WOOO HOOO! You booked your flight to NYC. Crap now you need to book a hotel. While most tourists stay in Time Square, you are looking for a more local experience but still want to be close to the sites. We got you!
I’m going to briefly cover what I think are two potentially perfect areas of the city to plan your itinerary around, for different reasons. We’ll first go over why Midtown (specifically Chelsea and Bryant Park) is hands down the preferred destination for first time visitors. Next up will be a quick discussion of why you might instead want to plan your itinerary around parts of Downtown Manhattan like the Financial District or Greenwich Village. At the end of the post, I give an honorable mention to staying in DUMBO too.
Midtown: Chelsea, Bryant Park
Although it’s expensive, Midtown NYC includes many of the city’s world-renowned tourist attractions, such as the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Centre, the Chrysler Building, Times Square, and more. Furthermore, you won’t necessarily be that far from Central Park either. For a first time visitor, witnessing the raw magnitude of these landmarks is quite simply a must. To put the icing on the cake, many famous Broadway Theatres such as the Belasco Theatre and the Helen Hayes Theatre are also conveniently located in Midtown. While there’s many different neighborhoods in Midtown, I’d recommend staying either in Chelsea or Bryant Park – I’ll touch on both a bit below:
Chelsea is one of the most happening districts of Manhattan today. There’s a great nightlife scene, many art galleries and plenty of indulgent restaurants and boutique stores. Chelsea historically had a distinguished gay community, and traces of that can still be readily seen with the abundance of gay bars still thriving! Because Chelsea is an expensive neighborhood, I’d recommend staying at an urban B&B like Chelsea Pines Inn – it’s not a large hotel which I prefer, and there’s free WiFI, breakfast, and they also give guests passes to nearby gyms if you’re feeling like working out.
- neighborhoods, this is the area for you. Park Terrace Hotel on Bryant Park fits the bill here, and can be the perfect “home base” for you at night after all your NYC adventures!
This isn’t the most common recommendation you’ll hear from locals in Midtown, but that’s all the better. Bryant Park is beautiful, quaint, and is still only a few minutes away from attractions like Times Square. If you visit in the winter, the park turns into an ice-skating rink too! After a long day of walking around the city, if you’re in the mood to retire to a peaceful, chill area to avoid the hustle and bustle of other.
Financial District, Greenwich VillageDowntown/lower Manhattan has so much rich cultural importance for New York City, and is one of the most entertaining areas to explore. It’s also slightly more affordable than parts of Midtown, and neighborhoods like the Financial District (FiDi) are home to more famous tourist attractions like the New York Stock Exchange, the Charging Bull and Fearless Girl statues, One World Trade Center, 911 Memorial, and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Downtown Manhattan is inherently less touristy than Midtown, which for many people can be seen as a positive. To best enjoy your time in downtown Manhattan, plan your itinerary around staying in FiDi or Greenwich Village:
Financial District (FiDi)
I’ve said it many times before in other posts, but I believe FiDi is the most misunderstood district in all of Manhattan, and maybe the entire city. Along with the must-see tourist sights mentioned above, FiDi is a great place to go out (check out previous posts talking about Stone Street!). Seaport is also a lively historic area adjacent to FiDi, and is packed to the brim with great bars like Fresh Salt and trendy boutique stores. The Wall Street Inn, located on William Street (ironically), is a small boutique hotel in the area that’s received rave reviews. It’s in prime location right next to some of the historical sites that I mentioned above, and many restaurants are in the area too. If you haven’t noticed so far, I tend to prefer avoiding chain-brand hotels if possible, and the Wall Street Inn is definitely a hidden gem in the area.
Like Chelsea, the Village has historically been an important LGBT-friendly neighborhood. Equally as cool, though, is the neighborhood’s rich musical and cultural history. It’s widely known that Bob Dylan and his contemporaries started their music careers in the Village. What most people don’t know, though, is around this time the wrestling scene was also pretty big in the Village – if you went to a bar like Fat Black Pussycat back in the 70’s, you might be able to find Dylan scouting new talent & drinking alongside famous wrestlers at the time! Today, Greenwich is still a lively, beautiful neighborhood to explore. Make sure to spend some time at Washington Square Park and MacDougal Street, two of my favorite spots around. There are many well-reviewed hotels in the area, but I recommend Walker Hotel Greenwich Village, due to its great location.
Finally, for a slightly out-there recommendation, check out DUMBO, in Brooklyn. A true waterfront neighborhood, DUMBO has a lot to offer in itself (enough to feature its own itinerary!), and is just a few subway stops away from many tourist attractions in Manhattan.Don’t forget, this definitely isn’t an exhaustive list of places to stay when coming to NYC for the first time. Each and every neighborhood has something special to offer first time visitors – these are just a handful of neighborhoods I think make sense to plan your itinerary around.