I’ll just say it: I love the Upper East Side.

I’ve heard grumbles and witnessed eye-rolls from people who see it as the land of Gossip Girl and old-money families — and those who think the far East Side is for recent college grads sharing studio apartments.

While there’s truth to every stereotype, the Upper East Side I love, the one that oozes with New York history and tradition, is finally pumping some blood that isn’t blue. I’ve even heard it said that it’s the next Brooklyn. It makes me laugh, but the prediction might not be too far off base as restaurateurs continue bringing exciting new spots to a neighborhood known for its resistance to change.

The Upper East Side, which runs from the edge of Central Park to the East River between 59th and 96th streets, is evolving — especially with the Second Avenue Subway line due to open in late 2016. Within the vast grid of streets and avenues are smaller enclaves, like beautiful Carnegie Hill and Yorkville.

Here are a few reasons why this proud and pioneering Manhattan mainstay is one of my favorite neighborhoods in New York:

Inside the Guggenheim Museum. (Photograph by Fatbooo, Flickr)

Inside the Guggenheim Museum. (Photograph by Fatbooo, Flickr)

The Museums:

Museum Mile on Fifth Avenue is anchored by the vast collections at The Met (my personal favorite is the Frick, housed in one of the street’s last remaining mansions) and Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, the Guggenheim. But one of my favorite UES experiences is browsing German and Austrian art at the Neue Galerie, followed by a slice of Sacher-Torte in Cafe Sabarsky. The permanent exhibition at the Jewish Museum, which tells the history of the Jewish people through more than 800 works of art, is also well worth seeing. And make sure to get your fill of the outrageously modern Whitney on Madison Avenue before it relocates to downtown in 2015.

The Shopping:

It’s a quintessential New York experience to stroll Madison Avenue, what just might be the most beguiling stretch of upscale shopping in the world, whether or not you’ve come to buy. I drool over buttery leather bags and handmade shoes in nearly every shop. Lexington, Third, and Second avenues are the other main shopping thoroughfares on the Upper East Side. My favorite finds include Mrs. John L. Strong, which sells distinct stationery and calendars in a tiny 100-square-foot shop, and Tender Buttons, a shop specializing in, you guessed it, buttons (believe me, it’s more interesting than it sounds). And you can’t visit this end of town without popping into The Corner Bookstore.

The Charm:

If you're looking to go big, book a table at Daniel. (Photograph by Zagat Buzz, Flickr)

If you’re looking to go big, book a table at Daniel. (Photograph by Zagat Buzz, Flickr)

When I have something to celebrate, I go to Bemelmans Bar (named for the beloved author and illustrator behind the Madeline series) at The Carlyle. Just try and hold back a smile when you see the murals covering the walls in this iconic Upper East Side establishment. Step into a bygone era at Lexington Candy Shop, a diner with an impressive display of old Coca-Cola bottles, or head to Via Quadronno, arguably the most idyllic coffee shop in the city, for a great cappuccino just a stone’s throw from Central Park.

The French Connection:

For a taste of France, New Yorkers head to Ladurée for the best macarons, or Orsay for classic brasserie fare. Demarchelier is the perfect neighborhood French bistro and is now serving a special “Vermont” menu, where all of the organic and grass-fed items are from Vermont farms. For the ultimate big night out, Daniel continues to surprise with new takes on French cuisine.

The Italian Elan:

The Upper East Side has so many wonderful Italian restaurants, including the rustic chic Sfoglia, the fancier Sistina, and the little gem, Spigolo. Sicilian-influenced dishes are the star at the warm, local’s-only 83 1/2 near the East River. But my newest favorite is the uber-friendly Antonucci, where every bite evokes the real Italy.

The assortment of cupcakes at Two Little Red Hens bakery. (Photograph by Robyn Lee, Flickr)

The assortment of cupcakes at Two Little Red Hens bakery. (Photograph by Robyn Lee, Flickr)

The Gourmet Shops: 

Eli Zabar has always been one of my heroes. Decades before there was such passionate interest in food, Zabar was sourcing the best-tasting ingredients locally and internationally. Though his last name has long been associated with the Upper West Side thanks to his father Louis’s eponymous specialty food store, Eli has made his own mark on the Upper East Side. His neighborhood empire includes E.A.T. (try the grilled cheese and tomato soup), the food emporiums Eli’s Manhattan and The Vinegar Factory, and the delicious restaurant TASTE.

The Bakeries and Delis:

When people stay at my apartment, I make sure to have a few small black-and-white cookies from William Greenberg on hand. The classic bakery Two Little Red Hens makes the best mini red velvet cupcakes in the city, while Lady M Confections‘ signature 20-layer Mille Crêpe is (almost) too pretty to eat. William Poll is a neighborhood institution, great for takeaway sandwiches. For a taste of the old German Yorkville, visit Schaller & Weber for sausages and smoked meats.

What’s your favorite thing about the Upper East Side? Leave a comment to share your two cents with the Intelligent Travel community.

 

Comments

  1. Emily Ryan
    NY, NY
    June 18, 2013, 7:32 pm

    I agree with all of this so much! I have lived in the 10021 zip code for almost 10 years now and this neighborhood is really starting to get awesome. SO many restaurants, cafes, bars, museums, etc….and the PARK! Central Park is my #1 favorite thing about living on the UES. FANTASTIC article.

  2. DMS
    Seattle
    June 19, 2013, 12:52 am

    I like the treed cross streets.

  3. Nora Walsh
    United States
    June 20, 2013, 4:24 pm

    Great roundup Annie. The Pond in Central Park is my fav place in the city. I consider the unofficial sanctuary of the UES! Also, afternoon tea at The Pierre’s Two E Bar/Lounge is a great stop along museum mile!

  4. Erica
    United States
    June 24, 2013, 10:04 am

    The filled cupcakes from Two Little Red Hens. Also Rizzo’s Pizza is amazingly thin and delicious :)

  5. James E.Poll
    N.Y.C.
    June 28, 2013, 10:05 am

    Lexington Candy is an institution&has great food&The BEST Lemonade&Milk Shakes in N.Y.Bravo

  6. Laura F.
    UES
    July 1, 2013, 4:38 pm

    Watching the sun rise in Charles Schurz Park is always an amazing way to start the day.

  7. Sherry
    Bristol
    August 16, 2013, 9:38 am

    Its a great neighborhood and the prices around here says so. The Crown restaurant is another charming intimate restaurant in the Upper East Side. Its one of my favorites when it comes to elegant French restaurant in New York that will not break the bank. See this for more details : http://worldtop7.com/us/the-crown-new-york-city/

    Bon a petit!

  8. Michael
    St. Louis, Mo.
    September 11, 2013, 8:50 pm

    Zitomer’s, across from the Carlyle on 76th. You can get anything. Anything along Madison Ave.

  9. Nic Brokenshire
    Kent, UK
    January 14, 5:37 pm

    Best place to stay on the UES? 1871 House at 130, E 62nd Street. A wonderful New York B&B named for the year it was built which oozes charm, great hospitality and friendly staff. Minutes from Central Park and Bloomingdales and seconds from the subway. What more could you want?

  10. JR
    United States
    April 20, 2:37 am

    I would have to say the apartment buildings on 5th Avenue and the townhouses on the side streets. The Met’s not too bad, either! :)