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Things to Do in the West Village: A New Yorker’s Best Ideas

Janet Siroto grew up in New York City and reports on her favorite places to uncover a slice of the city that’s equal parts old-school and cutting-edge cool.

If you’re like me, your idea of a perfect urban vacation involves a couple of key components: fascinating streets, full of character and history; opportunities to shop (and shop some more) for items you never see the likes of back home; an assortment of eating opportunities, from a sweet café to fabulous restaurants to hidden-away cocktail lounges; and a hefty dose of culture, whether that means a world-class museum or a jazz club tucked away on a side street.

If you’re heading to NYC, you can have all of that (and more) in the West Village, so get set to learn all about the best things to do in this historic neighborhood. We’ll leave Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building, and the other super-crowded tourist spots far behind and uncover a slice of the city that’s equal parts old-school and cutting-edge cool.

Leave Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building, and the other super-crowded tourist spots far behind.

You could spend a whole week in the West Village and never get bored. It’s a microcosm of so many of the things that make a New York City trip memorable, especially for those of us who want a vacay that’s equal parts sophistication and badass fun.

Read More: Crashing Parties and Becoming Insiders on Our NYC Tour

Why Is the West Village Famous? 

things to do in the West Village
NextTribe founder Jeannie Ralston in front of the oldest drug store in the country.

If you love traveling that makes you feel as if you’ve been in a time machine, welcome. This historic neighborhood was originally settled by Dutch farmers in the late 17th century. As NYC developed, the West Village grew but retained its small-scale charm. Believe it or not, some centuries-old businesses are still in existence. Pop into C.O. Bigelow Chemist on Sixth Avenue, and you’ll be in America’s oldest apothecary, dating back to the 1830s and still a must-see, must-shop location.

By the early 20th century, the West Village’s quaint, tree-lined streets became a favorite location of bohemian types. Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and proponent of free love, Edna St. Vincent Millay resided on Bedford Street. Notable photographer Berenice Abbott and her partner, art critic Elizabeth McCausland, made their home in a loft on Commerce Street. Poet Marianne Moore resided on St. Luke’s Place for years; birth-control advocate Margaret Sanger’s place was on West 14th Street. So when you visit the West Village, you are walking in the footsteps of these trailblazing free-thinkers. This wasn’t the world of the snobby social types you see on “The Gilded Age” at all!

As NYC developed, the West Village grew but retained its small-scale charm.

The West Village’s storied history as home base for artists, writers, and musicians continued well into the 20th century. Two local bars–the White Horse Tavern, where you can still have a drink today, and the Lion’s Head–were hubs for the creative community. Writers Dylan Thomas and Jack Kerouac could be found there; Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix, too.

The area also played a historic role in the evolution of the LGBTQ+ right movement. The Stonewall Inn, a gay bar, is often credited as sparking social change. When the police raided the Stonewall in June of 1969, the patrons resisted, leading to five days of rioting that helped usher in an era of social change.

The area’s identity as an eclectic and vibrant artistic neighborhood continues today. And the West Village is also known for how it’s popped up in more than a few iconic TV shows. People flock to see the exterior of the Friends apartment at 90 Bedford Street at the corner of Grove Street. Go ahead; visit and snap some photos and grab a cup at the street-level café.

Are you a Sex and the City fan? Though Carrie supposedly lived on the Upper Eastside, the famous front stoop of her building is actually at 64 Perry Street. It’s become such a heavily trafficked site that the owners of the building have somehow arranged for it to be blurred out in Google Maps (check for yourself!). If you visit, you can walk over to Magnolia Bakery, a super-popular spot at 401 Bleecker Street and get a cupcake, just as the show’s heroine did. BTW, Sarah Jessica Parker’s flagship SJP shoe store is a stone’s throw away at 385 Bleecker Street.

