Aerial view of Manhattan NYC

NYC Areas Compared: Your Perfect MANHATTAN Stay (Pt 1/3)

With the huge diversity that is New York City, deciding on an area to stay in can be a bit overwhelming. My first visit to NYC was with three of my best girlfriends celebrating a milestone birthday; we picked the Upper West Side and loved it. But what about the other popular places to stay? Or the “hidden gems”? How do NYC areas compare?

As I dug into other areas of NYC to consider for my next trip, I quickly realized this was a 3-parter. So first I’ll share how I compare areas in Manhattan NYC and then I’ll cover areas outside of Manhattan separately. 

My #1 tip when deciding on a hotel or an area to stay in, is to first decide what kind of experience you want to have. When you think of NYC, what do you think of? What gets you most excited to go? Then pick an area – and a hotel – that helps bring that to life.

Have you considered staying outside Manhattan? Check out the other posts in this series, NYC Areas Compared:

And if you love You’ve Got Mail, be sure to check out my ULTIMATE You’ve Got Mail walking tour with 26 stops!

NYC is tricky because there are SO many fun experiences to be had, and every trip can be as unique as you want it to be. Does a part of you dream of opening your own amazing pizzeria? Maybe you’d love staying in Little Italy. Do you long to soothe your soul in jazzy clubs? Maybe Harlem or Greenwich Village is for you.

The great news is that wherever you stay, you’ll generally be well connected to all of the other areas you want to see. NYC has a fast and easy subway system.

The other great news is that there seem to be amazing shops, cafes and architecture around every corner. Just keep walking and you’ll find something great.

Images comparing New York City's 5 boroughs

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Contents:

Woohoo!! Aren’t you already excited to go??

OVERVIEW AND TABLE: Comparing 4 Popular NYC Areas for Tourists to Stay in

The first challenge is deciding which areas in NYC to compare!

To simplify the challenge, I decided to keep this comparison to popular tourist spots in Manhattan (I’ll tackle non-Manhattan areas in a separate comparison). Then I grouped the areas on the east side of Manhattan together and the areas on the west side together, to make a comparison more manageable. (And so they’d fit in a table. I. Love. Tables.)

OVERVIEW: Comparing NYC’s Midtown, East Side, West Side and Upper West Side

Here’s my summary of four popular areas to stay in Manhattan, NYC:

  • MIDTOWN | Times Square and Hell’s Kitchen: The action-packed epicenter of NYC entertainment. You’re likely at least considering staying in Times Square, which is where many tourists land. Staying here puts a tourist right in the middle of the crazy action that is NYC, with easy walking to nearby attractions and subway connections throughout Manhattan and beyond. Hell’s Kitchen is just west of Times Square, which keeps you close to the action and great nightlife but gives your head a little break from the powerful light show.
  • WEST | Chelsea, Greenwich Village, SoHo and Tribeca: A happening area for artists, night-lovers, shoppers and celebrity-stalkers. Combine more than 200 galleries and awesome music venues with markets and celebrity sightings, and you’ve got yourself quite a start to your NYC visit! While each of these areas obviously has its own NYC flavor, they share many characteristics, like the cobblestone streets running through them. These neighborhoods are southwest of Midtown and northwest of the Financial District and 9/11 memorial.
  • EAST | East Village, Lower East Side, Little Italy and Chinatown: A rich blend of immigrant grit and youthful spirit. This area is a current example of how quickly NYC communities change, merging the strong heritage of Little Italy and Chinatown with the latest trends in galleries, cafes and nightclubs. As with the neighborhoods on the west side of Manhattan, it’s helpful to look at the characteristics that these communities share to help you decide if it’s the experience you’re after. These neighborhoods are nestled against the East River on the lower east side of Manhattan.
  • UPPER WEST SIDE: Charming brownstones, parks, museums and cafes. Now we move north to this mostly residential area, which is typically recommended for families because it’s quieter and home to parks, playgrounds and child-friendly museums. But it’s not just for families. Broadway is lined with great live music spots, culminating in the famous Lincoln Center at the south end. We loved this area for its charming cafes, brownstones and easy access to the rest of Manhattan. It was like coming home at the end of a busy sightseeing day. Compared to the Upper East Side, it’s cheaper and has all of the same benefits, in my humble opinion, so I didn’t include UES in my comparison.

