Washington Square Park, New York City
Americas City Break Travel Ideas USA

Exploring Greenwich Village in New York City

My favourite thing to do in New York City is to leave the thundering, traffic-choked avenues and the skyscrapers behind and retreat into one of the city’s many neighbourhoods.

It is particularly an antidote to the psychedelic madness of Times Square where thousands of people mill about, dazzled by the neon jungle and seemingly waiting for something to happen that never does. Unless you meet the Naked Cowboy.

It is easy to find the charm and character of New York City and the most famous neighbourhood is probably ‘the village’. Wander through Washington Square and Commerce Street for a taste of 19th Century New York, before reaching for the heights of fashion on Bleecker Street. Find quiet courtyards and gardens squeezed in between townhouses.

Greenwich Village, New York City

For a non-American it is pleasant to find streets that are named rather than numbered, and that do not adhere to the grid structure. Not to mention buildings that are low enough to let the sun shine through.

The leafy streets of colonnaded houses, the famous arch in Washington Square Park and the Cherry Lane Theatre make for a pleasant afternoon’s walk in New York City.

Cherry Lane Theatre, New York City

On the west side of Lower Manhattan, Greenwich Village has long been a bohemian hotbed. The likes of Mark Twain, Walk Whitman, Anais Nin, Salvador Dali, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol and Eugene O’Neill squatted in abandoned factories and seedy digs like Hotel Albert.

But before that it was the Old New York of novelists Edith Wharton and Henry James.  Wharton sprung from a powerful New York family who set the tone and enforced the rules of Manhattan society. James was also born into a wealthy New York intellectual family in mid-19th-century America.

Washington Square, New York City

So what if Wharton entirely rejected this stifling and narrow world and spent a lifetime criticising it in prose, particularly the way it limited the opportunities of women.

Washington Square and the surrounding neighbourhood is where these old, ancestral Dutch and English aristocrats lived. I found it fascinating to walk amongst the buildings where Catherine Sloper and Ellen Olenska made their way.

Magnolia Bakery, New York City

It is also easy to be transported by the mountain of frosting on a vanilla cupcake from the sweet but sweaty Magnolia Bakery. It may have been 76 degrees outside but it was surely over 90 degrees inside.

By Natasha von Geldern

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