The lower east side is alive with memories, a neighborhood still seeming to echo the calls of immigrants crowded into tenements, peddlers hawking wares from pushcarts, and children playing in the streets, the only open spaces to be found. Early churches became synagogues for the Jews who came in record numbers between 1880 and 1920. Some remain, but in recent years, Latinos and Chinese have moved in, adding to the area’s rich history. Meanwhile, Orchard Street tempts with bargains, and a hip, young generation is rediscovering the old neighborhood. Nearby, the East Village has its own layers of history, an early Dutch enclave that changed from German to Jewish before becoming a 1960s haven for hippies and the place where punk rock was born. A Ukrainian community has remained through most of these changes, including recent gentrification.

The Changing Scene

Proving that change is the rule in New York, the Lower East Side has emerged as the newest trendy area for clubs, restaurants, and hip boutiques. Some residents are even moving into the tenement buildings their great-grandparents fought to escape from. Ludlow Street is one of the best streets to get a feel for the current scene.

  1. Lower East Side Tenement Museum

    Guided tours inside a tenement building give an insight into the carefully researched lives of one of three families who lived here; a German-Jewish clan in 1874, an orthodox Jewish family from Lithuania in 1918, or a Sicilian Catholic family during the Depression in the 1930s.

    • 108 Orchard St

    • 212 431 0233

    • Tours: generally 11:15am–5pm daily (call ahead)


    • Admission charge

  2. Orchard Street

    Orchard Street became a street of shops in 1940, when Mayor Fiorello La Guardia outlawed pushcarts in the city. Many merchants still put some of their wares on the sidewalk on Sundays and lure customers with 20 to 30 percent off brand names. The Lower East Side Visitor Center offers free tour each Sunday between April and December.

    Orchard Street

    Art for sale, Orchard Street
  3. New Museum of Contemporary Art

    Since its founding in 1977, this provocative museum has mounted shows featuring experimental work that other museums often overlook, particularly new multimedia forms, which sometimes extend into intriguing window displays. The museum opened in a new, cutting-edge building designed by Tokyo-based architects Sejima and Nishizawa in late 2007. It features a bookstore, theater, learning center, and a café.

    • 235 Bowery St

    • Open noon–9pm Thu–Fri, noon–6pm Wed, Sat–Sun

    • Admission charge


  4. Eldridge Street Synagogue

    A National Historic Landmark. This 1887 Moorish-style synagogue was the first house of worship built in the U.S. by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, from where 80 percent of American Jews come. As many as 1,000 people attended services here at the turn of the 20th century. As congregants left the neighborhood, attendance waned, and the temple closed in the 1950s. A 20-year restoration initiative was recently completed and the synagogue has become a vibrant cultural center.

    Street Scene
  5. Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Synagogue

    Artists can often be seen sketching this small, picturesque building. It was constructed in 1850 as the Norfolk Street Baptist Church, but as the neighborhood changed, the membership moved uptown, and in 1885 the structure was converted to a synagogue by America’s oldest Russian, Orthodox Jewish congregation. Gothic woodwork and the iron fence from the original church remain.

    • 60–64 Norfolk St

    • Open by appointment

    • Free

    Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Synagogue
  6. Guss’ Pickles

    One of the survivors from the old days of the Jewish Lower East Side, and a fixture for more than 80 years, Guss’ was even featured in the movie Crossing Delancey. Fans stand in line on weekends for their fix from the barrels on the sidewalk filled with pickles – sour and half-sour. Guss’ also does a thriving business by mail, shipping all over the U.S.

    • 85–87 Orchard St

    • Open 9:30am–6pm Sun–Thu, 9:30am–5pm Fri

    Guss’ Pickles
  7. St. Mark’s Place

    Once the heart of hippiedom, this block still has a counter-culture feel and is headquarters for the East Village youth scene. Sidewalks are crowded until late into the night with patrons of funky, punky bars and shops selling music, books, T-shirts, vintage clothing, beads, posters, and black leather everything. The place to get pierced or tattooed.

    • East 8th St, between 3rd Ave & Ave A

  8. St. Mark’s-in-the-Bowery Church

    The second-oldest church in New York stands on land where Peter Stuyvesant, governor of Dutch New York in the 1600s, had his private chapel. Stuyvesant is also buried here. In the 1960s it served as one of the city’s most politically committed congregations and continues to live on the avant-garde edge.

    • 131 East 10th St

    • Open 8:30am–4pm Mon–Fri; service 10:30am Sun

    • Free

    St. Mark’s-in-the-Bowery Church
  9. Renwick Triangle

    This handsome group of townhouses was created in 1861 by James Renwick, Jr., a prominent architect of the day. The houses are on land that was once Peter Stuyvesant’s farm, developed by his descendants as stylish residences.

    • 114–128 East 10th St, 23–25 Stuyvesant St, between 2nd & 3rd Aves

    Renwick Triangle
  10. Ukrainian Museum

    The museum showcases a beguiling collection of Ukrainian costumes, lavishly embroidered peasant blouses, colorful sashes, fancy sheepskin and fur vests, wedding wreaths of yarn and ribbons. There are also ceramics, jewelry, and the intricately designed Ukrainian Easter eggs known as pysanky.

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