For visitors to New York City, the Upper West Side is known for Lincoln Center, the American Museum of Natural History, and Central Park.
For locals, it's a neighborhood with lovely side streets and colorful avenues, a place to eat some of the city's classic foods, shop, stroll, and simply enjoy life.
And as a group of local tour guides, some of whom live here, and all of whom guide here, we know a thing or two about the area.
So, we used our personal experiences as guides to craft this post of things to do here.
We also took some of the tips and opinions from members of our popular NYC Travel Tips Facebook group.
Our group consists of locals, like us tour guides, expats, regular visitors, as well as newbies to NYC.
No need to become a member to search for and read the posts, comments, and suggestions.
With that, we hope that you find this post interesting.
- How to Get Here
- Things to Do
- Where to Stay
- Is Visiting the Upper West Side Worth It?
- Other Things To Do in NYC
The Upper West Side (UWS) is located between Central Park to the east and the Hudson River to the west.
On its southern end, it is bound by West 59th Street and Columbus Circle.
On its northern end, it is bound by W. 110th Street, where Harlem begins.
The UWS is part of the larger area of NYC known as Upper Manhattan.
The Upper West Side neighborhood is a fairly affluent neighborhood that is more of a residential area than a commercial one.
Whereas its counterpart, the Upper East Side, tends to attract residents working in the financial sector, the Upper West Side leans toward those in the arts and culture as well as families with young children.
Its side streets are leafy and lined with brownstones and private townhouses, and relatively few high rises.
Its avenues are home to great restaurants, coffee shops, chain stores, boutiques, and entertainment venues.
How To Get Here
The neighborhood is easily reached by public transportation. There are several subway lines that access the Upper West Side.
- B and C trains make local stops along Central Park West.
- 1, 2, and 3 trains run along Broadway. The 1 makes local stops while the 2 and 3 run express.
To learn about the difference between express and local lines, read our post on using the subway system.
- Uptown/Downtown: M5, M7, M10, M11, M12, M104
- Crosstown: M57, M66, M72, M79, M86, M96, M106 (numbers correlate to the street the buses travel on)
Things to Do on the Upper West Side
Below are 15 of the top things to do in this neighborhood.
Explore Central Park
For some, the Upper West Side is synonymous with Central Park.
The entire western border of the park (Central Park West between W. 59th Street and W. 110th Street) is the eastern border of the Upper West Side.
It's as if the two are inseparable!
There are several sites in Central Park that are close to Central Park West including the Sheep Meadow, Strawberry Fields, the Imagine Memorial to John Lennon, and Belvedere Castle.
Read more about things to do in Central Park.
Visit the American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) is one of the great museums of the world.
It's located in the heart of the Upper West Side, right across from Central Park at W. 81st Street.
Since 1871, this museum has awed New York City's children and grown-ups alike with its exhibits of fossils, mammals, sea life, minerals, gems, meteorites, and of course the Dinosaur wing.
The Hayden Planetarium is part of the AMNH which offers space shows in its theater.
For those traveling with children, visiting the American Museum of Natural History is one of the very best things to do with kids in NYC.
Get a Bagel and Lox at Zabar's
Grab a Bite at this New York City institution. Zabar’s Delicatessen has been a cornerstone of the Upper West Side since 1934.
This family-owned shop sells delicious fare, the best being their Smoked fish, cheeses, baked goods, and homemade roasted coffee.
Given its proximity to Central Park, Zabars should be on your list of places to grab some food for a picnic in Central Park.
Zabars is at 2245 Broadway at W. 80th Street.
Delve into Arts and Culture at Lincoln Center
You can do a bit of everything at Lincoln Center. This world-renowned arts venue offers the chance for you to see many kinds of performing arts.
It's the home to the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Ballet, and the New York Philharmonic.
During the winter holidays, Lincoln Center has great Christmas performances like The Nutcracker ballet and the Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis playing jazz renditions of holiday favorites.
