New York is a city you need to visit at least once. Between its art galleries, architecture, music venues, hidden gems and international history, the city that never sleeps is unreal. From buzzing areas to chilled neighbourhoods, we’ve shared where is best to stay in New York.
New York City has everything to offer backpackers (fact), whether you’re looking for the best parties in town, a shopping day to challenge your inner Carrie Bradshaw, a peaceful reading spot (it is possible indeed), a trendy music gig, hidden gems, cool coffee shops (just like Central Perk please), street art, tattoo parlours… Anything, just name it! Even nature lovers might be surprised.
New York can also feel overwhelming for some travellers, especially if you’re exploring the city for the very first time. But it’s super easy to walk from one neighbourhood to another (remember to bring the right shoes with you), it’s even more fun when you’re getting lost. Each area has its own feel and vibe; you could for example start your day walking around the Meatpacking District looking for a nice coffee shop, then walk down to Greenwich Village to try some amazing pastries, have a reading break in Central Park, get lunch (massive pizza please) around NoLita (you might want to go shopping here as well), and party the night away between Soho and Midtown Manhattan. You’ll be able to recover with a massive brunch in Williamsburg the next day while listening to cool music… See, endless options!
@cbarbalis via Unsplash
If you want to make the most of your trip to New York, the best way of getting around is by taking the subway or the bus (you can pretty much go everywhere in Manhattan and Brooklyn), or by foot (the best way to discover a city at your own pace if you ask us). If you’re more of a subway type of backpacker, you will pay $32 for 7-Day Unlimited Pass or you’ll pay $2.75 for each ride. You can also rent a bike, if you’re brave enough to ride in Manhattan (might be easier if you want to explore Brooklyn).
Still wondering which area of New York will be perfect for you? Don’t worry we’ve got your back: here’s our guide on where is best to stay in New York, and the best things to do in the city that never sleeps!
Jump straight to:
- What to do in the Upper West Side
- Places to eat in the Upper West Side
- Best hostels in the Upper West Side
1. Harlem, the best area in New York for a cultural & historical dive
Harlem has definitely changed over the past 10 years, but despite the rapid “gentrification” the neighbourhood hasn’t lost its personality and its fascinating African-American soul. Get ready to try some of the best African food, discover amazing local jazz clubs and some of the most beautiful gospel in town.
It’s a vibrant neighbourhood you shouldn’t miss when you’re exploring New York City. Harlem always had this je-ne-sais-quoi, this special energy that drives you in a positive way. You might be amazed by the beautiful architecture of the brownstone houses, discover areas full of cool street art, local street food to die for, or watch locals performing on the next corner.
Follow us for a full immersion into this historical and lively neighbourhood…
@jipy32 via Unsplash
What to do in Harlem
One of the first thing to do when you’re visiting Harlem, is to set your alarm super early on Sunday and go to church, whether you’re religious or not (trust us, it’s totally worth it). You will probably meet other travellers on the way but mostly locals (we’re thinking good tips here). Be ready to watch a full service that could take more than 2 hours (so remember to be respectful, don’t leave in the middle of the service and put your phone on silent mode).
Keep in mind that there are many churches in Harlem, so unless you’re extra lucky you won’t just be able to wander around until you find a mass that is about to start. Inform yourself in advance, as each church has a different schedule, and make sure you are on time (some churches are full in no time). The Abyssinian Baptist Church on 138th St, the First Corinthian Baptist Church on 116th St, or the Bethel Gospel Assembly located on 120th St are all good options. You can also join a Gospel walking or bus tour if you want to know more about Gospel once the service is over.
Harlem is also known for its groovy nightlife, we can’t talk about this fascinating neighbourhood without mentioning the world-famous Apollo Theatre on 125th St. This historic music venue opened in 1934 and has hosted some of the greatest artists on the planet, such as: Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and James Brown. No matter which days you’re staying in New York, there is always something going on in the Theatre (if you don’t really know where to start, have a look at the “amateur night” where emerging talents are performing live each week). We’re afraid it’s a stop you’ll have to make!
