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Things to Do in Chelsea NYC
Here’s an insiders’ guide to the best things to do in Chelsea NYC. You’ll find suggestions on what to see, where to eat and what to do from two dynamic New York gallery owners, Christine Berry and Martha Campbell, who have owned an art gallery in the area since 2013.
We’ll check out Hudson Yards, which borders Chelsea, and travel along The High Line with stops at some top galleries, markets, restaurants and attractions.
Why Visit the Chelsea Area in New York City?
Why not? From incredible urban parks and markets to high-powered art galleries, Chelsea is one of the most vibrant areas in New York.
Prefer a guided tour? Check out a Chelsea Market, Meatpacking District, High Line Food and History Tour. See dates and prices here.
Where is Chelsea?
Roughly bordered by the Meatpacking District on 14th Street to the south and 34th Street to the north, Chelsea is a hopping Manhattan neighborhood known for its A-list galleries, trendy restaurants and attractions such as The High Line and Chelsea Market.
Mind you, it’s also where Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols stabbed his punk rocking girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, at the creaky Chelsea Hotel in 1978, but it’s come a long way since then. In fact, now it’s one of the most sought after neighborhoods in New York.
Its north edge butts up against Hudson Yards, which has become a super trendy neighborhood in its own right. From east to west, Chelsea runs from 6th Avenue over to the Hudson River and Chelsea Piers.
An Eclectic West Side Neighborhood
Chelsea might not be the most beautiful neighborhood in Manhattan, and it’s gone through some rough times, but it has some lovely residential streets and real estate prices have soared here, with luxury high rises rolling in.
Whether you consider it one of New York’s hidden gems, or one of the city’s top attractions, there is plenty to see.
Long known as a gay-friendly destination in NYC, Chelsea has a mix of appealing brownstones, restaurants, funky shops, uninspiring apartment blocks, and some of the most expensive art galleries on the planet.
If you like art, don’t miss West Chelsea, an area of converted factories and warehouses that now has the highest concentration of art galleries in New York.
Also of note, the legendary Chelsea Hotel reopened to not much fanfare (although in my head it gets a lot of fanfare) in February 2022.
About This Guide
Combining travel and art is the perfect way to explore New York City, especially in one of the most exciting gallery districts in the world.
So when my husband Mark and I were in NYC for an art show of my late father’s paintings at Berry Campbell Gallery, I asked gallery owners Christine Berry and Martha Campbell for tips on the best things to do in the Chelsea district, from Hudson Yards down to the Meatpacking District.
As their gallery has been based here since 2013, they’re an excellent resource.
1. Walk the High Line
Christine and Martha recommended Mark and I start at The High Line at 34th Street, explore Hudson Yards and work our way south down to the Whitney Museum, with stops to dive into Chelsea along the way.
What’s The High Line?
The High Line is a much-celebrated elevated park. Created from a derelict freight train line above the west side of Manhattan, it’s a massively successful urban revitalization project, a 1.5-mile artsy ribbon of an urban park that runs from 34th down to 14th Street.
It’s a wonderful way to explore. From 30 feet up, you can float above traffic, cruise through designer-chic gardens the width of a train track and take in views of the Manhattan skyline and the Hudson River.
Be forewarned, the park gets crowded, so if you intend on speed walking, avoid weekend afternoons.
The good news is that walking The High Line is free. There are a number of access and exit points so you can dip down and explore the best parts of Chelsea. Some access points are wheelchair accessible, but not all.
Where to Access the High Line
- The most northern access point on The High Line is at 34th Street, which is open from 7 a.m. to sunset.
- The southernmost access point is at Gansevoort and Washington, which has elevator access.
- For the art gallery district in Chelsea exit at 20th Street, 23rd Street (elevator access) or 26th Street.
Hours for The High Line
The High Line is open from 7:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m. in spring and fall. It ‘s open from 7:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. in summer, and from 7:00 a.m. to 7 p.m. from December 1 to March 31.
