What to Do in SoHo NYC

And Why You Must Visit

Updated: November 20, 2023

With its many tourist attractions, as well as its cool vibe and gorgeous cast-iron architecture, SoHo is definitely worth visiting!

And, this post is a guide to things to do in SoHo, including where to eat, shop, and see art.

I also include a sample itinerary, family-friendly activities, and things to do at night.

To write this post, I relied on the extensive experiences that I and my fellow local tour guides of Free Tours by Foot have of SoHo.

What to Do in SoHo NYC

We lead dozens of guided walking tours through the streets of SoHo every week, guiding hundreds of visitors.

And, in the video below, Tour Guide Katie takes you on a virtual walk through the neighborhood.

And we also run the popular NYC Travel Tips Facebook group.

We asked our roughly 200k members to share their pleasant surprises in SoHo.

Read what they had to say. We used some of their suggestions for this post.

Our group is made up of locals, like our tour guides, veteran NYC visitors, as well as newbies to the city.

Now, without further ado, let's get to the good stuff!


Is SoHo Worth Visiting?

With its many tourist attractions, as well as its cool vibe and gorgeous cast-iron architecture, SoHo is definitely worth visiting!

You can stroll its charming narrow, historic "cobblestone streets" (they are actually Belgium block streets) lined with art galleries.

The shopping is unrivaled and fits all budgets, with both designer boutiques and chain stores.

The food scene is interesting and there is always some kind of cultural activity to enjoy at night!

SoHo is also a fantastic neighborhood to stay in for tourists!


What Does SoHo Stand For?

SoHo stands for South of Houston Street.

The acronym was coined by Chester Rapkin, a city planning commissioner who published a report in the 1960s called “The South Houston Industrial Area”.

SoHo is located in Lower Manhattan and can be reached by multiple subway lines.

SoHo's boundaries are Houston Street in the north, Canal Street in the south, 6th Avenue in the west, and Crosby Street in the east.

Where is SoHo

How to get here:

You can use this Google Map, but how you get here depends on where you are going, as there are several subway stations scattered around SoHo. (Read about SoHo’s history below).

We visit SoHo every day on our SoHo, Little Italy, and Chinatown Tour as well as a few others. See our live schedule and let us take you here.


By Subway:

Several NYC subway lines run through parts of SoHo.

Subway Stations in SoHo NYC

  • C train to Spring Street Station
  • N/R trains to Prince Street Station
  • B/D/F/M to Broadway-Lafayette Station
  • 6 train to Spring Street Station
  • A/C;  J/Z, N/Q/R trains to Canal Street Station

We have 2 posts on the NYC subway that are very handy:

By Bus: M1, M20, M55

TIP: Many hop-on-hop-off tourist buses stop near SoHo.


How Much Time To Spend Here?

Give yourself at least 2 hours to stroll around, window-shop, and grab a pastry and espresso.

Our self-guided walking tour, created by one of our tour guide locals, should take you about 90 minutes if you don't stop often. You can use it for free on your phone or download our audio tour.

With shopping, popping into art galleries, and a meal, you could easily spend half or a full day in SoHo.

See our sections below on things to do, art galleries, shoppingund where to eat.


SoHo Itinerary

This itinerary can be followed in any order, depending on when you go. In the daytime, enjoy lunch, or in the evening, have dinner.

Explore the streets of SoHo. Spend an hour or two walking around admiring the beautiful architecture. Do some shopping.

Have some amazing pizza at Lombardi’s and then visit some art galleries.

In the evening, see an inexpensive musical or theatrical performance.

For an in-depth experience, check out our GPS-led audio tour you can take any time, day or night.

Here's a sample.

We also have a downloadable self-guided tour of SoHo.


Top Attractions and Activities in SoHo

Take a Sightseeing Tour

We offer a daily, pay-what-you-wish walking tour of SoHo, Little Italy, and Chinatown.

If you cannot take our tour, try our GPS-led audio tour or our free self-guided tour of SoHo any time, day or night.

