The Upper East Side, or UES as the locals call it, spans all the way down the East side of Central Park, between 5th Avenue that stretches right along next to the park, across to the East River. An area largely made up of incredibly wealthy residential townhouses and luxurious apartment blocks, until my most recent trip to New York it was pretty unknown to me. What I found on our last day as we wandered the wealthy streets of the Upper East Side, was a whole lot more than that, and it’s somewhere I’m dying to get back to explore.
While other areas of Manhattan might seem more appealing, especially to tourists or first time visitors, the Upper East Side shouldn’t be discounted by any means. What you’ll find is a beautiful, slightly more relaxed neighbourhood, that oozes class and sophistication like no other in NYC. Being a filthy rich neighbourhood you might be surprised to find there is so much to see and do, many places to eat, and a diversity that dates back to the city’s origins.
5th Avenue as I knew it began at the bottom corner of Central Park as you look on a map, because that’s usually where most tourists begin the walk down past Tiffany’s, Gucci, the Nike Shop, and on to the Empire State Building and the Flatiron District.
Total ignorance on my part because of course it continues straight up past the park, and many of the beautiful apartment blocks and high rise hotels on the East Side have stunning views over Central Park itself. A walk up 5th Avenue in this direction is going to lead you right through ‘Museum Mile’, or what used to be known as ‘Millionnaire’s Mile’, which should give you an idea of the upscale surroundings you’re about to discover.
Museum Mile, Upper East Side
This stretch of 5th Avenue alongside the park is located between 82nd and 105th Street, and is littered with iconic museums and art institutes. You’ll come across the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the ‘Met’, of course home to the annual Met Ball, as well as the Guggenheim, the Museum of the City of New York and the National Academy Museum and School of Fine Art.
Museums aren’t really how I choose to spend my time when I visit places, other than to appreciate the buildings themselves, often just as amazing to see as what’s inside them. While these are obviously full of collections and prize pieces that any cultured art lover would appreciate, they’re also impressive from the outside, many of which are actually old grand mansions. This is where the old term ‘Millionaire’s Mile’ came from. Basically they’re all filthy rich.
A New York City card can get you access to many of the museums, or otherwise you’re looking at a fee of around $25 for an adult pass. Be aware of exhibitions currently running, as the queues can be round the block, so plan your visit ahead of time. I didn’t venture in, but I’ve also been told that the rooftop terrace of the Met has incredible views over Central Park too.
Shopping on Maddison Avenue
I thought that both 5th Avenue, and the boutique shops of the West Village were impressive shopping options in New York, but Maddison Avenue is an absolute hidden gem, or it was to me having previously never ventured up there.
This is where we spent most of our time in the Upper East Side, choosing to window shop rather than museum spot. From 5th Avenue, head along East 58th Street and you’ll walk past the enormous Apple shop, and emerge out on Maddison Avenue.
Turn left and from here you will begin any shoppers dream walk past some of the most famous designer names you will ever see in one spot. Even in Paris and London I’ve never seen so many in one place. Unlike 5th Avenue there’s no bustle and excitement at spotting them, as here it’s mainly locals. I on the other hand, was beside myself.
I’m going to name just a few, that line the way along Maddison Avenue from 59th Street up to 72nd Street and beyond. Porsche, Moncler, Louis Vuitton, Tom Ford, Hermes, Chanel, Alexander McQueen, Oscar de la Renta, Valentino, Cartier, and the biggest Ralph Lauren complete with the recently opened Ralph’s coffee stop.
Rattling these names off like that doesn’t really give a real impression of what this street is like. It’s quiet, understated, and only occasionally interrupted by the tap of some very well dressed ladies teetering along in their high heels before venturing in to their favourite shops.
While I can only dream of having the kind of lifestyle that would allow that to be my Monday morning, it was great to witness as posh, chauffeur driven cars seemed to glide by, and doormen held open the glossy shop doors, while I basically pressed my nose up to each window choosing what I’d buy if I was loaded. Ugh it’s beyond dreamy.
You can also find a huge Barney’s shoe shop on 60th Street, and further over in the opposite direction to Central Park you can come across Lexington Avenue, where you’ll find a Bloomingdale’s taking up a whole block.
Grab a coffee at Ralph’s Coffee
I’ve previously been to the Ralph Lauren coffee shop on Regent Street in London, and Ralph’s Restaurant in Paris, so I was so happy to come across the very recently opened Ralph’s cafe in the flagship NYC store on Maddison Avenue.
After all the walking we went inside for a coffee and a croissant, and even if you don’t need to stop I strongly recommend you do anyway because it’s so lovely inside. It’s like being welcomed in to one of the stunning New York townhouses, with a small little counter to place your order, and little coves filled with tables to sit at.
We found ourselves sat next to two native New Yorker ladies, and I was completely fascinated by them. Over their Ralph’s blend of coffee, they were discussing their latest nip and tucks, how strenuous their week was going to be taking the poodle to the parlour, and waiting for their rich husbands to return home late to take them out for dinner.
They were totally fabulous and it was a real glimpse into how the other half live. I loved them. A great spot to people watch and the coffee is excellent too. You might also spot the Ralph’s coffee van outside the Rockefeller Centre too, for a quick coffee to go.
History of the Upper East Side
It was in the 1900’s that the UES really found it’s feet, and developed into the refined, leafy, beautiful neighbourhood that it is today. Having previously offered little to do here, apartment blocks were constructed for the elite. These can be found on 5th Avenue next to the park, but many of the other landmarks of the Upper East Side were also built around this time.
This increase in residents also resulted in an increase in restaurants. Before the rich and elite moved in, it had been a very diverse neighbourhood with immigrants from all over the place, including Germany, Hungary and Latin America. This shows through the restaurant options available.
Where to eat on the Upper East Side
Aside from a coffee and a croissant, we didn’t actually eat on the UES, which I’m a bit gutted about. I have done some research into what’s on offer, so if/when I return I’d be going to one or more of the following:
Alice’s Tea Cup – for afternoon tea!
Heidelberg Restaurant – obviously from the German settlement in the Yorkville area, serving German food and beer.
Italian options – Bottega or Serafina
Lexington Club for a New York steak
Two Door Tavern on 3rd Avenue – for gastropub American style food, there is also one in Brooklyn.
I’d be dipping in to the Laduree on Maddison Avenue for macarons too.
Until we ventured up to the Upper East Side on our last day, I’d felt like we had really covered a lot of Manhattan. We definitely spent more time on the West Side, and in Midtown, but even just the morning we enjoyed here made me wish we had more time to spend there. New York will do that to you, every time you think you’ve seen it all it throws something new out.
So while the Upper East Side may not be top of your list if you’re visiting for the first time and need to pack a lot in, I would definitely try to visit Maddison Avenue, and Museum Mile. It’s a more relaxed experience of New York, and midweek gives a real glimpse into another world of wealth, culture and unreal shopping.
I need to go back to see more of it, but check back soon to see more guides I have coming on other neighbourhoods.
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