Updated: May 21, 2015
Chinatown Walking Tour Map - New York Chinatown Map and GuideOther New York Walking Tours:
- Greenwich Village Walking Tour
- Brooklyn Heights Walking Tour
- Downtown Manhattan Walking Tour
- Plus handy New York City Neighborhood Map
This Chinatown self-guided walking tour path is 1.6 miles long. It should take 1-2 hours to complete, depending on how much stopping and shopping and browsing you do along the way (and feel free to do plenty, Chinatown can be fascinating!). It begins at one of the Canal Street subway stations and ends back on Canal Street at Mulberry Street. You can either continue up Mulberry Street if you want to explore Little Italy, or follow Canal another block or two and get back on the subway. Map, history, and details below.
New York Chinatown HistoryThe history of this lower east side of New York is one of immigrants. Over the centuries, English settlers gave way first to German immigrants, then the Irish, then Italians and Jews, and most recently to the Chinese. Canal Street used to be the divider between Chinatown (to the south) and Little Italy (to the north), but Little Italy has shrunk to the point that it now is really just a few blocks along one main street (Mulberry), while Chinatown continually threatens to overspill any boundaries put up. This mix of people, history, and cultures defines the area today. A Chinatown didn't begin in New York City until the late 1860s and early 1870s, after the completion of the trancontinental railroad system in the US (many Chinese migrated to the US during the Gold Rush of 1848, then went to work on the railroads, with more than 100K more Chinese moving to the US in the 1870s). The orginal Chinatown formed around Mott Street, Doyer, and Pell Street, growing from a few hundred residents in 1870 to about 2,000 by 1882. The United States passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, which largely halted Chinese immigration until it was repealed in 1943. This made it almost impossible for immigrant Chinese men to bring their wives and families to their new country, resulting in a 1900 New York Chinatown of 7000 men and only a few hundred Chinese women. Between language and cultural barriers, along with open racism, Chinatown really remained cutoff and isolated from the rest of the city. In the decades since, Chinese immigration to New York has exploded, resulting in New York's Chinatown having the 2nd largest Chinese population in the West (after San Francisco). Chinatown has expanded greatly, taking over much of Little Italy to the north and the Lower East Side. Our walk will cover the historic center of Chinatown.
Getting to Chinatown - take any of the 6, J, M, Z, N, Q, R, or W trains to Canal Street station. The NQRW trains stop at Broadway and Canal, the furthest from our starting point (you can drag the map below slightly down and to the right to see where the Broadway/Canal station is), while the 6 and J, M, Z Canal Street stations are 2 blocks closer.
New York City Tours - Chinatown MapTake a peak at the map below - it shows the route we will take. We begin at the upper left on Canal Street, then we will go down Mulberry and around Worth to Chatham Square. We'll wind our way back up Doyers and Mott and Bowery, and end up back along Canal when we finish our loop. Again, the entire walk is about 1.6 miles, all flat.
So let's get our bearings quick. When you get out of the subway onto Canal Street, you want to start walking east. Look down Canal Street -- if you look west, you should be able to see sky straight down the end of Canal Street with nothing blocking your view. Now turn around and look the other way down Canal Street -- you should see it veer to the left in the distance, so the horizon looks like it has buildings across it --> this is EAST, this is the direction you want to start walking. Another good way to tell where you are is by looking at business signs. If you accidentally walk west of Broadway, the signs will all change to English almost instantly, whereas if you are heading east into Chinatown the signs will be more and more in Chinese. The point being, when you come up out of the subway, you want to begin walking EAST down Canal Street towards the East River. You will walk 2-3 blocks until you get to Mulberry Street, but as you walk check out all the crazy stalls and street vendors..
