An introduction to New York City’s neighborhoods
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New York City is the most densely populated city in the United States, with more than 8.3 million people stacked up and spread across five boroughs and hundreds of distinct neighborhoods.
And the neighborhoods here are as diverse as the people who call this city home. Each has its own history, culture and personality (Greenwich Village has long been the LGBTQ epicenter of New York City; for karaoke and Korean barbecue head to – you guessed it — Koreatown, a tiny nabe centered around 32nd Street).
To help you make the most of your time in New York City, we’re exploring 24 of our favorite neighborhoods, from iconic Manhattan districts to charming Brooklyn communities.
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Don’t let the name fool you: FiDi (the Financial District) is so much more than Wall Street. Occupying the southernmost tip of Manhattan, FiDi is one of the most historic corners of the city — evidenced by the snarl of narrow cobblestone streets and structures dating back to the 1600s. But visitors will also be drawn here to visit the gleaming World Trade Center, the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum and the Oculus, or catch a ferry to see the Statue of Liberty.
Grab a drink at one of the oldest bars in New York (Fraunces Tavern), take in the view from the One World Observatory and peruse the luxury shops and upscale food court af Brookfield Place. Or, elbow up to the bar with the after-work crowd at Clinton Hall for a round of oversized Jenga or Connect Four while drinking a Bro Beer IPA. For something a bit less fussy, the Irish pub O’Hara’s is a lively (albeit loud) place to grab a drink.
Get here via the PATH, the ferry, the bus or a dizzying number of trains (the J and Z; the E, A, C; the N and R; and the 2, 3, 4 and 5).
Greenwich Village may not be the domain of hippies and beatniks any longer, but this iconic Manhattan neighborhood still embodies a more bohemian sensibility than you’ll find uptown. With its tree-lined streets and sidewalk patios, many visitors come here to take a break from the relentless grid.
Start in the beating heart of the village, Washington Square Park. With its famous stone arch anchoring the bottom of Fifth Avenue, this park has seen generations of celebration and protest. A visit here might place you in the middle of a university graduation, an impromptu dance performance or a game of pétanque. Don’t be afraid to join the fray.
From here, make your way to The Blue Note or Smalls for live jazz, catch live stand-up comedy at the clubs on MacDougal Street, or twirl oversize forkfuls of pasta at Carbone or Emillio’s Ballato. Save time to stop at the Stonewall National Monument — the sight of the 1969 uprising that lent momentum to the fight for LGBTQ rights.
Upper West Side
There’s no one thing or attraction that sets the Upper West Side (UWS) apart. It’s a living, breathing neighborhood. And that’s its charm.
Sure, you have Central Park, Lincoln Center, the American Museum of Natural History and the spot where John Lennon last lived (and Yoko Ono still lives). But what really makes the Upper West Side a great spot to spend half your day is just wandering the streets. Yes, there are plenty of chains, but also some great independent boutiques along Columbus Avenue in the mid-60s and 70s.
Stroll over to Broadway and 80th and pop into Zabar’s, a grocery store that’s anything but your typical grocer. Dating back to 1934, the third-generation shop specializes in high-quality coffee beans, smoked salmon and whitefish, artisanal cheeses and baked goods. Or, make your friends jealous with the decadent cookies at the original location of Levain Bakery on 74th Street and Amsterdam. (You can also skip the lines by walking two blocks to a newer, second location.)
The neighborhood used to be a foodie wasteland, but now has a mix of cozy neighborhood standbys next to restaurants that would please the toughest food critic. Barney Greengrass, “The Sturgeon King,” on 86th and Amsterdam, traces its history back to 1908. Much younger — but equally tasty — favorites in the neighborhood include Tessa, Kefi, Maison Pickle and Cafe Luxembourg.
Finally, briefly escape the city with a walk, run or bike ride along the Hudson River in Riverside Park. Go early in the morning to join New Yorkers in their workout or come before sunset to take a leisurely stroll along the water.
Upper East Side
Manhattan’s Upper East Side (UES) neighborhood is one of the city’s most iconic, having appeared in countless movies and television shows. The area is known to be particularly posh, with some of the city’s most exclusive shopping streets including Madison Avenue and Fifth Avenue bisecting the neighborhood, as well as some of the most expensive real estate in town — if not the entire country.
