12 Things To Do In New York’s Upper East Side

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New York City’s Upper East Side is the neighborhood situated between Central Park and the East River, from 59th to 96th Streets. It remains as one of the most expensive residential neighborhoods in not only New York City, but the entire United States. Famous families who have spent generations here, including the Kennedys, the Rockefellers, the Roosevelts, the Whitneys and the Carnegies, just to name a few. Today it’s where celebrities like Donald Trump, Michael Bloomberg, Madonna, Joan Rivers and Mariah Carey all call home sweet home. See some of the world’s most important museums and get to know some of New York’s most famous moguls and socialites. Fashion-conscious shoppers come for the high-end boutiques that line Madison Avenue. Despite the areas somewhat snooty reputation, the area also has a lot for kids, including everything from unique play spaces to world-class art museums and parks to lovely little toy stores. Here’s some of the areas true must-sees.

1. Museum of the City of New York – Across from Central Park and facing Fifth Avenue, this historic museum was founded in 1923 and continues to help provide tourists and locals alike with a better understand of NYC’s deep roots. Showcasing over 750,000 items, ranging from prints and photographs to paintings and costumes, this museum has a little bit of everything. See several of Eugene O’Neill’s handwritten manuscripts, a complete room of Duncan Phyfe furniture, 412 glass negatives taken by Jacob Riis and donated by his son, a man’s suit worn to George Washington’s Inaugural Ball, and the Carrie Walter Stettheimer dollhouse, which contains a miniature work by Marcel Duchamp. Admission is $10 for adults, $6 for seniors and students, $20 for families and free for children 12 and under.

2. L’Absinthe – Dubbed as “the best French restaurant in Manhattan,” authentic, turn-of-the century Parisian cuisine is served alongside contemporary French dishes. L’Absinthe Brasserie is the perfect place for a cocktail at the zinc-topped wooden bar and then you can be pampered in their glamorous Parisian dining room, ensuring you and your guests the enjoyment of Chef Jean-Michel Bergougnoux’s light and flawless cuisine. Your meal is always complemented with a selection from their extensive, refined and award-winning wine list. Main courses range from $23 to $42.

3. Gossip Girl Sites Tour – Hello Upper East Siders and Gossip Girl fans, you will especially enjoy stepping into the life of the privileged prep school teens on a tour of Gossip Girl Sites, right?! This one of a kind tour allows you to live a day in the life of Serena, Blair, Chuck, Dan, Vanessa, and Nate on this three hour guided bus tour that visits more than 40 locations that were used in filming the hit TV series. Also find out behind the scenes information and little known facts about the cast and crew of Gossip Girl from local New York City actors and actresses who are the guides on this exciting tour. You will get to go on location at Henri Bendel where Blair and Serena shop, pass the Vera Wang boutique where Blair tried on her wedding gown and even visit The Empire Hotel, site of Chuck Bass’ newest home and business! Tickets are $42 per person.

4. Gracie Mansion – Before Gracie Mansion became New York’s official mayoral residence in 1942, Archibald Gracie’s Federal-style rural retreat had served as an ice cream parlor, an adult-education venue and the first location of the Museum of the City of New York. It was actually built in 1799 and his been nicely restored. Tours reveal the building’s historical faux finishes and its impressive collection of decorative arts. Also consider strolling the adjacent grounds of Carl Schurz Park, which features a rolling, multitier landscape that overlooks tumultuous Hell Gate—the intersection of the East River, Harlem River and Long Island Sound. General admission is $7 for adults, $4 for seniors, and students are admitted free of charge.

5. Whitney Museum of American Art – To establish the Whitney Studio Club in 1918, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney furnished a Washington Square brownstone with studio space, a reference library and a billiard table. The museum was officially founded in 1931 and today it occupies a temple on Madison Avenue. The Whitney Biennial features work by emerging artists, and the museum store’s Art-o-mat, a converted cigarette machine that vends original artworks for less than the price of a pack of cigarettes, as it encourages young collectors. Another component of the museum’s programming, the Whitney Live series hosts numerous unexpected performances. General admission is $20, seniors and students are $16 and ages 18 and under are free.

6. The Jewish Museum – The Jewish Museum has been housed in a chateau-style mansion since 1947, showcasing a collection of 26,000 objects, the museum explores four millennia of Jewish culture and identity through fine arts, Judaica and broadcast media. Highlights range from works by Andy Warhol and Amedeo Modigliani to fascinating remnants of defunct Jewish communities to historic radio and television broadcasts. Culture and Continuity: The Jewish Journey, comprises art, artifacts, ceremonial objects, photos and videos that trace the survival of Jewish people and culture through thousands of years of hardship. The gift shop specializes in gorgeous pieces of silver Judaica, diverse books, kitchenware, DVDs and much more. General admission is $15 for adults, $12 for seniors, $7.50 for studenst and free for children 18 and under. Pay-what-you-wish on Thursdays from 5:00-8:00pm.

