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21 Fun Things To Do On The Upper West Side NYC

By Kylie Loyd & Jessie Festa. This Upper West Side travel guide contains affiliate links to trusted partners!

Looking for fun things to do on the Upper West Side?

Then you’re in the right place!

This NYC neighborhood is known for being home to an abundance of parks, important attractions like the American Museum of Natural History and Lincoln Center, and loads of local eateries, bars, and shops.

Not only that, but it’s considered one of the safest New York City neighborhoods and is top-rated when it comes to quality of life.

And if you still need a reason to make NYC’s Upper West Side your base, it’s much quieter and way less hectic than Midtown while still being well-connected to the rest of the city thanks to the many subway lines and buses — not to mention taxi, Uber, and CitiBike access.

That being said, you’ll find loads to do right in and around the neighborhood simply by wandering.

And to help you make the most of that time, the following Upper West Side guide outlines attractions, restaurants, hotels, and more!

NYC Travel Guide

But first, before we dive into some unforgettable Upper West Side Manhattan experiences, we invite you to grab a copy of Jessie’s NYC Top Picks From A Local Guide.

The printable PDF guide takes you beyond the popular attractions to discover a more local and lesser-known side of New York City.

Just a few highlights from the guide include:

  • Where to get creative java drinks — in beautiful Instagrammable cafes in NYC, too!
  • How to discover unique opportunities for exploring nature in New York City!
  • Ways to get off-the-beaten-track to explore a side of the city many tourists miss!

Once you’ve grabbed your copy, keep reading to dive into everything you need to know to plan an amazing trip to the Upper West Side New York.

The History Of NYC’s Upper West Side

Let’s kick off this New York City travel guide by backing up a couple hundred years.

If you’ve been to New York, you probably have noticed that each neighborhood in Manhattan has a very distinct feel. This didn’t happen by chance, but has evolved over time through each neighborhood’s unique history.

As for the Upper West Side, its history dates back to the 17th century when colonists claimed the land along Broadway, which at the time they called Bloomingdale.

In the 18th and 19th century, the Upper West Side evolved as the riverfront along the Hudson River was used for shipping, transportation, and manufacturing. With the formation of Central Park nearby, squatters began to move over to the Upper West Side, where shacks, squatter housing, and boarding houses became evident.

Evolution of the neighborhood continued as 9th Avenue (now Columbus Avenue) was established, and Columbia University was relocated to its current location in Morningside Heights (just north of the UWS). Riverside Park was formed, and eventually the subway expanded into the Upper West Side.

With the arrival of the subway in the early 20th century, residential development began to grow. Diverse communities made up the neighborhood with African Americans, Russians, Dominicans, Ukrainians, Cubans, and more.

With low rent at the time, the neighborhood began to attract young families and creatives, such as writers and artists, as well as newcomers to the city.  

Eventually in the ‘80s, the community was altered again as rent prices began to rise, income brackets limited the demographics that could move to the neighborhood, and hotels were renovated into co-ops.

Today, the Upper West Side is still controlled through income brackets, making it one of the wealthier neighborhoods in the Big Apple.

With a prime location near Central Park and ease of travel through multiple subway stations throughout the neighborhood, the UWS is a desirable place to live or visit.

Upper West Side neighborhood in Manhattan. Photo by Kylie Loyd.

Upper West Side Neighborhoods

Yes, you read that right. There are actually sub-neighborhoods within the Upper West Side.

The Upper West Side begins at 59th Street and ends at 110th Street, along the western border of Central Park.

It stretches from the Hudson River on the east, over to Central Park on the West, consisting of the Henry Hudson Parkway, Riverside Drive (or 12th Ave.), West End Avenue (or 11th Ave.), Amsterdam Avenue (or 10th Ave.), Columbus Avenue (or 9th Ave.), Broadway, and Central Park West (or 8th Ave.).

The sub-neighborhoods that tend to fall in the category of the Upper West Side include Columbus Circle, Lincoln Square, Manhattan Valley, and Morningside Heights.

This NYC neighborhood map can help give you a better understanding of the makeup of the Upper West Side and where it sits in comparison to other neighorhoods:

Manhattan neighborhoods including Upper West Side NYC
Manhattan neighborhood map. Photo via Roke~commonswiki/Wikimedia Commons.

Upper West Side Crime

Like any neighborhood in New York City, crime does exist. Luckily, the Upper West Side is fairly safe with fewer crime incidents than those in many other areas around Manhattan.

