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15+ Best Things to Do on the Upper East Side (Local’s Guide)

Shopping on Madison Ave in the Upper East Side
As requested, here’s the coat I’m wearing & checkered boots

Home to elegant townhouses, luxury shopping and world-class museums (like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim), there’s no shortage of fun things to do on the Upper East Side. As a local, I thought it’d be fun to roundup some of the coolest things to do in the area, let’s dive 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 10 Best Neighborhoods & 3 to Avoid). Don’t have time? Here’s my favorite hotel in NYC, hands down.


Best Things to Do on the Upper East Side

(Table of Contents)


Inside of the Met Museum on the Upper East Side

Explore the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, affectionately known as The Met, is one of the most popular museums in the world. Founded in 1870, The Met houses over two million works spanning 5,000 years, from the splendors of ancient Egypt to contemporary paintings.

The vast collections at this impressive musuem attract 6 millions visitors each year, making this the most visited museum in NYC. Located along the edge of Central Park, The Met is a must-visit destination in the Upper East Side for art lovers. Further Reading: 20 EPIC Art Pieces to See at The Met (A Helpful Guide)

Website: Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met)
Address: 1000 5th Ave, New York, NY 10028


Best Things to Do on the Upper East Side

Stroll Down Madison Avenue

Luxurious and exclusive, a shopping spree on Madison Avenue is not for the faint of heart. Spanning from East 57th Street to East 86th Street, Madison Avenue is home to more than 150 designer stores, making it one NYC’s top shopping destinations.

The avenue boasts a variety of designer boutiques that attract celebrities and socialites. The combination of exclusivity coupled with upscale vibes make strolling down Madison Avenue one of the best things to do on the Upper East Side for anyone that loves fashion.


2nd Ave Deli

Order the Famous Matzoh Ball Soup at 2nd Ave Deli

2nd Ave Deli is a beloved Jewish deli serving authentic Jewish comfort food in a no-frills environment (they make some of the best matzo ball soup in NYC!). Established in 1954 by a Ukrainian immigrant, this deli quickly became a go-to spot for locals in need of hearty dishes, particularly the pastrami and corned beef sandwiches.

But it’s not just the food that makes 2nd Ave Deli one of the best places to visit on the Upper East Side for foodies. It’s also the old-world charm and quintessential New York vibe (service is friendly but curt). Ironically, despite relocating to 1st Avenue, the deli continues to use its original name. Pop in for a meal you won’t soon forget.

Website: 2nd Ave Deli
Address: 1442 1st Ave., New York, NY 10021
Good to know: 2nd Ave Deli only accepts walk-ins, no reservations.


Romantic things to do on the Upper East Side

Enjoy Some Cocktails at Bemelmans Bar

If you have an occasion worth celebrating (as if surviving 2020 wasn’t enough), may I suggest a fancy date night at Bemelmans Bar? Appearing on any proper list of the best bars in New York City, this sophisticated cocktail bar is known for making the best martinis in town.

Martinis aside, the bar is famous for the stunning hand-painted murals that adorn the walls. Depicting Central Park in all four seasons, they were painted by Ludwig Bemelmans (the beloved author of the Madeline children’s books).

Peel your eyes away from the handsome walls and appreciate the pianist serenading patrons (after 5:30pm). Allow your eyes to wander and watch generous pours of colorful cocktails make their way from one table to the next. Enjoying cocktails at Bemelmans is one of the most romantic things to do on the Upper East Side.

Website: Bemelmans Bar
Address: 35 E 76th St, New York, NY 10021
Good to know: The bar upholds a smart dress code policy (men are required to wear collared shirts, and attire such as shorts and hats is not allowed). Reservations not accepted, Bemelmans Bar operates on a first-come, first-served basis.


Ralph's Coffee Upper East Side
Coat & checkered boots

Pop in for Coffee at Ralph’s

If you’re planning on visiting the Upper East Side for a day of exploring, start with a coffee at Ralph’s. This chic postage-stamp sized coffee shop is an extension of the iconic Ralph Lauren flagship store on Madison Avenue.

Cozy and inviting, grabbing a cup of coffee from Ralph’s feels like an elegant experience, on par for this opulent neighborhood. The ambiance is half the draw, swanky and vintage-inspired, Ralph’s has quickly become the go-to spot on the Upper East Side for good coffee.

Website: Ralph’s Coffee
Address: 888 Madison Ave, New York, NY

You may enjoy reading: 8 Charming Cafes on the Upper East Side


Black and white cookies at Breads Bakery Upper East Side

Indulge in the Best Black & White Cookies in NYC

Breads Bakery is a very popular NYC bakery with a (new) location on the Upper East Side. They make some of the best baked goods in the city and have the BEST black & white cookies in NYC (exclusively at the Upper East Side location). Fighting words, I know. But hear me out.

