The Lower East Side is one of the liveliest neighborhoods in all of Manhattan full of a plethora of fun things to do. There are so many places to dine and explore that it’s hard to boil them down into a single list!
But that’s exactly what I’ve tried to do here, after years of exploring the neighborhood I’ve narrowed down the 15 best things to do in the Lower East Side.
Whether you’re a local like me looking to try a new spot or a guest only here for the weekend, this post is for you. I hope you find it useful in planning your day in this charming neighborhood.
But hey, I know why you’re here. Let’s get to the good stuff!
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 Lower East Side
#15. Have a drink at Loreley Beer Garden
Loreley Beer Garden, you boozy, beautiful thing – you have me at your mercy. I’m a sucker for your outdoor heated patio and colorful decorations and even more so for the adult beverages you never seem to run out of.
Seriously, one of the best things to do in the Lower East Side is to stop by Loreley Beer Garden (especially during a holiday season) for a drink or two. They’re known for their pumpkin beer keg in October, but nearly every holiday gets celebrated at Loreley Beer Garden.
In December you can expect spiked holiday drinks, St. Patrick’s Day features green (yes, green) beer and summertime welcomes the margarita beach club. Loreley Beer Garden is the go-to spot for themed drinking!
But drinks alone don’t make Loreley Beer Garden one of the best things to do in the Lower East Side, they have the decorations to match. If you’re ever looking to host a get together with friends but your shoe-box NYC apartment can’t fit them just bring them here.
Address: 7 Rivington St, New York, NY 10002
#14. Grab a cup of coffee and pet a cat at Koneko
Feline fans, line up! Koneko (which means kitten in Japanese) is a three-story cafe that allows you to enjoy your favorite caffeinated drinks all while hanging with four legged friends.
Therefore, if you’re looking for one of the most unique things to do in the Lower East Side stop by the cat-themed cafe. Who knows, you might leave with a new roommate. That’s right, the cats at Koneko are up for adoption!
By partnering with Anjellicle Cats Rescue, Koneko is able to offer the cats another chance at finding a forever home. Even if you’re not looking to adopt, visiting Koneko is one of the best things to do in the Lower East Side thanks to the furry company.
The cafe has a Japanese inspired menu worth writing home about, considering all the pastries and snacks are made fresh and in house. With options ranging from croissants to gyoza you’ll rarely leave Koneko on an empty stomach.
Reservations are required and can be made on Koneko’s website, with a cost of $20 per person. Guests are allowed to play and pet the cats, but are asked not to pick them up.
Address: 26 Clinton St, New York, NY 10002
#13. Have a snack at The Pickle Guys
Pickled watermelon, pickled pineapple, pickled brussels sprouts, oh my! The Pickle Guys have mastered the art of pickling and in doing so have created one of the best things to do in the Lower East Side.
The Pickle Guys use a time-tested Eastern European way of pickling, which includes letting the item cure in a barrel. Depending on the food being pickled it can cure anywhere from a day to six months.
Plus – The Pickle Guys are kosher, meaning everyone can enjoy a bite. All this to say, visiting The Pickle Guys is one of the best things to do in the Lower East Side whether you’re the pickle-lover or your friends are.
Address: 357 Grand St, New York, NY 10002
#12. Watch a film at Metrograph
If you’re looking for one of the best things to do in the Lower East Side — specifically for a date night, Metrograph is the place for you.
Metrograph takes dinner and a movie to a whole new level. The theater gives off the vibes of an old school hangout thanks to the candlelit lobby and velvet seats, all while still maintaining the quality of a modern theater.
The movies featured include those by award winning directors, up and coming actors and old world hidden gems. Plus, if you can’t make it out to the Lower East Side theater, Metrograph now has Metrograph at Home. You can subscribe and get the same curated collections of films no matter where you are.
If you are looking for one of the best things to do in the Lower East Side though be sure to make a pit-stop and stick around for dinner. The Metrograph Commissary is a full service restaurant that offers the same romantic charm as the theater.
Address: 7 Ludlow St, New York, NY 10002
#11. Take a trip to Economy Candy
For all my fellow candy connoisseurs, why not visit the oldest candy store in New York City? Stopping by Economy Candy is easily one of the best things to do in the Lower East Side, even more so if you have a sweet tooth.
It’s hard to contain your excitement when visiting Economy Candy because it’s covered (practically to the ceiling) in every type of sweet treat imaginable. Unlike other candy stores that have flashy displays, Economy Candy knows exactly what their guests are in for and take advantage — filling every nook and cranny with sugar.
This is also one of the best places in the Lower East Side to find something rare or special. From the new trendy candy to the old school classics you’ll be hard pressed to find something Economy Candy doesn’t have (there is over 2000 candy varieties).
Opening shop in 1937 Economy Candy is now in its third generation of ownership, and supporting small businesses (especially ones that give so much joy) is one of the best things to do in the Lower East Side.
