Things to Do In Chinatown: Why It’s a Must-See on Your Trip to NYC
Chinatown is so much more than just a shopping destination for tourists — it’s a historical hub in Lower Manhattan that’s packed with culture. Follow me as I spend a day checking out the sights and things to do in Chinatown that you probably never even knew existed.
Before I embarked on my mission, my impression of Chinatown wasn’t the rosiest. For one, I’m not big on Chinese food. I’d also found the general bustle of the place intimidating in the past.
After spending an entire day checking out the sights and sounds that are off the beaten path, I came to the conclusion that Chinatown is actually one of the coolest neighborhoods in the city. While I can’t promise I’ve become an expert on Chinatown in a day, I can say that my travels have inspired me to come back to discover more of its secrets. Here’s some of what I’ve found so far:
Mahayana Buddhist Temple
Okay, first of all: how is this completely awesome Buddhist Temple located in the middle of New York City?! Because as soon as I walked through the door, I felt like I had stepped foot into another country.
The first thing I saw was a beautifully ornate vestibule that smelled strongly of incense and had a large bowl in the center of the room, filled with pennies left by tourists from all over the world. Instantly intrigued, I continued my walk through the temple to discover that every corner of the room was filled with colorful fruit, incredibly detailed statues, and decorations of red and gold.
After crossing the hallway to get to the main part of the temple, I was met by a massive gold statue of Buddha that must have been at least 20 times my size. In front of the Buddha was a large bin filled with fortunes, offering visitors the opportunity to take their fate home with them. I grabbed one, read it, and got some great news: my chances of being successful are “excellent”!
Chinatown Ice Cream
Next on the agenda was ice cream — score! If there’s a famous ice cream shack in Chinatown, you better believe I am going to check it out.
I usually don’t have much of a taste for Chinese sweets, but the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory was an entirely different story. I walked up to a tiny storefront that was almost completely obscured by the long line of people who apparently all knew that this was the place to be. I got the “scoop” from an old veteran of the shop named Tom, who happened to be standing in line behind me. He rattled off a list of the most famous flavors like a pro, including Lychee Rose, Thai Tea, and his personal favorite, Almond Cookie.
Clearly, I had to try my new friend Tom’s favorite flavor, so I got a cone with a mix of Almond Cookie and Pandan (which tasted like mint!)…and died. What made it taste even better was knowing that all their ice cream is made in-house. I’m definitely going to take my friends here next time they’re in town.
I walked a couple blocks from the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory into Columbus Park to take a seat on a bench and enjoy my ice cream cone. I’d just found the park when I heard loud Chinese music blaring from a powerful speaker system — I walked over to see where the tunes were coming from and stumbled upon a semicircle of about seven or eight musicians all playing together.
There was a crowd of onlookers supporting them with kind smiles, and the scene gave me an overwhelming sense of the area’s family-oriented community. The singer saw me snapping pictures of them on my phone and even invited me over to take a selfie!
If you walk down Cortlandt Alley searching for the Mmuseumm, stop looking for anything that even slightly resembles a typical everyday museum — you’ll never find it. This museum is dedicated to curating a modern natural history of contemporary artifacts, and it is literally the size of your closet.
If you peer inside the window that offers a view into this tiny room from right off the sidewalk, you can see various trinkets all lined up on the shelves, including icons of the Facebook symbol, deformed lightbulbs, eggs, and skulls. If this is what future historians will look to when compiling the story of our era, they’ll have quite the eclectic mix of artifacts to choose from!
I found this museum to be quite charming, although the whole experience was a lot to digest — the very fact that we a small room right off the sidewalk a museum was shocking, but that shock made my time there all the more interesting.
This is the kind of place that you hear about from a friend of a friend of a friend — it’s a little bit hard to find, but it’s definitely a cool gem in the middle of Chinatown. What looks like just another a jewelry store from the outside actually houses a little parlor, and in that parlor is a woman who claims she can capture what your aura looks like in a photograph.
I walked inside Magic Jewelry somewhat hesitantly and told the woman inside that I would like to have my aura read. She ushered me over to a chair, where I sat down and placed my hands on two metal contraptions on either side of the stool. When she took the polaroid picture and it finally began to develop, it turned out to show my upper body surrounded in clouds of purple.
She explained to me what the colors of my aura meant over a complimentary cup of tea, and I was baffled at how on-point her reading was. I have to say that I am not usually one to buy into this kind of thing, but this reading was scary accurate, and a really awesome thing to do overall.
I left delighted to find that Chinatown has SO much more than bustling streets. If you really dive inside, you can stumble upon a lot of culture, history, and fascinating little finds. You go, Chinatown! I’ll be back for you.