Things to Do in Chinatown New York

This post is an overview of things to see in Chinatown in Manhattan, including tips on where to eat and shop, the best sights to see and where to stay nearby. 

 

 


PLAN YOUR VISIT

Visiting NYC’s Chinatown – the oldest Chinatown in the country – is like being transported to another country and in some ways to another era!

While it may feel a bit touristy, if you look closely you will see a bit of China among the locals, their traditions, and the authentic (and inexpensive) restaurants and food shops.

Wander Chinatown’s narrow streets, lined with tenement buildings over 100 years old. Contemplate the neighborhood’s past, filled with stories of Irish gangs from the 1850s and mass Chinese migration in the early 1900s.

Walk along Canal Street for “designer” bags or shop for souvenirs. Most of all, eat, eat, eat! 


Let Us Take You Here

Join one of our daily pay-what-you-wish tours. We have tours that are dedicated solely to Chinatown, while others are broader tours with a stop in Chinatown.

We also have a self-guided tour as well as an audio tour. See the section on tour options below for more details.


How to Get Here

There are many ways to get to Chinatown. We recommend that you start your visit at the NYC and Company information kiosk at 210 Canal Street.  

Use this Google Maps link for directions to the kiosk.

 

Map of Chinatown Manhattan

 

By subway

  • N, Q, R, W, J, Z or 6 train to Canal Street 
  • B or D train to Grand Street
  • F train to East Broadway

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

By bus

M103, M15, 

All the major hop-on-hop-off buses offer at least one stop in Chinatown. Read our comparison post on which bus company might be right for you.  


Consider Staying in Chinatown

While you won’t find hotels on the smaller streets in Chinatown, there are lots of affordable and comfortable hotels on the outskirts of Chinatown.  

Check out the top-rated Chinatown hotels on TripAdvisor.


How Much Time To Spend Here

If you want to get a good feel for Chinatown, try some great food, do a little shopping and soak in the atmosphere, we recommend that you give yourself at least two hours. 

If you plan to eat at a sit-down restaurant add on an additional hour. We recommend where to eat below.

Keep in mind that Chinatown is bordered by many other fantastic neighborhoods to check out. Adjacent to Chinatown are:

 


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THINGS TO SEE AND DO 

Here are the top ten places to check out in Chinatown. You can get more detail on these and other sites from our self-guided Chinatown tour for a do-it-yourself experience.


1. Stroll Mott Street

This is Chinatown’s unofficial “Main Street” where many of the first Chinese-owned shops and restaurants opened in the early days of Chinatown.

Today it is lined with Chinese restaurants, trendy bubble-tea shops, and tourist-type gift shops.

 

 

Must-visit sites include Aji Ichiban Candy Store at 37 Mott Street and the Church of the Transfiguration (corner of Mosco and Mott Sts.) erected in 1801.

Our self-guided tour has details on these stops as well as others not included here.


2. Relax in Columbus Park

­Immerse yourself in Chinese culture by spending a few minutes in this small but lively park where many elderly Chinese people come to play cards, mahjong and other Chinese games.

You will hear musicians singing traditional Chinese songs and playing lutes. Early in the mornings, you may spot a group of people doing tai­chi.

 

 

Though this park feels distinctly Chinese, it wasn’t always the case. The area where the park stands now and the surrounding streets were known as Five Points. You may already be familiar with Five Pints from the book and movie Gangs of New York.


3. Eat Fried Dumplins 

On Mosco Street, head to Fried Dumpling, a tiny shop where you can get what some say are the best Chinese fried pork dumplings in town. Just $1.25 for 5 dumplings!  

 

 

Forks are to the right of the register and there is hot sauce on the tiny counter across from the open kitchen where you can see your dumplings being made.

The ladies at the counter are very fast and don’t have time for questions so be ready with cash in hand!


