Things to Do on the Upper East Side

Updated: Februar 20, 2024

For tourists, the Upper East Side is known mainly for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Central Park.

But with many more interesting attractions, the Upper East Side is a neighborhood worth visiting for a few hours. 

Below are some of the best things to do on the Upper East Side including museums, parks, shopping, snacking, and more!


Überblick

The Upper East Side is located between the East River and Central Park, bordered by E. 59th Street to the south and E. 96th Street to the north. 

It’s one of the largest neighborhoods of New York City, so large that it has many sub-neighborhoods such as Lenox Hill, Yorkville, and Carnegie Hill.

The Upper East Side is known for being an affluent one, with its wealthiest residents living in historic brownstones on the leafy quiet side streets. 

Carnegie Hill is especially beautiful, with historic turn-of-the-century brownstones and mansions.

The area acquired its name sometime after Andrew Carnegie, one of the wealthiest men in America, built his mansion on 5th Avenue and E. 91st Street in 1902.

More millionaires followed filling the side streets with large, luxurious homes.

Along the avenues, there are hundreds of medium to large apartment buildings, many of which are enormously expensive. But plenty of residents of the area can afford an apartment here.

Due to the huge population of the Upper East Side, there are thousands of restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues, so there are always things to do at night. 

There are quite a lot of historic buildings, though, for the most part, you should head to the Upper East Side for the museums and parks.

Some New Yorkers debate which is nicer - the Upper East Side or the Upper West Side. The answer depends on what one is looking for in a neighborhood.

After you explore the Upper East Side, visit the Upper West Side and decide for yourself!


How To Get Here

By subway

  • 4/5 express line and 6 local line
  • Q local line

Read our post on using the subway system.

By bus

  • Uptown/Downtown: M1, M2, M3, M4, M101, M102, M103, M15,
  • Crosstown: M57, M66, M72, M79, M86, M96 (numbers correlate to the street the buses travel on)

By ferry

East River Ferry Service Astoria route to E. 90th Street


Upper East Side Highlights

Stroll through Central Park -- or rent a bike, take a free walking tour, or snap some photos of the park’s most iconic locales.

Have a double-chocolate chip cookie at Levain Bakery -- ask them to heat it up for extra gooeyness.

See the Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Lady in Gold at the Neue Galerie.

Do something non-touristy -- ride the Roosevelt Island Tram for jaw-dropping 360-degree views of NYC.

Chill out at a sleek piano bar -- the famous Bemelmans Bar is just the spot.

Get a great night’s sleep  -- stay at the sumptuous Sherry-Netherland, a timeless New York City hotel.


1. Explore Green Pastures In Central Park

One appeal of the Upper East Side to so many New Yorkers is its proximity to Central Park. 

Central Park’s eastern border is Fifth Avenue and you can enter the park from many locations between E. 59th Street and E. 96th Street (the Upper East Side’s northern boundary).

Self-guided Central Park Tour

Among the sites located in Central Park close to 5th Avenue are the Central Park Zoo, the Loeb Boathouse, the Mall, the Great Lawn, and the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. 

So get those walking shoes on or grab a bike and discover one of the most amazing places in New York City. Read more about what to do in Central Park


2. See Magnificent Art At The Met

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the main reasons tourists and locals head to the Upper East Side.

It is one of the most prestigious museums in the world and the 5th largest with a permanent collection of a staggering 2 million objects and works of art.

Sculpture garden at the metropolitan museum of art

The museum is huge and cannot be covered in one day.

Choose a few of the wings housing European sculpture and decorative arts, medieval and Renaissance art, antiquities from the ancient world, and more. 

See our post on highlights of the Met collection to figure out in advance what you simply cannot miss!


3. Get The Best Black And White Cookie In NYC

Two blocks away from the Metropolitan Museum of Art is William Greenberg Desserts, which opened in 1946.

