After you see Times Square, the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center, there is still so much more to explore and experience in New York City. One slice of New York life that I love sharing with friends and family who visit is a walk through the Upper West Side – one of Manhattan’s most-beloved neighborhoods and one of the city’s most graceful and beautiful locations.
Ready to see NYC’s favorite neighborhood like a local? Here are the highlights of my favorite walking tour. Enjoy it on your own. It features all you need in order to craft your own day of genuine New York moments:
You arrive at West 72nd Street and Broadway after taking the 1, 2, or 3 subway on the IRT line to get there. This subway stop is known as, “The Gateway to the Upper West Side”. Take it all in – you are now only moments from realizing that while Times Square may be the epicenter of New York to the world this is the heart of Manhattan to everyone who discovers it or calls it home.
Walk north from West 72nd to West 74th Street along the east side of Amsterdam Avenue. Listen – that is New York quiet: a muted roar interrupted rhythmically by the sound of delivery trucks and cabs bouncing along potholes, their sound magnified into deep booms by the elegant Florentine Renaissance palazzo landmark building you see to your left, known today as the Apple Bank for Savings, and by the pre-war landmark building standing above you on your right, previously known as The Berkeley.
Peek in each storefront as you walk. When you reach the original neon Amsterdam Cleaners sign just before the corner of West 74th, recognize that this family-owned Chinese laundry has been a mainstay of the this Upper West Side block for decades – its comforting scent of clean, starched steam has billowed onto the sidewalk for over 50 years hinting of neighborhood continuity in a city of constant change.
Make a right turn at West 74th Street to enjoy two Upper West Side delights – sweets eating and stoops sitting.
Time for an Upper West Side Treat: Stoops & Sweets:
Join the line in front of Levain Bakery, purchase something warm, gooey and delicious along with your favorite hot beverage then step back outside quickly: the Upper West Side may be low-key and charming but people are still in a rush, especially when it comes to reaching pastry.
Once back on the sidewalk, stroll west just a few steps. Choose a brownstone building that you like best. Sit for a few moments and enjoy. Let the pleasure of watching the world go by one local, one curious dog, one cranky neighbor at a time sink into your being. Much of what is best in New York is enjoyed when you stop chasing it and let it walk right up to or just past you. Sightsee with your treats from your sun-warmed step for a little while.
A Palace of Scandal and a Cathedral of Cash:
Walk west to Broadway along West 74th Street. Turn left and walk toward West 73rd Street feasting your eyes on that grand, bizarre building that dominates the skyline to your right between West 74th Street and West 73rd Street. That is The Ansonia, once home to legends of the silent screen, to opera stars, to scandal, to a rooftop farm, the notorious (or notoriously fun) Plato’s Retreat, to Bette Midler performances and so much more.
At the corner of West 73rd Street you recognize your subway stop but from this perspective you can appreciate that it is much more than a place for arrivals – it’s a place to stay awhile. It’s Verdi Square, peaceful and pretty and not at all like it was in the 1970s when it was the drug haven featured in The Panic in Needle Park.
Walk into the Apple Bank for Savings though you’re tempted to hurry past. This is no ordinary bank. Inside you are standing under a glorious vaulted 65-foot ceiling in the hushed ambiance of what could only be described as a cathedral to cash.
Big Sky, Great City:
Back outside, cross west on Amsterdam to walk along West 73rd Street toward Columbus Avenue. Here you find beautiful brownstones and varied architecture along both sides of the street.
When you reach Columbus Avenue, turn left to walk toward West 77th Street. Enjoy the bustle of the neighborhood, alive at every hour of the day, every day of the week and take in a sight you only catch in certain pockets of New York – sky! The low-rise buildings make this part of New York feel airy and spacious even though it is a densely populated area of the city.
At West 77th Street turn west and walk toward Central Park. On your left is the American Museum of Natural History, built on park-like grounds in 1877. On your right is prime real estate, elegant apartment buildings where uniformed doormen welcome New Yorkers home each day.
Cross Central Park West and enter the park at West 77th Street. Watch for speeding bicyclists as you cross toward the lake. Meander along a little path that will take you to a rocky outcropping that you’ll enjoy climbing for quintessential New York skyline views of Central Park South and Central Park West.
Photo Ops & Landmark Treasures:
Stroll the park – bearing east toward picture perfect scenery at Bethesda Fountain and cocktails with a lake view at The Loeb Central Park Boathouse before you cross Central Park in a westerly direction again to exit Central Park at West 72nd Street. Before you cross Central Park West, stop and look up at the buildings before you – each one a landmark treasure. Several are among the nation’s first-ever skyscrapers. Each one is home to some of the city’s most illustrious citizens and one, The Dakota, is forever linked with the death of John Lennon. The cost for apartments in the buildings you see from this corner have reached astonishing heights: price tags of $30 to upwards of $80 million have begun to seem New York normal for the area.
Shop ‘Til You Drop:
At the corner of West 72nd Street and Columbus Avenue meander south by making a left turn and zig-zag your way toward Lincoln Center, dropping in on designer shops, cup cakeries, boutiques and more just for fun. Enjoy the small-town-with-elegance feel of the Upper West Side and feel the rhythm of non-postcard city living enter your being.
“So this is what it would feel like to live in New York,” you’re likely to say by the time you reach West 69th Street. By the time you’re facing the spraying fountain at Lincoln Center, standing at the hub of New York cultural life, you may begin thinking about trading in the space and affordability of living anywhere else for the hum and burn of New York energy that paying for an over-priced walk-up apartment would afford. The city is intoxicating. You may be just a little drunk on it now. It’s time for a bite to eat.
All That Glitters:
Walk south to West 59th Street at Columbus Circle. Walk into the Time Warner building to stand on the third and second floor balconies overlooking the intersection of avenues just below and the view of 5th Avenue in the glossy distance beyond but don’t linger too long. There is yet another dazzling view for you to enjoy just across the street.
Enter the Museum of Arts and Design at 2 Columbus Circle. If West 72nd Street is “The Gateway to the Upper West Side” this is its stylish exit.
Walk to the elevator where you will push every floor on purpose. As the elevator door opens on each floor on your way to the penthouse restaurant, Robert @MAD, you will be able to catch sight of captivating displays and installations at a glance. By the time you’ve reached the 9th floor you will have completed the world’s fastest museum tour ever. Fascinating glimpses will inspire you to make a mental note to return for a proper visit.
Your Grand Finale:
When the elevator opens on the top floor, you will step out into the rosy glow of Robert @MAD and suddenly realize you are seeing the most epic view of the Upper West Side that the city has to offer.
Look closely and you will realize how much territory you’ve covered.
You will see the terra-cotta-tiled roof of the Apple Bank for Savings in the distance where you began your day in the environs of the West 70s. You’ll see Columbus Avenue, Central Park West, Lincoln Center and Central Park plus hectic, pounding Broadway where yellow taxis define each corridor that crosses into the next. Hopefully you’ll enjoy knowing that you earned that view, learning its details, extravagances and simplicity one footstep at a time. Celebrate with champagne, a cocktail and something hot and incredible to sustain you through what will surely continue to be a day of authentic New York exploration.
Visiting New York soon or planning to guide family and friends through NYC on their next visit? Reach out to me in the comments section below or follow me on Twitter @citygirlwrites – I love sharing tips and creating customized itineraries for everyone who comes to New York. For more NYC tips and self-guided walking tours visit citygirlwrites.blogspot.com. Happy Travels!