Where to Stay in New York City: A Neighborhood Guide for First Time Visitors

Wondering where to stay in New York City? I’ve visited so many times over the years (starting when I was fifteen), so I thought I’d write down a guide!

I absolutely love visiting New York City. I’m not sure I would ever really enjoy living here. Dealing with the MTA on a daily basis, crying as I pay 2x as much for a meal as I would in PA, and the entire winter season would, I’m sure, sour me pretty quickly. However, I definitely love popping up for a weekend or even a full week if I can manage!

Whenever I’m home near Philly, I often try to pop up to NYC no matter the season it seems! I’ve even successfully driven from Brooklyn up through Manhattan to go to Rhode Island during rush hour and during the Rockefeller Christmas tree lighting. It was very poor planning on my part, but I made it!

Anyway, with all that said, here are my tips on where to stay in New York City!

Understanding How Big New York City is

New York City is massive. The city is spread out over 302.6 square miles (784 km2) over five major boroughs:

  • The Bronx: The Bronx is north of Manhattan, separated by the Harlem River, and Queens, separated by the East River.
  • Manhattan: South of the Bronx and tapers off where the Hudson River and East River meet, Brooklyn across the way of the East River
  • Brooklyn: Across from Manhattan, it and Queens are actually on the same land as Long Island
  • Queens: Borders Brooklyn to the west and is south of The Bronx, separated by the East River
  • Staten Island: On its own island to the other side of Brooklyn, separated by Upper Bay

I remember a friend telling me she hasn’t made time to go see the Christmas lights in Dyker Heights because it’s such a hassle to get from where she lives in Upper Manhattan all the way down to one of the more southern parts of Brooklyn. I actually think we driving from Philly would be faster than her navigating the subway or even paying for a car/tour in the nighttime Christmas traffic!

Anyway, that’s all to say — you want to choose where you stay wisely. For example, it doesn’t make too much sense to stay in Upper Manhattan if a lot of the NYC attractions you want to see are in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Important: Before you do anything, plug in all the places you want to visit in NYC into Google Maps so you have an idea of where they are relative to each other. Then pick a hotel somewhere in the middle and near a subway station!

Where to Stay in New York City: The Areas

I broke this down into what I thought would be the easiest for a first time visitor to organize. Which means I’m breaking this down by neighborhoods and major landmarks (and thus leaving out The Bronx and Staten Island, sorry!)

Queens – John F Kennedy Airport

Let’s just get this option out of the way shall we? Both of NYC’s major airports, La Guardia and JFK, are in Queens. You can get in between them via Grand Central Parkway in about 30 minutes with traffic.

There are very few reasons I’d imagine anyone visiting NYC would want to stay near the airports. However, I found myself thinking I should’ve done this when I booked a midnight flight from JFK – Norway in January. Let me tell you getting from midtown Manhattan to JFK in January is not my idea of a good time. If I were to do it again, I’d probably stay over night near the airport because there’s the very cool looking TWA Hotel that’s designed to look it’s an airport from the sixties!

Hotels near JFKWhy StayWhere to Book
TWA Hotel $$$retro style with a pool, IN the airportBooking, Hotels
JFK Area Home Away from Home $$homey vibes, good reviewsBooking
Fairfield Inn by Marriott JFK Airport $$decent enough reviews and priceBooking, Hotels
Courtyard by Marriott New York JFK Airport $$$for a more upscale MarriottBooking, Hotels
Brooklyn, NYC

Brooklyn – DUMBO & Nearby Neighborhoods

Brooklyn is a pretty big borough! If you’re still keen on sightseeing but want a slightly more residential vibe, then you’re going to want to stay somewhere near the famous DUMBO (Down under Manhattan Bridge Overpass) neighborhood. You’ll get the famous view above and still be a short subway ride from Manhattan. DUMBO’s surrounding neighborhoods include Brooklyn Heights and Downtown Brooklyn!