Walking around the Upper East Side, you’ll find ample greenery and regal townhouses, full-service apartment and condo buildings with doorpeople donning full uniforms complete with hats and white gloves. Affluent residents can be seen taking their dogs for leisurely afternoon walks with Louis Vuitton bags in tow.
The Upper East Side is also home to some of New York’s finest cultural institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met), the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Henry Clay Frick House, the Jewish Museum of New York and more.
Visitors won’t be lacking for hotel options in this part of town, either. Predictably, the Upper East Side is where you’ll find many of the city’s classically luxurious hotels, housed in landmark buildings with plenty of dark wood and ornate, gold-leaf-trimmed lobbies. Among them are The Carlyle, a Rosewood Hotel (home to the famous Bemelman’s Bar); The Mark Hotel; The Pierre, a Taj Hotel; and the Hôtel Plaza Athénée.
While younger New Yorkers may say the Upper East Side is a bore, there are plenty of restaurants and bars to keep you entertained. Stroll along Second Avenue and pop into any one of the numerous cafes, bistros or wine bars and you’ll be sure to find something to satisfy any craving.
It’s an understatement to say that “Sex and the City” raised the profile of this neighborhood. Once a low-key, mostly residential enclave stretching from Seventh Avenue to the Hudson River south of 14th Street and down to Houston, Carrie Bradshaw and friends attracted swarms of tourists here in the early 2000s.
Though the mania around the sitcom has died down on the (mostly) quiet streets of the West Village, you’ll still see the occasional themed walking tour crowding the sidewalk in front of “Carrie’s” building or the now-nationally-franchised Magnolia Bakery.
If you can see past the hype, though, the West Village has earned its reputation for romance, beauty and yes, exclusivity. A walk here will afford you views across the Hudson River, and as well as photographs filled with some of the most picturesque and expensive real estate in the city.
Be sure to wander all the way west to visit one of the city’s newer landmarks, the Whitney Museum of American Art, which relocated here to shiny new Renzo Piano-designed digs in 2015. Join the throngs on the nearby High Line, a meticulously landscaped park built onto a disused, elevated railroad bed. It’s among the most popular New York City attractions, for both visitors and locals.
The East Village of Manhattan is a once-gritty, now rapidly gentrifying area that’s famous for its bar scene and is considered the birthplace of punk rock in the U.S. The area was developed first as estates, and then as the wealthy moved uptown in the 1800s, the East Village was redeveloped by the immigrants who moved in. By the 1970s it had been colonized by artists and musicians seeking cheap rent. To give you an idea of the changes the neighborhood has seen, the famous CBGB punk bar is now a John Varvatos boutique.
The neighborhood is also home to a charming collection of older storefronts, vintage boutiques, raucous bars and ethnic restaurants. Chain stores have invaded the East Village just like they have the rest of the city, so you’ll also find Target and Starbucks.
Visit the famous St. Marks Place or Thompson Square Park to get a sense of the area’s bohemian past. Both areas were home to hippies and punk rockers in their glory days. The area around Astor Place subway station is home to a popular landmark known locally as the Cube (officially called “The Alamo” by Tony Rosenthal) that tourists like to spin around on one of its edges.
Excellent, international restaurants pay tribute to the area’s working-class, immigrant past including Veselka for Ukrainian diner food; the Italian bakery and restaurant Veniero’s Pasticceria and Cafe (more than 100 years old); and Momofuku Noodle Bar, founded by star chef David Chang.
Hell’s Kitchen is New York City’s best-kept secret. Sure, it’s in Midtown, and shoulder-to-shoulder with Times Square, but that’s what makes it so great. As soon as you head west of Eighth Avenue you’re among the artists, actors and performers you just saw on Broadway.
No longer the grungy, gritty neighborhood that earned it the name Hell’s Kitchen, this neighborhood is still packed with restaurants fitting of such a designation. You can get everything from the city’s best bread to the city’s best pie to the city’s best dim sum and ramen. Hell’s Kitchen is also home to some of the city’s most iconic bars, all in a matter of a few blocks. When you’re ready to walk it all off, head to the West Side Highway for a stroll along the Hudson River or head to Central Park, a quick 10-minute walk away.
