15 Best Things to Do in Chinatown, New York City

Chinatown, New York City
travelview / Shutterstock.com

Chinatown is one of New York City’s biggest neighborhoods.

Initially created as a refuge for survival in the late 1800s, Chinatown initially housed approximately 150 immigrants in 1859, which then rose to a staggering 2,000 during the 1870s.

Situated in Lower Manhattan, it serves as the go-to place for most Asians in New York.

Chinatown is known to have two main purposes一an immigrant refuge and a tourist destination where non-Asians can explore the rich Chinese culture in all its forms.

But before it became a hotspot for visitors, the neighborhood was once considered a popular site for gang violence during the early 20th century.

Over the years, Chinatown was able to remodel itself as a neighborhood brimming with culture.

From food and products to services and other cultural sites, Chinatown is now a bustling area where tourists can live a life in a smaller version of China in New York City.

And if you’ve been wanting to visit this neighborhood for quite some time, here are 15 of the best things you can do while in Chinatown, New York City:

Visit the Museum at Eldridge Street

Exterior of Eldridge Street Synagogue
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

Built in 1887, the Eldridge Street Synagogue stood as a house of worship for Jewish immigrants from Easter Europe.

This historical landmark gives tourists a glimpse of Jewish New York with its combination of Moorish, Gothic, and Romanesque architectural styles.

Interior of Eldridge Street Synagogue
Felix Lipov / Shutterstock.com

Now operating as a museum, the synagogue welcomes visitors from all walks of life to hear stories about Jewish immigrant life.

Embark on an educational History and Culture Building Tour as you walk across the hollow halls and relive a period of the 1900s.

You can also go on a Lower East Side Walking Tour and check out nearby synagogues, Yiddish newspaper buildings, and other cultural places that bear traces of Jewish influences.

Interior of Eldridge Street Synagogue
Felix Lipov / Shutterstock.com

Drown in the Sounds of Chinatown

Old people playing instruments at Chinatown
Oliver Foerstner / Shutterstock.com

Using your eyes to appreciate the bustling neighborhood of Chinatown is one way to get your adventure going, but if you’re looking for a more unique experience, why not take a self-guided tour with your ears?

Experience the neighborhood’s environment by going on a soundwalk and trying to make out the different sounds and tunes of Chinatown with an authentic audio recording.

Street band at Chinatown
Globalphotogroup / Shutterstock.com

A collaborative project between New York’s finest research institutions and Chinatown’s locals, Sounds of Chinatown offers a refreshing take on your average walking tour.

Sounds of Chinatown is a phone-accessible audio tour that lets you dive into the neighborhood’s daily life.

Listen to Cantonese chatter, the children’s laughter as they make their way through the busy streets, Chinese radios blasting announcements from apartment buildings, and more.

Taste Authentic Tofu Dishes at Fong On

Situated at Division Street, Fong On is a popular tofu shop adorned by locals and tourists alike.

The family-run business has been operating since 1933, presenting customers with a creative spin on fresh tofu.

The shop uses barrels that date back to the 1940s to make fresh tofu一a long-standing tradition that has been passed on from one generation to another.

Taste the flavors of tofu pudding with red beans, taro balls, and grass jelly, or take the savory route by adding dried shrimp, pickled radish, fried shallots, and fresh onions with a hint of chili sauce to your pudding.

Aside from fresh tofu, the shop also offers soy milk and sweet, sticky rice cakes in ginger and matcha flavors.

Snap a Photo of the Confucius Statue at the Confucius Plaza

Confucius Statue at the Confucius Plaza
Martin Dürrschnabel, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Don’t leave Chinatown without swinging by the Confucius Plaza and taking a picture of the bronze, 15-feet-tall Confucius statue in front of the complex.

Sculpted by Liu Shih, the statue is a tribute to Chinese philosopher Confucius who introduced the idea of education as a process of constant self-improvement.

View of the Confucius Plaza
Ajay Suresh from New York, NY, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Behind it is the Confucius Plaza and its entirety, which is Chinatown’s largest housing project that consists of 762 low to moderate-income cooperative units.

The project serves as a protest against certain government institutions for the lack of Chinese or Asian-American construction workers.