Handbag Shopping Along Canal Street in ChinatownChinatown shopping - Canal Street is a popular shopping area for tourists. If you're looking for jewelry, handbags, perfume, sunglasses, watches, wallets, shoes, etc. you'll want to walk along Canal Street between Broadway and Baxter (though you'll find shops stretching all the way down to Bowery, the hottest area is between Baxter, Center, Canal, and Walker). This is where you will find most of the handbag merchants and street vendors selling the gear tourists come looking for. Personally, I wouldn't go off with some stranger on the street corner offering to take me to a private sale, but people do it all the time. Just be smart, and know what you are buying. It is an active area for shopping from about 11AM until late afternoon - by evening most shops have closed down and the area is much quieter and deserted.
When you reach Mulberry Street, TURN RIGHT ON MULBERRY.
If you take a look at the map above, you'll see one location marked off by itself to the left of Centre Street. This whole square area between Baxter and Lafayette, from Franklin to Worth, used to be under water. It was home to a swampy area around the Collect (CALL-ect) Pond, which provided drinking water to the city well into the 1700s. Between 1807-1811, the city drained the area by building a canal, which was later covered over in 1821, and became -- you guessed it -- Canal Street. The recovered swampy land here was turned into The Tombs Prison in 1838, though the original building, which looked like an Egyptian mausoleum, is now gone. The Manhattan House of Detention is still a jail facility today. This is off the path of the tour and there is not much to see here -- do not walk down here unless you feel the need to. This is really just a point included for reference and history of the area around Canal Street.
Here's a closer look at our map again..
Continuing down Mulberry, you'll cross Bayard Street and then see Columbus Park on your right, and Mulberry will bend to the left. This was called "Mulberry Bend" and was part of one of the worst and most dangerous slums in New York in the 1800s, the Five Points (which we'll learn about in a momemt). The entire area was razed in 1896 and Columbus Park was built. You may see people doing tai-chi here or playing table games. Most of the park has fences around it for playing fields and such, so just work your way down Mulberry Street (ignore the angle crossing the park in the map) until you reach Worth Street. If you look a block to your right where Baxter meets Worth Street, this is the infamous area once known as The Five Points...
If you've seen "Gangs of New York", you know some of the history of this area. Five Points was one of the most infamous slum and crime-ridden areas in New York (and the world) in the mid to late 1800s - even police were afraid to walk alone here. After German immigrants, Irish immigrants poured into the area, especially in the 1840s during the time of the Great Potato Famine. Five streets converged here, forming a star, giving rise to the "Five Points" name. Baxter Street used to be called Orange (and it continued south beyond Worth, connecting to Park Row), Worth was called Anthony (which dead-ended here coming from the west), and Mosco (which was called Cross Street) extended across the park area now found here and continued on to the southwest. The "Gangs of New York" also shows the New York Riots of 1863, instigated by the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War draft. Working-class German and Irish immigrants, angered at the thought of having to compete with freed slaves for low-paying jobs, angered at a war that drafted them and exempted Blacks, and angered by rules that let wealthy men buy their way out of the draft (for $300), released their frustration on the city and its Black population with days of violent riots that required the Army to put them down. So keep in mind that Chinatown grew up in the shadow of such a neighborhood..
Chatham Square ChinatownTurn LEFT down WORTH STREET. You'll cross Mulberry and Mott as you enter the open area known as Chatham Square (look for the small arch -- see photo above), where several other roads meet as well. Also known as Kimlau Square, Chatham Square was an open market area through much of the 1800s, before becoming a seedier area known for tattoo parlors and flophouses, just 2 blocks from the infamous Five Points area. The Kimlau Memorial Arch is here (1962), dedicated to Chinese Americans who died fighting for democracy. The statue here (photo to right) is of Lin Ze Xu, an early Chinese drug-czar who tried to keep the opium trade out of China. If you are standing on the street curb looking south through the arch, just to your left a few doors down is Dim Sum Go Go (5 E. Broadway), a popular Chinese restaurant. If you're in the area around lunch time, drop in and try some of their dumplings.
Here's a closeup of our map again:
- Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.
