best area to stay in new york first time

10 Best Areas to Stay In New York the First Time Around

New York City is one of those places that feel magical both on-screen and in real life. However, first-time travelers might find it intimidating. Among other things, people usually aren’t sure which are the best areas to stay in New York the first time around.

Considering that New York is a city that houses more than 8.5 million people on 302.6 square miles, not knowing where to lay your head after a long day of sightseeing isn’t really a surprise.

The good news is that no matter what brought you to New York and what your interests might be, you’ll find a neighborhood that’s perfect for you. Because New York is home to so many people, it’s a cross-cultural Mecca of sorts. It’s so diverse that you’re one short stroll away from being exposed to different cultures, people, and sights.

People who never visited NYC think that they have to stay in the fanciest part of Manhattan to have the authentic NYC experience. However, there’s so much more to New York than the Upper East Side you (don’t want to admit) you’ve seen on Gossip Girl and Sex and the City!

Do you want to dance the night away on your trip to New York? Stay in Chelsea and experience the nightlife of the city that never sleeps! Perhaps you’re more interested in seeing the glorious landmarks of NYC? Then Midtown Manhattan is the perfect place for you!

The Big Five (Boroughs) of New York City

If you ask a New Yorker what the epicenter of the world is, they’ll tell you without any hesitation that it’s New York. It’s a densely populated city that spans over five boroughs and, as mentioned, houses over 8.5 million people.

If you’re a first-time traveler who knows nothing of New York, here’s a quick guide. The five boroughs of NYC are:

  • Manhattan

  • Queens

  • Brooklyn

  • Bronx

  • Staten Island

Now, depending on your budget and your goals for the trip, you can stay in any of these five areas. Of course, each one has a few gem-like districts that are the best areas to stay in New York the first time around.

Remember, all that matters is location, location, location. After you’ve figured out the goal for your dream trip to New York, you’ll quickly figure out the perfect micro-location and book the best accommodation for yourself! So, without further ado, here are the best areas to stay in New York the first time around!

Best Areas to Stay In New York First Time Around — Manhattan

Manhattan is arguably the heart of New York City. A hubbub of activity, this district has something for everyone. Catch a Broadway show, feast in gourmet restaurants that offer food from around the world, or recreate the last scene of Sleepless in Seattle on top of the Empire State building. You can do it all in Manhattan!

The urban core of NYC, Manhattan, spans over 33.5 square miles. Now, that doesn’t sound like much, but it’s more than enough to house culture galore. But what are the best districts in Manhattan?

#1. Upper East Side

As mentioned, one of the most famous districts in Manhattan is the Upper East Side. The epitome of luxury, it’s also one of the safest areas in New York.

If you’ve always dreamed of visiting New York and munching on your breakfast in front of the Tiffany store, Upper East Side is where your dreams will come true! However, keep in mind that the croissant you eat while channeling Holly Golightly might be the most expensive one you’ve ever had. The Upper East Side is also known as the Gold Coast.

It has some of the most expensive real estate in New York, which is why accommodation here costs a pretty penny!

Perfect for: Exploring Museums and Shopping

The famous Fifth Avenue is a makeshift border between the Upper East and Upper West Side of Manhattan. No matter how long your trip is, it won’t be enough to explore everything that Fifth Avenue (and New York in general) has to offer.

A part of it is known as the Museum Mile. There, you’ll find the world-famous Guggenheim Museum, MOMA, the Met, and many others. For art lovers, the Upper East Side is the place to be. And if you get tired of museums, you can always spend some time shopping (or window-shopping) in high-end boutiques.

#2. Upper West Side

Between the Upper East Side and the Upper West Side sits Central Park, one of the most famous landmarks of New York. If you’re planning to stay in NYC for a while, the Upper West Side might be the perfect choice when it comes to the location (provided you have the budget for it, of course).

Perfect for: Families

The Upper West Side’s best advantage is that it’s centrally located while still being a quiet neighborhood. There isn’t much nightlife, which is what makes it a perfect location for families with kids.

Besides taking the kids on a Central Park adventure, if you stay in the Upper West Side, you can also visit The American Museum of Natural History, the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, and the Rose Center for Earth and Space.

#3. Chelsea and Greenwich Village

If you’re more interested in discovering the underbelly of New York instead of seeing the main sights, then Chelsea and Greenwich Village are the best areas to stay in New York the first time around.

Perfect for: Nightlife Lovers

Although these two districts aren’t close to midtown Manhattan, they still have a lot to offer. The art scene in Greenwich Village will leave you breathless. Whitney Museum of American Art is just one of the many art Meccas in these districts.