TABLE: Comparing NYC’s Midtown, East Side, West Side and Upper West Side

If you like tables that give you all the goods at once, this is for you!

Here’s the gist of how to compare four popular areas for tourists to stay in Manhattan, NYC. I swing counter-clockwise from Times Square, then head north.

 Midtown: Times Square, Hell’s KitchenWest: Chelsea, Greenwich Village, SoHo, TribecaEast: East Village, Lower East Side, Little Italy and ChinatownUpper West Side
Best forWalking access to broadway shows, popular restaurants and big-name shoppingRoaming galleries, boutiques and nightclubs along cobblestone streetsDiscovering one-of-a-kind treasures, be it food, drinks, shopping, music or artCafe- and live music-hopping along brownstones, museums and parks
HistoryWaves of classy and seedy entertainmentFactories and BohemiaImmigration and punkFarms and country homes of the affluent
VibeBig, bright and showyMix of high-class and avant-gardeEclectic grit and classUpper middle class residential
Local sitesTimes Square
Broadway
Fifth & Madison Ave
Empire State
Rockefeller Center
Grand Central Station
United Nations
Chelsea Market
200+ galleries
High-end shops
High Line Park
Washington Square Park
St Mark’s Place
Tompkins Square Park
East River Park
Tenements Museum
Riverside and Central Park
Lincoln Center
Natural History Museum
ShoppingExpensive; variety of small and box storesHigh fashion; variety of small and box storesVintage and boutiqueFewer options; variety of decent shops
RestaurantsHigher end and popular namesHigher end cafes and restaurantsEclectic mixture of ethnic food, classics and character divesVariety of cute cafes, diners, restaurants
ConnectivityEasy access to most subway lines along 42nd StRed Line along Seventh Ave/Varick St; Blue Line along Eighth/Greenwich/Sixth StOrange and Brown lines; a short walk west will get you to more linesRed Line along Broadway; Blue and Orange lines along Central Park West

1. MIDTOWN | Times Square and Hell’s Kitchen: The action-packed epicenter of NYC entertainment

Busy colors and crowds of Times Square, Manhattan NYC

The colors and crowds of Times Square. Photo credit: Cris Tagupa from Unsplash.

Times Square is the epicenter of all-things entertainment in New York City. Staying here puts you right in the middle of it all, with many tourist attractions, restaurants and nightlife in easy walking distance and the central place for catching the subway to anywhere else.

Times Square is a sight all on its own: huge, flashy billboards amaze your senses along with a pedestrian plaza packed with buskers strutting, strumming or belting their talents. Nearby, you can stroll the glamorous Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue shopping district, catch absolutely stunning Broadway shows in absolutely stunning historical theaters, and then gaze up at the many iconic buildings and sculptures pretty much wherever you find yourself. Grand Central Station and the United Nations building are a short subway ride east, which take you into their own fascinating worlds.

The disadvantage of staying in Midtown is that you’re bombarded with the craziness of Manhattan from the moment you step outside your hotel … and the incessant honking. I was happy getting tickets here and embracing the chaos for one evening, and then I was good.

That said, there are little gems of hotels that give you some breathing space only blocks away from Times Square. And, I have family who love staying in Times Square because of the truly NYC feel you get here. So, I kinda get it.

Local sites:

  • Times Square at night: Experience its colorful flashy lights and entertainment for yourself; stay for the midnight digital art show.
  • Feature buildings: Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, Madison Square Garden, St Patrick’s Cathedral (built in 1878)
  • Bryant Park: In the summer it hosts festivals, dancing and movies; in winter, come for a Christmas market and skating rink.
  • Grand Central Station: Explore its food court, stores and intriguing architecture.

