4 Must-Visit Neighborhoods in New York City

Neighborhoods for the history buff, theater maven and parents with tots!

Hungry for the early history of New York City? Looking for a shopper’s paradise? Headed to the Big Apple for Broadway? Or maybe you’re in the city for a family vacation and need to keep the kids occupied. We’ve got four fantastic ’hoods that will fit the bill here, whatever your interest happens to be.

Westfield World Trade Center

THE FINANCIAL DISTRICT

In New York, the emphasis is on the new. But history surrounds you in the city’s birthplace—Manhattan Island’s southern tip. To see it all, look for the free, red, Downtown Connection bus with 36 stops. One must: the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House at the bottom of the island. Inside is the admission-free George Gustav Heye Center, part of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian—a fitting tribute to New York’s original residents, the Lenape people, who lived on the other side of the Dutch-built wall that became Wall St.

The Stone Street Historic District, a time capsule one block long and two wide, preserves the scale of the 17th century. The pedestrian-only area is lined with cafés like Stone Street TavernSt. Paul’s Chapel, built in 1766, survived the Great Fire of 1776—and in 2001 withstood the destruction of the World Trade Center, one block away. Still a community hub, St. Paul’s often offers free classical concerts at lunchtime.

For eats, dig into a steak at Delmonico’s, America’s oldest, continuously operating restaurant. You’ll want to take a peek at The Beekman hotel, originally built in 1881 as offices for bankers and lawyers. One World Trade Center has a mesmerizing time-lapse elevator which whooshes you up to One World Observatory. Another “FiDi” (Financial District) thrill is the Oculus, which houses a subway hub and Westfield World Trade Center. Come hungry: This mall has Eataly, Épicerie Boulud, Shake Shack and lots more. 

The red steps in Times Square

THEATER DISTRICT

New York’s Theater District is more than theaters. It’s where the Broadway community lives and lounges. Remain calm if you spot a star browsing at The Drama Book Shop, a welcoming place with miles of books and scripts, free Wi-Fi, a kids’ theater and a live-in dog named Chester. Since 1965, Joe Allen has been serving Broadway stars and their fans. While visiting, take note of the Broadway posters on the wall—as the restaurant notes on its website, “Everyone remembers the hits, but we revel in the flops.” 

Have you got what it takes? Get up after 9 pm and belt out a song at Don’t Tell Mama’s piano bar on Restaurant Row. Hourglass Tavern’s three-course pre-theater dinner costs $23.95, and its upstairs Bettibar pours for theater folk. Pick a piece of official Broadway merch from the Theatre Circle shop. Triton Gallery harbors a century’s worth of Broadway “window card” posters.

Got a dramatic sweet tooth? Kee’s Chocolates creates the champagne and passion-fruit bonbons that are often sent to Broadway stars’ dressing rooms. At some point, make your way up the red steps of the TKTS booth for a great view of the whole darn, electrified area.

A summer day in Central Park

UPPER WEST SIDE

New York families cherish the Upper West Side for its rambling apartments and cultural landmarks. Lincoln Center gives kids half-off ticket prices and runs family events galore, such as the recent WeBop jazz classes for kids. The nabe’s big draw is the massive American Museum of Natural History. Major kiddie bait: a 122-foot Titanosaur model; the spectacular dioramas of wild animals in the dark, mood-inducing Hall of North American Mammals; and the “Dark Universe” space show at the museum’s Hayden Planetarium. Post-museum, kids burn off steam in Central Park at the Mariners’ Playground or Summit Rock (both near the W. 85th St. entrance). 

Ready to cruise the Upper West Side’s most fun street, Amsterdam Avenue? Not just girls love the Barbie doll windows done by the artist/owner of Apthorp Cleaners. And, if  you are traveling, Apthorp will clean, press and pack your clothes in a garment valet box or your own luggage, and then, if you like, ship it for you!

Known citywide for its marquee dish, The Meatball Shop serves a $7 “Ballers in Training” dinner. A weekend breakfast institution for Upper West Siders since 1908, Barney Greengrass offers what is arguably the best Jewish deli food in town. The smoked fish and creamed herring is addictive, and if you have never had a bialy, this is the place to give it a try. Levain Bakery bakes the city’s most-loved squishy cookie. Your kid’s Levain Bakery treat won’t last, but an uncommon plaything from the old-school (think toy saxophone with color-coded keys) from Stationery and Toy World will.

Bemelmans Bar

UPPER EAST SIDE

If you were born for the opulent life, you’ll love Madison Avenue. Start with supersize treats (six for $15) from the très chic Macaron Café. Or join the stylish set for designer pizza and pasta at Serafina. For late-night libations, a drink at The Carlyle’s storied Bemelmans Bar is a must.

When it’s time to shop, trend-surf accessories on the main floor of Barneys New York. Expect a wallet workout in the next few blocks at the U.S. flagships of Europe’s fabled labels like Hermès New York Madison and Jimmy Choo. Keep walking for diamond heaven. De Beers sells seven and eight-figure dazzler earrings, necklaces and bracelets. Fred Leighton lends its exquisite vintage bijoux to red-carpeteers like Meryl Streep, Jennifer Anniston, Kerry Washington and Nicole Kidman.

At Ralph Lauren Men’s, you will find men’s apparel, footwear, watches, vintage, accessories and more. Starting to suffer from sticker shock? Stop in at La Boutique Resale for unusual women’s designer duds, most at least half off.

Finally, your reward for mastering Madison: divine hot cocoa, candies, macarons and pastries in La Maison du Chocolat’s cozy lounge.