Things to do in Chinatown, NYC
Even if you’re a native or longtime New Yorker, venturing to Chinatown might feel like you’ve escaped to another country. A day in this section of the city promises a fresh dose of culture, adventure, and amusement. But Manhattan’s Chinatown is much more than a leading tourist attraction. The neighborhood has the largest Chinese population in the Western Hemisphere, and it’s been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2010.
Bordering Little Italy, the Lower East Side, Civic Center, and Tribeca, the area’s boundaries are not well defined and keep inching their way in all directions as the neighborhood’s population grows. While Chinatown’s maze of streets can be packed with residents and visitors, that’s part of the charm. It’s by far one of the most unique and dynamic neighborhoods in all five boroughs, and everyone should visit at least once. Make your way downtown and explore the heart of Asian culture in Manhattan. Here are six things to do in Chinatown, NYC.
Shop for Asian specialties.
Food is a commodity in Chinatown and it’s available for sale in open-air markets and specialty shops. Buy fresh seafood, meat, fruit, vegetables, and herbs specific to Chinese culture. Also find a stockpile of Asian art, antiques, jewelry, handbags, and plenty of other one-of-a-kind gift items. Be sure to check out Golden Jade Jewelry, and Lin Sister Herb Shop––a haven for Chinese medicinal herbs and teas.
Of Course, Eat Dim Sum.
Similar to brunch, this Asian-Style meal began as a Cantonese custom in local teahouses and is the quintessential culinary activity in Chinatown, NYC. Go-to spots include Dim Sum Go Go, Ping’s, Joe’s Shanghai, and the beloved Nom Wah Tea Parlor, a veteran on the New York dining scene since 1920.
Photograph Street Scenes.
Choose any street in Chinatown and you’ll find plenty of photo ops. You’ll truly feel like you’ve wandered to a foreign land and readily be able to capture the neighborhood, people, and culture on film. A few of the most colorful streets include Mott, Pell, Worth, and Doyers, so grab your camera or smart phone and start snapping.
Hang Out in Columbus Park
Sit for an afternoon in this shaded park on Mulberry Street between Bayard and Mosco for a true cultural experience. Watch Tai Chi; listen to locals play and sing Chinese folk songs; observe Chinese chess and card players; play basketball; take in the sights and sounds of this welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of downtown. At the lower end of the park, you’ll see “Five Points,” featured in Gangs of New York, where the city’s first tenements stood. Five Points was once considered the most dangerous neighborhood in the city’s history. (But don’t worry, that was in the 1800s.)
Visit the Mahayana Temple.
Located across from the Manhattan Bridge on Canal Street, the Mahayana is the largest Buddhist temple in Chinatown. Donned in red, pink, and green inside, the faux pagoda features a 16-foot-high Golden Buddha statue on a lotus flower, and colorful panels telling his life story. Donate a dollar and get a rolled rubber-banded fortune as a souvenir of your visit.
Head to Chatham Square.
Eight streets converge here: Bowery, Doyers, East Broadway, St. James Place, Mott, St. Oliver, Worth, and Park Row. (I bet you never heard of some of the streets before!) See the Kimlau Memorial Arch, a monument built to honor the Chinese-Americans who died in World War II. Also nearby is the First Shearith Israel Cemetery on St. James Place. Dating back to 1683, this is the oldest Jewish cemetery in New York City. Just east of Chatham Square on Division Street, notice Confucius Plaza, where a Confucius statue stands.
Chinatown in Manhattan is one of a list of Chinatowns in New York. The most well known are Flushing and Elmhurst in Queens, and Sunset Park in Brooklyn.
Have you visited Chinatown in NYC? Please share your experience in the comments.
Chatham Square photo by LuHungnguong – Own work, CC BY 3.0.