Looking for some off-the-beaten-path, unusual things to do in NYC for your next trip? I highly recommend adding the Lower East Side to your next NYC weekend. More specifically, if you have even just a long weekend, consider filling your entire NYC itinerary in this neighborhood. There are plenty of things to do on the Lower East Side to keep you busy without having to head uptown. Here’s how I spent an entire, incredible NYC trip on the Lower East Side.

Check out my travel vlog about the best things to do in the Lower East Side NYC

The Lower East side is located in the southeast corner of Manhattan and has been known as the gateway neighborhood where new immigrants first land after arriving in the United States.  This area is bordered by The Bowery to the west, East Houston to the north, the East River to the east and Canal Street to the south.  It’s bordered by Chinatown, Nolita and the East Village neighborhoods.  

If you’re looking for a unique and off the beaten path NYC Experience, the Lower East Side is the place to go.

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What are the Best Lower East Side Walking Tours and Lower East Side Food Tours?

Start out with a Lower East Side walking tour to get yourself acclimated to the layout of the streets and the historical landmarks. There are many walking tours in NYC, but check out Big Onion walking tours, and peel back hundreds of years of Lower East Side architectural, political, and social history. For Lower East Side Food Tours, I recommend Nice Guy Tours for a fun, delicious way to get to know the history of the best restaurants in the Lower East Side, from pastrami to pastry. Ask for Dante, the owner of Nice Guy Tours, and remember to start out on an empty stomach. 

What are the Most Unique Museums in NYC on the Lower East Side?

Most often, Manhattan’s Lower East Side is not the first stop for museum-goers on their first trip to NYC. But some of the coolest things to do in the Lower East Side are the museums — off-the-beaten-path and quirky, historical, and moving. The Lower East Side is chock-full of unique museums, and The Tenement Museum is an absolute must. This is an actual tenement building on Orchard Street that has been outfitted as an exact replica of how immigrants lived a hundred years ago. You’ll spend a meaningful couple hours learning about life through an immigrant’s eyes. Advance reservations are required for Tenement Museum tours. Afterwards, stop by to see how the “other half lived” with a visit to the Merchant House Museum on East 4th Street — a 19th century brownstone owned by generations of the same wealthy family and perfectly preserved until the early 20th century, now designated as a City landmark. No reservations required, but check the web site for hours; guided and self-guided tours are available.

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Another interesting stop is The Museum on Eldridge Street which is the old Synagogue, where you can learn about the Jewish immigrant history of NYC.   There are also a few art-centric Lower East Side museums not to be missed — the New Museum on the Bowery, with eye-popping contemporary exhibits; the International Center of Photography on Essex Street with incredibly moving, provocative photographs; and the Museum of Street Art, an homage to the best of street art and graffiti that winds up twenty floors of stairwell in the citizenM New York Bowery Hotel.

What are the Best Lower East Side Rooftop Bars and Happy Hour Spots?

Rooftop bars in the Lower East Side are the best way to end your day of walking and eating. Check out the 20th floor of citizenM New York Bowery Hotel (and gawk at the Museum of Street Art as you walk up the stairwell). Or head to The Crown bar at Hotel 50 Bowery, a rooftop bar with vast views and homey little food bites to accompany your drinks. Mr. Purple on Hotel Indigo’s 15th floor offers beautiful views and unusual drinks. And at Last Light on the Bowery, you can take in the lower-Manhattan skyline while sharing wine and craft beers with your friends, or drinks such as the “Naked and Famous” or “Small Victories.”

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What are the Best Lower East Side Clubs?

I’m not much of a club scene girl, but the NY Nightclubs on the Lower East Side are some of the best for dancing and people watching. They range in appearance from frumpy, old, and graffitied to eclectic, colorful, and dripping with velvet. So if you’ve still got some get-up-and-go after happy hour and dinner, head to The Rumpus Room, La Caverna, CBGB, The Pyramid Club, The DL, or The Bowery Electric. It’s one of the things to do on the lower east side that you won’t get anywhere else, and you won’t regret it.

