Things To Do in the Lower East Side
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.
- Things to See and Do
- Guided Tours
- Where to Eat
- Bars, Music, and Nightlife
- Other Things to Do in NYC
WHERE IS THE LOWER EAST SIDE
The Lower East Side is bounded by the Bowery in the west, the East River in the east, 14th St. in the north and East Broadway in 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.
We recommend using this link for directions to the tour starting point.
Be sure to check out our guide to navigating the New York City subway.
If you are planning to use the 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 walking tour: Lower East Side Self Guided Tour
137 East Houston Street Open daily, 9 AM-7 PM.
Start at Yonah Schimmel’s Knishes and have a knish (pronounced: [kə-nish]). This shop is located on Eldridge and Houston just off the 2nd Ave F train subway station.
If asking for directions, make sure to pronounce Houston Street like a local.
It is pronounced [House-ton], as the street in New York is named after William Houston, not after the namesake of the city in Texas Sam Houston.
Yonah Schimmel’s Knishery has been baking a dazzling array of big round delicious knishes since 1910.
Its namesake, Yonah Schimmel, a Romanian immigrant, started selling his wife’s knishes on Coney Island in the 1890s while training to be a religious scholar.
He then abandoned his religious callings and opened this store with his cousin, Joseph Berger.
Later, Yonah went back to religion, and Berger and his wife, Schimmel’s daughter Rose, took over the store.
These really are the greatest knishes known to mankind, round and baked, the way they oughta be.
Along with the traditional classics like potato and kasha, there’s sweet potato, spinach, mushroom, and even jalapeno.
In the mood for a sweet knish? They have blueberry cheese! Chocolate cheese! Apple and Cheese! Yum!
The dumbwaiter is one of the oldest in the city. That tin on the ceiling is original.
This iconic Jewish New York eatery also has egg creams, latkes, kugel, and many more delights.
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. Breathe it in. Eat something! Gefilte fish, sturgeon, herring, trout, salmon, bagels, white fish, caviar….
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.
That neon sign was made in 1951 and is one of the oldest in the city.
The keyword here is “Schmear” which means to coat a bagel with a small amount of cream cheese.
Russ & Daughters do also host musical events and New York musicians every so often.
Now we come to Orchard Street, named after James Delancey’s apple orchards. From here you can see the tenements. They are everywhere!
These buildings, typically 5 to 7 floors, 25 ft. across and 100 feet long were built in the mid-1800s to the early 1900s to house millions of newly arriving immigrants.
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.
Museum of Street Art (MOSA)
189 Bowery, inside the CitizenM Bowery Hotel
The free Museum of Street Art 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.
Fortunately, the museum starts on the 20th floor, so at least it is a walk down, not up!
MOSA is free to visit, but reservations are required. Make them here.
MOSA is open from 10 am to 5 pm every day. 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.
205 East Houston Street
When it comes to Jewish delicatessens, Katz’s is the undisputed champion.
This iconic eatery has been serving up some of the best pastrami and corned beef sandwiches in the world, not to mention great hot dogs, knishes, and knockwurst, since 1888.
It’s also where Harry met Sally. Read more about this NYC phenomenon here.
As you walk east on Houston Street, just past Avenue A, look across the street and you will find Red Square, a 130-unit apartment building.
Red Square + Lenin
250 East Houston Street
Now, look up. See that guy on the roof? Vladimir Lenin, one of the leaders of the Communist Revolution.
Next to him is Askew, a massive clock with out of sequence numbers.
“It (the clock) fit the building’s image as being a little off-center,’’ said one of the owners, according to a NY Times article.
Lenin (see close up image) purposefully faces Wall Street and the Lower East Side, according to one of the owners, to illustrate the contrast between capitalism and socialism.
Red Square (this building on East Houston Street) is named for the fall of the Soviet Union and was built just about then in 1989. Vlady has been up there since 1994.
Continue past Red Square and make a right on Norfolk.
Angel Orensanz Foundation
172 Norfolk Street
In the middle of the block stands the oldest synagogue building in New York City (fourth-oldest in America) and the country’s largest synagogue at the time of its construction (it could hold up to 1,500 worshipers).
The land had originally been part of Peter Stuyvesant’s estate.
Built in 1849 for Ansche Chesed (the people of kindness) in the Gothic Revival style, it was inspired by the Cologne Cathedral in Cologne, Germany.
It was the third Jewish congregation in New York City and the first German-Jewish synagogue in New York.
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. The building was designated a historic landmark by New York City in 1987.
Walk south on Norfolk until Rivington Street and make a right turn and walk half a block down.
126 Rivington Street Hours: M-Th: 8AM-10PM; Fri: 8AM-11PM; Sat: 10AM-11PM; Sun: 10AM-7PM.
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.
Recommendations: not easy. Put it this way: the first time you’ll try the chocolate chip pudding you might feel like you should be eating it in private.
Cupcakes: Pinch Me, Lemmon Yummy, Ooey Gooey. Pudding: Chocolate chip, banana, Chocolate Bomb. Basically, everything.
Continue to Essex Street. Make a left. Pass the Essex Street Market, which takes up the entire block. An indoor market since 1934, it will have a new home at the Essex Crossing in the not too distant future.
