To get a taste of what immigrant life was like in the 19th and early 20th century, visit the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, housed in an 1863 building (108 Orchard St., between Delancey and Broome Sts., 212/431-0233, www.tenement.org , 10:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. daily, call for details, advance purchase recommended, adults $20, seniors and students $15).
It’s a deliberately dark and oppressive place; the building originally had no windows, except in front, and no indoor plumbing. Declared illegal in 1935, it was sealed up and forgotten about until 1988, when historians looking for a structurally unaltered tenement building stumbled upon it.
The Lower East Side Tenement Museum is only accessible by guided tour. Call or visit their website for a current schedule.