Free Tours by FootAusgezeichnetKostenlose Touren zu Fuß4.9 Basierend auf 2339 Bewertungen vonAlle Rezensionen anzeigen bewerte uns aufFrank W.Frank W. ★★★★★ John was a great tour guide. We recommend this tour as it was interesting, informative and amusing. We were never bored. We especially loved the delicious dumplings at the end.Sukanya S.Sukanya S. ★★★★★ It was so much fun with John today at the walking tour through SoHo, Liitle Italy and China town. He was wonderful and patient even when I joined the tour group a bit late. He shared incredible stories of Little Italy with us from the past and also showed us several famous restaurants and joints in China town. Would love to take a tour of Brooklyn with him in the near future. Thank you John!Avner S.Avner S. ★★★★★ Fidelma B.Fidelma B. ★★★★★ Thanks to Lady Altovise for a fantastic tour of Harlem's history, music, art and the backdrop to slavery and race history in modern USA. We had a great morning and are richer for it. Also excellent Jamaican Jerk Chicken truck recommendation. Thanks.Samira G.Samira G. ★★★★★ Recomiendo mucho este tour, que fue el de Soho, Little Italy y Chinatown. Fue una gran experiencia porque nuestro guía nos explicó mucho sobre cada uno de los lugares con un montón de detalles, enseñándonos edificios con mucha historia y datos curiosos. Además fue muy amable y habló con cada uno de las personas del tour interesado sobre donde veníamos y haciendolo mucho mas agradable.Muchas gracias a nuestro guía John Joseph Gallagher por los tips y por este grandioso tour.Eric B.Eric B. ★★★★★ We love free tours by foot! We had John for the Grand Central tour, and Kathleen for the Lower East side food tour. Both of them were excellent guides and great people. Warm, funny, interesting storytellers filled with rich info about NYC.Krishna B.Krishna B. ★★★★★ Great tour. John Gallagher was so informative and full of little tidbits on the neighborhoods and his experiences through the years. Highly recommended.Olyvia H.Olyvia H. ★★★★★ We had the absolutely lovely John Gallagher as our guide today, warm, friendly & most importantly full of information & knowledge. He even had us sing happy birthday to my daughter who just turned 18. ❤️ Thank you & thank you for today. Had a really nice timeAlexandra Y.Alexandra Y. ★★★★★ East Village Food Tour with Jon was an incredible experience, 100% would recommend to any other tourists on the fence. Delicious, authentic food from places we never would've found on our own, and incredible storytelling about the neighborhood's history!Marisol S.Marisol S. ★★★★★ A fun and eye-opening tour of Soho, Little Italy and Chinatown. Our guide, John Gallagher, was very informative, full of stories, and truly a great guide. We had a chance to stop and grab a bite to eat in both Little Italy and Chinatown. Great timing as well with the Chinese New Year and having a chance to experience the festivities. Will definitely recommend and look forward to checking out more tours in the near future!Kelen M.Kelen M. ★★★★★ I love the service provided by Free Tours by Foot worldwide and New York is no different. I often take these tours when friends and family are visiting and do not disappoint. The latest one was the GRAND CENTRAL TOUR introduced by John Joseph Gallagher. It was a 2-hour tour around 5 blocks that goes in-depth into the local history of this majestic building and it surroundings. Highly recommend!Benoit D.Benoit D. ★★★★★ Really nice tour, friendly guide, good tips, tricks and stories about NYC.Lucila M.Lucila M. ★★★★★ John our guide was excellent!!! We had a very good time!Greetings from Argentina!Leesa B.Leesa B. ★★★★★ My husband and I went on the Soho, Little Italy and Chinatown this morning! Jon was a FANTASTIC tour guide! Will definitely be recommending this tour as well as Jon to friends.In the afternoon we took the Greenwich food tour Rusty was also led by Jon. Again! FANTASTIC TOUR!! Thank you Jon for an amazing day!Robert W.Robert W. ★★★★★ Did 3 tours with John and Onel. All very different- each had their own style but the common theme was that we’re very informative and fun. Be warned…despite moving the groups along, they all overran slightly in time….so event better value for money 🙂Joanna C.Joanna C. ★★★★★ Great tour of the financial district, Soho, Chinatown and Little Italy! John Gallagher was a brilliant NYC guide and as we were a small group, he went out of his way to add in some extra sights as we had a bit more time. Thanks John!Visnja V.Visnja V. ★★★★★ Great tour, very informative and interesting. Higly suggest!Charlotte A.Charlotte A. ★★★★★ Wonderful, well informed historical tour in Soho with a really friendly guide, John. Would highly recommendJakub G.Jakub G. ★★★★★ I have been touring with this company across many cities but especially here in NYC. All the guides are so insightful, local, extremely kind and funny people that make you see the city in a completely different way.Scott R.Scott R. ★★★★★ Had a great tour this week of Greenwich village! Thanks Renee, she was so knowledgeable and made it lighthearted and interesting, would definitely recommend!Lesley & EmmaRobert W.Robert W. ★★★★★ Have done many fantastic tours of NYC with this crew. They are always incredibly well run and enjoyable. Most recently did the East Village Food Tour with Jon and he was knowledgeable and entertaining host.Levi M.Levi M. ★★★★★ One off the best we had ( grand central)Valentina L.Valentina L. ★★★★★ Ramon N.Ramon N. ★★★★☆ Amazing tour of Harlem with Altovise! She rocks! She provided a well balanced range of information from food to culture, history and music, jumping from the past to the present with a very professional sense of the tour structure. Standing ovation. five stars for her :)Unfortunately we can’t say the same about the Soho-Little Italy tour run by another guide. Not sure she even introduced herself before kicking off. This tour didn’t seem to have a real logic: guide showed us random buildings and telling random stories but we did not really understand much about the district culture nor the history or the people. She was a nice person and her knowledge was wide but she