Where to Stay in New York City – The Best Area for First Timers!
Planning a city trip to New York City? Cool! You’re going to love the Big Apple! But finding a hotel in New York can be really stressful. Especially if it’s your first time traveling to New York. In this post, we’ll help you get your bearings in New York. We’ll show you the best areas to stay and share our personal hotel tips.
It’s no secret that New York isn’t exactly the cheapest destination for a city trip.
But let’s be honest: This sprawling metropolis is most definitely one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Sure, staying in New York isn’t a bargain by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s worth every cent!
There are so many posts offering travel hacks to find the cheapest place to stay in New York, and yeah sure, beds for under 120 dollars a night do exist.
But it’s true what they say: “You get what you pay for.” Quality has its price.
To make sure you find the perfect accommodation in New York, first you should consider the following question: Which part of New York is the best place to stay for you?
Jenny was fortunate enough to have lived in New York for a whole year and knows the city inside and out! We want to share her insights with you in this post.
We’ll show you how to get the most out of your stay in New York, share some helpful accommodation tips, and help you figure out the best place to stay in New York for your trip.
Finding your bearings in New York
At around 8.5 inhabitants, New York is the city with the biggest population in the United States.
There’s a reason Manhattan is packed with skyscrapers: All those people have to fit into a relatively small area, and over 50 million tourists who visit New York every year need a place to stay, too.
Of course, that means it can be a bit overwhelming at first if you’re used to comparatively tiny and laid-back European cities.
New York City consists of 5 large districts, which are known as boroughs.
- Staten Island
If you’re traveling to New York for sightseeing, Manhattan is your only real option. All the most famous and important sights of New York are located here. 4 of the 5 areas in New York that we recommend are in the borough of Manhattan.
Tips for staying in New York
Considering New York’s exorbitant real estate prices, it’s no wonder that budget hotels are so scarce. If you want to spend as little as possible on your accommodation in New York and you don’t mind the commute, then we have a few tips for finding cheap places to stay in New York later on in the post.
But if you’re more like us and enjoy a comfortable hotel (at a fair price!) and love being in the center of the action, then this is the perfect post for you.
But let’s talk room rates: Decent mid-range hotels in a good location start at around 200 dollars per night. Cheaper hotels are generally of much lower quality. It’s almost impossible to find a room in a good location for less than 120 dollars.
If you prefer a bit more luxury and comfort and want a larger room, then you can expect to pay 300, or even 400 dollars per night. The price also depends on the travel season.
The lowest room rates are available in January, February, July, and August. Rooms are the most expensive during the peak seasons, e.g. April, May, September, and October.
Attention: Hotel and occupancy tax
The City of New York charges a hotel tax of 14.75 percent, plus an occupancy tax of 3.50 dollars per day.
These fees are generally not included in the room rates posted online and are added in top at the end.
On booking.com you will find that information once you chose a hotel and look then if your preferred days are available.
You can see it on our screenshot under the turquoise-colored arrow.
You will then find the final price in the next booking step.
Quality vs. price
If you look for hotels with good ratings when you book, you can’t really go wrong. But you should be aware of a few things: Hotels in New York are tiny. And when we say tiny, we mean tiny.
While not quite as extreme as the super-tiny hotels in Japan, we’re still talking about around 15 sqm for about 200-300 dollars, depending on the location. That doesn’t really bother us, but first-time visitors are often shocked when they see their room.
You should take this into account when packing for your trip. Our philosophy for city trips is: Pack light and take as little as possible.
If you need some inspiration on what to bring, then check out our post on what to pack for city breaks. It’s always best to come prepared, that way you can avoid the stress of having to make room for all your luggage when you arrive.
An important tip for finding a place to stay in New York is to book as early as possible. The metropolis is a popular tourist destination all year round.
Hotels fill up quickly, especially during the peak travel season, and then you have to make do with what’s left.
Where to stay in New York? Book a hotel in the right New York neighborhood
The main thing to watch out for in New York is where you want to stay. The best place to stay in New York for your trip depends a lot on how long you’ll be staying and what you’re planning on doing.
Whichever New York neighborhood you decide on, you should always make sure there’s a subway station nearby. Now let’s find out which part of town is the best one for you.
Our tip: By the way, read our New York Pass comparison to find out which pass is the best for you.
Where to stay in New York – The best neighborhoods on a map!
To help you find your bearings, we’ve compiled a map for you with all the best places to stay. To give you an even better sense of where everything is in Manhattan, we’ve added 10 popular tourist attractions of New York.
We recommend staying in one of these 5 areas:
- Midtown: Ideal for your first visit to New York.
- Upper East Side: Ideal for luxury, shopping, and museum lovers.
- Chelsea & Greenwich Village: Ideal for New York romantics.
- Soho & Lower East Side: Ideal for hipsters and coolhunters.
- Queens: Ideal for travelers on a budget.
In the next sections, we’ll take a look at each of these areas to help you find the right one for you.
