Where to Stay in NYC: Top Neighborhoods for Families, Budget & First-Timers

Find your perfect NYC homebase! This guide runs through the top neighborhoods for families, budget travelers, and first-time visitors.

April 23, 2024

How Big is the Big Apple? Understanding the Scale of NYC

Ever underestimated the distance from far uptown Manhattan to the borough’s downtown? New York City sprawls across five unique boroughs, each with its own distinct personality and history. While a quick ferry ride can whisk you to trendy spots like DUMBO in Brooklyn, exploring deeper areas like Coney Island requires some dedicated time. Travelers we assist often find themselves surprised by the travel durations between boroughs – that's part of what makes NYC special, it's like having five mini-cities in one! Fun fact: Did you know Brooklyn once had a larger population than Manhattan?

Because getting around New York City can take a while, especially if you're heading to Manhattan, where most of the action is, we suggest avoiding certain areas unless you have a good reason to stay there. Here's where we don't recommend staying: 

- Too far uptown: Bronx, Yonkers, Washington Heights.

- Too far out east: Deep Brooklyn and Queens.

- Too disconnected from Manhattan: Staten Island as a whole (the ferry ride takes about 30 minutes, and there are no subways into Manhattan).

If this is your first time reading our travel blog, here’s our introduction. We connect NYC-based trip planners to NYC travelers so they can save time planning things to do and enjoy more time doing things they love with the people they love. Space is limited. Reserve time with our team early.

Now onto our list ...

For First Time Visitor, Families and Those Who Want to See It All

To maximize your time and ensure you can start your days earlier and end them later, we recommend staying near transportation and attractions. Manhattan is usually the best bet for most visitors, as it puts you close to everything and minimizes travel times. Here are some prime areas to consider:

Times Square or Midtown East

Times Square and nearby Midtown East are perfect for families and first-time visitors. While these areas may feel touristy and busy, they offer easy access to major attractions such as Rockefeller Center, Broadway, and Grand Central Station. For travelers seeking convenience and proximity to iconic landmarks, Midtown is the ideal choice. Explore our guide for more insights into NYC's top attractions. If you’re looking for more information on NYC’s must-do attractions, take a look at our guide here.

Upper East or West Side

In Uptown Manhattan, you'll find the residential Upper West Side and Upper East Side, along with the expansive Central Park. Notable attractions include Museum Mile on the Upper East Side, home to renowned institutions like the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, while the Upper West Side offers proximity to the American Museum of Natural History. Both neighborhoods boast excellent dining options and are ideal for families or those seeking a peaceful stay away from the city center's hustle and bustle.

Downtown Manhattan

Downtown Manhattan, encompassing several iconic neighborhoods including the Financial District, SoHo, and Chinatown, offers a mix of history, culture, and entertainment. The Financial District has historic landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and modern attractions such as the 9/11 Memorial & Museum without being as touristy as Midtown. For a central base with easy access to Brooklyn and the rest of Manhattan, there is also the Lower East Side or East Village, both known for their diverse dining (including the famous Katz Deli) and popping nightlife scenes.

Chelsea & The West Village

Chelsea, known for its diverse dining and entertainment options, lets visitors can explore a variety of restaurants, lounges, art galleries, and cocktail bars. It's also a prominent hub of LGBTQ life in the city and offers a nightlife scene. Attractions like flea markets, antique shops, and the scenic High Line offer unique experiences you won’t find in the rest of Midtown Manhattan while still offering convenient access to the subway.

The nearby West Village, slightly more downtown, also offers a tranquil escape from the city's constant buzz. Despite its celebrity appeal, the area maintains a lowkey ambiance, with cobblestone streets and charming sidewalk cafés creating a serene atmosphere. While busy during the day, it quiets down at night, making it an ideal place to rest after a long day of sightseeing.

For Travelers on a Budget

If Manhattan prices are a bit steep for you, consider staying off the island but still close to either the Hudson or East River. Prices tend to be slightly lower, and travel distances are still minimal. Here are two great options near ferries and major subway lines:

Long Island City (LIC) in Queens

Trendy and hip, LIC offers great food and drink options and easy access to the Astoria Ferry, providing a quick connection to Midtown Manhattan. Plus, the 7 train can get you to Grand Central in under 20 minutes. While attractions may be slightly less accessible than staying in Manhattan, LIC is perfect for travelers wanting to explore both Queens and Manhattan or seeking more affordable accommodations.

Williamsburg in Brooklyn

Similar to LIC but with a younger vibe, Williamsburg is perfect for travelers who can't afford a hotel in Manhattan or want to be close to Brooklyn's nightlife scene. The neighborhood offers convenient access to downtown Manhattan via the East River Ferry. Additionally, you can make quick trips to Union Square via the L train that passes through Bedford Ave. Hotels here are fantastic and often more budget-friendly than comparable options in Manhattan.

Of course, timing is also crucial when considering your stay in NYC. Peak seasons, such as the winter holidays and summer, see increased hotel prices across the board, regardless of location. For the best deals, plan to visit during the off-season.

Our team of trip consultants builds tailored plans for travelers from around the world visiting NYC. We’ve built a wide range of plans for family trips, anniversaries, birthdays, and other special occasions, even for solo travelers treating themselves. Each plan is built with a 3-step process: 

Step 1: Bucket your must-see attractions 

Step 2: Add in restaurants, rooftops & other hidden gems 

Step 3: Create a custom map and provide transportation tips, so you know the best way to navigate the city. 

Click here to have our team tailor your New York trip itinerary today or check out a few of our sample plans here.

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