Union Square, NYC Neighborhood Guide

Union Square and its close neighbor the Flatiron District have a little bit of something for everyone. You’ll encounter here several popular Manhattan attractions, including one of New York’s most iconic buildings, as well as a beloved farmers’ market, bookstore, and public park. In addition, Union Square is home to an array of historical landmarks, shopping options, and dining establishments. During the winter months, Union Square is also the site of a holiday market considered by many to be one of the best in the city, if not the entire United States.

Union Square Neighborhood History

Union Square draws its name from the fact that it’s where Broadway and Park Avenue come together to form a “union,” and its centerpiece, Union Square Park, the lively green space from which the larger neighborhood draws its name, is one of New York City’s most historic public plazas. Union Square Park dates to the middle of the nineteenth century, and was notably redesigned by the acclaimed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted in 1872. It was here that Earth Day was first celebrated, and the site is well-known as a mecca of free expression and arts-and-crafts vendors.

Exploring Union Square

Union Square is one of those New York City neighborhoods that’s perfect for people watching. It’s a lovely area to go for a stroll and soak in the atmosphere, as multiple prominent New York City historical landmarks are found here. In Union Square Park alone you’ll see statues devoted to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, and George Washington, as well as the monumental Union Square Drinking Fountain, an ornamental bronze sculpture dating to 1881 that’s considered one of the city’s oldest such structures.

At the southern end of Union Square you’ll come across an enormous art installation called Metronome. For nearly 25 years now this work has beguiled visitors from all over the world with its large LED numbers. Created by the artists Kristin Jones and Andrew Ginzel, for two decades the artwork simply told the time of day and shared how much time was left in said day. Recently, though, the piece has been modified to reflect how much time remains before the Earth is irreparably damaged by the ongoing ravages of climate change.

If you’ve made your way to Union Square, you’ll most definitely want to continue north four more blocks to see the elegant Flatiron Building flank the southern edge of Madison Square Park. The work of the great architect Daniel Burnham, the Flatiron Building dates to 1902 and its unmistakable design makes it a true New York City classic—it’s not to be missed!

Union Square is located at the intersection of two quintessential New York City streets: Broadway and Park Avenue. It’s bordered to the north by the Flatiron District, the south by Greenwich Village, the east by Gramercy Park, and the west by Chelsea.

Union Square Dining

Though Union Square is far from the largest New York City neighborhood, it isn’t hurting for places to enjoy a quality meal. Popular Union Square restaurants cater to a variety of tastes, and include cozy French restaurants, old-school pizzerias, sushi bars, Japanese noodle chains, and comfy gastropubs, to name but a few of the area’s options.

If you’re seeking that truly one-of-a-kind New York dining experience, award-winning restauranteur Danny Meyer’s flagship establishment, Union Square Cafe, is (appropriately enough) located in the neighborhood. While no longer housed in its original building, Union Square Cafe is still going strong after nearly 40 years. This James Beard-winning powerhouse serves up New American cuisine and is perennially rated one of the best restaurants in all of the city. 

Union Square Shopping

The powerful appeal of Union Square’s shopping scene is in no small part due to its eclectic nature. In this area alone, broadly speaking, you’ll have access to some of the city’s best opportunities to purchase the freshest foods, the finest books, and a whole host of kitchenware and home décor goods.

Any consideration of Union Square’s shopping has to begin with a discussion of its much-beloved Greenmarket. This local institution is a year-round farmers’ market that operates every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, routinely featuring hundreds of vendors. If you’re in New York City between November and January, you won’t want to miss the Union Square Holiday Market. Its wide selection of ornaments, crafts, hot chocolate, gifts, desserts, and more ensure it provides a festive time for all.

Other popular Union Square shopping destinations include the world-famous Strand Book Store, whose shelves contain “18 Miles of Books” and are the stuff of legends; Fishs Eddy, the quirky kitchenware shop that’s been a Flatiron District stalwart for over three decades now; and ABC Carpet & Home, an establishment well-known for its flashy assortment of lamps, pillows, bedding, and a whole lot more.

Explore Union Square Like a Local

  • From free movies and yoga classes to live music and traveling petting zoos, special events are always taking place in Union Square Park. This is especially the case during the summer months, so ahead of your trip to New York you’ll want to look into what might be happening when you’re scheduled to visit.
  • While it’s not located in Union Square, technically speaking, the Manhattan branch of the popular Swedish contemporary photography museum chain known as Fotografiska can be found just a few blocks to the north, not far from the Flatiron Building. It regularly hosts cutting-edge temporary exhibits that’ll makes for a fun, thought-provoking afternoon for anyone with a passion for contemporary photography.