Booking a trip but aren’t sure of the best area to stay in New York? Which neighborhood is the best for tourists, and which areas should be avoided?
There are so many neighborhoods in New York City that it can overwhelming!
New York City is divided into five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Staten Island.
In this New York City guide, we will focus on the borough of Manhattan, which is the borough most tourists stay in. If you’re wanting to visit the most popular sites and tourist attractions in New York City, then you’ll find almost everything in Manhattan.
Traditionally, Manhattan is divided into Uptown Manhattan, Midtown Manhattan, and Downtown Manhattan, but within each area there are many smaller neighborhoods with different characteristics and attractions.
Let’s look at each of the general Manhattan neighborhoods to help you decide which neighborhood to stay in during your next NYC visit.
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Best area to stay in Manhattan New York
Midtown Manhattan- packed with tourist attractions
Midtown is the place where tourists hang out- this area is loud and busy any time of the day or night. As they say, it’s the city that never sleeps- midtown sure lives up to that. This is a pretty safe area due to the bustle and hustle of people, cars and cabs.
Things to see:
Macy’s, the biggest department store in the world, is located in Midtown. If you’re in New York during Thanksgiving, you can’t miss the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. Make sure you get there early for a good view!
Madison Square Garden is one of the most famous entertainment arenas in the U.S. It’s home to the New York Knicks. You can also catch a basketball game here or a concert by some of the top musicians in the world.
Times Square is one of the most famous attractions in New York City and is famous for its lights. The best time to visit Times Square is at night when it comes to life. You can see the building lit up from blocks away!
If you happen to be lucky enough to be in NYC on New Year’s Eve, make sure you come to Times Square to watch the ball drop!
Bryant Park is a lovely leafy park that’s used for summer concerts, outdoor movies and fashion shows. In winter, the pond turns into an ice skating rink.
Radio City Music Hall is the world’s largest indoor theatre where you can watch the Rockettes perform at Christmas time.
The Museum of Modern Art, or MOMA as it’s more commonly referred to, is located in Midtown. It’s the home of Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” and Paul Cezanne’s “The Bather”. MOMA is definitely worth a visit- there’s free entry on Fridays from 4pm to 8pm.
Other attractions worth seeing:
Rockefeller Center Top of the Rock: get one of the best views of the Empire State Building
Visit the Empire State Building for an awesome view of the city
Take a tour of NBC Studios and see a live taping of an NBC TV show.
Check out the Rockefeller Christmas Tree
Visit the New York Public Library
Visit Fifth Ave for some expensive high-fashion shopping. This area is great during Christmas season when shops will leave you in awe with their best holiday displays.
Places to eat in Midtown Manhattan
West 32nd St. between Broadway and Fifth Ave., you can get authentic and delicious Korean food at Koreatown.
Gray’s Papaya is the place to get hot dogs- forget the cheap and nasty ones you can buy on the streets!
Hell’s Kitchen- West of Times Square on Eighth or Ninth Ave, you can discover many culinary delights
Restaurant Row- A block of restaurants offering different types of foodWhere to stay in Midtown Manhattan
Upper West Side
The Upper West Side is situated between the Hudson River and Central Park. Most of the residents living in the Upper West Side are wealthy and well-educated, and work in Midtown or Downtown Manhattan. This neighborhood is home to Columbia University.
The Upper West Side is home to the American Museum of Natural History which contains millions of artefacts including dinosaur skeletons, human remains, rocks, fossils and meteorites. There are 28 interconnected buildings which also includes a library and planetarium. The museum is a hit with people of all ages and is worth visiting! It’s located across from Central Park, so you could combine a trip to the park afterwards.
If you like the ballet or opera, then you’ll want to visit the Lincoln Center, which is home to many different venues and theaters. It’s also home to the famous Julliard School.Where to stay in the Upper West Side
Upper East Side
The Upper East Side is situated between Central Park and the East River. This is another very wealthy part of town but is also known for being home of the biggest museums in NYC. There’s a stretch of Fifth Avenue known as the Museum Mile.