2. From The High Line Visit Hudson Yards
Overlooking the Hudson River on New York’s West Side, Hudson Yards is a city within a city, a sleek and shiny development of luxury condos, office towers, public plazas and event spaces.
The largest private development ever built in the USA, it completely re-energized a once bleak stretch of industrial land.
As Mark and I curved around The High Line and approached the burst of silvery high rises, I turned to him. “Okay, where’s the Big Shawarma?”
I flapped my hands at the Yards. “You know, the Eiffel Tower of New York. The Structure. The Hudson Yards Sculpture.” My voice raised an octave. “That thing Christine called the Big Shawarma. The attraction no one can name.”
“That’s the one.”
Check Out the Vessel
A honeycombed hybrid between art, building and a big bowl of wine (thus called the ‘Vessel’), this bronzed steel and concrete ‘sculpture’ is one of the top things to see at Hudson Yards. (Personally, now that I’ve seen it I think it looks like half a gigantic acorn.)
Built in 2019, the Vessel was created by British designer Thomas Heatherwick, and it contains 150 interlocking stairways and 2,500 steps.
Semi officially called the Vessel, because no one has managed to settle on a name yet – it’s a climbable piece of copper-toned art. At least it’s supposed to be climbable. Right now the spiral staircase is closed, but you can still access the ground floor for free.
Why Can You No Longer Climb the Vessel?
Sadly, this new New York landmark quickly became a suicide magnet, so until they can make it safer, you’re limited to visiting the ground floor.
Visit the Edge Skywalk
Even if you can’t climb the Vessel you can soar to new heights at Hudson Yards. The Edge Observation Deck at 30 Hudson Yards is the highest sky deck in New York. (And, in fact, all of America.)
If you want to be 100 floors up on a suspended platform, checking out the New York City views, the Edge is your terrace in the sky.
Edge Hours: Every day 8:00 a.m. to midnight.
Book a guided tour of Hudson Yards with guaranteed entrance to the Edge Skywalk here.
Shop at Hudson Yards Mall
Pretty much everyone who visits Hudson Yards visits the mall. Popular with tourists, it’s a high-end shopping destination featuring every designer you can think of.
The Hudson Yards mall, which doesn’t like to be called a mall because it has higher aspirations than that, is adjacent to the Vessel.
If you’ve come to New York for shopping and brought plenty of cash, you may enjoy this massive ‘experiential retail experience.’ And while many locals still call it a mall, visitors – judging from the crowds on a Saturday afternoon – call it one of the most visited attractions in New York.
Where to Eat at Hudson Yards
Top of the list for places to eat at Hudson Yards is Mercado Little Spain.
Located in the mall at street level, this market-style food hall features Spanish food and drink from renowned Chef José Andrés and the Adría Brothers.
But don’t eat too much as there are a lot of food-friendly places in Chelsea.
See an Event at the Shed
If you want to see a concert or event at Hudson Yards, the Shed is getting a lot of buzz. This state-of-the-art cultural center houses gallery spaces, a theater, event spaces and more.
Sheathed in something called ETFE pillows, the outside looks a bit like a futuristic silver quilted-down jacket. That’s not to say it’s not eye-catching, it’s quite luminescent.
And the outer shell is on wheels, so it can open up and transform itself into a whole new space for large concerts.
How to Access Hudson Yards from The High Line
From The High Line take the 30th Street exit at 10 Hudson Yards. The newish subway station, the 34th Street–Hudson Yards Station, will deliver you to the development.
3. Check Out the Best Art Galleries in Chelsea
Once you’re back on The High Line head to West Chelsea to the main gallery district. Of course you can also go there by subway. The 23rd Street Subway is the closest.
There are an estimated 350 art galleries in Chelsea, clustered together like penguins in Antarctica. This dense concentration of gallery spaces means you can easily get up to speed on what’s happening in the art world.
It also means it’s confusing. How do you know which art galleries to visit? Here’s an interesting mix of galleries recommended by Christine and Martha. Below that, I’ll list some of my own picks.
