If you're planning on visiting New York City this year, chances are you'll want to check out the bustling area of lower Manhattan known as Chinatown, a cultural cross-section of New York City and Chinese immigrant lifestyles that features a ton of great restaurants, cheap shops, and fine goods stores.
Since the late 1870s, Chinese immigrants have been settling in the New York City area, and despite the Exclusion Act of 1882, which prohibited Chinese immigration, the community and geography of Manhattan's Chinatown have grown steadily throughout the city's history. Since 1965, when the immigration quotas were repealed, the immigrant community of Chinatown has grown and the census of 1980 indicated that New York Chinatown is the largest Chinese American settlement in the United States.
The streets of Chinatown are great for wandering—there are fabulous stores for buying Asian groceries and goods (which make great souvenirs) and even the sometimes stinky seafood markets are worth a look. When you get hungry, there are many options for delicious, affordable food representing a wide variety of Chinese cuisines, including restaurants specializing in Dim Sum, Cantonese cuisine, congee, and seafood.
There is a very helpful Explore Chinatown Info Kiosk located on Canal at Walker & Baxter that's open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and until 7 p.m. on weekends with bilingual staff available to answer your questions and provide free Chinatown maps, guides, and brochures.
Getting to Chinatown: Subways, Bus, or Walking
Chinatown in Manhattan extends east to west from Essex Street to Broadway Avenue and north to south from Grand Street to Henry Street and East Broadway, meaning there are a number of public transit options for accessing this Chinese-heavy settlement.
In terms of MTA trains, you can hop the 6, N, R, Q, or W trains to the Canal Street Station, the B or D trains to Grand Street Station, or the J, M, or Z trains to Canal & Centre Street or Chambers Street Stations and walk right out in the center of Chinatown's bustling streets.
Alternatively, you can take the M15 bus down 2nd Avenue to Chatham Square, the M102 and M101 south on Lexington Avenue to Bowery Street and Chatham Square, or the M6 bus that runs south on Broadway to Canal Street.
Driving or grabbing a cab or Uber/Lyft service is also an option, but keep in mind that cab fare can quickly add up when traveling to this busy section of Manhattan, so don't be surprised if you get stuck in slow-moving traffic—it might even be faster to walk at some points in time in the day, so don't fret if you have to tell the driver you'd rather be let out early and walk if you get stuck in slow-moving traffic.
Architecture, Tours, Restaurants, and Shops
Just south of Little Italy, the Chinatown area of Manhattan is full of amazing attractions, shops, restaurants, and even a few specialty tours to familiarize tourists with this unique neighborhood. Many buildings in Chinatown have Asian-inspired facades featuring pagodas and tiled roofs or are narrow tenement houses that create a bustling, slightly congested environment, and the Church of the Transfiguration and the Mahayana Buddhist Temple are among Chinatown's architectural gems.
A number of tours will help guide you through this neighborhood including "Explore Chinatown with Foods of New York," "Discover Chinatown with Enthusiastic Gourmet," "Immigrant New York with Big Onion Tours," and walking tours with the Museum of Chinese in the Americas, many of which will take guests to some of the area's best restaurants and places to get Dim Sum, a Chinese staple.
Other attractions in the area include Chatham Square, Columbus Park, Five Points, the Museum of the Chinese in the Americas, the First Shearith Israel Cemetery, and the Edward Mooney House, and you can find great food shopping at Kam Man Food Products, Chinatown Fish Markets, or one of the many other stores available on the Chinatown Shopping Directory.