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Things To Do in the Lower East Side

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This post is a guide to things to do in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, with a self-guided tour and tips on places to eat, hear music, and shop.


WHERE IS THE LOWER EAST SIDE

The Lower East Side is bounded by the Bowery on the west, the East River to the east, 14th St. to the north and East Broadway on the south.

There are several subway and bus lines that service the LES, but for this self-guided tour, it's best to use the 2nd Ave station on the F train. 

Use this Google Maps link for directions to the self-guided tour starting point.

Be sure to check out our guide to navigating the New York City subway.

If you are planning to use hop-on-hop-off buses to navigate around NYC, keep in mind that all the major companies have stops in or at the borders of the LES.

Be sure to read our comparison post on NYC bus tours.

We also have a downloadable PDF file of this Lower East Side Self-Guided Tour.

Click on the map for a movable map.


1. Yonah Schimmel Knishery

137 East Houston Street Open daily, 9 AM-7 PM.

Start at Yonah Schimmel’s Knishes and have a knish (pronounced ki-nish). This shop is located on Eldridge and Houston just off the 2nd Ave F train subway station.

Yonah Schimmel’s Knishery has been baking big, round delicious knishes since 1910.

In the 1890s, Yonah Schimmel, a Romanian immigrant, started selling his wife’s knishes at Coney Island while training to be a religious scholar.

The knish sold like hotcakes, as they say. Yonah abandoned his religious callings and opened this store with his cousin, Joseph Berger.

Yonah eventually left the business and went back to his studies. His cousin Joe Berger and his wife, Schimmel’s daughter Rose, took over the store.

Along with the traditional classics like potato and kasha, there’s sweet potato, spinach, mushroom, and even jalapeno. 

This iconic Jewish New York eatery also has egg creams and latkes (potato pancakes).


2. Russ & Daughters

179 East Houston Hours: M-F: 8 AM-8 PM; Saturday: 8 AM-7 PM; Sunday: 8 AM-5:30 PM.

Continue east on Houston and stop at Russ & Daughters. This fabulous gourmet Jewish grocery has stood the test of time.

Go inside! Smell everything. Eat something! Lox, gefilte fish, sturgeon, herring, trout, salmon, bagels, white fish, caviar….the list goes on and on!

Joel Russ, a polish immigrant, started selling mushrooms out of a pushcart and opened this store in 1914. He put his daughters in the title and put all three to work behind the counter.

Russ and Daughters just celebrated 100 years and they just opened up a cafe on 127 Orchard Street. His grandson, Mark, now runs the business.

The keyword here is “schmear” which means to coat a bagel with a small amount of cream cheese.


3. Katz's Delicatessen 

205 East Houston Street at Ludlow Street.

When it comes to Jewish delicatessens, Katz’s is the undisputed champion.

This iconic eatery, opened in 1888, is known for serving the best pastrami sandwich in the world, not to mention great hot dogs, knishes, and knockwurst.

It's also where Harry met Sally. Read more Katz's here.


4. Angel Orensanz Foundation 

172 Norfolk Street

In the middle of the block stands the oldest synagogue building in New York City and the fourth-oldest in America.

Built in 1849 for the congregation Ansche Chesed (meaning "the people of kindness") in the Gothic Revival style, it was inspired by the Cathedral in Cologne, Germany.

The Congregation was formed in 1825 and was made up mostly of immigrants, primarily of immigrant German Jews, but also Dutch and Polish Jews.

In the 1850s, it had the largest membership of any synagogue in America.

By the 1970s membership dwindled as the neighborhood changed and the building was eventually abandoned and vandalized.

Then along came Jewish Spanish sculptor Angel Orensanz. He bought the building in 1986 and turned it into an art gallery and event space, but not just any event space.

Luminaries such as Whitney Houston and Maya Angelou performed here. Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker were married there in 1997.


5. Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery

126 Rivington Street

Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery might have the best cupcakes and puddings around.

An intoxicating array of flavors and a lovely staff make this one of our favorite sweet spots. 