Things to do:

  • Shopping: Wander Fifth Avenue, Madison Avenue, Rockefeller Center and Macy’s huge department store.
  • Gotham West Market (600 11th Ave, Hell’s Kitchen): Home to celebrity chefs, hang out at the fancy ground-floor food court for some phenomenal food.
  • Culture: United Nations building/museum, Broadway theater, Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)
  • Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum (Pier 86, W 46th St, Hell’s Kitchen): The Intrepid aircraft carrier is home to this fascinating museum, which even has a Concorde, submarine and space shuttle. Wow.
  • Koreatown: More impressive at night; go for dinner, a fun karaoke bar, flashy lights and markets.

Where to eat:

  • Uncle Mario’s Brick Oven Pizza (739 9th Ave): We loved this pizzeria and still rave about it! The service is a little abrupt but it kinda added to the charm.
  • Ellen’s Stardust Diner (1650 Broadway): Expect a line-up to get into this hotspot; waiters break into song at this popular ‘50s themed diner.
  • The Landmark Tavern (626 11th Ave, Hell’s Kitchen): This Irish tavern originally opened in 1868 and has a distinctly Irish immigrant vibe along with its classic decor and menu.
  • Rooftop bars: St Cloud’s at Knickerbocker Hotel (6 Times Square) has amazing views overlooking Times Square and Monarch Rooftop Bar (71 W 35th St) is a penthouse cocktail bar with great views four blocks south of Bryant Park.
  • So many popular chains, like Hard Rock Cafe (1501 Broadway), Planet Hollywood (1540 Broadway) and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co (1501 Broadway).
  • So many non-chains with fantastic reviews, like easy-going Black Iron Burger serving craft beers (245 W 38th St), cozy Bea with handcrafted cocktails (403 W 43rd St), and Refinery Rooftop with great food with a view (63 W 38th St).

Places to stay:

Explore a website like Booking.com and you’ll find a huge variety of places to stay, including highly-rated chain hotels and super-luxurious swanky hotels. I generally prefer non-chain hotels that have more local flavor, but nothing too expensive.

Here are some cute ideas to get you started:

  • The Skyline Hotel New York (725 Tenth Ave, Hell’s Kitchen; $120+): budget-friendly and visitors like it; this hotel is a 15-minute walk to Times Square and has an indoor pool overlooking Manhattan. You’ll pay extra for wifi.
  • Belvedere Hotel (319 W 48th St, Times Square; $145+): built in the 1920s, this building retains its charm. Includes wifi and continental breakfast. An 8-minute walk to Times Square.
  • Library Hotel (299 Madison Ave; $250+): this beautiful boutique hotel brings the traditional American library to life. It’s near Bryant Park and Grand Central Station, includes wifi and a continental breakfast, and has fantastic reviews.

2. WEST | Chelsea, Greenwich Village, SoHo and Tribeca: A happening area for artists, night-lovers, shoppers and celebrity-stalkers

Maze of fire staircases in Chelsea, Manhattan NYC

Streets and mazes of fire staircases in Chelsea.

The west side of Manhattan combines upscale and boutique with chill and relaxed. It’s a popular place to stay, with tons of options for hotels, restaurants and shops.

These neighborhoods are fantastic for wandering and getting lost in. You’ll find many preserved historic buildings, beautiful architecture, and tree-lined cobblestone streets. They’re a fantastic blend of residential, high-end shopping, street vendors, chic cafes, art galleries, parks, music venues, and nightlife. While Chelsea and Greenwich Village wear their avant-garde history proudly, SoHo and Tribeca bask in their upperclass elegance. Sounds fun, right?

Let’s dive a bit deeper. We’ll start at the north in Chelsea and move south. Then I’ll point out some terrific, budget-friendly hotel options.

Chelsea: The Art District

If you’re an art lover, you’ll probably love Chelsea! While there are many art galleries throughout Manhattan, Chelsea is known as the art district. Set in what used to be factories are more than 200 art galleries featuring both established and emerging artists.

Chelsea is also known for great restaurants, nightclubs, bars and performing arts venues. Be sure to check out Chelsea Market, a large indoor market with restaurants and shops, and High Line, an elevated park that used to be a railway track. On the far west side of Chelsea is the Meatpacking District, with many warehouses that are now trendy restaurants and clubs.

