It’s no secret that New York City is the cultural mecca of the western world and a global leader in art, architecture, food, music, and more. A sprawling metropolis chock full of legendary landmarks and every type of attraction imaginable, you’ll never be bored wandering the grid of numbered streets here. One of the coolest things about a getaway to NYC is that the experience will be whatever you want to make of it!
This concrete jungle has the biggest population of anywhere in the country and there are five main boroughs, Manhattan being the most famous for sightseeing. Finding the best spot for your stay can make all the difference as it will serve as your jumping off point for exploring the city that never sleeps. Here's some ideas to get you started.
Authentic view of big city life
Walking distance to main attractions
Good access to public transport
If it’s your very first time in New York City, Chelsea is the best district to base yourself in. It offers an authentic slice of big city life, without the maddening chaos of midtown. As a convenient and central corner of NYC, you’ll also be close to all the main attractions. Just hop on the subway at one of many stops for the 123 lines or walk a bit further to catch the NQR, ACE, or L trains that can take you anywhere else in Manhattan.
Within easily walkable blocks, you’ll find the iconic Washington Square Park, always hosting eclectic entertainment, as well as the always happening Meatpacking District.
Walking the Highline is one of the most enchanting ways to experience the city, an elevated public park built on an old abandoned railroad. Chelsea is also known as an arts district with over 300 galleries in the area. The best part is you can pop into them all for free!
You’ll find some very stylish boutique hotels in the area, from affordable to midrange to high end. There are also a plethora of adorable eateries and cool bars to choose from. Hitting up the Chelsea Market is highly recommended, for tasty treats and souvenir shopping. You’ll see the Flatiron Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, and still, be within walking distance to the Empire State Building.
Stay at the Cambria Hotel for comfortable rooms in an excellent location
Lots of parks and playgrounds
Quieter neighbourhood that's still central
Good museums and child-friendly activities
Odds are you'll recognize the rows of residential buildings of the Upper West Side from film and TV fame. This part of town has a reputation of being home to those both intellectually and artistically inclined. It also happens to be one of the greenest spaces in the city! It’s the quiet, cooler, and slightly less fancy cousin of the infamous Upper East Side.
It has much more of a family feel than other parts of NYC. It’s where families tend to settle down and as such you’ll discover an abundance of parks and playgrounds for all the little ones. There are also some seriously amazing museums here that are fun and educational for any age, the Natural History Museum in particular.
You’ll also find Lincoln Center here for renowned musical performances. Cosy bistros abound if you’re looking to eat out, but it’s also so easy to rent an Airbnb that comes complete with a kitchen in this neighbourhood.
Keep in mind that it will get more affordable the higher north you're willing to go. The nightlife here is low-key and really centred around relaxed bars so you’ll be able to enjoy a bit of peace and quiet for the kids, which is basically a miracle in this city.
Everyone will love a stop at the iconic Levain Bakery as well, for the best chocolate chip cookie on the planet. It’s right on the 123 line, so it’s easy to hop on a train downtown at any time.
Stay at Hotel Beacon with good access to parks and public transport
Laid-back, safe neighbourhood with tree-lined streets
Close to cafes, gastropubs and wine bars
Good access to pubic transport
The West Village (or just the village if you want to sound like a local) is the perfect neighbourhood for couples. Adorable brownstones sit along tree-lined streets and everyone feels effortlessly stylish here. It has a laid back feel but is never boring, and as a bonus is a super safe part of the city.
There are sweet little cafes and gastropubs on most corners, so planning date night will be a breeze. It’s conveniently located on several train lines, including the 123, ACE, and NQR, so you can really get anywhere you need to be quick.
The bohemian and intimate vibe in this neighbourhood feels like its own secret enclave, perfect for lovers to hide out and pretend they're living in their own rom-com while browsing stacks of good reads in kitschy used book stores. Hit up a lively wine bar, catch a flick at the IFC Film Center or head over to the Hudson to catch the sun setting over the skyline.
Smalls Jazz Club and the Comedy Cellar both have a rich history in this borough, and Fat Cat is a fan favourite as well for live music, ping pong, and everything in between. You can also get in touch with your inner modern art critic at one of the most renowned museums in town, the Whitney.
