Are you trying to figure out where to stay in New York City?
I have lived in New York City for the past 8 years. In that time, I’ve hosted family and friends more than 100 times (the introvert in me wishes I were kidding, I’m not).
I used my beloved visitors as guinea pigs (so sorry, but it had to be done) by recommending hotels in various New York City neighborhoods. In doing so, I’ve garnered some great (and honest) feedback about the best places to stay in New York City for first timers.
This “experiment” partnered with personal experience of living in NYC for the past 8+ years, has given me invaluable first-hand knowledge of where to stay in NYC for first time visitors.
In fact, this is the exact list I share with my own family and friends when they visit New York City. Well, the ones that are still talking to me. 😉
“I love New York, even though it isn’t mine, the way something has to be, a tree or a street or a house, something, anyway, that belongs to me because I belong to it.”– Truman Capote
Where to Stay in New York City
Where to stay in Manhattan
When most folks think of New York City, they mostly think of Manhattan. As such, you may be surprised to learn that NYC is comprised of five separate boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island.
Most first-time visitors spend the majority of their time exploring Manhattan and Brooklyn so for the sake of this article, we’ll focus on those two boroughs. Let’s cover the best spots to stay in NYC for first time visitors that plan to stay in Manhattan.
Best NYC neighborhood for families: The Upper West Side
Bordering Central Park to the west, the Upper West Side is one of the calmest neighborhoods in NYC. Peppered with gorgeous brownstones, numerous parks, playgrounds, restaurants and stores, this is a great spot to stay in NYC with kids in tow.
What’s more, the area is well connected to the subway, with two subway lines to choose from: the 1,2,3 and the A/C/B/D, which means you’ll have an easy time getting anywhere you need to go.
The Upper West Side is also home to the notable American Museum of Natural History, arguably the best museum in New York City for kids. Afterwards, cross the street to explore Central Park and let your kiddos run off some steam.
As such, you’ll find yourself amongst lots of families (think moms with strollers) and young couples. The Upper West Side is one of the best neighborhoods in NYC to live in because it’s safe and calm, so you’ll get an authentic experience of what daily life in NYC looks like in this area.
Oh, and whatever you do, don’t forget to visit Levain Bakery’s flagship store, located on 74th between Amsterdam and Columbus Ave.
Best hotels in the Upper West Side
- Mid-Range: The Hotel Beacon & The Empire Hotel
- Luxury: Mandarin Oriental
Best Things to Do in the Upper West Side
Visit the American Museum of Natural History: Arguably the best museum in NYC for kids. This incredible science museum is home to 33 million specimens, yet only 3% are on display (and even that amount can get quite overwhelming!).
Don’t miss the Hall of Ocean Life where you’ll have an opportunity to see a life-size model of a 94-foot blue whale — it’s an experience you won’t soon forget. Also, the taxidermy mammals are remarkable and have captivated both children and adults for years.
Enjoy a performance at the Lincoln Center: The Lincoln Center is home to the Metropolitan Opera House, New York Philharmonic, New York City Opera, New York City Ballet, the School of American Ballet, Julliard School of Music, the Chamber Music Society and the Film Society.
In other words, the Lincoln Center is the cultural capital of the Upper West Side. The venue sits on 16-acres and consists of five concert/theater buildings, a library, band shell and two outdoor plazas.
Catch a show at the Beacon Theatre: Opened in 1929, the theater takes up an entire city block and seats 2,600. The strangest part is that experiencing a performance at the Beacon Theater feels like an intimate experience, and the interior is downright stunning. Plus, the acoustics are top-notch and the roster of famous performers is mind boggling.
Further Reading: 18+ EPIC Things to Do in the Upper West Side
Most charming NYC neighborhood: The West Village
The West Village is my favorite neighborhood in New York City, hands down. Between the impeccable brownstones, the lively tree-lined streets and the charming cafes on practically every corner, this is easily one of the best NYC neighborhoods to stay in, especially for first time visitors.
The neighborhood doesn’t fall into the clean grid pattern most other NYC neighborhoods do, but that only adds to the charm. Trust me, getting lost in the West Village is the best part about staying here — each street is charming and demands exploration.
This NYC neighborhood attracts young folks, artists and musicians. You’ll also notice a large share of happy young couples, strolling the streets hand-in-hand because the beauty of this neighborhood makes everything feel dreamy.
