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We have lived in a suburb of New York City for 20 years and have grown to know New York City very well. The question people always ask when they want to visit is: Where is the best place to stay?
My answer depends on who is asking, and what they want to do. New York is a big place, and there isn’t one right answer. Read on to find the very best place to stay, whether you are traveling with your family, by yourself or with your sweetheart and the best deal for your dollar!
First a little background
New York City has 5 boroughs: Queens, The Bronx, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Manhattan.
Most people think about Manhattan when they think about NYC. It is the most city-like of all the boroughs and has the major museums and attractions. There are great things to see in other boroughs, but for the purpose of this article we will focus on Manhattan.
Manhattan is an island bordered by the Hudson and East Rivers. It is the most densely populated borough and is also the smallest at only 23 square miles. It is home to the Empire State building, Times Square, Broadway, Grand Central, One world Trade Center, Wall Street, MoMa, and more. However, these sights are spread out all over Manhattan, and what you want to see will determine the best place to stay.
Now to make this more confusing, there are lots of neighborhoods in Manhattan.
Major neighborhoods in Manhattan
The major neighborhoods in Manhattan include: Harlem, The Upper West side, The Upper East Side, Midtown, Chelsea, Greenwich Village, Lower East Side, Soho, and the Financial District.
There are other subsets of these larger districts, making it even more confusing, but I had to draw the line somewhere!
Why does it matter where you stay?
Manhattan seems small in size compared to New York City as a whole, but getting around takes a long time. Manhattan is not a car-friendly city, so most of your transportation is subway, taxis or walking. A train from the Upper West Side to Midtown takes 15-20 minutes after the 5-10 minute walk to the subway and the 5-10 minute wait for the right train. You could spend the better part of your day just getting to your destinations.
I recommend picking the neighborhood that has most of the attractions you want to visit. That way you can maximize your time with short walks from attraction to attraction. If you have more time, you can spend subsequent days focused on other neighborhoods.
Where to stay in Harlem
This is my pick for those who are cost conscious.
Harlem is located between 155th street and 96th street.
Harlem is the birthplace of jazz and has been predominantly African America since the early 1900s. It is the home to some of the most beautiful and impressive churches in the city. Harlem gets a bad rap as lots of people say it is dangerous or unsafe. I know many people of different nationalities who have lived in Harlem, and I, for one, would happily stay in Harlem.
- Prices are much cheaper than other options in Manhattan
- Free on-street parking
- Fewer options for restaurants
- Fewer big tourist attractions
- The neighborhood is a little more worn around the edges.
Major Attractions in Harlem
- The Apollo Theater– a concert hall that was the scene of many famous African-American performers.
- Riverside Church– a church built by the Rockefeller’s in 1930. It features the largest bass bell in the world!
- The Grange– Alexander Hamilton’s home in Harlem. Admission is free!
My hotel pick for Harlem
Where to stay in the Upper West Side
This is my pick for families and those who want a quieter New York.
This area is west of Central Park between 110th street and 59th street.
You will see more strollers in the Upper West Side than anywhere else in the city. This is a favorite neighborhood for young families in NYC. It is also a highly educated area owing to the proximity of Colombia University. This is a laid-back area and feels much more like a neighborhood in the suburbs than anywhere else in Manhattan.
- Great restaurants and shopping are nearby anywhere in this borough.
- If you have kids, you are close to Central Park and other kids.
- Less busy than other neighborhoods.
- Best subway line (the red line) to get to major locations throughout the city.
- Not as many big sites here as other neighborhoods.
- Not as much nightlife as other areas.
Major Attractions in the Upper West Side
- Lincoln Center– home to the New York City Ballet, Metropolitan Opera, and the New York Philharmonic.
- American Museum of Natural History– This was featured in Night at the Museum. For more info, click here.
- Grant’s Tomb– The resting place of Ulysses S. Grant. Free admission!
- Central Park– New York City’s largest park; covering 840 acres and featuring a zoo, playgrounds, gardens and more.
My hotels picks for the Upper West Side
Budget hotel/ family friendly: Hotel Belleclaire
Luxury hotel: Empire Hotel
Where to stay in the Upper East Side
My pick for museum lovers.
East of Central Park between 96th street and 59th street
The Upper East Side is known for being the wealthy neighborhood. It has the most expensive housing per square foot of any neighborhood in Manhattan. You will find lots of expensive stores and fine dining in the Upper East Side. It is also known as the museum district as many of New York’s best known art museums are here.
- Close to art museums, which are very walkable from one to the next.