Hell’s Kitchen is an especially LGBTQ-friendly neighborhood, so come for dinner and stay for a drag show. And don’t worry about a pandemic putting a damper on your plans: There’s ample seating outdoors and on the streets, which makes for a lively scene and great people watching, especially if you’re into theater.
Tribeca, shorthand for “Triangle Below Canal Street,” is an area of the city that was once a bit of a noman’s land of warehouses and businesses that’s been transformed into one of the most desirable residential areas of Manhattan. It’s known as one of the safest neighborhoods in the city and has been ranked as the most expensive as well. The New York Times recently reported that prices in late August for apartments for sale ranged from $988,000 to a cool $37 million.
Visitors may now know it best as the site of the star-studded Tribeca Film Festival created by Robert De Niro and other A-listers after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to help reinvigorate the neighborhood. De Niro also owns the Tribeca Grill. Other popular restaurants in the area include China Blue, the Odeon and chef Andrew Carmellini’s always-busy Italian restaurant Locanda Verde, which is located in The Greenwich Hotel (owned by — you guessed it — De Niro).
The area is home to several fancy hotels including the Four Seasons Hotel Downtown New York, and the trendy Thompson Hotel Smyth Tribeca, which is in the World of Hyatt program. It’s also home to the Sheraton Tribeca if you want to burn Marriott Bonvoy points.
Be sure to check out the so-called Jenga Building at 56 Leonard Street. The 57-story skyscraper was designed by Herzog & de Meuron, opened in 2017 and has become a favorite feature of the always-changing New York City skyline.
You can easily get to Tribeca using the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, A, C, E, N, Q, R, J and Z subway lines.
Harlem is divided into a handful of subneighborhoods (think: East Harlem and Sugar Hill) and each has its own unique flair and cultural history. Head to 125th Street for a show at the historic Apollo Theater or a jazz set at Showman’s Jazz Club. Interested in learning more about Harlem’s jazz roots? Check out the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, a minimuseum that takes you through the neighborhood’s history as the jazz capital of the world.
From there, take the A train north to Hamilton Heights for a walk through City College and a visit to Alexander Hamilton’s homestead. You can visit one of an endless number of coffee shops, bars and restaurants, including Sugar Hill Cafe, Uptown Bourbon and Handpulled Noodle while you’re there. Make sure to check out Riverbank State Park, too. This relatively new park is built on top of a sewage treatment plant, but trust us, it doesn’t smell like one.
Chelsea is one of New York City’s most sought-after neighborhoods (just like its namesake Chelsea district in London). In the 1700s, it largely featured estates for wealthy New Yorkers, which were eventually taken over by rowhouses and industrial buildings that reached down to piers on the Hudson River. Immigrants and the working class eventually made it home.
Like other parts of New York, Chelsea has been completely gentrified and is now better known for super-expensive apartments than a raging nightlife (this neighborhood was once the heart of the gay community in Manhattan). Over time, the glory days have faded and many gay clubs, bars and restaurants are now closed, but it’s still known for having a large LGBTQ community.
Arts, culture and fashion continue to be prominent in Chelsea. It’s now a major center for the international art market, with more than 200 art galleries, and the aforementioned High Line cuts through Chelsea. There’s also the redeveloped Chelsea Piers, which are now public parks, and the West Side Highway biking and walking paths are easily accessible from Chelsea. You can’t visit this neighborhood without exploring the much-loved Chelsea Market, housed in an old Nabisco factory, or window shopping at high-end retailers such as Balenciaga and Comme des Garçons.
And don’t forget to check out the Hotel Chelsea. The Victorian behemoth was New York City’s first cooperative apartment complex and housed some incredibly famous tenents: Mark Twain, Dylan Thomas, Tennessee Williams, Patti Smith, Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan, Cher and Madonna.
