Chinatown came into existence in the 1870s after the Chinese immigrant population of New York had increased markedly over the past 10-15 years. Since then, Chinatown has continued to grow and a lot of Asian culture and tradition have sprouted up there. Chinatown in New York is currently the largest enclave of Chinese people in the US with a population between 70,000 and 150,000. While here, you’re not just sampling the history of the Chinese in New York but also all of China. Despite it being densely packed, Chinatown is sprawled over a huge expanse, and it’s one of the best neighborhoods in the city. To help you enjoy hundreds of restaurants and markets here, check out our list of the top 10 things to do in Chinatown, New York City.
Taste authentic Chinese cuisine in a New York Chinatown food crawl with a chef. What better way to experience the food of Manhattan’s Chinatown than to take a tour led by a seasoned chef? The tour begins in Columbus Park which is formerly the home of the famed Five Points immigrant neighborhood. You will taste iconic Chinese foods such as Cantonese barbecue or pan-fried dumplings of Hong Kong. Your journey will end with a Peking duck sesame pancake from a favored neighborhood spot. There will be a discussion of the history of Chinatown as you go along and will likely find new and interesting twists to your visit.
Chinatown Food Tour with a Chef
Duration: 1.5 hours
2. Take a step to the past strolling along Doyers Street
Travel back in time while strolling along Doyers Street known as “The Bloody Angle.” Doyers Street is a 200-foot long (656-meter) street in Chinatown. It’s a block that has a sharp turn in the middle which is partly where it got its nickname. However, another story behind it is its long history of violence from the turn of the century until the 30s. The street is famous for the wars between the Tong Gangs where hatchets were often used leaving a bloody scene. Now, the block contains several restaurants, salons, and barbershops. Taking a stroll down this street for a taste of true Chinatown nostalgia should be on your list of things to do here.
3. Get your aura read at Magic Jewelry NYC
Editor's Note: Photo taken from the establishment's official social account
See and know about your energy field with an aura photo and reading at Magic Jewelry NYC. You can also set up a virtual consultation after you leave New York City, or shop for a jade bangle that signifies a noble person with grace and harmony. You can shop for all kinds of jewelry including pendants, necklaces, bracelets, or wands of all different substances and colors. Discover what your personal element is and learn how to use the different elements to help you financially or in romance. If any of this intrigues you, then Magic Jewelry NYC should be on your list of things to do in Chinatown, New York City.
Magic Jewelry NYC
Website: Magic Jewelry NYC
Opening hours: 11:30am - 5pm (daily)
4. Snap a photo of the beautiful Manhattan Bridge Arch and Colonnade
Mark your Chinatown, NYC trip with a photo at the beautiful Manhattan Bridge Arch and Colonnade. For the longest time, this wasn’t possible. Finished in 1909, it was just the fourth bridge to cross the East River from Manhattan to Long Island. The bridge was off-limits to walk-in traffic until around 2001, so you couldn’t take a picture there unless from a speeding car or train. Now, you can stand in front of the piece of wonderful architecture that has such a rich history and take a souvenir photo to mark your Chinatown trip.
Manhattan Bridge Arch and Colonnade
Address: Manhattan Bridge Lower Roadway, New York, NY 10002, United States
Website: Manhattan Bridge Arch and Colonnade
5. Join a meditation class at Mahayana Temple Buddhist Association
Ease your mind and soul in a meditation class at Mahayana Temple Buddhist Association. With temples located on the famous Canal Street or Mott Street (Chinatown’s “Main Street”), you can easily get your meditation on and learn from real Buddhist monks from Chinatown, New York City. They are open, friendly, and teaching every day of the week. They have art classes where they will teach you how Buddhism is expressed through art. Every Sunday, there is a meditation and mindfulness class where they teach you to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of the busy life and return to your true nature. If you want to truly experience the nature of Chinatown and the culture of the Chinese people, you will want to have this on your list of things to do in Chinatown, New York City.
Mahayana Temple Buddhist Association
Address: 133 Canal St, New York, NY 10002
Website: Mahayana Temple Buddhist Association
Opening hours: 8:30am - 6:00pm (daily)
6. Exercise with the locals at Columbus Park
Columbus Park is often referred to by the locals as “Calisthenics Park,” a place where they usually exercise together. There are pull-up bars, low bars, wall bars, and monkey bars, but people gather there to do “freeletics” and bodyweight exercises. The park is well-kept by the community and is a safe and rewarding place to get your exercise if that’s what you’re looking for. If you want to feel like a local, this is one of the best non-touristy things to do in NYC.
Address: Mulberry Street &, Baxter St, New York, NY 10013, United States
Website: Columbus Park
Opening hours: 6am - 10pm (daily)
7. Browse through the unusual collections at Mmuseumm
Browse through the unusual collections at Mmuseumm, a modern natural history museum located in the heart of Chinatown. The first two museums are located on Cortlandt Alley between Franklin Street and White Street which has been called Mmuseumm Alley. The museum is dedicated to curating and displaying contemporary art in order to shine a light on the modern world. There are two locations, one of which opened in 2012 and the second which opened in 2015. The museums are open 24 hours a day and visible through peepholes. Make this a stop on your things to do in Chinatown itinerary.
Address: 4 Cortlandt Alley, New York, NY 10013
Opening hours: 24 hours (daily)
8. Enjoy a sweet treat and cuddle with cats at Meow Parlour
Meow Parlour serves up coffee, tea, pastries, and free WiFi—but that’s not all. They also serve up some kitty love by offering by-the-hour petting and playtime with cats. The owner, Christina, owns five cats that are the star attraction here. If you are concerned about the welfare of cats, she owns an NYC certificate in animal care and handling as well as a culinary degree. This is a definite must for your things to do in Chinatown itinerary because it’s just so darn cute.
Address: 46 Hester St, New York, NY 10002
Website: Meow Parlour
Opening hours: Mon - Tue: 12pm - 8pm; Thu - Fri: 12pm - 8pm; Sat - Sun: 11am - 8pm (closed on Wed)
9. Play retro video games at Chinatown Fair Family Fun Center
Chinatown Fair Family Fun Center is a video arcade located on Mott Street. This place is also known as the purveyor of retro arcade games such as Tekken or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the area. During your trip here, you will find a variety of games such as Quick Drop, Down the Clown, Mario Kart, Maximum Tune 5, House of the Dead 5: Scarlet Dawn, Jurassic Park, and Halo: Fireteam Raven. The arcade first opened in 1944 and closed in 2011 but opened again in 2012 with different management. Make this a stop as you walk through Chinatown.
Chinatown Fair Family Fun Center
Address: 8 Mott St, New York, NY 10038, United States
Website: Chinatown Fair Family Fun Center
Opening hours: Sun - Thu: 11am - 12am; Fri - Sat: 11am - 2am
10. Haggle for souvenirs and gifts at different shops along Canal Street
Engage in a Chinatown tradition and haggle with owners to get the best price and experience this very old custom. You can go to Canal St. 247 Mini Mall and haggle for some jewelry, or you can visit Canal Street Market and just talk about the weather with the locals. There is just so much to see and so many places to shop that’s why you cannot leave Canal Street off your things to do in Chinatown list.
Make your plan to visit Chinatown today
New York is a grand city with practically limitless things to do, but, if you want to experience a large portion of the immigrant history of New York, you must visit Chinatown. Be sure to try the different foods, sample the magic of China, join a few tours, and walk down historic streets before leaving New York City.
Get Trip101 in your inbox