I’ve already talked about my favorite times of year to visit New York City. I’m here during one of those windows right now and it’s absolutely glorious. If you listened, and are here now enjoying too, you’re welcome! And before you ask, yes I’m a New Yorker and have lived in the city for most of my life, even though I call London home now.
Speaking to friends who still live in this great city, we got onto the topic of friends asking for hotel recommendations and the nuance that goes into that. It’s just not all that easy to recommend a singular property here, because it’s the desires of the stay that drive so much of the experience.
There are amazing hotels downtown, but they might be terribly located for some trip needs; and vice versa for uptown, or hotels further afield in Brooklyn. Here’s how I approach choosing location in New York, and a few hotels which are sure to please.
Plan Your Center Of Gravity
The best way to approach New York is to really put a map of your interests onto a Google Map and get a feeling for your center of gravity. Think of this like a scatter plot exercise and use the closest proximity of dots to find your neighborhood to base in.
If you have 20 restaurants and things you want to do in downtown New York, and just one in nearby Brooklyn, you’re probably best off staying downtown, right?
Once you’ve established that, a little bit of reconnaissance on public transportation can do a lot of good. New York is very good in regards to mass transit travel — ok, the tube system in London is better but so what — and that should factor.
If you know you can find a great hotel near a tube stop with express service, or convenient access to other points of interest, you’ve hit the jackpot. Here are a few top places to set up shop.
Central Park South
Great for: culture creatures, good eats, park lovers and long walks.
Many times of year, it’s hard to argue with Central Park. It’s uniquely wonderful and has so much going on all around it, from uptown museums to concert halls and top shopping just south along Fifth Avenue.
If you stay in the high 50’s, you’re either near the NQRW line or 4,5,6 on the East, or a personal favorite, Columbus Circle station, with express train access on the B,D lines as well as A,C,E on the West. These trains can get you further uptown, or downtown in just a few minutes and really opens the city up with an enviable home base.
A Few CP Hotel Favorites: There are a few obscenely expensive hotels near the park such as the new Aman, but places like the Thompson Central Park, The Whitby, The 1 Hotel, The St. Regis and the Mandarin are all stunning and some take points.
Midtown and Times Square
Good for: midtown business, first timers, Madison Square Garden, garment district.
No New Yorker with a clear conscience could ever advocate staying in Times Square. New Yorkers don’t set foot there unless being paid or performing on nearby Broadway. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth seeing for a first time nor are all the nearby areas.
Midtown however, is perfectly acceptable. The 30’s have become revitalized with new and exciting dining options and projects such as Hudson Yards have transformed the once dreary and even a bit weird West 30’s.
Given the great accessibility to Long Island and Metro North rail and the abundant subway options, Midtown is a solid option and one I consider, particularly for trips where I know I’ll be downtown sometimes, midtown sometimes and uptown sometimes too.
A Few Midtown Hotel Favorites: If budget is open, The Pendry is an absolutely fantastic new hotel next to Hudson yards with access to great dining and bars on site. Hyatt’s Andaz 5th Avenue remains a staple in the city as well, with perfect access to Bryant Park. The Ned Nomad is also a great choice with a cool members vibe.
West Village & Chelsea
Good for: boutique shoppers, people seeking local experiences, foodies.
The West Village and Chelsea are two staples of New York originality. In the West Village you trade gridded streets for idyllic quiet neighborhoods with hidden gems and beautiful townhouses. It’s more like London than New York in many ways. Chelsea is still hustle and bustle, but with a contemporary artistic flare.
Between these borders you’ll find some of the best food in the city and shopping to match. Don’t forget the cocktail bars either. This is a great locale to choose if you don’t plan on traveling a whole bunch to other areas and really want a local centric take on boutique shopping, food and buzzing bars.
A Few West Village & Chelsea Hotel Favorites: The Standard High Line is a very quintessential New York experience with a buzzing rooftop and great views along the river. Both areas offer boutique gems like The Moore, The Hotel Chelsea and big chain options too.
Soho, Lower East Side & Downtown
Good for: downtown business, access to Brooklyn, boutique shopping, dining.
There’s a lot of distance between the areas of Soho, The Lower East Side and Downtown but many of the reasons to stay, or not to stay overlap, particularly for the Lower East Side and Soho. Downtown — it’s often a case of nearby work or nearby friends.
Soho and the Lower East Side continue to be vital creative centers for the city with so much of the art scene and up and coming restaurant and bar scene glued to this area. New York changes, but this has remained a constant.
These areas are fabulous choices for long aimless city walks along gallery and cafe lined streets, walks across a bridge to Brooklyn and shopping the brands that keep New York at the top of the fashion world.
A Few Soho, Lower East & Downtown Hotel Favorites: you’re spoiled for choice in these areas. The Beekman is a great “new” addition and is part of the Thompson and Hyatt brands. The Arlo Soho is a great option at a nice price point and if you want to go a bit higher end, The Crosby and the Bowery are top notch. For high end downtown business, the Four Seasons is exactly what you’d expect.
Brooklyn & Other Ideas
Good for: those who’ve “done” the city, looking for savings or love artsy areas.
From the start, it’s worth knowing that Brooklyn is massively expansive. DUMBO and areas like Park Slope are totally different in geography and style to Williamsburg or Greenpoint. They each represent a unique, neighborhood centric slice of New York, each with unique charms.
Williamsburg benefits from “L” train access which runs along Manhattan’s 14th street. Dumbo benefits from the F train, which runs up Manhattan’s Middle West from lower Manhattan up to the Bryant Park area in the 40’s.
If you’ve “done” Manhattan, don’t need to spend too much time in the city and want to explore a different side of how people live in New York, these hyper local areas are a welcome respite, particularly for the art, boutique and food minded. Think breweries, hidden gem restaurants and a more alternative crowd.
Hoboken, just across the water in New Jersey is a place with great Manhattan skyline views and when prices are shocking in NYC, it can be a decent alternative that’s about a 20 minute ride into the city.
A few Brooklyn Hotel Favorites: The Hoxton Williamsburg offers delightful views and some of the best food in NYC at rooftop restaurants Laser Wolf. The 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge is in the heart of the DUMBO waterfront and is fantastic understated luxury.
That’s It, Go Explore New York!
With a better sense of where you should place your center of gravity, you can ensure less time spent wasted in transit and more satisfaction that the neighborhood you’re in fits your desires for the trip.
The good thing about New York is that outside of Times Square, pretty anywhere you stay will be a “real” neighborhood. There just isn’t enough space in this city to have things solely for tourists, and wherever you end up you’ll have a chance to explore elsewhere, thanks to solid subway links and walking opportunities. Enjoy NYC!