The Upper East Side is generally understood to encompass the area below E. 96th Street and above E. 59th between Central Park and the East River. It contains several smaller neighborhoods – such as Lennox Hill, Carnegie Hill, and Yorkville. It’s historically been one of the most affluent neighborhoods in New York, and it’s notable for its gorgeous architecture and upscale boutiques. The Upper East Side is also home to Museum Mile – a stretch of world-famous museums that runs between E. 82nd and E. 105th Street - that includes the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among others.
The Upper East Side is notable for its subdued pace of life for Manhattan standards and its posh residents. Its architecture is emblematic of New York City and contains many prime examples of neo-federal and neo-gothic architecture. It features several picturesque hotels, churches, and diplomatic missions. It’s the perfect neighborhood for well-to-do residents and families who want easy access to great cafes, world-class museums, and upscale boutiques. The biggest drawback of the Upper East Side is its lack of transportation. The recent development of the Q train has provided some additional support, and the 4/5/6 also runs through the neighborhood. However, there aren’t as many options as in other parts of Manhattan.
The Upper West Side is the yin to the East Side’s yang. The neighborhood is generally understood to be the area south of W.110th Street and north of W.59th Street, between Central Park and the Hudson River. The Upper West Side has always been an affluent, cultural hub as well, but has its own distinct flavor. Columbia and Barnard College are both located just north of the Upper West Side in Morningside Heights, and Lincoln Center sits on its southern border.
The neighborhood also contains several museums and cultural institutions like the American Museum of Natural History and Beacon Theatre. The West Side features iconic residences like the Dakota on 72nd and The Century on 63rd Street. It’s a bit more residential than the East Side and features fewer boutiques and restaurants. However, transportation is a bit more accessible. The A/C line runs parallel to the 1/2/3 and gives residents several viable options for navigating around the city.
Both neighborhoods are among the most affluent in the city, and which is more expensive tends to fluctuate. Currently, median property values on the Upper West Side are slightly higher than those on the Upper East Side. According to Zillow, the median price of a home on the Upper West Side is $1,174,918, and on the Upper East Side, the median property value is $1,096,509. The two areas are neck and neck in terms of pricing, but currently, the East Side is slightly cheaper than the West.
Historically, the Upper East Side has been slightly more prestigious and affluent. The West Side tends to cater more to professionals who work in Midtown or other commercial areas in the city who need easy access to transportation. The East Side tends to cater more toward older residents and foreign dignitaries who aren’t as concerned with public transportation on a daily basis. While that doesn’t mean you won’t find both of these groups in either neighborhood, the Upper East Side tends to cater more toward old money, whereas the West Side tends to be a haven for the nouveau riche.
The reason the West Side is more expensive today may relate to the pandemic. East Side residents tend to be those who choose to live in New York for its culture and vibrancy, whereas the West Side tends to be more working professionals. The former is more likely to have sold their homes at the beginning of the pandemic and moved to the suburbs or back to their home country. In contrast, West Side residents are more likely to hold on until things calm down. As a result, the East Side has taken a bigger hit than the West Side, reversing historic precedence. The two neighborhoods have a historic rivalry, and which is more expensive will continue to ebb and flow over time. But for the moment, those looking for a property on the East Side may be able to get it at a discount.
It depends on what you’re looking for. The East Side offers cultural amenities, sophistication, and prestige. The West Side offers transportation, access to educational facilities, and a laid-back environment. Many younger residents prefer the West Side for its easy access to lower Manhattan and lack of pretension. Older residents seem to prefer the East Side for its classic New York aesthetic and world-renown restaurants and shopping.
The East Side is bigger and more spread out yet doesn’t extend as far uptown. The West Side is more accessible, but available real estate is a bit scarcer. Young people are probably better off on the West Side, whereas retirees and those looking for a second residence may prefer the East Side. Families will be happy in either neighborhood, as there are plenty of great schools and amenities in both areas. Both neighborhoods offer a plethora of attractions and have their own individual merits. But the East Side is best for those who prefer a certain aesthetic, whereas the West Side is better for those who are looking for career opportunities and nightlife.