Canal Street is a Lower Manhattan thoroughfare where cultures collide. It's well-known for its bargain shopping scene. The street stretches from near the Hudson River to East Broadway and borders several historic Manhattan neighbourhoods.

Canal Street serves as the main drag of Chinatown but is also a gateway to Little Italy, SoHo, and Tribeca. Over the years, Canal Street has earned its status as a hawkers’ haven for its hustlers selling knockoff goods. As you walk down the street, you’ll often hear vendors whispering Prada, Coach, Gucci, and other luxurious brands.

The sidewalks can be too fast-paced for some, but the appeal of cheap items is hard to resist. Merchants are persistent in trying to convince locals and visitors to stop by their storefront for unbeatable deals. Canal Street has more than novelty items, and the Canal Street Market hosts a variety of unique food vendors. Search around every corner and alleyway to find fruit and vegetable stands, Chinese restaurants, and bakeries.

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What are the highlights and features of Canal Street?

A stroll down Canal Street is a whirlwind experience that treats you to unique cultures and energetic shopping. Canal Street is the primary thoroughfare of Chinatown, and you’ll spot numerous landmarks honouring Chinese heritage. Just around the corner on Mott Street, the Eastern States Buddhist Temple is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in America. On Canal Street itself, the Mahayana Buddhist Temple is NYC’s largest Buddhist temple and has a beautiful golden Buddha statue.

If you’re looking for an affordable NYC souvenir, Canal Street offers some of the best deals in the city. Animated vendors sell T-shirts, novelty items, postcards, jewellery, perfumes, shoes, electronics, and designer brand knockoffs. Canal Street is also near several public parks to escape the high-paced energy of its shopping venues. The Hudson River Greenway sits at the end of Canal Street and has well-maintained trails for pedestrians and cyclists. Just a couple blocks off Canal Street, Collect Pond Park features a reflective pool and Columbus Park has playgrounds and basketball courts.

History of Canal Street

Centuries ago, this section of Lower Manhattan was home to the historic Collect Pond. The freshwater source was the city’s primary water supply system and offered New Yorkers a refreshing spot to cool off for nearly 200 years. By the early 1800s, Collect Pond was horrendously polluted, and city officials directed the run-off water to the Hudson River. The city dug a canal to carry the sewage, but the open sewer was eventually covered up and the pond drained.

Constructed in 1820, Canal Street replaced the 40-ft-wide ditch and followed the same path as the stream. Throughout the 19th century, properties here struggled to survive, and the street bordered the infamous Five Points slum. Canal Street redefined itself decades later as a lively shopping district where vendors hawk novelty items. In recent decades, Canal Street built a notorious reputation for counterfeit goods sold in makeshift showrooms. Although you’ll also spot licensed storefronts, you must be aware of knockoff DVDs, watches, designer handbags, and more.

What’s good to know about Canal Street?

Canal Street has a festive atmosphere, and it’s the best spot in Manhattan for bargain shopping. The crowded sidewalks bustle with locals and tourists haggling with street vendors to find the best deal. Although it’s illegal to sell counterfeit items, you’re bound to have dozens of vendors approach you. Sometimes hawkers stand beside subway stations and tell pedestrians the knockoffs they offer.

You’ll also notice merchants selling items at folding tables, hidden showrooms, or even through suitcases. If they show you pictures and you say yes, they’ll often lead you to the backroom to negotiate. Whenever shopping on Canal Street, it’s always smart to have cash on you.

Stretching through several neighbourhoods, Canal Street is accessible on many MTA subway lines. If you wish to go straight to Chinatown, take the M, J, or Z lines to Canal Street. The N, Q, R, and W lines are near the Little Italy and SoHo neighbourhoods. Closer to the Hudson River, the 1, 2, A, C, and E Canal Street stations sit just north of the upscale Tribeca district.

Canal Street in New York

Location: New York, NY, USA

Daniel Grenier | Contributing Writer