When I consider what springs to mind at the mention of New York city, it isn’t the towering skyscrapers of Midtown, or the famous tourist sights like the Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building. It’s not even the incredible shopping on 5th and Maddison Avenue, the bright lights of Broadway, or the iconic Rockefeller Centre. It’s the beautiful, trendy, quaint West Village, thriving with little boutiques, incredible eateries, and local town feel.
Nearly everyone I know who has been to New York more than once falls in love with this area of the city, and it’s my absolute favourite too. It’s so hard to really explain and convey why this area is so special, so New York but in a different way than you might imagine, and also so surprising for first time visitors. This post is a welcome to the West Village, and my take on why it’s the best borough in the city of New York.
As the name ‘village’ suggests, it’s feels like more of a small town, forming part of the bigger Greenwich Village area, and the usual NYC rules don’t really apply here. The grid layout of Manhattan is the first thing to go, with streets like Christopher Street, Bleecker Street, Hudson Street and West 4th Street going a bit rogue.
They sweep around rather than sitting straight across horizontally, causing 4th Street to actually intersect with 11th, 12th and 13th Street. This layout is reflective of the whole of the West Village – just a bit different, and you’ll love it for it’s quirks.
Spending time here will see you swap the high rise buildings and giant avenues for a simpler, slower paced environment, lined with red brick low rise buildings, and creeping ivy up the walls. Ornate fire escapes become endearing, and there’s an inviting coffee shop, boutique, bookstore or bar on every corner. It’s this New York that has you craving to live there, desperate to be a part of their way of life, give or take a few secret million.
The wealth that the Upper East Side flaunts, the West Village hides, instead going for a more bohemian, artistic, vibe. A lot less effort is made on appearance, but it’s so welcoming and aside from the odd landmark, it’s an escape from the tourism and one that should be enjoyed at your leisure.
6 paragraphs is quite the introduction before I even get to the cold hard facts and recommendations, but I really hope to get across the character of the neighbourhood. So let’s look further inside.
Things to see in the West Village
At the heart of the borough Bleecker Street is one of it’s most famous streets, known for bars, nightclubs, comedy clubs, independent gorgeous shops and the most famous branch of the Magnolia Bakery. It’s a community in itself, with many of the little stores ran by women making a name for themselves, and attracting a younger, social media savvy clientele.
You can spot them in their bright ath-leisure gear, nipping into the juice bar for a smoothie, before browsing the windows to see what unique clothing they might buy today, if only they didn’t have their French bulldog with them who would have to sit outside.
You might not recognise any designer names, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking they’re not impeccable quality.
Christopher Street was put on the map by the LGBT community in 1969 when the riots at the Stonewall Inn kick started the LGBT movement. As such this street is littered with a very specific type of nightlife. Pride bars, cabaret, drag shows, it’s all here, and the Stonewall is a historical landmark that has seen many a famous face.
There are also plenty of food places from many different cultures – Italian, Cuban, Chinese, Thai, Peruvian, the list goes on.
TV hot spots
Friends Apartment – the outside shots of the Friends apartment building were filmed in the West Village, on the corner of Bedford and Grove Streets. Sadly there’s no Central Perk beneath it, but there is a cute looking cafe that was busy each time we passed.
Carrie Bradshaw apartment – the famous stoop belonging to the SATC lead character can be found on Perry Street.
Magnolia Bakery – despite being a chain, it’s the Bleecker Street branch that most SATC fans want to visit, made famous by Carrie’s visit in the TV series. Not surprising really considering she lived just around the corner.
Where to eat and drink in the West Village
An absolute haven for food lovers, mixing cuisines from all over the world with gorgeous New York coffee shops, independent restaurants and bars, and some hugely popular-expect a long wait-but totally unreal places too. The popularity comes from locals preferences, largely because it’s just not as prominent for tourists, but also because the food is amazing.
The Spotted Pig – my all time favourite this incredibly popular restaurant/bar is a must visit. You can’t book because they just don’t need you to, but think of long drawn out boozy brunches with the locals, and lively nights sinking beers or shots at the bar. Their burgers are famous, as are their shoe string fries, but personally I love the sweet options like the Dutch Baby crepe and the French toast. You can find it on the corner of Greenwich Street and West 11th Street.
The Jane Hotel – Old Rose – this is actually the hotel restaurant, but you don’t have to be staying there to visit. It’s one of the few places in Manhattan you can actually book for brunch, and it’s completely worth doing. The restaurant and bar itself are beautiful, total insta – goals, and the food was amazing.
You can read a lot more about both the Spotted Pig and the Old Rose in my top 3 brunches in Manhattan guide here.
Joe’s Pizza – found on Carmine Street, you can’t miss Joe’s Pizza thanks to the many people you will see nipping in for a traditional giant New York slice for just a few dollars. Joe himself came from Naples, so knows all there is to know about pizza, and he still works here. It’s bloody incredible. Spot the celebs who are also fans of Joe’s famous pizza, their photos hang on the walls.