should work more on engaging with guests, making stories more intriguing and designing an itinerary that follows a logic.Thomas D.Thomas D. ★★★★★ GREAT experience. John Gallagher is knowledgeable, very considerate, and very funny.Nancy D.Nancy D. ★★★★★ John was informative and delightful.nelly T.nelly T. ★★★★★ I recommend the Grand central tour with John Gallagher. It was very interesting and Joan was excellentSuzanne H.Suzanne H. ★★★★★ Highly recommend walking tour with John. He was very informative and knowledgeable about the area. Our teens even enjoyed it.Ellora G.Ellora G. ★★★★★ It was an amazing experience doing a food walk during a snowstorm. Jon gave a detailed narrative about the historical background of East Village along with guiding us taste diverse food samplings. Fun and informative.Tarek S.Tarek S. ★★★★★ One of the best walking tours we ever had. John Gallagher is a wonderful and extremely knowledgeable guide!Martina B.Martina B. ★★★★★ Jon was fantastic in our tour through SoHo, little Italy and Chinatown!Julie B.Julie B. ★★★★★ Brilliant tours, great knowledge from both our guides. We did both Subway Art and Christmas Lights. A great way to see the subway, New York and things we wouldn't have noticed.Cerri O.Cerri O. ★★★★★ We did 4 tours while in New York in December and all were excellent. My daughter did the second hand shopping tour which they loved. They were given lots of tips and a map of the best vintage shops which they went to while we were in New York and found some more good items.We did the Greenwich village food tour with Lori which was interesting seeing the area and finding outs facts about it and the food was amazing. I liked the fact you didn't have to have certain foods if you didn't want too and my daughter has a nut allergy and was still able to participate.We did the Christmas movie tour with wanda which was really good and informative and interesting really enjoyed it.We did the Brooklyn bridge tour which was great. The guide was very passionate about Brooklyn and gave an interesting tour and was very helpful with questions.I found booking the tours easy and the communication from all tour guides was excellent would 100% recommend.Eduarda B.Eduarda B. ★★★★★ I just had a wonderful food tour in East village. The guide Jon has profound knowledge and passion making the journey even more engaging. Highly recommend!!S SS S ★★★★★ We did the east village food walking tour - our tour guide Jon was fantastic and we had such a good time. Cannot recommend it enough! Lots of vegetarian and vegan options available!!paisley K.paisley K. ★★★★★ We had an incredible experience with Free Tours By Foot on their 3-hour walking tour of Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Bridge. Our guide, Renee, was not only knowledgeable but also infused the tour with delightful humor, making the entire journey engaging and enjoyable. Five stars for an unforgettable exploration of Brooklyn's charm!ora Y.ora Y. ★★★★★ Excellent tour of NY city with Garrett! He provided lots of interesting informations with ingenuity and fun to keep us entertained. This was a great way to start my time in NY, I really recommend !Mary S.Mary S. ★★★★★ Excellent historical tour of lower Manhattan with Renee!MichelleMichelle ★★★★★ Fantastic and informative Grand Central Tour with John Gallagher… brilliant tour guide with life experience making the tour truly unique! Loved the amazing Grand Central NYC facts and info about the architecture, the people and their stories that built the station & surrounding city we see today! Highly recommended!Sandy M.Sandy M. ★★★★★ We had a terrific tour with Renee on a cold Saturday morning in Greenwich Village. She is not only very knowledgeable, but also personable and easy to understand. She also has a great sense of humor. I highly recommend taking this tour with Renee.Suja T.Suja T. ★★★★★ Excellent! Joey was superb! It was a really cold day but nice sunshine and he planned everything really well with a great sense of humour, really relaxed we got to stand in the sun to warm up in the -3 degrees. Had a great cheap lunch stop at Joe's Pizza, and the tour helped me get use to the subway as I was a bit nervous of it but it was fine and was able to navigate it well for the rest of my holiday. Definitely recommend!!Celestine T.Celestine T. ★★★★★ Great tour! Cheap, but not truly free though. The tour still had a $3 reservation fee, which gets donated to toys for tots. We also had to take the subway one way. (Holiday lights tour.) And then you should really give a good tip at the end. 10/10 would still go again for a fun, informative, and affordable walking tour.Jill T.Jill T. ★★★★★ Renee did a fantastic job on our Lower Manhattan tour today. She was so knowledge about the history of the city! Her witty sense of humor kept our teens engaged. She was a perfect tour guide!cristina N.cristina N. ★★★★★ John is an excellent guide and the tour of Soho was amazing!Yael P.Yael P. ★★★★★ We took the tour with the excellent guide Renee Rewiski. Weenjoyed it a lot and highly recommend itHaim Cohen M.Haim Cohen M. ★★★★★ Took the Greenwich Village tour with Renee Rewiski. She was just fantastic. Lots of stories about the neighborhood. Highly recommended!Lisa D.Lisa D. ★★★★★ I love Free Tours by Foot tours & their guides. I have completed many tours over the past 12 years mainly in New York but also other citiesThe easiest way to get to know a city is from a tour with a local guide.You meet people from all over the globe on your tour and get a very knowledgeable and talented guide.Siddhartha G.Siddhartha G. ★★★★★ Great walking tour of Harlem with Ron. Learnt some cool facts (did not know Wall St. used to be a literal wall) and he was so friendly, fatherly and sweet thru-out the tour. He said he's 70 but we weren't sure if it was one of his jokes, because if he really is this sprightly and fun at 70 then there's hope for all of us.Nami H.Nami H. ★★★★★ Nicola A.Nicola A. ★★★★★ Totally recommend John as a guide on our Brooklyn free walking tour .He is as incredibly informative, knowledgeable, with lots of extra tips to add to our NY trip enjoyment .😊js_loader

