Things to Do and See in Washington Heights

| Photo by Clem Geiss on Unsplash
Henna Choudhary

New York City’s top tourist attractions are all clustered around Midtown’s world-famous sensational sights such as Times Square, Herald Square, the Empire State Building, and Rockefeller Center. However, Washington Heights’ less-dense uptown streets are rich in undiscovered diverse culture with an abundance of authentic Dominican, Ecuadorian, and Mexican eateries, street festivals, appetizing street cart vendors, art museums, and significant landmarks preserved from long-gone decades.

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Fort Tryon Park

Gifted to the city in 1935 by John D. Rockefeller, Fort Tryon’s 67-acre green land is a geological beauty which offers visitors a view from one of the highest points of Manhattan, overlooking the Hudson River, the Palisades, and the lower Hudson Valley. The park’s landscape is spotted with boulders which serve as the ideal location for picnics or an adventure ground for rock climbers. Fort Tryon’s stunning gardens, the Heather Garden and the Alpine Garden, lay between wooden grounds and open stretches of grass, along the western side of the park. The Heather Garden is a picturesque three-acre space, which also happens to be the city’s largest public garden with full availability to visitors, and boasts over 500 types of perennials and shrubs with azaleas, peonies, dogwoods, rhododendrons, oriental poppies, and more coming into full bloom in the springtime. Meanwhile, the Alpine Garden, which has undergone a reconstruction in recent years, features a collection of stone staircases, outcroppings of minerals including quartz and mica, sweeping pathways, and horticulture which travels through the rocky slopes towards Broadway. If these geological bearings don’t lure you in, the park has two playgrounds, various cultural and recreational activities, and a gazebo designed especially for dog walkers.

The Cloisters Museum

The Cloisters Museum, which happens to be located right atop one of Fort Tryon Park’s grassy hills, is an off-standing branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The museum, which serves as an homage to medieval art, displays a fine collection of ninth- to 15th-century European art findings which includes sculptures, stained glass, tapestries, and more. First constructed in the 1930s, the Cloisters still contains the parts of five French-imported cloistered abbeys which are brimming over with sacred religious sculptures, animal-shaped water vessels, ancient manuscripts, and ivory art pieces. The building, which resembles a castle perched on a hill, recreates a 12th-century chapel and is surrounded by a charming monastery gardens which also offers a fantastic view of the city below.

The Morris Jumel Mansion

Built in 1765, The Morris Jumel Mansion earns the title of being Manhattan’s oldest standing house as it once belonged to the very first president of the United States, George Washington, during the Revolutionary War. The structure’s hilltop location was afterwards purchased by the City of New York and preserved as a national monument where it operates today as an educational museum site for visitors. With historical site tours and education programs conducted and special exhibitions on display, the museum showcases the mansion by portraying domestic life in New York City from 1765 until 1865. The museum also gives the informational history of certain key events such as the migration of European immigrants to Washington Heights in the late 1800s, the life of the Jumel Terrace Historic District, and more recent immigration statistics of the area.

Saint Rose of Lima Catholic Church

Washington Heights residents are devout to a diverse collection of religions, with the two most commonly practiced being Catholicism and Judaism. The largely immigrant community remains closely tied to their religious communities, which is evident in the numerous church congregations, youth groups, and religious schools found throughout the neighborhood. The Saint Rose of Lima Catholic Church is a symbol of this devotion, standing tall amongst residential apartment buildings, built of eye-catching red bricks and an intricate design, and topped off with a cross placed gracefully at the peak. With a beautiful interior featuring glistening stained glass windows depicting scenes from the Bible, rustic wooden pews, a high ceiling, and ornamental columns, the church is a must-see for all tourists and locals hoping to catch a glimpse of Washington Heights’ religious and cultural history.

Audubon Ballroom

This historical theater and ballroom was first erected in Washington Heights in the year 1912 and has since hosted countless events, film screenings, vaudeville performances, and important city meetings. When Malcolm X founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity, the meetings were held within the Audubon Ballroom, until he was assassinated on February 21, 1965 within the very same institution. A section of the building has since been allocated as a museum to honor the great African-American historical figure that had inspired so many others within the very same doors. The Audubon is composed of a 2500-seat theater and a seated ballroom for 200 guests on the second floor where many events are held including jazz performances, writing workshops, and student field trips. This magnificent architectural relic now stands as the Audubon Business and Technology Center and Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center which honors two of America’s most influential social justice leaders.

La Casa del Mofongo

Dominican culture is prevalent in every nook and cranny of Washington Heights, and this local eatery offers a savory fare of flavorful Dominican and Caribbean cuisine at incredibly low prices, which is hard to come by in the City. La Casa del Mofongo’s very own mofongo, made with mashed green plantains, garlic and fried pork is a delight to the palate and happens to be one of the restaurant’s most famed specialties. The large white windows filter natural lighting into the interior space which features a brick-walled bar, a two-story dining room, and a takeout counter for a versatile, flexible dining experience. The vibrantly colored décor and salsa music lends the restaurant an island vibe with bamboo poles and rattan seats dotting the room as diners indulge in tasty Dominican desserts like the tres leches cake and guava cheesecake.

Bennett Park

Bennett Park is a relaxing, peaceful recreational area located on top of a hill in Washington Heights, occupying the highest point of land in Manhattan. The Park stands on historically significant ground: during the Revolutionary War, General George Washington located his base of operations at this point so that he would be able to oversee and manage river traffic. Unfortunately, Fort Washington was later attacked and seized by British and Hessian troops but the park’s bluestone and granite paving specifically mark the outlying eastern section of Fort Washington. Currently, Bennett Park is inhabited by Washington Heights’ locals, with children skipping and running through the playground area as their parents and families lounge about on benches. The park also features a replica of a Revolutionary War-era double tail six-pound English field cannon and a bronze plaque set in a boulder which commemorates the memory of Private First Class Emilio Barbosa (1926-1945), a United States Marine who was once enlisted in World War II and grew up in the neighborhood.

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