David Zwirner – A Major Player
There is a certain thrill about visiting big name art galleries in Chelsea, and David Zwirner is at the top of the heap. Representing stars such as Jeff Koons, Jeff Wall and Neo Rauch, with estimated sales at $500 million a year, David Zwirner is at the forefront of the contemporary art world.
Location: One David Zwirner art gallery just isn’t enough. There are two David Zwirner locations in Chelsea, one at 525 West 19th Street and one at 537 West 20th Street.
Photography is a hot genre in visual art. A gallery with its pulse on leading photo-based artists is Yancey Richardson at 525 West 22nd Street. Founded by Yancey Richardson, one of the world’s top photo-focused art dealers, it relocated to Chelsea from Soho in 2000.
Jack Shainman Gallery – Diverse
Known for showing top flight artwork by African American artists, Jack Shainman Gallery boasts an international stable of artists from Africa, Asia and North America.
The gallery has two exhibition spaces in Chelsea, one at 513 West 20th Street and one at 524 West 24th Street.
More Galleries in the Chelsea District
One of the great things about visiting private art galleries – besides the fact that they’re free – is that you can fit a number of them into a day. Gallery hopping is one of the top activities in Chelsea, so here are a few other big names to check out.
Considered David Zwirner’s main rival, the Gagosian Gallery, helmed by famed art dealer Larry Gagosian, is always eye opening. Ever since his cavernous space opened at 555 West 24th Street in 1999 with a large-scale Richard Serra show, the Gagosian has been firmly in A-list Chelsea territory.
They also have another Chelsea location at 522 West 21st Street.
Pace has been around for nearly 60 years, but their new flagship outpost at 540 West 25th Street will be their first foray into Chelsea.
Just a 3-minute walk from The High Line, it’s a mammoth 75,000-square-foot space and the building, clad in aluminum and volcanic stone panels, is a show stopper in itself.
Berry Campbell Gallery
I put Berry Campbell Gallery high on my list of places to visit in Chelsea NYC because they’re an ethical pair in the complex world of art dealing, and have a stellar selection of artists.
In particular they’ve been champions of talented female artists who got left by the wayside when abstract expressionism became famous for its ‘macho’ superstars like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko.
With a focus on postwar and contemporary art, Berry Campbell showcases modernist artists such as Judith Godwin, Perle Fine, Dan Christensen, and, ahem, my father, Colourfield painter William Perehudoff. (Did I mention that already?)
They’ve been so successful they’ve expanded to a new 4500 square foot space in a prime Chelsea location at 524 West 26th Street.
Hauser & Wirth
With outposts in Hong Kong, London, New York, Los Angeles, Somerset, Gstaad and St. Moritz, Hauser & Wirth from Switzerland is another mover and shaker in the art world. Right now the gallery is at 548 West 22nd Street, but they’re constructing a new multi-storied building at 542 West 22nd Street.
4. Visit Chelsea Market
Once you’ve exhausted your capacity for culture, it’s time to hit Chelsea Market, an adventure in food and shopping and a major point of interest in NYC.
Taking up an entire city block, this 120-year-old historic building offers 13,000 square feet of food-focused shops, restaurants and food vendors. It’s probably the most famous food hall in New York.
Housed in a former factory that made Oreo cookies (if that doesn’t give the place sweet vibes, I don’t know what does), there are a number of places to eat at Chelsea Market.
For seafood, try a fresh lobster roll at Lobster Place, visit Saxelby Cheesemongers for a pressed grilled cheese sandwich, or go for a taco at Los Tacos No.1.
For high-end cuisine try Buddakan for pan-Asian fare.
Warning: Chelsea Market is a ‘discovered’ destination, so be prepared to share the aisles with a scrum of other food fanatics.
Address: Chelsea Market, 75 9th Avenue and 16th Street.
5. Walk By the Chelsea Hotel
It’s impossible to list all the Bohemian celebrities that camped out at the Chelsea Hotel, a long-standing mix of apartments and hotel rooms.
Aside from the infamous stabbing of Nancy by Sid Vicious, which left a blood-stained mark on the hotel that will never truly fade, this historic Chelsea hotel has been a whirlwind of inspiration, edgy activity and creativity since 1884.