As always though, make sure you’re keeping your eyes and ears open for anything suspicious around you, and consider packing some travel safety essentials like hidden pocket garments to help you avoid pickpockets.

You can check out recent UWS crime information here.  

What Is The Upper West Side Like?

The Upper West Side is the place to go if you need to catch your breath from all of the hustle and bustle of New York City.

It has a small town, neighborhoody feel in the middle of a big city. Imagine peaceful, tree-lined streets with townhouses and brownstones, small shops, local restaurants, and hole-in-the-wall bars stacked next to each other on either side.

The neighborhood is bordered by the magnificent Central Park to the east, the Hudson River to the west, and is within walking-distance to Columbus Avenue, Amsterdam Avenue, and Broadway, all of which offer plenty of shopping, restaurants, cafés, and more.

Although there are plenty of local amenities and chic attractions to draw the adult crowd, this neighborhood is also very family-centric, providing a quieter location to bring or raise kids.

fun things to do on the Upper West Side NYC
Upper West Side in NYC. Photo by Kylie Loyd.

Where To Stay On The Upper West Side NY

If planning to stay in this pleasant neighborhood, Hotel Beacon is a gem.

One of the main draws of this Upper West Side boutique hotel is its fully-equipped kitchenettes in each room. Eating out in the Big Apple can be really expensive when visiting. Having the option to shop at the local markets on the UWS can be a huge money-saver and can help you have a more local NYC experience.

Additionally, the Hotel Beacon boasts beautiful views of the city and Central Park. Many visitors choose to hold events or weddings at the hotel for this reason.

Other amenities include laundry on-site, a fitness center, the Beacon Bar, and more.

Prices range from around $150 and up depending on room choice. They also offer special rates and discounts with various packages.

You can book your stay at the Hotel Beacon here!

Want to see other Upper West Side accommodation options?

Click here for a full list of local hotels!

Prefer self-contained stays?

Click here for a list of local rentals!

You can also check out this map:

Fun Local Things To Do On The Upper West Side

Wondering what to do on the Upper West Side to have a memorable time? Here are our suggestions:

1. Explore the Upper West Side with a local photographer

Need help capturing the best Upper West Side views and attractions — with you in the photos?

Jessie’s company NYC Photo Journeys offers private New York City photo tours that include a tour with a licensed guide as well as high-quality photos of your group to keep.

Or, if you’d prefer to explore sans tour and maximize the amount of photos you get, an NYC Influencer Shoot is an excellent option.

Email Jessie at [email protected] with inquiries.

Visiting Central Park is one of the popular things to do in Upper Manhattan
Visiting Central Park on an NYC Photo Journey. Click here to book your private photo tour!

2. See a show at Lincoln Center

Plan ahead or purchase last-minute tickets to a show at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, one of the top Upper West Side attractions.

You will find the American Ballet Theatre, the New York City Ballet, the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, and others performing here.

And while seeing a show here is always fun, it’s an especially great idea if you’re looking for rainy day activities.

3. Support local vendors at the Tucker Square Greenmarket

On Thursdays and Saturdays, head to 66th Street and Columbus Avenue to stock up on fresh produce and treats from various local vendors.

A few highlights of the Tucker Square Greenmarket include the honey from Ballard’s Honey, pastries from Bakers Bounty, and pickled vegetables from Kimchee Harvest.

4. Visit the American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History is an entertaining and educational attraction on the Upper West Side that’s great for the whole family and is a uniquely New York experience that shouldn’t be missed!

Even if you’ve been before, the museum changes its special exhibits on a regular basis, so you can go back again and again and see something new each time!

the American Museum of Natural History is one of tge top Upper West Side attractions
The American Museum of Natural History in NYC. Photo by Kylie Loyd.

5. Go shopping at the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle

At the gate to the Upper West Side, you’ll find over 50 retail shops and boutiques at the Time Warner Center.

Spend a few hours roaming this multi-level shopping center, perusing candles and scents at Jo Malone, high-quality planners and bags at Moleskine, and wellness items at Therabody.

Pro tip:

Stop at Whole Foods on your way out for a picnic lunch to take over to Central Park.

Not sure which green patch to settle on? Check out Turtle Pond, which offers a view of Belvedere Castle as shown here:

6. Shop underground at the Turnstyle Underground Market beneath Columbus Circle

Below the Time Warner Center and part of the 59th Street Subway at Columbus Circle, you’ll discover the Turnstyle Underground Market.

Small local independent vendors — some of which are just starting out — sell goods, food, coffee, and sweets to those passing by to get to the subway.