- Close to fine dining and boutique shopping.
- Many luxury hotels are located in the Upper East Side
- The subway can be quite a hike on the Upper East Side and the trains are often very crowded compared to the Upper West Side.
- Prices are higher overall in the Upper East Side – restaurants, hotels etc.
Major Attractions in the Upper East Side
- Metropolitan Museum of Art– the largest art museum in the United States
- Guggenheim Museum– this Frank Lloyd Wright designed museum focuses on impressionist and modern art.
- Frick Collection– the art collection of Henry Clay Frick.
- Central Park– The Upper East Side has easy access to Central Park just like the Upper West Side.
My hotel picks for the Upper East Side
Budget/family-friendly hotel: Courtyard New York Manhattan Upper East Side
Luxury hotel/family friendly: The Mark
Where to stay in Midtown
This is my pick for tourists who only have a day or two to spend in New York City.
Midtown runs from 59th Street to 34th Street and from east to west.
Midtown Manhattan is where most tourists seem to end up. National hotel chains tend to favor this area, many tourist attractions are here, and it is close to Times Square. Midtown is a strange blend of over-the-top tourist traps and businesses. You are close to Broadway, Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building, and more. You will also be close to the largest crowds of tourists. There is nothing wrong with choosing to stay in Midtown, but it is not truly the authentic New York City. It’s like the boardwalk in a seaside town with its restaurants and souvenirs shops that is fun and exciting but which bears little resemblance to the actual town itself.
- Close to a large number of major tourist attractions.
- The very center of the city, so subway rides to other neighborhoods are shorter.
- Almost every subway line crosses through Midtown, so you have a large choice of trains without having to transfer.
- This area caters to tourists, so you will find a lot of helpful locals.
- It is a much more crowded area.
- It doesn’t have the charm that other neighborhoods have.
- Restaurants are more expensive and are often chain restaurants.
- Prices are high for very small rooms.
Major Attractions in Midtown
Times Square– the epicenter of New York City. Lots of crowds, lots of billboards, lots of people!
Broadway- World renown performances in 41 theaters centered around Times Square. Here is the cheapest source for tickets!
Empire State Building– Once the tallest building in the world and now one of the oldest skyscrapers ever built.
My hotel picks for Midtown
Budget/family pick: Residence Inn by Marriott
Mid price hotel: The Knickerbocker Hotel
Luxury hotel/family friendly: The Plaza
Where to stay in Chelsea
My pick for food lovers!
This area is located between 14th street and 34th streets on the West Side.
This eclectic neighborhood is a mix of Midtown to the North and Greenwich Village to the south. It is bohemian and practical in its appearance and in its sensibilities. Beautiful tree lined streets blend into old industrial buildings seamlessly. It also boasts some of the best restaurants in the city! Chelsea Market is an old building that has become the center of the foodie universe in Manhattan. Basically a food court in the best sense of the word, this Market features international favorites and local cuisine. The up and coming art scene has attracted a younger and hipper crowd over the past few decades. Families, young people, elderly people, really anyone could feel at home staying in Chelsea.
- Lots of world-class restaurants.
- Art galleries.
- Very convenient subway lines.
- Boutique hotels.
- Good night life.
- Excellent shopping on 6th and 7th Avenues.
- Chelsea has become quite expensive when it comes to hotels.
Major Attractions in Chelsea
- The High Line– an old above-ground freight train line that has been converted to an elevated park.
- Chelsea Market– a converted factory that has become an international food hall. My favorite are the tacos!
- Macy’s – This iconic NYC landmark is worth a peek even if it isn’t Christmas time. Try riding up the original wooden escalators.
- Chelsea Pier– a huge gym located on the river! There are so many options for activities, including golf, rock climbing, basketball, and more.
- The Intrepid– an aircraft carrier that has turned into a museum of the US military. Great for the kids.
My hotel picks for Chelsea
Budget and family friendly pick: Holiday Inn Express Chelsea
Mid-price hotel: Chelsea Pines Inn
Luxury hotel pick: The High Line Hotel
Where to stay in Greenwich Village
My pick for hipsters.
The Village, as Greenwich Village is often called, feels like a smaller NYC than the rest of the city. You won’t find tall skyscrapers here but rather 2 story brownstones and trees lining the streets. The precision in street numbering doesn’t apply here! We start seeing streets with names that run unapologetically into each other. This is the greenest and most park-like neighborhood in NYC, and you will see that reflected in the number of people out for walks and walking their dogs.
- Beautiful place to walk and very easy to get around.
- Bike rentals are on every corner and are easy to navigate on smaller streets.
