The 3 best areas to stay in
New York City

For centuries, arriving in New York City meant you had changed your life in its entirety. You just crossed an ocean to get there – now you had to decide either to stay or keep moving. Today, visiting NYC needs you to make decisions on a smaller scale: Where to stay in New York? What area, what borough, what neighborhood is best? Done right, it might also change your life. It has happened before.

  • Best Neighborhood N° 1 Midtown, Manhattan

    The nucleus of Manhattan

    Midtown, Manhattan
  • Best Neighborhood N° 2 Greenwich Village, Manhattan

    The charming weird small town

    Greenwich Village, Manhattan
  • Best Neighborhood N° 3 Williamsburg, Brooklyn

    Where trends start

    Williamsburg, Brooklyn
  • OH NO! Maybe not

    Life's too short to stay here

    Maybe not

The 3 best areas in New York.

  • 1 Midtown, Manhattan
  • 2 Greenwich Village, Manhattan
  • 3 Williamsburg, Brooklyn
  • Maybe not

Midtown – The nucleus of Manhattan


It was on 3rd Avenue and I was on the way to my hotel in Midtown Manhattan when I saw a guy that looked like Anthony Bourdain after 3 or 4 glasses of wine, trying to get a cab. The fact that I stood there, a couple of steps away from one of my idols, watching him waving at taxis passing by – and not getting one – told me a lot about New York.

You might be famous – people don’t care. This is not L.A. You might be rich – you still take a cab. This is not Dubai. You might be one of the greatest travel professionals out there – you can still fail at transportation. Even if New York is your home town.

Welcome to Midtown, the part of Manhattan that everybody knows and almost everybody defines a bit differently. What’s certain: Midtown is what the world thinks of when imagining New York. Skyscrapers like the Chrysler Building. Shopping at 5th Avenue like the Sex and the City gals. Big corporations like NBC or Citigroup. Donald Trump – like you wouldn’t believe.

You will get:

  • the New York from
    the movies
  • skyscrapers and
    steaming sewers
  • sights and shopping galore
  • bumped into and maybe yelled at by locals

I’ll be honest, staying in Midtown Manhattan can be a bit much sometimes. It’s expensive, noisy, hectic and overwhelmingly impressive. But you can’t beat its super central location and the sheer amount of possibilties. This is just a small selection of things located in this area:

  • Grand Central Terminal (love it!)
  • The Empire State Building
  • Broadway
  • The Chrysler Building (the prettiest of all sky scrapers)
  • Time Square (hate it!)
  • The best part of 5th Avenue
  • St. Patrick’s Cathedral


I love Midtown especially very early in the morning. If you are jet-lagged after a long flight to New York, make use of the insomnia. Get out in the streets as early as 5 or 6 am. Walking through the canyons between skyscrapers that the streets of Midtown are, at a time when they are empty, is such a surreal experience – you shouldn’t miss it.

The silent change of shifts. The occasional opening preparations in a shop. Steaming sewers. All of it with the backdrop of an upcoming New York sunrise, accompanied by an ever growing stream of women wearing yoga pants and earpods, holding an iPhone in one and a Starbucks coffee in the other hand, rushing to their pre-work workout, training for survival in the shark tank of Midtown Manhattan.

The part of Manhattan everybody knows & almost everybody defines differently.

What’s certain: Midtown is what the world thinks of when imagining New York.

Practical tip for staying in Midtown Manhattan

Yes, the Empire State Building is an absolute icon, but the lines and waiting times to get up there are often just crazy. I suggest you either utilize your jet lag, get up super early after a long flight because you can't sleep anyways, and show up when they just open the doors of the Empire State ... or just visit the observation deck of Rockefeller Center ("Top of the Rocks"). It's ususally less crowded almost as high up and you can actually see the Empire State Building from there!

Greenwich Village – The charming weird small town


While Midtown is the part of Manhattan that everybody imagines when thinking of New York and Williamsburg is where trends emerge, Greenwich Village (or just "The Village") is the part of NYC where everything is a bit different and quirky.  

Entering Greenwich Village means stepping out of the rigid grid system of Manhattan. Literally. Streets in the village are not geometrically organized as in the most parts of New York, so it feels instantly different when you enter the neighborhood. Greenwich Village feels more like an actual village, a bit old-timey and european. 

You will get:

  • kind of an old-timey european village flair
  • comedy, theatre and great New York pizza
  • the history & vibe of counter cultures
  • a picture infront of the house from the "Friends" intro

The streets are not the only aspect of the Village that is not straight. Traditionally good soil for counter cultures, Greenwich Village is home to a lively gay community, off Broadway theatres, comedy clubs and for a long time was the cultural center of New York City. Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Truman Capote, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Simon and Garfunkel and The Velvet Underground are just a few of the artists living or working in the Village.

