From a Local Expert: The Cultural Gems of NYC’s Lower East Side

For hundreds of years, New York City has attracted newcomers from around the world in search of the American Dream. And nowhere is the city’s rich cultural heritage more apparent than the Lower East Side, where many European immigrants settled in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to start a new life.

When you stroll through the Lower East Side today, you’ll still see glimpses of the neighborhood’s diverse history. Here at Marriott Vacation Club Pulse®, New York City, we’ve compiled a self-guided walking tour for visitors who want to explore the area.

Quick Tip:

To navigate public transport, use Google Maps (remember to switch to the train route) or, for more detail, download the Transit app (My MTA & Subway Time). To begin, you’ll take the F train from 34th Street to the Second Avenue subway stop.

Knishes and Sandwiches

Along Houston Street, grab breakfast at one of the neighborhood’s famous Jewish eateries that have been around for generations. Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery has been a local institution since 1890; Schimmel, a Romanian immigrant, started out selling knishes from a pushcart before relocating to the small store on Houston Street.

Down the street, you can pick up a bagel with smoked fish at Russ & Daughters, a family-owned specialty food store established in 1914. The area’s most famous eatery is probably Katz’s Delicatessen, a kosher-style deli that’s been serving up beef and pastrami sandwiches since 1888 — but you might know it from the classic movie, When Harry Met Sally.

Quick Tip:

For an all-in-one culinary stop, visit Essex Street Market. Created in 1940 as an indoor hub for pushcarts and street vendors, the market offers options ranging from Middle Eastern takeaway to Italian comfort food and Peruvian ceviche.

Lower East Side Walking Tour
The Immigrant Experience

With a full belly, you can now make your way to Orchard Street to explore the Tenement Museum, my favorite museum in the city. This fascinating cultural gem offers a glimpse of what immigrating to the United States was really like in the 1800s.

Located in two historic tenement buildings, the museum tells the stories of immigrants arriving in the Lower East Side between the 19th and 21st centuries. During that time, approximately 15,000 people from more than 20 countries lived in the buildings. Today, visitors can take a tour of restored apartments and shops featuring real décor, artifacts and personal belongings that bring the immigrant experience to life.

Quick Tip:

Tours often sell out ­­–– I recommend reserving your spot online in advance. Visitors must be over 6 years old.

A Notorious Landmark

After an enriching afternoon at the museum, make your way to the Ludlow Street Jail on Grand Street for another peek at history. The building — which takes up an entire city block — currently hosts the Seward Park Campus, but it’s better known as the city’s 19th-century federal prison.

Infamous politician William “Boss” Tweed, the head of the New York political organization Tammany Hall, helped found the jail ­­— and eventually died while incarcerated there in 1879. Another famous inmate was Victoria Woodhull, a women’s suffrage leader who ran for president in 1872 and spent election day in the jail.

Lower East Side Walking Tour Lower East Side Walking Tour
International Flavors

After delving into history, it’s time for a snack. On nearby Grand Street, you’ll find plenty of vendors offering diverse eats. The Pickle Guys offers a variety of Kosher pickled items including fruits, veggies and their specialty: cured pickles straight from the barrel. Just down the street, stop by Kossar’s Bialys, the oldest bakery in the United States. A local favorite since 1936, the bakery serves bialys — traditional Polish rolls — hot out of the oven.

Continue feasting on carbs at the Doughnut Plant; the popular bakery invented the square-shaped jelly doughnut. Or head over to Orchard Street and Regina’s Grocery, an old-school Italian sandwich shop that offers vintage décor and authentic flavors.

Quick Tip:

All of these Lower East Side must-dos are included in a self-guided walking tour offered by Marriott Vacation Club Pulse, New York City, which is located on West 37th Street. For details, stop by the concierge desk before you begin exploring.

Where to Stay:

Marriott Vacation Club Pulse, New York City

Debbie S. is an Activities Manager at Marriott Vacation Club Pulse, New York City and a licensed New York City tour guide.