- Only the wisest and stupidest of men never change.
- Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.
- I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.
- If you enjoy what you do, you'll never work another day in your life.
We will now cross Bowery and walk up Doyers Street (see photo below). Doyers is a short street that makes a sharp turn to the right. This used to be called "The Bloody Angle" - they claim this was the most dangerous location in New York around the year 1900. Gangs would ambush rivals here - it was the murder capital of the US. These few blocks of Doyer, Pell (coming up), and Mott were the original boundaries of Chinatown. Brothels, opium dens, gambling houses, and saloons mixed with the tenement housing that filled this part of the city. Continue up to Pell Street, then TURN RIGHT down PELL STREET. We will walk to the end of this block and then backtrack. At the end of the block (on the corner of Bowery) on the right is the Edward Mooney House. This old (1785) Georgian and Federal-style red-brick building is the oldest row house (or townhouse) in New York City. Check out the quarter-round windows on the Pell St. side on the 4th floor. Over the years it has been a hotel, tavern, store, restaurant, etc. - now a Chinese bank. TURN AROUND and walk back along Pell Street and make your SECOND LEFT onto MOTT STREET.
A few buildings down on your right is the Church of the Transfiguration. This multi-denominational, multi-cultural, multi-lingual church has served immigrants here for more than two centuries (since 1801, the spire was added in the 1860s), starting with Irish, then Italian, and today Chinese. Originally a Lutheran church, it became Roman Catholic in 1853. As Mulberry Street is the heart of Little Italy, Mott Street is the heart of Chinatown. Let's TURN AROUND and follow MOTT up a block and TURN RIGHT on BAYARD. If you want a special treat, stop in at the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory (a few doors up on your right - 65 Bayard St). Chinese and American flavors will delight all. Try mango or ginger, but there are plenty of old-fashioned American flavors as well. It's a small place, keep your eyes open! Continue along Bayard for a block until you again reach Bowery, TURN LEFT up BOWERY.
Mahayana Buddhist TempleWalk up the long block of Bowery until you reach Canal Street. To the right is the majestic plaza and arch of the Manhattan Bridge approach that dominates the open space here. If you look across Canal and over to your right, you'll see a building with a red temple/pagoda structure on the front of it -- this is where we need to get to. This is a busy intersection, so first cross Bowery towards the Manhattan Bridge, then cross that big intersection to get across Canal and over to that building with the red temple front, which is the... Mahayana Buddhist Temple (133 Canal St.). This is the largest Buddhist Temple in Chinatown. Check out the Chinese lions out in front. Go inside to see the 16 foot tall golden Buddha statue, complete with blue halo. You can buy a fortune scroll for $1 inside (strange note - this building used to be an adult movie theater in the 80s and early 90s -- however, still show respect when entering today...). When finished, turn back and walk back west along Canal Street, away from the Bridge.
As you walk back along Canal, there is just one other optional stop. If you are still in the mood for food, you can make a left down Elizabeth Street and stop in at Jing Fong (20 Elizabeth St). The lively atmosphere sets this Chinatown favorite apart. Dim sum is the specialty, eggs rolls delicious. The crowded lobby leads to an escalator up to a huge banquet hall where you will likely be seated next to other parties -- just grab your food from the carts that come around. Dim Sum daily from 10am-3:30 pm (get there early for the best, freshest dumplings). Assuming you're ready to end the tour, either continue along Canal until you reach the subway you arrived on, or turn right up Mulberry Street and within 2 or 3 blocks you will end up in the heart of Little Italy (5 blocks up is the 6 subway on Spring Street). We hope you enjoyed your tour and would love to hear any feedback or suggestions.
If you'd like a guided, culinary tour of Chinatown, you might want to check out FoodsOfNy.com - you'll explore several restaurants and snack spots as you explore Chinatown with your tour guide for 3 hours ($65 per person).
You can print out a PDF map of Chinatown here.