I currently live in the Upper West Side (UWS) and thought it might be fun to roundup the best things to do on the Upper West Side for anyone planning to visit my stomping grounds.
Sandwiched between Central Park to the east and the Hudson River to the west, the Upper West Side provides a very welcome reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the city. This is largely thanks to the residential feel of the neighborhood.
The tree-lined streets of the Upper West Side are home to a plethora of great restaurants, grocery stores and charming shops. It’s not hard to see why so many folks choose to settle down in this popular NYC neighborhood, especially families with young children.
But you’re probably not reading this list to determine if living in the UWS is right for you, you want to explore! And explore you shall. Let’s cover the best things to do in the Upper West Side to make sure your time is enjoyable.
Let’s get to it!
Visiting New York City? If you haven’t decided where to stay (yet) check out our helpful guide on Where to Stay in New York City (The best neighborhoods for first timers +2 to avoid). Don’t have time? Here’s our favorite hotel in NYC, hands down.
#1. See an original Banksy piece
Banksy is a famous (and anonymous) street artist known the world over for his thought-provoking street art. Many of his pieces have sold at auction for more than $1 million. And who could forget the infamous debacle that occurred in 2018?
As such, seeing an original Banksy piece almost feels like a privilege, as strange as that sounds. Which is why swinging by 79th St. and Broadway to see Hammer Boy is one of the best things to do in the Upper West Side.
The piece was created during Banksy’s 2013 visit to NYC and is protected by plexiglass to prevent vandalism. Whether you appreciate street art or feel spray paint should be illegal, Bansky is a household name and seeing one of his pieces is quite the unique experience.
#2. Visit the American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History is arguably the best museum in NYC for kids. This incredible science museum is home to 33 million specimens, yet only 3% are on display. (and even that amount can get quite overwhelming!)
Welcoming 5 million visitors per year and spanning all aspect of the natural world, the American Museum of Natural History in New York City is considered one of the greatest natural history museums in the world.
Guests are invited in by two massive dinosaur skeletons housed in the entry hall. From there, you can tour the impressive permanent collections or take a look at the exciting rotating exhibit.
Don’t miss the Hall of Ocean Life where you’ll have an opportunity to see a life-size model of a 94-foot blue whale! It’s an experience you won’t soon forget. Also, the taxidermy mammals are remarkable and have captivated both children and adults for years.
Must see at the American Museum of Natural History: Hayden Planetarium (one of the best planetariums in the world), the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life (for blue whale), the Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs (for the iconic Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton) and the Butterfly Conservatory (requires additional fee, but worthwhile).
For a helpful map of this top attraction in the Upper West Side, click here.
Address: 200 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024
You might enjoy reading: The 15 Most Exciting Museums in New York City
#3. Explore Central Park
We can’t talk about the best things to do in the Upper West Side without mentioning the masterpiece that is Central Park. It’s world-famous for good reason and there’s a reason it’s on everyone’s must-see list when visiting New York City.
Central park is the most beautiful park in New York City. How do I know? It’s the most filmed location in the world (and has #2 beat by a mile). Spanning more than 840 healthy acres, Central Park is an architectural feat that few can resist falling in love with.
In terms of the top attractions on the Upper West Side portion of the park, here’s my personal recommendations:
- The Shakespeare Garden (especially in the spring, during tulip season)
- Belvedere Castle
- Strawberry Fields
- Bethesda Fountain & the Mall
- Sheep Meadow (for a picnic, an iconic NYC experience!)
If you’d like some guidance during your first visit to Central Park, I suggest reading 15 ICONIC Things to Do in Central Park, a helpful post that highlights the top spots in the park.
#4. Order a lox bagel at Barney Greengrass
I’m reluctant to mention Barney Greengrass because the place is already so popular among locals, but I’d be doing you a disservice.
Dating back to 1908, Barney Greengrass is an Upper West Side institution famous for their knock-out smoked fish. No, seriously, U.S. Presidents requested it directly. They churn out some of the best bagels and lox in NYC and the UWS is lucky to have them.
My husband and I have a tradition of starting every Saturday morning by splitting a bagel from Barney Greengrass, we enjoy them so much we return on a weekly basis!
