Top 19 Things To Do In Chinatown NYC To Add To Your Itinerary

Top 19 Things To Do In Chinatown NYC To Add To Your Itinerary

Chinatown in New York City is a bustling enclave brimming with cultural experiences, delectable foods, and fascinating history. It is a neighborhood that offers visitors a unique glimpse into Chinese-American life and traditions. If you are planning a visit, here are the top things to do in Chinatown NYC to ensure your trip is memorable and exciting.

1. Explore the Vibrant Street Markets

One of the must-visit attractions in Chinatown is its vibrant street markets. Canal Street, in particular, is renowned for its bustling atmosphere where you can find everything from exotic fruits to unique souvenirs. The energy here is palpable, making it a perfect spot for those who want to dive into the dynamic local scene.

Walking through these markets, you will encounter vendors selling a variety of goods, from handcrafted jewelry to traditional Chinese herbs. It is an excellent opportunity for photographers and cultural enthusiasts to capture the essence of Chinatown’s lively street life.

2. Visit the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA)

Dedicated to preserving and presenting the rich cultural heritage of Chinese Americans, the Museum of Chinese in America is a pivotal stop in Chinatown. The museum hosts a variety of exhibitions that explore the Chinese American experience through historical artifacts, artwork, and multimedia presentations. This is a place where visitors can gain a deeper understanding of the community’s history and contributions to American society.

Besides its permanent collection, MOCA frequently features temporary exhibitions that focus on contemporary social issues and achievements of Chinese Americans. It is an enriching experience that connects the past with the present.

3. Savor Authentic Chinese Cuisine

Chinatown is a haven for food enthusiasts looking to explore authentic Chinese cuisine. From street vendors selling warm, fluffy bao to restaurants offering dim sum and Peking duck, the options are endless. Each dining spot provides a taste of the different regions of China, making it a culinary adventure.

Whether you are in the mood for spicy Sichuan dishes or sweet Cantonese desserts, Chinatown’s diverse food scene will not disappoint. Make sure to visit some of the neighborhood’s oldest eateries for a traditional dining experience that has stood the test of time.

4. Discover Columbus Park

Columbus Park is the social heart of Chinatown, where locals gather to engage in daily activities such as Tai Chi, Chinese chess, and mahjong. The park is a lively spot where you can observe or participate in traditional Chinese games and sports. It is also a great place for a relaxing break from the bustling city streets.

Throughout the year, Columbus Park hosts various cultural events and festivals, including music performances and opera shows. These events provide a fantastic opportunity to experience Chinese culture in an open and welcoming environment.

5. Attend a Tea Tasting Session

For a more subdued and reflective activity, consider attending a tea tasting session in one of Chinatown’s numerous teahouses. These sessions not only offer a chance to taste a variety of traditional Chinese teas but also to learn about the art and significance of tea in Chinese culture. Experienced tea masters guide visitors through the different flavors and brewing techniques, making it an educational as well as a delightful experience.

Tea tastings are perfect for those who seek a deeper connection with Chinese traditions and wish to learn more about this important aspect of daily life.

6. Participate in a Cultural Walking Tour

To truly understand the depth of history and culture in Chinatown, participating in a guided walking tour is highly recommended. These tours often cover significant landmarks, such as the historic Doyers Street, known as the “Bloody Angle,” and various hidden gems that are not typically accessible to casual visitors. Tour guides provide insights into the area’s past conflicts, triumphs, and ongoing cultural evolution.

A walking tour is an excellent way to explore Chinatown’s narrow alleys and learn stories that bring the neighborhood’s colorful history to life.

7. Explore the Historical Landmarks

Chinatown is not just a place for culinary and cultural adventures; it is also home to significant historical landmarks that tell the story of Chinese immigrants in America. The Church of the Transfiguration, nestled on Mott Street, serves as a poignant reminder of the neighborhood’s evolving community. It has hosted services for Irish, Italian, and Chinese congregations since the early 19th century.

Another notable site is the Edward Mooney House on the Bowery, the oldest surviving townhouse in New York City. Built in the late 18th century, this building has been a witness to the transformation of the city and its diverse communities. It is an architectural gem that history buffs will appreciate.