Reasons to Visit the West Village Today

Here are some of the reasons why the West Village is famous and what you can expect when you visit:

  • People watching? You betcha.
  • An endless array of incredible places to eat and drink, from ramen shops to chic French restaurants to wine bars to charming cafes. It’s all right here.
  • You’ll also find incredible shopping options, from designer boutiques to quirky art and antique shops.
  • Simply strolling around the neighborhood is a joy. You’re far from the towering, shiny skyscrapers of Midtown Manhattan. Instead, you’re exploring historic cobblestone streets lined with ivy-covered brownstones, parks on the mighty Hudson River, and stunning shop windows.
  • There’s an incredible museum, music venues (including one with hilarious sing-alongs), theaters, and cozy cinemas to catch indie and retro movies.

I think what makes the West Village is how intimate it always feels. There aren’t department stores, chain restaurants, or multiplexes. Everything is small, walkable, and special.

Is the West Village safe, you may wonder? Overall, it has a lower than average rate of violent crime, so you can feel confident walking around. That said, you are in a big city, so keep your wits about you, your handbag snapped shut, and try not to leave your cell phone on that café table unattended.

Where Is the West Village? 

A view of the edge of the West Village, including the man-made wonder called Little Island.

Here’s the lay of the land. The West Village is a subset of Greenwich Village. It’s a smaller (but iconic) area that is west of the heart of the Village.

You are going to hear different opinions about where the West Village is, and get different answers to the question, “Where does the West Village start?” But the usual boundaries are as follows:

  • Sixth Avenue is the eastern edge of the West Village. This is just to the west of the central part of Greenwich Village, which is simply referred to as “The Village.” Trek a block or two east of this border, and you’ll be in Washington Square Park with its famous arch. You’ll also be standing smack in the heart of Greenwich Village and, incidentally, in middle of the NYU campus.
  • To the west, the West Village is bounded by the Hudson River. Look across the river, and you’re staring at New Jersey.
  • The northern edge of the neighborhood is 14th Street, which has historically been as far uptown as you can go before you leave downtown NYC.
  • To the south, you’ll find Houston Street (pronounced HOW-ston, not like the town in Texas) as the border. Go further south, and you’re in SoHo, which is short for “South of Houston.”

That ends your geography lesson.

Historic Architecture in the West Village

A typical townhouse-lined street in the West Village.

One of the things that’s so special about the West Village is that it transports you back to the 1800s. Bring good walking shoes; the cobblestones beneath your feet on many of the oldest blocks can be unforgiving.

The townhouses of the West Village are pretty irresistible; you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t daydream about living in them. Keep your camera at the ready to photograph them.

May we offer some guidance on exactly where to go? Many people would say the answer to “What is the best street in the West Village?” to be “Grove Street.” It’s a particularly lovely place: At numbers 10 and 12, you’ll see Grove Court, composed of picturesque brick rowhouses with white shutters and well-tended gardens, set back from the street. At 17 Grove Street is a circa-1822 wood-frame house that has a particularly good paint job. Go ahead, snap a selfie and pretend it’s yours!

You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t daydream about living in a West Village townhouse.

Another notable spot is at 121 Charles Street. This is a total charmer–a freestanding house behind a gate with the sweetest garden. While it looks as if it may have been there since Colonial times, this home has a cool story. It was originally located on the Upper Eastside, and it’s considered the “Goodnight Moon” house because the famous children’s book was written there in the 1940s. In 1967, when the structure was facing demolition, it was relocated to an empty plot in the West Village, where it’s been enchanting the neighborhood ever since.

Need still more charm? Check out the Church of St. Luke in the Fields (487 Hudson Street). This is a church and school complex, but you’re going to enjoy the special little garden there. Sitting there, amid the brick buildings and the low-slung buildings on the other side of the avenue, will have you savoring the experience of turning back time and imagining life in old New York.

Fun Things to Do in the West Village: Explore the Meatpacking District

Inside the French restaurant Pastis in the Meatpacking District of the West Village.

At the northwestern corner of the West Village, you’ll find the Meatpacking District, once a gritty place that has now become a super-chic area for shopping, dining, and taking in some art. Pre-gentrification, this compact area was exactly what the name suggests: the center of meatpacking businesses in Manhattan. Down came the metal doors at night, and in came drug-dealing, prostitution, and some pioneering types who loved the neighborhood’s edge.