Patti Smith, Leonard Cohen, and Bob Dylan wrote songs here. Andy Warhol made movies here. A drink-addled Dylan Thomas died here back in the 50s.
You’ll find the Chelsea Hotel a lot tamer after its 11-year makeover and reopening in 2022, but you can’t renovate its past. Definitely one for the history books.
6. Indulge at These Great Chelsea Restaurants
Chelsea is a hot destination for food, so save some room for a meal. From casual to chef driven, you’ll find a good selection here.
Sullivan Street Bakery for Unbeatable Bread
Owned by Jim Lahey, a winner of an Outstanding Baker James Beard Award, Sullivan Street Bakery on 9th Street is your go-to place for bread in Chelsea. Or perhaps a citrus-scented olive oil cake?
Address: Sullivan Street Bakery, 236 9th Avenue, New York City, 10011
Try a Steak at Porteno Restaurant
Serving nouveau Argentinian cuisine, Porteno is an insider’s secret. Located in a quiet spot in Chelsea near the border of Hell’s Kitchen, it’s known for its veal milanesa, Argentinean steak and delicious empanadas. Make a night of it with an Argentinean Malbec.
Address: Porteno Restaurant, 299 10th Avenue, New York 10001
Dine at Bottino for a Glimpse into the Art World Elite
After opening nights for art shows in Chelsea, it’s almost impossible to get a table at Bottino, a sought-after restaurant steps away from the gallery district – at least we couldn’t due to a Frank Stella opening at Marianne Boesky Gallery.
Specializing in Tuscan food, the ambience at Bottino makes it one of the best places to eat in Chelsea, with a decor that’s as good as the food: wood floors, plush tangerine banquettes and an appealing wall of wine. There is also a good-sized patio for summer nights.
Address: Bottino Restaurant, 246 10th Ave New York, NY 10001
Go for a Casual Meal at the Empire Diner
When it comes to upscale retro dining, the Empire Diner serves up ‘vintage’ in style. This art deco diner is open until 11:00 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends, making it a viable stop for an after-art-opening bite.
A classic Chelsea restaurant, the Empire has a chrome exterior that shines right out of the past, an updated spare interior and a menu that includes Fried Chicken with Waffles and Lobster BLTs.
Over the years the Empire has changed owners, closed and reopened more than once, but its long history as an artist hangout is not forgotten.
Address: Empire Diner 210 10th Ave, New York, NY 10011
Try the Cookshop for Brunch
Cookshop is a neighborhood restaurant that focuses on farm-to-table food. From flaky buttermilk biscuits and fresh pressed juice, to a sauteed kale and goat cheese scramble, it’s a tantalizing way to start the day and is a popular brunch spot.
Address: Cookshop, 156 10th Avenue at 20th Street, NY 10011. Tel 212 924 4440
7. Head to Chelsea Piers for Sports
I added in Chelsea Piers, not because it was recommended or because it’s one of my favourite places to visit in Chelsea, but because others might like it and the history is interesting.
Back in the early 1900s it was a port for luxury liners. The ill-fated Titanic should have arrived here on April 14, 1912, but we all know what happened. The Lusitania, after leaving from Chelsea Piers for England, was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1915.
Later, soldiers would leave from the Piers for the two world wars. For some it would be their last glimpse of America.
After falling into disrepair, the piers were transformed into a riverfront recreational area. Today, these piers along the Hudson River are a popular destination for events.
They also offer a bucketload of sports activities like bowling, skating and a golf driving range and, like The High Line, are another example of Chelsea’s amazing ability to reinvent itself.
Location: Chelsea Piers runs from 17th Street up to 23rd.
8. Don’t Miss Little Island – Chelsea’s Coolest New Outdoor Space
Speaking of the area’s transformation, here’s one of the newest Chelsea attractions. Opened in 2021 after years of planning, lawsuits and cancellations, Little Island is the latest project to bump up the Chelsea neighborhood into a must-see New York destination.
South of Chelsea Piers towards the Meatpacking District, Little Island is located at Pier 55 and entrance is free.