8. Take Part in the Festivals

Participating in local festivals can provide visitors with a deeper understanding of the community’s spirit and traditions. The Chinese New Year, or Lunar New Year, is one of the most spectacular celebrations in Chinatown. Streets are filled with vibrant parades, traditional music, and dragon dances, creating a festive atmosphere that welcomes the new year with joy and excitement.

Another key event is the Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival. This celebration is marked by the sharing of mooncakes, lantern displays, and various performances. It is a time when families gather to admire the full moon and give thanks for the harvest, offering a warm insight into Chinese cultural practices.

9. Shop at Local Boutiques

While Canal Street offers a variety of street vendors and bustling markets, exploring the local boutiques provides a different shopping experience. These small shops often sell unique and handmade items, ranging from fine silks and artisanal crafts to custom-made jewelry. Shopping here supports local artisans and gives you a taste of Chinatown’s creative community.

For those interested in traditional Chinese medicine, there are several reputable boutiques that offer herbal remedies and consultations with experienced practitioners. These shops not only provide natural health products but also share knowledge about the benefits and uses of traditional herbs in Chinese culture.

10. Enjoy the Art Scene

Chinatown’s art scene is vibrant and offers an array of galleries and street art that reflect the neighborhood’s rich cultural heritage and contemporary influences. Galleries like the Fou Gallery on East Broadway host exhibitions that blend traditional Chinese art forms with modern expressions, showcasing the talents of emerging and established artists alike.

Public art installations and murals are also prevalent in Chinatown, adding color and context to its streets. These works often celebrate the achievements of Chinese Americans and their contributions to the city’s cultural landscape, making a walkthrough Chinatown a visually engaging experience.

Top 19 Things To Do In Chinatown NYC To Add To Your Itinerary

11. Experience the Nightlife

After the sun sets, Chinatown transforms into a lively hub of nighttime activities. For a start, the Apotheke cocktail bar, located on the historic Doyers Street, offers a unique speakeasy experience with a menu inspired by pharmacology, alluding to the street’s past nickname, “The Bloody Angle.” This hidden gem mixes up some of the city’s most innovative cocktails.

Additionally, visitors can enjoy live music and performances at local bars and lounges that showcase a mix of traditional Chinese and modern entertainment. The nightlife in Chinatown provides a perfect blend of cultural richness and contemporary fun, offering something for everyone.

12. Relax in Hidden Gardens

Amidst the hustle and bustle of Chinatown, there are serene spots where visitors can find tranquility. The hidden gardens tucked away behind some buildings offer a peaceful retreat from the urban environment. These spaces are often adorned with traditional Chinese landscaping elements, such as koi ponds and rock gardens, providing a moment of Zen.

One of the most cherished spots is the garden at the Mahayana Buddhist Temple. Visitors are welcome to sit and meditate or simply enjoy the quiet atmosphere. This garden, along with others in the neighborhood, illustrates the importance of balance and harmony in Chinese culture.

13. Discover Through Workshops and Classes

For those looking to engage more deeply with Chinese culture, Chinatown offers various workshops and classes that range from language lessons to martial arts training. Language schools provide courses in Mandarin and Cantonese, which can be a fun and educational way to enhance your visit.

Additionally, several local centers offer classes in traditional Chinese arts such as calligraphy, painting, and even cooking. These sessions not only teach practical skills but also deepen participants’ understanding of the cultural significance behind them.

14. Visit Iconic Cultural Sites

Just a few blocks away from the Mahayana Buddhist Temple, the Kimlau War Memorial stands as a poignant reminder of the Chinese-American soldiers who served in the U.S. military. Erected by the American Legion, this landmark is a focal point for community remembrance and respect, particularly during significant cultural events like Memorial Day and Veterans Day. It honors Lt. Benjamin Ralph Kimlau, a Chinese-American bomber pilot who died during World War II, symbolizing the sacrifices made by countless others.