Further Reading: 15 Mouth-Watering NYC Bagels that Validate the Hype (Based on Firsthand Experience)
#5. Get a world-famous cookie from Levain
The bewitching aroma of Levain Bakery’s cookies have put this beloved bakery on the map. Originally started in the Upper West Side the bakery spread like wildfire throught NYC and other US cities. Rarely, in a city offering so many food options, does a place stand so far above the rest but Levain Bakery is one of those exceptions.
This famous NYC bakery churns out the BEST cookies in New York City, so you can’t afford to miss it if you’re in the mood for something sweet. They keep the menu fairly small (five cookies and a few baked goods) which makes ordering easier.
Apart from the cookies, I’m also a sucker for their oatmeal raisin scone. I can’t resist the temptation and order one every single time. Everything from here is so satisfying.
There’s no place to sit down so you’ll need to take your cookie to go, but don’t worry — passing by the folks in line with your bounty in hand makes you feel like a celebrity!
Fair warning, these incredible cookies will reappear in dreams.
#6. Enjoy a performance at Lincoln Center
The Lincoln Center is home to the Metropolitan Opera House, New York Philharmonic, New York City Opera, New York City Ballet, the School of American Ballet, Julliard School of Music, the Chamber Music Society and the Film Society.
In other words, the Lincoln Center is the cultural capital of the Upper West Side. The venue sits on 16-acres and consists of five concert/theater buildings, a library, band shell and two outdoor plazas.
This is the place to go to see world-class opera, theater, ballet and jazz. Therefore, thankfully, there’s never a shortage of exciting events to attend.
One of my absolute favorite shows held at the Lincoln Center is the Nutcracker ballet, which plays during the holidays. It’s a can’t-miss in NYC during the holidays.
#7. Gawk at the place John Lennon called home
You don’t need to be a Beatles fan to know about John Lennon and while exploring the Upper West Side, you can take it a step further. Head to the corner of 72nd St. and Central Park West to see the place he called home.
The building is a stone’s throw from one of the top attractions in Central Park, Strawberry Fields — a memorial to John Lennon.
The most prominent feature of Strawberry Fields is the Imagine Mosaic, which is often adorned with flowers and serenaded by live musicians playing famous Beatles songs.
This mosaic was designed by Yoko Ono (Lennon’s widow), and gifted to New York City by the city of Naples. The well-received gift speaks to Lennon’s legacy and his impact on the world.
Although Strawberry Fields was intended to be peaceful, it’s very popular. Expect crowds regardless of when you visit. This is one of the top attractions in Central Park and most folks make an effort to see it, as should you.
Location: Near entrance at West 72nd Street
#8. See the 5th largest church in the world
Construction may have started in 1892 but St. John the Divine is still technically an unfinished church. (Hence the popular nickname – St. John the Unfinished)
That doesn’t stop it from being the largest church in New York City and the fifth largest church in the world, though!
Most famous for its commandeering size and well-executed Gothic architecture, there’s a reason Columbia students flock to the steps like moths to a flame during the summer season. Simply being in the presence of this church feels important.
This is one of the only churches in New York City that charges an admission – $10 per person for a self-guided tour or $15 for a tour guide. It’s a fair price for admission.
The church is grand inside, with ceilings reaching impressive heights of 232 feet. Make sure to tour the garden as well because it’s beautiful and well curated. Also worth mention, this beautiful NYC church is further removed from the more touristy parts of the city so it’s not as crowded as most of the other churches you’ll find in New York City.
Interesting fact: James Baldwin’s and Nikola Tesla’s funerals were held at this church. As was Eleanor Roosevelt’s memorial service.
Location:1047 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10025, United States
Further Reading: The 14 Most Breathtaking Churches in New York City
#9. Visit General Grant’s Tomb
Ulysses S. Grant was a decorated Civil War General and the 18th President of the United States. Grant’s wish was to be buried next to his wife when he passed. The request seems simple enough, but it wasn’t honored. His options for a final resting place were limited because women were not allowed to be buried in notable military cemeteries at the time.
When Grant died from throat cancer in 1885, the mayor of New York offered to have him buried in NYC. His wife, Julia Grant, supported the offer and a large fundraising initiative took place to build what would become the largest tomb in North America.