Stop at Delancey and Essex Street. James Delancey was a loyalist to the crown. He was kicked out before the American Revolution, his land was confiscated, but we still have Delancey Street.
Cross Delancey and when you have some, enjoy the film Crossing Delancey, a popular romantic comedy.
108 Rivington St. Hours: Sunday: 9 am – 6 pm, Monday & Saturday: 10 am – 6 pm, Tuesday through Friday: 9 am – 6 pm.
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!
When you leave the shop, with 25 pounds of your favorite teeth decayers, walk south on Essex Street until you come to Delancy Street.
Williamsburg Bridge (built 1903)
One of three bridges that link Brooklyn to Manhattan, the Williamsburg Bridge was the world’s longest suspension bridge until 1924.
As you cross Delancey, heading south on Essex, look to your left, and there she is!
The northernmost of the three bridges that link Brooklyn to Manhattan (from south to north think BMW — Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg) it transports folks back and forth via foot, bicycle, subway, and automobile, from Williamsburg, Brooklyn to the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
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.
On a nice day… we suggest biking or walking. From Manhattan: there are two lanes to enter: one for walking.
One for cycling. Enter both at Clinton Street and Delancey, and make sure you’re in the correct lane!
Seward Park High School and the former site of Ludlow Street Jail
350 Grand Street, currently the Seward Park Campus, with five different high schools.
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.
49 Essex Street, corner of Grand Street Hours: M-Th: 9 AM-6 PM; Fri: 9 AM-4 PM; Sat: closed; Sun: 9 AM-6 PM.
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 opened.
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, pineapple?
Cross Essex Street. Walk East on Grand Street.
367 Grand Street, since 1936 Hours: Open Every Day 6 AM-8 PM
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.
In the glory days of Bialys, there was actually a Bialy Bakers Association!!
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, bagels, bulkas, and pletzels all come fresh out of the giant oven.
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.
Bialy center is depressed but happily filled with garlic, poppy seeds, bread crumbs, or onions.
Other things to try: bulkas (small loaves), or pletzels (Jewish flatbread, with onion and poppy seed).
Walk a few doors east and you’re at the Doughnut Plant!
379 Grand Street Open daily: 6:30 AM-8 PM
In 1994, Mark Isreal said it was time to make his donuts.
He 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 by day.
Word caught on fast. People gobbled up more and more and so he baked cake filled, creme brulee, dough seed, and fresh fruit.
Then the time had come. He thought big and expanded.
There are stores on Grand Street, Chelsea and Brooklyn (just about to open!) The delicious donuts 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.
- Serious coffee!! Doughnut Plant serves coffee from Intelligentsia, Toby’s Estate and a seasonal guest roaster.
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.
LOWER EAST SIDE EVENTS
The Lower East Side is full of great celebrations all year round. From pickles to pancakes to petrifying, look no further.
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. Here are some standouts:
- 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. Don’t forget to take our Lower East Side Food Tour which takes you to the pickle guys, the last bastion of true pickledom on the Lower East Side.
- 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. On our Alternative Walk on the Wild Side East Village Tour, you’ll get a chance to try an egg cream at Gem Spa, the place where the egg cream was invented! What is an egg cream? Great question! Read the answer here.
- 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.
- Nightmare NYC: This Suffolk Street space becomes a terrifyingly fun haunted house every year from late September through Halloween. We pass right by it on our Lower East Side Food Tour and it’s very spooky!
- Lower East Side Film Festival: This popular cinematic festival takes place every June.
The Lower East Side is well known for its dazzling array of delectable delights. There is, of course, Katz’s Deli and there is also Russ and Daughters, both the deli on East Houston and the new restaurant on Orchard Street.
There is also our fabulously amazing food stops on our Lower East Side Food Tour:
- Yonah Schimmel
- North China Dumpling
- Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery
- The Pickle Guys
- Kossar’s Bialys
- The Doughut Plant
Click on our Self-Guided Lower East Side Food Tour for more details on these fantastic spots.
But that’s not all! Not even close! Here are a few more recommendations, some more budget-friendly than others, but all worth checking out!
- 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. Open late in case of an after-midnight craving. www.themeatballshop.com, Hours: Sun-Thurs, noon-2AM, Fri-Sat, noon-4AM.
- Kuma Inn – 113 Ludlow Street. A great South East Asian tapas spot is widely regarded as one of the Lower East Side’s best spots. www.kumainn.com
- Shopsins – 120 Essex Street,Essex Street Market. You don’t want to miss this tiny breakfast and lunch café with the giant menu. It’s right inside the Essex Street Market. Just before we cross Delancey on the Lower East Side Food Tour, we pass right by this one-of-a-kind eatery. The owner is famous for his sassy attitude and this establishment was featured in a documentary titled “I Like Catching Flies“. http://nymag.com/listings/restaurant/shopsins/, Hours: Wed-Sat, 9AM-2PM, Sun, 10AM-2PM, Mon-Tue-closed.
- An Choi – 85 Orchard Street. Great Vietnamese spot featuring pho and sandwiches.