Note that this is before the subway turnstiles, so you do not have to pay to enter.

7. Find your next read at The Strand

You may have heard about the popular bookstore, The Strand, down near Union Square.

However, many people do not know that The Strand has a shop tucked away on the Upper West Side across from the American Museum of Natural History.

You won’t find the extensive, overwhelming number of books at this bookstore as you will at the original store, but you will find a solid selection of popular reads, employee top-picks, and more.

The Strand is the best Upper West Side book store
The Strand at Columbus Avenue on the Upper West Side. Photo by Kylie Loyd.

8. See a Banksy mural

On the wall of DSW on 79th street and Broadway you’ll find “Hammer Boy” — which was created by famed street artist Banksy during his 2013 NYC visit.

While most of the pieces he created while here have been defaced or destroyed, the owner of the DSW building has used glass to preserve this particular mural, which depicts a boy taking a hammer and swinging it toward an actual red fire hydrant on the street.

9. Catch a glimpse of Pomander Walk

Pomander Walk is a small Tudor village hidden on the UWS. It looks as though the small cluster of townhomes were transported straight from a European travel guide.

Although this Upper West Side hidden attraction is closed to the public, you can still catch a glimpse of Pomander Walk as you pass by the gate on West 94th Street between Broadway and West End.

Pomander Walk on the Upper West Side. Photo by Kylie Loyd.

10. Play and relax in Riverside Park

As stated above, one of the top things to do in the Upper West Side is spend time in nature, as there are many parks to be enjoyed.

One of these is Riverside Park, which stretches from 72nd to 158th streets along the Hudson River and offers some of the best views in NYC for free.

The park also has historic sites — like the Warsaw Ghetto Plaza — as well as sports fields, play and picnic areas, dog runs, a public pier, and the 79th Street Boat Basin cafe and marina.

Make sure to check the park calendar for events, too, like free yoga classes and birding tours.

11. See the beautiful Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine

Just north of Upper West Side “proper” in Morningside Heights, you’ll find the breathtaking Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, which dates back to 1892 when the church had its groundbreaking.

Spend time examining the stunning architecture — which showcases a mix of Romanesque Revival and Gothic Revival styles — or step inside to enjoy some quiet meditation in a beautiful space.

The stunning Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. Photo by Kylie Loyd.

12. Attend an event at St Paul & St Andrew United Methodist Church

St Paul & St Andrew United Methodist Church on the Upper West Side is known for being socially liberal and accepting of all people.

You can visit their church to attend one of their services — which are known for their inspirational sermons and prayers as well as their talented choir.

Additionally, you can check their calendar of events for happenings like Pajamas Prayer as well as family-friendly outings like baseball games, art classes, and cookouts.

13. Tour Central Park

A visit to the Upper West Side would not be complete without heading over to Central Park.

It is extremely easy to access Central Park from anywhere on the UWS, as the neighborhood stretches the length of the park from 59th Street to 110th Street.

The more popular areas of Central Park are located on the mid to southern end – Belvedere Castle, Strawberry Fields, Bethesda Terrace, The Mall, and Sheep Meadow, to name a few.

To really maximize your time, consider booking a Central Park tour, like:

Beautiful Central Park near The Lake. Photo by Kylie Loyd.

14. Go back in time at the New York Historical Society

The New-York Historical Society is a museum and library that dates back to 1804 when it opened as New York’s first museum. It houses art, objects, artifacts, and documents that tell the story of both NYC and the United States.

Along with permenant collections, you can check out rotating exhibits. At the time of writing, a few of these included “Cover Story: Katharine Graham, CEO”, “Safe/Haven: Gay Life in 1950s Cherry Grove”, and “So Ready for Laughter: Bob Hope and World War II”.

15. Explore Columbia University’s campus

Continuing north into Morningside Heights, you’ll stumble upon Columbia University, a prestigious private Ivy League institution dating back to 1754.

Step through the gates and explore the campus where many brilliant and inspiring people were educated, like former president Barack Obama, actress Julia Stiles, and novelist Jack Kerouac.

The outdoor campus is open to visitors, but if you would like a more in-depth visit, you can book a guided historical tour prior to stopping by.

Columbia University is one of the top attractions in the Upper West Side NYC
Columbia University Library in the Upper West Side of NYC. Photo via Canva Pro.

Food & Drink In The Upper West Side

16. Get a bagel from one of the top-rated bagel spots in NYC

Absolute Bagels on the Upper West Side is a local and visitor favorite.

