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Neighborhoods matter in New York. When choosing a place to stay, don’t ignore neighborhood for the sake of price. It is a vastly different Manhattan from the Upper West Side to the East Village, so look to strike a balance between price and location. Be (somewhat) close to where you want to visit, and the savings on subway fares alone will add up fast.
The long, slender island of Manhattan is broken into neighborhoods in an organized, sensible way. Uptown is north, downtown is south, the west side hugs the Hudson River (next stop: New Jersey), and the east side flanks the East River with landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge.
Each neighborhood has its own character and attracts different kinds of people. Are you right for the Lower East Side, Hell’s Kitchen, TriBeCa, or somewhere in between? Decide after consulting these neighborhood descriptions.
This micro-neighborhood—squeezed between the southern edge of Central Park and the much more bustling Theater District—is just about the dead center of Manhattan. Some people will choose this locale from 55th to 59th Street for close proximity to Central Park’s bike trails or sunbathing meadows, while others want to be near landmarks like Carnegie Hall and a variety of subway lines.
For nightlife, boutique shopping, and intimate restaurants—go elsewhere.
Once you’ve seen the major midtown landmarks, you might want to get a feel for local neighborhoods instead. Chelsea, on the west side just north of the West Village, is home to blocks of historic brownstones, a thriving gallery scene, and a variety of businesses that cater to the local gay community.
One Chelsea highlight is the High Line, an old elevated train track that has been converted into a park with Hudson River views. This sophisticated neighborhood appeals to creative types seeking the latest in art and style.
The East Village may have shed some of its edgy reputation in recent decades, but it’s still one of Manhattan’s best hubs for cheap eats, rowdy bars, and affordable stores. These days you are just as likely to find a proper cocktail (with a proper price tag to match) as a cheap beer, but that’s part of today’s East Village appeal.
If late night pizza by the slice, noodle bars full of local NYU students, and streets with quirky characters sounds right up your alley—go with the East Village. Some streets may have been somewhat dodgy in the past, but are now safe.
There is a distinct energy in Greenwich Village, from the musicians playing in Washington Square Park to the cafés, used book stores, and cheap ethnic restaurants that cater to local NYU students. Late night the volume gets turned up a bit too loud around Bleecker and MacDougal streets, so visit during the day.
Or simply cross 7th Avenue into the West Village, home to some of Manhattan’s most charming (and confusing) streets, local bars, literary history, and every type of restaurant imaginable. Affordable hotel choices are slim, but worth investigating, as most New Yorkers dream of one day moving in to that perfect West Village apartment.
The story of the westernmost area of Midtown is the story of ever-changing New York City: one of the least desirable neighborhoods is now red hot. The turf wars and crime scenes are gone from Hell’s Kitchen, with trendy wine bars and restaurants serving small plates taking over. If you want your New York with a bit of grit, it still exists in Hell’s Kitchen. Locals have followed the shiny new condos and promising young chefs into the neighborhood. For some of the best cheapo shopping in the city, check out the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market.
A former tenement neighborhood full of immigrants, the Lower East Side is in a state of flux. Here, boutique hotels are located across the street from penny candy stores. Stylish young people share the streets with a new wave of immigrants and young families.
This is a neighborhood for the hungry: Eat your way through the Essex Street Market, tackle a huge pastrami sandwich at Katz’s Deli, or sample a classic New York sandwich of lox on a bagel at historic Russ and Daughters. Nightlife and live music thrive all week long here, with plenty of during-the-day things to do like exploring the Tenement Museum.
Stretching from Fifth Avenue east to the river, Midtown East is a neighborhood of skyscrapers filled with businesses. Visitors are drawn here by the iconic sights—Grand Central Terminal, the New York Public Library, the United Nations—but local character is just about absent. Sure, bars and restaurants are packed at Happy Hour with people just off work, but later the streets can feel a bit deserted. Stay here for a convenient, quiet base between downtown and midtown attractions, just don’t expect charming cafés and pretty brownstones.
Short for “South of Houston,” SoHo has morphed from an artist’s enclave to upscale shopper’s paradise, but it is still home to some of the prettiest cobbled streets in the city. Scamper down Crosby Street to browse at the Housing Works Bookstore, stop into the Balthazar Bakery for the perfect croissant, or venture into west SoHo and check out the ‘hood’s Italian background at small shops like Alidoro for sandwiches or Joe’s Dairy for mozzarella made daily.
Short for Triangle Below Canal, TriBeCa is also home to cobbled, non-numbered streets that feel like a neighborhood. Expect to see mothers pushing strollers towards the farmer’s market as well as financial types stopping into the excellent local restaurants on their lunch break. An artistic background and a sophisticated edge combine in TriBeCa, where wine bars and new restaurants are opening at a quick pace. Nearby Chinatown is great for cheap eats. Both neighborhoods offer nightlife, but aren’t as rowdy (or young) as neighboring Lower East Side or East Village.
Congestion is the best single word to describe Times Square and the Theater District. Many visitors think they want to stay here—especially with sights like the Museum of Modern Art, Rockefeller Center, and Broadway theaters nearby—but clogged streets might make you think twice.
A better option might be to plan a visit to see the neon lights and electronic billboards, but choose a more local neighborhood instead. That being said, depending on the time of year, there are great deals to be found in the Times Square area, and the escape of Central Park is close by.
If you want upscale, local, and somewhat quiet, set your sights on Union Square or Gramercy. Union Square is home to one of New York’s most beloved greenmarkets, a source of both delicious picnic supplies and entertaining people watching. Victorian townhouses line the leafy streets of Gramercy, along with a few historic pubs and dependable, small restaurants. With the East Village on its fringe, nightlife isn’t too far away from this quiet area.
The Upper East Side is truly its own world, one where wealth is pretty normal and every block is home to a Chanel, Armani, or similar caliber store. However, beyond this façade is a local neighborhood, with small coffee shops, excellent bakeries, and some of the city’s best museums along Museum Mile. If you want to spend your days between the sunny paths of Central Park and the galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Upper East Side is a decent choice, but nightlife is pretty nonexistent and restaurants can be pricey. Keep in mind, the UES is a few short express subway stops away from a downtown neighborhood.
Hotel suggestions: Try the Gracie Inn.
On the opposite side of the park, the Upper West Side is the down-to-earth sibling of its eastern neighbor. This residential area has historic bagel shops and classic food stores like Zabar’s, along with landmarks such as Lincoln Center and the Natural History Museum. Central Park is never too far away, and unlike the Upper East Side, affordable restaurant choices like Shake Shack are firmly rooted in the neighborhood.
At the northern stretches of Central Park is Harlem, a changing neighborhood that is attracting ever-more attention for its restaurants. These brownstone-lined streets often offer good bang for your buck.