Once the location of the city’s first theater district, The Rialto, Union Square is now one of the busiest and most bustling neighborhoods in New York City. It has a long history of being the center of the city’s social activism, and following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, became the primary gathering point for mourners. Serviced by the 4/5/6 line as well as the N/Q/R/W and L, visitors can get to Union Square easily from almost any point in the city. Here, we’ve rounded up a handful of “must see” Union Square spots for tourists and locals alike.
The anchor of the Union Square neighborhood, Union Square Park opened in 1839, with its current design completed in 1872. A former burial ground, this public park has been the location of many of New York City’s major milestones—from the first Labor Day parade in 1882 to the first Earth Day in 1970 to the first location of the wildly popular Greenmarket (a farmer’s market that is open four days each week, year-round). Boasting some of the cities oldest statues, like the equestrian statue of George Washington unveiled in 1856 and the Abraham Lincoln statue erected five years after his assassination in 1870, Union Square Park also features playgrounds, a restaurant (Bocce USQ), and several dog-friendly areas. It’s considered by many to be the best place in the neighborhood to meet a friend or while away a couple of sun-filled hours.
150 East 14th Street
New York, NY 10003
A New York City institution in its own right, Joe’s Pizza originally opened in Greenwich Village in 1975. Originally from Naples, Italy, the birthplace of pizza, founder Joe Pozzuoli still runs the establishment, which is widely regarded by tourists and locals alike as having the most authentic New York slice. In 2009, the popular men’s magazine GQ added the restaurant to their list of the “Best 25 Pizzas on Earth.” So whether you call NYC home or are just here for a visit, make time to grab a plain slice at the Union Station Joe’s.
New York, NY 10003
Another New York City institution, The Strand is a book lover’s dream. Home to 18 miles of new, used, and rare books, a quick trip here could easily turn into hours. The Strand opened in 1927, is the last surviving relic of Book Row, (a six-block strip of 4th Avenue that contained nearly 50 bookstores), and remains a family business to this day. The staff of book experts can help you find your next perfect read from the selection of 2.5 million books, and the dozens of special events each week are relaxing and engaging ways to spend an evening. And if you’re after the perfect NYC souvenir, The Strand has a huge selection of literary-themed gifts, including books signed by greats like Patti Smith and Junot Diaz.
There’s a sense of lore surrounding Gramercy Park, one of New York City’s only private parks. Covering two acres, only those who live in the surrounding buildings and pay an annual fee have one of the 383 keys to get inside. But even if you don’t have this exclusive access, the sidewalks that run on the edges of the park offer great views and have become a popular jogging and dog walking route. If that doesn’t suffice, and you find yourself longing to get inside, there’s always the option of staying at Gramercy Park Hotel, which has 12 keys designated for guest use.
101 East 19th Street
New York, NY 10003
One of the frontrunners of contemporary American cuisine, the original Union Square Cafe opened in 1985. Today, the restaurant is helmed by Chef Carmen Quagliata and is one of the few non-tipping restaurants in the city. The atmosphere is cozy and the food is both comforting and classic, a combination that has won the restaurant five James Beard Awards and landed them the number one spot on Zagat’s “Best Restaurants in New York City” list an unprecedented nine times. Drop by for their oyster happy hour Monday through Friday from 3:00-6:00PM, or make your Saturday or Sunday reservations for a scrumptious brunch.