The Museum Mile features the Metropolitan Museum of Art, also known as ‘The Met’, which features works by Van Gogh and Monet. The Museum Mile is also home to the Guggenheim Museum.
Where to stay in the Upper East Side
Let’s face it: you could spend hours in Central Park!
Here you’ll find the Bethesda Fountain, which is a popular meeting place among New Yorkers and tourists. Strawberry Fields is a garden that’s a memorial to the late John Lennon. And of course, you’ll want to take your kids to Central Park Zoo!
Central Park Zoo is home to snow leopards, dart poison frogs, penguins, red pandas and sea lions. There are special animal feeding times. If you have younger kids, they’ll probably like the Tisch Children’s Zoo which is a petting zoo with small goats and alpacas.
On Saturdays, you can take your kids to the Hans Christian Anderson statue for story time. You can also visit Belvedere Castle for some bird watching! If you prefer something a bit more active, rent a row boat or a bike from the restaurant at the Loeb Boathouse. There’s even a gondola that can seat up to 6 people if you can’t be bothered rowing yourself!
During the colder months, Central Park is home to the Wollman Skating Rink, featured in many holiday movies (such as Home Alone 2).
Lower Manhattan & the Financial District
Lower Manhattan is known for being the home of the world’s financial powerhouses, as well as being an area where upper class families live.
When compared with other Manhattan neighborhoods, there’s not much for tourists to see and do in this part of town. While the area is busy during the day with business people, outside business hours the neighborhood is quiet.
Things to see and do:
Battery Park is a 92-acre park great for watching the sunset overlooking the Statue of Liberty and the Hudson River. The park stretches into TriBeCa to the north and parts of the west side of Manhattan.
The World Trade Center Tribute Visitor Center, as well as the One World Trade Center (also referred to as the Freedom Tower) are two places worth visiting in Manhattan. Although it’s a very sombre and moving experience, many tourists like to pay their respects. The Freedom Tower was constructed where the Twin Towers used to be.
Catch a ferry across the river to visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, also known as the “Island of Tears”. Ellis Island has a National Museum of Immigration worth visiting. This museum shares the struggles and stories behind the immigrants that arrived in New York City. From Ellis Island, you can get a great view of the Manhattan Skyline and the Statue of Liberty.
While in the Financial District, many tourists visit Wall Street and have their photo taken in front of the Wall Street bull (apparently it’s good luck to rub the bull’s genitals!).
When you’re tired of government buildings, a visit to the City Hall Park is a refreshing change. This small park has played an important role in New York’s history, and has had many different uses in the past: as a pasture, a public execution site, a prison and even an art museum. It was also where the Occupy Wall Street movement began, and where Alexander Hamilton led the protest against the tea tax back in 1774. Two years later, it was here that George Washington heard the Declaration of Independence for the first time. The park is also a great place to get free wi-fi!
Lower Manhattan is home of the Museum of Jewish Heritage, and is where the Brooklyn Bridge is located. The bridge is a must-visit! Walk towards Frankfort Street and Park Row for the best views of the East River and Lower Manhattan. Eventually you’ll end up at the walkway onto the bridge.
Places to eat in Lower Manhattan
South Street Seaport is popular with tourists and is a nice spot in the middle of summer when you want to enjoy the breeze of the water while grabbing a bite to eat.
Seaport Smorgasburg is a fairly inexpensive food market that offers a variety of food: from pizza to lobster rolls and even Texan-style brisket sandwiches.Where to stay in Lower Manhattan
SoHo and Chinatown
SoHo is an acronym for “south of Houston”, which describes the location of the neighborhood (it’s south of Houston street). If you don’t want New Yorkers to know you’re a tourist, make sure you pronounce it HOUSE-tin, and not Houston like the Texan city!