If you decide to wander around the area, make sure you take a quick detour on West 138th St and 139th St, called “Strivers Row”. Why? Well my friend, it’s where you’ll see those traditional townhouses Harlem is known for. Built in around 1891, you wouldn’t want to miss this beautiful architecture. On one street you’ll see the brownstone Georgian houses and on the other street check out the red or yellow brick buildings. Feel free to take a picture or two, but be mindful of people living there.
We would also recommend joining a walking-tour, especially if you have a tight schedule, as you’ll be able to see the main sites and know all about Harlem’s history. You will probably also discover some really cool street art on the way and your guide might have the best local tips to share with you! Win-win situation.
Places to eat in Harlem
New York offers all types of international food, but Harlem is THE place to try what is called “Soul Food”. You’ll find traditional West-African dishes, tons of Latin-American restaurants and tasty street-food at a really cheap price.
Sylvia’s restaurant is the best place to start your Harlem food tour. Known as the “queen of soul food” for 55 years, be prepared to enjoy a massive meal (we would go for the gospel brunch Sundays if we were you). Food wise, you’ll be able to choose from any style of eggs, meat and seafood selections, to waffles… Not to mention the famous sweet potato pie. Okay, we are super hungry, give us food right now!
Calling all backpackers with a sweet tooth: make a stop at Make My Cake. You won’t know where to start between the different cakes, cheesecakes, pies, pastries, cupcakes or varieties of cookies! If you ask us, we’ll tell you that we are totally obsessed with their New York style cheesecake… Delicious!
Another super cool spot to try is Yatenga Bistro. Picture a rustic and vintage decor made of a mix and match of furniture, which will make any hipster more than happy. The French-style cuisine is heaven… The chicken with a Roquefort sauce or the strawberry traditional tartelettes are to die for! Oh, and they also have a little terrace to enjoy the food outside (just like French people do).
Red rooster @Paul Broussard via Flickr
And last but not least, make sure to stop at the Red Rooster Restaurant if you’re looking to taste revisited traditional American comfort food. You’ll have to try their amazing burgers or their homemade tortillas (well-deserved after hours exploring).
Best hostels in Harlem
Exploring cities can be really exhausting, that’s why you’ll need to find a comfy (and fun) place to rest while you’re drinking a fresh beer and sharing travel tips with other travellers. You came to the right place because we know the best places to stay in Harlem.
Harlem YMCA Hostel is a good place to start for solo travellers on a budget. Located in the heart of Harlem, you’ll be able to wander on foot and easily reach Manhattan’s main sites with the subway. Not to mention that this hostel has a fitness centre, outdoor terrace AND an indoor swimming pool (yes, your wildest dream just came true).
Hi NYC Hostel is located in a historic building, just a few minutes from Central park, at the edge of Upper West Side and South Harlem. The hostel has very cosy communal areas which are perfect to mingle with other backpackers and the cherry on top is: they offer many extra activities, like organised trips, walking tours, concerts, football games on their outdoor patio, free events every night. Make yourself at home!
2. Upper East Side, the best area in New York for living the American dream
Let’s get straight to the point: Upper East Side is where you’ll probably find the wealthiest people in Manhattan (even if it tends to change a little, it’s pretty much still the case). However, that’s not a reason why you should skip this luxurious area as you’ll find tons of cool things to see and do around (yes even if you’re extra tight on your budget).
@mereo14 via Unsplash
Once you’re exploring the neighbourhood you’ll find so many cool museums to go to, known as the “Museum Mile”. Many museums are free depending on the exhibitions and days you’re visiting. You can also have a nice walk or rent a bike to explore this side of Central Park: make a stop at the beautiful Bethesda Fountain and don’t forget to make a wish, you’ve got nothing to lose right?! Not to mention the nice boutique (all about window shopping), the cool restaurants and rooftops with insane views over the city… You’ll have to treat yourself at least once!
What to do in the Upper East Side
Calling all culture addicts, you’ll be happy to find so many cool museums in this area. Visit the famous Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) with stunning exhibitions each month (the building itself will blow your mind); the Guggenheim Museum and its extra famous architectural spiral (perfect to work out a little on the way up); the Frick Collection located in a proper mansion that is as stunning at the art collection inside (double-check the website ahead of your visit as some days are “pay as you wish” might be worth it); or the Neue Galerie and its amazing portrait collection (it is free every first Friday of the month from 6pm to 9pm).
