Little Italy is one of Lower Manhattan’s classic neighborhoods. Even as New York City is a constantly shifting, ever-evolving metropolis, Little Italy remains a cozy and enchanting stretch of blocks worth exploring in detail. Little Italy makes for a fabulous place to share a delicious meal, enjoy a pleasant stroll, and sip a glass of wine with a friend or loved one. Some of the most historic restaurants in all of New York City call Little Italy home. Once you’ve had your fill of fantastic food, the nearby shopping meccas of SoHo and NoLita beckon window shoppers and shopaholics alike.
Little Italy Neighborhood History
Significant numbers of Italian immigrants headed to New York during the final decades of the nineteenth century, with many of them settling near one another in the same densely populated portion of Lower Manhattan. On account of their influence, this area would become known as Little Italy. In terms of sheer statistics, Little Italy wasn’t always home to the biggest Italian-American population in the city, but in time it would become the spiritual heart of Italian culture and cuisine within the United States. The twenty-first century has brought tremendous change to Little Italy, with the neighborhood shrinking in size and diversifying rapidly through demographic shifts and widespread gentrification. Today, the core of the area consists of only a few blocks on Mulberry Street, but it retains its Old World charms and European flair.
Exploring Little Italy
Given the relatively small geographic footprint occupied by Little Italy today, it’s crying out to be explored by foot, and enterprising visitors can cover the entire neighborhood in a fairly short amount of time. If you want to make sure you’re not missing anything, though, consider taking a guided walking tour of the neighborhood. The Little Italy Official Neighborhood Tour is offered by Tommy’s New York, while ExperienceFirst’s SoHo, Little Italy, and Chinatown Walking Tour is a popular pick, too.
The Italian American Museum is located within a historic structure on Mulberry Street. This recently reimagined facility hosts a fascinating assortment of documents, artifacts, and memorabilia that tell the story of the many contributions people of Italian descent have made to American culture and society throughout the past couple centuries.
The Feast of San Gennaro is the centerpiece of Little Italy’s social calendar, and if you want to experience Little Italy at its liveliest, try and time your visit to coincide with this eleven-day-long festival that takes place here each September. Over the course of a week-and-a-half, the streets of Little Italy are taken over by parades, vendors, eating competitions, live music, and more. Thrown in honor of the patron saint of the city of Naples, the Feast of San Gennaro is a blast for the whole family.
One of New York City’s oldest neighborhoods, Little Italy is bordered to the east by the Lower East Side, the south by Chinatown, the west by SoHo, and of course to the north you’ll find NoLita.
Little Italy Dining
One of the true calling cards of the Little Italy neighborhood is its famous food scene. Here you’ll find some of the best pasta, pizza, cannoli, and wine this side of the Atlantic Ocean. If you make time to do one thing while you’re in Little Italy, it’s probably best to make sure that one thing includes a meal.
The neighborhood’s most famous establishments are full of history and great food. Lombardi’s Pizza, which opened its doors to the public way back in 1905, is credited by many as being the first pizzeria in all of the United States. It was here Naples-native Gennaro Lombardi is said to have developed the now-world-famous New York-style pizza.
Ferrara Bakery and Café was opened by Antonio Ferrara in 1892. This historic bakery lays claim to being the first espresso bar found anywhere in the United States, and all these generations later it’s still family-owned, operating out of its same, original storefront on Grand Street.
If you’re in the mood for dessert, it’s difficult to beat Caffé Palermo. Espresso, cannoli, wine, gelato: for nearly 50 years now this local institution has been serving up your Italian favorites in a fun setting on Mulberry Street.
Little Italy Shopping
Little Italy’s proximity to major Manhattan shopping destinations like SoHo, NoLita, and Chinatown make it a perfect jumping-off point for an enjoyable shopping excursion through one of these adjoining neighborhoods. Having said that, Little Italy has its own small shopping scene worth checking out before you move on to trendier shopping terrain.
Most of Little Italy’s most popular shopping options are found along its core Mulberry Street corridor. Unsurprisingly, some of the can’t-miss shopping here in Little Italy involves—you guessed it, food! In particular, Di Palo’s Fine Foods is a legendary neighborhood market. It sells some of the best imported Italian goods you’re liable to come across, including world-class olive oil, ricotta, wine, and essential pantry items, just to name a few beloved products found here.
Explore Little Italy Like a Local
- There are many electrifying examples of street art to be found in and around Little Italy, so keep your eyes peeled as you stroll through the neighborhood. From wall-size murals to tiny flourishes of color on random metal gates, this historic area positively pops with contemporary artistic expression.
- While technically located just outside of Little Italy, in what is typically characterized today as NoLita, the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral is a historic landmark well worth seeing for yourself. If you’d like to learn more about it, consider taking Tommy New York’s acclaimed Catacombs by Candlelight tour. This guided tour lets you go behind the scenes of the attraction, seeing and learning than you otherwise would if you went it alone.