Things to See in Little Italy | A Self Guided Tour
If you want to discover all the things to see in Little Italy at your own pace, here’s a self-guided tour that hits upon the main sites – historical, architectural and culinary. We do also offer three pay-what-you-wish tours that cover Little Italy – our SoHo, Little Italy, Chinatown Tour, Lower Manhattan (Chinatown, Little Italy and Soho) and the All in One Downtown.
Promo video for our daily pay-what-you-wish tour that covers Little Italy.
How to get to Little Italy
There are many ways to arrive in Little Italy, and the Canal Street subway station is the closest to the starting point of this tour, the Most Precious Blood Church at 109 Mulberry Street. From the subway station, walk down Canal Street, across Centre Street and Baxter Street, then turn left at Mulberry Street, and the courtyard and church will be on your left. We recommend using this link for directions to the tour starting point.
TIP: If you are considering purchasing a hop-on, hop-off bus ticket, keep in mind that all of the major companies have stops at or near Little Italy. Read our post comparing the different bus companies.
A – Church of the Most Precious Blood (109 Mulberry Street)
Founded by Southern Italian immigrants after they were shunned by Irish Roman Catholics, this church is also the center of the eleven-day San Gennaro festival every September. Over one million people attend this celebration of the Patron Saint of Naples, and it features processions, parades and stalls.
The previous site of Umberto’s Clam House, an Italian seafood restaurant established in 1972 by the Ianniello family. Barely weeks after opening it was the location of one of the most infamous mafia hits in American history, when mobster Joe Gallo stopped for a morning snack. He was spotted by a rival gangster, then hitmen arrived and shot him five times and Gallo stumbled out into the street where he died. Umberto’s reopened in 2000 at 132 Mulberry Street.
C – Mulberry Street Cigars (140 Mulberry Street)
The previous location of the Hawaiian Moonlighters Social Club, a grey storefront that was a known hangout of John Gotti and his crew. Gotti was one of NYC’s most famous gangsters, renowned for his flamboyant lifestyle, and being a longtime leader of the Gambino crime family.
D – Di Palo (200 Grand Street)
The Di Palo family arrived in New York in 1903, as part of the mass Italian migration of that time. Savino Di Palo opened his first “latteria” (dairy store) in 1910. It’s still a family business, with the current owners making frequent trips back to Italy to seek out authentic tastes and traditional products.
E – Piemonte Ravioli (190 Grand Street)
Established in 1920, their extensive selection of fresh and dry pasta is no longer made onsite but comes for a factory in Woodside, Queens. Their signature ravioli is stuffed with everything from spinach and cheese to seafood, meats, and vegetables. The shop itself is housed in a Federal style row house dating back to 1832, and home to Italian immigrants up until the 1970s.
F – Alleva Dairy (188 Grand Street)
The oldest cheese shop in America. Since 1892 Alleva Dairy has been an outpost for imported Italian cheeses, fresh mozzarella and ricotta, cured meats and Italian snacks including prosciutto stuffed peppers, rice balls and a variety of olives. Pina Alleva first opened the store after immigrating from Italy, and now the store is run by her great-grandson, Robert Alleva. Inside the store are the original tiles and unique tin ceiling, as well as antique glass signage.
Operated by the fifth generation of the Ferrara family, this business originally opened in 1892 to satiate the local Italians need for espresso coffee and cakes. Due to the rampant demand they often baked two, three and sometimes four times a day, and thus became renowned for freshness. Worth a look inside, as the glorious décor has been very little altered over time.
H – Italian American Museum & Former Site of Banca Stabile (189 Grand Street & 155 Mulberry Street)
For more than a hundred years the Banca Stabile played an integral role in the lives of newly arrived Italians, and was known as the cornerstone of the Little Italy community. Independent until 1932, it was a link to relatives back home and offered services including: banking, translation, mortgages, money-wiring, insurance and international travel. It’s now the site of the Italian American Museum, which opened in 2001 and is dedicated to remembering the struggles and achievements of Italian Americans.
The oldest gun shop in New York City, it also claims to be the oldest in all of America. Founded in 1911, most of its customers are in law enforcement. Feel free to browse, but unless you’re American, you’ll have a lot of trouble making a purchase. The store did, however, get some heat in 2007 for selling to United Nations Diplomats from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Apart from $1 oysters on Monday to Friday from 4pm to 7pm, Onieals is a restaurant and bar that’s known for featuring in Sex and the City, as the backdrop of the casually hip New York City bar “Scout”. Over the years it’s also been a brothel, speakeasy and casino. During prohibition, there was even a tunnel built to connect it to the nearby Police Headquarters, enabling NYPD officers easy and discreet access to liquor and good times. Be sure to check out our self-guided tour of Sex and the City scenes in New York City.
