Known for its mom-and-pop stores, stately townhomes and family-friendly location by Central Park, New York‘s Upper West Side could be mistaken for a sleepy residential neighborhood. In reality, this area is brimming with cultural landmarks and must-see dining spots. It is impossible to capture the Upper West Side’s entire essence in a few hours, so leave yourself plenty of time to journey uptown and allow the magic of the area to sink in.
Central Park may be its polished, more famous big brother, but Riverside Park is its own refreshing kind of public space. A whole day can easily be whiled away cycling by the Hudson, paying respect to the ‘Soldiers and Sailors’ Monument, viewing talent at the skate park or breaking out roller skates for the rink on West 108th Street. Stretching for 86 blocks well beyond the Upper West Side, the oasis welcomes prodigious runners on one of the numerous trails or an amble past the promenade on West 91st Street made famous by Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks’s lovebirds in You’ve Got Mail.
Lincoln Center has no shortage of brilliant performances and events (The Midsummer Night Swing series draws out a particularly enthusiastic crowd), but it would be a crime to forget the emerging, immensely talented performances at one of the world’s premier performing arts schools a block away. Ranging from gratis to a mere $20 (£15.50), tickets feature acts such as an orchestral concert led by star conductor Nicholas McGegan, an opera tour de force, or an upcoming production of God of Carnage.
One of the great joys of Manhattan is outdoor dining and drinking after the snow has melted and the temperature has risen. There is no better place to eat and people watch than from this charming French bistro on the corner of Amsterdam Avenue. Take a seat under the wide shady awning and let this Wine Spectator champion prove its merits by serving Sauvignon Blanc with a petite pissaladière tart. Taste a fine bowl of fava bean tortellini followed by steak frites, or go straight to the bargain $38 (£29.50) prix fixe – ensuring a choice of any decadent dessert off the menu.
Blessed with a prime location, sophisticated vibe and a prominent role in a certain buzzed-about former NYC television series, this hotel also happens to be a stone’s throw away from Lincoln Center and offers endless options for a night out after a show. If the day calls for a refreshing swim, don’t forget to visit the pool deck. Any time of year beckons patrons to the posh rooftop bar. Slowly sip your cocktail under the dimly romantic red light of the iconic ‘Empire Hotel’ sign and admire the beautiful views.
Since its monumental renovation completed in 2011, the New-York Historical Society transformed from a stagnant, stuck-in-the-past museum to a glittering destination on Central Park West. Its recent exhibitions include Annie Leibowitz photography and Ludwig Bemelmans’s Parisian heroine Madeline. Other highlights have included a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising and photographs of the 1965 March from Selma, reminding visitors that this institution honors history and also recognizes current social events.
For those of us with a sweet tooth in New York City, the Upper West Side has us covered. To impress a chocolate-loving friend or wow a tea savant, hop, skip and jump from the whimsical Alice in Wonderland-themed tea parlor to the closet-sized artisanal Levain Bakery. At Chapter I of Alice’s Tea Cup, take in the Alice murals while choosing among dozens of teas, daily scone selections, divine banana Nutella cake or the exceedingly generous Mad Hatter tea service. Save room for a brief walk to Levain to devour one of their legendary ‘marathon-sized’ dark-chocolate cookies or heavenly raisin sticky buns.
Night at the Museum references this 1877 landmark, opened by the President Rutherford Hayes himself, and it supplies endless entertainment for adults and kids alike. Do not leave without ogling at the top-floor dinosaur exhibits or listening to the sounds of the deep blue in the Milstein Family Hall of Ocean Life underneath the iconic blue whale. Children and adults will love a trip to the Hall of African Mammals to see the elephants and lions. If modern exhibits are more your speed, the Rose Center for Earth and Space amazes with its regular planetarium shows.
What would a New York City neighborhood adventure be without a hot brunch spot? Jacob’s Pickles delivers the brunch dream with elevated Southern comfort cooking, locally sourced ingredients and a quirkily lovable obsession with high-quality pickles and biscuits. This place deserves multiple visits, but if you can only trek here once, sample four types of specialty pickles, a sausage, egg and cheese biscuit sandwich, and shrimp and bacon grits. No worries, vegetarians, the biscuits French toast is meatless and out of this world.
Waterfront dining comes at a premium in Manhattan and can be scarce in most areas. On the Upper West Side, the West 79th Street Boat Basin offers sweeping views across the Hudson River to New Jersey and the opportunity for a perfect recess on an early fall day. Grab a drink at Boat Basin Café and linger over a river sunset. If envying other boats tickles your fancy, check out the marina’s current collection, reminding New Yorkers that subways and buses aren’t the only way to get around.
Although it is slightly outside the traditional boundaries of the Upper West Side, this beacon of New York City religious architecture warrants a visit. A few short blocks away from Central Park, this cathedral amazes new and veteran visitors at every corner. Whether here for religious or secular purposes, respectfully explore the exquisitely designed Gothic Revival nave, outside gardens and organ concerts. Better yet, appreciate the absolute silence that is hard to find in a lively neighborhood in Manhattan.