Local sites:

  • Chelsea Market (75 9th Ave): large indoor market with fresh food, clothes and jewelry.
  • High Line Park (north end starts at W 30th St, just west of 10th Ave, and continues all the way to Gansevoort St in the south): an elevated park along a former railway line.
  • Art: Kobra’s Mother Teresa and Gandhi mural (516-500 W 18th St) and Whitney Museum of American Art (99 Gansevoort St), which features more than 23,000 pieces and focuses on exhibiting work from living artists.
  • Chelsea Piers (follow W 23rd Street to the water): has a popular skatepark and charters that leave from Pier 62. Visit at nighttime for nice views of the Hudson River.
  • Rooftop bars: Get great views at Gallow Green Rooftop Bar (542 W 27th St) and Plunge Rooftop Bar on top of the Gansevoort Hotel (18 9th Ave).

Greenwich Village: Fantastic Jazz and Grub 

Greenwich Village has a distinctly small European city vibe, with maze-like cobblestone streets bearing names instead of numbers, lower buildings that let in more sunshine, and a relaxed feel perfect for wanderers. Along with brownstones and New York University buildings, Greenwich Village has tons of popular cafes, bars and restaurants. If you’re into jazz or Off-Broadway Theaters, you’ll find lots of those here, too.

In the center of “The Village” is Washington Square Park. This beautiful park is a favorite for locals and tourists alike. You’ll see lots of musicians, sunbathers, skateboarders, furry four-legged creatures and NYU students meeting up here. Take a stroll along MacDougal Street for lots of places to eat and drink, Grove Street for a nice residential vibe and cute shops, and Bleeker Street for music venues and comedy.

Local sites:

  • Washington Square Park: central hanging out with buskers, fountain, greenspace and dog park.
  • Jefferson Market Library (425 6th Ave): a cool, castle-like building.
  • Buildings from TV shows: Friends apartment complex (90 Bedford St), Sex & The City Carrie Bradshaw home (66 Perry St).
  • Where to eat/drink: Joe’s Pizza (7 Carmine St) is a famous pizza spot; Percy’s Pizza (190 Bleecker St) serves delicious $1 by-the-slice; Peculiar Pub (145 Bleecker St) has a huge selection of international beers.

SoHo: Elegant and luxury boutiques

SoHo (an acronym for South of Houston Street) is known for its high-end shopping, galleries, restaurants, nightlife and hotels. It draws locals, tourists, celebrities and models to its luxury boutiques, independent designers and swanky chain stores.

Take your time getting lost in SoHo’s pretty streets. Great streets for shopping include Broadway, Prince St, and Spring Street, but don’t limit yourself to the main streets or you’ll miss much of the charm of this neighborhood. Elegant cast-iron facades (a remnant of the Industrial Revolution), a maze of fire escape staircases, and cobblestone streets create a great atmosphere for wandering and stopping for a drink at one of its boutique hotels.

Local sites:

  • Shopping: Broadway runs right through SoHo with many flagship stores making their home here.
  • New York City Fire Museum (278 Spring St): This tasteful museum houses more than 10,000 pieces in tribute to the New York Fire Department, including a permanent memorial to the 343 FDNY and EMS who lost their lives on 9/11.
  • Dean & Deluca market (560 Broadway): Originally a small sandwich shop, now expanded to become a gourmet grocery store.
  • Jimmy rooftop bar at the James Hotel (15 Thompson St): from 5 p.m. on, get one of the best views of downtown NYC.

Tribeca: Quiet Celebrity Hotspot

If you’re willing to spend extra money to stay near the rich and famous, Tribeca is for you. Originally written as TriBeCa (an abbreviation of Triangle Below Canal Street), this area is once industrial lofts turned home to celebrities like Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, and George Clooney. And while you wait for them, wander the cobblestone streets into stylish boutiques, cafes and restaurants. Note that the area is fairly quiet on weekends.

