Post overview: A rundown of things to do in the East Village
The East Village is a magical place, densely filled with stunning cafes, bars and restaurants. As the birth-place of punk rock the neighborhood still has a creative vibe to it, and eccentric locals are par for the course.
Offering plenty of green spaces and unique shops there’s plenty of fun things to do in the East Village, and I’m here to help you make the most of your time in this beloved neighborhood.
As a local I’ve spent years exploring the nooks and alleys of the East Village, and hope to share the best of the best with you. We have a lot of ground to cover so why don’t we jump right in!
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 the East Village
#20. Grab a beer at McSorely’s Old Ale House
If you’re searching for one of the best historical things to do in the East Village, consider stopping by McSorley’s Old Ale House for a drink (or two — no judgment here!).
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. Indeed, it’s the oldest Irish Salon in NYC and 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.
Swinging by for a beer is one of the best things to do in the East Village, since everything about this iconic bar oozes with old-world charm. In fact, 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.
The menu at this famous Manhattan bar is limited to two options: dark and light ale. Some things never change, and (frankly) shouldn’t.
The bar boasts two mottos: “We were here before you were born” and “Be Good or Be Gone.” However, before women were allowed in bars in the 1970’s, McSorely’s motto was: “Good Ale, Raw Onions and No Ladies.”
Address: 15 E 7th St, New York, NY 10003
#19. 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. In fact, one of the best things to do in the East Village is finding a good book and losing yourself in the literary world for a few hours.
Founded in 1927, the Strand is the only remaining bookstore from “Book Row.” Which was a coalition of 48 bookstores that lined Fourth 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.
Visitors are welcome to donate books and peruse the bookstore in search of something new. Definitely spend time exploring the deals on the racks outside the store as well, you might score a deal!
The Strand has several locations but visiting the flagship store is one of the best things to do in the East Village.
Further Reading: 12+ Charming New York City Bookstores You Can’t Help But Love.
Address: 828 Broadway, New York, NY 10003
#18. Try one of the best bagels in NYC at Tompkins Square Bagel
Tompkins Square Bagels is named for the park a stone’s throw away. The divine bagels churned out at this beloved bagel shop are hand rolled and kettle boiled.
But if that’s not enough, they’re also baked fresh until 1pm. So if you have a hankering for one of NYC’s best bagels at lunch time, they have you covered.
The bagels are hefty in size but the plethora of air pockets makes them light, chewy and downright irresistible. I couldn’t put mine down!
These bagels are the perfect canvas for the plethora of specialty spreads offered. Although let’s get real — it’s hard to beat classic cream cheese with lox.
Since this is one of the best things to do in the East Village, expect long lines. But don’t worry — they move quickly! I can assure you that the bagel is absolutely worth it.
Further Reading: 15 MOUTHWATERING New York City Bagels That Validate the Hype.
Locations: 165 Avenue A., New York, NY 10009 & 184 2nd Ave., New York, NY 10003
#17. Shop at L Train Vintage
L Train Vintage is one of the most popular thrift stores in New York City and shopping here is one of the best things to do in the East Village.
Since opening their doors in 1999, this family owned business has been a go-to spot for those looking to score on some unique pieces.
Over the years L Train has grown in popularity. So much so that they now boast 8 locations throughout New York.
I’ll let you in on a little secret, not all of the locations are called L Train. Instead, some of the stores are called No Relation Vintage Clothing Store and Urban Jungle (but still under the L Train umbrella).
Shopping for vintage pieces at L Train is high on our list of the best things to do in the East Village because they actually receive shipments of clothing, not relying on the community to supply their product.
By outsourcing the clothing, they ensure a constant flow that enables them to provide their stores with new items three times a week.
Further Reading: 12 UNIQUE Thrift Stores in NYC to Find Hidden Gems.
Address: 204 1st Ave., New York, NY 10009
#16. Eat pierogi’s 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 people who called that area home at one point.
The restaurant has helped introduce Eastern European cuisine to generations of New Yorkers. And whether it’s a businessman catching a bite before work or college students stopping by for a sobering meal after a night out, the love for Veselka can be felt all around and eating here is one of the best things to do in the East Village.
You won’t have to break the bank swinging by this popular NYC cheap eats destination. There’s homemade soups for $6 per cup or $11 for a large bowl. Those looking for a traditional meal should order the Ukrainian borscht. It’s a beet soup that is perhaps the best known slavic dish.
Another popular and authentic dish is the pierogis. They’re Ukrainian-style dumplings that can either be boiled or fried, and served with sautéed onions and sour cream.
