Visiting Upper Manhattan and unsure where to go? There are plenty of stops within walking distance — by NYC standards — to explore nearby Columbia University. Here are a few of my favorites.
The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine (West 112th & Amsterdam)
Across the street from SIPA Admissions and Financial Aid you will find the largest cathedral in the world. In fact, you really can’t miss it. The building, which began construction in 1892 and remains partly unfinished, runs the entire a full avenue block to Morningside Drive. In addition to more than 30 worship services a week and a soup kitchen that feeds 25,000 annually, this spiritual space offers serene gardens where you can breathe in a bit of nature. If you are lucky, you can get a peak of the live peacocks Jim, Harry, and Phil who even has his own Twitter account. They’ve taken up residence on grounds since the 1980s. The church also has regular music, art, guided tour, and educational workshop events throughout the year. If you are around during the summer, be sure to check out free performances in the cathedral by the New York Philharmonic. If you want to really make it an extra spiritual day, you can also check out the historic Riverside Church close by on 120th and Riverside Drive.
The Cathedral. Photo by Amir Safa.
Resident peacock at the Cathedral. Photo by Roxanne Moin-Safa.
Riverside Park & Morningside Park
Take a stroll either west or east of the SIPA campus and you will escape into the splendor of Riverside Park or Morningside Park. Riverside Park, which runs across 330 acres from 59th to 155th, offers picturesque views of the Hudson River where you can also catch a glimpse of the sunset under the natural canopy. In the spring season, you will be surprised to find some of the best cherry blossoms in the city along Cherry Walk which runs alongside the water from 100th to 125th. Some of these trees date back to 1909 when the Committee of Japanese Residents of New York presented as a gift to the City. Consider renting a bike from one of the recently opened Citibike stations, including the one at 104th and Riverside Drive, and whiz whimsically along the expansive bike path.
Morningside Park occupies a modest but enchanting 30-acre area running from 110th to 123rd from Morningside Avenue to Morningside Drive. This recently renovated park combines the natural 300 million-year-old rock geology of Manhattan, grassy open athletic fields, a dog park, and a man-made lake with cascading waterfalls where geese and turtles roam. You will often see families playing sports or feasting on barbecues. On Saturdays, you can shop some local pastries and fresh produce at the Down to Earth Farmer’s Market located at the corner of 110th and Manhattan Avenue. On a snowy day, bring your sled and then sing into spring through the fields of March Daffodils.
Serene springtime view of Morningside Park. Photo by Amir Safa.
Sledders enjoying the winter hills of Morningside Park. Photo by Amir Safa.
Historic Harlem Walking Tour
Take a walking tour in Harlem and dive into the many layers forming some of the greatest chapters of American history. From the beginning of Harlem as a Dutch community in the 17th century to its transition under the Harlem Renaissance of the early 20th century that brought to life African-American artists, musicians, and literary talents including Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, and Langston Hughes as well as the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights group. We highly recommend Big Onion Walking Tours. Tours usually cost $15 for students and are often led by PhD students from around the City who paint you a picture of the past with a chock-full of trivia.
Wall art in Harlem. Photo by Roxanne Moin-Safa.
General Grant National Memorial (West 122nd & Riverside Drive)
Visit the final resting place of the 18th President of the United States of America and General of the Union Army Ulysses S. Grant and his wife Julia Dent Grant. Often known as “Grant’s Tomb,” the building stands tall with 150 foot soaring domed ceilings and 8,000 tons of grand marble and granite. The memorial honors his military service. If you are in town during the summer months, be sure to check the memorial calendar for concert events.
Paying respect at the General Grant National Memorial. Photo by Amir Safa.
Columbia’s New Manhattanville Campus (125th-133rd & Broadway)
Did you know that Columbia is expanding its reach onto a brand new, modern and sustainably designed campus? Some of the buildings are already open at the university’s Manhattanville Campus, including the Wallach Art Gallery free and open to the public located at the Lenfest Center for the Arts as well as retail space in the Jerome L. Greene Science Center with a rock-climbing wall. The campus will continue to open in stages, with plans to house the Columbia Business School by 2021. Stop by and see the future of Columbia.
Courtyard of the Manhattanville Campus. Photo by Amir Safa.
Inside the Wallach Art Gallery at the Lenfest Center for the Arts. Photo by Roxanne Moin-Safa.