We also have a SoHo and Nolita Shopping Tour. For shopping suggestions, see below.

There are other paid tours of SoHo that may interest you, such as a photography tour or a pizza tour, and some are free with tourist passes.


Admire the Cast-Iron Architecture

SoHo is known worldwide for its beautiful, impressive cast-iron buildings.

With over 200 cast-iron buildings in the district, SoHo's Cast Iron District has the largest concentration of these buildings than anywhere else in the world.

Haughwout Building SoHo

Learn more about Soho’s cast-iron architecture from our GPS-led audio tour or our downloadable Self-Guided Tour of SoHo.


See Great Street Art

New York is known for its great street art.

SoHo is one of the top neighborhoods to see both permanent works of street art as well as random spray-paint art and sticker art.

Manhattan Street Art Tour

Keep your eyes open while walking around SoHo as its sidewalks, building exteriors, and even lamp posts are covered with artistic surprises.

To see the best examples of street art, consider taking our Manhattan Street Art Tour, a 2-hour tour that includes the SoHo neighborhood and nearby neighborhoods.

We showcase the hidden street art that you just might walk by without noticing.


Visit Art Galleries

There are too many galleries in SoHo, NY to list them all. We do have a list below of some of the best galleries to visit.

If you walk along West Broadway between Houston Street and Spring Street, you'll find close to a dozen art galleries to pop into.

A must-see is The Earth Room. It's best described in pictures than words!

Here are some others we recommend:

For even more ways to see great art for free, read our post on free museums, as well as our guide to free things to do in NYC.