Today, visitors can pay their respects to President Ulysses S. Grant (and his wife Julia) by visiting his tomb in the Upper West Side. Seeing Grant’s Tomb in person is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in the Upper West Side, especially for history buffs.
You can get free tours of the mausoleum through the National Park Service.
Further Reading: 20 ICONIC New York City Buildings Everyone Should Know
#10. Explore Columbia University
Founded in 1754, Columbia University is the fifth oldest institution in the country and one of the most prestigious universities in the world.
The list of important people that have attended Columbia is a mile long, including President Barack Obama, Warren Buffett and Amelia Earhart.
Touring the impressive Ivy League university is one of the best things to do on the Upper West Side. Visitors are welcome to explore the grounds on their own, but to get access inside the buildings you’ll need to book a guided tour in advance.
P.S. Make sure to swing by Absolute Bagels (cash-only establishment) while you’re in the area, these are my favorite bagels in New York City!
#11. Catch a show at the Beacon Theatre
The Beacon Theatre is easy to miss if you don’t know to look for it, which seems like an odd statement considering the size.
Opened in 1929, the theater takes up an entire city block and seats 2,600. The strangest part is that experiencing a performance at the Beacon Theater feels like an intimate experience, and the interior is downright stunning. Plus, the acoustics are top-notch and the roster of famous performers is mind boggling.
The Beacon Theatre has hosted the likes of Bob Dylan, David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, Mariah Carey, Duran Duran, Ringo Starr, Coldplay, Tom Petty and Eddie Vedder, just to name a few..
In addition to musicians, the theater has hosted President Bill Clinton, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and returning visits from Jerry Seinfeld.
With such a high concentration of impressive names, it’s no wonder why catching a show at the Beacon Theatre is considered one of the best things to do on the Upper West Side.
#12. Visit the West Side Community Garden
Located on 89th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues, the West Side Community Garden (WSCG) is a true gem. Locals often consider lounging here one of the most relaxing things to do in the Upper West Side.
Originally founded in 1976 to address an eyesore (a neglected trash-strewn vacant lot), the garden is privately owned and run by volunteers that rely on donations and grants.
The garden is a joy to visit any time of year, but it truly shines in the spring. More than 15,000 tulips adorn the garden in the most colorful display, it’s one of the best places in NYC to see spring blooms.
#13. Brunch at Jacob’s Pickles
The Upper West Side has no shortage of great brunch spots, but one that clearly stands out is Jacob’s Pickles.
From the mastermind that started Maison Pickle, comes a more casual eatery that specialized in brunch fare. Swing by for traditional southern food (like fried chicken and waffles) and craft cocktails.
We love taking out of town guests here. Just make sure you make reservations in advance, getting a table during the weekend can feel like an impossible task.
#14. Visit the New-York Historical Society
The New-York Historical Society was founded in 1804, making it the oldest museum in NYC. This is yet another great activity for history buffs in search of epic things to do in the UWS.
Located right next to Central Park, the museum houses a great amount of interesting artifacts and documents that focus on NYC’s unique history. You’ll also be able to see some pretty fascinating artifacts, like the calf brace worn by Franklin Roosevelt.
Check the current exhibits to see if anything sparks your interest, they have some of the most interesting speakers and events.
Also worth mention, there’s a charming restaurant attached to the museum that is worth a stop. It’s a seasonally-inspired Italian restaurant and can be found on the corner of Central Park West and 77th Street.
#15. Check out the views at Columbus Circle
Named after Christopher Columbus, this iconic traffic circle acts as a gateway for the Upper West Side. But what most folks don’t realize is the importance of this integral intersection, allow me to elaborate.
Columbus Circle serves as the official starting point from which all official distances to and from NYC are recorded. In fact, United Nations officials visiting NYC on business are required to stay within a 25-mile radius of Columbus Circle.
Located near Columbus Circle, no visit to the Upper West Side is complete without popping into the Time Warner Center. Home to 50+ retail shops, this is a popular shopping spot that comes equipped with a Whole Foods market at the ground level.
Pro Tip: Clean public restrooms are hard to come by in NYC, so take advantage of the restrooms located in this mall.
