What to Do in SoHo

This post is a guide of things to do in SoHo, including the top things to see and do, where to eat, shop, and see art. We also include a sample itinerary, family-friendly activities and things to do at night.

 

 


IS SOHO WORTH VISITING?

SoHo is definitely worth visiting due to its multitude of shopping options, museums, art galleries, and architecture, just to name a few.

The following section will include all the details you need to visit SoHo including sample itineraries, how to get here, and how much time you should set aside for your visit.


WHERE IS SOHO?

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 and called “The South Houston Industrial Area”.  

The area boundaries are Houston Street on the north and Canal Street in the south, 6th Avenue on the west and Crosby Street on the east.

 

Where is SoHo

 

SoHo is located within the greater Lower Manhattan District and can be reached by multiple subway lines.

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.

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:

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

TIP #2: Why not stay here? Check out the top rated SoHo hotels on TripAdvisor.


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 should take you about 90 min if you don’t stop and linger. You can use it for free on your phone or download our free audio tour app.

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 art galleries, shopping and where to eat.


Sample 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. Listen to a sample.

We also have a downloadable self-guided tour of SoHo

 


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TOP THINGS TO SEE AND DO

Here is a list of the best things to do in SoHo. To read about SoHo’s history, click here.


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 ($1.99) or our free self-guided tour of SoHo any time, day or night.

 

 

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.


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.

 

 

While in SoHo, take some time to see some of the finest examples of cast-iron buildings.

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


See Some Street Art

New York is known for 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 SoHo and nearby neighborhoods.


For Kids

Children’s Museum of the Arts – 103 Charlton St.

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  – 278 Spring Street

  • Interactive museum fire equipment dating back to the 1800s
  • 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 – corner of Thompson and Spring Streets.

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.


Art Galleries

There are too many galleries in SoHo to list them all. One gallery you should try to see is The Earth Room.

 

 

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.


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.


SoHo Theater

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

  • SoHo Playhouse – quality theater for reasonable prices
  • SoHo Rep – innovative contemporary theater
  • 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


Nightlife

Bars and Lounges

  • 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

Live Music

Do take a read of our post on other things to do at night in NYC.


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.


Dominique Ansel Bakery  

Located at 189 Spring Street between Sullivan and Thompson Streets, this 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! They are open from Mondays to Saturdays from 8 am to 7 pm and Sunday from 9 am to 7 pm.

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

 


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RESTAURANTS AND PLACES TO EAT

These are all family-friendly though the menus at the 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.
  • 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

 


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SHOPPING

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, 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.

The Evolution Store – 687 Broadway

A most unusual store filled to the brim with natural history collectibles, artifacts, like framed butterflies and insect, fossils, skeletons and seashells, all beautifully kept. Kids will find this store fascinating.

MUJI SoHo – 455 Broadway

Popular Japanese retailer with minimalist products, from stationary, travel gear, 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

 

 


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HISTORY

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 and called “The South Houston Industrial Area”.  

The area boundaries are Houston Street on the north and Canal Street in the south; 6th Avenue on the west and Crosby Street on the east.

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 and 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 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 style 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, 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 the urban wasteland became a hip, avant-garde destination.

It’s estimated that by 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 construction 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.

 


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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”.