Grab a Bite at the Storied Fanelli Café

Located at 94 Prince Street, the land Fanelli’s sits on can be traced back to 1644.

With many owners of the centuries, the Fanelli family purchased the business at 94 Prince in 1920.

Fanelli Cafe

During Prohibition, Fanelli’s was a ‘speakeasy’. Today you can have a drink there without breaking the law!

Note: The Fanelli Cafe is a stop on our self-guided tour of historic bars of NYC.


Experience the Cronut

Dominique Ansel Bakery at 189 Spring Street is the birthplace of the world-famous Cronut, a croissant-doughnut hybrid.

Created in 2013, this unique pastry innovation is trademarked by its creator, Dominique Ansel and pastry fans around the world have made it the most virally talked about dessert item in history.

If you want to try one, you’ll have to get there early, since they sell out fast!

For recommendations on other places to eat in SoHo, see the restaurant section in this post below.


For Kids

Museum of Ice Cream

This is not your average museum! Spread out across 25,000 square feet over three floors, the Museum of Ice Cream is all about delighting your senses. 

Jump in the Sprinkle Pool – a swimming pool filled with ice cream sprinkles! Slide down a 3-story slide to get unlimited ice cream in different shapes and flavors!

This museum will make your kids happy campers - and if you like ice cream, you’ll be pretty happy yourself!


Sloomoo Institute

What kid doesn’t love slime? At the Sloomoo Institute, your kids can explore 8,000 square feet of interactive experiences all related to slime. 

They can sink their hands in more than 30 vats of scented slime, take a slime shower, design their own slime and much, much more!


Children's Museum of the Arts

A wonderful interactive museum featuring a clay bar, media room, and more. Open 10 am - 5 pm. It is free on Thursdays.

TIP: Read our post on free museums for more kid-friendly museums that won't cost you a thing.


The New York City Fire Museum

This unique NYC museum strives to educate the public about the history and cultural heritage of the fire service of NYC.

Many of the exhibits are geared toward fire prevention and safety education to the public, especially children.

Kids can play with fire equipment dating back to the 1800s!

The museum is open 7 days a week (except major holidays): 10 am-5 pm

Tickets: $10 Adults | $5 Children | $8 Students, Seniors, Firefighters, AAA members (with ID) | Free for children under 2.


Vesuvio Playground

Lots of climbing structures, plenty of swings, and in warm weather a 3’ (1 m) pool and sprinklers.

See our master list of things to do with kids in NYC for dozens of activities, playgrounds, museums, attractions, and more that are kid-friendly.


Movie and TV Locations in SoHo

Many movies and TV shows have been filmed in SoHo. Here are two of the most famous:

Ghost - 102 Prince Street  This is where Demi Moore, Patrick Swayze, and Whoopi Goldberg filmed the 1990 movie Ghost.

Sex and the City - Louis K. Meisel Gallery at 141 Prince Street.

This gallery was used as the art gallery in which the character Charlotte worked.

TIP: Die-hard SATC fans, check out our Sex and the City self-guided tour and how to visit Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment.


Things to Do at Night

Theater

SoHo has several places where you can see inexpensive Off-Broadway theater.

  • SoHo Playhouse - quality theater for reasonable prices
  • HERE - hybrid live performances in theatre, dance, music, puppetry, media, and visual art.

Be sure to check our post about how to get discount tickets on Broadway and Off-Broadway shows and plays.


Film

  • Film Forum - independent films as well as classics. Fantastic retrospectives
  • Angelika Film Center - screens well-known independent movies

Live Music

  • City Winery -  A full-service restaurant and winery that also has live performances.
  • Bowery Ballroom - Though east of SoHo in NoLita, it's worth checking out for top alternative bands.
  • Ear Inn - Live music here on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Sundays. Ear Inn is a stop on our self-guided historic bars of NYC tour.

Bars and Lounges

From designer cocktails to bars with free shots and craft beer, you can find a lot in SoHo.

  • Crosby Bar - an elegant bar in the Crosby Street Hotel
  • Botanica Bar - a basement bar with live music
  • JIMMY - a rooftop lounge with a great view

Check out our post on other things to do at night in NYC.


Restaurants and Other Places To Eat

The dining options listed below are all family-friendly, though the menus at high-end, expensive restaurants may not be ideal for most children.