4. Discover the “Bloody Angle”

In the early 1900s, Chinatown was a bed of vice and rival tongs (gangs) battled for dominance. The small, curved Doyers Street was a prime location for gan violence.

There were so many shoot-outs, ambushes, and murders on Doyers Street, that it came to be known as “the Bloody Angle”.

 

 

The most famous spot on Doyers Street is the Nom Wah Tea Parlor, Chinatown’s first tea parlor, opened in 1920. The interior resembles an American coffee shop with vinyl booths and a counter with stools.

Unlike other food establishments in early Chinatown with their exotic mysterious appearance, Nom Wah’s décor was familiar to non-Chinese diners and made it more enticing for people to come in and try this new type of food. 


5. Be Transported on Pell Street

Walking along this narrow and colorful street one feels as if they are in China due to the small storefronts with awnings and flags written in Chinese.

 

Pell Street

 

This short street has a number of interesting sites. At the corner of Pell Street and Bowery is the oldest townhouse in New York City, built in 1785 after the Revolutionary War.

At 18 Pell Street, you’ll find a dusty corner store selling traditional Chinese trinkets. Its been in business since 1957.


6. See a Giant Buddha

Opened in 1997, the Mahayana Buddhist Temple 133 Canal Street is the largest Buddhist Temple in New York City and houses the city’s largest Buddha statue.

 

 

You can enter the temple’s foyer for free (dressed appropriately – this is a house of worship).

If you have time and a $1 donation, go into the temple itself to gaze up at the 16 foot-tall golden Buddha. 


7. Experience Dim Sum

Dim Sum is a meal of small plates of a variety of Chinese foods like dumplings, steamed buns, ribs, seafood, and so many other treats. This is an excellent way to try many dishes for fairly low prices.

Traditionally, Dim Sum is served on the weekends only, sort of like brunch. However, many restaurants in Chinatown now serve it on weekdays as well, though the atmosphere is much more energetic on weekends.

 

 

When having Dim Sum, instead of ordering from a menu, you are given a large ticket on which the waiters keep track of what you eat.

Choose your food from the carts being pushed around by the servers. If you see something you like, stop the waiter, point at the item and give your food ticket.

We recommend some places to get Dim Sum below in our Restaurants section below. 


8. See the Mott Street Fish Market

This market is made up of a number of stores selling fish and other creatures of the sea at very competitive prices.

There are a few stores that sell greens and fruit but mainly it’s the fish that bring the locals in to do their weekly shopping.

 

Mott Street Fish Market

 

You can also find a massive array of dried goods, from different types of mushrooms, squid, shrimp, and many items you probably won’t recognize. 

Warning: if you are squeamish, do NOT look inside the large plastic garbage bins next to the fish displays.


9. Go to the Museum of Chinese in the Americas (MoCA)

This museum is one of the most important national archives of Chinese history in America. 

Their permanent collection is extensive. Over 65,000 artifacts, photographs, documents, textiles and other objects document the history of Chinese Americans.

 

 

Temporary exhibits are highly topical. Several permanent exhibits are family-friendly. 

The Museum of Chinese in the Americas is at 215 Centre Street.

Note that the museum is free on the first Thursday of each month except on major holidays. Find out what other NYC museums are free here.


10. See the Majestic Manhattan Bridge Entrance 

Though the first thing you will notice about the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge is the traffic and constant gridlock, take a moment to admire the grand archway and colonnade to the bridge. 

 

Manhattan Bridge

 

It was designed by one of the most famous architectural firms of the early 20th-century Carrere and Hastings, who designed the magnificent New York Public Library at 5th Avenue and 42nd Street.  

The Manhattan Bridge, built in 1908, is not as beautiful as the nearby Brooklyn Bridge (though that is arguable), but it provides an invaluable service to New Yorkers as it allows cars, pedestrians, cyclists, and subways to cross from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

 


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CHINATOWN FOOD AND RESTAURANTS

There is an overwhelming number of restaurants, food shops, and food carts in Chinatown. This section includes our picks for the best spots.