If you’re here in spring, check out world-premier movies at the Tribeca Film Festival, which emerged as a way to reinvigorate the community after the 9/11 attack.

Local sites:

  • Parks: Washington Market Park (199 Chambers St) is known for its fanciful playground and offers a nice view of Freedom Tower. Hudson River Park (follow N Moore St west to Pier 25) has miniature golf, food spots, beach volleyball and playground.
  • Aire Ancient Baths Tribeca spa (88 Franklin St): This upscale spa is marvelous! It takes you back to a Greco-Roman bath in a vaulted, exposed brick basement of an old factory; purchase a treatment and also enjoy 90 minutes in the pool area with hot, warm, ice and warm salt water options.

Places to Stay:

There are many very pricey options in these neighborhoods, as to be expected, I suppose. (Like, $4K per night … eek.) There are some great looking options closer to the water but when walking these areas they felt a little remote and away from restaurants and such.

Here are some reasonably-priced options to get you started, that are in good locations and have great reviews.

  • Dream Downtown (355 W 16th St, Chelsea; $200+): you’ll feel treated to a fun, luxury stay without the price. This hotel has a rooftop pool and bar with a view, comfortable beds and free wifi.
  • Incentra Village Hotel (32 8th Avenue, Greenwich Village; $225+): this charming boutique hotel is in two renovated brownstones. Includes wifi.
  • Washington Square Hotel (103 Waverly Pl; $220+): this hotel is right on the corner of Washington Square Park. It includes wifi and continental breakfast and has very strong reviews.
  • Walker Hotel Greenwich Village (52 W 13th St, Greenwich Village; $270+): boutique hotel with strong reviews, noting its location, friendly staff and comfortable beds.
  • The Roxy Hotel Tribeca (2 Avenue of the Americas, Tribeca; $250+): stay in Tribeca without killing your wallet; downstairs features live blues and jazz, plus other lounges and a cinema on-site; reviewers love the service, ambiance and easy walking distance to SoHo and Little Italy.

3. EAST | East Village, Lower East Side, Little Italy and Chinatown: A rich blend of immigrant grit and youthful spirit

Italian colors on fire hydrants in Little Italy, Manhattan NYC

Little Italy is definitely little but fierce.

Compared to other NYC areas on this list, the communities on the east side of Manhattan are a more eclectic blending of the old with the new and are an example of how quickly NYC communities change. East Village was once punk-central and hippie-haven, but upscale restaurants and hotels are moving in. Chinatown has expanded, taking over much of Little Italy and Jewish Lower East Side. You can still taste and see the history of each area, holding on against waves of the newest trendy cafes, shops and nightclubs.

The east side is rich in soul and experiences, and has both cheaper and upscale options for tourists. Let’s dig into each neighborhood’s unique vibe. Then I’ll point out some great hotel ideas to consider.

East Village: Vintage and Swank, Poets and Punks

The birthplace of NYC’s punk scene and Off-Off-Broadway theater (yes, you read that right wink), East Village has affectionately been called “rock and roll.” Its cheaper rents (cheaper being a relative term in NYC) attracted a young international community, giving rise to a population of skaters, punks, and artists. East Village is known for its great nightlife, but has evolved to embrace swanky cocktail bars next to its old-school dive bars. Find indie-rock, blues, folk and comedy clubs.

You’ll find lots of punk-inspired shopping, Asian grocers and restaurants (home-style and fusion), and boutiques and souvenir shops. Shop for vintage clothes, used books, vinyl, comics, old-school gamer paraphernalia or your next tattoo. Find amazing grab-and-go food like lobster rolls, $1 pizza-by-the-slice, Montreal-style delis, and taco bars, and amazing sit-down spots like Ukranian, Italian, Jamaican and good ol’ burger joints.

