Travel + Leisure’s guide to exploring New York neighborhoods with vibrant art scenes.

By Travel + Leisure and Travel + Leisure Staff
November 22, 2013
Credit: Thomas Loof

See T+L’s New York City Arts Guide

Chelsea Walking Tour

The closest subways to Chelsea only go as far west as 8th Avenue, which may explain why this neighborhood—which sits roughly between 14th and 30th streets, and 7th Avenue to the Hudson River—feels like one of Manhattan’s quietest. But with the calm comes the buzz of high-end retail, warehouse art galleries, an indoor market, and—perhaps the most talked-about development project in recent city history—the High Line. A converted rail line, this elevated urban park offers views of the river and New Jersey, plus the bustling-yet-still-tranquil streets down below. See the Full Tour

  • Highlights:
  • Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre
  • Chelsea Market
  • Gallery Hopping in Chelsea
  • The Tippler

Upper East Side Walking Tour

The Met Museum gets more than five million annual visitors, making it the most popular of the prestigious art institutions that line Fifth Avenue, a.k.a. Museum Mile. An earlier nickname, Millionaire’s Row, referenced the mansions of Gilded Age barons like Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick. While both their properties are now museums, this slice of the Upper East Side—70th to 95th streets, Lexington Avenue to Central Park—remains primarily a millionaires' territory of prewar apartments and gracious townhouses. See the Full Tour

  • Highlights:
  • 92nd Street Y
  • Guggenheim, New York
  • The Frick Collection
  • Bemelmans Bar
  • See T+L’s New York City Arts Guide

Columbus Circle Walking Tour

Occupying a trapezoidal island diagonally across from Central Park, the 12-story, white-marble building by Edward Durrell Stone stood for close to half a century at 2 Columbus Circle, near the geographic center of Manhattan; but around it lay a cultural wasteland. Today, it is the new home of the Museum of Arts and Design (also known as MAD) which, with the Time Warner Center and Central Park, completes the rebirth of Columbus Circle as a major destination. See the Full Tour

  • Highlights:
  • Lincoln Center
  • Museum of Arts and Design
  • Mandarin Oriental, New York
  • Bar Boulud

East Village Walking Tour

Once an enclave of immigrants, then the refuge of bohemians fleeing West Village rents, NYC’s East Village is now firmly established as an eating/drinking/shopping playground. While you’ll still find unshorn poets, beatniks, and runaways, you’re just as likely to see baby strollers, runway models, and tomorrow’s celebrity chefs on its colorful streets. See the Full Tour

  • Highlights:
  • St. Mark’s Churchin-the-Bowery
  • Tompkins Square Park
  • Death & Co.
  • Momofuku Noodle Bar
  • See T+L’s New York City Arts Guide

Guggenheim, New York

One of the world’s most acclaimed art museums, the Guggenheim in New York City is dedicated to modern and contemporary art from the 20th century to the present. The Guggenheim was founded by Solomon R. Guggenheim in 1937, when he created a foundation that would sustain a museum housing his personal collection of art. Throughout the years, the museum acquired other notable art collections, including those of Justin K. Thannhauser and Count Giuseppe Panza di Biumo, and these holdings combined to form the museum’s primary collection. Artists on display include Chagall, Modigliani, Picasso, Degas, Van Gogh, and Monet.

Tompkins Square Park

The East Village’s “backyard” is a humble patch of reclaimed swamp land where urban dwellers come to play chess, play with their kids, watch birds of prey, kick a soccer ball, practice guitar, join a pickup basketball game, or just watch. The bandshell (site of performances by Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, and hundreds of hopeful punk bands) has been torn down, but a walk through the heart of the park is still entertaining. Worth stopping and watching: The dog run (two adjacent areas, one for big dogs; one for small) in the center of the park, and the paved playground at the corner of A and 10th where skateboarders hone their skills. There’s an uncrowded shady corner with benches and tables entered by walking through the park building. Avoid the public bathrooms. Open dawn–midnight.