Guggenheim @pergratiamdei via Unsplash
Guggenheim @mparente via Unsplash
No less beautiful is that peaceful part of Central Park and the stunning Bethesda Fountain and arches, one of the largest in New York City. The statue in the middle of the fountain is the only sculpture that was part of Central Park’s original design. If you ask us, it’s the perfect spot to find a reading corner or to enjoy lunch in the sun.
For travellers looking for a hidden gem, why not making a small detour to reach John Jay Park. It’s less crowded and this cool spot is the perfect place to relax in summer. It has a big pool, basketball courts and fitness equipment, in case you want to stay fit while travelling.
Bethesda Fountain @josephtpearson via Unsplash
If you want to challenge your inner Blair, Serena or Chuck, you can also try a Gossip Girl walking tour. You will discover the main spots where episodes of the series were filmed but you’ll also get some good tips and places to go to in the area (so you don’t need to be a massive fan to join).
Places to eat in the Upper East Side
You probably imagine high end restaurants or luxurious rooftops when you think about the Upper East Side, right? Yes, but it’s so much more than that! You’ll find various cool places to eat that won’t destroy your bank account. And we’re not only talking about cheap street food, we’re talking about casual dining, nice coffee shops and healthy brunch spots. Get ready to be super hungry before you’re done reading this part!
First stop for a delicious break is Papaya King. It’s impossible to miss this neon yellow place in the corner of the street, which was opened in 1931. The concept? A mix of healthy homemade juices and Frankfurter hot dogs. Wait what? Long story short: after a trip to Cuba, the owner became obsessed with papayas, that’s how his famous juices started to multiply. He was then introduced to German cuisine, especially the Frankfurter sausages and the rest is history. You’ll have to try their famous hot dogs and let us know your thoughts on this crazy delicious mix.
Next stop is Dylan’s Candy Bar, just in front of Bloomingdale. Whether you have a sweet tooth or not, you will land in Willy Wonka’s crazy sugary world. Any type of M&Ms, Candy Crush candies, chocolate bars, Skittles, lollipops: follow this rainbow of candies from head to toe on THREE floors! Just heaven for any #InstaQueen looking to get THAT special shot on the feed. Cherry on top, there is also an on-site café where you’ll get the biggest and craziest milkshake of your entire life (without any exaggeration).
Dylan’s Candy bar @sweetfixnyc via Flickr
If by any chance, you’re planning to explore the MET, don’t forget to stop on the very last floor… All the way up to the Roof Garden Café & Martini bar! Don’t forget to stop on the very last floor… All the way up to the Roof Garden Café & Martini bar! Again, you only live once (and it’s not the priciest rooftop in the big apple, so if you need to try one it’s that one and you’ll thank us later). The view over Manhattan’s skyline and Central park is just insane. Try to go there in time for sunset, with a cocktail (or two) it’s just magical. Cheers to that!
Looking for something different and not too expensive (please)? Next stop is Up Thai to try some delicious Thai dishes like their crispy duck, Pad Thai, noodles, dumplings or even their Thai beer. The atmosphere of this place is also really peaceful with traditional patterned lanterns and plants floating around the wooden room.
3. Midtown Manhattan, the best area in New York for musicals & sightseeing
Midtown Manhattan is probably where you’ll see the most in no time, day and night… And many of these cool things to do in this area are totally FREE! Not to mention, that you’ll literally be in the heart of New York City, careful about the neck pain as you’ll spend most of your time looking up at the crazy skyscrapers or looking down to the amazing view from their rooftops (oh hello Empire State Building, Times Square or Rockefeller Centre).
You’ll be in the heart of the action and you’ll quickly understand why we call New York the city that never sleeps. No matter which time you explore this area, you won’t notice the difference between day and night (maybe because of all the neon lights on Broadway and Times Square, street food stands everywhere or amount of people walking around). But don’t worry, the good news is that you’ll also be able find some really peaceful places and parks to take a break (psst… If someone asks, these NYC insider tips didn’t come from us).