Local sites:

  • St Marks Place: The face of East Village, this three-block strip of East 8th Street (from Astor Place to Tompkins Square Park) offers a variety of restaurants and shops, including souvenirs.
  • Tompkins Square Park (E 10th St): The neighborhood’s largest green space. With a history of protests, this park now hosts festivals and families. It has a playground and dog run.
  • St. Marks Church-in-the-Bowery (131 E 10th St): Enjoy an evening of poetry reading in this 1799 church.
  • Shopping: Vintage finds on E 9th Street between Avenue A and Second Avenue with tiny yet well-stocked boutiques. Great bookstores include Strand Bookstore (828 Broadway) that has several floors of used books and deep discounts on newer releases, and Mast Books (72 Avenue A) stocking used and rare books, including a great selection of literature and art books.
  • Nightclubs: Bowery Electric (327 Bowery) plays indie, new wave, soul, blues and folk acts. Webster Hall (125 E 11th St) showcases more mainstream acts in its 1886 space.
  • Must try: A famous egg cream at Gem Spa corner store (corner of St Mark’s: 131 2nd Ave); supposedly the birthplace of a NYC delicacy made by blasting milk and flavored syrup (usually chocolate or vanilla) with seltzer.

Lower East Side: Vibrant Energy and Immigrant Legacy

Much like East Village, Lower East Side is known for its fun nightlife and gritty history. At nighttime, you’ll mix with stylish young crowds lining up for trendy bars, clubs, music venues, restaurants and galleries. Its theaters showcase classics, new indie films, and hard-to-find world cinema.

During the day, explore the area’s chic boutique shops, contemporary art galleries, classic eateries, and Jewish immigrant history. Orchard Street is great for wandering, with avant-garde galleries next to old-world fabric stores and traditional delis. Explore the Tenement Museum, which features six restored apartments from five different decades of housing immigrants. The Museum at Eldridge Street is in the area’s first synagogue (1887) and now displays how the area’s first Jewish immigrants lived. Synagogue walking tours are available through the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy.

Local sites:

  • Museums: Tenement Museum (103 Orchard St) showcases six restored apartments in a preserved immigrant home from 1863. The Museum at Eldridge Street (12 Eldridge St) reveals the life of an early Jewish immigrant inside the area’s first synagogue (1887).
  • Food: Katz’s deli (205 E Houston St) has been around since 1888 and is where the infamous Meg Ryan scene from When Harry Met Sally was filmed. Russ & Daughters cafe (127 Orchard St) has been serving Jewish comfort food since 1914.
  • Parks: Sara D Roosevelt Park is along Christie Street (from East Houston to Canal) with gardens, a bird park and playgrounds (apparently near where Billy the Kid was born). East River Park (continuing from East Village down to Pier 42) has an outdoor gyms, amphitheater and walking paths along the East River.
  • Music: The Mercury Lounge (217 E Houston St) is a popular spot and where the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Stokes got their start. Bowery Ballroom (6 Delancey Street), awarded #1 Best Club in America by Rolling Stone Magazine, hosts new “happening” musicians with bars on all three floors, including a quieter lounge in the basement.

Little Italy: Definitely “Little” but Full of Flavor

Surrounded by Chinatown to its south/east and swanky shops of SoHo and Nolita to its north/west, Little Italy rallies along its main thoroughfare of Mulberry Street. On summer weekends, Mulberry Street becomes a pedestrian mall, lined with souvenir shops and traditional Italian bakeries and eateries with red-and-white checkered tablecloths. Gaze up at the tenement buildings, once home to immigrants who settled here in the late 1800s.

If you’re here in September, celebrate Italian heritage at the busy Feast of San Gennaro festival. It’s one of NYC’s oldest street fairs, celebrating the patron saint of Naples with food and festivities.

Local sites:

  • Di Palo’s Fine Foods (200 Grand St): a longtime, family-owned Italian shop selling delicious cheeses, meats, pasta, sauce, oils and vinegars.
  • Ferrara Bakery & Café (195 Grand St): in operation since 1892, this spot is known for its cannoli and espresso.
  • Must try: A cooking class! Pizza Making School (158 Grand St) has a 4-hour class to make delicious NYC pizza. Miette Culinary Studio (132 Mulberry Street, Suite 2D) offers various classes.

