Post overview: A rundown of the best things to do on the Upper East Side
The Upper East Side (UES) is one of the best neighborhoods to explore in New York City, if not for the opulence alone. Home to a high concentration of millionaires (and billionaires), there’s no shortage of inspiration to be gleaned here.
The stunning brownstones are laced with intricate details and evoke daydreams and ambitious goals from stunned onlookers.
One of my favorite things to do in the Upper East Side is to stroll down the streets and imagine what it would be like to have a home in this charming neighborhood.
Apart from the charming homes, you’ll find a plethora a great restaurants, interesting stores, charming bookshops and luxury storefronts perfect for window shopping.
To that end, allow me to share some of the best things to do in the Upper East Side to make your next trip to the neighborhood a little bit more exciting.
Best Things to Do Upper East Side
#1. Visit the fifth largest museum in the world
You read that right, the Upper East Side is home to the fifth largest museum in the world — the Metropolitan Museum of Art (colloquially known as the MET).
When my husband and I moved to NYC we wanted to get a membership at one NYC museum and choosing the MET was a no-brainer. We’ve been members for a little more than a year yet still find ourselves eagerly gravitating toward the MET on a weekly basis.
Founded in 1870, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is often considered the best museum in New York City and it’s not hard to see why.
Home to more than 2 million pieces of art spanning 5,000+ years, the Met is the largest museum in the country and the fifth largest museum in the world. It’s also the most visited museum in New York City (receiving more than 6 million visitors per year).
Must see at the MET: Washington Crossing the Delaware, The Temple of Dendur, Vincent van Gogh’s Self Portrait with a Straw Hat and Monet’s Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies.
Further Reading: 20 EPIC Art Pieces to See at The Met (A Comprehensive Guide)
#2. Get coffee at Ralph’s
Not only does Ralph’s churn out some of the best coffee in the UES, but this has to be one of the cutest cafes in the entire city!
The postage-stamp sized cafe is as charming as can be. The prominent color scheme is a velvety-rich shade of dark green that serves to extenuate the swankiness of the place.
It’s impossible not to feel under-dressed, unless you’re on the way to the Met Gala, but trust me when I tell you, this is a great way to start the day in the Upper East Side.
#3. Explore Central Park
We can’t talk about the best things to do in the Upper East Side without mentioning the masterpiece that is Central Park. It’s world-famous for good reason and there’s a reason it’s on everyone’s must-see list when visiting New York City.
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 healthy acres, Central Park is an architectural feat that few can resist falling in love with.
It’s also one of the first man-made parks in the country– designed using a new concept for the time called landscape architecture. There’s so many iconic spots to see in Central Park, I suggest spending an entire day exploring this incredible NYC park or visiting several times.
If you’d like some guidance during your first visit to Central Park, I suggest reading 15 ICONIC Things to Do in Central Park, a super helpful post that highlights the top attractions in the park.
If you’d like to feel like a true NYC local, grab a picnic blanket and spread out at Sheep Meadow during the warm spring and summer months. Or, better yet, rent a rowboat for the lake around the Bow Bridge – easily one of the most romantic things to do in New York City.
You might enjoy: 15 FASCINATING Facts About Central Park That May Surprise You
#4. Visit the Guggenheim
The iconic architectural building that houses the Guggenheim Museum in NYC 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 distinctive 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 spiral ramp to observe world-famous modern art. The entire length of the ramp is equivalent to 1/4 mile walk and naturally passes through the exhibits on each floor.
Swing by The Wright cafe if you’re feeling hungry, one of the best in-house cafes at a museum in NYC we’ve found to date.
Must see at the Guggenheim: Composition 8 by Kandinsky, Picasso’s work, Mountains of Saint Remy by Vincent van Gogh and The Hermitage at Pontoise by Camille Pissarro.
#5. Have the best black and white cookie in NYC
Fighting words, I know. But hear me out.