Address: 108 Rivington St, New York, NY 10002
#10. Enjoy an afternoon at Seward Park
Although there are bigger and more well known parks in NYC, I consider Seward Park to be a bit of a hidden gem. I’ll admit it’s a little run down but that’s to be expected considering Seward Park was the first municipally built playground in the U.S.
Visiting Seward Park is one of my favorite things to do in the Lower East Side because of its charm. Unlike other parks in NYC where you can escape, Seward Park still feels like you’re in the heart of Manhattan.
During the warmer months the trees create a sun-soaked canopy ideal for reading a book under, which is perfect consider the New York Public Library has a branch in the park.
Full of kids, elderly folks, dogs and parents Seward Park is one of the liveliest places in the Lower East Side on a warm sunny day. Heck, even in the winter the park has a way of feeling electric.
Address: Canal St and, Essex St, New York, NY 10002
#9. Sneak into The Back Room
The Back Room is one of only two speakeasies in NYC, from the prohibition era that is still open today. The entrance is the same one used 100 years ago, behind a gate that reads “Lower East Side Toy Company”.
Since it dates back to prohibition the likes of mobsters (like Lucky Luciano and Meyers Lanksy) are said to have visited The Back Room (I wonder if they considered it one of the best things to do in the Lower East Side, too?).
And after visiting myself I can attest that it even feels authentic. The 1920’s decor and cocktails served in teacups (to disguise the alcohol) can make you feel like you’re on the set of a gangster film.
Whenever I have friends visiting from out of town and I bring them to The Back Room, they always leave saying it was one of their favorite things to do in the Lower East Side.
Something to note: The Back Room only accepts guests 25 years and older on Fridays and Saturdays. Also – The Back Room does not allow real fur. If your clothing has it, you’ll be turned away.
Address: 102 Norfolk St, New York, NY 10002
#8. Enjoy a slice at Scarr’s Pizza
Within a bite, my husband proclaimed Scarr’s as the absolute best pizza in New York City. Fighting words, I know!
But he has a point. I mean, I don’t know if we were exceptionally hungry or something, but Scarr’s Pizza was so good that we returned the next day for more. Stopping by for a slice has quickly become one of our favorite things to do in the Lower East Side.
The Sicilian grandma slice was so satisfying but the pepperoni took the cake. The large slices demand to be folded and the thinly stretch dough is the ideal canvas for the delightful marinara sauce and quality toppings.
The cheese and marinara sauce form a harmonious union without overwhelming. In effect, this pizza is everything a pizza should be — simple and delicious!
Plus, extra points for the incredible staff here. The man that took our order (both times) was so friendly and enjoyable.
In a city where good food sometimes comes at the expense of good service, Scarr’s stands a mile above the rest. Plus, the unfussy storefront definitely evokes old school vibes and makes visiting one of the best things to do in the Lower East Side.
Address: 22 Orchard St, New York, NY 10002
#7. Learn at the Tenement Museum
One of the best things to do in the Lower East Side is to visit the Tenement Museum, one of the best museums in NYC. The 5-story museum is comprised of two historic buildings which were home to an estimated 15,000 immigrants from 20 nations between 1863 and 1935.
The idea for the museum was born when personal belongings were discovered in a dilapidated tenement building which had been neglected for 50 years. The artifacts and belongings served as the impetus for the museum, which strives to promote tolerance and historical perspective on the immigrant experience.
Today one of the best things to do in the Lower East Side is to sign up for a guided tour to get a glimpse into the cramped living spaces of past residents. The humble rooms serve as a reminder that our national identity is best understood through the experiences of real, working families.
Touring this unique Lower East Side museum is a moving experience. The rooms and stories evoke feelings of heartbreak and nostalgia. It’s hard to understand the hardships immigrants endured in those early days.
The guided tours are engaging and add so much to this museum experience. The rich history comes alive through knowledgeable and passionate guides that are eager to share everything they know.
Address: 103 Orchard St, New York, NY 10002
#6. Have a drink at Attaboy
After Attaboy was named the #1 best bar in North America in 2022, I knew I had to make a pit-stop. I have been back many, many times since and can assure that visiting is one of the best things to do in the Lower East Side.
Getting in isn’t easy, since there are no reservations, but I’ll gladly pitch my tent in hopes I get a sip of Ross’ Penicillin (scotch, lemon juice, ginger-honey syrup).
If you choose to visit Attaboy be sure to pay extra attention to the address since there’s no signage. Similar to how Ferrari doesn’t advertise, neither do the best things to do in the Lower East Side, reputation precedes them.
What’s more, once inside you won’t even find a menu! You have to have a conversation with the bartender, which adds to the mystique and romance of the bar.
Address: 134 Eldridge St, New York, NY 10002
#5. Visit the Essex Market
The Essex Market is New York City’s most historic food hall, being around officially since 1940 (unofficially since the 1880’s). Serving as a culinary gathering place, Essex Market has brought together locals, regardless of background, for decades.