Chinatown: Bursting with Deliciousness

Roam Chinatown’s busy narrow streets to find tons of souvenir shops, bubble tea, fresh food markets, and delicious restaurant options. Take your bubble tea to Columbus Park for Tai Chi, chess and Mahjong. Or head to Chatham Square and watch the traffic converge from eight streets. In the evening, explore the basement bars of Doyers Street.

Local sites:

  • Museum of Chinese in America (215 Centre St): This museum elegantly retells the Chinese immigrant experience. On the first Thursday of each month, the museum is open until 9 p.m. and admission is free.
  • Dim Sum: Jing Fong (20 Elizabeth St) is a massive space serving traditional Cantonese dim sum with more than 100 dishes. Nom Wah Tea Parlor (13 Doyers St) is a smaller dim sum parlor that opened in 1920.
  • Soup dumplings: Joe’s Shanghai (9 Pell St) packs a ton of flavor. 456 Shanghai Cuisine (69 Mott St) rivals Joe’s but is much less busy.

Places to Stay:

Most of the hotel options on the east side of Manhattan are found in Lower East Side near Sara D Roosevelt Park. Which is great, because it’s pretty central, putting you in easy walking distance to all that’s great on the east side as well as SoHo and other areas to the west. When picking a place, watch the customer reviews; some are definitely better than others.

Below are options in great locations, are reasonably priced and have strong reviews:

  • St Marks Hotel (2 St Marks Pl; $180+): this basic hotel is in a terrific spot, right where St Marks Place begins. Includes wifi.
  • East Village Hotel (147 First Ave, East Village; $250+): charming brick walls, free wifi, kitchenette, breakfast and great location.
  • The Ridge Hotel (151 E Houston St, Lower East Side; $175+): this boutique hotel is in a great location near the subway and Orchard St and easy walking to Little Italy and beyond. It has a rooftop terrace, free wifi and strong reviews.
  • Off Soho Suites (11 Rivington St, Lower East Side; $200+): this all-suite, apartment-style hotel is basic but roomy and includes wifi and a kitchenette. Rated well for comfort, location and service.
  • Hotel Mulberry (52 Mulberry St, Chinatown; $260+): this modern hotel overlooks Columbus Park and includes wifi and a continental breakfast. It has strong reviews for clean rooms, comfortable beds, city views, great service and great location.

4. Upper West Side: Charming Brownstones, Parks, Museums and Cafes

Rowers on Central Park pond with iconic Upper West Side buildings in the background

Upper West Side is charming, calming and iconic.

The Upper West Side is an enchanting, primarily residential neighborhood in Manhattan, nestled between the Hudson River and Central Park. Its tree-lined brownstones, bakeries, delis and cafes make this area so fun to wander. What makes it extra special, though, is the friendliness of the people out walking their dogs or picking something up at the local market.

The Upper West Side is home to iconic performing arts centers like the Lincoln Center, universities like The Juilliard School, and museums like American Museum of Natural History. On its west along the Hudson River is Riverside Park and on the east is Central Park, and lovely green spaces are scattered throughout. Architecture buffs will enjoy roaming the area for its many prominent and historical landmarks, like luxury apartment buildings, elegant row houses, and the neoclassical Shearith Israel Synagogue. It’s cheaper compared to the Upper East Side, which borders the other side of Central Park and is home to “museum mile,” but has all of the same benefits.

Broadway is the main road connecting north to south, and is lined with restaurants, live music venues, shops and subway stops every few blocks.

The main negative to staying in the Upper West Side is if you want more of a “happening” place. We roamed the quiet, beautiful side streets in the evening, feeling safe and loving the great little coffee shops we found. There are great live music venues, but it’s not a club-hopping place. We also couldn’t find a souvenir shop on our last day.

