Sure, Midtown has much to offer; but visitors who focus solely on Times Square and the Empire State Building miss out on exploring some of Manhattan’s less touristy neighborhoods. If you want to slow down a bit and experience Manhattan like a local, check out the following three neighborhoods.
The Lower East Side has a rich immigrant history, which can still be explored today. This is especially true if you’re interested in Jewish history; have NYC’s best pastrami sandwich at Katz's Delicatessen (open since 1888), sample a knish at Yonah Schimmel's (open since 1910), and munch on pickled everything at The Pickle Guys (one of the only pickle stores left in the once pickle-filled hood). Beyond food, visit the Tenement Museum to see how immigrants lived, and The Museum at Eldridge Street, a historic synagogue where you can take a tour to learn about the immigrant congregation.
Of course, it’s not all history. Stroll down Orchard Street to peruse hip boutiques and eateries, be a kid again in the retro Economy Candy dating back to 1937, and check out street art at the 100 Gates Project.
From the Lower East Side, you can walk up into the East Village to explore some of the city’s best independent restaurants and craft cocktails. Don’t miss the spicy tequila and mezcal cocktails at Mayahuel, which serves only 100% agave spirits.
Another option: walk over the industrial cool Williamsburg Bridge from the Lower East Side into Williamsburg. In this Brooklyn neighborhood you can try rainbow bagels at the Bagel Store, check out artisan finds at the weekend Artists & Fleas market and take in the Manhattan skyline from East River Park.
Here is where you’ll find a leafy green hood full of boutique shops and adorable eateries that make you feel like you’re in Europe. In fact, you can start your afternoon by having authentic Neapolitan pizza at Numero 28 Pizzeria. Sit outside to gaze at the Italianate architecture of Our Lady of Pompeii Church and have a lazy afternoon savoring Italian gelato from the adjacent Grom in Father Demo Square. The square is named after an Italian pastor who worked to build the Our Lady of Pompeii congregation and help Italian immigrants start new lives.
It’s not just about Italian culture, though. This is where you’ll discover some of the city’s most diverse architecture, including Manhattan’s skinniest house at 75½ Bedford Street and the quirky wooden Twin Peaks, once an artist haven. Speaking of art, the West Village and its overlapping Greenwich Village have a bohemian heritage. Make sure to explore this -- especially through jazz -- by sipping a craft cocktail to soothing jazz at Slowly Shirley, watching live jazz while playing table games at Fat Cat and seeing a performance at the Village Vanguard.
Oh, and if you’re on a budget you don’t want to miss Bleeker Street. Here you’ll find free and budget-friendly food samples galore -- don’t miss Faico’s $1 arancini -- as well as beautiful boutique shops.
While there are plenty of other awesome neighborhoods below Midtown -- like Chelsea, SoHo, Nolita -- it’s also worth your time to venture uptown. One recommendation: Yorkville. This Upper East Side hood is known for its German history, as available work in the early 20th century enticed German immigrants. During your visit make sure to have a meal at Heidelberg, open since 1936 and serving authentic German fare (they even have a beer hall!). Another delicious stop is the Schaller & Weber Butcher Shop, with traditional German meats and a sidewalk sausage bar where you can make your own sandwich. For German and Austrian art, Neue Galerie New York is a must.
Along with German culture, you should also visit for the greenery. There are tons of ways to enjoy the more natural side of the concrete jungle. While Central Park is within walking distance, you should also check out the smaller and lesser-known Carl Schurz Park, offering gorgeous views of the East River and lovely gardens. Also walk the scenic East River Esplanade.
Note: Available plans and coverages may have changed since this blog was published.
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Jessica Festa is a full-time travel writer who is always up for an adventure. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don’t read about in guidebooks. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been teaching English in Thailand, trekking her way through South America, backpacking Europe solo, road tripping through Australia and doing orphanage work in Ghana. You can follow her adventures on her travel websites, Epicure & Culture and Jessie On A Journey. You can also connect with Jessica directly on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus, or follow her epicurean adventures on Facebook and Twitter.
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