Ah, Italia — the nation that invented “la dolce vita” — not to mention pizza and gelato. But Little Italy is far, far more than a tourist mecca. People do actually live here, but the immigrants of yore would be surprised by the neighborhood’s current price tag.

According to the StreetEasy Data Dashboard, the median sales asking price as of December 2021 was $1.6 million smackers. (That’s compared to Manhattan’s median of $1.5 million for the same month.) It may be worth it to rent at first and save your (pizza) dough. The median asking rent in December 2021 was $3,073, compared to Manhattan’s overall median of $3,500. Of course, as all New Yorkers know, you can find spots for significantly less than that if you’re willing to put in some time (and scour StreetEasy). Here’s what to know about this charming area that knows how to live large.

Where Is Little Italy?

Known as “Piccola Italia” in Italian, this Lower Manhattan neighborhood is tucked mostly between Lafayette, Broome, Canal, and Mott Streets. And it’s in good company. Tribeca and Soho edge its western side, Chinatown its southern, and the Lower East Side and the Bowery are to the east. Nolita — which means “North of Little Italy”— is indeed, to the north.

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A Brief History of Little Italy

Little Italy didn’t use to be so, well, little. When waves of Italian expats moved to New York City in the 1880s, they often took up residence here, in the notorious neighborhood then known as Five Points. (Made famous by Martin Scorsese’s 2002 film “Gangs of New York.” The director himself was raised here.) Some 10,000 Italian immigrants lived in the neighborhood at its peak in 1910 — when it was two square miles large. Now, it takes up just three blocks on and around Mulberry Street.

What Are the Housing Options in Little Italy?

“Little Italy is an awesome opportunity to live part of New York’s history,” says Doron Zwickel, a licensed real estate broker with CORE Real Estate. His office is in Flatiron, and he represents listings in the ultra-luxe condo building Grand Mulberry. Both old and new options abound here. You can live in a centuries-old, former brick tenement building, or a glitzy bajillion-dollar condo with floor-to-ceiling glass walls.

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What Are the Commute Times to Midtown Manhattan?

Seeking a zippy commute? Little Italy has you covered. Hop on the D train at Grand Street, and you’ll be in Midtown at Bryant Park Station in a mere 15 minutes. Another option, the B, is just as fast. The truth is, you’re never too far from any one of several train lines; the 4, 5, 6, N, Q, R, W, J, and Z are also within a few blocks.

Parks and Green Spaces in Little Italy

The unfortunate truth: this neighborhood isn’t exactly known for its parks. But on Grand and Lafayette, “They’re building a new park as we speak,” Zwickel says. “It’s a nice and very welcomed addition to the neighborhood.” The plan for the park includes synthetic turf with pebble seating, leafy trees, benches aplenty, and even a drinking fountain. The opening date is scheduled for October 2022. BYO picnic. (May we suggest some Italian meatball sandwiches?)

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Destinations in Little Italy

For longtime New Yorkers, this neighborhood sometimes has the same vibes as Times Square. Some think it’s for tourists and nobody else. “I’m a native New Yorker,” says Nora Ali, a licensed real estate salesperson for Corcoran. “I just go down there for the Feast of San Gennaro and to enjoy the restaurants. That’s always a fun trip!” The festival takes place every September, and has since 1926. Traditional food and fun take over the streets, which are closed to traffic. Expect parades and authentic zeppole pastries, cannoli, and Italian sausages from street vendors. One highlight: a candlelit procession with a statue of the festival’s namesake wending through the streets.

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In adjacent Nolita, The Basilica of Saint Patrick’s Old Cathedral has stood since 1815 and is famous for its catacombs. Among the bold-faced names buried there? Pierre Toussaint, a formerly enslaved man who became a New York leader. He and his wife went on to house so many orphans that he is being considered for canonization by the Vatican.

In this neighborhood and its surrounding environs, such jaw-dropping history abounds. “It’s fun to walk around,” Ali says. “You can really just get lost going to restaurants, trying desserts, and having an Aperol spritz in the summer when it’s warm, sitting outside and taking in the culture.”

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