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10 Things to do and see in the Upper West Side

10 Things to do and see in the Upper West Side

Picture of Katie Shine
Updated: 9 February 2017
Known for its mom-and-pop stores, stately town homes and family-friendly location by Central Park, the 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.

Riverside Park

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.

Riverside Park, New York, NY, USA +1 212 870 3070

The Juilliard School

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, 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.’

The Julliard School, 60 Lincoln Center Plaza New York, NY, USA +1 212 799 5000

Nice Matin

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 pissaladiere tart. Taste a fine bowl of fava bean tortellini followed by steak frites, or go straight to the bargain $38 prix fixe – ensuring a choice of any decadent dessert off the menu.

Nice Matin, 201 West 79th Street, New York, NY, USA +1 212 873 6423

The Empire Hotel Rooftop

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 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.

The Empire Hotel, 44 West 63rd Street, New York, NY, USA +1 212 265 7400

New-York Historical Society

Since its monumental renovation completed in 2011, 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 Anne Leibowitz photography and Ludwig Bemelmans’s Parisian heroine Madeline. The current showcases of the celebrity-drawing artist Al Hirschfeld and photographs of the 1965 march from Selma remind visitors that this institution honors past history and recognizes current social imports.

New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY, USA +1 212 873 3400

Courtesy of Levain Bakery
Courtesy of Levain Bakery

Alice’s Tea Cup and Levain Bakery

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 chocolate cookies or heavenly raisin sticky buns.

Alice’s Tea Cup (Chapter I), 102 West 73rd Street, New York, NY, USA +1 212 799 3006

Levain, 167 West 74th Street, New York, NY, USA +1 212 874 6080

Museum of Natural History | © Daniel Torres Bonatto/Flickr
Museum of Natural History | © Daniel Torres Bonatto/Flickr

American Museum of Natural History

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 Hall of the 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.

American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West & West 79th Street, New York, NY, USA +1 212 769 5100

Jacob’s Pickles

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.

Jacob’s Pickles, 509 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY, USA +1 212 470 5566

West 79th Street Boat Basin

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 gorgeous 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.

Boat Basin Café, West 79th Street, New York, NY, USA +1 212 496 5542

Cathedral of Saint John the Divine | © Jeff Hitchcock/Flickr
Cathedral of Saint John the Divine | © Jeff Hitchcock/Flickr

Cathedral of Saint John the Divine

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.

Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY, USA +1 212 316 7540

By Katie Shine

After years of reading about global destinations and studying abroad in Rome, Katie caught the travel bug and hasn’t stopped exploring new places since! When she is not traveling to Sonoma or Bavaria, she can be found in New York City discovering the best pommes frites, quirky bookstores and people-watching spots.