Explore New York City Like a Local: 10 Must-Visit Places in Manhattan

UPDATED: June 7, 2024
PUBLISHED: June 8, 2024
explore nyc like a local

To explore New York City like a local opens up a universe of possibilities—each neighborhood has its own personality and vibe. If you stick to a guidebook, you’ll likely find yourself surrounded by throngs of out-of-towners with the same intel. For a true Manhattan experience, try visiting spots that locals gather, where you can feel the timeless atmosphere of old New York, alive as ever.

1. The Marlton Hotel

A whisper away from Washington Square, this boutique hotel is easy to stroll past without knowing of its rich bohemian history. The former rooming house, built in 1900, was once the home of luminaries Edna St. Vincent Milas, Lillian Gish and Maggie Smith. In the 1950s, Jack Kerouac wrote The Subterraneans while living upstairs, and in the 1960s, Lenny Bruce resided there when he was on trial for obscenity. Today, the hotel is rumored to be haunted. You needn’t be a guest in one of their cozy, impeccably designed rooms to linger over lattes and scones in the lobby, sip cocktails at the bar or mingle with the downtown crowd. Feeling peckish? Head to Cafe Margaux inside the hotel for superb American dishes like spaghetti pomodoro, rotisserie Amish chicken and smoked salmon tartare.  

Address: The Marlton Hotel—5 West 8th Street, New York City – Greenwich Village

2. Caffe Reggio

Photo by Danielle Winston

Reggio’s cinematic setting, with its carved antique furniture and sepia walls, makes you feel like a time traveler in a classic noir. It’s no wonder the iconic backdrop has appeared in numerous films, including Next Stop Greenwich Village and the Cohen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis. Known for being the first cafe to bring cappuccino to America in 1927, it has proudly displayed the exquisite brass machine. Absorb the cinematic ambiance, flawless lattes and Italian pastries or choose from extensive brunch, lunch and dinner menus. 

Address: Caffe Reggio—119 Macdougal Street, New York City – Greenwich Village

3. Balthazar Restaurant

Photo by Danielle Winston

A visit to Manhattan would be lacking without a stop at this iconic SoHo brasserie. Exquisite dishes like the moules frites and classic Balthazar burger, the bustling atmosphere, Parisian decor and celebrity clientele feels more like Paris’ Left Bank than SoHo. Keith McNally’s Michelin star brainchild has been going strong since 1997. The restaurant’s bakery next door offers gourmet coffee, decadent pastries and artisan breads, as well as salads, sandwiches and soups. Petit déjeuner options include smoked salmon tartine and quiche Lorraine. Grab a seared tuna niçoise and French onion soup for an unforgettable picnic lunch. 

Address: Balthazar Restaurant—80 Spring Street, New York City – SoHo 

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4. Elizabeth Street Garden

In Nolita, bordering Little Italy and Chinatown, you’ll find a hidden medieval sculpture garden straight out of a Gothic novel. Many Manhattanites don’t even know that this rare spot exists. The lush acre, framed by landmark tenements, is connected to the Elizabeth Street Gallery. The Gallery’s exquisite statues are those that grace the space, and they include sphinxes, maidens and even Medusa. Daydream as you stroll though isles of hydrangeas, roses, lotuses and wild raspberries or sit in the copper gazebo and absorb the magic. For an extra dose of inner calm, the garden hosts yoga and tai chi classes on weekends. Check out the calendar for details and additional events.  

Address: Elizabeth Street Garden—Elizabeth Street, New York City – Nolita

5. Metrograph 

Photo by Jeremy Liebman

Outside, it’s a nondescript brick building. Inside, it’s a swanky revival cinema complete with a sexy lounge adorned with vintage velvet chairs. The Metrograph also houses the Commissary, a restaurant inspired by Hollywood’s Golden Age. Watch expertly curated cult favorites, art films and cinematic masterpieces in an intimate setting. Keep an eye out for Q&A’s as well. Previous events have included Gena Rowlands, Susan Seidelman, Rachel Weisz, Abel Ferrara and Willem Dafoe. Metrograph also offers a membership that includes streaming.  

 Address: Metrograph—7 Ludlow Street, New York City – Chinatown

6. Signature Theatre

While out-of-towners flock to Broadway, locals head further west to the multi-story complex that houses the Signature Theatre’s company and playwrights, which is complete with three theaters and a cafe with a bar. The company celebrates the creative process by featuring cutting-edge, innovative and diverse works at affordable prices. Known as a home for storytellers, the theater’s resident playwrights have included Edward Albee, Annie Baker, Horton Foote, María Irene Fornés, John Guare and countless others.

Address: Signature Theatre—480 West 42nd Street, New York City – Midtown, Theater District 

7. Joe Allen

Joe Allen is a landmark hangout for performers with a homey neighborhood atmosphere. The restaurant, which has thrived since 1965, features colorful posters of Broadway flops on its cozy brick walls and upscale comfort food like vegetable stew. Make a reservation ahead of time for a pre-theater table or come for a late night nibble. And remember, if you spot a celebrity or three, be cool and act natural—this is a neighborhood spot where locals feel free to relax and unwind. 

Address: Joe Allen—326 West 46th Street, New York City – Midtown, Theater District  

8. The MET Museum

Photo by Paula Lobo

With one of the most extensive and varied collections in the U.S., the MET Museum hosts 5,000 years of art. Explore the Egyptian Temple of Dendur, marvel over suits of armor and Greek statues. You’ll find paintings from the Renaissance, impressionists, Pre-Raphaelites, modernists and contemporary painters, as well as photographs and ceramics. Their world-renown costume exhibitions will leave you breathless. Not everyone knows that on Friday and Saturday nights, the museum is open late for Date Night at the Met. But you needn’t bring a partner to enjoy these popular evenings, which are complete with live music and drink specials in the cafe. For an extra dose of Manhattan magic, explore the rooftop’s magnificent views of Central Park, where cocktails are served at the Cantor Roof Garden Bar.

Address: The MET Museum—1000 5th Avenue, New York City – Upper East Side

9. Grand Bazaar NYC

Along with typical flea market fare, both curated and ramshackle, you’ll find art deco cameos, vintage chandeliers, designer handbags and records from more than 100 vendors. There’s also a steady base of artisan sellers who craft everything from beauty products to wood furniture. The market draws a steady crowd in both its inside and outside spaces. Be prepared to go slow so you don’t miss anything of value amid the rubble. Check out their summertime events as well. And if all that shopping is making you hungry, walk a block up the street for a luscious array of fresh-baked goodies.

Address: Grand Bazaar NYC—(Sundays) 100 West 77th Street, New York City – Upper West Side

10. 79th Street Greenmarket 

Grow NYC’s Greenmarket sets up shop down several block every Sunday of the year. On Sundays, it’s in front of the American Museum of Natural History, near the Grand Bazaar, only a short walk from Central Park. Farmers and artisans from neighboring towns sell seasonal and organic produce, country wildflowers, fresh fish and dairy, homemade baked goods and local honey. Check the website for vendors. 

Address: 79th Street Greenmarket—West 79th Street and Columbus Avenue, UWS

Photo by Danielle Winston