Magnolia Bakery – I’ve already mentioned it as a TV location, but the Magnolia Bakery does do absolutely incredible cakes, cupcakes and cheesecakes. You can not miss the chance of trying out at least one or two of them. Good luck choosing, but I personally recommend the red velvet cheesecake – it is unbelievable.
Jeffrey’s Grocery Store – hear me out on this one, because not only is Jeffrey’s a grocery store, it’s also a little eatery complete with charcuterie, oyster bar, and a broad menu perfect for an afternoon spot of lunch.
White Horse Tavern – a typical New York bar, head on in and prop the bar up as many others have since 1880. It is iconic to the area and although we didn’t see any, I’m told it’s a popular celeb hangout. It’s really known from the 1950’s-1960’s when this period saw the area filled with inspired writers and authors.
We didn’t get chance to visit the following places, but they repeatedly popped up when I was researching our trip last year. Barbuto – an Italian restaurant, Jack’s Wife Freida and Egg Shop – both highly recommended brunch places I only wish we had time for, and oyster bars such as Pearl Oyster and Mermaid Oyster, if you’re a fan of seafood.
Shopping in the West Village
As I’ve mentioned the shopping here is slightly more discreet than the likes of 5th Avenue and Maddison Avenue on the Upper East Side. Many women have opened independent boutiques that are still quite high end, but there are a couple of more recognisable names, even if they are in smaller more intimate locations than you might usually find them.
Marc Jacobs, Rag & Bone, and my personal favourite Louboutin, which is a tiny little shop just on the corner of Horatio Street. You might even miss it if you’ve had one too many glasses of wine at the Spotted Pig, but it is there and gives you a clue to the wealth of the people who are lucky enough to live in this neighbourhood.
Rebel Rebel is a famous record shop named after David Bowie, and has box upon box of vinyls to flick through.
The shops here blend in with the quaint feel of the borough, they’re small, and each one takes real pride over it’s window displays and outside appearance. They really add to the tiny town atmosphere that the West Village does so well, in the middle of one of the most populated cities in the world.
If you’re from the UK you can get a taste of home at Tea & Sympathy, an English restaurant but one that also sells English products like tea, scones, and teapots.
And you can stock up on all your beauty and make up supplies at the enormous Sephora.
What else can you do here?
The West Village developed a reputation for the artistic and literary type in the 1950-60’s, and this explains the number of bookshops dotted about the place. They’re the type of book store that any book lover would adore, such as BookBook and Three Lives & Company.
Those with a passion for music will also enjoy it here, with the iconic Village Vanguard Jazz Club, open mic dive bars, and live performers at places like Cafe Wha?
Personally, I always have to stop by the local pet shop, Citipups on Christopher Street. Here you will actually find uppies in the window, and obviously they’re completely adorable.
Admiring the Brownstones and residential buildings is also a great way to spend time here, simply wandering around the streets imagining what it would be like to live this life. They’re gorgeous, and the streets really remind me of Notting Hill in London when the residents decorate the outsides according to the time of year.
As I mentioned previously the LGBT community have a presence here, and the New York annual pride march ends in the West Village every June.
The High Line and the indoor Chelsea Market are not technically the West Village, but they’re very close and if you’re staying further up the city in Midtown then it’s convenient to walk along the highland and stop in to the market on your way down to the West Village.
The High Line is essentially old railway tracks that have been converted into a green space and walkway that runs elevated through the west side of Manhattan. It’s a place where you’ll find plenty street art, and some amazing viewing points.
If you exit the High Line at 10th Street, you can also pay Chelsea Market a visit, where you will find plenty independent shops, street food style places, and be able to grab a coffee or cake from bakeries such as Sarabeths. In the cold months it’s a good escape from the outdoors!
How to fit the West Village into your trip
Other than dipping in for brunch, which is an absolute must, I would suggest that you go to the West Village a couple of days into your trip, especially if you’re a first time visitor. It’s everyones tendency to want to see those iconic tourist sights and landmarks in your first few days, which will involve a lot of walking, rushing about and battling the crowds.
The West Village is much slower paced, and is a welcome relief after a hard few days sightseeing. You also don’t want to rush your time here, or feel like you still have things to see elsewhere in the city. I personally enjoy a Saturday or Sunday here, when the locals are out to play and it comes to life.
My favourite day of our recent trip was spent walking the High Line pretty early in the morning when there were no crowds, we grabbed a coffee to go from the Chelsea market, and then wandered into the West Village.
We found the Friends apartment, and strolled the gorgeous residential streets, before picking up a couple of cheesecakes to go at the Magnolia Bakery when we got to Bleecker Street.
A good few hours were then spent at the Spotted Pig for brunch, a bottle of wine, and people watching the locals. We then went on to enjoy the shops, mentally listing all of the adorable looking cafes we wished we had time for, and generally just enjoying the atmosphere of the place.
I hope this guide helps you make the most of the West Village, and encourages you to visit, and really allow yourself some proper time here. It’s somewhere that really does feel like a stylish close knit village, holding its own in a city of over 8 million people.
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