What to do in Chinatown NYC
New York City’s Chinatown is a sprawling Asian community densely packed into a two-mile radius in lower Manhattan. As far as cultural enclaves go, Chinatown reigns supreme. But with so much to see and do, it can be overwhelming to the casual visitor.
Up to the 1970s, the traditional borders of Chinatown were Canal Street to the North (bordering Little Italy), The Bowery to the East (bordering the Lower East Side), Worth Street to the South, and Baxter Street to the West. Most people visiting New York City’s Chinatown go to the intersections of Canal Street with Mott and Mulberry street, and the intersection of Pell and Doyers Streets.
“I’m astounded by people who want to ‘know’ the universe when it’s hard enough to find your way around Chinatown.” ~ Woody Allen
Chinatown is one of New York City’s most fascinating neighborhoods, rich in history, one could easily spend days navigating its bustling streets. But for those who are pressed for time, here is a composite list of the top places to visit in New York City’s Chinatown. Here are a couple of must-see attractions on your tour of Chinatown NYC:
Today the borders of New York City’s Chinatown has moved, and is more correctly identified as bordered by Delancey Street to the North (bordering the East Village and SoHo sections of NYC), East Broadway to the East (stopping at Rutgers Street), Broadway to the West (encroaching the TriBeCa sections of NYC), and Chambers Street to the South (encroaching the City Hall area).
Chinese immigrants moved to the East Coast cities of the United States when they faced increasing discrimination on the West Coast. New York City’s Chinatown started on Mott Street, Park, Peel, and Doyer Streets. When the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882, there was already 2000 ethnic Chinese living there. The gender disparity is quite great: in 1900, there were 7,000 Chinese residents in Chinatown, but fewer than 200 were women.
Columbus Park is the only park in Chinatown. It was built on what was once the center of the infamous Five Points neighborhood of New York City, a dangerous slum area in the 19th Century.
Mott Street is a great starting point for your Chinatown adventure. This street is filled with Cantonese restaurants, dim sum parlors, and small shops and grocery stores catering to tourists and the local clientele.
Browse the street and be sure to check out the following:
Ten Ren Tea Time
75 Mott Street
The Chinese love their tea so it’s no surprise that there’s a tea parlor around just about every corner in Chinatown. One of the local favorites is TenRen’s Tea & Ginseng Co., an adorable little tea shop where you can sample hundreds of different varieties of whole-leaf teas. Tea is sold by ounce with a minimum sale of two ounces and is kept in enormous metal jars.
The store also loops around and has a second opening with a seating area where you can buy “bubble tea” (a mostly sweet tea with tapioca “bubbles” on the bottom) and milk-based teas ready to drink.
The Church of the Transfiguration
25 Mott Street
This Church has been serving immigrants to this neighborhood since 1801.
It has continuously evolved to meet the needs of the neighborhoods changing ethnicities – once catering to German and Italian immigrants, it now claims the largest Chinese Roman Catholic Congregation in the US. Services are held throughout the day in English, Cantonese, and Mandarin.
The Eastern State Buddhist Temple of America
64 Mott Street
During your tour of Mott Street, you will inevitably stumble upon The Eastern States Buddhist Temple of America.
Though not as extravagant as the Mahayana Buddhist Temple (see below), it also boasts a giant gold Buddha and more than 100 smaller Buddhas and is worth visiting on your tour or Mott Street.
Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA)
215 Centre Street
Founded in 1980 to preserve and exhibit Chinese-American history, this museum documents the experiences of Chinese immigrants in the Americas. Its goal is to promote better understanding between the races and to make Chinese-American history accessible to the public.
The entrance fee is normally $7 for adults but is waived on Fridays from 12 PM to 7 PM. Visit the Museum of Chinese in America Website for more information.
67 Mulberry Street
Here you can find free Tai Chi classes in the mornings, Chinese Opera in the evenings, and games of mahjong and chess being played all day long. Once called Mulberry Bend Park, Columbus Park opened in 1897 and was one of the first major urban parks in New York City.
Over the past century, it has undergone a series of renovations including the construction of a number of basketball courts, the installation of new playground equipment, and the erection of the limestone comfort station on the North end of the park.
The diversity of people here makes it one of the best places in New York to “people watch.” Its proximity to a number of cheap restaurants also makes it a great place to enjoy a drink or meal.
Once the site of – you guessed it – a canal, this bustling street is characterized by its open bazaars. Peruse the fish and fruit markets for some fresh produce or pick yourself up some knock-off designer duds, all at rock-bottom prices. Beware of the old “bait and switch” though – it’s one of Canal Street’s favorite scams.
Visit our Canal Street page for more on this historic street.
Also on Canal Street, make sure to check out the Chinatown Visitors Kiosk, located at the intersection of Walker and Baxter.
Here you will find free guides and maps of Chinatown. As well as:
The Mahayana Buddhist Temple
133 Canal Street
Located at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge, the Mahayana Buddhist Temple is the largest Buddhist Temple in New York.
Inside you will find an enormous 16-foot gold statue of Buddha seated on a lotus with depictions of his life decorating the walls.
Believers come to make offerings in memory of their dead relatives while tourists and other visitors can donate a dollar in exchange for their own personal paper fortune.
Once the site of the most murders per square foot in all of New York, Doyers Street is one of the most fascinating streets in Chinatown. Visit “Doyers Street” for more information on this intriguing side street.
Chatham Square (Kimlau Square)
Once a less savory part of the old Five Points neighborhood, Chatham Square lies at the intersection of seven streets: Bowery, East Broadway, St. James Place, Mott, Oliver, Worth, and Park Row.
Here you will find the Kim Lau Memorial Arch, a memorial to the Chinese Americans who have served for the US and died in the name of democracy as well as a looming sculpture of Lin Xezu, shepherd of the people and anti-opium advocate.
Edward Mooney House
Located at the corner of Bowery and Pell, the Edward Mooney House is the oldest townhouse in Manhattan.
It was built in 1785 after the revolutionary war and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Now a bank – it is allegedly haunted by turn-of-the-century ghosts. So there we have it, a composite list of Chinatown NYC’s most popular attractions. Not quite ready to return to the West? Don’t worry, there’s more to see in Chinatown. Pick up some dollar dumplings, or dragon beard candy, get a massage or acupuncture, or wander aimlessly in search of your own Chinatown adventure.
Did I miss anything? What’s your favorite place to visit in New York City’s Chinatown? Let me know in the comments sections below.