Union Square

Top choice in Union Square, Flatiron District & Gramercy

Union Square is like the Noah’s Ark of New York, rescuing at least two of every kind from the curling seas of concrete. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find a more eclectic cross-section of locals gathered in one public place: suited businessfolk gulping fresh air during their lunch breaks, dreadlocked loiterers tapping beats on their tablas, skateboarders flipping tricks on the southeastern stairs, old-timers poring over chess boards, and throngs of protesting masses chanting fervently for various causes.

Opened in 1831, Union Square quickly became the central gathering place for those who lived in the mansions nearby. Concert halls and artist societies further enhanced the cultured atmosphere, and high-end shopping quickly proliferated along Broadway, which was dubbed ‘Ladies’ Mile.’ When the Civil War broke out, the vast public space (large by New York standards, of course) was center stage for protesters of all sorts, from union workers to political activists. By the height of the WWI, the area had fallen largely into disuse, allowing politically and socially driven organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, the Communist and Socialist Parties and the Ladies’ Garment Workers Union to move in. After over a century of the continuous push-and-pull between dapper-dom and political protest, a third – artistic, if not thoroughly hippie-ish – ingredient was tossed into the mix when Andy Warhol moved his Factory to Union Sq West (at the Decker Building, No 33). The building is now a chain candy store – a telling sign of the times.

A walk around Union Square will reveal almost a dozen notable pieces of art, including an imposing equestrian statue of George Washington (one of the first public pieces of art in New York City). On the southern side of the square sits Metronome, a massive art installation consisting of two parts – a digital clock with a puzzling display of numbers, and a wand-like apparatus with smoke puffing out of concentric rings. A symbolic representation of the passage of time, the clock’s 14 digital numbers must be split into two groups of seven – the seven from the left tell the current time (hour, minute, second, tenth-of-a-second) and the seven from the right are meant to be read in reverse order; they represent the remaining amount of time in the day.

One of the city's most-popular farmers markets is held on the north and west sides of Union Square every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 8am to 6pm. The southern half also gets taken over by a holiday market each winter.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Union Square, Flatiron District & Gramercy attractions

1. Union Square Greenmarket

0.07 MILES

Don’t be surprised if you spot some of New York’s top chefs prodding the produce here: Union Square’s green market is arguably the city’s most famous…

2. Tibet House

0.21 MILES

With the Dalai Lama as the patron of its board, this nonprofit cultural space is dedicated to presenting Tibet’s ancient traditions through art exhibits,…

3. Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace

0.23 MILES

This National Historic Site is a bit of a cheat, since the physical house where the 26th president was actually born was demolished in his own lifetime…

4. Salmagundi Club

0.24 MILES

Far removed from the flashy Chelsea gallery scene, the Salmagundi Club features several gallery spaces focusing on representational American art set in a…

5. Lord & Taylor Building

0.24 MILES

On the southwestern corner of Broadway and E 20th St stands the old Lord & Taylor Building, former home of the famous Midtown department store (now a…

6. National Arts Club

0.25 MILES

Founded in 1898 to promote public interest in the arts, the National Arts Club holds art exhibitions, with free admission to the public during weekdays;…

7. Grace Church

0.27 MILES

This Gothic Revival Episcopal church, designed in 1843 by James Renwick Jr, was made of marble quarried by prisoners at ‘Sing Sing,’ the state…

8. Gramercy Park

0.29 MILES

Romantic Gramercy Park was created by Samuel Ruggles in 1831 after he drained the area’s swamp and laid out streets in an English style. You can’t enter…