Chinatown New York City
Many US cities have an area known as Chinatown, but the largest one in the country is Chinatown NYC, probably the best-known ethnic community in New York. The Chinatown area was home to other immigrant populations before Chinese people began living there in the late 19th century. Chinatown and its adjoining neighborhood, Little Italy, were named as a single historic district on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.
While the hundreds of restaurants and shops in Chinatown may cater to tourists, it is also a residential area that many people call home. Chinatown, which only encompasses about two square miles, rates as a small city on its own with more people living in that small area than in many American cities! Population estimates in Chinatown range from 50,000 to more than 100,000.
Chinatown is best known for its crowded business streets that are jam packed with restaurants and shops featuring Asian food and goods. Take a wander inside and you just might feel like you’ve left New York behind! Window shopping in China town will open your eyes to an entirely different culture – and it’s almost a guarantee that you won’t leave empty handed, as you can buy just about anything imaginable in Chinatown New York.
Chinatown NYC Highlights:
- Mahayana Buddhist Temple (133 Canal Street) – situated close to the Manhattan Bridge, this was designed to serve the Chinese Buddhist population as a gathering place as well as for worship. Check out the enormous 16-foot Buddha with a blue neon halo and the golden lions guarding the entrance to protect it from evil spirits. (An interesting footnote about this now-sacred space: before 1996, the building was an adult movie theatre.)
- Museum of Chinese in the Americas (215 Centre Street) – founded in 1980 and designed by artist/architect Maya Lin (the creator of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.), this Chinatown museum offers exhibits and artifacts about more than 150 years of history of the Chinese American population of the US.
- First Shearith Israel Cemetery (St. James Street, just off Chatham Square) – predating the area’s Chinese influence, this area was home to other immigrant populations, and First Shearith Israel, the oldest Jewish cemetery in New York City, was built in 1683 by the first Jewish congregation in North America. Gravestones date from 1656-1833, when it was closed.
- Mott Street – considered by many to be Chinatown’s Main Street equivalent, this was the first street in the area to be inhabited by Chinese people, starting in the 1870s. Mott Street is lined with souvenir shops and restaurants, and while the busy thoroughfare attracts a lot of tourists, many of the businesses on this famous Chinatown street serve the local neighborhood as well.
- A great time to visit Chinatown New York is during the Chinese New Year, which takes place between late January and mid-February (the specific date changes every year because it’s determined by a lunar calendar). The most important Chinese holiday, the celebrations last for several days and include parades, colorful decorations, fireworks, performances and other festivities.
- The streets of China town New York are often very crowded and noisy – if you’re traveling with children, make sure they don’t wander away, as getting lost in Chinatown is easy even for native New Yorkers.
- If you’re looking for a place to eat in Chinatown New York and don’t have a particular place in mind, take a peek inside restaurant windows – avoid those that seem to just be filled with tourists and try one that looks like it has a more local clientele.
- Sure, there’s great Chinese food to be found in Chinatown, but look closely and you’ll also discover other great taste treats, including Thai, Japanese, Indonesian and other Asian fare.
- Join the professional chefs and adventurous home cooks who wander the aisles at the Asia Market (71 ½ Mulberry Street) and Hong Kong Supermarket (157 Hester Street) – both are great places to find an amazingly wide variety of Chinese, Thai, Indonesian, Malaysian and other Asian sauces, spices, condiments, canned and packaged goods you won’t find anywhere else – and at much more reasonable prices than at an uptown gourmet shop.
- Chinatown is the place to go for kitschy, inexpensive trinkets and souvenirs – and there are countless other items available for sale by street vendors as well. You can often pay an even lower price if you bargain with the Chinatown vendors, especially if you’re willing to pay in cash – but beware of buying anything that has a designer label on it, as odds are it’s probably a fake.
These are the approximate boundaries of the Chinatown New York area:
North: Grand Street (bordering Little Italy)
South: Worth Street
East: Essex Street (bordering the Lower East Side)
West: Lafayette Street
Directions to Chinatown:
Manhattan trains that run downtown to Chinatown:
6 train to Canal Street (from the East Side); B, D trains to Grand Street (from the West Side)
B, D trains to Grand Street
J, N, Q, R or 6 train to Canal Street
M-6 bus downtown (south) via Broadway to Canal Street
M-15 bus downtown (south) via 2nd Avenue to Chatham Square
M-103 down (south) via Lexington Avenue to Chatham Square
For more public transportation info on getting to Chinatown go to the New York City transit website: www.mta.info/.