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 had family and friends visit me more often than the introvert in me wishes they would.
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
Layout of New York City
When most folks think of New York City, they mostly think of Manhattan. However 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 since it has the highest concentration of attractions. Hence we’ll focus our attention here and dabble a little into Brooklyn as well.
Before deciding where to stay in New York City, you should first have a rough understanding of the city and its layout. There are over 50 neighborhoods and unless you’re somewhat oriented it’s easy to get overwhelmed.
Manhattan is split into downtown, Midtown, and Uptown (duh) and each area has their own unique neighborhoods.
Uptown is generally more quiet and residential, Midtown is always busy and alive, and downtown is home to the financial district, chock full of Skyscrapers and narrow streets.
You can access most places via subway, but the first step in deciding where to stay in New York City is understanding the general layout of Manhattan.
Where to Stay in New York City
Where to stay in Manhattan
Best Neighborhood for Families: The Upper West Side
Bordering Central Park to the west, the Upper West Side is one of the best places to stay in New York City with kids in tow.
It is one of the calmest neighborhoods in NYC, peppered with gorgeous brownstones, numerous parks, playgrounds, restaurants and stores.
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 just about anywhere you need to go.
In a city that is rarely, if ever, quiet the Upper West Side is where to stay in New York City for the most tranquil visit. 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 places to stay in New York City in because it’s safe and calm.
In fact, locals choose to settle in this neighborhood for those very reasons, so you’ll get an authentic experience of what daily life in NYC looks like in this area.
Best Things to do 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!).
- 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.
Further Reading: 18+ EPIC Things to Do in the Upper West Side
Best hotels 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, it’s one of the best places to stay in New York City — each street is charming and demands exploration.
This NYC neighborhood attracts young folks, artists and musicians. Since two universities are located in the Village there’s always a lively buzz. And speaking of college students, Washington Square Park has been the sight of major American protests and rallies.
Also worth noting, Greenwich Village is home to the Stonewall Inn. This is where the Stonewall Riots took place in 1969 leading to the modern LGBTQ+ movement. Safe to say this neighborhood has always been at the center of cultural movements in America.
You’ll notice a large share of happy young couples, strolling the streets hand-in-hand because the beauty of this neighborhood makes everything feel dreamy. I consider it one of the best places to stay in New York City for those looking to
Best things to do Greenwich Village
- Take photos in front of iconic TV locations. Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment from Sex and the City and the exterior of the Friends building where Rachel, Monica, Chandler and Joey lived are waiting for you to come take a photo. It can’t be that bad if this is where those characters chose to stay in New York City!
- Revel at the Comedy Cellar. As one of the most sought-after comedy clubs in America, the Comedy Cellar has no shortage of famous regular performers. Among them are Jerry Seinfeld, Kevin Hart and Jon Stewart.
- People watch at Washington Square Park. Best known for the grand marble arch that celebrates the centennial of George Washington’s inauguration, the park is also home to an entertaining crowd. These include vendors, street performers and students. Fair warning though, there can be strong smells of marijuana.
Further Reading: 22 Exciting Things to Do in the Charming West Village
Where to eat in the Greenwich Village
- Cafe: Caffe Reggio is credited as the first cafe to introduce cappuccinos to America. Opened in 1927, it has been a Greenwich Village favorite for a long time and is still as beloved as ever.
- Dinner: Tartine is a casual French restaurant with delicious fare and a BYOB policy. It’s one of my favorite restaurants in the city and one you should make an effort to stop at, especially if you’re staying in the Village.
- Drinks: Dante was rated the best bar in the world in 2019 and appeared on the list again in 2020, and after having one of their drinks you’ll understand why. They have two locations in Greenwich Village.
Best hotels in the West Village:
- Affordable: The Jane
- Mid-Range: The Marlton Hotel & Walker Hotel
- Luxury: The Greenwich Hotel & The Mercer
Most upscale NYC neighborhood: The Upper East Side
The Upper East Side is often portrayed as home of wealthy New Yorkers in TV and movies, and in reality, it is! Home to some of the most expensive homes in the country, if you’re looking to live out a Gossip Girl fantasy, the Upper East Side is where to stay in New York City.
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! There’s few places better to stay in New York City for those looking for a high-end experience.
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, also known as the 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. 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. If you choose the UES as where you want to stay in New York City you can visit every day and still not have experienced it all.
- Pop into Albertine Bookstore. This gem of a NYC bookstore is devoted specifically to French literature but carries some English titles as well. The remarkable hand-painted celestial ceiling on the second floor is worth a visit alone!
- Take the Roosevelt Island Tram. The tram takes you from the Upper East Side to Roosevelt Island for the price of a subway ride ($2.75) and the views of NYC from the tram are some of the best in the city. This is a beautiful experience, especially in the spring when the island is bursting with cherry blossoms.