Our New York hotel tips for each neighborhood
We always provide a selection of around three hotels per neighborhood, sorted by price. We picked all the hotels we link to here according to our personal preferences for accommodation. We generally recommend choosing a mid-range hotel because they offer the best value for money.
Our personal top hotel recommendation for New York
Our favorite hotel in New York is the citizenM Hotel just off of Times Square, which offers excellent value for money in a perfect location. We had already stayed at a citizenM in Rotterdam before and were really impressed with it.
Each hotel only has a single room category, and all the rooms have the same layout with super-modern furnishings. We’re total fans of citizenM and would recommend the hotel to anyone.
A new CitizenM recently opened in the Bowery. If you’ve been to New York before and don’t want to stay around Times Square, then the citizenM in Bowery is a great alternative.
For first-timers: Midtown
Midtown is the right place to stay for you if this is your first time in New York, you want to see a lot of sights in the shortest time possible, and you want to avoid long travel times.
This part of town is perfect for about 90% of New York visitors. Midtown isn’t just the most popular district for hotel searches, it’s also the area with the largest selection of hotels in every price range.
You’ll be staying within walking distance of many of the most important and most famous sights: 5th Avenue, Times Square, the Broadway theaters, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Rockefeller Center, Central Park, and the Empire State Building.
From Midtown you can easily explore the city on foot and it’s perfectly connected to all the other parts of the town. All the major subway lines run through Midtown, so it’s really easy to get to any other station in the city. In other words: perfect!
Pros of staying in Midtown:
- Super-well connected
- Huge selection of hotels in every price range
- Lots of sights within walking distance
Cons of staying in Midtown:
- An area for tourists, not for locals
- Fewer cool restaurants than in other districts
- A never-ending throng of tourists
- Noise (check the hotel reviews to find a quiet hotel)
Our personal hotel recommendations for the Midtown
For luxury lovers Upper East Side
The Upper East Side is the right area to stay for you if you like things a little quieter, you want to go for a run in Central Park in the morning, and you plan to explore the best museums of New York.
Although the Upper East Side has changed a bit over the years, people still think of it as the neighborhood of the rich and beautiful, with expensive clothes and tiny dogs in handbags.
Of course that’s a bit of a stereotype, but there’s more than a kernel of truth to it. In spite of that, or perhaps because of it, it’s worth staying in the Upper East Side.
It’s full of beautiful buildings and luxury boutiques, with Central Park as a scenic backdrop. 5th Avenue, which runs east of Central Park, is home to the city’s most famous museums.
This part of 5th Avenue is also known as Museum Mile. There you’ll find the Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Jewish Museum, the Goethe Institute, and the Neue Galerie.
Pros of staying in the Upper East Side:
- Within walking distance of many of the city’s major museums
- Central Park is right next door
- Quieter than the other districts
Cons of staying in the Upper East Side:
- Hotels are a bit more expensive than in the other districts
- Smaller selection of restaurants and bars, especially in the lower price ranges
- Slightly longer journey to the sights in the south of Manhattan
For romantics: Chelsea & Greenwich Village
Chelsea and Greenwich Village are the right places to stay for you if you’ve been to New York before, have already checked out the main sights, and now want to immerse yourself deeper into New York life.
But they’re also great as an alternative if you don’t want to stay in tourist areas, but would rather experience an authentic slice of New York life.
Greenwich Village is the art district and, just like Chelsea, it’s teeming with life. You can spend hours on Washington Square just listening to street musicians and watching passers-by without ever getting bored.
Or you can take a stroll through narrow, winding streets and admire New York’s typical sandstone buildings, or enjoy a meal at one of the many cute little restaurants.
Greenwich Village also has some excellent comedy clubs, and you should visit at least one of them. If you’re into jazz bars, then the Village is a dream come true.
If you like swanky clubs, you’ll find several of those in the Meatpacking District, which also belongs to this part of town.
Pros of staying in Chelsea & Greenwich Village:
- An authentic New York experience
- A large selection of great restaurants in every price range
- A wide range of very stylish hotels at reasonable prices
- The major sights in the south (Wall Street, Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty) are only a short subway ride away
Cons of staying in Chelsea & Greenwich Village:
- The sights in Midtown aren’t within walking distance
- It can get a bit loud here in the evening and at night (make sure to check the hotel reviews for noise complaints)
For hipsters: Soho & Lower East Side
Soho and the Lower East Side are the right areas to stay for you if you’ve already explored the main sights of New York and want to experience life in different parts of town. Both districts are achingly hip.
Soho borders Greenwich Village to the south and is best-known for its beautiful cast-iron buildings and its many art and design shops. Just like Soho, the Lower East Side is a typical New York residential neighborhood. So you won’t find any super-famous sights here.
But what both neighborhoods have to offer instead is an incredibly diverse street scene, and a mix of super-trendy restaurants and boutiques in all price ranges. The best thing about the neighborhoods is that you can get to many other parts of the city on foot from here.
