When you walk around Chelsea, it's hard to believe it's just one neighborhood. The Highline Park, set on abandoned elevated railroad tracks, makes you forget you are in a city at all. Walk east and you will find yourself in the hustle and bustle of Midtown. Walk west and you will run into the Hudson River, with its accompanying spectacular views and parks.
In the the sections below, you'll get a glimpse into life in Chelsea. But before you go anywhere, make sure you scroll through the photos in the gallery below. Nothing can tell the story of a neighborhood as well as a few good photos.
In 1750, a retired English military officer named Thomas Clarke purchased 94 acres of farmland several miles west of central New York City. Clarke, a veteran of several wars, named his estate Chelsea after a retirement home for soldiers in England.
A neighborhood was officially born.
Although Clarke helped put Chelsea on the map, it was his grandson, Clement Moore, who left a much more visible mark on Chelsea today. Best known today as the author of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (you may know it as "'Twas the night before Christmas…"), Moore was known by his contemporaries for his significant land holdings, which he doled out to affluent families looking to bail out of the crowded Lower New York.
By requiring that the land only be used for housing and that each home have a tended front garden, Moore is directly responsible for the quiet, residential feel that still permeates many of Chelsea's side streets today. Moore also donated several acres to the Episcopal Church and subsequent General Theological Seminary, which still welcomes visitors to the neighborhood with the chiming of its historic tubular bells.
By the mid-point of the nineteenth century, Chelsea began to take on a decidedly more industrial feel. The Hudson River Railroad laid tracks in Chelsea in the late 1840s, bringing with it a number of warehouses, lumber yards, factories and other industrial buildings. During the next 100 years, Chelsea became a hub of industry in New York. Although it's hard to imagine by today's standards what factory conditions must have been like in the 1800's, in at least one corner of the neighborhood, progress smelled very sweet. The National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) was established in 1890, and delivered many of America's most iconic snacks including the Oreo.
In the early 1900s, Chelsea received another jolt from transportation infrastructure, this time instead of trains, it was boats. For over fifty years, the Chelsea Piers were the final stop for travelers heading eastward by boat, including everyone from WWII soldiers to luxury travelers.
Freight trains no longer travel through the neighborhood, and most cruise ships have gone as well. Today, Chelsea has reclaimed much of its residential beginnings, replacing its train tracks with flower beds and piers with parks. There might have been a few detours along the way, but we're sure Clement Moore would be pleased to see the flourishing residential neighborhood today.
Bordered by Penn Station, the Javits Center, Chelsea Piers and other hulking attractions, Chelsea doesn't seem like it would have an ounce of quaintness. But just walk down a tree-lined block full of brick townhouses, and it's hard not to be charmed. Although it's right next to the offices and transportation hubs of commercial Midtown, Chelsea has retained a unique neighborhood feel.
Chelsea has a distinctly fashionable aspect to its character. Contemporary art galleries abound on the west side, under the impeccably designed High Line park. Chic French restaurants and Chelsea Market vendors have turned the area into a sophisticated foodie paradise. Stylish hotels make it a hangout for celebrities and young jetsetters. And a major player in the world of fashion and design, the Fashion Institute of Technology, calls the neighborhood home.
Chelsea also became famous as a gay enclave, developing a large number of bars, stores, and services catering especially to men over the past few decades. Nowadays, the gay scene of Chelsea is perceived as somewhat older, and younger gay hotspots have shifted to Hell's Kitchen and beyond.
In many respects, the neighborhood feels like a mix of old and new New York: antique shops and contemporary design, gritty corners and shiny new parks, historic buildings and sleek new hangouts.
Its proximity to the West Village and Meatpacking District make Chelsea a logical spot for things like brunch and boutique shopping; at the same time, being next to the commuter traffic of Midtown gives it an everyman's, practical vibe. You're just as likely to find a chain store or a quick-stop deli as you are a gallery opening or an upscale doggie daycare.
Chelsea represents quite the residential mix as well, with plenty of historic townhouses, brownstones and row houses, as well as many taller buildings-doorman buildings, renovated lofts, luxury condos, walk-up classic tenements, public housing complexes, and more. It's difficult to describe the typical Chelsea resident, as they are all over the map, but the neighborhood has become quite popular with families in recent years.
