The “best New York City neighborhoods” is a subjective topic that depends largely on what kind of area you’re looking for. For me, I enjoy places that have some distinct qualities that make them different from the rest of the city.
NYC has a ton of interesting hoods throughout its five boroughs. I know people who swear by Red Hook, Hell’s Kitchen, Greenpoint and Washington Heights, which are all cool but failed to make my list. I’ve spent most of my time in Manhattan, hence these choices. Here are a few of my favorite spots to check out when I’m in town.
NYC Neighborhood I most want to live in:
The hipster capital of the world! Put on those skinny jeans, hop on your fixie and go enjoy a vegan meal at a local café, followed by cheap PBRs at the nearest dive bar while you discuss the latest Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective records. Or catch a show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, one of my favorite live music venues in NYC.
As one of the few hipsters who willingly embraces the label, I feel at home in Williamsburg and make an effort to stop by every time I’m in NYC. The epic thrift store Beacon’s Closet is always a must-visit, though lately I’ve been disappointed in the lack of truly great items there.
NYC Neighborhood that is starting to feel more like a college town:
Greenwich Village has long been known as the Bohemian center of NYC, though it has been changing over the years. NYU has been taking over more and more, and I may be one of the few people who doesn’t mind, because I like college neighborhoods as well. Washington Square Park is a fun place to hangout for those who don’t want to head up to Union Square.
NYC Neighborhood worth going north for:
I particularly like the youthful energy around the Columbia University area near 116th Street, where I stayed for two months during my first NYC experience. This part of the Upper West Side is fairly vibrant and safe, and though it may take you a while to get south of 14th Street from here, you can pass the time by sitting back and soaking in the NYC subway experience.
NYC Neighborhood I want to spend more time in:
(Tie) East Village & Harlem
The East Village (or the Lower East Side, but I’m not getting in the middle of that semantic war) is the place to go in Manhattan for (somewhat) affordable housing and numerous nightlife options for the younger, alternative-type crowd. Shamefully, I’ve only found myself there a few times.
Meanwhile, Harlem has loads of culture and history. I was scared away when I first went to NYC by the apocryphal stories of crime, but these days it’s become a much more visitor-friendly area. Next time, I need to stop by to check out the museums, restaurants and attractions like the Apollo.
NYC Neighborhood with lots to do and a cool vibe:
Chelsea has a fun mix of people, eateries and nightlife, centered around both gay culture and not-gay-but-trendy culture. And it has a generous amount of green space, like the High Line!
The only drawback with Chelsea is that it’s a little too big – I’d enjoy it more if the best parts of the hood could be packed into a more concentrated area. Oh, and if the rent was a little more affordable. But these are minor quibbles. Chelsea will always be one of the coolest New York City neighborhoods.
And someday, I have to stay at the Chelsea Hotel, like so many of my idols have. Even if it’s just for one night.
NYC Neighborhood for upscale culture & celeb watching:
For one month, I lived a block north of SoHo (that’s NoHo, if you’re playing the regional nickname game.) SoHo is too expensive for my taste in terms of shopping and eating out, but it’s the best spot to watch for celebrities and take in upscale NYC culture.
The sophisticated hood has plenty of art and architecture to enjoy. It’s posh, but I don’t feel out of place. Other things to do in SoHo include checking out the galleries and street art, and visiting bars and restaurants.
NYC Neighborhood for budget shopping:
When I first visited Chinatown, I was flummoxed because I was actually having a hard time finding Chinese restaurants. This doesn’t make any sense!, I thought. The restaurants are there, but on that day I was distracted by all the people right in the middle of the heart of the shopping district, which gets super-crowded on nice days, as visitors stroll through looking for bargains.
The prices are definitely appropriate for the budget traveler. Not a place I’d necessarily want to put down roots, but it’s fun to stop by and check out the action.
NYC Neighborhood for a nice dinner:
There are few things I love more than sidewalk seating while eating dinner, especially in northern cities than only have warm weather a few months a year. I always like heading to Little Italy for its many restaurants that offer outdoor seating and primo people-watching.
Its close proximity to Chinatown allows visitors to take in two very different areas of the city in just a short walk.
NYC Neighborhood I’m not ashamed to admit liking:
This is how you know I’m not an NYC local: Because I enjoy Times Square. It’s true, the area isn’t really much of a “neighborhood” in the sense that it’s not a big residential community. But if you’re visiting from out of town, how can you not make a stop in Times Square and enjoy the lights, the energy, the history?
There aren’t many other places in the world where you’ll find people from so many different cultures and backgrounds, all gathered together, so in that sense, Times Square really encapsulates what New York City is all about.
Plus, Times Square is practically right next door to Rockefeller Center, and if it’s winter, you can go skating or just observe the action. It’s undeniably one of the best parts of NYC.
Bonus: Five Under the Radar NYC Attractions Worth Visiting
Want to move beyond these NYC neighborhoods and into the Bronx, Roosevelt Island, and Battery Park City? Here’s a bonus list of some under-the-radar and lesser-known NYC attractions to add to your wishlist.
These unique and quirky attractions add to the culture and appeal of their respective NYC neighborhoods.
The Hall of Fame for Great Americans (Bronx)
Located on the campus of Bronx Community College, the Hall of Fame for Great Americans was established in 1900, making it one of the first halls of fame in existence. The 630-foot open-air facility displays 98 bronze busts of individuals who made important contributions to the country.
They include presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, authors Ralph Waldo Emerson and Harriet Beecher Stowe, and inventors Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell.
Irish Hunger Memorial (Battery Park City)
Not far from the new World Trade Center sits a parklet known as the Irish Hunger Memorial. It was created in 2001 to remember the Irish Potato Famine that killed more than 1 million people between 1845 and 1852.
The elevated park contains soils and vegetation imported from Ireland itself. This might be the only place in Manhattan that feels like western Ireland, thanks to its limestone cottages and rolling landscape.
Roosevelt Island Tramway (Roosevelt Island)
To get an aerial view of New York City, you could wait in line for hours at the Empire State Building, or just hop on the tramway between Manhattan and Roosevelt Island. The views from 250 feet above the East River provide a unique vantage point.
You can use your MTA MetroCard, and the tram runs at least four times per hour from the intersection of 59th and 2nd, so it’s an affordable way to see a different side of the city.
Tom’s Restaurant (Upper West Side)
As the setting for hundreds of movies and TV shows, the streets of NYC possess a vast pop-culture history. One of the most recognizable sitcom storefronts is Tom’s Restaurant on the Upper West Side.
Seinfeld used the exterior of this Morningside Heights cafe for its diner scenes. You’ll notice the familiar neon sign “Tom’s Restaurant” wrapping around the building. Tom’s also inspired Suzanne Vega’s 1990 Top 10 hit “Tom’s Diner,” giving it a pair of significant pop-culture references.
When it comes to unique museums, Mmuseumm might take the prize for its originality. Hidden away inside a street-level freight elevator on Cortlandt Alley in Chinatown, Mmuseumm’s small space focuses on the concept of “object journalism,” which aims to educate visitors and spark conversations via physical objects.
While the museum’s exhibitions change regularly, recent items on display have included a random layout of Corn Flakes, fast food containers from Iran, and a hot water heater from Lithuania.
Which of the coolest New York City neighborhoods are your favorite?