In the summer, Lincoln Center's plaza is home to their Midsummer Night Swing outdoor dance series where people come to swing dance!
For a behind-the-scenes look at this magnificent arts complex, you can take a Lincoln Center tour.
Admire The Architecture
Unlike any other neighborhood in NYC, the Upper West Side is known for its several massive, ornate residential buildings, many of which are known from TV and film!
The stunning Dakota Building is located at the corner of Central Park West and West 72nd Street. Constructed in 1884, it is considered to be NYC’s first luxury apartment building.
The Dakota is best known for being the apartment building where John Lennon lived for many years, until his death in 1980.
It was also where the 1968 horror film Rosemary’s Baby was filmed.
Read more about the Dakota here.
The Ansonia, located on Broadway between W. 73rd and W. 74th Streets, was built in 1904. The ornate exterior is decorated in the Beaux-Art style.
The Ansonia was the backdrop in the psychological thriller, Single White Female, starring Bridget Fonda.
The Apthorp is so large that it occupies a full city block, from Broadway to West End Avenue, between W. 78th and W. 79th Streets.
It was constructed in 1908 in the Italian Renaissance Revival style.
Its ornamented limestone façade and gigantic iron entry gates that open into a courtyard make the Apthorp a gem of the Upper West Side.
The San Remo was built in 1930 and its twin towers make it one of the most famous buildings along the Central Park silhouette.
Take a Stroll in Riverside Park
Riverside Park is an incredible and huge green space that runs along the Hudson River from West 72nd Street to West 156th Street.
In the spring, you’ll see flowering trees and in the fall, the rich changing colors of the trees are beautiful.
Locals come here to take casual strolls or jogs along the Hudson River Path.
One of the best places to visit in the park is the Grant National Memorial at W. 122nd St. and Riverside Drive, where former president Ulysses S. Grant is buried.
Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth at Levain Bakery
For those who love cookies, a stop at Levain Bakery is a must.
The Chocolate Chip Walnut and Dark Chocolate Chocolate cookies are divine.
Ask for your cookie to be heated up for an extra gooey experience.
Warning: Levain’s cookies are $5 each. But they are worth it!
If ice cream is your thing, head to Emack and Bolio’s. They also have frozen yogurt and sorbet.
Pick from ice cream flavors like Bananas Foster, Cake Batter, Chocolate Addiction, and Cookie Monster.
For vegans, you’ve got Chocolate Pudding, Goa Mango, Mint Chocolate Freckles, and more.
If you love cookies AND ice cream, you are in luck! The shops are just two blocks away from each other!
Emack and Bolio’s - 389 Amsterdam Avenue at W. 79th Street
Levain Bakery - 351 Amsterdam Avenue and W. 77th Street
Go Shopping Underground
Turnstyle Underground is a market located beneath 8th Avenue between 57th and 58th Street.
Though this is not technically the Upper West Side it is pretty darn close and worth a visit!
The market is accessible from the 59th Street-Columbus Avenue subway station, one of the stations you may be passing through on your trip to the Upper West Side.
Even if you are not taking the subway, you don't need to swipe a MetroCard to gain access to the market.
There are shops and kiosks with niche items.
For example, one shop sells unique versions of sneakers by Nike, Jordans, Adidas, and Puma. Another shop has handmade cosmetics and bath products.
There are 19 food vendors, serving international foods like Bolivian saltenas, Taiwanese dumplings, blintzes, hot dogs, paella, fresh juices, and more.
Be sure to stop at Doughnuttery, known for its mini doughnuts, some with exotic flavors like Chai and Pumpkin Pie Brulee.
Take in the Splendor of St. John the Divine
At the corner of W. 112th Street and Amsterdam Avenue is the majestic Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
At 601 feet, it is the world's largest Gothic-style cathedral.
You’ll find beautiful vaulted ceilings, carved limestone and granite columns, and lots of stained glass.
The Great Rose Window is 40’ in diameter making it the third-largest rose window in the world.