Today Greenwich Village is one of the most expensive neighborhoods of Manhattan and thereby of New York. This drove out artists that aren't highly successful yet of course. It is the old tale of gentrification: artists make an affordable area of a city interesting, that attracts real estate developers and wealthy people who want part of the action, driving up prices and thereby forcing the artists into another neighborhood ultimately. But the Village vibe ist still there, you can feel it when walking the small streets, just everything is a cleaner, safer, more established. With the vibrant East Village neighborhood right next door you can switch between both worlds if you want!

The streets are not the only aspect of the Village that is not straight.

Greenwich Village has always been a good neighborhood for counter cultures.

Practical tip for staying Greenwich Village, Manhattan

Do not get confused by the terms "Village", "West Village", "Greenwich Village", "East Village" and "Lower East Side".

  • The "Village" and "Greenwich Village" are the same thing.
  • The "West Village" is a part of "Greenwich Village"
  • The "East Village" is not a part of "Greenwich Village", but the neighborhood to its east.
  • The "East Village" was part of the "Lower East Side" in the past. Today they are considered different neighborhoods.

Williamsburg – Where trends start


Williamsburg is loved by many, but not by everyone. Some call it "hipster apocalypse". I call it one of the best neighborhoods to stay in New York – as long as you know what you are in for.

Formerly characterized by industry that had mostly left the neighborhood at that point, Williamsburg had it's fair share of crime and unemployment in the 1960s and 70s. Low rents attracted artists, bohemians and newly arrived residents of New York in the 1990s, making Williamsburg the birthplace of the hipster movement. The vibrant scene combined with improved public transport, connecting the neighborhood more and more with the nearby Manhattan caused prices to skyrocket, ultimately driving out parts of the artist and hipster communities into other parts of Brooklyn.

So what is Williamsburg today, you might ask? A neighborhood with a view of the skyline and a quick connection to Manhattan, but without its crazy pace. An area of NYC that is not completely dominated by the (sometimes annoying) hipster movement anymore, but with all the great food, nightlife and craftsmanship they established here.

 

You will get:

  • great food, coffee and drinks
  • vintage and 2nd hand
    shopping
  • a spectacular view of the Manhattan skyline
  • fixie bikes, ironic mustaches & WWI messenger bags,
    in short:
  • a glimpse into the birthplace of the hipster epidemic ;-)

Since Brooklyn became the borough where new things happen and trends arise to spread not only in New York City but the whole world, Williamsburg for sure is one of the most attractive alternatives for staying in Manhattan. The L train will get you across the East River in 15 minutes, so no worries about missing out on something. Quite the opposite, think about it: you will miss out on the spectacular skyline of Manhattan if you stay IN Manhattan. Williamsburg will give you sunsets over skyscrapers and bridges on the other hand!  

Apart from that, if you want to hang with the cool kids, stay in Williamsburg. It feels alive, colorful, non-touristy and young. Mix in that it also is more quiet than most parts of Manhattan and has a nice waterfront and you will notice that it's worth cringing at a couple of hipsters from time to time!

It feels alive, colorful, non-touristy and young.

If you want to hang with the cool kids, stay in Williamsburg.

Practical tip for Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Since the tunnels of the L train of the New York City subway that connects Brooklyn with Manhattan is undergoing major repair work in 2019 and 2020, in that time frame there are some changes and limitations to be considered when staying in Williamsburg:

  • On weekdays after 8pm the L train service will be reduced to an interval of running every 20 minutes between Manhattan and Brooklyn until 5am.
  • On weekends, those 20-minute intervals between Manhattan and Brooklyn will apply around the clock.

It is not certain when the L train will be on its normal schedule again, but most likely it will not be before end of 2020. Check for updates here or on the website of the MTA.

  • In general you should avoid areas and neighborhoods of New York that are far away from Manhattan or not well connected to Manhattan. Why? Because most interesting things for you as a visitor will be located there.
  • Some of those boroughs and neighborhoods that are either too far away or just not interesting for visitors are: almost all of Queens (too far); Staten Island (too far and not that interesting); the southern and eastern parts of Brooklyn (such as Crowns Height, Flatbush, Bensonhurst, Bay Ridge, etc.) and most of the Bronx (especially the northern parts).
  • While New York nowadays is a very safe city, some neighborhoods might seem sketchy to visitors: Brownsville, East New York, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Mott Haven, Long Island City, etc.
  • In Manhattan itself, I personally would avoid Time Square (too exhausting, fake and turbo commercial), Washington Heights (not much to do) and Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village (almost entirely residential with not much to do for visitors).

New York in under a minute

How New York is structured:

  • New York City (NYC) is part of the bigger New York State. We are only talking about New York City here though, the metropolitan area, also sometimes referred to as "the five boroughs".

  • That's because New York City consists of five (rather big) boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Staten Island.

  • Geographically New York City is situated on different islands as well as on the United States Mainland (The Bronx). The islands are surrounded by different bodies of water such as the Hudson river, the East River and the New York Bay.

  • Out of the five boroughs of New York City, Manhattan is both the smallest and most densly populated one. To outsiders, Manhattan is often synonomous with New York due to its iconic skyline, cultural and economic significance and promonent role in film and other media.

