Where to stay in New York for the first time?

By Abi King | Best Places to Visit USA

Mar 12

Yellow taxis in New York

Where’s the best area to stay in New York for the first time?

New York, New York, the city so good they named it twice.

But if you’re only going there once, it’s good to have a plan.

I’ve received a lot of questions lately asking about where to stay in NYC. Where’s best for sightseeing, where’s best for a first trip, when you’re travelling with a family and so on.

And most of that boils down to what you want to see and how happy you are to travel around the not-all-that-big-when-it-comes-to-it Big Apple.

Abi from Inside the Travel Lab walking across the Brooklyn Bridge

Getting Around New York

One of the best things about Manhattan is that its grid-like structure with numbered road names makes it easy to work out where things are and how far you have to go to get there.

The worst thing is that that means you have to stop to cross the road every 20 seconds or so.

No problem for many, intensely annoying for some. In our marriage, it’s one of the few times that I get to be the Zen one who doesn’t mind at all, while Mr Travel Lab and our NYC mate fizzed and frazzled themselves every time WALK and DON’T WALK appeared.

It’s a moment I shall treasure, particularly the next time I’m in the Quiet Carriage on the train and someone opens a packet of crisps.

(In fact, that was short lived. I’m on the train right now and someone’s just done it while I’ve been typing. Arrgggh!!!! Petty problem hell!!! It’s even driven me to use multiple exclamation marks, a blasphemy of some kind around here.)

Anyway… I digress.

Inside the Oculus in New York

The grid-like system means that it’s very easy to work out where something is.

The subway system on the other hand is less clear. It’s almost enough to make you yearn for the colour-coded London Underground and definitely hot enough to make you yearn for a hot shower.

Those iconic yellow cabs can obviously also get you from A to B but it’s not always a given. I’ve been in several where I’ve had to give directions and ended up yearning for that shower anyway.

The ferries give some great views, as does a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge but I think I’m getting ahead of myself.

Where to stay in New York for the first time

Most of the first time attractions are within walking distance if you have comfy shoes and, well, a slight sense of adventure.

If you have a fitbit, too, now’s the time to invite a friend to a challenge. You will be smug beyond your wildest dreams as your step count grows and grows.

Time Square, Macy’s, the Flatiron, Central Park, Carnegie Hall, the Chrysler Building, Museum of Modern Art, Trump Tower (!) and the Empire State Building all cluster roughly around the Midtown area.

For the Statue of Liberty, you’ll need to take a ferry. This ties in nicely with a trip south to Battery Park City where you’ll find Wall Street, new architectural stars like the Oculus, and the poignant 9-11 Memorial & Museum within reach.

Flaring wing of the oculus by @insidetravellab New York City

Alternative Options in New York

If you have the energy (and time) you can also venture onto the Brooklyn Bridge and walk across to DUMBO, Brooklyn.

The area is a little more open here than on the rest of the island (apart from Central Park) so it’s another potential base to consider if you’re looking for somewhere to stay as a family.

But in essence, almost anywhere will be fine. The travel distances aren’t too great. But Midtown makes those top attractions easier, with a detour south for a few key highlights.

After that first visit? Well, then there’s plenty to talk about and lots of unusual things to see and do. Which I shall write more about soon ;-)

Until then, enjoy some of the most instagrammable spots in New York over here.




How to Escape the Grid in New York City

For a longer walk without the regular breaks in the sidewalk, you may enjoy:

The High Line

Running above Chelsea and the Meatpacking District, the High Line is a 1.45 mile former rail track that’s now a kind of open-air museum. Gives a really different view of the city.

Central Park

It is possible to walk the length of Central Park but it is longer than your average park, running from 59th to 110th Street. You have been warned!

The Hudson River Park

You can walk with the Hudson River on your side between Battery Place and West 59th and marvel at how residents try to be green in the concrete jungle.


About the Author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more.

  • Jack Leech says:

    After reading this blog I remember my first trip to New York when I was a stranger and didn’t know even a single person actually I was on a solo trip and had no one along with me.But I am sure that after reading this you will not be alone anymore.

    • Abi King says:

      Hm, yes, it’s a strange and exciting thing to go to a new city for the first time. I think visiting New York is more powerful than most because it’s in so many films and TV shows that you recognise so many parts of it.

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