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Things to Do on the Upper West Side

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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, to shop, to stroll, and simply enjoy life.

There are plenty of interesting and fun things to do on the Upper West Side that it's worth a visit if you have time!


Overview

The Upper West Side is located between Central Park to the east and Riverside Park to the west. On its southern end, it is bound by W. 59th Street and Columbus Circle.

On its northern end, it is bound by W. 110th Street, where Harlem begins.

The Upper West Side neighborhood is a fairly affluent neighborhood that is more residential than commercial.

Upper West Side

Whereas its counterpart, the Upper East Side, tends to attract those working in the financial sector, the Upper West Side leans toward those in the arts and culture.

Its side streets are leafy and lined with brownstones and other charming residential buildings.

Its avenues are home to great restaurants, coffee shops, chain stores, boutiques and entertainment venues.


How To Get Here

By subway

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.

By bus

  • 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 12 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 and the Imagine Memorial to John Lennon, and Belvedere Castle.

Also near Central Park West is the Delacorte Theatre, known for Shakespeare in The Park, and Bow Bridge, one of the most photogenic sites in Central Park.

Read more about things to do in Central Park


The American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History is one of the great museums of the world and it's located in the heart of the Upper West Side, right across from Central Park at W. 81st Street.

Dinosaur skeleton

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.

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.


Zabar's Delicatessen

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.

Zabars

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.


Lincoln Center

You can eo a bit of everything at Lincoln Center 

This world-renown arts venue offers the chance for you to see the very best in dance (especially ballet), opera, theater, film, dance, and music.

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.

Lincoln Center

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 W. 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.

Dakota Building

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.


Levain Bakery

For those who love cookies, Levain Bakery is a must to satisfy a sweet tooth.

The Chocolate Chip Walnut and Dark Chocolate Chocolate cookies are divine. 

Levain Bakery

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. 

Emack and Bolios

For vegans, you’ve got Chocolate Pudding, Goa Mango, Mint Chocolate Freckle 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.

Turnstyle Underground

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.

St John the Divine Cathedral

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.


American Folk Art Museum

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. 

American Folk Art Museum

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.


New York Historical Society

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 first museum.

NY Historical Society

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 the Seinfeld gang met often.

Toms Restaurant

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.


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.


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.

Hotel Beacon

Here are some hotels 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.


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About The Author

Courtney

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”.
Updated: November 23rd, 2022
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