A guide to the Upper West Side: one of Manhattan’s most underrated neighbourhoods

One of New York City’s most interesting neighbourhoods can be found just west of Central Park. Complete with some of Manhattan's most opulent architecture, delightful tree-lined streets and an impressive amount of cultural institutions, it’s a shame that this neighbourhood often gets overlooked by visitors when touring the city. Spanning from West 59th street all the way to West 110th street, Manhattan’s Upper West Side is brimming with culture and authenticity and atmospheric timelessness. Let us show you how to spend a day exploring this often underappreciated chunk of the Big Apple.

The Upper West Side in Autumn

- © Francois Roux / Shutterstock

Bagels

If you’ve come to New York hoping to taste as many authentic bagels as possible, then look no further than the Upper West Side. The neighbourhood is packed with incredible bakeries, mom & pop shops and delis. Barney Greengrass is an obvious must. Originally established in 1908 in Harlem, the legendary deli shop moved to its current home at 541 Amsterdam Avenue in 1929, and has been a New York staple ever since. The business continues to be family-run, establishing itself as one of the most legendary American Jewish food joints in the country. It would be rude not to drop in and grab yourself a cream cheese and lox bagel. Zabar’s is another Upper West Side staple. Located at 80th & Broadway, the business was started by Louis and Lillian Zabar in 1934. Proudly serving the very best Jewish American delicacies, you can find anything at Zabar’s and it’s a challenge walking out without more than what you originally went in for. Everything is delicious, and of course, so are the bagels. Zucker’s Bagels & Smoked Fish on Columbus Avenue is a neighbourhood favourite. They’ve got anything you could want on your bagel at a highly convenient location.

Architecture

What makes the Upper West Side such a recognisable part of the city is its iconic architecture and magnificent townhouses. Largely developed in the early 20th century, the neighbourhood has a distinctly historic feel. Don’t be afraid to stroll around Columbus and Amsterdam and get lost amongst the gorgeous buildings and townhouses. Some specific buildings to look out for include the likes of The Dakota, located on 72nd and Central Park West, the San Remo on Central Park West, the Ansonia on 73rd street and the Apthorp on West End Avenue.

View of the San Remo from Central Park in Autumn.

- © Francois Roux / Shutterstock

Shopping

While the Upper East Side is more widely regarded for its shopping options, the Upper West Side has its fair share of delightful stores. When it comes to bookstores in particular, visitors are spoiled for choice. Head to Westsider Rare & Used Books for an eclectic, and slightly chaotic collection of second hand books that line the walls of this tiny store. Located at 2246 Broadway, the store sits at the heart of the neighbourhood, offering a large selection of novels from all genres. The unique aspect of the books sold here make for wonderful souvenirs of your time in the city. 

The Strand on Columbus is a smaller rendering of the iconic independent bookstore located at 12th street. This “little sister” location is completely charming, as it doesn’t attempt to compete with the main store, but rather seeks to bring its own unique feel and slice of literary culture to the area. While it is definitely smaller than the main Strand bookstore, the Columbus Avenue location is very well stocked with all genres, new releases and recommendations. It’s also a great place to shop for stationery or merch (we’re particularly fond of their diner-style mugs). 

Both locations are ideal to shop books based in New York, whether you prefer Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Age of Innocence, or even Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, there’s something for everyone. 

Culture

What we love most about the Upper West Side is its wealth of cultural points of interest. Moreover, the diversity of those cultural hubs is what makes the area even more special to explore. 

First on this list is the New York Historical Society. Founded in 1804 by eleven members who wanted to commemorate their experiences in British-occupied New York, the purpose of the Society was, and still is, to collect and hold on to pieces of the city’s history. This mission is continued today, hundreds of years later, collecting objects, artefacts and any sort of evidence that tells the story of New York. Located on Central Park West, between 76th and 77th Streets, you can’t miss the beautiful building the Organization calls home. They constantly put on some of the most compelling exhibitions in the city at any given time, even though they often get overlooked for some of the bigger museums. They are open daily (except for Mondays) from 8am to 5pm, and you can find out more about planning your visit on their official website.

Outside the New York Historical Society.

- © DW labs Incorporated / Shutterstock

Next, you simply can’t miss the majestic Lincoln Centre while touring the Upper West Side. With its dazzling modernist architecture and triptych builds, this centre for the Performing Arts is undoubtedly the neighbourhood's cultural crowning jewel. With 13 constituent structures, each more interesting than the other, unmissable highlights include the Metropolitan Opera House, the Juilliard School, and the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. 

There’s so much to see at Lincoln Centre, from ballets and operas to films and concerts. Find out more about what’s on during your visit here. And make sure you see the Opera House lit up in the evening, it is truly a sight to behold. 

The Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Centre.

- © BLAZE Pro / Shutterstock

Another standout of New York cultural life is the American Museum of Natural History. A family favourite, this museum was opened in 1869 and has continued to capture the imagination and curiosity of adults and kids alike to this very day. With an extraordinarily wide and diverse collection, as well as many events and exhibitions, the Natural History Museum makes for a perfect cultural experience when visiting the neighbourhood. The Museum is located at 200 Central Park West, and is open daily from 10am to 5:30pm. Find out more about visiting the museum on their website.  

The American Museum of Natural History.

- © Ravenash / Shutterstock

Where to stay

Located only 500 metres from the American Museum of Natural History, Arthouse Hotel is our hotel of choice for anyone looking to stay in the neighbourhood. It’s modern, roomy and very conveniently located - what more could you want!

Arthouse Hotel New York
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Arthouse Hotel

A lovely hotel located in the Upper West Side, New York.
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