New York City has so many great neighborhoods, all with their own amazing vibe, so how do you choose where to stay? If it’s the first time you visit the city, and you’re there for less than a week, I would recommend that you stay in Manhattan. Here is my personal, highly subjective opinion on the best places to stay in the city:
Lower East Side and East Village
This part of town is probably the hippest place you can stay in Manhattan right now. East Village is more touristy than Lower East Side, but both areas still have this very local feel, and the restaurants and bars are generally both nicer and more affordable than in most other parts of Manhattan.
There aren’t a lot of hotels in that area, so look for private accommodation such as AirBnb or HomeExchange.
Super trendy SoHo is the place to stay if you are into shopping, trend-spotting and cafe/bar-hopping. There is a good, though rather pricey, selection of boutique hotels and you will save a lot on transportation as you have everything except museums, within walking distance.
Greenwich Village/West Village
While Lower East Side and East Village still appear a little rough on the edges, Greenwich Village is a very neat and manicured neighborhood, complete with tree-lined streets and beautiful Carrie Bradshaw houses. The dining opportunities are plenty and there is also a good selection of nice bars in the area.
Chelsea and Meatpacking District
Meatpacking District and the western part of Chelsea used to be industrial areas, but they’ve gone through a major overhaul and today both areas appear very vibrant and urban. For Europeans and tourists (and European tourists) Meatpacking District is the nightlife hotspot in New York City, and this is where you’ll find all the fancy nightclubs with VIP tables, celebrity appearances and strict dress codes. Hotels in Meatpacking District are expensive, but if you plan on doing a lot of clubbing in the area, it might be worth the money, as you’ll save on taxi bills.
In Midtown, you’re within walking distance to a lot of the must-sees in New York, and being in the middle of it all also means that the train rides or taxi trips are usually short and affordable. The drawback is that most of this part of town feels very corporate. There are some really nice areas especially in Midtown East, where a couple of streets are lined with Japanese restaurants and grocery stores.
I would avoid staying in the Times Square area. The neon lights might look really good on Instagram, but the area is extremely touristy and tacky. Restaurants are overpriced and quality and service is usually poor. If you haven’t been to New York City before, it’s fun to go and have a look, but one evening should be more than enough, and I don’t think you’d want to stay there during your entire trip.
And a few words about the other areas
Brooklyn is the most populous of the 5 New York boroughs. The area is well connected in terms of public transportation, so this is where the real New Yorkers moved, when rent in Manhattan skyrocketed. It’s in Brooklyn you’ll find trendy neighborhoods such as Dumbo, Williamsburg, Fort Greene and Greenpoint and there’s a genuine, local community vibe, which you don’t really find anywhere on Manhattan. However, Brooklyn is big, and some of the neighborhoods don’t feel very safe after dark.
Upper West Side and Upper East Side are both really cozy areas, but they appear rather dead and the dining and drinking opportunities are also much scarcer than the areas I’ve mentioned above. If you’re on a budget, Upper West Side has a lot of reasonably priced accommodation and hostels. Upper West Side stretches far up north, all the way to Harlem, so you might end up spending a lot of time on a subway train if you stay in that area.
Harlem is a cool, up-and-coming part of the city, but it’s a bit too far away from all the things you’d want to see, to make it practical to stay there for a first time visitor.
Chinatown is probably one of the most affordable places to stay in Manhattan, but I’ve had some really bad experiences with budget accommodation in that area.