This residential district is a narrow strip four city blocks wide that encloses the west side of Manhattan between Central Park and the Hudson River, from 59th Street in the south to 110th in the north. Imagine a wide airport runway and you get an idea of the shape and scale. Riverside Drive, next to another ribbon of park by the river, is one of the best addresses in the city. From here to Central Park West are the neighbourhood's main thoroughfares, Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues, and Broadway, which slices through the Upper West Side in a not-quite-straight line. North of the Upper West Side are Morningside Heights and Harlem; south is Midtown.
Several subway lines, including 1, 9, A and C, link this part of town with lower Manhattan. Bus lines M7, M10 and M104 are the main north-south routes, with cross-town services through Central Park at various points.
As befits a good New York neighbourhood, there are plenty of good local restaurants, relaxed places where you can have a pleasant meal in comfortable surroundings. Long-established names include Barney Greengrass at 541 Amsterdam Avenue between 86th and 87th Streets (00 1 212 724 4707; www.barneygreengrass.com). Now owned by the third generation of the Greengrass family, it is renowned for its smoked fish platters, lox with scrambled eggs, and rude service. The Popover Café next door offers a gentler environment, great for breakfast or a light lunch. Another popular restaurant is Ouest at 2315 Broadway between 83rd and 84th Streets (00 1 212 580 8700; www.ouestny.com); the menu here is best described as American with Mediterranean influences. Locals rave about Carne for its delicious burgers and other meat dishes, at 2737 Broadway at 105th Street (00 1 212 663 7010; www.carnenyc.com). And if you are looking for somewhere for a pre- or post-concert meal, the Italian fare at Café Fiorello opposite the Lincoln Center at 1900 Broadway between 63rd and 64th (00 1 212 595 5330; www.cafefiorello.com) is an old favourite.
The Lincoln Center at 65th Street and Broadway (00 1 212 875 5456; www.lincolncenter.org), at the southern end of the neighbourhood, is Manhattan's - and arguably America's - main centre for the performing arts. The winter season is now in full swing, making this is an excellent time to visit. The complex consists 14 different performance spaces, of which the best-known are the Metropolitan Opera House, Alice Tully Hall, Avery Fisher Hall and the New York State Theatre, which, every Christmas, puts on a season of the Nutcracker. Even if you don't manage to get into a performance, it is worth going on a tour of the complex, which will take you behind the scenes, and, if you are lucky, to a rehearsal. Tours (00 1 212 875 5350) last an hour, and depart at 10.30am, 12.30pm, 2.30pm and 4.30pm daily; they cost $12.50 (£7). Jazz at the Lincoln Center (00 1 212 258 9800; www.jalc.org) has moved a few blocks south to the Rose Hall, part of the new, and very stylish, Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle.
At the northern edge of the Upper West Side at 1047 Amsterdam Avenue is the Church of St John the Divine (00 1 212 316 7490; www.stjohndivine.org), the largest gothic cathedral in the world, and the seat of the Bishop of New York.
If you are up in this area during the afternoon from 2pm to 5pm, check out the Nicholas Roerich museum at 319 West 107th Street. It was once the private home of a Russian collector of books and works of art, who received a Nobel peace prize nomination in 1929 for his efforts to protect cultural institutions during wartime.
Further south are two better-known collections. The Museum of Natural History is at Central Park West and 79th Street (00 1 212 769 5100; www.amnh.org), the largest museum of its kind. Its 36 million artefacts cover the worlds of anthropology, geology and palaeontology. Attached to the museum is the more contemporary Rose Center for Earth and Space, where the audio-visual shows and exhibits include a piece of basalt brought back from the moon in 1971. The Museum and Rose Center open 10am-5.45pm daily, and the Rose Center stays open until 8.45pm on Fridays. Admission is $14 (£7.80), with additional charges for the Planetarium and other special exhibitions.
Two blocks south, the New York Historical Society at 170 Central Park West at 77th Street (00 1 212 873 3400; www.nyhistory.org) is the oldest museum in the city. The permanent collection is an extraordinarily diverse display of memorabilia which includes a shard of glass from the World Trade Centre, and the tail of an equestrian statue of George III that was pulled down during the anti-British riots of 1776. An exhibition on Slavery in New York runs until 5 March 2006. The Historical Society opens 10am-6pm, Tuesday to Sunday, until 8pm on Fridays, and admission is $10 (£5.55).
Elsewhere in the neighbourhood are some fascinating examples of 20th century American architecture, including the San Remo building at 145 Central Park West. This is one of five early residential skyscrapers in the neighbourhood that were built with twin towers.
While you are in the area, turn into West 67th Street. At number 1 is the Café des Artistes, part of an early 20th-century building called the Hotel des Artistes, which was financed by a group of artists who put their money together to build somewhere that would combine apartments and studios. There are some lovely murals in the Café which were painted by Howard Chandler Christy, one of the building's early inhabitants.
The Five Best: Shopping opportunities
487 Columbus Avenue (00 1 212 799 4342)
For knits, evening wear, scarves, beaded bags and kitchen linens. April once designed everything herself, but now employs a team of designers. Open 10am-8pm Monday to Saturday; noon-6pm on Sundays.
465 Amsterdam Avenue (00 1 212 595 8451; www.stevenalan.com)
On the Upper West Side - an offshoot of his Soho store - Alan sells smart-casual clothing for men and women. Open noon-7pm daily; noon-6pm on Sundays.
248 Columbus Avenue between 71st and 72nd Streets (00 1 212 362 3364; www.betseyjohnson.com)
An excellent selection of women's fashion, with three other branches in Manhattan. Open 11am-7pm daily; from noon on Sundays.
The Reebok Concept Store
160 Columbus Avenue (00 1 212 595 1480; www.reebok.com)
Stocks a full range of sportswear, shoes and accessories, in an elegant store. Opens 10am-6pm daily; from noon on Sundays.
1992 Broadway at 67th Street
(00 1 212 231 7800; www.gracioushome.com)
One of four city branches. Tourists should check out its travel accessories. Open 9am-9pm Monday to Saturday; 10am-7pm on Sundays.