The neighborhood feels calm during the daytime, with lingering restaurant patrons chatting away on every corner, before coming alive in the evening. You’ll find your fair share of cozy jazz clubs and live musicians as the sun starts to set.
I recommend spending an evening at Tartine (a casual French restaurant with delicious fare and a BYOB policy) and popping over to Washington Square Park every chance you get.
Hotels are hard to come by in the West Village so they won’t come cheap. To that end, here’s some options:
Best hotels in the West Village:
- Affordable: The Jane
- Mid-Range: The Marlton & Walker Hotel
- Luxury: The Greenwich Hotel & The Mercer Hotel
Best Things to Do in the West Village
Have a celebratory dinner at Petite Boucherie: Serving classic French fare in a Parisian environment, Petite Boucherie checks all the boxes for Francophiles. Tucked away on the corner of Gay Street and Christopher Street, this cozy French restaurant is the perfect spot to celebrate a momentous occasion.
Have a drink at the best bar in the world (seriously): What better way to cap off an adventurous day in the West Village than by getting a drink at Dante? Dante was rated the best bar in the world in 2019 and appeared on the list again in 2020.
The menu is well curated with small fare and the drinks are perfectly executed. The hardest part about this experience is getting reservations because this is one of the most popular things to do in the West Village.
Catch a jazz show: Home to some of the most significant jazz clubs in the world, the music scene in the West Village is hard to beat. Chances are high that you’ll come across talented street performers playing jazz while you walk the neighborhood, but if you’d like to make the occasion special, I suggest making reservations at a jazz club for an experience you won’t soon forget.
Further Reading: 17 Exciting Things to Do in the Charming West Village
Most upscale NYC neighborhood: The Upper East Side
The Upper East Side is home to some of the most expensive homes in the country (it’s where the majority of NYC billionaires live).
As you can expect, the neighborhood is one of the safest in NYC and also the most lavish. Just take a stroll down Madison Avenue and you’ll see what I mean — store after store of luxury brands you may not have even heard of yet.
And don’t even get me started on the exceptional restaurants and bars in the area — there’s too many to name!
The neighborhood itself is lovely and very clean, plus the white brownstones are an incredible sight to behold too. Wander the blocks between 59th and 80th street for some of the most beautiful homes in NYC.
Also, having access to the Metropolitan Museum of Art MET (the 5th largest museum in NYC) is one of the many reasons this is one of the best places to stay in New York City.
Oh, lest I forget, Central Park is at your fingertips too. The advantages of staying in the Upper East Side just keep adding up, don’t they?
As you can imagine, hotels in the Upper East Side will run a pretty penny. It’s pretty much solely luxury hotels in this zip code. So if budget isn’t a concern, I suggest the Carlyle, The Mark or the Franklin Hotel.
Best Things to Do Upper East Side
Visit the fifth largest museum in the world: You read that right, the Upper East Side is home to the fifth largest museum in the world — the Metropolitan Museum of Art (more commonly known as the MET). With more than 2 million pieces of art spanning 5,000+ years, the Met is the largest museum in the country and the fifth largest museum in the world.
Have celebratory drinks at Bemelmans Bar: Bemelman’s Bar is one of the best bars in New York City and the UES is lucky to have them. The bar is as classy as they come, with custom hand-drawn wallpaper and a pianist serenading patrons while they sip away on phenomenal cocktails.
Get a classic NYC burger from JG Melon: JG Melon has bee around since 1972 and serves us some of the best burgers in the Big Apple. Think perfectly juicy and flavorful patties sandwiched between buttery buns, it simply doesn’t get better than this. The fries are worth an order and the decor alone warrants a visit.
Further Reading: 15 Great Things to Do in the Upper East Side
Best NYC neighborhood for nightlife: Chelsea
The Chelsea neighborhood is where to stay in New York City if you like to keep your finger on the pulse of the City that Never Sleeps. You’ll find yourself with an abundance of restaurants to choose from, art galleries to explore and ample people-watching opportunities.
The Chelsea neighborhood has seen quite a transformation over the last two decades. The area has become an epicenter for nightlife in NYC, full of lively bars that are open into the late hours of the evening, trendy restaurants and plenty of clubs.