@courtmarie via Unsplash
What to do in Midtown Manhattan
One of the most popular things to do in Midtown Manhattan is to walk around Times Square and Broadway (by night it’s even more impressive). If you can’t afford to go to a musical (little tip: if you’re flexible, try to go to the main ticket office where you’ll find last minute offers and discounts), you can still feel the magic in the streets near the theatres. You’ll also see live performances in the streets (from magicians, to cosplay or singers). Oh, and really reeeaally important, don’t miss the famous “naked cowboy” in the middle of Times Square, he’ll be happy to sing his best song just for you!
Whether you’re planning to leave the city by train for a day trip or not, we strongly advise you stop at Grand Central Terminal. Its architecture is breathtaking, but not only that, there is also covered food market located on the first floor where you’ll find fresh local products and European imported food (perfect if you’re homesick). I just want to highlight that this iconic market includes 400 types of cheese, meats and breads… The dream if you ask us! You’ll need a beer with that and you’ll be more than fine!
@themcny via Unsplash
This area is also well known for its stunning 360 degrees viewpoints, like the famous Empire State Building (you won’t be able to get rid of the song after that) or the view from the Rockefeller centre. If your budget allows it, you might be able to visit both, but most of the travellers have to make a difficult choice between the two. The main difference would be that The Empire is higher, so the view will be even more impressive, but the Rockefeller Centre offers an incredible view over Times Square and Central Park.
Calling all bookworms: a stop at the New York Public Library is mandatory! You’ll be able to enjoy impressive architecture inside and out, totally for free (but in silence). You could take some time out to read in one of the reading rooms (if you’re not too hypnotised by the stunning details around you) or discover current exhibitions.
New York Public Library @cfotz via Unsplash
What about nature lovers? We have two cool spots for you: number 1 is the super cool High Line, ancient train tracks converted into a modern public park with a beautiful view of the skyline. Expect cool indoor shops, art galleries, bookshops, coffee shops and restaurants. It might be one of your favourite places in the city.
Number 2 is Bryant Park, the cutest park in New York no matter the season. You can relax outside in its coffee shop; explore the vintage carrousel (friendly reminder that it’s not only for kids; catch a movie at the outdoor cinema; or a concert in summer; or skate on the famous ice rink in winter… The list is endless.
The High Line @Kenley Gagan via Flickr
Last but not least: The Flatiron building. You can easily walk to this iconic building from Times Square, and admire it for yourself… And one of the coolest Shake Shacks in town is just 5 minutes away, in the cute nearby park (all about cheesy fries, just saying). And you might also want to wander around the area, where you’ll find super cool shops, the Museum of Sex and the famous Rizzoli Bookstore.
Places to eat in Midtown Manhattan
Midtown Manhattan is the dream when it comes to finding a cool cheap place to eat. And by that we mean ALL types of cuisine: from delicious street food, to authentic diners, cheap bakeries, fast foods, pancakes, ice creams to nice sushi places… Forget about any diet (no judgement here, we’ve all been there). The food is as eclectic as the neighbourhood, and in a very good way.
If you’re looking for something cheap, authentic AND tasty, let’s go to Los Tacos No. 1. As its name suggests, get ready to taste some serious Mexican tacos and spicy tortillas. Everything is homemade on the spot, from traditional family recipes and simple ingredients. It will probably be some of the best street tacos you’ve ever tried (outside Mexico). Be ready for an explosive mix of favours!
I you’re in the area, make sure to stop at the famous Junior’s Restaurant & Cheesecake. This is probably where you’ll end up, if you ask your cab driver or anyone else to take you to the best cheesecake in New York. There are plenty around the city, but one of the main ones is near Times Square (on Broadway to be more precise). From plain cheesecakes, strawberry cheesecakes, Apple crumb cheesecake, Tiramisu cheesecakes, to the red velvet cheesecakes… You’ll have to try at least one.
Junior’s Cheesecakes @akos McGill via Flickr
If you’re running low budget wise but you’re really hungry AF, head to 99 Cents Fresh Pizza, yes you read it correctly, the massive (and delicious) slice of pizza starts at 99 cents (max is at $2.75). Order two and you’ll have your diner for less than $5. Once again, you’re welcome.