Part-croissant, part-cookie, it’s fully satisfying without being overly sweet. I go out of my way to get my hands on it every weekend. So if you’re looking for treats while visiting the Upper East Side, make a beeline for Breads Bakery.

Website: Breads Bakery
Address: 1294 3rd Ave, New York, NY
Featured in: 10 Delicious Bakeries on the Upper East Side


Roosevelt Island Tram

Hop Aboard the Roosevelt Island Tram

Riding the Roosevelt Island Tram is one of the most unique things to do on the Upper East Side. Opened in 1976, it was the first aerial tramway in North America used for urban transportation. Since it’s part of the public transportation network, riding the tram costs the same as taking the subway ($2.90).

Found at the intersection of East 60th Street and 2nd Avenue, the tram provides stunning aerial views of Manhattan’s epic skyline. Each spacious cabin can carry up to 110 people and takes 5 minutes to cross the East River to Roosevelt Island. The trip to Roosevelt Island is a nice way to escape the bustle of the city and have a moment of calm and quiet while visiting the Upper East Side.

Further Reading: 18 Jaw-Dropping Views of NYC (for All Budgets)


Have a Proper Burger at JG Melon

JG Melon is a cash-only establishment frequented by prominent New Yorkers (like former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who calls these the best burgers in the world). Gigi Hadid and Bobby Flay have also shared similar sentiments and I, personally, couldn’t agree more.

JG Melon has been around since 1972 and serves us some of the best burgers in New York City. Think perfectly juicy patties sandwiched between buttery buns, ordering the cottage fries are non-negotiable and the watermelon-themed decor alone warrants a visit.

The interior is tightly packed with small tables and watermelon-themed paintings and posters. Admire the artwork, it’s a great distraction while your hunger intensifies from the delicious smells of burgers being delivered to tables around you. All this to say, JG Melon is a must-do in the Upper East Side for foodies.

Website: JG Melon
Address: 1291 3rd Ave, New York, NY 10021
Good to know: Cash-only, first come, first-served (no reservations)


Albertine Books, most unique bookstores in New York City

Francophile? Pop into Albertine Books

Arguably one of the best-hidden bookstores in New York City, Albertine Books is located within the French Embassy and is easily missed if you don’t know to look for it. This gem of a bookstore is devoted specifically to French literature but carries some English titles as well. The remarkable hand-painted celestial ceiling on the second floor is worth a visit alone!

Website: Albertine Books
Address: 972 5th Ave, New York, NY

Fun Fact: Albertine Bookstore is located within the Payne Whitney Mansion (at the French Embassy), which was designed by the same architect responsible for the Washington Square Arch — Stanford White.


Best things to do UES

Visit the Guggenheim

The iconic architectural building that houses the Guggenheim Museum was Frank Lloyd Wright’s most notable achievement. Unfortunately, Wright passed away six months before the museum opened to the public in 1959.

Today this monolithic concrete structure is considered a work of art itself and attracts more than 1 million visitors per year. Once inside, visitors slowly make their way up a 1/4 mile spiral ramp to admire modern art. Visiting the Guggenheim is one of the most exciting things to do on the Upper East Side for art enthusiasts, the musuem is world-famous for good reason.

Website: Guggenheim
Address: 1071 5th Ave, New York, NY
Featured in: 15 Exciting Museums in New York City (& What to See at Each)


cute bookstores nyc
the Corner Bookstore NYC
You've Got Mail bookstore

Visit The Corner Bookstore

Founded in 1978, The Corner Bookstore has been satisfying the literary needs of New Yorkers for three generations and doesn’t show signs of slowing down anytime soon. This independent bookstore is as charming as can be.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming the small size is any indication of a limited or lack-luster selection. The selection is well-curated and it’s surprisingly easy to find a quality read. It’s evident that the staff take great pride in their thoughtful recommendations, making this one of the best bookstores in New York City.

Website: The Corner Bookstore
Address: 1313 Madison Ave, New York, NY


See The Lady in Gold (a World-Famous Painting) at the Neue Galerie

There’s no denying that the Neue Galerie is worth a visit for anyone that enjoys German and Austrian art. There was a recent movie created from this fascinating book, which chronicles the story of Adele Bloch-Bauer. Adele’s portrait by Gustav Klimt, The Lady in Gold, was stolen by the Nazis during WWII.

Without giving too much away, the book tells the story of the painting from its theft, to purchase, to final return to the family in 2006. That very painting can be seen at Neue Galerie, one of the best things to see on the Upper East side for history buffs and art enthusiasts.

When you get your fix of the artwork, head to Cafe Sabarsky for great coffee and Sachertorte (an Austrian chocolate cake) in an opulent setting.

