When we first started planning our trip to New York we were totally and completely overwhelmed. Everything feels so spread out and it can feel impossible to work out where you should stay and where you should avoid. After visiting, we got a much better sense for the different areas, where we wish we’d stayed and where we wish we’d avoided. Each New York neighbourhood is unique so I would recommend spreading your accommodation out if you have the time and budget. Work out which areas meet your travel needs and interests then split your time up between them, spending two or three nights in each spot that appeals. Remember, you’ll never see and do it all so don’t put too much pressure on yourself to nail it the first time! With that in mind, here are my tips on the best and worst places to stay in New York.
Note: Images are from all over New York and may not align with the district mentioned.
Union Square, Flatiron District & Gramercy Park
Most travellers will immediately recognise the iconic Flatiron Building, built on Fifth Avenue in 1902. Away from the hustle and bustle of Times Square, the Flatiron District and nearby Gramercy Park make for a great base in New York. You’ll find no shortage of fantastic restaurants, shopping and great bars, picture-perfect brownstones and plenty of historic buildings to photograph. There are amazing farmer’s markets to explore and a busy street life to immerse yourself in too.
Close to Union Square, which is also a good base point, you’ll find it easy to get around on the subway, which is important as these spots aren’t really close to any of the major museums or tourist sites you’ll want to see. In terms of prices, you’re not going to find these areas particularly budget-friendly, offering more of your mid-range to high-end accommodation options. That said, they really do offer a great base for travellers.
Times Square & Midtown West
When you start researching hotels in New York, you’re going to find a great deal of them located in and around Times Square, which is exactly what happened to us and how we ended up staying here. This area is home to many must-see tourist favourites like Broadway, Radio City Music Hall, Museum of Modern Art, Carnegie Hall and Top of the Rock. In fact, this district spans all the way from the Empire State Building to Central Park South, making it a pretty sweet location. But, I really wish we’d stayed somewhere else as I felt like I was in the heart of the tourist district and missed out on the more authentic New York experience I was hoping for.
While it’s a super convenient location, the issue with staying in this part of town is the sheer volume of congestion on the streets, owing to all the other people staying here too. It’s very tourist heavy which, for some, may feel inauthentic. There’s no shortage of things to see and do, great restaurants and places to explore and it’s pretty easy to get around but, if you don’t like an overly touristy experience and are looking for a more authentic, ‘real’ New York stay, it may not be the spot for you. The sheer volume of hotels, though, does mean you should be able to find something in your budget unless you’re on a super low one.
We loved exploring Chelsea and, looking back, would have loved to stay in Chelsea or the Village for a few nights. Home to amazing eateries, gorgeous streetscapes, hidden bars, cutting-edge art galleries, museums and a great nightlife scene, Chelsea offers travellers a great place to base themselves and, for LGBTQ+ travellers, the district is home to a large LGBTQ community. I loved walking the streets of Chelsea, finding little pop-up food spots and markets, stopping to try new and interesting bites, snapping photos of the lovely building facades and immersing myself in the local culture.
You’ll also find it close to Union Square, which makes getting around easy, as well as being close to The High Line, a New York must-see, and the Meatpacking District. There’s no shortage of great food and nightlife on offer, you can explore the waterfront and accommodations tend to range from moderately priced to high-end. The biggest downside to staying in this part of town would be the nightlife noise. Someone like my Mum (who sleeps in complete silence) may struggle, so just make sure you find a quiet spot. For me, Chelsea offers an authentic New York experience without sticking you right in the middle of everything.
The tree-lined streets of Greenwich Village offer a world of quaint cafes, off-broadway theatres and jazz clubs. In this bohemian neighbourhood, you can indulge in a world of fantastic food, art and culture. Try fantastic sushi, discover great vegetarian-friendly fare or sample incredible Italian set among the iconic brownstones and New York University buildings. Head to Washington Square Park and enjoy a slice of pizza while you watch the world go by, get cosy in a sidewalk cafe, explore Macdougal street and soak in the vibes of a European city nestled in the heart of New York. As the heart of the modern LGBT movement, LGBTQ+ travellers will find no shortage of rainbow flags flying proudly around the Village.
