New York City is an entire world in and of itself. Its residents come from countries spanning every continent, and the sizable immigrant population (from first generation to current inhabitants) has made the Big Apple feel more like home by establishing ethnic neighborhoods across the city that showcase everything from Spanish culture to Chinese culture in NYC. And while you’ve probably heard of Chinatown and Little Italy, there are many other neighborhoods for globetrotters to add to their New York City travel guide — or for residents to visit to simulate traveling the world while staying close to home. Here are just a few of the best places to soak up local and global culture in NYC.
To find West Africa in New York City, simply head to Harlem. Little Senegal, also referred to as “Le Petit Sénégal,” is a thriving cultural enclave, where both the music and food have a distinctly African flavor. Although most of the neighborhood’s residents are Senegalese, people from Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, and other African nations have also made their homes here.
In Little Senegal, you’ll find authentic restaurants like Africa Kine and Le Baobab, as well as Red Rooster, an American restaurant that sprinkles its food with African spices. No matter which Senegalese restaurant you choose, make sure to try the yassa (chicken or fish cooked with onion, garlic, lemon juice, and mustard) or the thiakry (a couscous dish topped with fruit, sour cream, and pure vanilla extract). You should also check out the Malcolm Shabazz Market, where vendors sell hand-carved figures, traditional garb, and jewelry. And if you happen to be visiting New York during September, you’ll want to check the dates for the annual African-American Day Parade.
You can find Little Senegal on and around West 116th Street in Harlem. The most convenient subway stop is 116 Street/8 Avenue on the B train.
Located in Queens, this neighborhood is an exciting hub of Guyanese life. The Guyanese are descendants of slaves brought from Africa by the Dutch and indentured servants brought from India by the British; today, Guyana is the only English-speaking country in South America, and its culture is a smooth blend of Indian and Caribbean characteristics.
There are about 140,000 people of Guyanese descent living in New York City today, and they’ve left their mark. You’ll notice Christians, Hindus, and Muslims roaming through Little Guyana. Liberty Avenue is the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare, where you can find notable restaurants like Sybil’s — but wherever you eat, consider ordering curry, fish, or oxtail.
Little Guyana is at its most vibrant during the Phagwah Parade, celebrating the arrival of spring during the Hindu festival of Holi. The parade makes Little Guyana feel vibrant and colorful, especially since people celebrate by tossing bright, colorful powders in the air.
You can find Little Guyana in the Richmond Hill area of Queens. The most convenient subway stop is Ozone Park – Lefferts Boulevard on the A train.
Without a doubt the most iconic “little” neighborhood in New York City, Little Italy can feel like a tourist thoroughfare. Its streets are crowded with Italian restaurants, clothing stores, and — of course — people.
Mulberry Street is the best-known road that runs through the neighborhood; as you walk it, keep an eye out for street art! As far as Little Italy’s iconic buildings go, check out St. Patrick’s Cathedral. You can also venture into NoLita (“North of Little Italy”) to see the former NYPD headquarters, now converted into luxury apartments.
Although there are good reasons to visit throughout the entire year, Little Italy is at its best in September during the Feast of San Gennaro, when a festive atmosphere settles over the neighborhood. Throughout the celebration, parades, live music, delicious food, and events like a cannoli-eating competition bring Little Italy to life, for both locals and visitors.
You can find Little Italy just northeast of Chinatown in lower Manhattan. The most convenient subway stops are Spring Street on the 6 train and Canal – Lafayette on the J, N, Q, R, W, Z, 4, and 6 lines.
A perfect afternoon stop for anyone who loves salsa music, Little Colombia is a vibrant neighborhood in the Jackson Heights area of Queens. Along Roosevelt and 37th Avenues, you’ll find plenty of traditional restaurants serving up delicious food — empanadas, fried fish, and arepas, to name just a few dishes. Try Pollos A La Brasa Mario for casual dining or La Pequeña Colombia for a more upscale experience. In the evenings, track down the Arepa Lady food truck for tasty street food options.
Little Colombia pulses with salsa music, so don’t be surprised when you hear it playing in the streets. The neighborhood lights up even more during the summer, when several parades and parties pass through the area. The Colombian Independence Day Parade, which usually takes place on a Saturday in late July, is the most festive of all.
You can find Little Colombia in the Jackson Heights area of Queens. The most convenient subway stop is Jackson Heights – Roosevelt Avenue on the E, F, M, R, and 7 lines.
New York City has a huge Korean population, so Koreatown doesn’t disappoint. And even though few people actually live here, the neighborhood is densely packed with businesses — from spas to stores, and from bars to Korean barbecue joints. Ktown is tucked in the shadow of the Empire State Building and, after sunset, it lights up in bright neon signs, with almost every business open 24/7. Swing by anytime for a taste of Seoul in New York City!
Some of Koreatown’s highlights include Gagopa Karaoke (with a BYOB policy and more than 30,000 songs in its repertoire), deluxe spas dotted throughout the neighborhood, and Gaonnori (a fancy Korean barbecue restaurant offering panoramic views of Manhattan).
You can find Koreatown between Fifth Avenue and Broadway, with 32nd Street running down the center. The most convenient subway stop is 34 Street – Herald Square on the B, D, F, M, N, Q, R, and W trains.
From bakeries to bars, pharmacies to temples, there’s a reason that New York City is home to one of the most famous Chinatowns in the world. Although the neighborhood is best known to outsiders for the knock-off designer items that are sold on the sidewalks, Chinatown offers much more than bootleg purses.
Take the Mahayana temple on Canal Street, the largest Buddhist temple in New York City. Its centerpiece is a 16-foot statue of the Buddha atop a lotus flower, although there are also two golden lions and photos representing the Buddha’s life events.
Columbus Park is another impressive spot in Chinatown, with the north side of the park reserved for card players (especially those who wish to play a game of Mahjong). Elsewhere on the grounds, many people practice tai chi or kung fu, fortune-tellers tell visitors their fates, and sports enthusiasts enjoy games on an Astroturf field and basketball court.
And of course, you can find find delicious food at many hole-in-the-wall restaurants located throughout Chinatown, so come hungry!
You can find Chinatown just southeast of Little Italy in lower Manhattan.
Did you enjoy this New York City travel guide to the city’s best cultural boroughs and sites? For a deeper look into lesser-known NYC, be sure to check out our Hidden NYC Travel Guide for everything from crumbling hospitals to tucked away speakeasies.
Header image by Sam Horine.