Chelsea is located just below mid-town Manhattan on the west side of the island. That means that you have great access to everything on the west side of the City, but like with other neighborhoods, it can be a little bit tricky to get cross-town. One added perk of Chelsea is proximity to Penn Station, which makes it easy to get out of the city on an Amtrak train.
Chelsea Subway & Walking Times
CHELSEA Guidebook Landmarks
The Chelsea Hotel is as well known for its slightly out-of-place architecture as it is for its slightly notorious list of long-term guests. The hotel was originally one of New York's first co-op apartment buildings before taking on its current form in 1905. It features a Queen Anne architectural style that uses a number of building materials to evoke 18th century rural Britain. That style would not tip off the fact that it has been the temporary home of Sid Vicious, Andy Warhol, Mark Twain, and Arthur Clarke. Vicious was accused of murdering his girlfriend in the hotel, before dying himself of a drug overdose.
What if we told you that one of the best markets and food courts in the city was also the original birthplace of the Oreo cookie, Saltine, Animal Cracker, and Fig Newton? Yes, the appropriate response is to say that you want to move there immediately. Chelsea Market was the original home of the National Biscuit Company (Na-Bis-Co) factory and bakery. Over the next several decades, the complex featured a gloomy outlook, but was ultimately rehabilitated by a group of investors in the 90s. Today, the ground floor features many of the city's best eateries, including Jacques Torres Chocolate and Ronnybrook Dairy.
Chelsea Piers represent one of New York's finest reclamation projects. Once home to the world's most luxurious ocean-liners (including the destination for the Titanic), and for a brief period, the departure point for soldiers heading to World War II, the Piers have been remade as a sports and entertainment complex. Bringing together an outdoor golf driving range that faces the Hudson, a world-class gym (again with a pool facing the Hudson), gymnastics center, hockey rink, bowling alley, and day spa.
CHELSEA Insider LANDMARKS
West Chelsea Art Galleries
In a ten-block area, from 18th to 28th Streets in between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues in West Chelsea, there are over 200 art galleries. Since moving from SoHo about two decades ago, the Chelsea art scene has absolutely exploded, completely taking over the area. The neighborhood has one of the densest concentrations of commercials galleries in the world.
Whitney Museum (new location)
After unsuccessful plans to expand on its current Upper East Side site, the Whitney Museum has decided to expand to the Meatpacking District with a building in the works by architect Renzo Piano—who designed the New York Times Building, among other famous projects. The new museum building is next to the southern end of the High Line and opened in May of 2015.
CHELSEA Parks & Recreation
Chelsea Park (3.9 acres)
Chelsea Park has long been a popular gathering spot for local athletes. Today, those are generally going to be younger athletes enjoying the playgound and basketball courts, but when the playground first opened in 1910, thousands of spectators would show up for local tournaments.
Chelsea Waterside Park
Originally overseen by the Department of Docks, the land for Chelsea Waterside Park was handed over to the Parks department in 1923. Today, the Park shares none of its industrial past. It contains a dog run, playing fields, and a popular summer attraction for the little ones: a fountain playground. It is now managed as part of Hudson River Park.
Highline Park (6.7 acres)
In a city filled with parks, the Highline is perhaps the most striking, as it exists 30 feet above the street level. The Highline Park was created in the footprint of an elevated train track that was built in the 1930's to remove congestion from the street. Trains ran until 1980 and then the tracks stood until a group of private citizens stepped in to prevent its demolition in 1999. Ten years later, after an international design contest, hundreds of hours of lobbying, and massive construction, the first section of the Highline opened. Today, the Highline is a wonderful place to stroll down New York's west side with views of both the Hudson and the skyline. The Park prominently incorporates local plant life with over 160 plants that are native to New York and over 200 overall. It is a wonderful place for a stroll and when it's not too crowded, you certainly feel like you are above the fray of New York City life.
Hudson River Park (550 acres)
The Hudson River Park, one of the City's most popular lesisure destinations, came into being following an aboveground road collapse and a failed highway project that left a large portion of the west side of the City unused. After years of political battling over how to handle the space, Hudson River Park was approved in 1998. The Park's first section was opened in the West Village in 2003. Today, the Park stretches along the river from Battery Park City up to 58th Street. The Park is extremely popular for runners and cyclists who provide a steady stream of traffic for the bikeway, but is equally popular among the multitudes of sunbathers who take up camp on the Park's green banks. One of the Park's most interesting features is its incorporation of old piers, which have been converted into public park space.