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If you want to extend your trip up the East Coast, I recommend visiting Portland, Maine! Click to read my top 10 Portland things to do.

What are the Best Restaurants in the Lower East Side?

There is no way to qualify the best food in the Lower East Side. You can’t throw a penny without hitting another gem. After you’ve experienced your Lower East Side Food Tour, you’ll be set to conquer the rest of your meals, but it’ll be tough not to repeat. Start your mornings at one of the many Lower East Side coffee shops, including Caffevita, The Roasting Company, or the Ludlow Coffee Supply (my favorite), then grab a great breakfast in the Lower East Side at Yonah Shimmel for the best knishes in NY. It is a must to run to Katz’ Delicatessen for lunch — a Lower East Side Deli that has been around since 1888 and is famous for Katz’ pastrami sandwich.

And save time to spend in the Essex Food Market. Opened in 1888 first for vendors with pushcarts, it has grown to an enormous, modern space with a plethora of cheeses, meats, fish, produce.

Dinner is always a special treat on the Lower East Side.  The restaurants are small with only a few tables, and have an intimate and lively setting.  Start at The Ten Bells for appetizers and a glass of wine, then head to Wildair or Pig and Khao, or The Fat Radish.

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What are the best Lower East Side Hotels?

Trust me — don’t go chain if you want to plant yourself in the middle of New York’s Lower East Side. The best Lower East Side restaurants aren’t chains, and Lower East Side shopping isn’t your typical mall stores, so stay the course and bunk into a Lower East Side boutique hotel — surprisingly, for its small size, the number of hotels in the Lower East Side is more than you’d expect. With so many things to do in the Lower East Side, you won’t want to spend too much time in your hotel, but while you’re there, it may as well be cool and comfortable. Due to its small boundaries, Lower East Side boutique hotels are close to everything in the neighborhood and all the things to do in the Lower East Side. I think the best hotels in the Lower East Side are those that snuggle into the landscape of older, charismatic buildings. I stayed at Hotel Indigo (pictured below), which was hip and trendy, and a little bigger than my other hotel suggestions.  It was, however, part of Marriott Bonvoy, which I love!

The Ludlow Hotel offers magnificent NYC views with huge windows and gritty, urban, chicly decorated rooms. The lobby and bar area quite possibly might be the most comfortable, cozy place to meet up with friends. The drinks are exceptional and fun, although a bit on the pricey side. Sohotel on Broome Street holds the honor of the longest-running hotel in New York City, dating back to 1805. Rooms here are New-York-City-hotel-room small, but they work perfectly for those on more of a budget. Also, Sohotel has “standard twin,” “standard triple,” and “standard family” rooms if you’re traveling to New York alone or in groups with odd numbers. At The Bowery Hotel, you’ll be greeted by a doorman in a top hat before entering the warm, dark, cozy lobby that’ll make you feel like you’ve jumped back in time — right down to the room keys with the red tassels. This is all contrasted with bright, airy rooms decked out in velvet upholstery and modern amenities. Take advantage of drinks at The Bowery Terrace, a second-floor, outdoor lounge laced with brick walls, wood beams, and fireplace. I also love the idea of the Blue Moon Hotel on Orchard Street. This old tenement building has been transformed into a comfortable hotel complete with standard hotel rooms as well as dormitory-style rooms if you’re traveling with friends or on a budget. The hotel sits above Davidovich Artisan Bakery so you can wake up to the homey smell of the famous Davidovich Bagels and pastries.

What are your favorite things to do in Manhattan on the Lower East Side? Let me know in the comments!

Enjoy your trip to NYC’s Lower East Side. Send me some pics of you on your next trip to NYC, and let me know of some of your favorite things to do in the Lower East Side to add to my next NYC itinerary.