- There are lots of students here that make for longer lines at restaurants.
Major Attractions in Greenwich Village
- Whitney Museum-an art museum featuring works from this century and the last one.
- Washington Square Park– one of the most well known parks in Manhattan, featuring the Washington Square Arch.
- The Strand– this bookstore boasts 18 miles of books. They sell used, new, rare, and unusual books.
My hotel picks for Greenwich Village
My budget hotel pick: Washington Square Hotel
Luxury hotel pick: Walker Hotel Greenwich Village
Where to stay in the Lower East Side
My pick for people who want to experience the NYC melting pot.
This is located in the south east of Manhattan between Canal and Houston Streets and the East River to Bowery.
The Lower East Side began as a stopping point for immigrants on the way to the American Dream. It has a history of being a working class neighborhood. It was home to tenements that were over-packed with immigrants from around the world. But like all neighborhoods in New York City, it is becoming more and more gentrified. This up and coming neighborhood doesn’t have the overt charm of the Village, but it has a more practical feel. It’s a juxtaposition of old meeting new with dilapidated buildings bordered by new, sleek, glass buildings.
- You can be near Greenwich Village and not pay Greenwich Village hotel prices.
- Bargain shopping from suits to lingerie.
- So many subway options to get to other parts of the city.
- Great blues and funk music scene.
- Very diverse food options.
- This is not the most beautiful neighborhood.
- Although there is quite a bit of bargain shopping, there isn’t much in terms of boutiques.
- Fewer large attractions than other neighborhoods.
Major Attractions in the Lower East Side
- Economy candy– a fabulous candy store featuring old classic candy, foreign candy, and candy by the pound.
- Tenement Museum– this experiential museum offers tours of tenement buildings and tells the stories of their inhabitants. Very unusual and riveting.
My hotel picks for the Lower East Side
My budget pick and family pick: Holiday Inn Lower East Side
My luxury pick: Hotel Indigo
Where to stay in SoHo
My pick for people who love to shop.
This neighborhood runs from Houston to Canal street and Lafayette to West Broadway.
SoHo is an acronym for the phrase “South of Houston” meaning the area south of Houston (pronounced How-ston) street. This neighborhood is known for its cobblestone streets and buildings featuring cast-iron facades. Art galleries made SoHo desirable in the 1970s-80s, and it is now popular for shopping. Large chain stores and smaller boutiques populate this tiny area. Some of the best thrift stores and flea markets are in SoHo, as well.
- This may be the most beautiful neighborhood in Manhattan.
- There are wonderful restaurants and cafes in walking distance anywhere in SoHo.
- Shopping like nowhere else in Manhattan.
- Other than shopping and great food there are not a lot of attractions in SoHo.
- Because of its desirable location hotel prices are high.
Major Attractions in SoHo
Children’s Museum of the Arts– this museum is geared toward families and the experience of making art. Classes and workshops are offered.
My hotel picks for SoHo
Budget/family friendly: Hotel SoHo 54
Luxury hotel: The Dominick Hotel
Where to stay in the Financial District
My pick for tourists who want to pack in a lot in a short time.
The financial district is in lower Manhattan and runs from Chambers Street to the West Side Highway.
The home of Wall Street, the New York Stock Exchange, and the Federal Reserve Bank. This is the financial epicenter of the world. It is also the site of the original settlement of New Amsterdam, which eventually became New York City. The Financial District has recently grown into a neighborhood with a night life as well as a work place.
- There are so many great attractions in a small neighborhood.
- Cheaper accommodations.
- Quieter neighborhood at night.
- Restaurants are often catered to lunch traffic and quick bites.
- Nightlife is much quieter than in other neighborhoods.
Major Attractions in the Financial District
9/11 Memorial and Museum– a memorial and museum paying respect to 9/11 and the lives of those lost.
Federal Hall National Memorial– the site of George Washington’s swearing into the office of president.
Museum of Jewish Heritage– focuses on the culture of Jews in the United States and the holocaust.
National Museum of the American Indian– this is a favorite of mine. Native American art and history is beautifully displayed. Plus it is free!
Statue of Liberty cruises– although this is technically located in nearby Battery Park. It is easily walkable from the Financial District. It is the starting point for visiting the Statue of Liberty an Ellis Island.
St. Paul Chapel– the oldest public building in New York City. You can visit George Washington’s pew here.
My hotel picks for the Financial District
Budget/family friendly hotel pick: Fairfield Inn Financial District
Luxury hotel pick: The Beekman, a Thompson Hotel
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