5 Things To Do In Chinatown New York City - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

5 Things To Do In New York City’s Chinatown (Besides Eat Dim Sum)

Every time we head to Chinatown, Justin has a minor anxiety attack. The crowded streets and the slow foot traffic drive him crazy, but we still find ourselves there with remarkable regularity. It’s impossible to stay away from this section of Lower Manhattan because it simply has so much to offer. And we’re not just there to eat, either. Here are some things you can (and should) do in Chinatown:

1. Buy produce

Colorful fruit stalls with dragonfruit, persimmon and other fruits lining the streets in New York City via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Rows of asparagus, avocado and other produce on a stall in Chinatown via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Produce vendors line the streets of Chinatown. Most people come here for the exotic fruits they can’t find elsewhere, like jackfruit and dragonfruit. But Chinatown is a great place to buy a majority of your produce. The vendors are linked to a network of small family farms, like home gardens in south Florida and small wholesalers that function independently of large supermarket chains. In order to avoid refrigeration and storage costs, vendors only sell what’s in season. The short supply chain gives you the freshest produce at the best price. We mentioned this briefly in our post on Canal Street, but here’s a reminder: don’t sample the goods without permission! Vendors are looking for serious buyers only. If you’re concerned about whether the fruit will be to your liking, ask if you can try it. In some extreme cases, they may charge you $0.25 for the sample, but that’s often waived if you decide to purchase.

Are you heading to Chinatown for the Lunar New Year Parade? Check out our guide for tips on how to make the most of that experience!

2. Visit the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA)

Exterior of Museum of Chinese in America via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Antique laundry press machine as part of an exhibit at MOCA via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Two girls looking at an exhibit of colorful cards on a wall at MOCA via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Close-up of colorful handwritten cards by MOCA guests via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

The history of Chinese immigration to the United States is a complicated one. MOCA does a fantastic job of highlighting the trials and tribulations, as well as the triumphs in Chinese American history. Personal stories from Chinese Americans in an interactive format make the material uniquely approachable, whether you’re of Chinese descent or not. Walk into a reproduction of a historic Chinatown shop. See hand-made pottery items from the 18th century. Learn about Hazel Lee, the first Chinese American female pilot to fly for the United States military. Immigration is still a highly contentious issue, and MOCA provides an avenue to learn about struggles with heritage and identity within immigrant communities.

Pro Tip: MOCA offers free gallery admission the first Thursday of each month except on major holidays.

215 Centre St

Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday & Sunday: 11am – 6pm
Thursday: 11am – 9pm

3. Enjoy amazing rooftop views of the city


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Lynn and Justin on the outdoor rooftop with cityscape in the background via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
View of the Manhattan Bridge and surrounding area via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Hotel 50 Bowery is a fairly new addition to Chinatown, and it boasts some of the best rooftop views in New York City. Chef Dale Talde (of Top Chef fame), David Massoni, and John Bush of Three Kings Restaurant Group operate The Crown, which is located on the 21st floor of the hotel. Its location in Lower Manhattan offers you views of many landmarks, including a clear view of the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the Manhattan Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge. Enjoy a drink outdoors, weather permitting, or sit inside where large windows still let you take in the magnificent view.

50 Bowery

Monday-Wednesday: 2pm-12am
Thursday-Friday: 2pm to 2am
Saturday: 12pm-2am
Sunday: 12pm-12am

4. Get a massage

Colorful storefronts and outdoor sidewalk garden in Chinatown via Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Colorful interior of spa with multiple chairs and colorful pillows and towels via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

New York City is home to luxury spas, medical spas and everything in between. And while I would thoroughly enjoy a day at the luxurious Peninsula Spa, it’s a splurge that’s difficult to justify. But that doesn’t mean getting a massage to #treatyoself is out of reach. In New York City where $150-$250 for a 60-minute massage is fairly commonplace, Chinatown happens to have some of the most affordable rates around. We’ve enjoyed stellar service at Zu Yuan Spa, where the rates start as low as $10 for a 10-minute foot massage, but there are several options in the area that offer similar prices and levels of service.


5. Get in on the latest dessert trends


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Chinatown has many tiny storefronts that sell simple noodle or rice dishes for a really great price. There are also larger restaurants that specialize in regional cuisines. And of course, there’s the dim sum behemoths. But Chinatown is also home to many trendy desserts. Here you’ll find the Japanese fish-shaped cake filled with soft serve from Taiyaki. You’ll also find the Hong Kong egg waffles filled with ice cream from Eggloo. Want your ice cream with cereal? Find it at Milk & Cream Cereal Bar. Indulge your wildest dessert dreams here.