An artificial island on tulip-shaped stilts, it’s a hip landscaped space with a stage, walking paths, a secret garden and an amphitheatre.
9. Visit the Whitney Museum of American Art
If you’ve walked The High Line from north to south, you can end at the Whitney Museum. Technically it’s in the Meatpacking District, but who’s splitting hairs?
If you want to see art you don’t understand, the Whitney at 99 Gansevoort Street should be able to help you out.
(I still remember seeing a video of Santa pooping on an elf several years back. I mean, it’s hard to shake that festive image from your skull.)
Why should you visit the Whitney? There’s no better way to challenge yourself than by looking at art that’s not immediately accessible and suddenly ‘getting’ it. (Or not getting it, but being proud of yourself for giving it a shot.)
Seriously, the Whitney has a stellar collection of modern art, will open your eyes to the newest of the new and provides a solid grounding in American culture.
After decades of being located on the Upper East Side, it relocated from the Upper East Side in 2015.
Fun fact: Christine Berry, one of my sources for this Chelsea guide, used to work at the Whitney.
Address: Whitney Museum of American Art, 99 Gansevoort St, New York, NY 10014, USA. Closed Tuesdays.
What to Do in Chelsea if You Have More Time
If you have more than a day to in Chelsea, there are a couple of more museums you can squeeze in.
Rubin Museum for Himalayan Art
The Rubin Museum is a 25,000 square foot exhibition space that highlights Himalayan art and culture, with a particular emphasis on the Tibetan Plateau. You can find it at 150 W 17th Street.
The Museum at FIT for Fashion
The Museum at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) is a free museum dedicated to fashion and style with a permanent collection of some 50,000 pieces. You can find it at 227 West 27th Street.
When Is the Best Time to Visit?
There is no bad time to visit Chelsea, but I find fall the most exciting when the galleries are gearing up for the season with new shows after the summer season lull.
If art is on your itinerary, it’s best to visit Chelsea from Wednesday to Saturday. Thursday nights are art opening nights in Chelsea, and you don’t need an invitation to see the art. Just walk in if you see people in there.
What is the Worst Time to Visit Manhattan Art Galleries?
Most commercial galleries are closed on Sunday and Monday and the Whitney is closed on Tuesday. Many other museums are closed on Mondays so check times before you go.
A New York Neighborhood with Lots of Attractions
Hopefully, this will give you some great ideas for things to do in Chelsea, one of the most exciting art destinations in New York.
The High Line makes it walkable, and all the new attractions on the West Side like Little Island make it even more of a draw. Whether you’re after an urban walk, an art tour, or, um, a look at a giant shawarma, Chelsea has it all.
About Christine Berry and Martha Campbell
Christine Berry began her career at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and then continued on to the Whitney Museum of American Art before shifting to the commercial art world.
Martha Campbell started her career at The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC before moving to New York.
Hotels in Chelsea New York
I don’t find there’s a huge amount of choice for hotels in Chelsea, but there are a few.
Standard High Line
One hotel that has a high hip factor is the Standard High Line (also known for being the hotel where Beyonce’s sister Solange went after JayZ in the elevator). Technically this 388-room luxury hotel is in the Meatpacking District but close enough.
Address: 848 Washington Street, NY, 10014. Check prices and availability here.
High Line Hotel
The 60-room High Line Hotel is a boutique 4-star property with a private courtyard, lots of exposed brick and historic charm, it’s housed in a seminary complex built in the 1800s.
180 Tenth Avenue, New York, NY, 10011, US
If you’re after a nautical theme, a handy location by the Chelsea Market, oversized porthole windows and complimentary breakfasts, check out the 4-star Maritime Hotel.
363 West 16th Street, Chelsea, New York, NY 10011, USA
Hotel Dream Downtown
Outdoor pool? Faux sand beach? Rooftop bar? For a modern urban vibe, have a look at the Hotel Dream Downtown.
355 West 16th Street, Chelsea, New York, NY 10011, USA
For more places to stay in New York visit my New York luxury hotels review.