K – Former NYPD Headquarters (240 Center Street)
The headquarters of the New York City Police Department from 1909 to 1973, this regal building was then vacant for over a decade, before being converted into luxury condominiums in 1988. The imposing design of this huge Beaux-Arts building was meant to give the police officers a sense of authority while intimidating the local petty criminals and mafia mobsters of Little Italy. Now apartments featuring high ceilings, one of which even boasts a living room that was previously a basketball court. Previous tenants include: supermodels Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista, tennis star Steffi Graf and actress Winona Ryder.
L – Mulberry Street
Little Italy originated as Mulberry Bend, which investigative journalist Jacob Riis described as, “the foul core of New York’s slums”. At this time East Harlem had a larger Italian population. Then in the 1900s powerful members of the mafia operated out of Little Italy, and it has featured in multiple films including “The Godfather” and “Donnie Brasco”. Mulberry Street has long been considered the heart of Manhattan’s Little Italy, which over the decades has shrunken to only a few blocks to the north and south of the intersection with Grand Street. As recently as the 1990s the Genovese crime family boss Vincent “the Chin” Gigante took to walking the streets in a bathrobe and slippers while trying, ultimately unsuccessfully, to persuade the feds he was insane. According to mob experts, mafia and organized crime figures are seen dining in the area to this day.
The LISA project (Little Italy Street Art Crawl) is a non-profit organization that has brought a diverse group of street artists to Mulberry Street to create Manhattan’s first and only mural district. The multitude of artists exhibiting on the walls and other surfaces in the area include Tristan Eaton, Blek Le Rat and Ron English who’s best known for the bright green baby hulk known as “Temper Tot”.
M – Pomodoro Ristorante & Pizzera (51 Spring Street)
The only restaurant in Little Italy that does pizza by the slice, the thin, doughy pizza from Pomodoro tastes best with few toppings and a simple sauce such as the “house special” vodka sauce.
N – Lombardi’s Pizza (32 Spring Street)
Gennaro Lombardi started this business in 1897 as a grocery store, then in 1905 received a license to open the first pizzeria in the United States. Still a family business and regarded as one of the top pizzeria’s in the country, their superheated coal fired oven, one of the last in the city, provides a crispy crust with a delightfully soft center. Many top pizza makers received training here.
O – St Patrick’s Old Cathedral (263 Mulberry Street)
First opened 1815, this church the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York until the current Saint Patrick’s Cathedral opened in 1879. In 1836, the old cathedral was the subject of an attempted sacking, after tensions between Irish Catholics and anti-Catholics led to a number of riots. The Ancient Order of the Hibernians saved the church, cutting holes in its outer walls and defending against the rioters with muskets. In 1866 the structure was gutted by fire, and even though the new St. Patrick’s was already under construction, the old cathedral was restored. The interior was used for the finale of the Godfather.
P – The Puck Building (295 Lafayette Street)
Constructed in two parts, the north in 1885-1886 and the south addition in 1892-1893, the building sports two gilded statues by sculptor Henry Baerer of Shakespeare‘s character Puck from A Midsummer’s Night Dream. The building contains office space, apartments and ballrooms. Once the home of Puck, the first successful humor magazine in the United States which ran from 1871 until 1918 and Spy, a satirical magazine that ran from 1986 to 1998, it has also housed several independent printing firms. This building was also the workplace of Grace, from the sitcom Will & Grace, and serves as the venue for a black-tie party in the 1991 Bret Easton Ellis novel American Psycho. Six loft-style penthouses have recently been added to the top of the building, ranging in price from $21 million to $60 million.
Q – NoLita
Deriving from “North of Little Italy” – an expression was first used by the New York Times in the 1996, as the the neighborhood saw an influx of yuppies and an explosion of expensive retail boutiques and trendy restaurants and bars. Previously, real estate agents had tried several different names to distinguish this area from its surrounds. Notable residents include actor Gabriel Byrne, musician Moby, singer/songwriter John Mayer, musician and goblin David Bowie, and Martin Scorsese was raised in the neighborhood back when it was still part of Little Italy.