Website: Neue Galerie
Address: 1048 5th Ave, New York, NY


Explore Central Park

Central park is the most beautiful park in New York City. How do I know? It’s the most filmed location in the world (has #2 beat by a mile!). Spanning more than 840 acres, Central Park is an architectural feat few can resist falling in love with.There’s so many iconic spots to see in Central Park, I suggest reading: 15 ICONIC Things to Do in Central Park (our most popular post!).

If you’d like to feel like a true NYC local while visiting the Upper East Side, grab a picnic blanket and spread out at Sheep Meadow during the warm summer months. Or, better yet, rent a rowboat and have a romantic afternoon with your special someone.


Explore Carl Schurz Park

Ask any Upper East Side local about there favorite park in the neighborhood and Carl Schurz is bound to pop up. In a lot of ways it feels like a park for locals. My favorite section is the waterfront promenade that looks over the East River.

Make sure to swing by Gracie Mansion while you’re in the area. Gracie Mansion is the official residence of the Mayor of New York. Public tours are available but must be booked in advance.


Visiting the Upper East Side (FAQ)

What is the Upper East Side known for?

One of New York City’s most famous neighborhoods, the Upper East Side (UES) is renowned for luxurious living, cultural richness, and historical significance. Nestled between Central Park and the East River, it’s home to some of the city’s most affluent residents and boasts elegant townhouses, prestigious private schools, and world-class museums . This area is also famous for Madison Avenue’s high-end shopping.

Is Upper East Side good for tourists?

Absolutely! Upper East Side in New York City is a great destination for tourists and visitors! The area’s elegant architecture, upscale dining options, and luxury shopping along Madison Avenue provide a glimpse into New York’s sophisticated lifestyle. It’s also home to Museum Mile, which includes world-renowned institutions like The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum.

The best part? The Upper East Side is well-connected by public transport, making it easy for tourists to explore other parts of the city. Its mix of cultural attractions, shopping, and scenic beauty makes visiting the Upper East Side a top choice for travelers looking to experience the diverse aspects of daily life in New York City.


Upper East Side Best Things to Do (Post Summary)

  1. Visit the fifth largest museum in the world
  2. Order the Famous Matzoh Ball Soup at 2nd Ave Deli
  3. Get a coffee at Ralph’s
  4. Explore Central Park
  5. Visit the Guggenheim
  6. Have the best black-and-white-cookie in New York City
  7. Have celebratory drinks at Bemelmans Bar
  8. Visit the Corner Bookstore
  9. Check out a world-famous painting at Neue Galerie
  10. Explore Carl Schurz Park
  11. Take the Roosevelt Island Tram for epic views of NYC
  12. Get a classic NYC burger from JG Melon
  13. Stroll down Madison Avenue
  14. Pop into Albertine Books

Map of Fun Upper East Side Activities


The 15 Best Restaurants on the Upper East Side (Local’s Guide)
15 Epic Upper East Side Bars (You Can’t Afford to Miss)
12 Best Happy Hours on the Upper East Side

20 HONEST Pros & Cons of Living in New York City (What I Learned in 10 Years)
4 EPIC Days in New York City (Local Guide + Helpful Advice)
10 Iconic New York City Restaurants (Locals Love)

Cheers!

Antonina

Reina Raquel Cedeno

Wednesday 25th of January 2023

What is UES

New York Simply

Thursday 26th of January 2023

Sorry that we didn't make that clear, UES stands for "Upper East Side" cheers!

J egan

Saturday 8th of October 2022

Cafe Carlyle on Sunday evening. Don't plan this. Instead, have your Upper East Side hotel consierge book it. Then you can mention, " after dinner we're going over to Cafe Carlyle for a drink. Of course the two of you will be there for hours. The spontaneity will bring about a long lasting and beautiful memory.

Antonina

Sunday 9th of October 2022

Oh wow! I love your planning (should I say scheming?) here. What a beautiful memory to make with someone special. I just looked into it a bit more and it seems so romantic! But goodness, at that price point we'll save it for a very special occasion. I appreciate you sharing this with us though, I had no idea! Might surprise my husband with this for his birthday. :)

Rose Trentman

Wednesday 27th of April 2022

Cafe Ines .. on 74 th st.. the best little French bistro.. great coffees .. and great meals

Antonina

Thursday 28th of April 2022

Thank you for the tip, Rose! I'll add them to my list of places to try!

Mark L Braunstein

Friday 1st of April 2022

Enjoy the best poppyseed strudel in NYC (and other Hungarian specialties) at Andre's Cafe & Bakery.

Antonina

Saturday 2nd of April 2022

I'll have to give them a try! I'm a sucker for poppyseeds and baked goods -- match made in heaven!

Madeline Ellis

Tuesday 29th of March 2022

NYC Ferry - East 90th St and FDR Drive It’s one of the best things that opened on the upper east side.

Antonina

Wednesday 30th of March 2022

Couldn't agree more! We love the ferry and take it often (also recommend it a ton for first time visitors, especially the route between DUMBO and Wall Street).