7. La Maison du Chocolat – This magical Madison Avenue café features tennis-ball-size, just-crunchy-enough Rocher pralines and a tea room that offers chocolate lovers immediate gratification. One of the premier Parisian chocolatiers in New York City, with locations in Midtown, Wall Street and the Upper East Side, La Maison du Chocolat is known for elevating chocolate to a luxury commodity. The upscale boutique specializes in unique combinations as well as samplers that offer a range of chocolate experiences. A favorite is the Traviata Hat Box, which contains 16 pralines, a plain truffle gift box, an Akosomnbo dark chocolate bar and a Tobago metal gift box of 12 solid assorted chocolate squares for $145. Also check out A Chocolate Lover’s Guide to New York or our post on Chocolate & Beer: Top 10 Tours in America

8. Sex and the City Hotspots Tour – On this guided Sex and the City tour, follow in the footsteps of Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda! Eat where they ate, shop where they shopped, and gossip where they gossiped, as this sightseeing tour includes more than 40 locations from the show! Whether you’re a Sex and the City fan eager to learn more about your favorite show or a tourist looking for an entertaining way to see Manhattan’s best neighborhoods, the Sex and the City Hotspots tour never fails to disappoint. The tour lasts 3.5 hour and tickets are tickets are $49.

9. Serendipity 3 – Celebrities like Zac Efron, Kim Kardashian [as pictured at the beginning…she’s been seen dining here many times], Marilyn Monroe, and Andy Wady Warhol are just a few of the ones who can’t seem to get enough of this place, and it’s quite easy to see why. Its been featured in a variety of movies and on the Gossip Girl TV show. Founded in 1954, this place has more recently gardenered a reputation for its lavish $1,000 dessert called the “The Golden Opulence Sundae,” which Guinness World Records declared the world’s most expensive dessert and they also have the world’s most expensive hamburger, the $295 Le Burger Extravagant. Though they also have regularly priced merchandise for us commoners, with entrees ranging from the foot-long hot dogs to frozen drinks. They also have locations at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Washington DC and Boca Roton in Florida.

For more budget friendly options, consider trying Shake Shack, JG Melon, Roma’s Pizza, Mamagyro and Dos Toros Taqueria. For real New York City bagels at a great price, head to H&H Bagels.

10. The Metropolitan Museum of Art – The Upper East Side’s Museum Mile is best known for being home to The Met and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. The Met receives over five million visitors each year, making it the cities most popular single-site tourist attraction. It would take you your entire vacation to see the entire museum, so plan on just seeing the highlights and consider even taking their Museum Highlights Tour. The Met houses paintings from Renoir, Picasso and Rembrandt and the rarest and most expensive baseball card in the world, a 1909 Honus Wagner that is worth over $200,000. There is no true admission price, but it is recommended that you pay (it includes same day admission to The Cloisters) $25 for adults, $17 for seniors and $12 for students.

11. The Art Farm in the City – This one is more for locals with children (though tourists may want to come in for a look around). NYC’s only indoor petting zoo allows you to meet and feed a bunny or other critter, then sketch your new furry pal. They teach your children about nature, animals and how to better care for our planet, as well as responsibility through caring, loving and being in the company of animals. The indoor petting zoo houses bunnies, chinchillas, guinea pigs, lizards, turtles, birds, tropical fish and more. They offer a variety of camp options starting at just $15, along with preschool, classes, or book a party or buy a toy. They donate a percentage of the annual Art Farm in The City profits to Mari’s Children, their non-profit organization, which helps children all over the world.

12.  The Roosevelt Island Tram – Though techincially not completely situated in the Upper East Side itself, this aerial tramway carries passengers from the Upper East Side to Roosevelt Island for the price of one metro ticket–just $2.50. Take the aerial tramway to Roosevelt Island for a great day trip from the Upper East Side. Roosevelt Island is just two miles long, so it’s easy to explore in just a couple of hours. The Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park is an absolutely beautiful spot. The views of the East River and the Midtown Manhattan skyscrapers are truly spectacular and they’ll leave you snapping a million selfies. Other highlights of the island include Lighthouse Park, Chapel of the Good Shepherd and Main Street. This is one of the best spots in town to admire the sprawling Manhattan skyline!

What’s your favorite thing to do in the Upper East Side? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!

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Taylor Goldblatt

After years of research, travel, and dreams, I have created this website for people like you who want to experience the things that only America can offer. My passion is to explore and share America's greatest destinations and attractions. Follow me on Twitter @USCityTraveler for additional travel tips and ideas.

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