Local sites:

  • Wander Broadway, Amsterdam Avenue and Columbus Avenue for shopping, restaurants and live music venues.
  • American Museum of Natural History (Central Park West & 79th St): With four floors of permanent exhibits, including the famous dinosaurs, plus frequent events, shows and special exhibitions, there’s SO much to see and do here. Visitors recommend starting at the top floor.
  • Lincoln Center (where Broadway and Columbus meet): A 16.3 acre complex featuring 11 performing arts organizations, including the New York Philharmonic, Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Ballet. You can often get cheaper tickets by holding up a $20 to buy from someone unable to attend; or, enjoy a free Juilliard university ensemble, which is one of the best music schools in the world.
  • The Beacon Theatre (2124 Broadway): An iconic, historical venue for performing arts. It’s hosted big-name artists like Michael Jackson and the Rolling Stones.
  • Central Park (59th St north to 110th St): Ideally give yourself a relaxing day to explore its 843 acres. It’s home to the Central Park Zoo, Bethesda Terrace, Delacorte Theatre (hosts Shakespeare in the Park open-air theatre in the summer), a vintage carousel, and numerous ponds, open green spaces, memorials, sculptures, fountains and bridges. Visit The Met (The Metropolitan Museum of Art) and enjoy the view from its rooftop.
  • Riverside Park (W 72nd Street north to Harlem): A lush, floral promenade and a walkway right beside the Hudson River.

Where to eat:

  • Market: Zabar’s (2245 Broadway) has a huge selection of gourmet food, including lots of cheeses, smoked fish, coffee and desserts.
  • Brunch: Old-style Jewish bakery and deli Barney Greengrass (541 Amsterdam Ave); popular Levain Bakery (167 W 74th St) that donates unsold goods to charity; and, lovely Sarabeth’s (423 Amsterdam Ave) serving delicious sit-down brunch.
  • Desserts: Cafe Lalo (201 W 83rd St), Magnolia Bakery (200 Columbus Ave) and Alice’s Tea Cup (102 W 73rd St).
  • Meals: Grey’s Papaya famous hot dog (2090 Broadway), Viand Cafe (W 85th St at Columbus Ave) and 8th Hill Inspired Mediterranean Cuisine (359 Columbus Ave) is delicious with outdoor seating.
  • Drinks: Empire Hotel Rooftop Bar (44 W 63rd St) is right next to Lincoln Center and offers a great vibe and great view of Manhattan.

Places to stay:

The Upper West Side has a mixture of luxury hotels in the south end near Lincoln Center, hostels towards the north and mid-range scattered mostly along Broadway. Like everywhere else in NYC, prices fluctuate a lot depending on the season, so check often to snag a good rate.

Here are three very nice, budget-friendly options with very strong reviews:

  • Hotel Belleclaire (2175 Broadway; $200+): this is where we stayed and loved it. It’s a boutique hotel in a historic building, so the rooms and bathrooms are small but comfortable and the service – including concierge, who got us great Broadway tickets – is friendly and helpful. The location is great, just off Broadway. Includes wifi.
  • Arthouse Hotel (2178 Broadway; $250+): just across Broadway from Hotel Belleclaire, this is also a great option that includes wifi and a continental breakfast. It’s rated high for comfortable beds, great service and great location.
  • Excelsior Hotel (45 W 81st St; $250+): overlooking American Museum of Natural History, this very comfortable hotel is in a terrific location next to Central Park and the subway. Includes wifi and optional buffet breakfast, which visitors rate high.

In Summary … and Resources

After comparing these popular Manhattan NYC areas to stay in, I understand why they’re all so popular. I want to stay in all of them! Neighborhoods on the west side are classy with great nightlife; those on the east side are rich in soul with great nightlife; Upper West Side is so very charming with its homey, welcoming vibe; and even Times Square promises a great time (although I’d be staying on the outskirts).

So … which neighborhood has the NYC experience you’re after? Please share below!

Have you considered staying outside Manhattan? Check out the other posts in this series, NYC Areas Compared:

And if you love You’ve Got Mail, check out my ULTIMATE You’ve Got Mail walking tour with 26 stops!

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Planning Resources for NYC

If you’re looking for great online resources for planning a trip to New York City, here are two of my favorites:

And here is a VERY helpful subway map and ferry information.

Remember to SHARE this post with your TRAVEL COMPANIONS!

Featured photo credit (NYC aerial view): Benjamin Gremler from Unsplash.

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