Co-owners, Debbie and Peggy, both alumni of Magnolia Bakery, opened this goody shop in 2003 and it's been a hit since the get-go.

While the cupcakes are scrumptious, the banana pudding is the bomb!

They have a second location nearby at the Essex Street Market on the southeast corner of Essex and Delancy Streets.


6. Economy Candy

108 Rivington Street

In 1937, Economy Candy opened and now almost 80 years later, this candy shop is still going strong with what is most likely the most extensive selection of candy in the city.

From old hard-to-find favorites like Squirrel Nut Zippers, Chuckles, and Charleston Chews to modern sweets like Pop Rocks, Pez dispensers, and Big League Chew, Economy Candy has thousands of types of sweet treats.

They also have a huge assortment of Ritter Sport chocolate bars and an incredible range of Jelly Belly flavors!


7. The Tenement Museum

In the mid-1800s to early 1900s, hundreds of tenement buildings were hastily built to house millions of newly arriving immigrants.

These buildings are typically 25 ft. across and 100 feet long. Apartments were tiny and filled with too many residents, making conditions virtually unliveable.

Slumlords took advantage of the tenants in many ways. The conditions were filthy, dangerous, and at times, life-threatening.

The Tenement Museum educates the public about the horrific life in the tenement slums by recreating the original conditions of the tenements which you can tour.

This museum is a must-see for anyone interested in this important part of NYC history.


8. Williamsburg Bridge

One of three bridges that link Brooklyn to Manhattan, the Williamsburg Bridge was built in 1903 and was the world's longest suspension bridge until 1924.

The northernmost of the three bridges that link Brooklyn to Manhattan, it connects the Lower East Side with Williamsburg, Brooklyn. 

Williamsburg, Brooklyn is home to Peter Luger’s world-renowned steak house (cash only, reservations strongly recommended) and one of the coolest ‘hoods on the planet.


9. Seward Park High School and the former site of Ludlow Street Jail 

350 Grand Street

Past Delancey on the corner of Essex and Broome is the site of the former Ludlow Street Jail which was opened from 1862 until the 1920s. 

Politician Boss Tweed, the head of NYC’s infamous Tammany Hall, the powerfully corrupt political machine that reigned over the city in the 1800s, died in here in 1879.

He was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, a destination unto itself (see our self-guided tour of this lovely final resting place.)

Once the jail was closed and the building demolished, the new high school building went up in 1929.

Among its famous alumni are many actors and comedians such as Walter Matthau, Zero Mostel, Tony Curtis, Estelle Getty, Jerry Stiller, and Keenen Ivory Wayans.

Another graduate was infamous Soviet spy Julius Rosenberg who, together with his wife Ethel, was accused of betraying the United States. They were tried, convicted, and executed in 1953.


10. Pickle Guys

49 Essex Street, corner of Grand Street

At the turn of the 20th Century, Essex Street was teeming with pickle stores. But now it's only the Pickle Guys, who opened their shop in the 21st Century. 

You will never find a snappier, juicer, or more delectable pickle than the full-sour pickle right here.

This really is a throwback to the time when pickle kings like Izzy Guss still had their doors open.

Enter this storefront, and soak in the wonderful aroma. Nothing but barrels of pickled treats and great staff. The guys are at your service and ready to answer any questions.

Want something besides a full sour or half-sour pickle? How about a spicy pickle?

How about pickled mango, garlic olives, peppers, and pineapple?


11. Kossar's Bialys

367 Grand Street

The bialy was named after Białystok, Poland (at the time under Russian occupation).

Russian Jewish bakers started baking these delicious treats at the turn of the 20th century right here on the Lower East Side.

Bialys usually measure up to 15 cm (6 inches), it’s a chewy yeast roll similar to a bagel, but the bialy is baked, not boiled like a bagel.

The center is depressed but happily filled with garlic, poppy seeds, bread crumbs, or onions.