On the other hand, the clubs, bars, and restaurants (that are a good fit for all budgets) in Chelsea will make your experience more authentic.

If you’re really looking to dance the night away, make sure to stay in the Hell’s Kitchen or the Meatpacking District. You can also stay in the West Village. Full of colonial brownstones that look more like a movie set than a real-life place, West Village is the epitome of bohemian chic.

#4. Harlem

Music lovers know that Harlem is the place to be if you want to experience the music scene of New York City. The birthplace of the cultural renaissance, Harlem is the happy place of all those who love soul food, great music, and art. It offers vibrant street life and a unique insight into New York city life that not many areas can.

Perfect for: Music Enthusiasts

Even though the communities that dwelled in Harlem suffered from gentrification, this district still protects the cultural heritage of people of color. Visit the El Museo del Barrio to feast your eyes on the art of underrepresented artists of color.

You can also go to the Apollo Theatre. Gone are the times when artists such as Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday graced its stage. However, Harlem is still a bastion of music and culture in NYC, which means you’ll discover some amazingly talented artists here. It has a rich jazz scene as well as something for blues, R’n’B, soul, and rock lovers.

#5. Midtown Manhattan

If you only have a few precious days to see as much as you can and experience everything NYC has to offer, then one of the best areas to stay in New York the first time around is definitely Midtown Manhattan.

Unlike some other areas, Midtown has something for everyone, price-wise. No matter your budget, you’ll find accommodation here. But, more importantly, you’ll be within walking distance to all the significant landmarks.

Perfect for: Sightseeing

Midtown is well-connected to all other areas, which means that you’ll be able to hop to see whatever you’ve planned on seeing without the hassle of walking around in circles looking for transport. Times Square is within walking distance no matter where you’re staying, as are Central Park, MOMA, Broadway, and the Rockefeller Center.

One of the best areas to stay in New York the first time around is the Theater District. It’s where your Broadway (and off-Broadway) dreams will come true (at least for a night).

#6. Lower East Side

Hip, cool, trendy, chic — these all fail to describe the Lower East Side’s essence. Home to SoHo and East Village, one of the most famous NYC districts, Lower East Side is where high culture meets street passion. Enjoy designer shops, dive bars, artisan fairs, and galleries and experience authentic New York.

Perfect for: Trendy People (and Hipsters)

If you’re looking for a lot of industrial architecture that houses out-of-this-world restaurants, look no further than Tribeca. That district is a real Lower East Side gem. Full of red-brick buildings, Tribeca is a special district that’s full of spirit and soul.

After the cobblestone streets of SoHo full of fashionable crowds, Tribeca will be a refreshing (although equally picturesque) change. Plus, you’ll eat like a royal there.

Best Areas to Stay In New York First Time Around — Brooklyn

One of the best things about Brooklyn is that you can enjoy the view of Manhattan. Of course, there’s more to Brooklyn than just scenery, but the pics you’ll take of the Manhattan skyline from Brooklyn will be more than insta-worthy.

Once a rough neighborhood, Brooklyn is today’s cool kid of New York City. It’s a divine mesh of victorian architecture, hipster coffee shops, and the modern art scene.

With more than 700 arts and cultural institutions, Brooklyn is a must-see for art lovers. It also has a lot of greenery. Sure, Central Park is on everyone’s bucket list, but Brooklyn’s Botanic Garden, as well as Prospect Park, are both breathtaking sights that you don’t want to miss.

Since it was once the coffee capital of the world, Brooklyn still holds coffee in high regard. You’ll barely be able to walk three steps without falling head-first into a cute coffee shop (not that you’d mind, right?).

Overall, Brooklyn has a lot to offer, so it’s no wonder that it’s one of the best areas to stay in New York the first time around. However, keep in mind that the dreaded gentrification hit Brooklyn like a wrecking ball so that the prices might be a bit steep.

#7. Williamsburg

Although Brooklyn has a lot of districts, Williamsburg is probably the most famous one. Brooklyn, in general, is a very young district. The average age of Brooklynites is less than 35 years. In Williamsburg, you’ll be able to feel that youthful atmosphere more than anywhere else in New York.

But, no matter your age, you’ll be able to enjoy Williamsburg. It’s an area filled with chic restaurants, classy bars, and casual hang out spots. Although there aren’t that many historical landmarks, there’s still a lot in Williamsburg that’s worthy of your attention.

