7 Unique things to do in Upper East Side

by Paul Joseph  |  Published October 18, 2017

Characterised by classic New York elegance, the upscale, residential district of Upper East Side is renowned for its affluent residents, trendy restaurants and designer boutiques. A mélange of immaculate brownstone buildings and high-end apartment blocks, it is also easy on the eye, with ample green space provided by nearby Central Park which lines 5th Avenue.

A snowy, atmospheric scene in Upper East Side (Photo: Vivienne Gucwa via Flickr)

Visitors will also discover some of New York’s most prestigious cultural landmarks here, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and El Museo del Barrio. Meanwhile away from the hubbub of activity, the district’s side streets provide a tranquil respite, save for the melodic sounds of children playing.

For those keen to visit some of the area’s lesser known attractions, below are seven of the more off-the-radar things to see and do in Upper East Side.

1. Breakfast at Tiffany’s Townhouse

New York has been the setting for some of the world’s most iconic movies, among which Breakfast at Tiffany’s remains one of the most cherished. The film’s main character, Holly Golightly, lived in a small rented apartment on the Upper East Side and a number of exterior shots of the home can be seen throughout the movie. Today, the apartment where these shots were filmed (the interior was shot in a Hollywood studio) can still be found on East 71st Street, where it attracts a regular trickle of fans who come to see a significant part of New York’s rich celluloid history. The only visual difference from the film are the missing external blinds. And in case your interest extends any further, the property is worth around four million dollars.

2. Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden

In a city awash with world famous museums, the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden remains a hidden gem. Nestled amid bucolic surroundings near the East River, the museum is housed within an eye-catching 18th-century building and offers a captivating glimpse into a bygone era of New York hospitality. Originally built as a carriage house, in the 19th century it was converted into a fashionable day hotel that became a firm favourite with New Yorkers seeking to escape the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. After going through various other incarnations, including serving as the home of three generations of a local family, it fell into the hands of a woman’s patriotic society who dedicated their efforts to opening the building up to the public, which remains its purpose today

LOCATION 421 East 61st Street HOURS Tues-Sun 11am-4pm

Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden

An exterior shot of Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden, a historic antebellum residential building (Photo: Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden)

3. Gossip Girl Sites Tour

Gossip Girl is one of the most popular American television shows in recent history and fans of the teen drama, which is based on the book series of the same name, can follow in the footsteps of its cast of young Manhattan socialites on this guided whistle-stop bus tour. Taking in many of the locations where the characters while away their privileged, care-free days, tour guests will get a taste of being young, rich and unburdened by responsibility in the Big Apple. Starting at 51st St and Madison Avenue, you’ll pass through some of New York’s most upscale neighbourhoods, stopping off for photo opportunities at sites including the Met Steps, The Empire Hotel and Grand Central Terminal, all of which have provided the setting for some of the show’s most memorable scenes and story lines. Tours last approximately three hours and are priced at $49 per person.

LOCATION Various sites across Upper East Side HOURS Fri-Sun 10am-1pm (approx)

Gossip Girl Sites Tour

Guests on a Gossip Girl tour pose with a clapperboard at one of the site stop-offs (Photo: On Location Tours)

4. The Art Farm NYC

Visit The Art Farm NYC one of the Upper East Side’s hidden gems. This nature-focused centre offers a break from the hustle and bustle of the city with eco-friendly classes, playtime, birthday parties and camp that your whole family will love. Home to New York City’s only indoor petting zoo, The Art Farm is a unique space with animals from bearded dragons to chinchillas and chickens. All of The Art Farm’s programmes include time in our indoor petting zoo, engaging children in care and compassion of all living creatures. Drop-in visitors can play in an interactive playroom, pet animals craft and much more.

LOCATION 419 East 91st Street WEBSITE

The Art Farm in the City

A small boy pets a tortoise at The Art Farm NYC (Photo: The Art Farm NYC)

5. Subway Inn

There’s no shortage of exclusive nightspots in this part of Manhattan, but for a more ‘humble’ experience you should head to Subway Inn, a slightly dingy but atmospheric dive bar on 2nd Avenue that once hosted such New York luminaries as Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio. Despite moving location in 2015, the same old neon sign that graced the original bar continues to gleam brightly like a beacon on the landscape for those who favour their watering holes on the more gritty side of things.

LOCATION 1140 2nd Avenue HOURS 11am-4pm daily

6. Dylan’s Candy Bar

Located across the street from the famous Bloomingdale’s department store, this Willy Wonker-esque candy emporium is home to over 7,000 confections, as well as sugar-inspired clothes and accessories and a candy café. Spread over three floors, the selection of goodies available here is simply mind-blogging, with everything from retro classics like 1920s-style brittles and chocolate bars through to enduring favourites like Candy Crush gummies, skittles, M&Ms and Pez. Needless to say, your little ones should be supervised at all times, lest they get a little carried away – otherwise you may be in for a seriously tricky bedtime.

LOCATION 1011 3rd Avenue HOURS Mon-Thurs 10am-9pm; Fri-Sat 10am-11pm; Sun 11am-9pm

Dylan’s Candy Bar

Sugary treats at Dylan’s Candy Bar (Photo: Shay Trotter via Flickr)

7. Temple Emanu-El

It may be better known for its chic clubs and upmarket hotels, but Upper East Side is also home to one of the world’s largest, most beautiful and most historically important synagogues. The back-story of Temple Emanu-El is a reflection of the Jewish historical experience in America, beginning in the mid-19th century when large numbers of Western European Jews migrated to the New World. Among them were a cohort of 33 Germans who established the Temple in 1845. It has undergone significant refurbishment over the years and today boasts 60 stained glass windows, a multihued, gilded and hand-painted ceiling, and the largest synagogue organ in the world featuring over 10,000 pipes. The synagogue is open to the public.

LOCATION 1 East 65th Street