Nowhere else in New York do you get so swept up in life on the streets. Little Italy, the Bowery, Chinatown – everything’s just a stone’s throw away.
Pros of staying in Soho & the East Village:
- You’ll be staying where New Yorkers live
- There are plenty of restaurants, bars, and stores for every budget
Cons of staying in Soho & the East Village:
- The East Village in particular isn’t that well connected
- You have to take public transport to all the important sights
Cheap accommodation in Queens
Queens is the right district to stay for you if you’re looking for cheap accommodation in New York. You’ll get a lot more value for your money and won’t have to spend upwards of 200 dollars for your room.
We’ve deliberately chosen Queens as our sole recommended district outside of Manhattan because it’s just a short ride from there to Midtown by subway (about 15 minutes). And it has some really nice hotels at a fair price.
If you don’t mind taking the subway from Queens to Manhattan every day and you want more for bang for your buck, then Queens is the right place for you.
Pros of staying in Queens:
- Better value for money than in Manhattan
- Cheaper, but still fairly close to the most important sights
- Queens offers a beautiful panoramic view of the New York skyline
Cons of staying in Queens:
- Located outside of Manhattan
- You always have to take the subway to go sightseeing
Our personal hotel recommendations for Queens:
Cheap accommodation in New Jersey
New Jersey is another state, but is located right across from Manhattan on the other side of the Hudson River.
Jersey City is right across from Manhattan and especially the hotels right at the water habe a beautiful view of the Manhattan Skyline. However, the hotel prices are not cheaper than in Manhattan, simply because you can get there pretty fast by subway.
If you really want to save money, you should look at the hotels in Newark. They don’t offer a view on Manhattan, since Newark is located a little further outside, but a good room costs between 120 and 170 dollars.
You should definitely book a hotel close to the Newark Penn Station. With the red PATH Train Line you will need 22 minutes to the World Trade Center. A one way ticket costs 2,75 dollars (approximately 3,20 euros).
Pros of staying in Newark:
- You get more for your money than in Manhattan
- If you land in Newark, you are closer to the airport
Cons of staying in Newark:
- You will need 20 to 30 minutes to get to Manhattan
- You don’t have a view on the skyline, so you don’t get that authentic New York feel
Our personal hotel recommendations for Newark:
Directly at the PATH station Harrison
Cheap accommodation in New York with Airbnb?
If you look on Airbnb, you’ll often find apartments listed that are considerably cheaper than comparable hotel rooms. We’d still advise against staying in an Airbnb apartment in New York.
Airbnb ruins the housing market for locals
We used to be huge fans of Airbnb. For two reasons: It allows you to rent out your apartment when you’re on vacation, and you get to stay at a private apartment instead of a hotel and feel at home everywhere in the world.
The basic concept is great. But these days, Airbnb is full of professional vacation rentals leased for the sole purpose of putting them on Airbnb and filled with random ugly furniture to make a quick buck by renting them out 365 days a year.
The result: The housing market in major cities has become even more overcrowded and prices have skyrocketed. People are being driven out of popular districts, which then devolve into total tourist traps. That really sucks and we don’t want to contribute to this cycle any longer.
We’ve had several bad experiences with Airbnb.
What’s more, we’ve had some very bad experiences with Airbnb apartments over the past few years and were very disappointed with their customer service.
We ended up emailing back and forth with Airbnb’s customer service for several days, sometimes even weeks, only to come to the realization that guests ultimately get the short end of the stick when problems arise.
Airbnb has been illegal in New York since October 2016 (with some exceptions)
New York has never been a place for affordable housing. So it didn’t help that the city was full of apartments with the sole purpose of being rented out on Airbnb.
Just to give you a rough idea of the rent situation on the New York housing market: A small room in a shared apartment (a window is a luxury!) with a private bathroom in Manhattan starts at 1,700 dollars and can cost as much as 3,500 dollars!
No wonder then that New Yorkers spend an average of 60 percent of their income on rent. Airbnb exacerbated the situation in recent years, and so stricter regulations were put in place.
According to the new laws, renting out apartments for short periods of time (less than a month) is illegal – regardless of whether it’s a private apartment that’s only rented out from time to time, or an apartment that’s essentially a full-time vacation home.
The only exception: Up to two people can stay at an apartment with a New York resident if you share the apartment with them. The introduction of these strict guidelines was also accompanied by a major crackdown on illegal rentals.
At first it targeted providers who rented out several apartments on Airbnb, but in the past months it’s also been extended to private landlords, incurring severe penalties.
Okay, now we’ll get off our soapbox – we just think it’s important to give you a little context about New York and Airbnb.
We’ve consciously decided against staying at Airbnb apartments because we’ve experienced the issues that arise from a crowded housing market first-hand in our adopted home of Berlin.
Where did you stay in New York?
Have you ever been to New York? What part of town did you stay in? Would you recommend your hotel? Please let us know in the comments below! – Jenny & Basti