Further Reading: 15 Great Things to Do in the Upper East Side
Where to eat in the Upper East Side:
- Cafe: Ralph’s is a postage-stamp sized cafe with a swanky vibe. Have your coffee to-stay for the full effect.
- Lunch: JG Melon has been 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.
- Drinks: 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.
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, a park made from an old elevated train railway. The park was completed in 2019 and has helped attract both tourists and locals alike to the neighborhood, making it one of the best places to stay in New York City.
Things to do Chelsea
- Walk the High Line. The elevated tracks this NYC park was built on were originally used by freight trains delivering cargo to the city. The elevated promenade stretches 1.5 miles and receives an average of 8 million visitors annually.
- Hang out at Little Island. Little Island is one of the most unique parks in New York City. It’s a redesigned pier that extends over the Hudson River with a beautiful architecture meant to be an oasis in the concrete jungle. The greenspace and water make it tranquil and there are usually vendors selling food & drink.
- Catch a performance at Madison Square Garden. Having served as host to some of the biggest icons in music, comedy and even two popes, the place where MSG truly shines is in regards to sports. Home to the New York Knicks, Chelsea is the best place to stay in New York City if you’re a basketball fan.
Where to eat in Chelsea
- Cafe: Cafe Grumpy is known for two things, their adorably irate logo and delicious cups of coffee. The coffee shop inside the Whole Foods is my go-to when I’m exploring Chelsea.
- Lunch: The Chelsea Market is where I beeline to whenever I’m in Chelsea and hungry. The food hall has all types of food, my go-to is Los Tacos No. 1 and my wife’s is Very Fresh Noodles.
- Drinks: Raines Law Room is my suggestion for drinks, but I suggest making reservations in advance. The speakeasy is a classy cocktail lounge that can is both a great spot for a date or just casual drinking.
Best hotels in Chelsea:
Best NYC neighborhood for shopping: SoHo
SoHo (South of Houston St.) has seen as much change as any of the other New York City neighborhoods. It was home to the first free black settlement in Manhattan, became a booming manufacturing site and today is a shoppers paradise.
When you first visit SoHo, you might notice that the buildings look a little different from the rest of Manhattan. That’s because it was constructed to house warehouses and commercial buildings. The cast iron facades are some different from brownstones or skyscrapers you’ll find elsewhere, but still just as iconic.
In fact, most of SoHo is included in the “SoHo Cast-Iron District”, both a New York City and National Historic Landmark.
The cobble stone streets of SoHo give way to one of the best places to stay in New York City. The former factories and warehouses have since been converted into expensive condos equipped with storefronts at the ground level.
Things to do SoHo
- Spend the day shopping. You’ll find quite the mishmash of high-end luxury designers, unique boutiques and clothing stores in SoHo, all crammed together from one block to the next. If you decide on SoHo as where to stay in New York City pack an extra suitcase in case you get carried away!
- Enjoy some sweets at the Museum of Ice Cream. The Museum of Ice Cream might be deemed a museum but it feels more like a playground. Adults love this interactive museum as much as kids because it’s ripe for exploration!
- Take a self-guided tour through the Cast Iron District. SoHo Broadway is a community group and they have developed an app that allows you to learn about some of the neighborhoods most iconic buildings, their architecture and history. It’s a fun way to spend the afternoon, snap some photos and peruse at your own pace.
Where to eat in SoHo
- Cafe: Balthazar is tiny and cute NYC bakery that sells thousands of croissants a day, which is probably all you need to know about how good they are. And it’s true, the croissants are perfect, but so is everything else on the menu.
- Meal: Jack’s Wife Freda is one of the most photographed restaurants in NYC thanks to the floral arrangement that that adorns the entrance. What you may not know is that it’s one of the best restaurants in NYC. Whether it’s for brunch, lunch or dinner the American-Mediterranean cuisine is hard to beat.
- Another Cafe: Dominique Ansel is so good I couldn’t leave it off the list. I first visited for the world-famous cronut and left with a handful of irresistible baked goods. And I must admit this iconic bakery in NYC is completely worth the hype.
Best Hotels in SoHO
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 bright lights and noise, may I suggest Brooklyn as a place where you should stay in New York City?
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 Manhattan Bridge Overpass).
The Brooklyn neighborhood has seen quite the rejuvenation in recent years. With prices skyrocketing in Manhattan a lot of folks moved just outside the borough into Brooklyn, which has caused a boom there too.
Between the cobblestone streets and beautiful brick buildings, you’ll see why this is one of the best places to stay in New York City. Tons of the warehouses were repurposed into beautiful condos with striking views of the NYC skyline.
And since it’s directly across the East River from lower Manhattan there’s easy access to the most popular attractions.
There aren’t too many hotel options in DUMBO, so you’ll need to fork over a pretty penny in order to stay in this part of New York City. My favorite hotel in the area is the 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge.