For an even bigger selection, see our post listing some of the most popular Chinatown NYC restaurants that won’t break your budget.

You can dine pretty well in Chinatown for under $10 for a sit-down meal. You can fill up on amazing street food for under $5! See below for our snack suggestions.

 

 

Nom Wah Tea Parlor – 13 Doyers St. 

The oldest restaurant in Chinatown, the Nom Wah Tea Parlor menu offers plenty of dim sum favorites like steamed shrimp dumplings, scallion pancakes, pork fried dumplings and soup dumplings.

Hop Kee  – 21 Mott Street corner of Mosco Street, basement level

Serving Cantonese classics like lobster in white sauce, sweet and sour pork and lo mein since 1968, this bustling restaurant in a clean, well-lit basement-level space, is a favorite among New Yorkers hungry for a nostalgic meal at very good prices.

Jing Fong  –  20 Elizabeth Street between Canal Street and Bayard Street

This huge banquet hall is a great place to experience Dim Sum. If you are a big group, you will get your own table, but when it is crowded you will have to wait in the crowded lobby until a table is free. There is also the option to sit at communal tables.

Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles  – 1 Doyers Street

A small and cheap restaurant that is adored by New Yorkers. The dough that makes their noodles are literally pulled and stretched out by hand. They are served in broth or by themselves with add-ins such as duck, chicken or vegetables. Cash only.

Dim Sum Go Go – 5 E Broadway at Chatham Square

If you feel like having dim sum but want to leave behind the mystery of pointing at unknown foods from wheeled carts, try this full-service restaurant. Menus are provided with a full description and photos of the food. 

Joe’s Shanghai – 9 Pell St.

Joe’s specializes in the ever-popular soup dumplings, pan-fried noodles, soups, and Shanghai-style spare ribs. You can even order an entire fried fish covered in a thick, brown gravy. Joe’s has been named “Best Restaurant” by the likes of Gourmet Magazine, Travel and Leisure, and New York Magazine.


Chinese Snack Foods

Fried Dumpling – 106 Mosco Street

This shop is a hole in the wall, but you can’t miss it as there is usually a short line to get 5 fried pork dumplings for $1.25. They also have pork buns, and vegetarian dumplings but they cost a bit more and aren’t as good as their signature dish.

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory – 65 Bayard Street between Elizabeth and Mott Streets

At $5 a scoop, it’s a bit pricey, but they have unusual flavors like ginger, wasabi, and black sesame seed. There are plenty of old-fashioned American flavors as well. They also do a great job with familiar flavors such as Mint Chip, Chocolate Peanut Butter, and Vanilla Fudge.

 

 

Mei Li Wah Bakery– 64 Bayard Street between Elizabeth and Mott Sts

Juicy, tender and tangy pork fills their buns and costs less than $1! If you are a vegetarian or just want to try something different, try the lotus paste steamed buns with the consistency of peanut butter and a taste similar to that of chestnuts.

Golden Steamer – 143A Mott Street between Hester and Grand Sts.

Tucked away in a small storefront among the bustling fish market you’ll find the most delicious pumpkin steamed buns in all of New York City. The roast pork buns are good too and there’s an array of sweet and savory baked and steamed items ranging from $1 to $3.

 


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SHOPPING

If you’re looking for jewelry, handbags, perfume, sunglasses, watches, wallets, shoes, etc. walk along Canal Street between Broadway and Mulberry Street.

You will have many shops to choose from. Don’t be shy about ‘haggling’ (negotiating) – try it and you may get a better deal.

 

 

Though we don’t endorse purchasing knock-off counterfeit handbags, we can provide you with information about where and how to do this. Don’t forget – selling counterfeit goods is a crime, so be careful in who you deal with. Here are some tips:

First, you can visit legitimate stores licensed to sell goods. Merchandise can sometimes be knockoffs of your favorite brands or have logos meant to resemble those of the fancy name brand bags. If a shop does carry fake bags, they won’t make it obvious and you will have to go to the way back of the shop and have a look.  