Construction was started in 1892, and oddly enough, it is still under construction!
According to the cathedral’s website, St. John’s is no different than many cathedrals around the world that are built over centuries.
Don’t worry, there’s no construction that will prevent you from taking a tour of this fully active church and cathedral.
See the cathedral's website for information on visiting.
See Free American Folk Art
The American Museum of Natural History isn't the only name in town when it comes to museums.
The Upper West Side has some interesting museums you might enjoy.
One such museum is the American Folk Art Museum on Columbus Avenue at W. 66th Street.
The museum showcases pieces of art made by individuals without formal artistic training, which is essentially the definition of folk art.
The museum's collection has more than 8,000 artworks that span four centuries and come from almost every continent.
Some great news is that it is always free to visit!
Find out about other free museums in NYC.
Learn About New York City's History
As its name implies, The New York Historical Society's mission is to educate the public about NYC’s history.
The society was founded in 1804 as New York's oldest museum.
The society reaches its goal through its impressive collections of artifacts and objects from four centuries, immersive movies, and lectures from historians and public figures.
The museum is located at 170 Central Park West and 77th Street. Admission is free on Fridays from 6-8 pm.
Eat at Seinfeld's Tom's Restaurant
Located at the corner of Broadway and W. 112th Street is Tom’s Restaurant, where Jerry Seinfeld and the gang met often.
Tom’s was used only for exterior shots, though the studio set where interior scenes were filmed was modeled after the inside of this restaurant.
If you are a Seinfeld fan, take a look at our self-guided tour of Seinfeld's New York.
Shop at the Columbus Circle Holiday Market
If you are in town during the holidays, you are in luck.
At Columbus Circle, at W. 59th Street and Broadway (the southwest corner of Central Park) is The Shops at Columbus Circle.
In December, this indoor shopping mall puts up a gorgeous lights display, one of many Christmas light displays in NYC.
There is also the cute Columbus Circle holiday market where you can pick up some unique arts and crafts and other holiday gifts.
See the Ghostbusters Building
In the 1984 movie Ghostbusters, Dana Barrett (played by Sigourney Weaver) and Louis Tully (played by Rick Moranis) live on the 22nd floor of a building known as "Spook Central".
You can find Spook Central at 55 Central Park West at 66th Street.
There are a few more Ghostbusters sights on the Upper West Side like Columbia University and Tavern on the Green restaurant.
See our post on Ghostbusters Movie Locations in NYC.
Take a Central Park Movie Tour
Our pay-what-you-like Central Park Movie and TV Tour takes you to the most famous filming sights in and around the park.
Stop at the Plaza Hotel, the main setting for the film Eloise at the Plaza.
Visit The Mall in Central Park, where scenes were filmed from the 1979 Academy Award-winning film Kramer vs. Kramer and the popular rom-com When Harry Met Sally.
Where to Stay on the Upper West Side
Staying at a hotel on the Upper West Side has pros and cons.
You will be relatively close to Central Park, but not that close to other popular attractions.
While the neighborhood is charming and it is very family-friendly, the hotel options are limited
Still, it is worth looking into staying here as many people love their stay in the neighborhood.
Here are some of the best places to stay on the UWS recommended by members of our Facebook Group on NYC Travel Tips.
There are also some very good NYC hostels on the Upper West Side.
Find out about other hotels and accommodations from our post, Where to Stay in New York City.
Is Visiting the Upper West Side Worth It?
The quick answer is ”It depends”. It depends on how many days you’re here for and what your interests are.
If you are here for a whirlwind weekend, then no. But if you are here for 4 or more days, then you might like to explore this charming part of the city.
Generally, we combine an outing to Central Park with some time on the Upper West Side as the park is right there.
We love to stroll the leafy side streets, and then do some shopping on Columbus, Amsterdam and Broadway.
When we are ready to grab a bite, we can just walk down Columbus between 82nd and 86th streets and find any kind of cuisine we want!
The vibe is a nice change from some of the less residential areas of NYC.