Two cups of ice cream with multiple scoops and matcha Pocky sticks via Mad Hatters NYC Blog

P.S. You may notice that most of these pictures aren’t ours. That’s because Justin is mostly allergic to trendy food. If you share his aversion, then pay The Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory a visit. It’s a family-operated store that has been around for almost 40 years and offers classic Chinatown flavors like lychee and pandan.

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– L.

24 thoughts on “5 Things To Do In New York City’s Chinatown (Besides Eat Dim Sum)”

  1. Fun read.
    Very clear and searchable title.

    I understand the anxiety thing about going to Chinatown– Ashwin is the same way. It’s almost impossible to get him there, weather it is to buy produce or get a massage.

    1. Thank you so much, Tara!

      We can usually avoid the crowds at other places by going early, but that doesn’t apply in Chinatown! It’s definitely anxiety-inducing, but we simply can’t stay away for very long. Maybe you just need a place nearby to get really good curry to make it worth your while! 😉

  2. We ventured into a part of Chinatown when we were in New York, though the views you have posted look amazing!! Yummy ice cream – which is rather frustrating to see as we are in the wop-wops and no ice cream in the house 🙂 Time for a walk to knock off the hunger pangs!

    1. The views alone are definitely worth a revisit, Suz! We love to inspire “walks to knock off hunger pangs” so you thank you for making our day 🙂 We hope you found something truly satisfying!

  3. I know I always comment on the food aspects of your posts (#sorrynotsorry), but as a fellow foodie and Wine Wednesday lover, I am SO excited to check out The Crown. Just suggested it to my gal pal as our spot for next Wednesday – and if the views are as great as they seem, I will definitely take my friend from Italy (who’s coming to visit in November) there! 🙂 Also can’t wait to check out the market produce sometime soon before it gets super cold out~

    1. We’re thrilled when our foodie friends find something new to try from our posts! The Crown and Wine Wednesday sound like an epic pairing in the making, I can’t wait to see the post and pics! 😉

  4. Bahahaha I support Justin’s aversion to trendy, made-for-gramming food! My fella lives in Flushing and we recently bought all the strange fruits we’d never tried before. Dragonfruit is more stunning to the sights than the taste! Never been to Hotel 50 Bowery, thanks for reminding me I need to go 🙂

    1. I grew up on strange fruits so I always end up buying way too much of them when I visit Chinatown! Hotel 50 Bowery is still pretty new (read: still not massively crowded), so I wouldn’t wait too long 😉

  5. Excellent article. We will have to print it out next time we go to Chinatown. Love the way you present perspectives in the blog. Well done!

  6. Your pics of from the top of the Bowery are phenomenal. I would love to have shots like these. As far as the fruit, I’m down to try anything but durian.

    1. Thank you so much, Trudy! Trust me, the rooftop pics are less skill and more opportunity! You can definitely snag your own if you head out there 😉

      And I’m curious how you know to stay away from durian! It’s definitely an acquired taste, and I’m the black sheep in my family because I’m the only one who doesn’t love it. My parents actually go on durian crawls when it’s in season!!!

      1. I’ve smelled it while walking past the fruit stalls on Canal street. I thought it was the sewer but saw someone cracking one open…. That and stinky tofu are on my “not to do.. ever” list

  7. Oh gosh the last few images did me in. I have to revisit it, if not only for the Chinese fare that had me slavering like a greedy dog, but for the desserts and the massage, and well, more Chinese food (at the risk of repeating myself)!

    1. The time-space continuum definitely feels more flexible in Chinatown, because we’re pretty sure we’ve had breakfast, lunch and dessert all at once! The massages are a delicious treat, and well-deserved after exercising…our mouths, that is 😉

  8. I don’t spend a lot of time in Chinatown but after reading this post I definitely wouldn’t mind a visit! Inexpensive massages and yummy desserts are totally up my alley. Great post- thanks for sharing! 🙂

    1. Thanks Simon, that’s a compliment of the highest order! You did a fantastic job on your trip, I love all the wonderful photos you took 🙂 And I love that you’re just as fond of food as we are!

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