Notable things to do near DUMBO in Brooklyn

Obviously the big thing is the Manhattan Bridge photo spot (at the intersection of Water St and Washington St). You can also visit Jane’s Carousel, which dates back to 1922; walk along Brooklyn Bridge park for the best waterfront views, cross the Brooklyn Bridge, eat at Time Out Market, and do a lot more. Further in is the Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Hotels near DUMBOWhy StayWhere to Book
1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge $$$$super luxe stay on the waterfront,
focus on sustainability
Booking, Hotels.com
The Tillary Hotel Brooklyn $$$chic boutique vibes in Downtown BrooklynBooking, Hotels.com
New York Marriott at the
Brooklyn Bridge $$$
classic Marriott stay with nice viewsBooking, Hotels.com

There’s a ton more to Brooklyn than just this area, but I think they’re more for return visitors. Check our my friends’ site, Your Brooklyn Guide, if you want more!

Downtown Manhattan

Lower Manhattan starts at 14th Street and goes to the end of Manhattan. It’s home to quite a few famous neighborhoods you’ve probably seen on TV including the Financial District and Wall Street, SoHo, Chinatown, Tribeca, the Meatpacking District, West Village, Little Italy, Nolita, Lower Chelsea, Greenwich Village, Lower Manhattan and East Village.

Notable things to do in Downtown Manhattan

I think of all the places to stay in NYC, this would be my personal pick. I stayed at an acquaintance’s place in East Village for a week on random spring, and I loved being in this location! Besides all the cool things to do in Lower Manhattan, you’re still fairly close to Midtown and Brooklyn, and from Battery Park, you can get a ferry to Staten Island to see the Statue or Liberty from afar for free! (And obviously the Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty ferries, just not for free).

You could also do a Brooklyn Bridge walk from this side. Don’t forget to check out a number of cool museums like the Tenement Museum, Jewish Heritage, or the Whitney Museum of American Art. Pay your respects at the 9/11 Museum, Ground Zero, the 9/11 Memorial South Pool, and the Oculus. Pop over to Bowling Green, the oldest NYC public park and take in the views from One World Trade. For “Friends” fans, their famous apartment exterior is at 90 Bedford St. There’s a TON more I’m forgetting, but those spots will get you started!

Hotels in Downtown ManhattanWhy StayWhere to Book
Crosby Street Hotel (SoHo) $$$$fun, funky interior designBooking
The Beekman, a Thompson
Hotel (Financial District) $$$$
super chic hotel with
the coolest 9-story atrium
Booking, Hotels.com
citizenM New York Bowery (LES) $$$cool, funky design Booking, Hotels.com
The Frederick Hotel Tribeca $$$clean, modern boutique designBooking, Hotels.com
SIXTY Soho $$$$chic, contemporary boutique designBooking, Hotels.com
Walker Hotel Greenwich Village $$$$1920s-inspired decor, cool viewsBooking, Hotels.com
Hotel Mimosa (Chinatown) $$nice “budget” optionBooking

Midtown/Mid Manhattan

Midtown Manhattan is easily the best place to stay if you want to be in the thick of things and easily get to all the major attractions! It starts north of 14th Street and ends south of Central Park at 59th Street (though some say it starts at 34th). There are SO many famous neighborhoods in Midtown: Rockefeller Center, Theater District, Hudson Yards, Hell’s Kitchen, Garment District, Koreatown, Madison Square, Chelsea and Flatiron District.

Notable things to do in Midtown Manhattan

Pretty much every attraction you’ve seen listed in guides to New York City is here. Whether it’s Times Square, the Empire State Building, Museum of Modern Art, the Flatiron Building, Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Bryant Park, the High Line, Broadway, Grand Central Station, the Vessel, Fifth Avenue… the list could go on and on!

Hotels in Midtown ManhattanWhy StayWhere to Book
Hotel Elysée by Library Collection $$$where I’ve stayed – gorgeous
interiors (read review here)
Booking, Hotels.com
The Whitby $$$$gorgeous, eclectic designBooking, Hotels.com
1 Hotel Central Parkwarm, nature-inspired decor, sustainability focusedBooking, Hotels.com
Baccarat Hotel & Residences New York $$$$super luxe, stunning Parisian decorBooking, Hotels.com
The Chatwal $$$$beautiful art deco design near BroadwayBooking, Hotels.com
Ritz Carlton New York $$$$iconic hotel with Central Park viewsBooking, Hotels.com
Merion Row Hotel & Public House $$$$Irish vibe in Times Square, cool masculine designBooking, Hotels.com
The Plaza $$$$maybe the MOST iconic NYC hotel? (Thanks, Eloise!)Booking, Hotels.com
The Peninsula New York $$$$another iconic NYC hotel, this one near Fifth AveBooking, Hotels.com
Lotte New York Palace $$$$(where the famous Christmas tree is), beautiful, opulent interiorsBooking, Hotels.com
Hotel Scherman $$fun boutique hotel, more midrange optionBooking, Hotels.com
The Duffy Times Square by Kasa $$clean design with pops of color, also a good midrange optionBooking, Hotels.com
Fairfield Inn + Suites by Marriott New York Midtown $$also stayed here; budget
option if you get a good deal!
Booking, Hotels.com
Jazz on Columbus Circle Hostel $good budget option!Booking, Hotels.com