Stay at Incentra Village Hotel, a Victorian inn located in two charming, brownstone houses
Good public transport options
Affordable accommodation, food and entertainment
If you ask anyone where in NYC you have the best chance at saving a few bucks, it's gonna be in Queens. Astoria is an idyllic neighbourhood in this borough that's vastly underrated! It's certainly where you'll get the most bang for your buck, and there's a wide range of affordable accommodations to be found here.
The best part is that Manhattan still feels super accessible, as Midtown is just a quick subway trip away. It’s known as a melting pot of different cultures which makes it such a cool place to explore.
The Museum of the Moving Image is a magical place for film buffs and the Queens Botanical Garden makes for an enchanting stroll to escape the hectic energy of the city. Astoria Park is home to the oldest and largest pool in the city, and it’s free to use. The Socrates Sculpture Park and Noguchi Museum both offer an array of Instagrammable moments with a touch of whimsy.
There are lots of independent shops and cheap eats to discover in Astoria. You can enjoy modern beer gardens and cosy old school haunts all on the same block, from tiki bars to jazz clubs, and without breaking the bank. Go out for Greek food here, this borough is famous for it.
Stay at the La Quinta Inn and Suites for more affordable rooms with breakfast included
Wide range of cuisines to choose from
Great bars, music venues and entertainment
Walkable and artsy part of the city
Williamsburg is easily one of the coolest boroughs to make your base camp in NYC. Okay, it may be in Brooklyn, but it’s only one train stop outside of the LES (Lower East Side) so getting in and out of Manhattan is still a breeze.
The community here is vibrant and young, made up mostly of creative types. It's full of all the trendiest shops, hippest bars, most bustling music venues, and of course creative and craveable cuisines!
Foodies will think they’ve died and arrived in heaven here as it’s such a haven for fine feasting. It’s a very walkable part of town and you’ll find amazing murals covering sides of renovated warehouses everywhere you look. The view of the Manhattan skyline from the waterfront is magical, especially from Domino Park.
The main drag is Bedford Ave and a wander down just this street alone has got it all. For Brunch hit the aptly named Sunday in Brooklyn or Pies and Thighs. For the best slice in the city, Joe's Pizza is a must. Stop at Bakeri for picnic fixings and enjoy them in Mccarren Park. Cafe Collete, Cafe Mogador, and Marlow and Sons tend to top the lists of those in the know eating their way through Williamsburg as well.
La Superior serves up the tastiest Mexican meals around. You can even enjoy some gourmet grub while catching a movie at the delightful Nitehawk Cinema. Be sure to check out the iconic open-air foodie fair on the weekends called Smorgasburg, where all the best vendors come to hock their artisan fares on the waterfront.
Stay at Hotel Le Jolie, a boutique hotel near a subway station for easy access to Manhattan.
Near SoHo, Bowery, and Chinatown
Home to New York institutions like Katz Deli, Cafe Grumpy, and the Diller
Good mix of restaurants, bars and shops
For an authentic New York experience, it doesn't get more real than the Lower East Side. LES, for short or the East Village to locals, has such a diverse scene and is set just south of Union Square. You’re likely to feel right in the mix of it all with the rest of Manhattan easily reachable from here, by foot or by train.
The L train makes a few stops in this neighbourhood but it’s also easy to walk up 14th Street and catch the NQR or 456. SoHo, Bowery, and Chinatown are all a stone's throw away. There are trendy new spots and old school staples all intermixed with shops, bars, and restaurants for every price point and preference.
It may not be home to the major landmarks, but the genuine nature of the LES experience will be well worth the trade-off. There are some big NYC names on these low numbered streets, like Katz Deli, Cafe Grumpy, and the Diller of Pickle District fame. Gem Spa is the OG of egg creams and Beauty and Essex will transport you back to the grand era of the Big Apple's glory days.
The New Museum is a favourite for anyone who's into interactive art spaces. Garfunkel's is the speakeasy of the neighbourhood, but there are plenty of equally cool bars that can be seen from the street as well.
Stay at the Ludlow Hotel, a beautifully-decorated hotel with sweeping views of the city or consider a studio apartment for a longer stay.
Heading to New York City? Read our articles on:
A local's tips for travelling to NYC
What to eat in NYC
Last Updated 15 April 2022