Living in Chinatown: Things to Do and See Chinatown

Chinatown—East meets West in Downtown Manhattan

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Chinatown is home to the third-largest Chinese community in New York City. The neighborhood dates from the 1870s, when Chinese migrants moved from the West Coast after the completion of the transcontinental railroad. Since then, this small enclave in Lower Manhattan has welcomed industrious newcomers: emerging artists, designers, chefs, and those seeking a unique urban experience. Transformed from its beginnings as a tight-knit immigrant community, the energetic streetscape is today a mecca of art, industry, and commerce, and is set to become a luxury retail destination.

Where is Chinatown Located in NYC?

Chinatown is in Lower Manhattan, bordering the Lower East Side, Little Italy, Tribeca, SoHo, and Civic Center.

  • East to West Boundaries: Essex Street to Baxter Street
  • North to South Boundaries: Grand Street to Worth Street
  • Subway: B, D, J, N, Q, R, W, Z, 4, 6
  • Ticket out of the City: Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges, FDR Drive

What to Do in Chinatown?

This lively, densely populated neighborhood’s main artery is Canal Street. Edgy and dynamic, the famous thoroughfare is bordered by SoHo and accessible by nearly every subway line. The bustling streetscape, from Essex to Baxter, Grand to Worth, retains its Old World character. Here, shoppers can find niche goods and culinary delights in the form of herbal shops, dispensaries and pharmacies, fish markets, traditional teahouses, dim sum palaces, and noodle shops, Moon Cake and Macanese bakeries, hole-in-the-wall canteens and acclaimed Cantonese restaurants. In 2010, the area was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and its Buddhist and Taoist temples, pagoda roofs, and historic landmarks, such as the Chatham Square statue of Qing dynasty scholar Lin Zexu, are a testament to its Asian cultural heritage.

One of New York’s last remaining original ethnic enclaves, Chinatown is a celebration of Asian-American culture and its traditions are kept alive during festivals throughout the year. February is Chinese New Year and New York City’s Chinatown marks the occasion with the Lunar New Year Parade & Festival: an annual gathering of floats, dragon dancers, and street vendors serving exotic dishes. Other draws include the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival in August and the Mid-Autumn Festival in September.

But the neighborhood has another side as well: Chinatown is undergoing rapid gentrification, and along with it, a high-fashion makeover with an influx of luxury brands, trendy restaurants, and art galleries, adding to the draw for tourists and New Yorkers alike.

Chinatown is well on its way to becoming the city’s next hip arts district with many new theaters and galleries scheduled to open, including blue chip Los Angeles gallery Regen Projects. Also in the neighborhood are Art in General, a public nonprofit exhibition space, the Mahayana Buddhist Temple, colorful street art and performances, and the charming yet thought-provoking Mmuseumm, a tiny, 60-square-foot art space almost hidden in an abandoned elevator shaft that displays eclectic oddities on brightly illuminated shelves.

Chinatown is also the long-time home of the Museum of Chinese in America. Designed by Maya Lin, the museum hosts traditional and contemporary art exhibits, a recreation of a century-old Chinatown store, and lectures, films, and concerts that highlight the neighborhood’s Asian community as well as the global Chinese diaspora.

What to See in Chinatown?

Chinatown’s real estate prices, like its skyline, are on the rise. This up-and-coming area of Lower Manhattan accesses the Financial District and borders two of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods, SoHo and Tribeca. Among the highly sought-after real estate inventory are contemporary developments with roof terraces, resort-inspired amenities, and sweeping city views. Chinatown also shares a distinctive characteristic of its neighbors—historic cast-iron architecture—and architects and developers are capitalizing on this by transforming former tenements and warehouses into luxury lofts.

Chinatown’s most popular streets are Mott Street and East Broadway; the neighborhood’s public center for cultural outdoor life is Columbus Park, buzzing with residents playing Chinese chess and Mahjong, practicing tai-chi and kung fu, engaging in karaoke-style concerts or performing Chinese opera. The neighborhood is known for its heavy foot traffic and daytime congestion—but quieter residential enclaves are found on its side streets. Its famous past residents include singer-songwriter Rihanna, who lived in a duplex penthouse in the neighborhood that went on the market last year for $17 million.

Where to Eat in Chinatown?

One would expect New York City’s best Chinese restaurants and eclectic food markets to be in Chinatown. And the neighborhood doesn’t disappoint. For a taste of authentic Chinese cuisine, Nom Wah Tea Parlor on Doyers Street, founded in 1920, and Jing Fong on Elizabeth Street, are renowned for their dim sum; other standouts include Great NY Noodletown and Bassanova Ramen, a Hong Kong-style banquet hall on Mott Street. For upscale dining, Chinese Tuxedo, housed in the former Chinatown Opera House on Doyers Street, serves contemporary fare inspired by the East Asian cuisine of Australia.

In Chinatown, chefs can find traditional authentic groceries, fresh seafood, exotic fruits and vegetables, herbs and other hard-to-find Asian food staples or baked goods. In the evening hours, sophisticated revelers frequent speakeasy-style lounges such as Peachy’s for superfood-infused cocktails, Whisky Tavern, and Apotheke Cocktail Bar; designed to resemble a chemistry lab, it offers some 250 cocktails served by mixologists in lab coats.

What Schools are in Chinatown?

A highly ranked PK-5 public school, PS 124 Yung Wing, is in the neighborhood as are a few private schools: Transfiguration School and St. George Academy. The area is close to New York University, Pace and St. John’s universities.

How Many People Live in Chinatown?

Population: 9,650

What Languages Are Spoken in Chinatown?

Language: English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Taishanese, and Fuzhounese

What is the Currency in Chinatown?

Currency: USD

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