Today, you’ll find traces of industrial architecture, but now the buildings are home to glossy designer boutiques (Diane Von Furstenberg, Paige, Hermes, Marni) tucked in the old buildings. There’s a food hall, excellent restaurants (like Pastis, a celeb-studded favorite for authentic French fare), and the showpiece of the West Village in terms of art: The Whitney Museum of American Art. You could spend the better part of a day here, mesmerized by the works of Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jasper Johns, and other contemporary icons. There’s a terrace with tremendous views of the neighborhood, too.

Pre-gentrification, this compact area became at night a hub of shady dealings; now it’s filled with glossy boutiques.

You’re also adjacent to the southern end of the fabulous High Line, a beautifully planted walkway dotted with sculptures that’s built on an old elevated train line.

If you cross West Street (aka the Westside Highway), ta-da! You are in Hudson River Park, a skinny but spectacular bit of greenspace hugging the Hudson River. Check out Gansevoort Beach, the city’s newest public beach (yes, do pack a bathing suit if you are visiting in the summer), and visit Little Island. As the name suggests, it’s a spectacular little public park that’s actually in the Hudson River. You access it via a pier, and locals love it as a place to buy a glass of wine and watch the sunset.

Shop and Snack Through the West Village

NextTribers enjoying the goodies at Sarah Jessica Parker’s shoe store, SJP.

C’mon–we know what you like! You want to poke around unique little boutiques and discover some treasures that you’d never find at home. And you want to eat and drink at wonderful insider spots that have beautifully prepared food, whether you’re having a breakfast burrito or roast chicken.

Here are two of NextTribe’s favorite stomping grounds: Hudson Street and Bleecker Street.

Hudson Street is a wonderful, wide street, packed with dining options and really interesting boutiques. There are also a couple of teeny, picturesque parks, like Abingdon Park, if you want to sit on a bench and people-watch for a little while.

Saved New York, at 654 Hudson and 51 8th Avenue, has an eclectic selection of clothes (sweaters with cat-shape patches, for instance), jewelry, and home wares (pillows, wallpaper, antique boxes and paintings). Not cheap but packed with NY style.

Another of NextTribe’s favorite places to stop in the West Village is Myers of Keswick, an English shop at 634 Hudson Street, which offers freshly made scones, sausage rolls, Scotch eggs, as well as British candies, jams, teas, and more.

Bleecker Street is known as the coolest street in the West Village.

Further south, the End of History is a must-see for those who love mid-century design. Glass and ceramic treasures in Crayola brights, from little dishes to big-league lamps, will call to you.

You might grab a glass of Albarino or a cocktail (or both…after all, you’re on vacation) at the Lavaux or the nearby Anfora wine bar, or get a fantastic organic juice at the Butcher’s Daughter.

Craving something sweet? Head one block to the east for a delicious, two-bites-big confection at Aux Merveilleux de Fred (37 8th Ave) and ogle the incredible creations at Ann Tremet bakery (47 8th Ave).

Next stop: Bleecker Street (pronounced BLEE-kerr). This is quintessential West Village chic. When people ask, “What is the cool street in the West Village?” this is likely the answer. You’ll have block after block of pretty brick buildings with gorgeous window displays. My fave is Doen, with fabulous dresses that will have you channeling Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine, but there’s also Anine Bing, because you just might need a sweatshirt with a vintage black and white photo of Brigitte Bardot on it, and Mo:vint for vintage-inspired finds.

While in that neck of the woods, you are in the West Village’s Pizza Alley, with Joe’s and John’s offering slices and pies respectively that locals and tourists alike queue up for.

If you’ve staved off hunger pangs with a slice, then check out a few more West Village shopping destinations: Maximalist design fans will want to pop into John Derian West (18 Christopher Street) for dishes and trays adorned with images of the planets, plants, and creatures great and small. (NextTribe’s founder and CEO Jeannie Ralston kinda crashed an opening at a John Derian boutique once, but that’s another story.)