Therefore one of the best things to do in the Lower East Side is to support local business’ and partake in a piece of New York City history. This three-story market is made up of over 30 individual vendors who each bring a unique story and flavor to the table.
Along with the plethora of food options, Essex Market also offers a place to pick up fresh groceries, check out an art gallery, heck you can even get a haircut here. Visiting is one of the best things to do in the Lower East Side, whether you’re hungry or not.
It’s hard to go wrong when picking a spot to eat at the Essex Market. The potato pierogi from Veselka is top-tier, and if you’re craving caffeine try Cafe Grumpy. Plus, be sure to finish with something sweet at Best Damn Cookies for the fullest experience.
Address: 88 Essex St, New York, NY 10002
#4. Get lost in The New Museum
The New Museum was founded in 1977 by Marcia Tucker, who worked as a curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art and noticed that new art, made by living artists was not as appreciated as it should be.
Thanks to their emphasis on art from lesser known artist, visiting the New Museum has become one of the best things to do in the Lower East Side. You never know if you’re looking at a piece made by the next van Gogh or da Vinci, which makes it all the more fun.
The New Museum recently moved into a brand new state of the art building, which will help cement it as one of the best things to do in the Lower East Side.
Address: 235 Bowery, New York, NY 10002
Local’s tip: visiting The New Museum is one of the most popular things to do in the Lower East Side, so book your tickets online ahead of time and skip the line.
#3. Enjoy a bagel with lox at Russ & Daughters
Russ & Daughters is arguably the most iconic bagel shop in NYC, offering some of the best bagels and lox in New York City for more than 100 years. Therefore – visiting is one of the best things to do in the Lower East Side!
The bagels at Russ & Daughters are exceptional, as you would expect, but the smoked fish is where they shine. That’s why I strongly recommend the lox bagel here (it’d be a shame to pass it up, seriously).
They have an impressive selection of smoked fish, cream cheese and appetizers. What’s more, they’re one of the few bagel spots that offers caviar, which my husband always orders.
This particular delicatessen stands a mile above the rest and is worth going out of the way for. Russ & Daughters has expanded over the years but I suggest visiting the original store, which is one of the best things to do in the Lower East Side.
Address: 179 E Houston St, New York, NY 10002
#2. Stroll the Brooklyn Bridge
Walking the Brooklyn Bridge is one of the best things to do in the Lower East Side, as well as in New York City as a whole. Unlike other iconic attractions, the Brooklyn Bridge is one that can be enjoyed for free which is all the more reason to visit.
The bridge spans 1 mile, which on average takes 15-20 minutes to walk. You’re going to want to give yourself more time though, because it’s near impossible to not take a million pictures.
If you’re an early riser consider walking the bridge during sunrise, it’s one of the best things to do in the Lower East Side. The lit-up sky makes it so much more romantic, and the bridge is relatively empty (unlike during sunsets).
Fun fact: The Brooklyn Bridge is older than London’s famous Tower Bridge by 11 years. Read this article for more thought-provoking NYC facts you probably don’t know.
#1. Order a pastrami on rye at Katz Delicatessen
Omitting Katz Deli from a list of the best things to do in the Lower East Side is an inexcusable offense. This cafeteria-style deli has been serving New Yorkers since 1888 and is one of the most iconic restaurants in NYC.
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 at one of the most popular things to do in the Lower East Side.
The biggest challenge while visiting Katz Deli (apart from the long lines and crowds) is knowing how to navigate the ordering system, but that’s where I come in.
How to order a (life-changing) pastrami sandwich at Katz Deli
You will be handed a ticket upon entering Katz, put it in your pocket and head to the ordering line. One of the folks behind the counter will call you over and ask you what you’d like. Tell them your order and hand them your ticket (they’ll write down what you ordered).
When your masterpiece of a sandwich is completed you’ll have two options: find a table or order drinks/sides. If you’d like to order drinks and sides (like fries) head to the left-most counter and place your order (they’ll also ask for your ticket).
After finishing your meal you will need to pay (using the ticket) at the counter by the door with the large “cashier” sign. When your bill is settled you can make your way out by handing your paid ticket over to the person working the front. This is how you can enjoy one of the best things to do in the Lower East Side.
Address: 205 E Houston St, New York, NY 10002
Best things to do in the Lower East Side (post summary)
- Order a pastrami on rye at Katz Delicatessen
- Stroll the Brooklyn Bridge
- Enjoy a bagel with lox at Russ & Daughters
- Get lost in The New Museum
- Visit the Essex Market
- Have a drink at Attaboy
- Learn at the Tenement Museum
- Enjoy a slice at Scarr’s Pizza
- Sneak into The Back Room
- Enjoy an afternoon at Seward Park
- Take a trip to Economy Candy
- Watch a film at Metrograph
- Have a snack at The Pickle Guys
- Pet a cat at Koneko
- Have a drink at Loreley Beer Garden
Best things to do Lower East Side (map)
And there you have it, folks! My list of the best things to do in the Lower East Side. I hope you found the article useful.