Funded by New York State’s Mitchell-Lama program, the $35-million project bred the inclusion of Chinese workers and several cultural institutions and communities in the area.

Unwind at Renew Day Spa

Spending an entire day in Chinatown is enough to constitute a workout.

Walking around the busy streets can be exhausting, not to mention the dozens of stopovers you have to do to make the most out of your trip.

So if you’re looking for a relaxing way to cap off your day, head down to Renew Day Spa at Bowery Street.

Spend an hour getting a calming foot reflexology treatment or a Chinese therapeutic bodywork known as “Tui-na.”

You can also avail a hot stone massage treatment to relieve your tense muscles and reduce stress.

Dive into the Chinese Immigrant Story at the Museum of Chinese in America

Exterior of Museum of Chinese in America
Jim.henderson, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Located along Centre Street, the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) offers a critical perspective of Chinese history through the lens of Chinese immigrants.

Explore the museum’s collection of over 85,000 artifacts documenting the Chinese-American diaspora.

Discover audio and video recordings, oral histories, photos, and documents that date back to the early 1900s.

You can also check out MOCA’s galleries that highlight Chinese-American fashion, food, music, design, technology, and more.

Designed by Maya Lin, the museum also doubles as a rental space for various events.

Enjoy a Feast at Golden Unicorn

Cheong-fun dish in Golden Unicorn restaurant
young, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There’s no better way to immerse yourself in Chinese culture other than trying out authentic dishes from Chinatown.

At East Broadway, you’ll spot Golden Unicorn, which is a favored dimsum place by many.

Filled with red and gold decor and vibrant lighting, Golden Unicorn is one of the best places to experience fine dining一from its delectable cuisine down to its interior.

Chinatown’s first upscale, Cantonese-style restaurant was established in 1989 and is best known for its banquet-style dining.

Smell the aroma of freshly cooked dimsum, spring rolls, prawns, and more that fill the entire restaurant.

Taste Organic Asian Brews at Sun’s Organic Garden

Tea has always been a popular drink among Asians, thanks to its many wellness benefits.

And where else can you find organic and wildcrafted teas in New York City other than Chinatown?

At Sun’s Organic Garden on Bayward Street, you’ll see a curated collection of over 500 specialty and wildcrafted teas, herbs, and wellness products.

Sun’s Organic Garden offers a variety of herbal teas, ranging from flower-infused concoctions to fruity combinations.

Indulge in the aroma of teas sourced from Asian countries like China, India, Japan, Nepal, Taiwan, and more.

You can also enjoy the flavor and fragrance from classic teas, such as Golden Snail, Ripe Puerh, Premium White Peony, and Anji Bai Cha Green, among others.

Discover Spiritual Growth at the Mahayana Buddhist Temple

Front exterior of Mahayana Buddhist Temple
andersphoto / Shutterstock.com

Say a prayer, meditate, and make offerings at the Mahayana Buddhist Temple on Canal Street.

At New York City’s largest Buddhist temple, you can engage in a myriad of activities that aim to aid your spiritual growth.

Take a Mindfulness and Introspection Meditation class on a Sunday afternoon and momentarily dissociate yourself with the busy life.

Top part of Mahayana Buddhist Temple
Fernando Garcia Esteban / Shutterstock.com

You can also learn about Buddhist teachings from a creative perspective with the temple’s exhibits.

The Mahayana Buddhist Temple is also home to New York City’s largest Buddha statue.

Standing at 16-feet tall, the gold, towering statue portrays Buddha sitting on a lotus, overlooking the entire temple.

Golden lion in front of Mahayana Buddhist Temple
Alexander Romanovich / Shutterstock.com

Play Arcade Games at the Chinatown Fair Family Fun Center

Chinatown is many things, but “boring” is not one of them.

At the Chinatown Fair Family Fun Center on Mott Street, you’ll see the hottest arcade games on the market.

Established in 1944, the historical arcade is one of the best places in the neighborhood where you can have fun and blow off some steam after a hectic day.

Play a round of Dance Dance Revolution and Mario Kart DX, or try your luck racking up tickets from games like Crossy Road and Big Bass Wheel.

