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As part of a new series, Travel + Leisure is exploring America one three-day weekend at a time. Here’s what to do on a short trip to Greenwich Village, the creative heart of New York City.

New York City is so tightly packed with must-see attractions that even a lifetime of trips couldn’t hit everything. But to sample some of the city’s best restaurants, green spaces, nightlife, shopping, architecture, and music, all you need is a three-day weekend in the downtown neighborhood of Greenwich Village. Best known as the epicenter of sixties counterculture, the Village today offers travelers a kind of anti–Times Square: stylish people, picturesque scenery, mellow pace.

Day One

Drop off your bags in a smallish but well-appointed room at the Marlton Hotel, a former flophouse that knew the likes of Jack Kerouac and Lenny Bruce during the neighborhood’s beatnik heyday.

You’re just one block away from Washington Square Park, the indisputable heart of Greenwich Village. Enter under the impressive arch at the end of Fifth Avenue and explore at your leisure: look for the man who plays Rachmaninoff on a grand piano most mornings; trust-fund-stoner grad students reciting poetry; lovers and bird-watchers reclining in the grass; celebrities walking their dogs; the Dosa Man and his cart of addictive South Indian snacks; the oldest tree in Manhattan (“Hangman’s Elm,” in the northwest corner).

For dining nearby, try Otto, Mario Batali’s casual outpost just off the park, for reliably tasty pizzas and pastas. Or check out Mary’s Fish Camp in the West Village (a posher subset of the larger neighborhood) for the freshest seafood around. Don’t bother with the menu here—your server will know best.

Skip the classic jazz clubs (steep covers, watery drinks) and head instead to the Fat Cat for the same toe-tapping entertainment, but with foosball, ping-pong, and good-looking singles.

Day Two

Caffeinate down the block from your hotel at Vivi (grapefruit bubble tea with basil seeds is particularly invigorating) and then walk as far west as you can; you’ll dead-end into Hudson River Park, a narrow greenway running down much of Manhattan’s western coastline, particularly well manicured along these banks. It has something for everyone: the gym set can rent a Citi Bike or take a trapeze class with killer skyline views; history buffs can trace the path of Titanic survivors from the pier they were dropped off at to the hotel they recuperated in afterward; picnickers can lay out a lunch of local delicacies from nearby Abingdon Square Greenmarket (open Saturdays).

Afterward, hit up Empellón Taqueria for inventive tequila cocktails and tacos with addictive smoked-cashew salsa. Or maybe Market Table to enjoy seasonal, chefy fare in a movie-set-perfect dining room with windows on the historic district.

The Bitter End, New York’s oldest rock club, is a fantastic spot to end the night with a live performance by the next Bob Dylan or Lady Gaga, both of whom (like anyone who’s anyone) played here early in their careers.

Day Three

It wouldn’t be a trip to New York without a bagel, and Murray’s is an institution (they’ll even toast now, following a decades-long refusal). Carry your breakfast a couple blocks south to Jefferson Market Garden, a lush retreat in the shadow of a magnificent neo-Gothic branch of the New York Public Library. Even longtime locals don’t seem aware that the gate is unlocked and the tiny park open to the public, so you might have it all to yourself.

No matter what type of souvenir you’re searching for, you’ll find it in the Village: Bookmarc is for first editions and coffee-table erotica; Sockerbit for fancy Scandinavian candy by the pound; Canine Styles for poodle-perfect argyle sweaters.

Architecture lovers won’t need much direction from us in this part of the city—just look up. But special attention should be called to the very fine 19th-century town houses along Ninth and 10th Streets, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues (part of the so-called “Gold Coast”). Movie stars, captains of industry, and old families with Dutch names all reside here. Neither should you miss Washington Mews and MacDougal Alley: quiet, gated lanes lined with jewel-box carriage houses once servicing the estates along the park’s northern edge, many now luxurious (and quirky) homes in their own right.

Blue Hill is the place to treat yourself to an elegant send-off dinner. The six-course “Farmer’s Feast” tasting menu is exactly what it sounds like: superstar-chef Dan Barber’s showcase of the very best ingredients from his restaurant’s own farms.

Close out the weekend with a nightcap in the Marlton’s lovely rear solarium, or maybe with moonlit people-watching back in Washington Square Park—buzzing with life and unexpected treasures at any hour, just like the Village around it.

For more long-weekend itineraries in America's best vacation destinations, click here.

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