You cannot leave New York City without trying a traditional bagel. Go to Liberty Bagels Midtown for a cheeky lunch break (or dinner, or breakfast, or snack). You’ll have a choice between homemade, salty or sweet bagels (why don’t you try one of each?). Apparently, this is also the place to try the best rainbow bagels in Manhattan. Wanna know their secret ingredient? Lots of… LOVE!
A last one for the road: Calle Dao in Bryant Park: a very good place to treat yourself to a mix of Cuban and Asian dishes. Eat here and you’ll head home without spending too much (we’re thinking happy hour, bottomless brunch or $1.50 oysters). Not to mention the ultra-cute décor that will make you feel like you’re in the heart of Havana, Cuba. Perfect to start your night out.
Best hostels in Midtown Manhattan
You might think that it’s mission impossible to find cool hostels in the heart of Manhattan… Well wait for it, because you’ll be surprised with these cuties.
Let’s get straight to the point with Freehand New York Hostel, It’s located in the Flatiron District (remember we talked about Shake Shack?!). This awesome hostel will blow your mind, picture this: a super chic lobby bar to spice up your nights, a trendy restaurant, meeting rooms (any digital nomads in the house?), a chilled coffee shop, a cute terrace and a nightclub! (Oh yes, and the dorms are also super comfy, trust us). Can we live here please?
Freehand NYC Hostel
American Dream Hostel is the perfect spot to meet other backpackers and grab some tips. You’ll be just a few steps away from the main sites, restaurants and clubs to make the most of your time in New York. Did we also mention that the delicious breakfast is FREE (you better wake up extra early for those homemade waffles)!
Interfaith Retreats Hostel is very unusual: it is vegetarian, no-smoking and serves no alcohol. They also invest in providing free hot meals for homeless people on the streets of New York City. A good way to stay healthy and make the world a better place, don’t you think?
4. Lower Manhattan, best area in New York for artists & bookworms
Lower Manhattan is well known for being New York’s financial hub and skyscraper central (careful with those neck pains again). But, it’s not all about Wall Street and high-rise buildings… Our mission is to give you some of our best tips and hidden gems: from cool coffee shops, nice restaurants, tasty street food, and of course, cheap things to do in the area.
Wander around freely, and feel the mix of modernity and history. Just remember to look up and admire the architecture. Maybe join one of the many free tours as they’re a great way to get cool tips from your tour guide and take a historical dive.
Little italy NYC @alexhaney via Unsplash
You can also escape the craziness of these streets and stroll through the parks by the river to find a peaceful spot to eat a snack or to read the book you just bought in one of the cool book shops (not to mention the amazing view in front of you).
What to do in Lower Manhattan
Yes, we did tell you that there’s much more to Lower Manhattan than Wall Street, but you still have to stop at the famous, bronze charging Wall Street Bull. The heavy sculpture represents the American Stock Market, and for a fun fact: it was illegally moved by the artist from its original place to where it currently is! You’ll also notice another very important statue facing the bull: The Fearless Girl, which represents the gender equality fight.
Many movie scenes were shot here, in front of the massive gold door (anyone watched Hitch or Batman?). You may see one or two familiar faces surrounded by a team of assistants if you’re lucky!
Charging Bull @sam Valadi via Flickr
Another main site to see in Lower Manhattan is the World Trade Centre 9/11 memorial (which is free to visit). Standing in front of this giant fountain, in silence apart from the sound of its running water, is an emotional and impressive experience.
You could then continue on the One World Observatory (also called the Freedom Tower), the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. It’s as impressive from the bottom as it is from the top. If you’re not afraid of heights, go all the way up in a Sky-Pod elevator, to the 100th and 101st floors in just 60 seconds (probably the first time in your life that you will press these numbers in a lift). Try to carry as little as possible, as you’ll need to pass an airport style security check.
World Trade Center Path Station @lucabravo via Unsplash
Next stop, especially if you don’t have much budget left, should be the FREE ferry ride to Staten Island (day and night). You’ll see the beautiful Statue of Liberty (a gift from France to the United States) and enjoy the views of Lower Manhattan. If you really want to see Lady Liberty up close, plan your visit to Ellis Island in advance and book your ferry ticket ahead as it fills up quickly. You will only need to pay for the ferry ride (around $14), as access to Liberty Island and Ellis Island are free. Tickets to access the Statue’s crown need to be purchased separately and in advance ($21.50), but honestly the statue is much more impressive from the ferry so you might want to spend your money elsewhere.
