Walking on 42nd Street
February 24, 2013

East-West Urban Hiking in Manhattan

As every Manhattanite knows, traffic on the island mainly flows north and south. You can walk Broadway all the way from the top to the bottom of the borough, and a big chunk (between 59th Street and 110th Street to be exact) is segregated by Central Park. The north-south dynamic is most noticeable if you’re travelling by subway. There are very few options that take you from east to west, meaning you are for the most part faced with the delightful “problem” of having to walk or switch to a bus if you want to move in a lateral direction.

Unsurprisingly, we always choose to walk—and this has led us to discover that some of the most pleasant routes for urban hiking also expose you to a neat view of Manhattan geography. The differences between Manhattan’s east and west sides are noticeable almost everywhere. Lower down, the East Village-West Village divide is completely obvious, from the architecture to street life. This distinction (upscale versus up-and-coming) is reversed once you hit midtown, as anyone who has ever walked from “Hell’s Kitchen” to the bottom of the Upper East Side cannot help but notice. The heart of the Upper East Side is separated from its western counterpart by the above-mentioned Central Park, most of which is actually located on the Upper West Side. Beyond the park, you will seethe difference between the brown stones of Harlem and the Beau-Arts architecture of Morningside Heights, and then the deep valley that cuts through the middle of Washington Heights. It is only when you arrive at Inwood that the geographic distinction between east and west seems again as irrelevant as back down in Battery Park.

42nd Street

For these reasons, many of our favorite walks take us across town. One we discovered relatively recently was the journey along 42nd Street. Given that most of us associate this street with the congestion of Times Square, this might not sound like a plesant family outing. The walk directly east on a Saturday or Sunday, however, takes you far from the crowds, and presents a generally empty slope of sidewalk leading to the East River.

Two of our favorite landmarks are along the way and are well-worth pausing to check out. The view of constellations on the ceiling of Grand Central is fantastic. It also provides a good teaching moment to introduce or reinforce knowledge of the constellations from your summer camping trips (just remember that the image on the ceiling is actually backwards and that the location of the stars is displaced; it is only a ceiling). The globe of the Daily News building offers another opportunity to engage. Since it is close to a century old, many of the place names are outdated, giving you a chance to teachquick geography lesson by asking your kids what the countries are called now.

The end of your journey can be Tudor City, or you can head north (as we did recently) along Second Avenue to 60th Street to walk across the Queensboro Bridge. The latter is highly recommended.

Getting There

The starting point for this walk is easily accessible on 1 train. The B, D, F and V trains will drop you slightly further east.

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