Company Logo - Home Link

Things to Do on the Upper East Side

Book A Guided Walking Tour

For tourists, the Upper East Side is known mainly for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Central Park.

But with many more interesting things to do, the Upper East Side that the neighborhood is worth visiting for a few hours. 

Below are some of the best things to do on the Upper East Side including museums, parks, shopping, snacking and more!


Overview

The Upper East Side is located between the East River and Central Park, bordered by 59th Street to the south and 96th Street to the north. 

It’s one of the largest neighborhoods of New York City, so large that it has many sub-neighborhoods such as Lenox Hill, Carnegie Hill and Yorkville. 

The neighborhood is known for being an affluent one, with its wealthiest residents living in immaculate and historic brownstones and on the leafy quiet side streets. 

Along the avenues, there are hundreds of medium to large apartment buildings, many of which are enormously expensive. But the residents of the area can easily afford an apartment here.

There are also quite a lot of historic buildings, though, for the most part, you should head to the Upper East Side for the museums and parks! 

Due to the huge population of the Upper East Side, there are thousands of restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues, so there are always things to do at night. 


How To Get Here

By subway

  • 4/5 express line and 6 local line
  • Q local line

Read our post on using the subway system.

By bus

  • Uptown/Downtown: M1, M2, M3, M4, M101, M102, M103, M15,
  • Crosstown: M57, M66, M72, M79, M86, M96 (numbers correlate to the street the buses travel on)

By ferry

East River Ferry Service Astoria route to E. 90th Street


1. Explore Green Pastures In Central Park

One appeal of the Upper East Side to so many New Yorkers is its proximity to Central Park. 

Central Park’s eastern border is Fifth Avenue and you can enter the park from many locations between E. 59th Street and E. 96th Street (the Upper East Side’s northern boundary).

Self-guided Central Park Tour

Among the sites located in Central Park close to 5th Avenue are the Central Park Zoo, the Loeb Boathouse, the Mall, the Great Lawn, and the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. 

Read more about what to do in Central Park


2. See Magnificent Art At The Met

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the main reasons tourists and locals head to the Upper East Side.

It is one of the most prestigious museums in the world and the 5th largest with a permanent collection of a staggering 2 million objects and works of art.

Sculpture garden at the metropolitan museum of art

The museum is huge and cannot be covered in one day. Choose a few of the wings housing European sculpture and decorative arts, medieval and Renaissance art, antiquities from the ancient world, and more. 

See our post on highlights of the Met collection to figure out in advance what you simply cannot miss!

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is at 1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street.


3. Get The Best Black And White Cookie In NYC

Two blocks away from the Metropolitan Museum of Art is William Greenberg Desserts, which opened in 1946. Generations of New Yorkers have come here for the delicious traditional baked goods. 

Their brownies were immortalized in the Mad Men TV series! But the real stand-out is their Black and White cookie, the unofficial cookie of New York City. 

These cookies have a light cake-like texture and are frosted with a light coat of vanilla and chocolate icing, hence the name.

black and white cookie

William Greenberg’s carries lots of other yummies like cupcakes, fruit tarts, pies and cakes. They are known for their traditional desserts from other nationalities and ethnicities.

Grab some rugelach, linzer tarts, schnecken, babka, hot cross buns and more!

William Greenburg is at 1100 Madison Avenue at 82nd Street.


4. Go Window Shopping

If you have an eye for designer clothing and/or a fondness for historic architecture, take a stroll along Madison Avenue between 60th and 80th Streets. 

Some of the boutiques on Madison Ave. are in stunning, historic landmarked buildings dating back to the 1870s and 1880s. The side streets nearby also have some hidden gems of the Upper East Side

Ralph Lauren shop

Stop by the Ralph Lauren flagship men’s shop on Madison Avenue between E. 71st and E. 72nd Streets. It’s housed in a huge French Renaissance Revival mansion built in 1898, modeled after a French Chateau! 


5. Stroll Along The East River In Carl Schurz Park

The charming Carl Schurz Park not only has a pathway that runs alongside the East River, but it also has exceptional landscaping maintained by a neighborhood gardening association. 

carl shurz park

It’s also home to Gracie Mansion, a magnificently restored 18th-century house that has been the official residence of the Mayor of New York City since 1942. Tours of Gracie Mansion are offered.

The park is located at East End Avenue between E. 84th and E. 90th Streets.


