New York's Neighborhoods
Planning a trip to New York City is both exciting and overwhelming. The USA’s biggest city by population is jam-packed with amazing historical and cultural attractions, and it’s only natural to want to see as much as possible during your limited time.
Because each of the five boroughs are each large and dense in themselves, it helps to narrow your plans to the neighborhood level in order to best understand how to divvy up your time. New York City is one of the world’s most popular destinations, so we’ve put together this guide to some of the Big Apple’s most interesting and iconic neighborhoods. We hope it helps make planning your trip a little easier.
Let’s knock out the big one first. Midtown is home to many of New York City’s most iconic attractions, so even if it comes off as a tourist trap at times, no trip to the city is complete without some time spent here. Because it lies in the heart of Manhattan, here you’ll find many of the city’s most famous buildings. Wander through Midtown to see Times Square, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the Flatiron Building, Grand Central Station, The New York Public Library, and The Museum of Modern Art (MoMa).
Midtown is also home to the world-famous New York City Theater District, so you’ll want to head there when you’re ready to see a Broadway musical. The neighborhood is big, loud, and exciting. If you get exhausted, it links up perfectly with Central Park, where you can take a breather. You can then move on to New York City’s lesser-known neighborhoods.
If you love jazz and its unique history, don’t miss Harlem. While a walk through the streets of this neighborhood is a history lesson in itself, the National Jazz Museum in Harlem will teach you how this unique music genre came to define the area in the 1920s and 30s. You can still live the magic at performances at the historic Apollo Theater or Showman’s Jazz club.
The northern part of Harlem feels a little more modern, so head there once you’ve had your fill of history. Lots of renowned restaurants, bars, and coffee shops call it home. Harlem’s newest addition is Riverbank State Park, a unique green space build directly onto a sewage treatment plant.
If you’re an art lover, Chelsea is probably on your must-see list already. Chelsea has been through a lot of changes over the years. It started as a home for the estates of elite New Yorkers, then became an industrial district, then became more welcoming to housing everyday New Yorkers, including a large LGBTQ community.
Today, Chelsea has unfortunately priced most of its old inhabitants out. However, it’s become home to hundreds of art galleries and is considered to be one of New York City’s biggest arts and culture hubs. You could spend days just browsing the many galleries, but take some time to also visit Chelsea Market and peek into the historic Chelsea Hotel.
Chelsea is now the gold standard for New York City’s artistic communities, but SoHo held the crown for many years. It’s been the home to many artists’ homes and galleries since the turn of the 20th century, and it’s still well worth a visit. You’ll find fascinating museums like the Museum of Ice Cream, New York City Fire Museum, The Drawing Center, and Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art, the world’s only LGBTQ+ art museum. Like in Chelsea, there are many other art galleries too.
Right alongside SoHo are two must-see international districts: Chinatown and Little Italy. When you’re done looking at museums and galleries, both are worth strolling through to shop and grab a bite to eat.
Upper East Side
The Upper East Side is often known as New York City’s high-end luxury district, with some of the most expensive and elite shopping anywhere in the world. Fancy hotels with luxurious, elaborate decorations are found all over, many of which have a lot of historical significance.
It isn’t all just about wealth here, though. Many of the city’s most famous and world-renowned museums are here too, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Guggenheim Museum, and the Jewish Museum of New York. There’s also plenty of fine dining available if you’ve got the cash for it.
Upper West Side
New York City is home to countless famous attractions, but one of the best things to do on a visit is to simply wander and take in the life around you. The Upper West Side is one of the best places to stroll. Central Park is plenty iconic, but here you’ll also find countless historical, charming shops along Columbus Avenue and Broadway. Riverside Park also makes for a great place to walk and look out over the water. If you need some educational or cultural stimulation, you’ll also find the American Museum of Natural History and the Lincoln Center in this neighborhood.
Greenwich Village is known for its mid-century bohemian subculture, and while that’s changed over time, you can still feel the beatnik vibes. Full of comedy and jazz clubs, it’s a great entertainment district, and the many sidewalk patios and tasty restaurants make it a good place to simply exist for a while. It’s also home to Washington Square Park, which is second only to Central Park in the Manhattan park tier list.
West Greenwich Village is also calmer than the rest of Manhattan, though you’ll still find lots of Sex and the City fans there. There are lots of scenic places to stroll and look out over the Hudson river.
Let’s cap off our Manhattan roundup at its southern tip. The Financial District is known best for housing Wall Street, the beating economic heart of New York City. However, it’s also among the most historical districts of NYC. Many of the streets date back even further than the USA itself.
For some sobering history, you can also visit the National Sept. 11 Memorial before visiting One World Trade Center. Afterward, grab a drink at one of the city’s oldest bars before heading down to The Battery park for a view of or cruise to the Statue of Liberty.
Once you’re done here, cross the iconic Brooklyn Bridge to see what else NYC has to offer.
If you make it into Brooklyn, Williamsburg is a must-see. This neighborhood is like an everyman’s version of Chelsea, covered in street art and full of galleries and theaters. The Brick Theater is one of the best places in New York City to catch a show. Don’t forget to take a walking tour to learn about the neighborhood’s iconic graffiti.
When you think of the iconic Brownstones from photos of Brooklyn, you’re thinking of Brooklyn Heights. It’s the closest thing New York City has to suburban living, and it makes for a unique place to wander around and take in the historic architecture. Compared to bustling Manhattan, it’s extremely peaceful.
Just next door is Dumbo, where you can visit Brooklyn Bridge Park and get a prime view of the Manhattan skyline. The atmosphere is incredible.
Aesthetically, Fort Greene is a lot like its neighbor Brooklyn Heights, but it feels more like a place where people hang out rather than just live. The dining and nightlife are some of the best in Brooklyn, and it’s got tons of cultural and artistic hubs. If you like basketball, you can catch a Brooklyn Nets game at the Barclay’s Center. It’s also home to Fort Greene Park, which is one of the best parks in the city. If you can, visit on a Saturday to enjoy the Fort Greene Park Greenmarket, where you can buy some groceries from nearby growers or simply grab a cider and enjoy peoplewatching among the chestnut trees.
Last we’ll head north into Queens. Astoria is famous for being a headquarters to the early film industry at the turn of the 20th century, and you can find tons of information about this era at the Museum of the Moving Image, located in the former Astoria Studios building.
There is also lots of fascinating architecture in Astoria, and you can take an architecture tour to learn all about it. Don’t forget to stop at Noguchi Museum to see the works of Isamu Noguchi, an artist and landscape architect who was famous for his sculptures, gardens, and designs.
Before you head back to Manhattan, kick back for a little while in Astoria Park, where you can play some tennis, go skating, or hang out and overlook the iconic Robert F. Kennedy Bridge.
New York City may be intimidating, but it’s well worth the effort of figuring out what you’d most like to see and planning your trip accordingly. We hope this guide has been helpful. Now, when you step off your PLAY flight to the Big Apple, you’ll know exactly where to go.