Ben's Pizza SoHo

Inexpensive $

  • Ben's Pizza - corner of Thompson and Spring. (Scenes from Men in Black II were filmed here!)
  • Chobani Shop - 152 Prince St. Mediterranean yogurt bar from the Chobani brand.
  • Black Burger - 386 Canal St. Great burgers, curly fries, and milkshakes. Limited seating but you can take your food to go and sit on a bench in nearby Duarte Square.

Moderate $$

  • Dean & Deluca  - 560 Broadway. A true SoHo original, Dean & Deluca opened in 1977. They sell sandwiches, salads, and fresh fruits.
  • Lombardi’s - 32 Spring Street at the corner of Mott Street. The perfect way to finish your tour of SoHo is to eat at America’s very first pizzeria. Lombardi’s serves only pies and is CASH ONLY. It is very much worth it!
  • Cupping Room Cafe - 359 W Broadway. Comfy atmosphere for sandwiches, salads, and especially good brunches.

Expensive $$$

  • Balthazar - 80 Spring St. Worth the splurge for their seafood bar and steak frites. Also, croissants to die for. They are also known for a great brunch.
  • MAMO - 323 W Broadway. Upscale, yummy pasta, and other Italian classics.
  • Blue Ribbon Brasserie - 97 Sullivan St. New and traditional American prepared at the highest quality.

Pastries and Desserts


Shopping in SoHo

Shops along the narrow streets of SoHo are mostly fashion designer stores with hefty price tags.

You can find Chloe, Miu Miu, Diane von Furstenberg, Moschino, and many many more.

If you are interested in high-quality products from independent merchants, try our SoHo and Nolita Shopping Tour.

Broadway between Houston and Canal is lined with clothing shops and has dozens of stores to get the latest and trendiest sneakers and shoes at reasonable prices.

See our long list and map of familiar chain stores below.

Some unique shops to check out are:

MoMA Design Store - 81 Spring Street

Creative and innovative products, some practical, like bags, glasses, and household items - all with a unique design.

They also carry knick-knacks, clothes, and jewelry. Of course, art books and posters can be found here.

TIP: Find out how to visit the Museum of Modern Art for free or at a discount here.


Housing Works Bookstore and Cafe - 126 Crosby St

Housing Works Bookstore is more than a bookstore. Its mission since opening has been to fight the dual crises of homelessness and HIV/AIDS. 

Every item in this large shop is donated, and 100% of profits go to fund Housing Works' lifesaving services.

The bookstore has a fantastic selection and the cafe is a fun place to relax or enjoy a free and low-cost event offered throughout the week.


The Evolution Store - 687 Broadway

A most unusual store filled to the brim with natural history collectibles, and artifacts, like framed butterflies and insects, fossils, skeletons, and seashells, all beautifully kept.

Kids will find this store fascinating.


MUJI SoHo - 455 Broadway

Popular Japanese retailer with minimalist products, from stationery, travel gear, and clothing including apparel & home goods. Affordable and fun.


Apple Store  - 103 Prince Street

Stop in to recharge your phone, use their free WiFi, or use their restroom. Or just sit and relax for a while.


Chain Stores

  • Adidas Originals Flagship Store
  • AEO & Aerie Store
  • Aldo
  • AllSaints
  • ASICS
  • Banana Republic
  • Bloomingdale's
  • Club Monaco Soho
  • Converse Flagship Store
  • Desigual New York Soho
  • Express
  • Forever 21
  • Gap
  • H&M
  • J. Crew Men
  • Lacoste
  • Lady Foot Locker/Foot Locker
  • Levi's
  • Lucky Brand
  • Lululemon
  • Lululemon Men's
  • MAC Cosmetics
  • Madewell
  • Nike
  • Old Navy
  • Rag & Bone
  • REI
  • Sephora
  • Skechers
  • Steve Madden
  • Superdry
  • The North Face
  • Timberland
  • Top Shop
  • Uniqlo
  • Urban Outfitters
  • Victoria's Secret
  • Zara

History of SoHo

The land encompassing modern-day SoHo was marsh and forest land until Dutch Settlers established farms in the area in the 1640s.

An early Dutch map, the Manatus Map of 1639, shows plantations, roads, and structures in this area. A large portion of the land was owned during the 1660s by Augustus Herrman.