6. See The Lady In Gold At The Neue Galerie

This prestigious art gallery is dedicated to 20th-century Austrian and German art and design including paintings, furniture, sculpture, photography, and more.

The Neue is home to the world-famous The Lady in Gold by Gustav Klimt. 

Lady in Gold painting

The art is beautiful but so is the landmarked building housing the Neue Galerie, the former William Starr Miller House. 

This Louis XIII/Beaux-Arts style mansion was completed in 1914 by Carrère & Hastings, also the architects of the New York Public Library. 

Neue Galerie is at 1048 5th Avenue at 86th Street.


7. Have a Frozen Hot Chocolate at Serendipity 3

This decadent dessert shop opened in 1954 is loved by locals and celebrities alike. Marilyn Monroe, Andy Warhol, and First Lady Jackie Kennedy Onassis were frequent diners.

Serendipity 3's signature drink is the Frozen Hot Chocolate. It is exactly what it sounds like and it is oh-so-good. 

Serendipity 3

Several films and TV series have featured scenes in Serendipity 3, including, of course, the 2001 comedy Serendipity.

Naturally, Serendipity 3 makes an appearance in the quintessential series about being a teen in New York City, Gossip Girl.

Serendipity 3 is at 225 East 60th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues.


8. Get a Big Brown Bag At Bloomingdale’s

Bloomingdale’s (known fondly as Bloomie’s) opened in 1860! After being based on the Lower East Side for 26 years, it moved uptown to 59th Street and Lexington Avenue. 

In the 1920s, Bloomingdale's took over an entire city block and has been there ever since. The iconic Big Brown Bags debuted in 1973. 

Bloomingdales

Bloomie’s has amazing sales. Don't be daunted by the haute couture designers who sell there. You can get some deep discounts if you look for them

Bloomie’s is also one of the department stores that have an annual Christmas window display. There’s is among the most cutting-edge.

Bloomingdale’s is at Lexington Avenue between 59th to 60th Street.


9. See The Frick Collection

The Frick is not as widely known as other museums in New York City, perhaps because it is not a large museum though its collection is impressive.

The museum is housed in an elegant 18th-century mansion and its collection has some stunning artwork.

Frick Collection

You’ll see excellent examples of European sculpture and decorative arts and paintings by the “Old Masters”.

Two highlights are Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait, Johannes Vermeer’s Officer and Laughing Girl, and Sir Thomas Moore by Hans Holbein.

 The Frick Collection is at East 70th Street.


10. Relax At A Piano Bar 

There’s something about the Upper East Side that attracts piano bars. Spending a night at a sleek, dim-lit piano bar, sipping on classic cocktails is one of the very best things to do on the Upper East Side at night.

The most famous (and sophisticated) Upper East Side piano bar is Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel at 35 E. 76th Street.

Bemelmans Bar

Named for Ludwig Bemelmans, the creator of the Madeline children’s books, this cocktail lounge has a fine jazz trio, old-school vibes and killer cocktails. 

A less expensive alternative to Bemelmans is Brandy's Piano Bar at 235 E. 84th Street. Brandy’s is one of the best-kept secrets on the Upper East Side. 

This unpretentious lounge opened in the 1960s and has been a popular spot to go grab a drink and hear the staff there belt out show tunes. 


11. Visit Museum Mile

The stretch of Fifth Avenue between 82nd Street and 105th Street is known as Museum Mile which includes:

  • Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Guggenheim Museum
  • Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum
  • El Museo del Barrio,
  • Museum of the City of New York
  • Jewish Museum

You may already have the Met or Guggenheim on your list of museums to visit, but some of these other Upper East Side museums are worth a visit too. 

Cooper Hewitt Museum

The Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum is housed in a spectacular mansion formerly belonging to Andrew Carnegie.

This unique museum’s collection has over 210,000 design objects from over thirty centuries!

The Museum of the City of New York (MCNY) is for those who want to dig deep into the city’s history.

The museum puts on fantastic small-scale exhibitions and its permanent collection is impressive. The MCNY is one of many free museums in NYC.


12. Take The Roosevelt Island Tram

Riding the Roosevelt Island Tram may well be the best five-minute commute of your life!

The tram ride from Manhattan to this small island goes over the East River and provides an incredible 360-degree view of New York City.

Read more about taking the tram and visiting Roosevelt Island.

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: October 31st, 2022
Back to Top
cross