You might enjoy reading: 18+ Jaw-Dropping Views of NYC (For All Budgets)
#16. Peruse the local farmers markets
The Upper West Side is home to a handful of quality farmers markets but there’s two that stick out. The Tucker Square Greenmarket takes place in Tucker Square on Thursdays and Saturdays. Also, the 77th/79th Street Greenmarket takes place on Sundays.
Head over for fresh seasonal veggies and other delights, like cider donuts, fresh goat cheese, wild-caught fish, pickles and delicious honey.
Not only will you find fresh eats, the markets also serve as rendezvous between local artists and the public. You’ll be able to find art for your apartment or an authentic and unique New York City souvenir to bring home to a friend.
#17. Go shopping at Zabar’s
Founded in 1934 and serving New Yorkers for 80+ years, Zabar’s is quite possibly the most beloved grocery store in New York City. It’s hard to imagine a more old-fashioned grocery store in the Big Apple, so swing by and elbow your way through amidst locals to see why folks love living in the UWS.
Found on the corner of Broadway and West 80th, this family run grocery store is a true New York experience. They have a vast selection of items to choose from — everything from smoked fish, a surprising assortment of cheeses and a delectable bakery I simply can’t get enough of.
My husband and I never pass up an opportunity to order a bagel with lox (salmon) while we’re in the area. It’s irresistible and reasonably priced.
P.S. Zabar’s is a great place to stock up on picnic items before heading to Central Park.
#18. Stroll Riverside Park
Situated along the Hudson River in the Upper West Side, Riverside Park is often considered Manhattan’s most scenic waterfront park and I can’t say I disagree.
As a current resident of the UWS, I tend to split my time between Central Park and Riverside Park. Opting for Riverside Park when tourist season is in full swing and Central Park feels crowded.
Riverside Park feels like a real gem because it has all the splendor you need from a park in New York City, but without the crowds.
In fact, the first plans drafted for Riverside Park were drawn by the famous architects responsible for Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux.
Stretching from west 59th Street to 181st Street, the park spans 400 acres. It’s full of healthy trees that offer ample shade, plenty of park benches, and even has some charming gardens to explore. (like the famous garden shot at the end of You’ve Got Mail)
Riverside Park is especially magnificent during the spring season when the 4-mile waterfront esplanade is ablaze with fragrant spring blooms.
Further Reading: 15 ICONIC New York City Parks
#19. Enjoy an easy evening at Vin sur Vingt
Vin sur Vingt translates to “wine over twenty”. It’s a play on words referencing Vingt / Vingt, which is a perfect score on tests for young French students (20/20). Everything about this authentic Parisian wine bar oozes with French charm. One of my favorite things to do on the Upper West Side is to park at an outdoor table at this cute wine bar.
Offering an impressive rotating menu of 50 wines by the glass, you’re sure to find something that suits your Francophile fancy. Pair your wine with French-inspired appetizers and you’ll be reminiscing about Paris in no time.
Make sure to have a good friend in tow because the hours slip by when the cold rosé hits the table. But bear in mind, the Upper West Side location has no reservations — it’s first come, first served.
#20. Have a romantic date at the Arthouse Bar
The Arthouse Hotel is a bit of a hidden gem in the Upper West Side but not for long. They’ve generously opened up their lobby by transforming it into a cafe and bar inspired by the aesthetic of speakeasies of the 1920’s.
During the day the lobby is a kosher cafe selling pastries and all the caffeinated drinks you need to get you through the day. Need a place to work? They check that box too – offering WiFi and plenty of comfortable seating in a charming and bright space.
In the evening the Arthouse Bar dims the lights and turns into a romantic date-night spot. Whether you’re enjoying a jazz band, comedian or just pleasant company, there are few better things to do in the Upper West Side than stopping by.
Plus – if you get hungry the Arthouse Bar makes delicious pizzas. Let yourself get comfortable (it’s not hard to here) and spend a few hours unwinding after a long day.
Address: 2178 Broadway, New York, NY 10024
#21. Wander your way around the American Folk Art Museum
The Upper West Side has served as sanctuary for underprivileged artists for most of its existence. Therefore it’s only fitting visiting the American Folk Art Museum is one of the best things to do on the UWS.
