A Guide To New York’s Upper East Side

By Martha Davies

6 months ago

XOXO, Gossip Girl


As the great novels, films and TV shows would have it, New York’s Upper East Side is the land of grandiose townhouses, designer boutiques and celebrity hangouts. F. Scott Fitzgerald was in love with it; Sex and the City fans were desperate to inhabit it; and the area retains its glitzy, moneyed allure to this day. But look beyond the surface and you’ll find there’s much more to this famous neighourhood. Here’s how to live like a local on the Upper East Side.

A Guide To The Upper East Side

On a delightfully sunny day in early November, as I stood on the corner of 79th and 5th (that’s on the border between Central Park and Fifth Avenue, for any non-NYC natives like myself), the realisation dawned on me that my knowledge of New York’s Upper East Side extended no further than the filming locations in Gossip Girl. Having inhaled all six series in about as many weeks, I used the show as my much-romanticised point of reference for New York – that is until I actually found myself in the city. 

I had quickly crossed the bigger landmarks off my list (holding a picture-perfect tub of frozen yoghurt like a prop as I perched on the steps of The Met; standing doe-eyed on a platform at Grand Central while imagining Kristen Bell narrating my life in the background; etc, etc), but the Upper East Side still remained a mystery to me, and I wanted to educate myself. After all, living like Blair Waldorf was likely to blow my budget, and I was certain that there was more to the neighbourhood than just The Plaza Hotel and a string of cocktail bars filled with businessmen sipping on negronis. 

Mercifully, my suspicion turned out to be correct. The history of the Upper East Side is fascinating, and you can visit plenty of hidden gems that will make you feel much less like a clueless visitor (or raving TV fan) and more like the cool, effortless Upper East Sider you actually want to be. If Google Maps doesn’t cut it, you can check out a whole host of restaurants, bars and hotels on the NYC Tourism website, and you can even get stuck into a walking tour – a particularly impressive option is WeVenture, a city tour operator offering small-group experiences that highlight local vendors and small businesses. I was lucky enough to receive some stellar recommendations from a tenured WeVenture guide, and it made all the difference to my inaugural Upper East Side visit. If you’re hunting for things to do in this famous Manhattan neighbourhood, look no further.

What To Do On The Upper East Side

The Albertine

 

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I started my grand tour at The Albertine, a gorgeous bookshop on the ground floor of New York’s French Embassy. The building was custom-designed by renowned architect Stanford Witney, and it’s really just a vast, dazzling mansion which is now filled with books. With over 14,000 titles in both English and French, you can definitely get lost in here. (Plus, once you’re done, there are plenty more fantastic bookshops across the city – The Strand is my personal favourite.)

VISIT: 972 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY, 10075. albertine.com

Museum Mile

Alongside The Met, the Upper East Side is home to many other galleries and museums, together forming the aptly-named Museum Mile on Fifth Avenue. From The Solomon R. Guggenheim to the Neue Galerie and the Smithsonian Design Museum, art lovers will be spoilt for choice.

VISIT: Museum Mile runs along Fifth Avenue from 82nd Street to 105th Street.

Shakespeare in the Park

The Mall steps, Central Park

While technically not an Upper East Side institution, Shakespeare in the Park is a must for anyone visiting New York in the summer. Besides, if you’re worn and weary from pounding the pavements of the UES, drift over to Central Park and you might just catch a Shakespeare soliloquy or two. Launched in the 1970s by the New York Public Theatre, Shakespeare in the Park is an esteemed NYC tradition; performances are held annually, and tickets are wildly popular.

VISIT: Delacorte Theatre, 81 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024. publictheater.org

Best Places To Eat & Drink On The Upper East Side

Lexington Candy Shop

This family-run candy shop opened its doors nearly 100 years ago, and crossing the threshold certainly feels like travelling back in time. Previously the go-to spot for any New Yorker looking for a soda, Lexington Candy Shop now serves up sweet treats and retro drinks – the window display is a shrine to weird and wacky Coca Cola flavours from around the world.

VISIT: 1226 Lexington Avenue at 83rd Street NY, NY 10028. lexingtoncandyshop.com

King’s Carriage House

Beloved by New York locals and visitors alike, this charming institution has been serving afternoon tea for over 30 years. It’s the perfect place to check out if you’re craving a scone and a good cup of tea. (Even by my lofty British standards, this UES bolthole is doing it right.)

VISIT: 251 East 82nd Street, New York, NY 10028. kingscarriagehouse.com

The Penrose

 

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No visit to the UES is complete unless you’ve sought out a bar, and The Penrose is the best of the best. It boasts craft beer, locally-sourced snacks and seriously good cocktails. I sampled my first ever Dirty Pickle Martini here – let’s just say it was a cultural experience. 

VISIT: 1590 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10028. penrosebar.com


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