Washington Heights is home to Manhattan’s oldest house, the island’s highest natural elevation, an abundance of pretty parkland, a number of notable cultural institutions and a thriving Dominican community. Situated in Upper Manhattan, the neighborhood is bordered by 155th and Dyckman Streets and stretches between the Harlem and Hudson Rivers. The A train makes several stops in the area. Get off at 168th Street or 175th Street and you’ll find yourself in an area that bustles with Latin flair. Stops further north take you to an almost-suburban area of Manhattan.
The Morris-Jumel Mansion (Manhattan’s oldest home) was built in 1765 by British Colonel Roger Morris and his American wife, Mary Philipse, as a summer residence. In 1776, George Washington, the neighborhood’s namesake, headquartered there. His soldiers manned forts along the Hudson River — that area is now known as Fort Tryon Park and offers stunning views of the river and the New Jersey Palisades. At the park’s northern end is The Cloisters, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe. The museum building incorporates elements from five medieval cloisters. Among the thousands of works in its collection, “The Unicorn Tapestries,” woven circa 1500, are particularly popular with visitors.
Other area attractions include the National Track & Field Hall of Fame, Trinity Church Cemetery (where John James Audubon is buried) and the Paul Robeson Home (former residence of actor Paul Robeson, musician Count Basie and boxer Joe Louis). Audubon Terrace, a collection of Beaux Arts buildings, houses The American Numismatic Society, The Hispanic Society of America Museum and The American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Some of Manhattan’s most scenic and picnic-worthy parks can be found in Washington Heights, including Fort Tryon Park (home to The Cloisters), Bennett Park (the highest natural elevation in Manhattan), Highbridge Park (where an elevated pedestrian bridge is scheduled to reopen in mid-2013) and Ft. Washington Park (where you’ll find the Little Red Lighthouse, under the George Washington Bridge). The neighborhood’s hilly terrain makes for interesting walking at times: 187th Street, for example, ends at Overlook Terrace, though you can continue west on foot to Fort Washington Avenue — up 130 steps.
Over the course of the 20th century, Washington Heights was a melting pot of immigrants: Irish settlers arrived in the early 1900s, Jewish migrants followed in 30s and 40s and Greeks joined in the 50s and 60s. By the late 1980s, the population of Washington Heights had become primarily Dominican. Today, it can seem like Spanish is the neighborhood’s official language. (Though, English is, of course, widely spoken.) It’s a quiet, peaceful neighborhood and has one of the lowest crime rates in the city. When the weather’s nice, you’ll see people, young and old, sitting on stoops or selling everything from shoes to children’s books on main thoroughfares, particularly Broadway and St. Nicholas Avenue.