Generations of New Yorkers have come here for the delicious traditional baked goods. 

Their brownies were immortalized in the Mad Men TV series! But the real stand-out is their Black and White cookie, the unofficial cookie of New York City. 

These cookies have a light cake-like texture and are frosted with a light coat of vanilla and chocolate icing, hence the name.

black and white cookie

William Greenberg carries lots of other yummies like cupcakes, fruit tarts, pies, and cakes.

They are known for their traditional desserts from other nationalities and ethnicities.

Grab some rugelach, linzer tarts, schnecken, babka, hot cross buns and more!

If you are looking for a chocolate chip cookie, you will find the absolute best a few blocks away at Levain Bakery.


4. Go Window Shopping

If you have an eye for designer clothing and/or a fondness for historic architecture, take a stroll along Madison Avenue between 60th and 80th Streets. 

Some of the boutiques on Madison Ave. are in stunning, historic landmarked buildings dating back to the 1870s and 1880s. The side streets nearby also have some hidden gems of the Upper East Side

Ralph Lauren shop

Stop by the Ralph Lauren flagship men’s shop on Madison Avenue between E. 71st and E. 72nd Streets.

It’s housed in a huge French Renaissance Revival mansion built in 1898, modeled after a French Chateau! 

TIP: Read more about the best places to shop in NYC here.


5. See Modern Art Inside An Iconic Building

The marvelous modern art begins before you even enter the Guggenheim Museum!

The museum, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, is one of the most recognizable buildings in New York City if not the world. 

Guggenheim museum

The collection is among the most important in the art world, with masterworks of Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and early modern and contemporary art. 

For the budget-minded, you can enter the Guggenheim for $1 on Saturdays from 6 pm–8 pm.

Read more about free NYC museums and museums with free hours/days here.


6. Stroll Along The East River In Carl Schurz Park

The charming Carl Schurz Park not only has a promenade that runs alongside the East River, but it also has exceptional landscaping maintained by a neighborhood gardening association. 

carl shurz park

It’s also home to Gracie Mansion, a splendid restored 18th-century house that has been the official residence of the Mayor of New York City since 1942.

Tours of Gracie Mansion are offered.

The park is located at East End Avenue between E. 84th and E. 90th Streets, at the northern end of the East River Greenway.


7. See The Lady In Gold At The Neue Galerie

This prestigious art gallery is dedicated to early 20th century German and Austrian art and design including paintings, furniture, sculpture, photography, and more.

The Neue is home to the world-famous The Lady in Gold by Gustav Klimt. 

Lady in Gold painting

The art is beautiful but so is the landmarked building housing the Neue Galerie, the former William Starr Miller House. 

This Louis XIII/Beaux-Arts style mansion was completed in 1914 by Carrère & Hastings, also the architects of the New York Public Library. 

If you want to enjoy Viennese cuisine, have a meal at either Cafe Fledermaus or Cafe Sabarsky, both part of the Galerie.

Neue Galerie is at 1048 5th Avenue at 86th Street.


8. Have a Frozen Hot Chocolate at Serendipity 3

This decadent dessert shop opened in 1954 is loved by locals and celebrities alike.

Marilyn Monroe, Andy Warhol, and First Lady Jackie Kennedy Onassis were frequent diners.

Serendipity 3's signature drink is the Frozen Hot Chocolate. It is exactly what it sounds like and it is oh-so-good. 

Serendipity 3

Several films and TV series have featured scenes in Serendipity 3, including, of course, the 2001 comedy Serendipity.

Naturally, Serendipity 3 makes an appearance in the quintessential series about being a teen in New York City, Gossip Girl.

Serendipity 3 is at 225 East 60th Street between 2nd Avenue and 3rd Avenue.


9. Get a Big Brown Bag At Bloomingdale’s

Bloomingdale’s (known fondly as Bloomie’s) opened in 1860!