The memorial, located at Chatham Square, is an important site for both the local community and visitors, serving as a bridge between generations and cultures. Its presence in Chinatown underscores the deep historical ties between Asian Americans and broader national narratives. On days of commemoration, it becomes a gathering place where stories of valor and sacrifice are shared, further enriching the cultural tapestry of Chinatown.

15. Explore the Local Libraries and Community Centers

Chinatown’s libraries and community centers are treasure troves of resources for those interested in Chinese-American history and culture. The Chatham Square Library, in particular, offers a collection rich in works about Asian-American histories, literature, and the arts. It is a vital community hub where locals and visitors alike can delve into educational materials or participate in cultural workshops and talks.

Community centers in Chinatown play an integral role in promoting and preserving the cultural heritage of the neighborhood. These venues regularly host events and festivals that showcase traditional Chinese arts, such as music, dance, and theater. Engaging with these community-run programs provides visitors with a deeper appreciation of the area’s rich cultural fabric.

16. Photography and Art Walks

For those with a keen interest in photography and street art, Chinatown offers numerous opportunities to capture the vibrant life of this bustling neighborhood. Guided photography tours can take you to hidden alleys adorned with striking murals and street installations that reflect the area’s cultural diversity and artistic vibrancy. These tours not only enrich your visit but also offer unique perspectives on the evolving identity of Chinatown.

Additionally, art enthusiasts will find galleries featuring works by local Chinese-American artists. These spaces often curate exhibitions that explore themes relevant to the experiences and contributions of the Chinese community in America. Visiting these galleries provides a deeper understanding of the local art scene and supports the artists who continue to shape it.

17. Attend Language and Cultural Exchange Meetups

For visitors looking to immerse themselves fully in the local culture, attending language exchange meetups can be a highly rewarding experience. These gatherings are often organized by cultural associations and provide a platform for mutual learning and interaction between locals and tourists. They are not only a great way to learn basic Mandarin or Cantonese phrases but also help in understanding the societal norms and practices of the Chinese community.

Chinatown’s cultural centers also offer classes that range from calligraphy to traditional Chinese medicine. Participating in these classes allows visitors to gain hands-on experience and a deeper appreciation of the ancient skills and knowledge that have been preserved through generations. These interactive sessions are educational and provide a unique souvenir of the experience—new skills and knowledge.

18. Sample Specialty Foods and Beverages

Chinatown is a haven for food enthusiasts, offering an array of specialty foods and beverages that are hard to find elsewhere. For a truly local experience, visitors should try the traditional Chinese herbal teas and tonics available at various apothecaries in the neighborhood. These shops offer customized blends that are believed to have health-enhancing properties, following recipes that have been passed down through generations.

Another must-try is the bubble tea, available at numerous cafes throughout Chinatown. This Taiwanese drink has become synonymous with contemporary Asian culture and is offered in a myriad of flavors and styles. Sampling these drinks provides a taste of modern culinary trends within the traditional setting of Chinatown.

19. Discover Chinatown’s Night Markets

Experience the exhilarating atmosphere of Chinatown’s night markets, where locals and tourists alike come to enjoy a festive evening of shopping, eating, and entertainment. These markets are a hub of activity, offering everything from unique artisan crafts to live music performances. They provide a perfect evening outing, where visitors can shop for souvenirs, sample street food, and soak in the vibrant nightlife.

The night markets in Chinatown also serve as a showcase for local talents, including musicians, artists, and chefs. These events are a celebration of the cultural diversity and creative spirit of the neighborhood, making them an essential experience for anyone visiting Chinatown.

Unlimited Fun when in Chinatown NYC

Chinatown NYC is a neighborhood teeming with history, culture, and culinary delights. It offers visitors a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in a rich cultural tapestry that reflects both the traditions of Chinese immigrants and the dynamic nature of New York City. By adding these top things to do in Chinatown NYC to your itinerary, you are sure to have a fulfilling and memorable visit.

Visit NYC: Your Ultimate Guide to the City

Visit NYC takes pride on offering comprehensive NYC guides that cover the best things to do in New York City. Whether you are visiting for the first time or are a seasoned traveler, our recommendations will enhance your experience. Trust us to guide you through the most unforgettable attractions and experiences across the city.