Staten Island ferry @bicadmedia via Unsplash
If your plan is to walk around and improvise as you go, make sure you wander around Battery Park. It’s one of the most popular parks in the city, and you’ll soon know why. Many locals and travellers enjoy walking in this beautiful park, where you’ll get one of the best views over the Hudson River and across to The Statue of Liberty. There is also an impressive stone fort you can explore here: Castle Clinton National Monument.
If you still have enough energy for a shopping session, head straight to the famous Century 21 store. It’s simply heaven if you’re looking for discounts and sales on big brands’ previous collections… Get ready to spend a few hours in there (take your backpack with you, just in case you end up buying the whole store).
Another cute stop is Washington Square Park and its beautiful arch, which is modelled on the famous Arc de Triomphe in Paris. This is the perfect place for a picnic and on summer nights, why not stay, chill and enjoy the open air cinema.
Washington Square Arch @joshappel via Unsplash
If you’re more up for improvisation and getting lost in the neighbourhood, make sure you wander around Nolita, Little Italy and Soho. There are plenty of shops, art galleries, street art, community gardens and cool spots to discover (just paradise for any instagrammer).
Places to eat in Lower Manhattan
When you’re done exploring every inch of Lower Manhattan, you’ll probably be happy to know one or two good restaurants or cool bars in the area. There are a few cosy places with delicious food, that are worth a visit.
Can “doughnut” and “healthy” go well together? Well, probably only The Doughnut Plant! Their delicious doughnuts are made fresh throughout the day and come in a wide range of shapes and flavours. The difference? No eggs, preservatives or anything artificial! Matcha green tea, black sesame, chocolate, peanut butter, carrot cake… The list is endless, so make sure you take a few to go.
Doughnut Plant @chris ubiik via Flickr
Are you looking for some of the best sandwiches in town? What about a New-Orleans inspired sandwich? Head to Cheeky Sandwiches for a tasty (and massive) lunch before exploring the rest of the city. The special crackly crusted bread used to make the sandwiches comes from the John Gendusa Bakery in New Orleans (pssst… Try the braised rib if you don’t know where to start).
Time for dumplings at Vanessa’s Dumpling House in the heart of Chinatown! This hidden gem is so easy to miss if you’re exploring the area, but it’s so worth it… If you’re into dumplings (but who isn’t right?!). Try a nice mix of the vegetable and shrimp dumplings (from $2 for 4 pieces).
For a massive, delicious AND cheap meal, go to Zyara NY. It will be super hard to choose between the many delicious Middle Eastern dishes, from tasty falafels, tabbouleh, salads, homemade hummus, to pitas… The list is endless and you’ll be able to eat A LOT for under $15.
Any coffee lovers in the room? Don’t worry we didn’t forget you! You deserve a break with the best coffee in Lower Manhattan. You’ll just have to make a stop in Little Italy at Caffe Roma, founded in 1891… Just follow the nice coffee smell and you might also recognise the famous Audrey Hepburn graffiti near the entrance. You’re welcome
Caffe Roma @mercedesalvarez via Unsplash
If you’re totally addicted to pizzas and could make it your daily meal for the rest of your life (just like us), then we’ve found the perfect cheap spot: 2 Bros on St Marks Place. You’ll have an endless choice between some of the biggest pizza slices you’ve ever seen… Try the cheese one for only $1 my friends.
Looking for a nice brunch? Café Gitane is just the right place for that. This French-Moroccan influenced bistro is the perfect spot for a late breakfast on its cute little terrace (try the Avocado toast and the orange blossom waffle).
One last stop for the foodies: Café Habana. This little corner restaurant, mixing Cuban and Mexican dishes, should be added to your list. It’s perfect for a cheap and quick meal before a night out or the ideal comfort food for a hangover… The grilled corn and the egg sandwich should make you feel better in no time!