It’s easy to write off Midtown as a “tourist trap,” and yes, there are tourist traps in Midtown. But you’d be missing out if you didn’t at least briefly explore this part of town. Instead of spending your time in the Times Square Swatch store (unless you’re really into extremely colorful watches!), visit the heart of the city after hours, when it’s all a-glow in neon and devoid of corporate foot traffic. Even a New Yorker will tell you to sit, at least once, on the iconic Red Steps and watch people try and dodge the scary cartoon characters.
If you work up an appetite, head to the market at Grand Central (and also the Grand Central Oyster Bar with a pitstop at the Whispering Wall); grab a pie at John’s Pizzeria; channel your inner Anthony Bourdain and eat spicy noodles at Xi’an Famous Foods; and then indulge in a few of the best cocktails in the entire city at The Rum House. There’s no better place to warm up than this dark and cozy ode to Hemingway.
Pro tip(s): For the best view of the city, go up to the top of the Chrysler Building, not the Empire State Building. The northern advantage of the former means both sweeping views of downtown Manhattan (including the Empire State Building) and also Central Park. Similarly, while the New York Public Library is absolutely not to be missed (even if you aren’t a book nerd), The Morgan Library and Museum just a few blocks away is a quiet oasis and equally, if not more beautiful. Make sure to check out their site for upcoming programs, exhibits and events.
It’s not every day an entirely new neighborhood appears on the map, but that’s exactly what happened with this luxury development on the far west side of Manhattan, which began slowly rising over the city’s acres of active railyards in 2014.
Five years later, Hudson Yards — the largest private real estate development in the history of the country — opened to tourists and tenants. Accessible via the High Line and the 7 train, visitors come here for its proximity to the Javits Convention Center, the Shops and Restaurants at 20 Hudson Yards; the Vessel (an interactive public sculpture designed by the Heatherwick Studio comprising 154 interlocking staircases) and the view from Edge — a cantilevered, outdoor observation deck said to be the tallest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere.
If you really want to get to know the neighborhood, spend the night at the 212-room Equinox Hotel, the flagship property from the namesake wellness and fitness brand.
Dumbo and Brooklyn Heights
Just across the East River from Lower Manhattan are two of South Brooklyn’s best neighborhoods. Dumbo (which stands for “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass”) was for decades an industrial section of the borough where few people lived and there were even fewer things to do. Fast forward a few decades and the neighborhood is one of the most popular spots in Brooklyn for New Yorkers and visitors alike.
Enjoy a stroll in Brooklyn Bridge Park with unobstructed views of the Downtown Manhattan skyline — and North America’s tallest skyscraper — and get your picture taken on Washington Street between Front and Water Streets (trust us).
Adjacent to Dumbo is one of Brooklyn’s most quintessential neighborhoods: Brooklyn Heights. Offering a slice of suburbia in the city, this neighborhood is filled with picture-perfect brownstones and quiet neighborhood parks filled with families. Brooklyn Heights isn’t as trendy as some of the other areas of Brooklyn, but that’s part of its enduring charm. One of the best things to do in this area is simply to walk around the quiet streets and take in the historic architecture and relative tranquility.
You can expect low-key restaurants and intimate bars that reflect the more refined taste of the neighborhood’s residents. But you’re never too far from anywhere else, as the subway provides access to the rest of Brooklyn and all of Manhattan.
Crown Heights and Prospect Heights
Crown Heights and Prospect Heights may exist in the shadows of their flashier neighbors, Park Slope and Bedford-Stuyvesant, but there are plenty of reasons visitors should take the 2, 3, 4 or 5 trains to this underrated section of Brooklyn.
In Crown Heights, you’ll find traditional Jewish bakeries alongside sugar cane stands and Trinidadian restaurants. If you’re venturing out to this part of central Brooklyn, be sure to stroll up and down the tree-lined and pedestrian-friendly Eastern Parkway; explore the Brooklyn Museum; wander around the south side of Prospect Park; and visit historic Weeksville, a neighborhood founded by free African Americans prior to the Civil War.
Related: A love letter to New York City
Another popular Brooklyn destination, Fort Greene has the look and feel of nearby Brooklyn Heights (plenty of trees and historic brownstones) but with better nightlife and dining.