SoHo started out as an artistic neighborhood, but now its lofts are becoming too expensive for any artist to stay here. The area is popular for its building exteriors, stylish boutiques and hip places to hang out. As a result, more upper-class people are moving here, however the neighborhood is still very creative.
Things to see and do:
SoHo is great for shopping: from jewelry stores to quirky housewares, to global labels and the latest in fashion. Shopaholics love SoHo! Make sure you look beyond the typical stores and you’ll find artisan and independent retailers selling unique, one-off pieces.
West Broadway is a street lined with stores such as jewelery and quirky household items, while from Houston to Canal Street, you’ll find high-end fashion boutiques and retailers and European designers such as Prada.
While out shopping and wandering the streets, be on the look-out for the quirky and colorful fire escapes on the buildings!
In this neighborhood you’ll also find the Children’s Museum of the Arts, which consists of over 2000 pieces of art created by children from around the world.
Canal Street in Chinatown is famous for its vendors selling various Asian delicacies, as well as various markets (that feature knock-off designer goods!). Columbus Park is where you might feel like you’re in Shanghai, with residents often practicing Tai-Chi!
Where to stay in SoHo
Another “sub-neighborhood” is TriBeCa, famous for hosting the independent TriBeCa Film Festival. The name TriBeCa stands for “triangle below Canal”, the triangular-shaped area below Canal Street.
The TriBeCa Film Center used to be the old Martinson Coffee Factory and Robert de Niro helped transform it into a film center.
Places to eat in TriBeCa:
La Esquina (The Corner) is a Mexican restaurant where you can either enjoy a dimly lit dinner or grab-n-go.
Where to stay in TriBeCa
East Village & Lower East Side
East Village and the Lower East Side of Manhattan is home mainly to hipsters but is also a cultural melting pot of immigrants, from Ukrainians to Puerto Ricans. It’s where the old meets the new, to create the neighborhood that it is today.
If you love nightlife, then the East Village is for you! It’s also unofficially known as NoHo (North of Houston Street).
Things to see and do in the East Village and Lower East Side:
The Sara Roosevelt Park is a hidden gem with a basketball, handball and volleyball court, soccer fields, five playgrounds and a community garden.
The Astor Place Subway Kiosk is one of New York’s finest cast-iron kiosks.
The East Village and Lower East Side is home to what’s known as “Alphabet City”, which is named after Avenues A, B, C and D. For many decades, this area was known as being unsafe but due to gentrification, the area has been mostly cleaned up and you can now find lots of bars and restaurants with young and hip people. Although the area is much safer, it’s still a good idea to avoid Avenue D after midnight!
Katz’s Deli, the most famous delicatessen in New York City, is located on the Lower East Side. For culture buffs, you might know Katz as being the Deli from “that” famous scene between Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in the 1988 movie When Harry Met Sally. The best-selling item on the menu is the Pastrami sandwich, but also popular is the Reuben sandwich and the Cheesesteak.
Where to stay in Lower East Side
Little Italy is famous for being the area where Italian immigrants settled when arriving in New York City. Mulberry Street is full of Italian restaurants.
In September, there’s the Feast of San Gennaro. This feast was originally celebrated by Italian immigrants from Naples, when they would celebrate Saint Januarius, the Patron Saint of Naples and began in 1926.
Today, the street is closed off to traffic and vendors in the area set up stalls to sell their goods. You can find food, games, parades and other similar attractions during the festival.Where to stay in Little Italy
West Village, Chelsea and the Meatpacking District
This area is popular with tourists, and you’ll often see tour buses flowing through the streets. Although it seems very busy, it’s still fairly quiet and mostly residential.
Things to see in the West Village, Chelsea and the Meatpacking District:
Washington Square Park is worth a visit. It’s one of the most famous public parks in New York. Here you’ll find the Washington Square Park arch, which was modeled on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The park is a popular political and cultural hub: here you’ll find street performers and entertainers as well as political rallies and demonstrations.
The park has an interesting history. It was once a meeting point for the Beat generation and hippies and these days New York University students hang out here.
