Where Should I Stay in New York City?
New York has many good options for visitors, neighborhoods for almost any interest whether it is theater, art, nightlife or food. Some of the possibilities are described below, but wherever the home base, it is easy to get around as long as lodgings are near a subway station (or even a bus stop). Learning the system is not difficult since much of central Manhattan is laid out on a grid with cross streets clearly numbered. If numbers go up, they are leading north or ‘uptown,” descending numbers head downtown. Most of the avenues are one-way, so buses travel in only one direction and route maps are posted at every stop. Subways stations also are labeled either uptown or downtown.
“Crosstown” literally means going across the city from east to west. Fifth Avenue is the dividing line between what New Yorkers call “east side” and “west side.” Major two-way arteries like 14th, 34th, 42nd and 57th streets have buses going in both directions and a subway shuttle train crosses the city on 42nd Street from Grand Central Terminal to Times Square.
To calculate distances, 20 blocks in Manhattan equals roughly one mile. So Midtown between 34th and 59th streets, where many famous sights are found, is less than a mile and a half long and easily walkable. The winding lanes in the older parts of the city also are quite walkable, but in these areas street maps or cell phone maps are recommend to guide your way.
The Best Places to Stay in New York City
- Best Neighborhood for Sightseeing: Midtown
While there’s much to see everywhere in the city, the most sights in one neighborhood by far are those clustered in Midtown, the heart of New York shopping and theater and home to some of its most iconic buildings. Lower Manhattan is also now a mecca for sightseers and the view from the One World Observatory atop 1 World Trade Center rivals the Empire State Building for drama.
- Best Neighborhood for Nightlife: Meatpacking District
The sidewalks are crowded with young fun-seekers until late at night in this happening area, home to many popular cafes and dance clubs. But New York nightlife isn’t confined to one neighborhood. More clubs, both straight and gay, are found in “Hell’s Kitchen,” a neighborhood in the 40s west of 9th Avenue, and a lot is happening across the East River in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg. For jazz bars and clubs, check out Greenwich Village.
- Best Neighborhood for Food and Restaurants: Tribeca
Check any dining guide and you’ll find a host of the highest rated dining places in this neighborhood, both classic cooking and top of the line ethnic choices. For expensive gourmet fare, the West 50s boasts several well-known culinary stars, including a trio in the Time Warner Center. Wherever you are in the city, you can expect to dine well—it is one of the pleasures of visiting New York
- Best Neighborhood for First Timers: Theater District
Yes, it gets crowded but there is no more convenient home base than the Theater District, roughly 42nd Street to 50th Street west of Sixth Avenue. This area has the greatest variety of affordable lodging choices, is an easy walk to Fifth Avenue and, of course, to theaters, eliminating fighting crowds for transportation after the show. Another plus: The 42nd Street Broadway subway stop is served by many lines, making it easy to visit other parts of the city.
- Best Neighborhood for Families: Upper West Side
Bordered with parks and playgrounds and boasting both a children’s museum and the famed dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History, this is an excellent neighborhood for families. Several hotels offer family accommodations and the area is served by two subway lines and several buses, making it easy to get around.
- Best Trendy Neighborhood: The Bowery
The fast-evolving Bowery, near the East Village between Houston Street and Cooper Square, is home to the avant garde New Museum, new headquarters for the International Center of Photographer, sleek art galleries, and an expanding list of trendy new hotels and dining. There are still rough edges here but there’s no better place to experience the vibes of change in New York.
- Safest Areas of NYC: Lincoln Center, Upper East and West Sides
Safety generally is not an issue in New York, one of the country’s safest big cities. But for those who are concerned, consider staying in the Lincoln Center area or the quiet residential Upper East and Upper West sides. Among these, the Upper West Side has more reasonable prices.
The Best Areas in NYC for Tourists
Lower Manhattan and the Financial District
Narrow twisting streets are evidence that this is the oldest part of the city, though today Wall Street and its surroundings are home to a forest of skyscrapers dwarfing the few remaining historic sites. With the completion of the new 1 World Trade Center and the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, this area is booming with tourists and new shops, hotels and restaurants. Many financial district hotels have good rates on weekends when business travelers go home.
Lower East Side, Chinatown and Little Italy
The old ethnic neighborhoods of the city are changing. Crowded and ever-fascinating, Chinatown has mushroomed, taken over all but one street of what was Little Italy and rapidly absorbing much of the Jewish Lower East Side. However, on Orchard Street and blocks closer to Houston border the East Village, the area has been rediscovered by a new generation, and cool shops, clubs and restaurants are blooming. The Tenement Museum is the best evidence of what used to be and some Jewish culinary landmarks remain on Houston Street.
Named for their locations (triangle below Canal, South of Houston), these neighborhoods of former warehouses have been reborn. Thanks largely to resident Robert DeNiro, Tribeca is home to a noted film festival and its spacious, pricey loft apartments and fine dining attract the rich and famous. Soho’s loft spaces first drew artists and galleries, but rising rents forced them out and this is now a trendy shopping and dining district.
East Village and Bowery
This gentrifying, one-time hippie haven from Houston to 14th Streets east of Third Avenue still offers many affordable restaurants, but new development near Houston and the neighboring formerly-derelict Bowery have brought avant garde museums, galleries, more upscale dining and hotels. Still in flux, it might appeal as a classic example of how fast neighborhoods can change in Manhattan, where people are in a constant search for the next big thing.
No grid plan here, just a crazy maze of leafy lanes lined with charming 19th century townhouses, many of which once housed famous artists, writers, and musicians. The cafes, clubs and coffeehouses of “the village” as the locals call it, have long been magnets for young people, including students at New York University, which occupies many of the blocks around Washington Square, one of the city’s liveliest park spaces. A great area to visit, but with few hotel options.
Meatpacking District and Chelsea
Once home to wholesale meat packers and desolate at night, the cobbled streets west of 10th Avenue near 14th Street have become one of the city’s liveliest centers for dining and clubbing. Further north, from 22 to 28th streets, the old warehouses of Chelsea now house dozens of art galleries. Both areas have blossomed and new hotels and the Whitney Museum have arrived since the opening of the High Line, a popular elevated park on a former rail line running from 13th to 34th streets.
Fifth Avenue shopping, 57 Street and Madison Avenue boutiques, the landmark buildings of Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Museum of Modern Art, the bright lights of Broadway and dining choices from budget to haute cuisine are all found in this area, the heart of Manhattan. It is a must for visitors and has the city’s largest concentration of hotels.
Upper East Side
Some of the city’s wealthiest residences are found in this tranquil area roughly between 59th and 96th streets east of Fifth Avenue. It is home to “Museum Mile,” eight excellent institutions along Fifth Avenue, including the world famous Metropolitan Museum of Art. The area is bordered by two green oases, Central Park to the west and Carl Schurz Park, with a promenade along the East River. Restaurants abound, from neighborhood diners to fine dining, but hotels are on the expensive side.
Upper West Side
From twin-towered luxury buildings along Central Park West to side streets lined with classic New York brownstones, this is a prime residential area and also home to Lincoln Center, the city’s cultural hub, and the American Museum of Natural History. Like its East Side counterpart, this neighborhood is bordered with parks, Central Park to the east and beautiful Riverside Park along the Hudson River. Many hotel choices make it a good area for those who prefer a quieter neighborhood.