And if you’re on a short break after conquering these games, humor yourself by visiting the arcade’s dancing chicken!

Live a Day in the Life of a Local at Columbus Park

People around Columbus Park
andersphoto / Shutterstock.com

Formerly called Mulberry Bend Park upon its construction in 1897, Columbus park was considered as a dangerous ghetto area of immigrant New York.

But today, the park is anything but life-threatening for locals and visitors.

Today, Columbus Park gives tourists a sneak peek of the neighborhood’s typical day.

People around Columbus Park
CHOONGKY / Shutterstock.com

Walk around the park and hear the ruan or erhu playing alongside each other, or check out other live performances in the form of martial arts.

Wander around the area early in the morning, and you’ll get to see the “Dancing Grannies of Chinatown,” a group of women who perform the Guang Chang Wu and Yuan Ji Wu一traditional dances that are believed to improve mental wellness.

Flowering trees at Columbus Park
James Andrews1 / Shutterstock.com

Since its opening in 1989, the Chinese American Arts Council’s Gallery 456 has served as a space where Chinese heritage is celebrated through visual and performance art.

Spanning a total of 700 square feet, the non-profit gallery delights its tourists with eight to twelve shows each year.

Every one or two months, the exhibits would change as a way to constantly provide new works that visitors can appreciate.

Over 250 renowned and budding artists have graced Gallery 456 with their pieces and collections highlighting Chinese culture.

Depending on Gallery 456’s schedule, you can also catch modern and traditional Chinese theater acts in the form of dance and music.

Catch the Lunar New Year Festival

Lunar New Year Festival at chinatown
Mihai_Andritoiu / Shutterstock.com

If you’re planning to visit Chinatown for the Lunar New Year, then you're in for a real treat.

The Lunar New Year Festival is one of the most awaited celebrations in the neighborhood.

The festivities kick off with a firecracker ceremony before the parade floods the streets with music.

Aerial view of Lunar New Year Festival at chinatown
Mihai_Andritoiu / Shutterstock.com

You can also see a traditional linio dance up close, which symbolizes prosperity and good luck for the coming year.

Squeeze through the bustling streets and indulge in the ultimate Chinatown experience on Lunar New Year with food, music, crafts, and more.

Lunar New Year Festival at chinatown
Steve Edreff / Shutterstock.com

Buy Chinese Porcelain from Wing On Wo & Co.

Part of China’s culture is being a world-class manufacturer of porcelain products.

And if you’ve been meaning to get your hands on an authentic porcelain collection, you don’t need to fly thousands of miles all the way to China to get one.

Wing On Wo & Co. on Mott Street is one of the last remaining stores specializing in Chinese porcelain.

It is also known as the oldest operating store in the neighborhood, building a legacy for five long generations.

Take your pick from a wide selection of hand-painted tableware, such as bowls, teacups, dinner plates, chopstick rests, and more.

Every product in the shop is decorated with traditional porcelain patterns, keeping the Chinese culture alive in the contemporary period.

Photograph Your Aura at Magic Jewelry

Photographing your energy might sound unusual, but it is a real thing at Magic Jewelry down in Canal Street.

Chinatown’s own occult shop gives visitors a unique experience by taking phantasmagoric photos of their vibe and energy.

Established in 1995, the store specializes in the art of combining Feng Shui with the magical power of crystals.

Take a photo of your aura and identify the kind of vibe you're giving off一whether you’re physically active and showing a good concentration of self-confidence, or you’re exhibiting an energy of a great problem solver.

These photos are usually one of nine colors, including rainbow colors and pink and white.

Final Thoughts

Chinatown is more than just a destination where you can dive into Asian cuisine and other experiences.

The neighborhood stands as a living proof of the rich, vibrant Chinese culture that impacted New York City.  

So, if you’re looking to experience an entirely different world without traveling thousands of miles across the globe, why not book a trip to New York City and head down to the Lower East Side?

Don’t miss out on your adventure and book a trip to Chinatown today!

Spotted a mistake, have some feedback, or just want to chat with our editorial team? Click here to get in touch.
Find out more about Travel Lens and read our editorial guidelines here.