What makes folk art different from “traditional” art (whatever that means), is that folk artists are self-taught and don’t receive formal training. The musuem strives to encourage artists to color outside the lines (figuratively speaking).
The musuem gives stage to pieces that span more than 400 years and represent nearly every continent. Visitors get a taste of both the universal and unique life experiences that shape art — rather than the rigid rules of established art institutions.
#22. Revel at the West Side Comedy Club
If laughter is really the best medicine then consider me as healthy as a horse (no, seriously that’s a real saying). I can credit this to one of my favorite things to do on the UWS, visiting the West Side Comedy Club. Only a few blocks from my apartment, I’m constantly enticed by the thunderous laughter from Amsterdam Avenue.
Having hosted comedic powerhouses such as Jerry Seinfeld, Jessica Kirson and Bill Burr, this comedy club doesn’t shy away from up-and-comers either. Check out the new talent showcases offered on Saturdays or the “Not Ripe Bananas” shows hosted every Tuesday to watch comics try new material.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous (after a few beers) try you hand at the open mics session! If you’re not at that point yet sign up for a comedy workshop instead.
Regardless of whether you’re planning to perform or simply looking for entertaining things to do on the Upper West Side, you’re sure to have a good time. All I ask is that if you see me up there, save your tomatoes for the next guy!
Where is the Upper West Side?
Just as the name suggests, the Upper West Side is located on the west side of Central Park, in the upper portion of Manhattan. As mentioned earlier, the neighborhood is sandwiched by Riverside Park on the west side and Central Park on the east side.
The starting point of the Upper West Side is Columbus Circle in the south and the ending point is 110th street in the north. The neighborhood is massive, which is why there’s never a shortage of great things to do in the UWS.
The neighborhood is well connected by transit, with two subway lines to choose from: the 1,2,3 and the A/C/B/D, which means you’ll have an easy time getting anywhere you need to go.
But the best way to explore the neighborhood is not from a subway car, but rather with your own two feet. I strongly suggest walking around as much as possible. That way you can really soak in why people adore this NYC neighborhood so much.
Famous Buildings in the Upper West Side
The Ansonia building stands as a defining beacon for the Upper West Side and greets visitors entering the neighborhood from the 72nd Street subway station. Originally designed as an opulent hotel when it opened in 1904, this building is not without history.
Home to a plethora of big names (like Babe Ruth), this famous Upper West Side building was where a group of eight White Sox players agreed to rig the 1919 World Series by intentionally losing the game for $10,000 per player.
This event, which is coined Black Sox Scandal, transpired in the room of baseman Chick Gandil. All eight men were banned from professional baseball and being considered for the Hall of Fame.
The San Remo
Arguably the most famous silhouette in Central Park’s skyline, the San Remo is one of the most iconic buildings on the Upper West Side. Built in 1931, the two towers have become synonymous with NYC. And fun fact – the building has served as home to a long list of celebrities.
Commissioned by none other than William Waldorf Astor, the Apthorp stands as a testament to the glamour of old New York. The Renaissance Revival exterior is striking but it’s the charming courtyard that keeps residents lured in. Take a peak at this building when you’re in the area! You’ll instantly understand why it’s considered one of the most beautiful buildings on the Upper West Side.
Upper West Side Best Things to Do (Post Summary)
- See an original Banksy piece
- Visit the American Museum of Natural History
- Explore Central Park
- Order a lox bagel at Barney Greengrass
- Get a world-famous cookie from Levain
- Enjoy a performance at the Lincoln Center
- Gawk at the place John Lennon called home
- See the 5th largest church in the world
- See General Grant’s Tomb
- Explore Columbia University
- Catch a show at the Beacon Theater
- Visit the West Side Community Garden
- Get Brunch at Jacob’s Pickles
- Visit the New-York Historical Society
- Check out the views at Columbus Circle
- Peruse the local farmers markets
- Go grocery shopping at Zabar’s
- Stroll through Riverside Park
- Enjoy an easy evening at Vin sur Vingt
- Have a romantic date at the Arthouse Bar
- Wander your way around the American Folk Museum
- Revel at the West Side Comedy Club
Map of the best things to do on the UWS
Let us know if we missed anything, cheers!