In the southwest corner of the park you’ll find built-in outdoor chess tables, and this area is the “gateway” to Manhattan’s “chess district”, which features a number of chess shops!
The Bleeker Street area is a nightlife highlight for young students. Book lovers should visit the Strand Book Store which has been around since 1927 and has 18 miles of new, used and rare books.
The High Line can also be found in this neighborhood. It’s a public park built on an unused, elevated railroad track. This is another great spot for watching the sun set over the Hudson River.
The Chelsea Market has more than 20 locally owned stores that sell home décor and specialty foods.
Where to stay in the West Village
Union Square, Flatiron District & Gramercy
Here you will find publishers, ad agencies, new media firms and restaurants.
The 230th Fifth Ave Rooftop Restaurant has incredible views of the Empire State Building. It’s open all year long, even during winter, when heaters are placed around the rooftop and you’re given a robe to keep you warm!
The Flatiron building is the oldest skyscraper in New York. It was created in 1902 and its flat shape resembles and old iron.
In between Madison Ave. and Broadway from 23rd to 26th streets, you’ll find Madison Square Park. It’s one of the only few Shake Shacks you’ll find in Manhattan which has the best hot dogs, burgers and shakes. In the summer, the park lights up with fairy lights.
Located in Union Square, the Greenmarket market brings farmers on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays (8am-6pm) to sell the city’s freshest fruits and vegetables.
Union Square itself is a popular meeting area since it’s centrally located in Manhattan and has many subway routes. This is a great area for watching street chess being played.
Gramercy Park is a small, fenced-in private park where only residents around the area have the key to access it. There are limited numbers of keys available for guests so they can also experience the small park with its flower beds and gravel pathways.Where to stay in Union Square/Gramercy
How to choose the best New York neighborhoods to stay in
When choosing the best New York neighborhood to stay in, there are several things to consider.
As tourists, your requirements are much different than if you were a family moving to New York permanently. You need to consider the unique needs and wants of your own family.
One of the best things about New York is that there are so many accommodation options available for all different budgets.
Staying in a big city like New York, some of the important decisions to think about are:
Do you want to stay close to all the main attractions?
Some people prefer to stay close to main attractions, which is why you’ll find many of the popular New York hotels in Downtown Manhattan. People like staying here because it’s where Times Square and Broadway are located, as well as many of the larger department stores.
Do you prefer a quiet neighborhood, or is a noisy and vibrant area more appealing?
While noise isn’t much of an issue if you’re staying in a large hotel, if you’ll be in an apartment, you may want to think about the level of noise in your neighborhood. If you find it hard to sleep when it’s noisy, then a quieter neighborhood will be more appealing.
What are the ages of the people in your family?
If you have children, then you may prefer a family-friendly Manhattan neighborhood over a neighborhood that caters for twenty-somethings who love to party and stay out late.
Will you be taking the subway while in New York or do you prefer to walk?
While the subway is very accessible, some people prefer to walk, or even catch a cab. If you prefer to walk, then you’d want to be staying in a neighborhood close to all the attractions that you want to visit.
How long will you be staying in New York?
This is an important factor to consider. If you only have a short time in New York, then you don’t want to be wasting your time on the subway or in a cab getting from one place to another. You want to be fairly close to all the attractions that you want to see.
What is your accommodation budget?
Accommodation in New York City is very expensive, but there are a few things you can do to make it more affordable. Choose areas that are not as close to the main tourist attractions. If you’re willing to use the subway, you could stay further out of town where it’s cheaper. However, make sure you factor the cost of using the subway to get around- make sure it is worth the money! If you’re part of a large family, it might be more cost effective to stay closer to the main attractions and pay more for accommodation and save on subway costs.
One final word…
New York City, in particular Manhattan, is a vibrant, fun and exciting city with so much to see and do.
Our Manhattan neighborhood guide should give you a better idea of what attractions to see and what to do, and where they are located. This will help you choose the best accommodation for your travel needs.
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