Booklovers flock to the nearby and renowned bookstores in the ‘hood. These are the kinds of places where you can spend a surprisingly long stretch of time browsing and finding new authors to fall in love with. Check out Three Lives and Left Bank Books.

What to Eat in the West Village?

The famous White Horse Tavern where Dylan Thomas used to drink–and you can too.

I’ve already mentioned a few great spots to grab a bite, but what if you want a long, langorous meal?

The smart-ass but true answer to “What to eat in the West Village?” is “Everything!” There are more wonderful places to eat than would fit in a single article. Here are a few highlights to get you going (btw, this is New York…you probably need a reservation):

  • Café Cluny: This is a beloved NextTribe haunt, a classic French restaurant on a charming corner. The French onion soup, frisée salad, roast chicken, and steak frites are legendary. And there’s a vegetarian Nicoise salad for those who don’t eat meat.
  • Piccolo Angolo on Hudson Street is the kind of cozy little Italian joint you’ve seen on screen. The perfect place for wine and a delicious bowl of pasta.
  • Via Carota is a sublime Italian eatery, one of the best restaurants in NYC, with a fab aperitif selection, but it’s super hard to get a table as it’s no-reservations and people are more than willing to line up to eat there. Our advice: Go mid-afternoon, and enjoy.
  • Barbuto: Way west in the Meatpacking District, an airy space on the Hudson River with heavenly roast chicken and potatoes.
  • Sant Ambroeus on West 4th Street has a selection of Italian dishes, from salads and sandwiches to heartier fare, but we’re all about their coffee. Possibly the best in the city.
  • Buvette, a quaint and very popular all-day spot at the corner of Bleecker and Grove Streets. Go for waffles in the AM; return for cassoulet at night.
  • Llama San on 6th Avenue is a perfect spot to enjoy a cool vibe and irresistible Peruvian fare.

Read More: Found: The 5 Most Fascinating Paris Neighborhood

Wonderful Things to Do in the West Village at Night

things to do in the West Village
NextTribers on our Downtown NYC Insider Tour singing along to the show tunes at the crazy-fun Marie’s Crisis cafe.

What can you do in addition to eat amazing food? Entertainment has a long and glorious history in the West Village.

Plan ahead, and see what shows are at the Lucille Lortel and Cherry Lane Theatre–these are off Broadway for sure, but a great way to see A-list plays and actors.

Want a cool movie experience? Visit the IFC Center on Sixth Avenue or dip a tiny bit south to the Film Forum. These offer vintage, indie, and foreign films, and are where we locals love to see shows.

Close out your night with a visit to one of the West Village’s speakeasy-style bars.

If you want to hear live music, the Village Vanguard on 7th Avenue South is an iconic jazz club (John Coltrane played there in the 60s); Little Branch and Smalls in the same nook of the West Village are other good bets.

Now, one of NextTribe’s favorite spots, a hidden gem: Marie’s Crisis Café at 59 Grove Street (yes, the coolest street in the West Village makes another appearance). This hideaway is a spirited place for Broadway showtune sing-alongs. Jeannie Ralston took a group here; they belted their way through “Oklahoma,” “Seasons of Love” from Rent, and “I Dreamed the Dream” from Les Miz. “Listening to the snarky asides from the hilariously jaded piano player was one of the best parts,” says Jeannie.

Close out your night with a visit to one of the West Village’s speakeasy-style bars, like the Garret (296 Bleecker St.), LB (20 7th Ave South) or Angel’s Share (45 Grove St.).

You’ve just read about where to shop, eat, stroll, and bask in the vibe of this eclectic and vibrant neighborhood in Lower Manhattan. So is the West Village worth it? For sure. It’s one of the best slices of NYC you can visit, whether you have 36 hours or a solid week to spend. And once you’ve explored there, you are bound to want to return, year after year.

Many of these places are on the itinerary for NextTribe’s Downtown NYC Insider Tour. Check it out here. \

By Janet Siroto


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