Breads Bakery is a very popular NYC bakery that recently opened a store in the Upper East Side. They churn out the best baked goods in the city and offer the most delicious black and white cookie in New York City, exclusively at the UES location.
The cookie is a mix of a standard black and white cookie and croissant. It’s satisfying without being overly sweet and I go out of my way to get my hands on it. So if you’re a sweet tooth in search of tasty things to do in the Upper East Side, make a beeline for Breads Bakery.
#6. Have celebratory drinks 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 Bemelman’s Bar?
When it comes to iconic bars in New York City, Bemelmans Bar in the Upper East Side usually graces the top of the list. Found in the classy Carlyle Hotel, this bar is best known for the alluring murals that adorn the walls.
The murals were hand-painted by none other than the beloved illustrator behind the famous Madeline books, Ludwig Bemelmans (for whom the bar is named). The beautiful murals were commissioned in the 1940s and depict Central Park in all four seasons.
Peel your eyes away from the handsome walls and you’ll notice the pianist serenading patrons. Allow your eyes to wander and watch generous pours of perfectly-executed drinks make their way from one table to the next.
In a lot of ways Bemelmans Bar is exactly what a New York City bar should be. The staff are dressed to impress, the bar is dimly lit and the aged leather banquettes offer an air of sophistication and class. It’s the only place to celebrate a special occasion.
All this to say, Bemelman’s Bar is one of the best bars in New York City and the UES is lucky to have them.
Address: 35 E 76th St, New York, NY 10021
#7. 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 NYC bookstore is as charming as can be. It isn’t a large by any stretch of the imagination, but the small size only adds to the coziness.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming the 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 of new fiction and non-fiction titles to share with customers.
Feel free to roam the store or ask one of the friendly staff members for a recommendation, I doubt you’ll be disappointed.
#8. Check out a world-famous painting at 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 notable book, which chronicles the story of Adele Bloch-Bauer. The woman’s world-famous 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, yet another great thing to to in the UES for history and art enthusiasts.
When you get your fix of the artwork, head to Cafe Sabarsky, one of the best cafes in New York City. A clear standout here is the Sachertorte, a world-famous chocolate cake that is worth every last calorie.
#9. Explore Carl Schurz Park
Ask any Upper East Side resident 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, which is why I spend more time at Carl Schurz than at Central Park during the weekends.
My favorite portion is the waterfront promenade that looks over the East River and watching dogs at the dog run.
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 and limited tours are available to the public but must be booked in advance (tours are currently being done via Zoom due to COVID).
#10. Get a treat from Laduree
Laduree’s macaroons have a cult-like following for a reason, they’re some of the best in the city and the UES is lucky to have a location.
The decor is perfectly Parisian and makes for a great spot to slow down and relax in the midst of the bustling streets. There’s a small table indoors and a few tables outside, but snatching one might be a challenge because this place is so popular.
#11. Swing by Levain for world-famous cookies
Levain Bakery is a NYC staple so you can only imagine the excitement when they announced their UES location!
Fair warning here, within one bite of Levain Bakery’s warm and gooey cookies you’ll know exactly why this is one of the best bakeries in New York City. These incredible treats will reappear to you in dreams.
Rarely, in a city offering SO many food options, does a place stand so far above the rest but Levain Bakery is the exception.
This famous NYC bakery churns out the BEST cookies in New York City, so you can’t afford to miss it if you’re in the mood for something sweet. They keep the menu fairly small (five cookies and a few baked goods) which makes ordering easier.
Apart from the cookies, I’m also a sucker for their oatmeal raisin scone. I order it every time I go and find it to be perfectly soft, warm and satisfying. Highly recommend!
#12. Take the Roosevelt Island Tram for epic views of NYC
The views of NYC from the Roosevelt Island tram are some of the best in the city, which is why I consider this one of the best things to do in the UES. The tram takes you from the Upper East Side to Roosevelt Island for the price of a subway ride ($2.90). The entrance is located at 60th Street and 2nd avenue.