Expect to stand in a line out the door, but know it’s completely worth every minute, especially if you get an everything bagel with scallion cream cheese paired with a sweet Thai iced coffee.

Oh, and one more thing:

Be sure to bring cash. This bagel joint does not accept credit card.  

17. Settle that sweet tooth at Magnolia Bakery or Levain Bakery

Craving something sweet after your scrumptious picnic in the park? You won’t be disappointed with a stop at Magnolia Bakery or Levain Bakery.

Magnolia Bakery, which is one of the most Instagrammable cafes in NYC, sells an assortment of baked goods like cupcakes, pastries, pies, and more.

This being said, their best-seller is the mouthwatering banana pudding, which comes in classic and chocolate varieites as well as a rotating monthly flavor. Even if you don’t like banana pudding, you’ll want to give this one a shot.

Levain Bakery also sells an assortment of baked goods, but the highlight here is really the enormous cookies.

Although they only sell five classic flavors — chocolate chip walnut, two-chip chocolate chip, dark chocolate chocolate chip, dark chocolate peanut butter, and oatmeal raisin — you can’t go wrong with any of them.

Eating a Chocolate Chip Walnut cookie from Levain Bakery on the Upper West Side. Photo by Kylie Loyd.

18. Grab a picnic lunch at Zabar’s

For many Big Apple locals, a popular draw to the Upper West Side neighborhood is Zabar’s, a gourmet emporium serving up oodles of olives, meats, cheeses, fish, pastries, and more.

Grab your picnic basket, browse the huge selection at Zabar’s, then stroll over to Central Park for lunch — a truly delicious experience and one of the top budget-friendly things to do in NYC!

19. Have a boozy brunch experience

There are so many great boozy brunch spots in the Upper West Side, like Calle Ocho, a creative Latin eatery known for their yuca bread, chilaquiles, and complimentary homemade sangria.

Another delicious option is Maison Pickle, a southern comfort eatery by the creators of Jacob’s Pickles that is also one of the most Instagram-worthy restaurants in NYC. Their menu is full of thoughtfully-made comfort dishes like buttermilk fried chicken with challah bread French toast and a hot Reuben dip on house-baked French bread with big dill pickles.

While their drinks aren’t unlimited, the booze selection is extensive, from craft cocktails (like the tasty mezcal-laced “Smoke & Fire”) to beer and wine by the glass or bottle to spirits sourced from around the world.

This eatery is truly delicious and is one of the most Instagrammable places in New York City!

Finally, Playa Betty’s offers a fun boozy brunch experience pairing Mexican dishes and California beach fare with unlimited margaritas.

20. Have a quirky Upper West Side meal

Love unique NYC restaurants?

Don’t miss Mom’s Kitchen & Bar Upper West Side, which has some truly interesting menu options like Bedrock Pancakes laced with Fruity Pebbles, a burrito wrapped in a pancake, Heavy Metal Fries topped with cheese curds and peppercorn gravy, and avocado toast topped with house Hollandaise sauce.

End your meal with one of their giant colorful milkshakes — and even make it boozy if you’re feeling adventurous!

21. Have a unique rooftop bar experience

One of the top things to do on the Upper West Side at night is visit a rooftop bar.

There are numerous options for this, though you shouldn’t miss SushiLab Rooftop, which serves up unique Japanese fare and suhi rolls.

Start with the avocado fries laced with shiso ranch dressing and yuzu zest before moving on to the Matcha Crunch Roll featuring spicy baked crab, shrimp tempura, avocado, and matcha-covered rice peals.

Or simply opt for The Lab Experiment, where you get 16 signature courses that delight all of your senses.

Upper West Side Tours

New York City Travel Insurance

When visiting New York City — or anywhere else in the world — make sure to get travel insurance.

One of the best travel medical insurance for travelers is SafetyWing as they’ve got a large network and offer both short-term and long-term coverage — including coverage if you’re traveling for months as well as limited coverage in your home country).

Additionally, SafetyWing is budget-friendly and offers $250,000 worth of coverage with just one low overall deductible of $250.

Click here to price out travel insurance for your trip in just a few clicks.

About The Author

Kylie Loyd, a former NYC resident and lover of all things New York, transitioned her big-city life to world-traveler when she became a military spouse. Today, she encourages military spouses living all over the world to get out and explore wherever their home base might be through her blog, Catch the Drift. When on [and off] the road, Kylie is passionate about staying fit and healthy – a topic she also includes in her blog to help other travelers do the same. You can find her on Instagram @catch.the.drift.

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