Another option is to look for illegal street peddlers selling knockoff sunglasses, handbags and watches out of suitcases or on sheets laid out on the sidewalk. If they suddenly pack up and run off, it means that they have spotted the police.

For those brave enough, you can deal with individual sellers who presumably have better quality counterfeit items. These people stand on street corners (notably Mott, Mulberry and Baxter Street on the north side of Canal Street) and will walk past you saying quietly “handbag, purse” to women or “watches” to men.

If you indicate you are interested, they will take you off to the side and discreetly show you pictures of the items they have. If you want to make a purchase, you then follow them to semi-secret, but generally safe, locations to complete the deal.

For an additional resource to discover more shops in Chinatown, check out Time Out NYC.

 


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GUIDED TOURS OF CHINATOWN 
 

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Free Tours by Foot

We offer several pay-what-you-like tours that are focused on, or include, Chinatown in Manhattan.

Our SoHo, Little Italy and Chinatown Tour runs twice every day and spends about 45 minutes in Chinatown.  Sometimes, we run a stand-alone tour of Chinatown.  We also offer Chinatown as part of two other history walking tours. 

Our Chinatown Food Tour – this is a 2-hour tour that explores both the food and history of Chinatown.  This runs on a weekly basis.  

See our current tour calendar for our tours, times and descriptions.

  • New York City Tourist Passes – both the New York Pass and the New York Explorer Pass include guided food and history tours of Chinatown for free.  These passes can be very valuable if you are planning on visiting many attractions.  Read our post on whether a tourist pass is for you, and if so, which one.
  • Bus Tours – All the major hop-on, hop-off bus companies have at least one stop in Chinatown.  You will get a narration of the neighborhood from the onboard tour guide while you drive through.  For a more in-depth guided tour, consider one of the bus companies that offer a tour guide who gets off the bus with you and walks you through the neighborhood.  Read our post on which tour bus is right for you.

 


Chinatown Walking Tour

Very few neighborhoods encapsulate the diversity and international draw of New York City like Chinatown.

Interestingly enough, this neighborhood sits in the place of a former famous neighborhood in New York, the Five Points, immortalized in the book and film “Gangs of New York.” A relatively new phenomenon in the city, Chinatown is still growing.

Join Free Tours by Foot for a peek into this ongoing chapter in New York City’s rich immigrant history.

 

Chinatown Food Tour

 

As part of the tour, you will see the restaurants and stores that make up everyday life here. You will be approached by street vendors selling everything from exotic fruits to questionable brand-name handbags.

You will also get a chance to pass through important neighborhood centers like Columbus Park, where Chinese men and women congregate to talk about local happenings and play their card and board games.

All of the sites and stops in Chinatown will paint a picture that will make the world feel small while at the same time remind you of just how big it really is.

Church of the Transfiguration Chinatown TourHere are the sites that will be covered on the tour:

  • Columbus Park
  • Church of Transfiguration
  • Nom Wah Tea Parlor
  • Chatham Square
  • Shearith Israel Cemetery
  • Kimlau Memorial Arch
  • Edward Mooney House
  • Manhattan Bridge Entrance
  • Mott Street Market
  • Mahayana Buddhist Temple
  • Museum of Chinese in Americas

Tour information

Reservations: This tour currently runs as a private tour only.

Where: Tour departs from the intersection of Canal and Baxter Streets (map).

Duration: Approximately 2 hours.  Approximately 1.5 miles (2k) in distance.

WhenView our full tour Calendar

Cost: This tour is free to take, and you get to decide what, if anything, the tour was worth when it’s done.  A name-your-own-price tour is a tour for every budget.

Save more money with a tourist discount pass and our Guide to NYC on a Budget.

Language: Tour is in English.

 


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About the author

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”.