Spend an afternoon in Fort Greene Park or visit on Saturdays, when the Fort Greene Park Greenmarket is in full swing. The neighborhood has experienced much change over the last several decades and is now home to a plethora of cultural and arts venues like the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and even the Barclays Center, which is home to the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and hosts many big-name concerts.
It’s the home of Biggie Smalls and Jay-Z, and much of the television show “Everybody Hates Chris” was based around this neighborhood. Bedford-Stuyvesant (colloquially known as “Do or Die” Bed-Stuy) is a large, historically African-American neighborhood in northern Brooklyn.
When you think of Bed-Stuy, the first thing that comes to mind might be the beautiful brownstones, many of which have stayed in the same families for generations. In fact, The New York Times reported in 2014 that Bed Stuy has the largest collection of Victorian architecture in the U.S.
Start your day in the Stuy at Brooklyn Tea on Nostrand Avenue (the cafe recently got a shoutout from Beyoncé!), then brunch at Basquiat’s Bottle on Fulton Street. Spend your afternoon people-watching on Stuyvesant Avenue or at Saratoga Park, and grab a few home goods at Radical Women and Make Manifest on Tompkins Avenue.
Pedestrian-friendly streets lined with strollers and meticulous brownstones overlooking Prospect Park, this family-friendly Brooklyn neighborhood is quiet, charming, residential and too expensive for most New Yorkers to afford.
There’s really no better way to experience Park Slope than by picnicking in the park (fill your basket with goods from Union Market), which is filled with joggers and sunbathers at even the first sight of spring. Or, grab a meal at Miriam (authentic Israeli cuisine so good, you’ll be transported to Tel Aviv); Fonda for contemporary Mexican; or Al Di La Trattoria, one of the best-known restaurants in the neighborhood that serves classic Italian fare.
The hottest neighborhood in Brooklyn right now might still be Williamsburg — or “Hipster City,” as real estate broker Ken Brown puts it. Artists flooded the area beginning in the 1970s looking for cheap rent, and despite its skyrocketing prices retains its reputation as a creative enclave. One of the best activities you can do here is a walking tour of the abundant and spectacular graffiti and street art for which the neighborhood has become known.
New ferry routes make it an accessible trip from Manhattan, and the MTA’s notorious L train typically carries thousands of young commuters back and forth between the boroughs. Take the L to the Bedford Avenue station to really immerse yourself in the heart of Williamsburg.
Williamsburg is also home to a thriving music, theater and nightclub scene. Brick Theater is among the standout performance spaces, which features drama, comedy, drag and performance art. History buffs will love the funky little City Reliquary Museum, which has a quirky collection that traces the history of New York City’s five boroughs. There’s also a fabulous new park on the grounds of the former Domino Sugar Refinery that affords sweeping views of Manhattan.
Don’t forget the 1903 Williamsburg Bridge that links the area to Manhattan and makes for a dramatic Instagram backdrop. You can wind up your visit to the area with a meal at the famous Peter Luger Steakhouse, which dates back to 1887.
Once defined by industrial decay, Bushwick is now undoubtedly a nexus of everything hip, trendy and cutting-edge in New York. The area borders Queens on its northeast side and is known as a major hub of the arts, with street murals on practically every block. Come here to explore art galleries and coffee shops teeming with hipsters, all doing their part to up the “cool” factor of the area.
You (quite literally) can’t miss the Bushwick Collective while you’re in the neighborhood. It’s a project started by local resident Joseph Ficalora, who was inspired after the death of his parents to bring street artists from all over the world to Bushwick to beautify its streets with temporary murals that are typically replaced each year or so.
Once you’re done touring the art scene, stay for dinner and drinks. Roberta’s is a cult-favorite pizza joint, but if you’re pizza-ed out on your New York City trip, the area has an abundance of reasonably priced cuisine from all over the world. It’s a great spot for nightlife, too. House of Yes (a world-famous nightclub known for wild parties complete with aerial dancers, circus performers, burlesque dancers, tarot card readers and so much more) calls Bushwick home.