Things to do DUMBO
- Walk the Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge spans one mile and takes about 15-20 minutes to walk across, but you should allocate more time because you’ll want to take photos (you can see the Statue of Liberty from here!).
- Explore Brooklyn Bridge Park. The irresistible view of the Brooklyn Bridge takes center stage as happy couples pepper the lawn with picnic blankets and pizza boxes in tow. All you need to do is watch the sun set over Manhattan’s epic skyline to see what all the fuss is about.
- Take the ferry. Taking the ferry is like taking the subway. Both have a fare of $2.75 (one way) and are easy to figure out. The views are stunning and no matter how many times I’ve done it, it still takes my breath away.
Where to eat in DUMBO
- Cafe: % Arabica offers stellar views of the Brooklyn Bridge and one you won’t want to miss. With in-house roasting machines you truly get to experience the freshness and boldness of their coffee.
- Lunch: Julianna’s is home to some of the best pizza in NYC. Most evenings, the line is out the door and around the block, but if you go during lunch your wait time should be shorter. Pies run around $25 a piece and feed two.
- Drinks: Timeout Market is a collection of 21 of the best restaurants in New York City, and on the rooftop there’s a bar. My suggestion, show up for happy hour and enjoy the afternoon sipping and enjoying the views.
Best Brooklyn neighborhood for nightlife: Williamsburg
Like DUMBO, Williamsburg is separated from Manhattan by the East River. You will get some of the absolute best views of NYC from any of their many vantage points, making this one of the best places to stay in New York City.
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.
Although it does have a bustling night-life scene, Williamsburg is still generally quieter than most parts of Manhattan.
There is no shortage of people eyeing Williamsburg as a place to stay in New York City, so options can be pricey. However with the abundance of things to do, relaxed ambience and easy access to Manhattan it warrants consideration.
Things to do Williamsburg
- Hang out at Domino Park. Domino Park to me is the most underrated park in New York City. The views of Manhattan are unrivaled and being by the water is pure bliss, especially at sunrise & sunset!
- Spend your quarters at Barcade. Whether you choose to get some booze or not, being at an old school arcade is more fun than you’d think. Try to beat the high-score or just try your hand at one of these nostalgic games.
- Walk the Williamsburg Bridge. Although it’s noisier than it’s southern neighbor the Brooklyn Bridge, the Williamsburg bridge warrants a visit thanks to its photo-worthy panoramic views.
Where to eat in Williamsburg
- Cafe: Qahwah House is the cafe you want to go to for a step out of the ordinary. Qahwah is the Arabic word for coffee, and Qahwah House is a Yemeni coffee shop in Williamsburg. Serving authentic and organically sourced coffee directly from Yemen, I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend the Yemeni Latte.
- Dinner: Misi, right next to Domino Park, is a pasta joint that prides itself on handmade pastas and modern vibe. You can’t go wrong with any dish, but I’m partial to the spinach and mascarpone filled tortelli.
- Drinks: Westlight is a rooftop restaurant at the top of the William Vale Hotel. With stunning views of Manhattan and drink in hand it’s hard to have a bad time. PS, order the fries, so good.
Best Hotels in Williamsburg
Two NYC neighborhoods I wouldn’t recommend for first time visitors
So, why wouldn’t I recommend this NYC neighborhood for first time visitors looking for a place to stay in New York City? Simply put, it’s far too touristy and busy.
I made the mistake of suggesting an aunt stay near Times Square 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 amongst the city’s top attractions (Times Square, Broadway and Rockefeller Center.)
However between the flashing lights of Times Square and the constant noise of the busy streets, this neighborhood can get overwhelming and if this is where you stay in New York City you won’t really get a break from it.
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 Times Square because the action is nonstop. You know yourself best, but I’m just sharing my two cents in helping you choose where to stay in New York City.
Why wouldn’t 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 (or therefore, enjoyable).
I don’t want to discourage folks from visiting something in Hell’s Kitchen, I think you should see what you came to see. However that doesn’t mean that’s the best place to stay in New York City. You can visit during the day and even the evening and still have a blast.
In fact, New York City by and large is a safe place, especially in the top tourists attractions in Manhattan. Just stick to using basic street-smarts (like using the main roads at night) and enjoy your stay.
Tips for deciding where to stay in NYC
- Decide what type of experience you’re after. Some folks visit simply with the intention of being tourists whereas other want to live like New Yorkers. Where you stay in New York City will affect the experience.
- List your top attractions. Whether it’s your first or fifth time in NYC, there will be things you want to see. After listing and mapping them you might notice a cluster of them are in the same neighborhood, at which point you can decide if that’s where you want to stay in New York City.
- Determine your budget & book in advance. I can’t stress this enough, making a game-plan is imperative for a successful trip to NYC. After all it is the 6th most expensive city in the world and you don’t want your whole budget going towards a hotel you’re only going to sleep in.
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
Love 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
Hope you found this guide helpful in deciding where to stay in New York City!