Nestled between Riverside and Morningside Parks on the upper west side, Morningside Heights (most easily accessible on the 1, B and C subway lines) is one of the most verdant neighborhoods in Manhattan. Home to a host of such educational institutions as Columbia University, Barnard College, Jewish Theological Seminary and Manhattan School of Music, this "academic acropolis" (as it is sometimes referred to) also hosts an array of bookish, historical and relaxing sights for recreational visitors.
Start off your afternoon in Morningside Heights with a casual lunch at Nussbaum and Wu, located on the corner of 113th Street and Broadway. This café and coffee shop offers a wide selection of sandwiches, wraps, bagels, salads, pizzas, beverages and desserts, and is a favorite reading spot among students and locals alike. After ordering at the counter, find a seat at one of their well-cleaned tables either inside the shop or out on the sidewalk patio. While the atmosphere may feel fast-paced during peak meal times, you are welcome to stay at your table as long as you wish.
Once you've gotten your fill at lunch, walk east a few blocks until you reach 113th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, where you'll find the imposing but beautiful Cathedral of Saint John the Divine (between 113th and 110th). While its cornerstone was laid in 1892, this gothic-style stone cathedral has undergone several renovations and repairs since its one hundred-plus years of existence. At around 121,000 square feet, Saint John's is considered the fourth largest church in the world. Take your time exploring both the cathedral and its grounds. Admission is free for all visitors (donations are welcome), and informational pamphlets are offered in about a dozen different languages. To find more information about the cathedral's daily services, programs, and tours, visit their website.
While you are on the east side of Morningside Heights, head over to Morningside Park, the neighborhood's namesake, located one block east of and behind the cathedral (between Morningside Drive and Morningside Ave). Built in the late nineteenth century, this thirty-acre park is home to a variety of trees, plants, slopes and recreational courts, and its shady canopy makes it a perfect location for a short mid-afternoon walk.
After exploring the park, make your way over to Book Culture, Morningside Heights' colorful and independent bookstore. The store has two locations in the neighborhood—one at 536 112th Street and the other at 2915 Broadway. While the 112th Street location has a larger and more diverse selection of goods (including stationery, magazines, journals, and both new and used books), the Broadway location has a much friendlier staff. Check out the Staff Recommends shelves for unexpected recommendations for excellent reads.
If so much roaming and browsing starts making you feel a little peckish, stop by one of the neighborhood's many quick eateries. Most highly recommended are Tea Magic (2878 Broadway), which serves a delicious array of bubble teas, steamed buns, and Asian noodle dishes; Hungarian Pastry Shop (1030 Amsterdam Avenue), which offers a selection of European desserts and beverages; and Tom's Restaurant (2880 Broadway), a diner with an exterior famous for being the regular hang out in the 1990s television show Seinfeld. For a strong pick-me-up, head over to Oran's Daily Roast at 112th Street and Broadway.
As the afternoon gets cooler, stroll towards the north section of the neighborhood on Riverside Drive, past the Theological Seminary, until you get to the General Grant National Memorial at 122nd Street. The largest tomb in North America, this National Park Service site is both a memorial and burial ground for former President and General Ulysses S. Grant. The memorial is open daily from 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., and is known for its beautiful architecture, mosaics and statues. Impressive views of Riverside Park and the Hudson River can be seen from the site's Overlook Pavilion.
Wrap up your day with a walk through breezy Riverside Park, which is easily accessible from Grant Memorial. Stop by the Hudson Beach Café, located in the park around 105th Street, for a quick drink or a grilled bite to eat as you make your way towards the subway. With a live band and outdoor patio seating that overlooks the river and sports fields, this café has the feel of a genuine neighborhood joint. Watch the sun set over the Hudson and make your way through fields of fireflies as you head back home.
View of the Sunset Over the Hudson River From Riverside Park
Wow! What a great tour you've compiled here. I love little shops and cafes you've planned out. I'd agree that this area is often overlooked and tourists/travelers don't often explore it properly! Great ideas here!