There are several interesting things to do on the Upper East Side, so if you haven’t visited it yet, be sure to add it to your itinerary. It’s one of the must-visit neighborhoods in Manhattan!
This affluent area is home to some of NYC’s wealthiest residents, and famous families like the Rockefellers have lived here. With its beautiful location and impressive landmarks, it’s not surprising that the Upper East Side attracts the most prestigious people in the city.
Of course, the UES is a great place to explore as a tourist or out-of-towner, and you can find hidden gems on the Upper East Side that you can’t see anywhere else. From historical attractions and cultural institutions to the lovely views of the East River and Central Park, there is something for everyone.
So, spend some time browsing the luxury shops, eating a gourmet dinner, and discovering the 10 best places on the Upper East Side with this guide.
1. Walk through The Met, one of the best things to do on the Upper East Side
First, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the top museums in New York City and the entire country. It’s a huge museum with over two million works of art, so you can’t see everything in one visit. If it’s your first time here, check out the Egyptian and Roman galleries, which have some of the most impressive pieces and artifacts in the world.
The Met’s art collection spans the globe, and it has temporary exhibits throughout the year. Along with paintings by masters like Pablo Picasso, George O’Keeffe, and Edward Hopper, you can also see a costume gallery and an extensive collection of medieval art.
Moreover, the museum is open late on Fridays and Saturdays for after-hours events. It’s one of the best date spots on the Upper East Side, with live music and talks accompanied by wine.
2. The Guggenheim Museum, one of the best places in the Upper East Side
Another Upper East Side museum that you can’t miss is the Guggenheim. It’s one of the most iconic buildings in New York thanks to its undulating architecture. It was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright to be a “temple of the spirit”, so from the outside, it looks like a long white ribbon or a spiral seashell.
Inside, the museum features a continuous ramp that winds its way up to the higher levels. Various galleries appear on each floor, and the entire rotunda is bathed in natural light thanks to the skylight on the ceiling. The building is recognized by UNESCO as one of the best examples of Frank Lloyd Wright’s 20th-century architecture.
In addition to its famous appearance, the Guggenheim houses prime examples of modern art and the most important art movements of the 20th century. Here, you can explore the Abstract Expressionist compositions of Vasily Kandinsky, the Post-Impressionist works of Van Gogh, and a beautiful Impressionist collection with pieces by Monet, Degas, and others.
3. Visit other institutions along the Museums Mile
If you’re interested in other museums in Manhattan, then take a walk along the Museum Mile, a 1.2-mile stretch along 5th Avenue. Starting from Central Park’s southeast corner, walk up 5th Avenue and pop into any museum that looks interesting.
For example, The Frick Collection is inside a gorgeous Gilded Age mansion and houses a collection of Renaissance art and early 20th-century drawings, paintings, and decorative arts. Continue past The Met and the Guggenheim, and you’ll find the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, which is inside the Andrew Carnegie Mansion.
Next door, The Jewish Museum is another great institute that preserves the culture and legacy of Jewish culture through a distinguished collection of drawings, paintings, photographs, and other exhibits.
The Museum of the City of New York is also worth visiting as it’s one of the best free museums in NYC. Here, you can learn about the history and growth of the Big Apple through art exhibits and dioramas. I also recommend El Museo del Barrio for its incredible collection of Latin American and Caribbean art, with a special focus on Puerto Rican artists. It’s included in the New York Pass, so don’t miss it.
Some other museums to check out in NYC’s UES are the National Academy Museum and School and the Neue Galerie, which displays German and Austrian art.
4. Central Park, one of the most beautiful places on the Upper East Side
Central Park is one of the best places on the Upper East Side since you can enjoy it all year round. There are so many things to do in Central Park, so it’s a good idea to plan what you want to do before coming here.
Of course, the open green spaces are a huge draw for locals and tourists. Whether you want to have a picnic, get some exercise, or just people-watch, this is the place to do it. The Great Lawn and the Sheep Meadow are two popular spots, although it’s also worth stopping by The Lake. This waterway is surrounded by some of the park’s most famous landmarks, like Bethesda Terrace and Strawberry Fields, the John Lennon memorial.
If you’re visiting with kids, check out one of the playgrounds or take a ride on the Central Park Carousel. All ages will enjoy the Conservatory Garden and Wollman Rink, which is open for ice skating in the winter.
During the spring, you can view the blooming cherry blossoms from Belvedere Castle, and in the summer, watch a Shakespeare in the Park performance. There are also several delicious restaurants on the outskirts of the park, making this another one of the best date spots on the Upper East Side.
5. Ride the Roosevelt Island Tram, something to do in the Upper East Side as a family
Riding the Roosevelt Island Tram is a fun thing to do in NYC as a family, and a great way to see all of the Upper East Side neighborhoods from above.
This aerial tram travels 250 feet above the East River and connects Manhattan to Roosevelt Island. While most people take the tram for the panoramic skyline views, you can also explore the island, which has a visitor center, a lighthouse, a public park, and colonial landmarks like the Blackwell House.
Also, if you want a different perspective of the city, on the way back to Manhattan, you can ride the New York Ferry. Either way, if you’re not sure what to do on the Upper East Side, the tram is something that’s easy and affordable. It runs daily, usually every 15 minutes, and costs the same as the New York City subway.
6. Carl Schurz Park, a little-known place on the Upper East Side
One of the best hidden gems on the Upper East Side is Carl Schurz Park. Spanning 15 acres along the East River, this public park is a nice alternative to Central Park. Here, you can take advantage of fewer crowds, a waterfront breeze, and beautiful views.
