 square feet of outdoor space) in the Meatpacking District.
Founded by a prominent America socialite, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, this museum is an ode to her dedication and love for art.
Featuring art by Basquiat, Georgia O’Keeffe and Richard Avedon. There’s a handful of terraces where you can soak in an epic view of the NYC skyline. Visitors are encouraged to explore the art both indoors and out.
Must see: Georgia O’Keeffe’s work, Edward Hopper’s A Woman in the Sun, Robert Bechtle’s ’61 Pontiac and Alexander Calder’s Circus.
Address: 99 Gansevoort St, New York, NY 10014
#5. Grab brunch at Citizens of Chelsea
Opened in 2016, this Australian cafe prides itself on community and builds a safe space for folks to enjoy a delicious cup of coffee. If you’re in need of a quick bite or a cup of caffeine, consider swinging by Citizens of Chelsea.
You’ll be greeted by eager staff members who go above and beyond to make sure you leave with a good experience. The kind staff, fantastic food and the welcoming atmosphere make visiting this cafe one of the best things to do in Chelsea.
I highly recommend the Smashing Avocado (avocado toast). Served on multigrain toast, Citizens Coffee adds pickled onion, feta and a beetroot hummus creating not only a delicious meal but a memorable one.
Address: 401 W 25th St, New York, NY 10001
#4. Shop at Hudson Yards
The Shops at Hudson Yards is an impressive mall that spans 720,000 square feet. Covering four floors, this mall houses some of the biggest name stores in New York City.
There’s more than 100 stores in this shopping mall and you can find everything from luxury brands like Cartier to more affordable stores like Uniqlo. So if you’re in need of things to do in Chelsea, spend a few hours pursuing the shops (even if it’s just window shopping).
When you’re done shopping, head to the basement level to check out the Spanish food hall called Little Spain. The sangria is worth writing home about!
Also, if you’re visiting NYC at Christmas time, make sure to swing by Hudson Yards to experience the breathtaking display of lights, it’s a sight to behold!
PS: While you’re in the area, if you’re in need of more things to do in Chelsea –grab a photo in front of the impressive Vessel structure.
Address: 30 Hudson Yards, New York, NY 10001
#3. Tour Little Island
Little Island is a redesigned pier that extends over the Hudson River with a beautiful design meant to be an oasis in the concrete jungle. Access won’t cost you a penny making this one of the best things to do in Chelsea.
The views are spectacular and the experience feels like being on an adult playground. Green grass compliments gorgeous landscape design with ample seating and views to enjoy from.
I bring all of my out of town guests here because it’s one of the most unique things to do in Chelsea. And during the warmer months, you can expect to find locals stretched out on the numerous lawns with picnic baskets and friends.
Address: Pier 55 at Hudson River Park Hudson River Greenway, NY 10014
Bonus: Neighboring Pier 57 is also home to a park, only this one is on a rooftop! It’s a popular spot for locals to sprawl out and try to get some sun. It’s not uncommon to see bathing suits and sun hats up there. Like hanging out at Little Island, this is one of the best things to do for free in NYC.
#2. Walk the The Highline
The High Line is one of the most interesting parks in NYC and walking the length of it is high on our list of things to do in Chelsea. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, High Line Park was born from an eye-sore.
The elevated tracks this NYC park was built on were originally used by freight trains delivering cargo to the city. A practice that became moot with the rise in trucking.
For ages, the railroad track was abandoned and neglected, a blight on the neighborhood. That is until Mayor Bloomberg approved a plan to transform the derelict train tracks into a park for the people.
The High Line opened in 2009 and became an instant success. The elevated promenade stretches 1.5 miles and receives an average of 8 million visitors annually. It didn’t take long for folks to realize this as one of the best things to do in Chelsea.
Address: 456 High Line, New York, NY 10011
#1. Chelsea Market
The Chelsea Market is a famous food hall mixed with unique shops, restaurants, spice markets, and cafes. The market has 35 vendors waiting to impress you with tasty treats and fare.
I had to add the Chelsea Market to my list of things to do in Chelsea because it serves so many purposes. It’s easy bringing my out of town guests here for a sit-down meal, a quick bite or a souvenir. There’s always something to do at Chelsea Market or something to show off when visiting.
Highlights at the Chelsea Market include:
- Matcha from Chalait (so good)
- Warm donuts from the Doughnuttery (what’s better than a warm donut?)
- Tacos from Los Tacos No. 1
- Spices from Spices and Tease
- Souvenirs from Pearl River Mart
Fun Fact: The Chelsea Market is housed in the old Nabisco factory building – this building is the birthplace of the Oreo cookie!
Address: 75 9th Ave, New York, NY 10011
Chelsea Things to Do (Post Summary)
- Explore Chelsea Market
- Walk the Highline
- Check out the views from Little Island
- Shop at Hudson Yards + the Vessel
- Grab brunch at Citizens of Chelsea
- Wander the Whitney Museum
- Grab a beer at Peter McManus Cafe
- Eat your way through Manhattan West
- Shop at Artists & Fleas
- Enjoy the Rubin Museum of Art
- Peruse B&H Photo
- Swing by The Museum at Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT)
- Try Oprah’s favorite cookie at Maman
- Check out ARTECHOUSE NYC
- Explore the Chelsea Piers
- Play games at Barcade
- Get an espresso martini flight at Starbucks Reserve
- Go gallery hopping
- Enjoy a traditional breakfast at Empire Diner
- Grab drinks at LOULOU
Map of the best things to do in Chelsea
Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below.