Explore New York City

New York City Guide: Culture in Washington Heights

Head uptown and explore the attractions and restaurants of Washington Heights.

Locals love it for its relaxed atmosphere and beautiful Hudson River views. Still, travelers are now venturing to this uptown area to take in historic sites, nosh on Latin-American fritters, see live entertainment and relish the mild weather in lush parks.

The expansive neighborhood where George Washington led troops to battle against the British in 1776 lacks the manic traffic found downtown, making it the perfect place in Manhattan to hop on a bike and see the cityscape.

Who knew Washington Heights had so much to do?

EAT

When I venture north of my neighborhood, Harlem, to Washington Heights, I crave a lunch of crisp empanadas (savory Latin American pastries stuffed with meats, cheeses and veggies) and fresh fruit shakes (banana-papaya, please!) at Empanadas Monumental. For dinner options, I consulted my colleague, web editor Lynn Rickert, a former resident of Upper Manhattan, who raved about Le Chéile. This Irish pub offers an eclectic mix of bar bites including chicken wings and fried calamari, burgers (beef, lamb, turkey or veggie), traditional Irish fare— think bangers and mash, or shepherd’s pie—rounded out with tons of fresh vegetable sides. Fort Washington Public House provides excellent pub fare and an extensive selection of cocktails, beer and wine. 

Assorted Empanadas | WhereTraveler
Assorted Empanadas (©Kent Ng)

PLAY

One of the only lighthouses still standing in the city, The Little Red Lighthouse in Fort Washington Park, charms observers with its short stature and bright red paint. It once helped boats avoid shipwreck at Jeffrey’s Hook during an increase in water traffic in the 19th century. When the George Washington Bridge opened in 1931, the 40-foot structure became obsolete and was later decommissioned and scheduled for auction. Hildegarde Swift’s 1942 children’s book The Little Red Lighthouse led to an outpouring of support from the public, who sent letters and money to the Coast Guard to save the small, historical monument from the clutches of the highest bidder. The beacon was then donated to the Parks Department, which keeps it in its original location to symbolize a slower, more quaint time in NYC history. 

Visit the Morris-Jumel Mansion, the oldest surviving house in Manhattan, to catch a glimpse of how elite New Yorkers lived 200 years ago. Built in 1765 as a summer villa for Colonel Roger Morris and his wife, Mary Philipse, the mansion later became George Washington’s headquarters shortly during the American Revolution. The last occupant before the residence was converted into a museum in 1904 was Eliza Jumel. Jumel was a fiercely independent—somewhat eccentric—businesswoman who constructed her own fortune in real estate when it was rare for women to be in business at all. Her ghost is now rumored to haunt the halls and beautifully preserved rooms that showcase Jumel’s interior design tastes, heavily French-influenced. The hand-painted wallpaper is particularly exquisite. 

The Hispanic Society of America is undoubtedly a hidden gem in a city filled with so many museums, visited by just roughly 20,000 people a year. It houses a collection of paintings, sculptures, textiles and other arts that celebrate the cultures of Spain, Portugal and Latin America in a magnificent Beaux-Arts building with red-walled interiors. Don’t miss the Sorolla Room, an octagonal gallery ringed by larger-than-life murals depicting panoramic visions of Spain, province by province.

The lavish lobby, filigreed walls and opulent ceiling that feels plucked out of Game of Thrones are reason enough to swing by the United Palace Theatre. But the splendid space, which was built in 1930 as the last Loew’s “Wonder Theatres” movie palace, hosts performances, movie screenings and other special events that draw people to Upper Manhattan. The theater also pays tribute to female stars, such as Shirley Temple, Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe, who came out of Fox Studios’ early locations in New Jersey, Manhattan and Hollywood, with The Women of Fox Film Festival. It kicks off Sept. 20 with evening screenings of Bright Eyes and A Fool There Was.

The Little Red Lighthouse New York | WhereTraveler
The Little Red Lighthouse (©Jeff Burak)

DRINK

While it’s designated as a cocktail bar, The Uptown Garrison also has an extensive menu of starters and pizzas to pair with your beverage selection. Don’t miss their seasonal cocktails. Don’t be fooled by its name—Buddha Beer Bar serves far more than just beer (although you’ll find numerous selections of beers on the menu). Locksmith Bar serves up a selection of Peruvian dishes along with a selection of cocktails, mocktails and daily drink specials. 

Beer on Tap | WhereTraveler
Beer on Tap (©Bence Boros)