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
#15. Visit the Book Club
I consider this next spot on our list of things to do in the East Village a hidden gem. Book Club is an independent book store that has a full service bar, coffee and snacks.
The cozy community space meets the needs of many folks– all under one roof. Whether you’re catching up with a friend over a glass of wine or looking for an afternoon pick-me-up, Book Club has you covered.
This NYC bookstore is a great place to get work done during the day, and to unwind by the evening. In fact, after 7PM the homey bookstore becomes a laptop-free zone (which I just take as a sign that it’s time to crack open the wine).
Visiting Book Club is one of the best things to do in the East Village for anyone who is looking for a literary community due to the plethora of in-store events and author visits hosted here.
With plenty of spots to plant yourself for hours (including a charming outdoor seating area) you won’t struggle getting comfortable and losing track of time at this East Village treasure.
Address: 197 E 3rd St, New York, NY 10009
#14. Get a late-night craving fix at Ray’s Candystore
If you’re looking for things to do in the East Village late at night, Ray’s Candystore might be the place to go. 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 egg cream (similar to an ice cream float) and fried Oreos.
Many different people from all walks of life have stepped up to Ray’s counters over the years, including celebrities like the Kardashians and Anthony Bourdain. The type of service here is exceptional and an “only in New York” kind of way — where everyone feels like family.
In fact, Ray (the legend himself) is still serving customers from behind the counter at 90 years old! If you’re lucky he’ll make you one of his famous egg creams and you’ll leave with a memorable interaction.
Make sure to come hungry and ready for just about anything since this is one of the most popular things in the East Village, you never know what to expect!
Address: 113 Avenue A, New York, NY 10009
#13. Play with puppies at Borris & Horton
Borris & Horton is a dog friendly cafe where dogs can wander unleashed while their owners enjoy a cup of coffee. I can’t believe a place like this exists, but it does and visiting is one of the best things to do in the East Village.
This is the ideal spot for those who work remotely but have a pup with a lot of energy. Everyone who swings by this unique coffee shop either has a dog of their own or is obsessed enough to understand that puppies need to play so you don’t need to worry about your pup bothering folks here.
As you can imagine, the staff is constantly happy and friendly since they’re getting paid to watch puppies play all day!
Borris & Horton is one of the best things to do in the East Village for pet owners because of the various meet ups and events like dog-friendly pilates they host.
But the icing on the cake? Borris & Horton has a photo booth (with costumes) set up in the corner of the cafe to snap a pic with your pup.
Address: 195 Avenue A, New York, NY 10009
#12. Share a meal at Au Za’taar
Have a large group of people you’re trying to feed but don’t know where to go? One of the best things to do in the East Village is to head over to Au Za’taar and try everything on the menu.
The Lebanese restaurant serves traditional Lebanese and Middle Eastern fare in an open and inviting environment with a focus on quality and freshness of food. During the pandemic, Au Za’taar transformed the outside area into a heated oasis and it’s one of my favorite places to gather for a meal.
This East Village gem is great for sharing meals and ideal for large groups, but don’t let it stop you from visiting if you’re flying solo. The food is unreal, especially the table-side Shwarma, served with fries and pita. It comes out on a electric skewer to stay warm and is large enough to feed 4-5 people.
Be warned coming here though, because after one bite you’ll soon realize that one visit won’t be enough and eating here will be high on your list of things to do in the East Village, too!
Address: 188 Avenue A, New York, NY 10009
#11. Grab drinks at The Garrett East
The Garrett East is one of the most exciting things to do in the East Village for the simple fact that you have to walk through a vending machine to get in.
Before you write me off and call me crazy, it’s true! New York City is home to many speakeasy’s (a speakeasy is a spot that illegally sold alcohol during the prohibition) so hidden pockets of real-estate is not uncommon.
But not all speakeasy’s are created equally and it’s not everyday that you get to walk through hidden doors in the wall!
What seems like a typical taco spot quickly turns into one of the best things to do in the East Village once you find the vending machine towards the back of the restaurant.
Slide the door open and discover a Mexican food spot tucked behind an assuming machine. The innovative cocktails, delicious tacos and secretive entrance will make this one of the more memorable things to do in the East Village.
Address: 206 Avenue A, New York, NY 10009
#10. Treat yourself to a burger at Bowery Meat Company
Have you ever thought about why we use the saying, “the meat of the matter”? That’s because the meat is what matters most and Bowery Meat Company (BMC) is no exception!
Specializing in all things meat, BMC has not only made a name for itself, but has also managed to set the bar high when it comes to meat quality standards.