Admittedly, there’s not much to do on Roosevelt Island (except in the spring when the blushing trees come alive with color).
However, the trip to Roosevelt Island is still a nice way to escape the bustle of the city and have a moment of calm and quiet, while still seeing the iconic NYC skyline.
Further Reading: 18 Jaw-Dropping Views of NYC (for All Budgets)
#13. Get a classic NYC burger from JG Melon
JG Melon has been around since 1972 and serves us some of the best burgers in the Big Apple. Think perfectly juicy and flavorful patties sandwiched between buttery buns, it simply doesn’t get better than this. The fries are worth an order and the decor alone warrants a visit.
The interior is tightly packed and full of watermelon-themed paintings and posters, which offer a great distraction as you fight off the hunger intensified by the delicious smells of burgers being delivered to tables around you.
It’s a cash-only establishment frequented by prominent New Yorkers, like former mayor Michael Bloomberg who calls these the best hamburgers in the world. But apparently he’s not the only one, Gigi Hadid and Bobby Flay have also shared similar sentiments.
#14. Catch a comedy show
The UES is home to one of the best comedy clubs in NYC (Comic Strip Live), which makes catching a comedy show while exploring the Upper East Side a must-do for those that love comedy.
#15. Stroll down Madison Avenue
Madison Avenue is as fancy as it gets, which is why strolling down this trendy street (peppered with luxury high-end brands) is one of the most fun things to do in the Upper East Side.
I’ll be honest with you, I’m not bold enough to go into these stores, but girlfriend can window-shop for hours. There’s something inspiring about being on Madison Avenue that make me want to achieve big dreams.
But hey, with such a lavish lifestyle inches in front of you, can you blame me?
#16. 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 NYC bookstore is devoted specifically to French literature but carries some English titles as well.
Admittedly, this bookstore is on the smaller side, which makes their vast selection of 14,000 books (spanning two floors), all the more impressive. They’ve made great use of limited space. It won’t take too long to peruse, but goodness, you simply can’t miss it. The remarkable hand-painted celestial ceiling on the second floor is worth a visit alone!
Albertine Books is a must-see for anyone with the faintest interest in beautiful bookstores in New York City, the discomfort of a language barrier be damned!
Tip to my fellow Francophiles — brace yourself, the bookstore is so cool; you’ll be tempted to book a flight to France the second you walk through the door. Bring a friend to avoid making rash decisions.
Fun Fact: Albertine Bookstore is located within the Payne Whitney Mansion (within the French Embassy), which was designed by the same architect responsible for the Washington Square Arch — Stanford White.
Love bookstores? Here’s a rundown of the 12 Most Charming Bookstores in New York City
#17. Enjoy a meal at Cafe D’Alsace
Cafe D’Alsace is one of my favorite restaurants on the Upper East Side for a nice meal during date night. I love getting dressed for the occasion, even though the atmosphere is relaxed and doesn’t necessarily call for it.
The food is very delicious and you won’t be disappointed regardless of the time of day you find yourself dining here.
Upper East Side Best Things to Do (Post Summary)
- Visit the fifth largest museum in the world
- Get a coffee at Ralph’s
- Explore Central Park
- Visit the Guggenheim
- Have the best black-and-white-cookie in New York City
- Have celebratory drinks at Bemelmans Bar
- Visit the Corner Bookstore
- Check out a world-famous painting at Neue Galerie
- Explore Carl Schurz Park
- Get a treat at Laduree
- Swing by Levain for world-famous cookies
- Take the Roosevelt Island Tram for epic views of NYC
- Get a classic NYC burger from JG Melon
- Catch a comedy show
- Stroll down Madison Avenue
- Pop into Albertine Books
- Enjoy a meal at Cafe D’Alsace
Map of the best things to do in the UES
Where to stay in the Upper East Side
As you can imagine, hotels in the Upper East Side will run a pretty penny. It’s pretty much solely luxury hotels in this zip code. So if budget isn’t a concern, I suggest the Franklin Hotel.
Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below. Cheers!