After being based on the Lower East Side for 26 years, it moved uptown to 59th Street and Lexington Avenue. 

In the 1920s, Bloomingdale's took over an entire city block and has been there ever since. The iconic Big Brown Bags debuted in 1973. 

Bloomingdales

Don't be daunted by the haute couture designers who sell there. Bloomie’s has great sales and you can get some deep discounts if you look for them!

Bloomie’s is also one of the department stores that have an annual Christmas window display. There’s is among the most cutting-edge.

Bloomingdale’s is at Lexington Avenue between E. 59th to E. 60th Street.


10. See The Frick Collection

The Frick is not as widely known as other museums in New York City, perhaps because it is not a large museum though its collection is impressive.

The museum is housed in an elegant 18th-century mansion and its collection has some stunning artwork.

Frick Collection

You’ll see excellent examples of European sculpture and decorative arts and paintings by the “Old Masters”.

Two highlights are Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait, Johannes Vermeer’s Officer and Laughing Girlund Sir Thomas Moore by Hans Holbein.

 The Frick Collection is at East 70th Street.


11. Relax At A Piano Bar

There’s something about the Upper East Side that attracts piano bars.

Spending a night at a sleek, dim-lit piano bar, sipping on classic cocktails is one of the very best things to do on the Upper East Side at night.

The most famous (and sophisticated) Upper East Side piano bar is Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel at 35 E. 76th Street.

Bemelmans Bar

Named for Ludwig Bemelmans, the creator of the Madeline children’s books, this cocktail lounge has a fine jazz trio, old-school vibes, and killer cocktails. 

A less expensive alternative to Bemelmans is Brandy's Piano Bar at 235 E. 84th Street. Brandy’s is one of the best-kept secrets on the Upper East Side. 

This unpretentious lounge opened in the 1960s and has been a popular spot to go grab a drink and hear the staff there belt out show tunes. 


12. Visit Museum Mile

The stretch of Fifth Avenue between 82nd Street and 105th Street is known as Museum Mile which includes:

  • Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Guggenheim Museum
  • Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum
  • El Museo del Barrio,
  • Museum of the City of New York
  • Jewish Museum

You may already have the Met or Guggenheim on your list of museums to visit, but some of these other Upper East Side museums are worth a visit too. 

Cooper Hewitt Museum

The Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum is housed in a spectacular mansion built by Andrew Carnegie.

This unique museum’s collection has over 210,000 designed objects from over three centuries!

The Jewish Museum has an excellent collection of Judaica, with more than 28,000 works of art, objects and artifacts.

The Museum of the City of New York (MCNY) is for those who want to dig deep into the city’s history.

The museum puts on fantastic small-scale exhibitions and its permanent collection is impressive. The MCNY is one of many free museums in NYC.


13. Take The Roosevelt Island Tram

Riding the Roosevelt Island Tram may well be the best five-minute commute of your life!

The tram ride from Manhattan to this small island goes over the East River and provides an incredible 360-degree view of New York City.

Read more about taking the tram and visiting Roosevelt Island.


14. Indulge in Some Van Leeuwen Ice Cream

First sold in a street cart in SoHo in 2008, Van Leeuwen became an ice cream cult classic with its unusual flavors of both regular and vegan scoops. 

Van Leeuwen is now in eight states, with more than 25 locations in NYC.

What makes it so darn good is the high-quality ingredients from local and international artisan producers and farmers.

Van Leeuwen’s knock-out flavors include the likes of Praline Butter Cake, Sicilian Pistachio, Marionberry Cheesecake, Earl Grey Tea, and Buttermilk Berry Cornbread.

A few of Van Leeuwen’s vegan flavors are Peanut Butter Brownie Honeycomb, Cookies and Cream Caramel Swirl, and Cookie Crumble Strawberry Jam.

Van Leeuwen Ice Cream is at 1625 2nd Avenue between E.  84th and E. 85th Streets


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: Februar 20th, 2024
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