  • To the north of Manhattan Island lies The Bronx, the only borough situated on the US mainland. Both Brooklyn and Queens are situated east of Manhattan on the bigger Long Island. Staten Island lies south of Manhattan and is the least populated one of the five boroughs.

How New York is structured

  • New York City (NYC) is part of the bigger New York State. We are only talking about New York City here though, the metropolitan area, also sometimes referred to as "the five boroughs".

  • That's because New York City consists of five (rather big) boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Staten Island.

  • Geographically New York City is situated on different islands as well as on the United States Mainland (The Bronx). The islands are surrounded by different bodies of water such as the Hudson river, the East River and the New York Bay.

  • Out of the five boroughs of New York City, Manhattan is both the smallest and most densly populated one. To outsiders, Manhattan is often synonomous with New York due to its iconic skyline, cultural and economic significance and promonent role in film and other media.

  • To the north of Manhattan Island lies The Bronx, the only borough situated on the US mainland. Both Brooklyn and Queens are situated east of Manhattan on the bigger Long Island. Staten Island lies south of Manhattan and is the least populated one of the five boroughs.

Fast Facts

Safety

New York City has quite a reputation of being a dangerous city. Although this was certainly true in the 1970s and 1980s, it is mostly a thing of the past now. Todays NYC is one of the safest big cities in the USA and most neighborhoods feel even safe at night.

  • Some areas such as Brownsville, Crown Heights and most of the Bronx still have higher crime rates, so maybe just avoid them. Statistics show that some Manhattan neighborhoods such as Midtown appear to have even worse crime rates but this is mostly a statistical anomaly: while hundreds of thowsands of people ARE in Midtown, very few actually live there. Since crime rates are "per resident" this leads to very high numbers per resident.
  • Also be aware of pickpocketing in big train and subway stations and very crowded places such as time square (why would you go there in the first place?!).
  • When riding the New York subway at night it migth be a good idea to board a car that has some other people on it so you won't end up with a crazy person alone.
  • Although the events of 9/11 are still a major trauma for New York City, almost 20 years later terrorism can not be seen as a thing you have to worry about as a visitor.

Getting around

Since New York City is such a huge place, so packed and partly spread over different islands it is important to know how to get around:

  • Walking is the best way to go if you are already in the neighborhood you want to visit. Otherwise the perfectly straight streets and avenues especially of Manhattan can make you underestimate the distances. Yes, you might see the Empire State Building from where you are, but getting there might take some time in reality. Get a feeling on how many blocks you are willing to walk early on your visit.
  • To get into the area you want to visit, often the subway is the best way. It is surprisingly cheap (2.75 USD for a single ride, 33 USD for a 7 day unlimited pass), relatively clean and safe and super fast if you understand how it works. One thing to consider is that there are local trains and express trains leaving from the same platforms. Local trains will stop at every station, express trains will get you far very quick by not stopping often. Getting this right is key to frustration free subway riding in New York!
  • The legendary yellow cabs (taxis) are the way to go if you just not want to be around other people in public transport and for shorter distances in general (for longer ones take the express trains of the subway). Taxi rides are priced fairly reasonable, starting at 2.5 USD, averaging around 10 to 15 USD for a normal ride in Manhattan. Cab drivers usually get tipped in New York, 10 to 15% if you were happy with your ride.

The best time to visit New York

As you can imagine, New York is quite a year-around city. There is no time of the year where the city feels empty or dead. There are better and worse months though:

  • If you're on a budget (good luck in NYC!), January and February might be the best months to visit due to lower hotel, apartment and hostel prices.
  • April to June and September to early Nobember are amazing times to travel to New York and my personal favourites: mostly good weather (not too cold, not too hot - NYC is a city of extremes in terms of temperatures), not fully packed with tourists. Just have an eye on some special dates that will increase prices, like the weekend of the New York City Marathon, Halloween, etc.
  • Of course christmas time can be magical in New York (especially around Rockefeller Center, Central Park, etc.), but expect crazy prices and lots of people. Also, NYC in winter can be freezing cold.
  • I'd personally avoid July and August when the city heats up and feels tropical due to humidity.

Rookie mistakes you should avoid

  • Having Time Square far up your to-do list. It is a soulless commercial tourist hell.
  • Juming on an express train in the New York subway without noticing - you might end up on the other side of Manhattan quick without noticing if you don't get the distinction between the (stopping at all stations) local trains and the express ones.
  • Taking a cab at rush hour or just not leaving early enough for the airport. Especially in Manhattan, if you are stuck in a cab, you are stuck. It can take for hours to get somewhere.

Typical faux pas in New York

New Yorkers are busy people. Don't waste their time or obstruct their walking path. If you have a question, just ask it in a brief and oranized way, maybe even walk a couple of steps with the person you are asking and please do not block the sidewalk by mindlessly staring at buildings or your phone. New Yorkers will hate you for that.

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