Kossar’s has been at this location at Grand and Essex Streets since the early 1960s. Morris Kossar's son-in-law and daughter, Daniel and Gloria Kossar Scheinin sold the business in 1998.

The interior is a true baker's bliss. In addition to bialys and bagels, bulkas (small loaves), or pletzels (Jewish flatbread, with onion and poppy seed) come fresh out of the giant oven.


12. Doughnut Plant

379 Grand Street

In 1994, Mark Isreal turned the basement of his tenement apartment into a bakery and swept New York City up into a tidal wave of mass donut addiction. 

For five years he baked in his basement by night and sold his donuts to gourmet spots like Balducci's and Dean and DeLuca.

Word caught on fast and it was time to expand. There are now multiple locations throughout the city.

The donuts are to die for and are handcrafted daily, with no eggs or preservatives and no trans-fat.

Here are some mouthwatering donuts you can look forward to:

  • Blackout — chocolate cake doughnut, filled with chocolate pudding, dipped in chocolate glaze and sprinkled with chocolate cake crumbs.
  • Tres Leches — the sweet taste of the authentic “three milks” cake, delivered in a round cake doughnut.
  • Carrot Cake — traditional carrot cake with lots of real carrots, raisins, walnuts, and spices, with a cream cheese filling.
  • Doughseeds — mini, round, filled doughnuts. Launched with their signature Creme Brûlée, flavors now include Rose (with a rosewater pudding and dipped in a rosewater glaze, topped with an edible rose petal), Hazelnut Chocolate, Matcha Green Tea, Peanut Butter & Blackberry Jam, Pistachio, Strawberry & Cream, and Wild Blueberry & Cream.

13. Museum of Street Art

189 Bowery, inside the CitizenM Bowery Hotel

The free Museum of Street Art (MOSA) opened in October 2018 and grew out of the forced closure and demolition of the famous 5 Pointz outdoor graffiti museum in Queens in 2013.

In 2018, the CitizenM offered the former 5 Pointz curator, Meres One, a space to bring 20 artists whose murals had been on display at 5 Pointz. 

Artists were each given the walls of a flight of stairs in the hotel’s 20-floor stairwell. Yes, this means you must walk 20 floors of stairs to see all the murals. 

MOSA

Fortunately, the museum starts on the 20th floor, so at least it is a walk down, not up!

MOSA is open from 10 am to 5 pm every day. MOSA is free to visit, but reservations are required. Book a spot here.

Tour slots are every 30 minutes (10 am, 10:30 am, etc). No more than 5 people can visit at one time, due to space limitations.

TIP: If you love street art, take a look at our post on the best places to see street art in NYC. Or consider taking one of our street art and graffiti tours!


GUIDED AND SELF-GUIDED TOURS 

There are a few companies that offer tours of the Lower East Side, with many of them being food tours. However, you have come to the right place.

Free Tours by Foot offers several tours of the neighborhood, including a food tour, a street art tour and a self-guided, do-it-yourself version.

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LOWER EAST SIDE EVENTS

The Lower East Side is full of great celebrations all year round. There's something for everyone.

Cultural events that take you back in time, art exhibits featuring great new work, cutting-edge film premieres, it's all here.

  • Pickle Day: Every October, Orchard Street is filled with pickle vendors and pickle fans from everywhere can revel in the delights of everything pickled. This is a true celebration of the historic pickle and its prominent role in the history of New York City.
  • Egg Creams, Egg Rolls and Empanadas: An integration of Jewish, Latino, and Chinese culture, it’s an event like no other, and it takes place every June. Wondering what an egg cream is? Read our post on famous NY foods to find out! 
  • Taste of the Lower East Side: Hosted by the legendary Grand St. Settlement, this is a culinary celebration for everyone. Dozens of vendors come together to serve up their delights and carry on the rich tradition of the Lower East Side. 
  • Lower East Side Film Festival: This popular cinematic festival takes place every June.

LOWER EAST SIDE FOOD AND RESTAURANTS

The Lower East Side is well known for its dazzling array of delectable delights.

