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5 New York City Neighborhoods to Explore on Vacation
Sample the best Manhattan has to offer with a tour of these five neighborhoods.
Head to Times Square for bright lights, commercialism and top-notch theater.(Getty Images)
Walk a few blocks in any direction in New York City, and you'll experience firsthand the Big Apple's patchwork of ethnically diverse and culturally rich communities. With five boroughs housing 8.5 million people, it's no wonder this city is known as a major melting pot. Each neighborhood in New York City has its own unique personality, from the stately, historic museums in the Upper East Side to the thriving, reborn Financial District. Make your way from uptown to downtown, and savor the many sides of Manhattan in these five neighborhoods.
Upper East Side/East Harlem
Get a taste of two very different, but adjoining, areas by strolling the Upper East Side and East Harlem – or "El Barrio." The Upper East Side begins at the southern end of Central Park at East 59th Street and extends north to East 96th Street, where El Barrio begins and extends north to Harlem River Drive. Start your tour in the Upper East Side along the stretch of Fifth Avenue known as the Museum Mile with a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the The Guggenheim for a dose of world-class art. Other museums along the Museum Mile include the Jewish Museum at 92nd Street and El Museo del Barrio at 104th Street. Should you need a break from being indoors, you can access Central Park from several points along Fifth Avenue.
[Read: The Best New York City Bus Tours.]
If your stomach is growling from all this sightseeing, continue north toward 116th Street and Lexington Avenue to enjoy the sights and flavors of El Barrio. Here, restaurants specializing in Mexican, Puerto Rican, Dominican and Moroccan cuisine abound. Or, work up an even bigger appetite and head to the East Harlem-Harlem border to get in line for Sylvia's at Malcolm X Boulevard, a landmark soul food restaurant known for its chicken and waffles, collard greens and mac 'n' cheese.
Times Square/Theater District
Midtown Manhattan glows 24/7 thanks to Times Square and the overlapping Theater District, filled with luminous marquees and billboards advertising everything from the latest Broadway hits to new movies to fashion trends. In fact, the history of public electricity and theater go hand-in-hand in New York City; during the late 19th century, Broadway and the Theater District became known as "the Great White Way" because the area was among the first to have electrically lighted streets.
Since changing its name from Longacre Square to Times Square in 1904, this section of New York City remains an energetic commercial intersection and the go-to destination for the very best in American theater, such as the award-winning musical "Hamilton."
"Hamilton has reinvented Broadway," says Chris Heywood, senior vice president of global communications for NYC & Company, the city's official tourism organization. "Broadway is so much a part of the fabric of New York – it is the creative energy and talent. It's synonymous: New York and Broadway, and there's something for everybody."
[Read: The Best New York City Tours.]
Simply known as "The Village" among New Yorkers, this large swath of downtown Manhattan is bound by the Hudson River to the west, Houston Street to the south, Broadway to the east and 14th Street to the north. The neighborhood features the beautiful Washington Square Park at its center.
The neighborhood's reputation for Bohemian culture and for being socially progressive goes back to the 20th century, when the community took off as a thriving epicenter of arts and LGBT rights. Visit the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, recently designated as a national historic monument and considered the birthplace of the gay rights movement.
To get a sense of Greenwich Village's atmosphere, people-watch from the Village's many coffeehouses and cafes, listen to musicians or play chess at Washington Square Park, or explore New York University's Grey Art Gallery.
Despite its unappetizing name, the Meatpacking District is a buoyant neighborhood filled with trendy restaurants and beautiful outdoor spaces. The neighborhood name comes from the community's history; in 1900, there were an estimated 250 slaughterhouses and packing plants found here, and the area produced a high volume of meat for the U.S.
Today, you can access the High Line park from the Meatpacking District to enjoy views of the Hudson River, or visit the relocated and renovated Whitney Museum of American Art. The Meatpacking District is also where New Yorkers go to dance or to relax with a cocktail.
"The Meatpacking District is just awesome for nightlife," says Frederick Bigler, chief concierge at The Peninsula New York. "You've got this plethora of small little bars, lounges, night clubs, pubs [and] restaurants. There's so much variety just within a few blocks, and it's a great place to decompress."
[Read: The Best New York City Boat Tours.]
Located on Manhattan's Lower West Side, the Meatpacking District runs from West 14th Street south to Gansevoort Street, and from the Hudson River east toward Hudson Street.
The area surrounding Wall Street is no longer known as a place that shuts down when the New York Stock Exchange closes for the day. After the 9/11 tragedy, this part of lower Manhattan is enjoying an amazing renaissance, as new skyscrapers rise, new structures are built and new businesses open their doors.
Located at the southern tip of Manhattan between Tribeca and Battery Park, this bubbling neighborhood includes the new 9/11 Memorial and Museum; the eye-popping Oculus at the newly opened Westfield World Trade Center shopping mall; and the new One World Trade Center, one of the tallest buildings in the world at 1,776 feet. Step back in time at the Fraunces Tavern on Pearl Street, one of America's oldest continuously running taverns. Pouring beer since 1762, this colonial pub also houses a museum upstairs and is where George Washington bade his officers farewell after the Revolutionary War.
[Read: The Best New York City Food Tours.]
For more history, adjacent to the Financial District along the East River is the South Street Seaport, a tribute to New York City's seafaring past, where you can enjoy fresh seafood and catch a boat to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
To experience more of what New York City has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.
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