The park was named after Carl Schurz, the Secretary of the Interior in the early 20th century. Today, it’s a welcoming green space and a nice change of pace from the bustling streets and imposing buildings of Upper Manhattan. Also, thanks to its location, you’ll get a lovely view of Roosevelt Island, Randalls Island, and the Triborough Bridge.
This Upper East Side park is also home to the Gracie Mansion, the official residence of the New York Mayor, and it’s open for tours every Wednesday. Other fun things to do here include picnicking and people-watching, walking or biking along the East River Greenway, and hitching a ride on the 90th Street Ferry. The park also has two dog runs and a playground, so it’s super family-friendly.
7. Randalls Island, another cool place to visit on the Upper East Side, NYC
Although you can see Randalls Island from Carl Schurz Park, taking a quick trip to the island is another cool thing to do on the Upper East Side.
Back in the mid-19th century, the island was commonly used as a location for various psychiatric hospitals and rehabilitation facilities. Today, it has sports fields, picnic areas, playgrounds, and a golf course. It’s also home to Icahn Stadium, an Olympic training facility for track-and-field athletes.
Another recreational area here is Randalls Island Park, which has scenic biking and jogging paths along the East River waterfront. At the southern end of the park, you can cross the Little Hell Gate Bridge, which goes across a salt marsh. It’s a unique wetland environment where you can see crabs, ducks, and egrets.
So, if you’re looking for an Upper East Side activity that’s off the beaten path, drive over the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, take the subway, or ride the 35th Street Ferry over to Randalls Island.
8. Grab a hot dog at Papaya King, a popular thing to do on the Upper East Side
While you’re enjoying all the things to do on the Upper East Side, you’ll need to stop somewhere for a bite to eat. While there are great restaurants in this area, you also can’t miss a stop at Papaya King, a legendary establishment in all of Manhattan.
This is where you can try a New York-style hot dog, one of the best foods in NYC. While there are hot dog carts all over the city, the most famous dogs are at Papaya King at E. 86th Street and 3rd Avenue, which first opened in the 1930s.
If the name Papaya King sounds like a strange name for a hot dog stand, that’s because it didn’t initially sell hot dogs. When it first opened, the shop specialized in papaya smoothies and other tropical fruit drinks. However, when an influx of German immigrants arrived in the Big Apple, the store shifted gears and added frankfurters to the menu.
Many other food vendors followed in Papaya King’s footsteps, but the original is still a crowd favorite and serves some of the best food on the Upper East Side. Along with several varieties of hot dogs and specialty franks, the shop also serves curly fries and knishes, so it’s the perfect spot for an afternoon snack.
9. Stop by Levain Bakery and other sweet shops on the Upper East Side
With so many delicious bakeries in NYC’s Upper East Side, you must grab a sweet treat during your visit. One of the best is Levain Bakery, which has awesome black & white cookies, a New York staple. The bakery is at 83rd Street and 3rd Avenue and, in addition to cookies, it sells cakes, pastries, freshly baked bread, and vegan and gluten-free options. You can also stop in here for a coffee, tea, or hot chocolate to revive you as you walk around the UES.
Van Leeuwen Ice Cream is another one of the best places on the Upper East Side to get dessert. Located on 2nd Avenue between 84th and 85th Streets, this ice cream shop offers dairy and dairy-free flavors, including unique creations like malted milkshake & fries, marionberry cheesecake, and honeycomb. The shop prides itself on using the freshest ingredients and making its ice cream French-style, with lots of eggs for extra richness.
Lastly, if you’re not sure where to eat in the Upper East Side, the Lexington Candy Shop at 83rd Street and Lexington Avenue is my top recommendation. Contrary to its name, this place is a luncheonette, so you can tuck into a filling and delicious meal here. Established in 1925, the restaurant is like a time machine that transports you back to the days of soda fountains and NY egg creams. Take a seat in a booth or on a barstool and dig into breakfast, lunch, or an ice cream sundae.
10. Park Avenue Armory, an interesting place on NYC’s Upper East Side
Finally, the Park Avenue Armory is a one-of-a-kind attraction in the Upper East Side that you should check out. This multi-functional building is one of the last remaining privately-built armories in the country, serving the U.S. National Guard.
The Armory was built in the Gothic Revival style and is a National Historic Landmark, and while it’s beautiful from the outside, it’s worth going inside. In addition to being used by the New York Army National Guard and several veterans organizations, the Armory is an alternative art space representing all kinds of art forms and creators.
Throughout the year, the Armory hosts dances, one-act plays, art installations, and other performances. It’s also a gallery space for various artworks, furniture, and other decorative arts. Currently, the Armory is open for public tours which you must book in advance here.
A guide will take you through the performance spaces, the National Guard drill room, and historic period rooms, which reflect the building’s former use as a social club. Without a doubt, it’s an interesting thing to do in the Upper East Side if you have the time.
Where to stay on the Upper East Side, NYC
The UES in NYC is one of the best places to stay in New York City, thanks to its well-to-do residents, elegant buildings, and pretty views of Midtown Manhattan. These are my top recommendations if you want to stay in this area:
- The Pierre – one of the best hotels in NYC with 5-star facilities and views of Central Park.
- The Lowell – this luxurious NYC hotel has spacious suites, a fireplace lounge, and a gourmet restaurant.
Upper East Side New York map
To finish up, here is a map of the Upper East Side, New York to help you plan your trip. It includes all the attractions I mentioned, as well as my recommended hotels.
If you have any questions about the best places in the Upper East Side, or you’d like to suggest an activity, leave me a comment below. I’d be happy to hear from you! Have a wonderful time in the UES!