When he died, his brother-in-law, Nicholas Bayard, inherited the property, making him the largest landowner in Manhattan. (Bayard Street in Chinatown is named after Bayard).

By the late 1700s, large farms were being sold and subdivided in response to the growing population and urbanization of the City.

In the early 1800s, Broadway was paved and wealthier residents of the city began to build homes in the area to escape the increasingly crowded lower part of Manhattan.

By the 1850s and 60s, many fashionable hotels such as the famous St. Nicholas and premier department stores such as Tiffany’s, Lord & Taylor and Brooks Brothers had opened up.

Theaters and casinos sprang up along Broadway and the area became a hub of nightlife while the side streets were lined with expensive brothels.

In the 1870s and 1880s, the streets to the east and west of Broadway underwent a dramatic change when industry came to town.

This explosion of commercial activity prompted wealthy residents to flee the area and move further north of Manhattan.

Industrial growth also prompted the widespread use of cast iron to erect new factories in the district.

Approximately 250 cast-iron buildings stand in New York City and the majority of them are in SoHo.

It is these cast-iron buildings that give SoHo its distinct and stunning appearance.

Cast iron was an American architectural innovation and was cheaper to use for facades of buildings than stone or brick.

Cast iron is also pliable and easily molded so architects and builders could create intricately designed patterns in the Classical French and Italian styles while saving money.

In fact, many of the stone columns you will see on the ground level of cast-iron buildings are in fact cast iron painted to resemble stone.

Another advantage of cast iron that led to major changes in how buildings were made (and ultimately altered who and what resided in the neighborhood) was its strength.

The stronger construction allowed for window frames to be taller allowing for more sunlight into the interior of the buildings.

This was ideal for factories and industrial companies which benefited from this free source of lighting.

It was the advent of steel as a major construction material that brought an end to the cast-iron era.

Not only did cast iron disappear, but so did the higher-quality industry. From the 1910s to 1950s, SoHo’s beautiful buildings housed cheap, wholesale textile companies known as the "rag trade”.

Many factories illegally employed minors and immigrants for little pay to work in horrendous conditions known as ‘sweatshops’.

Numerous fires broke out in these factories and SoHo gained the nickname “Hell’s Hundred Acres.”  

Eventually, even these factories shut down and moved elsewhere in the city and SoHo became an abandoned industrial wasteland.

By the late 1960s unknown artists just starting their careers, cheap rents, huge spaces, and great light, made these former factories attractive.

Some of the first artists to move into SoHo were Donald Judd, Claes Oldenburg, and Carl Andre.

Other up-and-coming artists flocked to SoHo like Andy Warhol, Jean- Michel Basquiat and street artist Keith Haring and this urban wasteland became a hip, avant-garde destination.

It’s estimated that SoHo was home to about 2,000 artists by the early 1970s and by 1973 there were 33 art galleries.

The area had become so run-down and empty that city officials began discussions of the construction of a lower Manhattan expressway that came to be known as the LOMEX project.

LOMEX would have ripped through much of the heart of lower Manhattan and the historic buildings of SoHo would be demolished to make way for new housing construction.

Historic preservationists began to petition for SoHo to be designated as a protected historic district and in 1973, the SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District was created.

You can tell which streets are included in the district as they have brown street signs rather than the normal green signs.

SoHo’s significance in history has also been recognized nationally as it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1978.

By the mid-1970s the enormous size of the lofts and the charm of the narrow streets paved with Belgium blocks and lined with gorgeous buildings invited real estate developers to buy up buildings and rent prices skyrocketed.

By the mid-1980s, designer boutiques, chic restaurants, and art galleries opened and SoHo remains a fashion and art capital of the world.

Today, SoHo is one of the top travel destinations in the world. It is definitely a neighborhood you do not want to miss in NYC.


Related Posts:

About The Author

Courtney Shapiro

Courtney is a lifelong New Yorker fascinated with the city’s history, culture and cuisine. She loves exploring the world, as well as sharing her travel expertise with others. She joined the Free Tours by Foot team in 2011, first as a guide and then as a writer. She has a law degree, a teaching degree and a worn-out passport. Her motto is “Have backpack, will travel”.
Updated: November 20th, 2023
Back to Top
cross