Similarly to Chelsea, it offers a taste of New York living without being in the hustle and bustle of Midtown. You should have no trouble getting around, finding great bites to eat, entertainment and seeing all the tourist must-sees on your bucket list! Again, accommodation options in Greenwich Village will range from moderately priced to high-end.
SoHo, TriBeCa & the Lower East Side
You’ll find the SoHo district to be uber fashionable with cobbled streets, high-end department stores and iconic restaurants. Offering a true neighbourhood experience, it should appeal to travellers who want to feel what it’s like to live in New York. That said, it isn’t for those low on funds, which can also be said for nearby TriBeCa and the Lower East Side, which also offer insight into the world of New York living, excellent restaurants and great shops. You’ll find all three spots away from the main tourist attractions, home to their own little world of clubs, boutiques and foodie spots. Explore Nolita, immerse yourself in the downtown arts scene, take in a spot of designer-name shopping then pause for some people watching.
Upper East Side
For those with a big budget looking for that dream-come-true, luxury, once-in-a-lifetime, glamorous New York experience, it doesn’t get more special than the Upper East Side. Bring all your Gossip Girl fantasies to life at the sprawling range of high-end boutiques on Madison Avenue, stroll through Central Park and explore The Metropolitan and Guggenheim museums. Wander Park Avenue and immerse yourself in a world of luxury and opulence.
You’ll find no shortage of stunning townhouses, luxury shopping experiences, historic buildings and fine dining restaurants but it isn’t super accessible by public transport. If you are rolling on a big budget and looking for a luxe stay in an iconic hotel, you might also find Midtown East and Murray Hill to be well suited.
The Financial District
We found ourselves in the Financial District doing a spot of on-foot exploring and making our way down to the Ferry terminals. This part of downtown is far, far away from the hustle and bustle of midtown. Owing to it being a business centre, it’s a hive of activity during the day but eerily quiet in the very early morning and evenings. If you’re the type of traveller who cannot stand being in the thick of things and prefer peace and quiet, away from it all, a weekend stay in this district might be a good pick for you. But, be warned, it’s a long way from the main attractions and you may find it hard to find an abundance of good food options.
Brooklyn & Queens
If you’re on a budget, a stay in Brooklyn or Queens might be better suited. The neighbourhoods in these two boroughs are fantastic, offering an abundance of things to see and do, particularly for food lovers and those who love to sniff out new experiences. There are loads of interesting restaurants and pop-ups, markets, art galleries and boutiques. The streets here are picture-perfect and you’ll love spotting gorgeous street art while chowing down on great pizza. Uncover great bars, hidden spots and fantastic views of New York, take in live music, walk the Brooklyn Bridge and unearth hip neighbourhoods like Bushwick. Of course, to explore New York, you’ll need to get yourself over there by cab, subway or bus.
Where are your favourite tv shows set?
If you’re after a little more inspiration on where to stay and need something a little more visual to help you decide, here’s where some of your favourite tv shows are set.
- Sesame Street – Queens
- Gossip Girl – Upper East Side
- Seinfeld – Upper West Side
- Mad About You – Greenwich Village
- Living Single – Brooklyn
- The Nanny – from Queens to the Upper East Side
- Friends – Greenwich Village
- Sex & The City – Carrie (Greenwich Village), Charlotte (Park Avenue), Samantha (Meatpacking District), Miranda (Brooklyn)
- Will & Grace – Upper West Side
- How I Met Your Mother – Upper West Side
- 30 Rock – Rockefeller Plaza, Midtown
- Ugly Betty – Queens to Midtown
- Girls – Brooklyn
- MadMen – Madison Avenue
- Broad City – Brooklyn
Useful travel resources for your trip to the United States
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Skyscanner – our go-to for booking flights
Agoda – one of our go-to sites for booking hotels
Booking.com – another of our go-to sites for booking hotels
RentalCars.com – a great search engine for renting a car
TourRadar – a great search engine for booking tours