Union Square


Photo: Thomas Rafael

Union Square was once the grounds for historic rallies, protests, demonstrations, and gatherings. Today, the park still attracts the occasional protest or rally, but it also maintains a thriving life as a center of culture, entertainment, and commerce. The northern end of the park is bordered by a flagship Barnes and Noble bookstore, which stands five stories high, and a posh W hotel. Off-broadway theatres are scattered on the eastern side of the park, and are home to an exciting, changing array of theater and dance. The southern end of the park is home to a number of distinguished hospitals and universities - New York University, the New School, Parsons School of Design, Beth Israel Medical Center, St. Vincents, Cabrini Medical Center, and the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary are all within a few blocks. has recently gained fame as a mecca for gourmet-food lovers. If that seems a little dull, never fear -- the southern end of the park has recently gained a new level of fame in the past year, as a mecca for gourmet foods lovers. In addition to the long standing Garden of Eden and Food Emporium, a Whole Foods Market and a Trader Joe's have moved in, and the lines are long at nearly every hour. The western side of the park houses a number of New York University buildings, as well as several famed restaurants, including the Union Square Cafe, Blue Water Grill and Gramercy Tavern.

At the northern end of the park, the city's largest Greenmarket, an open-air farmer's market made up of more than 70 vendors, is open for business on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. In the summertime, it offers a lush selection of flowers, heirloom tomatoes, and fresh summer squashes. Fall brings apples and hearty root vegetables and winter squashes; oickings are slimmer in winter, but there are still vendors offering wine, apple cider, maple sugar, goat cheese, and baked good galore. Spring's market is full of bulb plants, fresh herbs, and delicate vegetables. On the days the Greenmarket is not there, the open area is often rented out - sometimes it's a promotional site full of free sample-givers, other times it's a movie set, and occasionally, it's just full of everyday city life. Once the weather turns warm, an outdoor cafe opens, and the park swarms with people - business men and women enjoying the outdoors while eating their lunches on park benches, nannies and mothers, with strollers and toddlers in tow, and sunbathing college students.

From Thanksgiving through Christmas, the southern end of the park is home to a Christmas market - booth after booth of unique gift possibilities, from jewelry and clothing to homemade soaps, finely crafted toys, and imported goods from all over the world. And if you're looking for shopping opportunities of the more traditional varieties, there are possibilities galore, as the square is bordered by a DSW Shoe Warehouse, a Filene's Bargain Basement, a Virgin Megastore, a Barnes and Noble, as well as numerous other small independent clothing and gift stores.

Union Square is a great place to bring visitors and guest who have tired of the tourist areas such as Times Square, and Herald Square, and are interested in seeing a more "everyday" corner of New York. You can easily spend the morning enjoying the sights and smells of the Greenmarket, perhaps stopping for a cup of coffee at a local cafe, and then spend the afternoon shopping to your heart's content. You can finish with a gourmet meal (which is likely to have found it's beginnings in the Greenmarket!), and have enjoyed a fascinating day, all within a few city blocks.