Known for its suburban vibes, elite private schools, and its persistent denial that it’s part of the Bronx, Riverdale is the only wealthiest NYC neighborhoods that I’ve spent the day in that didn’t put much of a dent in my wallet (see my Tribeca and Cobble Hill guides), partly because there isn’t a lot to do here. But the few activities you can do in Riverdale as a visitor are worth the trip. We’ll get into the top things to do in Riverdale in just a moment, but let’s start off this Riverdale neighborhood guide with a little bit of background about the area.
Riverdale Neighborhood History
Riverdale as we know it didn’t start coming into being until the 1850s. In 1852 five businessmen bought land in today’s Riverdale Historic District with the goal of creating villa estates for the well-to-do. Owning county villas outside of the city was a la mode for New York’s wealthy in the mid-1800s, and 1849 expansion of the railroad into the area, along with its Palisade views, made Riverdale the perfect location for an affluent retreat. Similar to today, the Riverdale of that era was characterized by its spacious homes, winding streets, and scenic views. Its relative ruggedness was beloved, even by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who urged the city government not to force Riverdale to conform the city’s unnatural grid system after it was incorporated into New York City in 1874.
The Riverdale of today remains “‘a specially picturesque and convenient suburb’ for the wealthy” as the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission noted in their 1990 report, quoting Olmsted. According to city-data.com, Riverdale’s median household income is $88,722, second in the borough only to City Island. Out of the neighborhood’s 48,000 residents, there is a sizable Jewish population, and you’ll see a few kosher delis and grocery stores on the commercial strips of Riverdale and Johnson Avenues. The neighborhood’s Horace Mann School, Riverdale Country School, and the Ethical Culture Fieldston School consistently make the list of New York’s best private schools, and the area is also home to the College of Mt. Saint Vincent and Manhattan College.
Let’s check out some of the other features that make this Bronx neighborhood unique in the next section of the Riverdale neighborhood guide.
The Top Things to Do in Riverdale
Wander around the manicured gardens of Wave Hill.
Anyone who says the Bronx isn’t beautiful has never been to Wave Hill. This former country estate of William Lewis Morris has been a public garden since 1967. However long you think it will take you to explore the garden’s 28 acres of shrubs, flowers, woods, and art — double it, because I guarantee that you’ll spend half your time mesmerized by the view of the Palisades. Pro-tip: Get here right when it opens so you don’t have other people ruining your photos of this idyllic garden.
Get a workout in while trying to explore the neighborhood.
I’ll be real with you: compared to other NYC neighborhoods, because of its winding roads and hills, Riverdale is not the easiest to navigate on foot. However, due to the exclusivity of some parts of the neighborhood, I wouldn’t recommend exploring Riverdale by car either. It’s a pain in the calf, but you’re better off on foot. If you can, try to catch a glimpse of the homes in Riverdale’s Historic District; they are some of the oldest in the neighborhood. Out of all the pretty buildings in the area, I’m especially fond of Yankee first baseman Lou Gehrig’s home on the edge of Fieldston and the Riverdale NYPL branch, which looks like a ski chalet.
Grab a pastrami sandwich at the classic Liebman’s Deli.
This Bronx institution has been serving pastrami sandwiches, matzo ball soup, and other classic Jewish deli staples since 1953. I’ve been here a few times over the past couple of years and I’ve never left disappointed. But don’t just take my word for it. Liebman’s Deli was featured in an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown.
Get a sweet treat at Lloyd’s Carrot Cake.
A day in Riverdale is not complete without a trip to Lloyd’s Carrot Cake. This black-owned and family-owned bakery serves up the best carrot cake in New York. Possibly the best in the country, as they do ship nationwide. Grab a slice (or two) and enjoy it in Van Cortlandt Park.
I hope you enjoyed this introduction to Riverdale, one of the Bronx’s wealthiest neighborhoods. What other places would you recommend adding to this Riverdale neighborhood guide?
But before you go, if you liked this Riverdale neighborhood guide and you like what I do here at Shiloh in the City and want to continue getting to know New York’s history, culture, and things to do with me, sign up for my email list and follow me on social media. Thanks for reading!