There is no more postcard-perfect neighborhood of Manhattan than the West Village. Countless depictions of New York City in movies, TV shows, and commercials have been filmed here. Even buildings that are supposed to be located in other parts of the city are in reality found in this pretty, chic neighborhood. (Carrie Bradshaw’s Upper East Side apartment on Sex and the City is a classic example.)

The beauty of its elegant architecture, the quiet and leafy streets, and the rich history all speak to a time when New York was at its glamorous height in arts and culture. Today, there’s no shortage of quaint cafes, restaurants, and bars just outside your door. It’s no wonder that movie stars and other celebrities find it one of the most desirable places to make their home. But even with all the glamorous residents, the neighborhood offers a certain bohemian feel. “The West Village is a very relaxed and creative place to live,” says Polly (HuiWen) Milligan, a real estate agent at Douglas Elliman, who has lived here for more than eight years.

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Because of rent control laws, you may find a few affordable gems. But for the most part, expect prices to be on the high end. “The price never drops,” says Milligan. “Not even during the lockdown. The price never went down.”

According to the StreetEasy Data Dashboard, the median rent in the West Village was  $4,495 as of January 2022 compared to $3,700 for Manhattan, and the median asking price was $2.9 million, compared to $1.5 million for the borough.

Where Is the West Village?

Few neighborhoods are as confusing to walk through as the West Village. This is because Manhattan’s neat and tidy grid system gets thrown out the window. Only here can you find 10th Street crossing 4th Street, thanks to roads set at all angles. But these narrow, wacky streets are part of the reason why cars tend to avoid the area. The result is lots of serenity for residents.

The boundaries of the West Village are 14th Street to the north, Sixth Avenue to the east, Houston Street to the South (though some argue that it is Clarkson Street) and the Hudson River to the west.

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Highlights of the West Village’s Rich History

It may be surprising to learn that before the 19th century, the West Village was a rather sketchy neighborhood. This was thanks to the commercial nature of its waterfront industry, as well as the potter’s field and public gallows in what is now Washington Square Park. “That’s why, in all those walk-ups in the heart of the West Village, the apartments are on the much smaller side,” says Milligan. “They weren’t built for the wealthy merchants, but for the workers who came off the docks.”

But in the 19th century, the area began to flourish. For nearly two centuries, it became known as “Bohemia,” attracting scores of poets, authors, artists, and musicians who resided there. A sampling of creatives who called the area home includes Edgar Allen Poe, E.E. Cummings, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Jackson Pollock, and Bob Dylan.

The West Village is also famous for its jazz scene as well as its literary history, with several clubs springing up in the early 20th century. One of these, the Café Society, opened in 1938 as New York City’s first racially integrated nightclub. It welcomed jazz greats such as Duke Ellington, Elle Fitzgerald, John Coltrane, and numerous other legendary performers. This is where Billy Holiday debuted her signature song, “Strange Fruit.” The club fostered a culture of radical freethinking, not just on issues of race but also on sex, labor unions, and politics. This progressive atmosphere sadly ultimately led to its demise. After the FBI linked the owner, Barney Josephson, to relatives who had ties to the Communist Party, the history-making club was closed in 1949.

But that legacy of revolutionary thinking lived on. In 1969, policed raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in the Village. A riot ensued in protesting the way the police brutally treated both patrons and employees, sparking a six-day uprising. The event is credited with catalyzing the gay rights movement, both in this country and around the world. The bar is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

What Are the Housing Options?

In the West Village, “prewar” can mean pre–Civil War since it is one of the oldest parts of NYC. In fact, you can still find some cobblestone streets dating back to that era here. Other indications of the area’s rich history are several buildings with plaques denoting famous former residents. For example, the house that poet Edna St. Vincent Millay lived in (75½ Bedford Street). 

Some of the former maritime factories, warehouses, and carriage houses in the West Village have since been converted to modern residences. These frequently gorgeous homes feature cutting-edge modern interiors behind exteriors of prewar elegance.

Buildings are primarily low-rise, no higher than three or four stories. You’ll find brownstone townhouses and buildings in a variety of styles, from Gothic Revival and Greek Revival to Federal. “About 95 percent of those walk ups in the center are co-ops and rentals,” says Milligan.

Condos are found in the new construction scattered throughout the neighborhood, but most are closer to the West Side Highway and Meatpacking District. Milligan advises patience and persistence if you’re set on living in prime West Village: “Unless you want to go off-center, as we call it, the older part of West Village never has a lot of vacancies. If you see a good deal, grab it.”

Commute Times to Midtown Manhattan 

If you’re on the far western part of the West Village, it may take you a few minutes to get to a subway station. However, there are plentiful lines (A, C, E, and 1) and stops to choose from once you do. A commute to Midtown will take barely five minutes if your destination is in Midtown West and less than 10 minutes if it’s in Midtown East.

Parks and Green Spaces

There are small, leafy oases sprinkled throughout the neighborhood. Abingdon Square Park hosts events throughout the year, including the annual pumpkin patch, tree lighting, and a tulip celebration.

A little-known green space is the Gardens at St. Luke’s. While it may seem private, the church actually welcomes the public to enjoy its gardens, and they’re a lush respite from the brick and concrete surroundings.

Finally, Hudson River Park (which runs the length of Manhattan) is at the far west edge of the neighborhood. In addition to providing amazing views of the water, the park is home to playgrounds, athletic courts and fields, running and biking trails and more.

Must-visit Destinations in the West Village

Take your pick. You can easily spend a few days exploring the West Village alone.

Village Vanguard, Arthur’s Tavern, Smalls Jazz Club: Along with Harlem and Times Square, the West Village has a long history of jazz music, and the legacy continues in these classic venues. The Vanguard is the oldest continually operating jazz club in the entire city, dating from 1935. Arthur’s, which opened in 1937, was in danger of closing due to the pandemic but the owners have since decided to keep it open.

Meatpacking District: Just as Sheep Meadow in Central Park used to have actual sheep, the Meatpacking District used to be home to some of the city’s premier meat suppliers, including those who served the famous Peter Luger Steak House in Brooklyn. (The family matron, Marsha Forman, used to get first pick in the mornings.)

Straddling the West Village and Chelsea neighborhoods, the area is now known for its high-end boutiques. There are also art galleries and stylish bars and restaurants here. They transform what had been a dark and crime-ridden area after sundown into one of the brightest, liveliest, most fashionable corners of the city.

High Line: Once a former  elevated railroad track that had fallen into disrepair, the High Line was converted into a spectacular park with lush plantings and rotating art installations. The park runs nearly 1.5 miles along the west side, from the entrance on Gansevoort Street to 34th Street. It offers fantastic views of both the Hudson River and the city from multiple vantage points. Plenty of seating throughout allows you to enjoy the views at your leisure.

Whitney Museum of American Art: Designed by renowned architect Renzo Piano, the massive building, with its cantilevered entrance and asymmetrical edges, is a striking addition to the neighborhood. The museum presents a vast collection of modern and contemporary American art.