I can confidentially say that making reservations at BMC is one of the best things to do in the East Village and ordering the burger is non-negotiable. The BMC American wagyu burger comes topped with aged Vermont cheddar cheese, caramelized onions and tomato aioli that all melt into each other creating a delectable sauce.
The dimly lit restaurant sets the vibe for an ideal romantic date night. And the food and service that follow are going to be the talk of the night.
Further Reading: 20 Prime New York City Burgers You Won’t Soon Forget.
Address: 9 E 1st St, New York, NY 10003
#9. 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 greenmarket. You’ll find everything from local honey to fresh baked bread and original artwork.
What’s with the digital clock at Union Square Park?
Okay, so you might notice a large digital clock on the side of a building on the south end of the park. Well, like with most things, there’s a story behind it.
The clock is actually a commissioned art instillation called Metronome. It was installed in 1991 and showed the time. However, since 2020 the theme of the art instillation has changed.
In 2020, the Metronome started to show the time remaining until the earth’s carbon budget expires due to global warming. Today the art instillation is a loud testament to our global impact and stands as a stark reminder for all visitors.
Further Reading: 15 ICONIC New York City Parks You Can’t Afford to Miss.
#8. Grab a souvenir at Casey’s Rubber Stamps
A unique New York City souvenir idea is an iconic stamp from Casey’s Rubber Stamps. The small business has been running for more than 40 years. Filled with floor to ceiling shelves of custom handmade stamps, you can find everything here!
One of my favorite things to do in the East Village is to bring out-of-town guests to Casey’s Rubber Stamps at the end of a trip and letting them pick out a stamp that reminds them of their time in NYC.
It’s so small and simple that it doesn’t break the bank and isn’t a challenge to travel with. It’s a memorable gift that isn’t used often, but when it is, brings back good memories.
Casey’s also offers to make custom stamps. Which means you can commission a stamp you’ve had your heart set on but haven’t found. I have a manhole cover stamp and although I can’t say it serves a daily purpose, it still never fails to bring me joy.
Further Reading: 20 Foolproof New York City Souvenirs.
Address: 322 E 11th St, New York, NY 10003
#7. Partake in a piece of history 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 set’s 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 over the years nothing’s changed and you can expect good old fashioned Italian meals that always hit the spot.
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
#6. Relax at East River Park
East River Park is a 57-acre riverside park that stretches from the East Village to the Lower East Side. Offering bike lanes, walking paths and scenic views, taking a stroll here is among the best things to do in the East Village.
East River Park feels like a real gem because it has all the splendor you need from a park in New York City, but without the crowds.
Locals find reprieve and solace as they escape the city with epic views of Brooklyn and the calmness of the water. I recommend starting your day here, preferably before the sun’s up to catch some of the best sunrises in NYC.
#5. Soak in the views at Ready Rooftop
If you’re looking for something affordable to do in the East Village, make reservations at the Ready Rooftop.
Located atop of the Moxy hotel in the East Village, the Ready Rooftop offers stunning views of downtown. And an insane happy hour deal that you won’t want to miss out on.
Every Wednesday – Friday from 4PM – 6PM and Saturday – Sunday from 12PM – 3PM, Ready Rooftop offers $9 margaritas and $1 tacos. Yes you read that correctly! It’s hard to beat a $1 taco (that actually tastes good) with views as great at the Ready Rooftop.
During the summers you’ll have a hard time finding an empty seat at this rooftop bar. While the crowds are typically younger folk, don’t let that intimidate you from scoring a hell of a deal.
One of the best things to do in the East Village during the holidays is visiting the Ready Rooftop for the winter decorations they put up.
Address: 112 E 11th St New York, NY 10003
#4. Grab dessert at 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. Visit 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. Make brunch plans 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. Explore 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
- Try one of NYC’s best bagels at Tompkins Square Bagels
- Hang out at Tompkins Square Park
- Enjoy Pierogi’s from Veselka
- Split a meal at Au Za’atar
- Shop at L Train Vintage
- Check out the Book Club
- Grab a late night bite from Ray’s Candy Store
- Pet a puppy at Boris & Horton
- Grab drinks at The Garret East
- Enjoy a burger from Bowery Meat Company
- Explore Union Square Park
- Grab a souvenir from Casey Rubber Stamps
- Partake in a piece of history at John’s of 12th Street
- Relax at the East River
- Take in the views at The Ready Rooftop
- Check out Please Don’t Tell
- Grab brunch at Yellow Rose
- Try ChikaLicious Dessert Bar
Map of the best things to do in East Village
Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below.