The transformation is largely thanks to the High Line, an epic elevated park that can’t be missed by anyone looking for the best things to do in New York City. Tip: Don’t miss a visit to the Chelsea Market!
Best hotels in Chelsea:
- Mid-Range: INNSIDE New York NOMAD
- Luxury: The High Line Hotel
Best NYC neighborhood for shopping: SoHo
Prior to moving to New York City, if I ever found myself making an impromptu weekend trip for one reason or another, I always booked a stay at the SoHo Grand Hotel.
It’s a boutique hotel in the heart of SoHo (South of Houston Street), which is such an enjoyable neighborhood to explore.
SoHo is mostly known as being the shopping center of NYC — think blocks of every store you could possibly imagine — co-mingled with tons of charming restaurants and cafes. The high concentration of cast-iron buildings makes this an especially interesting area for those that admire architecture as well.
If you’re looking for a trendy place to stay in New York City, look no further than SoHo.
Best Hotels in SoHO
- Affordable: ModernHause SoHo
- Mid-Range: SoHo Grand Hotel
- Luxury: The Mercer & Crosby Street Hotel
Where to stay in Brooklyn
By and large, Brooklyn feels more residential than Manhattan. The most popular areas visitors explore tend to be void of skyscrapers, and the overall pace of this lively borough feels calmer in the best way possible.
In fact, when Manhattan overwhelms me, I tend to spend a weekend day tucked into a safe cafe on a charming corner of a Brooklyn neighborhood.
As such, if you find yourself easily overwhelmed by large cities and noise, may I suggest a staying in Brooklyn?
It is ridiculous to set a detective story in New York City. New York City is itself a detective story.– Agatha Christie
Most trendy neighborhood in Brooklyn: DUMBO
If you’re looking for a trendy place to stay in New York City you need not look further than DUMBO (Down Under the Brooklyn Bridge Overpass).
Between the cobblestone streets and beautiful brick buildings, you’ll see why this is one of the best places to stay in NYC. Tons of the warehouses where repurposed into beautiful condos with striking views of the NYC skyline.
You’ll also have a ton of great restaurants at your disposal, not to mention the epic Time Out Market (a food hall chock-full of little restaurants serving up delicious fare)!
There aren’t too many hotel options in DUMBO, so you’ll need to fork over a pretty penny to stay here. My favorite hotel in the area is the 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge.
Best Brooklyn neighborhood for nightlife: Williamsburg
Williamsburg is separated from Manhattan by the East River, ensuring that you will get some of the absolute best views of NYC from this vantage point.
The neighborhood is often considered hipster, thanks to its expansive art scene and the easy-going locals. Over the past decade or so, Williamsburg has seen a massive uptick in tourism and new residents, it seems like cat is out of the bag.
Best Hotels in Williamsburg
- Mid-Range: Hotel Indigo
- Luxury: The William Vale
NYC Neighborhoods I wouldn’t recommend for first time visitors
So, why wouldn’t I recommend this NYC neighborhood for first time visitors? Simply put, it’s far too touristy and busy.
I made the mistake of suggesting my favorite aunt stay in midtown during her first visit to NYC and ended up getting some honest feedback: there’s way too much going on.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to be in the heart of the city’s top attractions (Times Square, Broadway and Rockefeller Center.) but between the flashing lights of Times Square and the constant noise of the busy streets, staying in Midtown gets overwhelming.
Obviously all first timers MUST visit mid-town during their time in NYC, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay there. It’s good to get into the action, but it’s even better to have the option to leave when you get your fill.
It’s also worth mention that if you’re a night owl, you’ll probably love staying in Midtown because the action is nonstop. You know yourself best, but I’m just sharing my two cents.
Why would I recommend this NYC neighborhood for first time visitors: to be frank, the homeless population is very high and walking around the neighborhood in the evening hours doesn’t feel safe (and therefore, enjoyable).
Where to Stay in NYC (Post Summary)
In sum, these are the best spots to stay in New York City:
- The Upper West Side
- West Village
- The Upper East Side
Map of where to stay in New York City
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“Quite simply, I was in love with New York. I do not mean ‘love’ in any colloquial way, I mean that I was in love with the city, the way you love the first person who ever touches you and you never love anyone quite that way again.”— Joan Didion