- 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. Go! It’s worth the long wait. https://clintonstreetbaking.com/
- Beauty and Essex – 146 Essex Street, Serves up terrific brunch and dinner in an ultra-cool venue. http://beautyandessex.com/
- Dirty French (Ludlow Hotel) – 180 Ludlow Street, 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. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/31/dining/nyc-best-restaurant-dishes-2014.html
In a Category All It’s Own
- Sammy’s Romanian – 157 Chrystie Street, A NY Times critic’s pick of 2014, this classic Jewish Steakhouse is worth a trip. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/24/dining/restaurant-review-sammys-roumanian-steakhouse-on-the-lower-east-side.html
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.
The Lower East Side has it all: clubs and pubs, posh lounges and dive bars; big-screen TVs for your favorite ballgame; In search of great happy hours and great bar food? Craving a 4 am sandwich?
How does an afternoon microbrew sound? Or maybe you’re feeling more glass of wine at sunset or Bloody Mary Sunday Brunch? The Lower East Side will never let you down.
- The Magician – LES. From 5-8 p.m. $3.50 drafts. Cash only, 118 Rivington Street between Essex and Norfolk Street on the Lower East Side (212-673-785).
- Local 138 – 138 Ludlow Lower East Side from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. every day,
Other Recommended Bars
- Welcome to the Johnson’s – 123 Rivington Street http://nymag.com/listings/bar/welcome_to_the_johnsons/
- Top Hops – 94 Orchard Street, http://www.timeout.com/newyork/bars/top-hops-beer-shop
- Mercury Lounge – 217 East Houston Street, Originally, this was where the servants for the Astor Mansion lived. It has been a 250 seat live music venue since 1993 and is where the band, the Strokes, got their start. http://www.mercuryloungenyc.com/
- Rockwood Music Hall – 196 Allen Street, Ken Rockwood opened this three-stage venue in 2005. Lady Gaga, Mumford & Sons, and Billie Joe Armstrong are just some of the top artists who have performed here. http://rockwoodmusichall.com/
- Pianos – 158 Ludlow St, Alternative rock venue, http://www.pianosnyc.com/
- Bowery Ballroom – 6 Delancey Street, This standing room only venue has a seating capacity of 575 people. It opened in 1998. New York Magazine calls it the best music club in New York City. http://nymag.com/listings/bar/bowery_ballroom/
While shopping the Lower East Side has changed over the years, there are still some old-time neighborhood favorites worth the visit.
Fine Italian-made dress shoes for men can be had at Cellini Uomo. Celebrating all kinds of footwear for men in fine leather snakeskin, crocodile, and alligator. Select brands allow customization of leathers and skins.
133 Orchard Street | www.celiiuomo.com | (212) 219-8657
Discover winter and summer Fedoras year-round at A & N Headwear. This friendly hatter has been selling hats in his ultra-slim shop for many years: Wool felt, fur felt, royal beaver, velour, Panama straw. Brands include Stetson and Selentino.
145 Orchard Street | no phone or website | hours are unpredictable but is usually open in the afternoon
COATS & JACKETS (leather, fur)
The best time to buy fur and leather is always when it’s hot outside and no one is thinking about the cold. With over 40 years in business, Daniel’s Leather, the walls are lined with a huge variety of furs and leathers. If you don’t see it, ask if they have it in their warehouse. Custom requests are welcome.
Daniel’s Leather, Inc | www.danielsleather.com | (212) 674-8868 | Ask for Lou
BRIDAL & CORSET
Don’t let the window display detour you. Orchard Corset is one of the few remaining shops in the city with such a vast selection of underpinnings. Unlike ‘intimate apparel’ shops of today, you won’t find any underwear prominently displayed. Instead, this modest shop keeps everything under wraps, tucked away in boxes lined from floor-to-ceiling, stocking fine bras and panties — brands as Le Mystere, and Walcoal, in many styles you won’t find in department stores.
157 Orchard Street | www.orchardcorset.com | (212) 674-0786 | Sun – Thurs: 10am-6pm / Fri: 10am-3pm / Sat: closed
At Giselle, there are three floors full of racks and racks and racks of fine designer clothing! Brands include Basler, Bianca, Escada, Etro, Lafayette 148, Laurel, Leo Guy, Raoul, Sonia Rykiel, Stizzoli, Catherine Malandrino, Love Moschino, Ted Baker and many more.
143 Orchard Street | www.giselleny.com | (212) 673-1900 | Sun – Thurs: 9am-6pm / Fri: 9am to sundown / Sat: closed
Once the destination for getting a real deal on fine designer fabrics, upholstery fabrics, and draperies, the Lower East Side is still the place you can go and shave 50% and more off the retail price!
– Joe’s Fabric Warehouse has three full floors of the most current designer and imported upholstery fabrics, drapery fabrics and trimmings in stock. As well as upholstery services.
102 Orchard Street | www.oesfabrics.com | (212) 674-7089 | Sun-Thurs: 9am-6pm / Fri: 9am-4pm / Sat: closed
– Belraf dressmaking Fabrics | 159 Orchard Street | (212) 505-2106 – call ahead for hours
Written by Dante Salerno