Originally home to a Native American settlement, Westerners first put down roots here in the late 1600s. Eventually, Astoria was developed into a wealthy suburb and named after the famous John Jacob Astor, who was once the wealthiest man in the nation. In fact, you can still find remnants of the wealthy enclave built in Queens in what is called “Old Astoria.”
Astoria was also one of the first homes to the brand new film industry back in the early 1900s, and today it’s home to the Museum of the Moving Image in the former headquarters of the historic Astoria Studios. The Museum says it, “maintains the nation’s largest and most comprehensive collection of artifacts relating to the art, history and technology of the moving image.”
If you love the TWA Hotel, you might also love the Noguchi Museum in Astoria. The Japanese-American architect Isamu Noguchi did some of the period furniture you can see now at the popular airport hotel. He designed and created this intimate foundation and museum across the street from his former studio in Queens to highlight some of his works. For music aficionados, there’s the Steinway and Sons Piano factory, which is open for limited tours, and the old-fashioned vinyl record shop, HiFi Records.
During your trip, be sure to check out Astoria Park. The 60-acre green space is home to the oldest and largest swimming pool in the city (used in the 1936 and 1964 Olympic Games). The park on the banks of the East River has spectacular views of Manhattan and the Triborough-Robert F. Kennedy Bridge. Top off your visit with a trip to Bohemian Hall, the oldest beer garden in the city.
Long Island City
Located to the south of Astoria, Long Island City (LIC) is an ever-changing neighborhood with a dizzying mix of commercial and residential spaces. LIC is home to offices for major companies, including JetBlue’s global headquarters — but you’re probably here for the views of the food.
You can head south to the Hunters Point district for amazing views of the Manhattan skyline from a rooftop bar or the riverside Croatian restaurant, Anabel Basin Sailing Bar. To the north, you can indulge in amazing pub fare at The Huntress or barbecue at John Brown Smokehouse. Long Island City’s best-known culinary spot, though, may be the Indian restaurant Adda.
It’s also very easy to get to Long Island City from anywhere in the city. There are two ferry stops in Hunters Point and a major subway connection at Queensboro Plaza. There are also a handful of Choice, Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt properties, so it’s easy to stay in the neighborhood overnight with points. Two fan-favorite properties are the Four Points by Sheraton Long Island City/Queensboro Bridge and Hyatt Place Long Island City.
Concourse needs no introduction. The Bronx neighborhood is home to Yankee Stadium and is packed with sports fans during games. If you go during the off-season, you can go for a walk around Macombs Dam Park and check out one of the many nearby pubs like Yankee Tavern and Bronx Drafthouse.
This neighborhood is also home to the Bronx Museum of the Arts, which is a great rainy day activity. A few blocks north of the stadium, you’ll find more than 2,000 pieces of artwork from artists who “reflect the borough’s dynamic communities” at this museum.
Possibly the best-known neighborhood in the Bronx, Fordham is home to the eponymous university and may be one of the top destinations in the city for travelers who need a reprieve from all the concrete.
Spanning over 700 acres, the public Bronx Park is the site of both the New York Botanical Gardens — which features a gleaming Victorian-style glass conservatory, an elegant rose garden and a sprawling expanse of uncut woodland, among other specialty gardens — and the Bronx Zoo, one of the largest in the nation.
Fordham is also where you’ll discover Arthur Avenue, an iconic thoroughfare that’s frequently hailed as the “real” Little Italy. Drop by Casa Della Mozzarella, where the art of making fresh mozzarella has been passed down through the generations.
Mott Haven is the southernmost neighborhood in the Bronx, and it’s quickly defining itself as a hub for craft beer and liquor. Head to The Bronx Brewery and Empanology to sample some of New York City’s best beers and burgers. Then, walk a few blocks west and stop by the Port Morris Distillery to taste Pitorro — a Puerto Rican spirit — that’s distilled right here in the Bronx.
And if you’re an AV geek, make sure to watch planes land at New York-LaGuardia (LGA) from the neighborhood’s eastern waterfront on the East River.
Reporting by Nick Ellis, Jane Frye, Clint Henerson, Andrew Kunesh, Melanie Lieberman, Scott Mayerowitz, Laura Motta and Vikkie Walker.
Featured photo by © Marco Bottigelli/Getty Images.
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