Perfect for: Those Looking for the Shabby Chic Experience

Brooklynites know how to have fun without making it seem too forced. There are plenty of spots in Williamsburg where you can grab a refreshing beer, a delicious cocktail, or catch a show. Poetry readings and music and comedy gigs are a daily occurrence in Williamsburg.

If that’s not your thing, you can also check out McCarren Park (it’s perfect for casual picnics) or take a stroll over the Williamsburg Bridge.

Best Areas to Stay In New York First Time Around — the Bronx

The Bronx might not seem like one of the best areas to stay in New York the first time around, but it has its advantages.

Tourists tend to overlook it, but the Bronx is actually an excellent location for first-timers, given that it isn’t an island. That means it’s connected well with other boroughs and with all major airports in the area (you can take a bus or the subway to get to it).

The legends say that hip-hop was born in the Bronx, sometime in the 70s. Although nobody can tell if that’s completely true or not, the Bronx is still one of the street music pillars. It’s where artists go for inspiration, and if you take a stroll through the Bronx, you’ll surely be mesmerized by the street musicians (among other things).

There’s more to the Bronx than that. It houses the biggest urban Zoo in the US as well as the New York Botanical Garden. Of course, it goes without mentioning that the Bronx is also home to the world-famous Yankees. Their stadium and museum are some of the most visited spots in the Bronx.

#8. Kingsbridge

A long time ago, a king’s bridge connected the Bronx and Manhattan. Although the bridge is gone, the name stuck, and today, we have the famous Kingsbridge (sans the bridge, of course).

With steep streets and impressive architecture, Kingsbridge is a perfect place for those who want to be in New York without actually being in the big city (surrounded by skyscrapers).

Perfect for: Those Who Want the Big City to Feel Like Home

Kingsbridge has a lot to offer. Take a stroll through the Van Cortlandt Park and go for a beer afterward in one of the many Kingsbridge pubs. This area is as diverse and cultural as the rest of New York City, but not as busy, which is a massive advantage for those travelers who like to take their time when sightseeing.

#9. Pelham Bay

Some would say that Pelham Bay is nothing more than a middle-class residential area. They’d be wrong, of course. This neighborhood has a lot to offer to first-time visitors. It’s safe, relatively affordable, and it’s connected well with the rest of the city.

However, the best thing about Pelham Bay is Pelham Bay Park. It’s surprising how few people actually know about it, considering it’s three times as big as Central Park.

Perfect for: Nature Lovers

No matter where in Pelham bay you are, the park is just a short walk away. It’s full of hiking trails, incredible flora and fauna, and it has plenty of sports and recreational options. So if you often find yourself feeling suffocated in the big city but would hate to miss out on the magic of New York, then staying in Pelham Bay is the perfect compromise.

Best Areas to Stay In New York First Time Around — Queens

Queens is often an overlooked area in NYC. Most people think that Brooklyn and Manhattan are the stars of the city. Although that’s undoubtedly true, Queens is also worthy of your time (and money).

Queens is full of diverse, ethnic restaurants, bars, and shops. It’s one of those places that’s brimming with people of all backgrounds who have life stories that would leave you in tears (from laughter, sadness, or both). In other words, Queens is charming, entertaining, and engaging.

However, there are also some practical advantages to staying in Queens. For example, both NYC airports are located in this borough. So, those who are arriving in New York via plane will have no problem getting to their accommodation. Furthermore, Queens is also well connected with the other four boroughs. So hopping from place to place won’t be as big of a challenge.

#10. Flushing

One of the best areas in Queens (for first-time travelers and everyone else) is Flushing. Famous not only because it was home of Fran Drescher’s Nanny but also because it hosted the New York’s World Fair in 1964, Flushing is an affordable area that has a lot to offer to first-time visitors.

Perfect for: Budget Travelers

Both diverse and thriving, Flushing is a work in progress. However, due to the influence of so many cultures and people, Flushing is the perfect mix of natural beauty, history, and urbanism.

It’s also very affordable. A trip to NYC can really put a dent in your wallet, so finding cheap (at least by New York standards) accommodation is one of the main goals for many travelers.

A Few Parting Words

Planning a trip to New York City is no easy task. With a city as huge as NYC, one trip means you’ll only scratch the surface. That’s why organization matters. If you plan your trip right and set your goals before everything else, you’ll have the most fantastic time.

Picking out accommodations is vital. Or, better said, figuring out the best areas to stay in New York the first time around is essential. You’ll need to pick your headquarters carefully and in accordance with what you have planned for your trip and how much money you set aside for it. After you’ve done that, all that’s left is to get on the road and have the time of your life in the city that never sleeps!

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