There is, of course, Katz’s Deli and Russ and Daughters (both the store on East Houston and the sit-down restaurant on Orchard Street)

There are also these amazing food shops written about above (and included in our Lower East Side Food Tour:

  • Yonah Schimmel's Knishery
  • Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery
  • The Pickle Guys
  • Kossar’s Bialys

Here are a few more recommendations, some more budget-friendly than others, but all worth checking out!

Scarr’s Pizza ($) 22 Orchard Street. A classic New York slice with loads of toppings.

The Meatball Shop ($) 84 Stanton Street. This counter-service joint features a build-your-own-meal menu, where you get to choose from a mouthwatering array of meatballs.

Shopsins ($) Essex Market at 88 Essex Street. You don’t want to miss this tiny breakfast and lunch café with the giant menu. The owner is famous for his sassy attitude.

Kotti Berliner Döner Kebab ($$) Essex Market at 88 Essex Street. A bit of Berlin in NYC!

Clinton Street Baking Company ($$) 4 Clinton Street. Considered one of the best brunch spots in the country, people come for world-class pancakes as well as every other fantastic delight.

Beauty and Essex ($$$) 146 Essex Street, Serves up terrific brunch and dinner in an ultra-cool venue.

Dirty French ($$$) 180 Ludlow Street in the Ludlow Hotel. Voted by the New York Times as one of the ten best new restaurants of 2014. Not only that, the mushroom mille-feuille was voted one of the best restaurant dishes of 2014.


BARS AND MUSIC

If it's nightlife you want, the Lower East Side is as good as it gets. Bursting at the seams with a vibrancy that is second to none, this hood is the archetype of gritty chic.

From dance clubs to pubs, posh lounges to dive bars, the Lower East Side has it all.

If it's music you want, it's music you will get. In the mood for some jazz? How about a little punk or maybe house? Need a rock & roll fix? Or maybe some great blues?

The Lower East Side has it all. Here are some of our top picks:

Drinking Spots

Live Music

  • Mercury Lounge  217 East Houston Street. A 250-seat live music venue since 1993. It’s where the band, the Strokes, got their start. 
  • Pianos NYC  158 Ludlow Street. Alternative rock venue.
  • Rockwood Music Hall - 196 Allen Street. A three-stage venue in 2005. Lady Gaga, Mumford & Sons, and Billie Joe Armstrong are just some of the top artists who have performed here.
  • Bowery Ballroom 6 Delancey Street. This standing-room-only venue has a capacity of 575 people. It opened in 1998. New York Magazine calls it the best music club in New York City.

LOWER EAST SIDE SHOPPING

MooShoes  78 Orchard St (at Broome St). Vegan-owned business that sells an assortment of cruelty-free footwear, bags, t-shirts, wallets, books and other accessories

Extra Butter  125 Orchard St (Delancey Street) Minimalist boutique featuring on-trend men's & women's streetwear, sneakers & accessories.

Self Edge  157 Orchard St. Upscale menswear outpost stocking designer denim & accessories in contemporary surroundings.

The Great Frog 72 Orchard St (Grand St.) Outpost of the famous London shop selling chunky, biker/rocker jewelry.

Assembly  170 Ludlow St. Designer clothing & vintage pieces, with a unisex vibe & house-brand items.

Edith Machinist  104 Rivington St Vintage boutique featuring a fashionable assortment of women's clothing, handbags, shoes & jewelry.

November 19  37 Orchard St. Chic homeware from around the world.


Bluestockings Cooperative  116 Suffolk St.  Worker-owned community space and bookstore with coffee shop.


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About The Author

Stephen Pickhardt

Stephen is the CEO of Free Tours by Foot and has overseen the transformation of a local walking tour company into a global tour community and traveler’s advice platform. He has personally led thousands of group tours in the US and Europe, and is an expert in trip planning and sightseeing, with a focus on budget travelers. Stephen has been published and featured in dozens of publications including The Wall Street Journal, BBC, Yahoo, Washington.org, and more.
Updated: January 26th, 2023
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