Museum of Arts and Design

Occupying a trapezoidal island diagonally across from Central Park, the 12-story, white-marble building by Edward Durrell Stone stood for close to half a century at 2 Columbus Circle, near the geographic center of Manhattan. In a controversial redesign, Brad Cloepfil, founder of Allied Works Architecture, based in Portland, Oregon, has remade the building from top to bottom. He preserved its quirky, curving shape, restored its auditorium, and kept its signature ground-floor arcade of lollipop-shaped arches, enclosing them in glass. (They now offer street views into the lobby and the museum’s gift shop, which sells mostly one-of-a-kind, artisan-produced objects.) But he also removed 300 tons of concrete from the structure, sheathing its exterior in iridescent ceramic tile and perforating it with strategic cuts that flood the once-windowless galleries with natural light. Art, craft, and design also rub shoulders in the third-floor display dedicated to the permanent collection, which benefits from its own gallery for the first time in the museum’s history. Take just the ceramics, for example. The works on view range from a large blue-green bowl made in 1946 by Viennese exiles and West Coast husband-and-wife potters Gertrud and Otto Natzler, whose signature crater glaze gives it the appearance of some volcanic artifact; to contemporary avant-gardist Eva Hild’s undulating abstractions in stoneware. There are pieces by fine artists—dabblers in the medium such as Cindy Sherman, whose image, disguised as Madame de Pompadour, appears on a Nymphenburg porcelain soup tureen—and lifelong potters like Betty Woodman, whose classically puffy Pillow Pitcher seems endowed with a quirky, Etruscan grace. Just below, in the jewelry gallery (among the first of its kind in this country), the works of 1940’s Greenwich Village bohemians like Sam Kramer—a silver bird pendant, for example, set with a taxidermied eye and betraying the twin influences of biomorphism and surrealism—share space with a distinguished collection of ethnographic jewels and pieces by contemporary conceptualists such as Otto Künzli, whose ironic commentary on our fixation with precious metals takes the form of a gold bracelet entirely encased in black rubber.

Lincoln Center

Located a block west of Central Park, Lincoln Center spans over 16 acres and is home to a dozen performing arts organizations, among them the Metropolitan Opera, New York Philharmonic, and New York City Ballet. All together the complex features 29 separate performance venues, where the 12 institutions present thousands of performances, programs, and events each year. Guided tours of the campus begin in the David Rubenstein Atrium and include visits to the Metropolitan Opera House, Avery Fisher Hall, David H. Koch Theater, Vivian Beaumont Theater, and Alice Tully Hall.

Bemelmans Bar

Its clientele has included Harry Truman, Jackie Kennedy, and Cyndi Lauper, but one of the most celebrated locals at Bemelmans Bar, in the Carlyle, a Rosewood Hotel, was Ludwig Bemelmans himself. In 1947 the Madeline author and illustrator lived rent-free upstairs while he painted scenes of Central Park on the bar’s walls. (Years later skilled art restorers used countless slices of wet Wonder Bread to sop up the decades of nicotine buildup on the murals.) Today the bar is a hangout for scenesters of every age.

Bar Boulud

Boulud brings his bistro classics to New York's Lincoln Center neighborhood. The vaulted space is designed with clever riffs on the wine-making theme: floors of rough-hewn farmhouse stone, booths fashioned from the same white oak used to make wine barrels, and a backlit wall of gravel recalling the terroirs of Burgundy and the Rhône. Boulud has called upon Parisian charcutier Gilles Verot, a third generation butcher whose two Left Bank shops are the stuff of foodie lengend. The result? Silky terrines, peppery saucissons, and sumptuous fromage de tête (head cheese). Grab one of the two dozen stools surrounding the spotlit charcuterie bar or take over the private table for wine tastings.

The Frick Collection

Pittsburgh-born, 19th-century robber baron Henry Clay Frick spent his coal-and-steel millions filling his opulent Fifth Avenue limestone home with this staggeringly well-chosen collection of old masters (kudos to controversial art wrangler Joseph Duveen). Standouts among the holdings: Bellini’s dreamy and exquisitely preserved St. Francis in the Desert, a clutch of hard-to-find Vermeers such as the saucy and suggestive Officer and a Laughing Girl, plus three works by Piero della Francesca—snapped up long before the artist gained his current A-list reputation. The home is largely unchanged since Frick’s day and provides a 3-D snapshot into the lifestyle and habits of an Upper East Side multimillionaire from another era.

Admission: $20 adults, $15 seniors, $10 students; pay what you wish on Sundays 11 a.m.–1 p.m. Closed Mon. Children under 10 are not admitted to the Collection.

Momofuku Noodle Bar

Mandarin Oriental, New York

Death & Co.

St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery

Once the site of a chapel on Peter Stuyvesant’s farm, St. Mark’s is more than just a church: the sanctuary does double duty as a performance space and plays as much a part in the neighborhood’s cultural history as in its history of worship. Check the churchyard’s gravestones for a veritable Who’s Who of 19th century New York families, including Petrus Stuyvesant himself, the Schermerhorns, Fish, and Beekmans. Old-school starchitect Ernest Flagg designed the sturdy old rectory in 1901.

92nd Street Y

Members show up regularly for continuing-ed classes or workouts in the 80,000-sq-ft gym, but this is hardly your average community center. The nonprofit Y draws culture hounds from across the city and beyond to thousands of annual events, including conversations with boldface names such as Madeline Albright, Patti Smith, and Woody Allen. On other nights, the Kaufmann Concert Hall puts the spotlight on visiting jazz acts or current-affairs panels. There’s truly something for everyone thanks to eight programming centers, including the Bronfman Center for Jewish Life, which continues the legacy of the Y’s German-Jewish founders.