Uptown Manhattan – Central Park (UES & UWS)

Uptown Manhattan covers between from 59th Street to E 96th St and W 110th St and surrounds Central Park. It’s more residential with the famous Upper West Side and Upper East Side but there’s a lot spread out over 37 streets and a whole park! (For record – I’m not including Upper Manhattan, which is different, and goes up from E 96th and W 110th to W 218th St/Harlem River).

Notable things to do in Uptown Manhattan

I mean, Central Park is the big thing to see and it extends from spans 51 streets! Admittedly, I don’t know too much about the park and have mostly just been to Bethesda Terrace! I do want to see Belvedere Castle on a return trip.

There are also a lot of museums near the park, including: The Frick Collection, The Jewish Museum, Museum of the City of New York, American Museum of Natural History, New York Historical Society, The Met, and more!

Hotels in Uptown ManhattanWhy StayWhere to Book
The Sherry Netherland (UES) $$$$ultimate luxe stay with stunning interiorsBooking, Hotels.com
The Pierre NY $$$$opulently designed, historic hotel on the UESBooking, Hotels.com
Lowell Hotel $$$$gorgeous, historic UES hotelBooking, Hotels.com
voco The Franklin New York $$$clean, chic hotel, good midrange option if you book at the right timeBooking, Hotels.com
HI NYC Hostel (UWS) $best budget optionBooking

NYC Budget Options + Tips

It’s really not cheap at all to stay in New York City. I listed all the decent budget hotels below, but they’re still going to but a sizeable dent in your bank account.

Here are some tips to make it a little more affordable:

Use Facebook groups

Weird advice, but there are so many travel groups on Facebook, especially groups specifically for women. I’ve seen so many listings pop up. Many people can’t technically rent out their spaces, so Airbnb isn’t an option. Instead, they’ll put their places up in these groups for when they’re traveling or just away.

The whole reason I stayed in the East Village, actually, was because I connected with someone who lived there. I stayed in her apartment while she was away and it only cost me $50/night.

That said, also check out Airbnb for listings!

Go off-season

This is a no-brainer but your chances of finding deals are much higher during the off-season. I highly doubt I could find a good deal between Christmas and New Years!

Check for last minute deals or daily deals.

My friend and I actually scored our hotel for $99/night when we went in February. It was offseason, of course, and I think we were going on a Sunday into a Monday. We were smack dab in Hells Kitchen and within walking distance of everything we wanted to do. Plus breakfast was even included! That’s a win-win in my book.

Save money elsewhere.

Another no-brainer, but hey, it’s always worth reminding. If your accommodation eats up a lot of your budget, try to save elsewhere. Check out the days when certain attractions might be free, walk as often as you can or take the subway, and eat at the cheaper restaurants or pack snacks for yourself from the grocery store.

Though do note, there’s a reason to avoid places with health inspection ratings less than an A!

Don’t stay in Midtown or Downtown but in other boroughs.

If budget is a big concern, then you might want to consider looking at other neighborhoods or cities and just having a bit of commute to get to where you want to go.

Heck, you could even consider places in New Jersey near the subway.

And there you have it! All my best tips on where to stay in New York City and some hotel recommendations!

for more travel in the usa

The USA is a massive country, and I always love discovering new places to visit. I’m actually pretty sure I’ll still be hearing of new gems when I’m 90 years old and need a wheelchair to get around! Since I’ve been interested in travel, I’ve visited a number of different places in the US alone. Check out some of posts:

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