Best hostels in Lower Manhattan
It may be hard to believe, but there are some cool hostels here. They’re the perfect place to chill, after a very long day exploring the city that never sleeps. It’s an opportunity to share your best tips with other travellers and a sociable way to get ready before a big night out.
Let’s start with the historic Jane Hotel, a quirky hostel located in the West village, facing the Hudson River. As soon as you enter, you’ll feel like you’ve entered a Wes Anderson movie, which can be explained by the fact that this place used to host sailors in the 40’s. You’ll have the option to stay in a “cabin room” or a “captain room” (but don’t be fooled, it may look like you’ve stepped back in time but you’ll have everything you need: a flat-screen TV, plugs, air conditioning, phone, and slippers with a bathrobe (nice touch). Make yourself at home!
The Jane Hostel @giorgia.anzolin
The Bowery House Hostel is the perfect place if you’re riding solo and are looking to make new friends on the way. This Soho arty industrial hostel is just a few minutes away from the main attractions and tube stations. When you’re done exploring, relax with a beer or two at the hostel’s bars, or on the massive rooftop garden.
Located in the heart of Lower East side, Blue Moon Hostel NYC is just a few steps away from all the main shops, restaurants and bars. After a good day wandering through Chinatown, East Village, Soho, Little Italy or the Financial District, you can chill at the hostel and meet other travellers. The staff will also be happy to share their best tips with you.
If you’re travelling with your other half, Canal Lost Hostel is the best option. You’ll have the privacy you need after a long day, but you’ll also be able to socialise in the common room with other travellers. Not to mention, that the hostel is ideally located, just a few steps away from the best restaurants, museums, shops, cafés and bars in the area.
5. Upper West Side, the best area in New York for nature lovers and a relaxing break
The Upper West Side has this reputation of being a residential neighbourhood, but in reality it’s very lively and also one of the most cosmopolitan areas in New York. You’ll find a nice mix of shops, international restaurants, Central Park a few steps away and beautiful architecture surrounding you.
@jbcreate_ via Unsplash
The area is full of international students (thank you Columbia University and its massive campus), that’s also why you’ll find many cheap places to eat, cool spots to have a drink or to buy your lunch on the go. It’s also where Chuck Bass used to spend most of his nights in Gossip Girl… Told you it’s not only family friendly, so keep this area on your list if you want to party.
What to do in the Upper West Side
If you’re exploring the area for the very first time, head straight to the Lincoln Center, home to: the Metropolitan Opera, New York Philharmonic, New York City Ballet and Jazz at Lincoln Center. The building’s modern architecture and the beautiful Lincoln Square with its fountain, are worth a visit (as magical during the day and night when it’s lit), and it might remind you of many movies, such as Black Swan.
If we had to choose one museum to visit, it would definitely be the American Museum of Natural History – it’s one of the biggest museums in the world. It’s as impressive from the outside as it is in the inside (your neck pain will be back!). From the awesome dinosaur exhibit (and its T. Rex Skeleton), to Lucy (a 3 million year old hominid skeleton), the great blue whale suspended from the roof, a rainforest and much more: this beautiful place will definitely look super familiar to you if you‘ve watched “night at the museum”… There are some night openings as well, just saying.
American Museum of Natural History @aditya1702 via Unsplash
Next stop, Central Park! The west side of the park is one of the most beautiful, especially by the lake where you’ll be able to rent a rowing boat or walk around through the Strawberry Fields to the beautiful Shakespeare Garden. It’s the perfect spot to get the best shot of both the Upper West and Upper East Side.
Whether you’re still a student or not, check out the Columbia University Campus as this Ivy League school is one of the most prestigious in the world. The University offers campus tours and class visits by undergraduate students, but you need to plan your visit ahead as only a limited number of people are allowed in, and on certain dates it might be closed due to exams or graduation ceremonies.
Okay, this one’s just for the gram’ and a drink (or two), you don’t have to be a Gossip Girl fan to enjoy the Empire Rooftop. Having dinner here would be a little over most budgets, but it’s a good spot to start your night in the Lobby Bar or on the rooftop terrace with an amazing view over the city.
Places to eat in the Upper West Side
Shout out to all the foodies on a budget: try the Wafels & Dinges yellow food truck located on Central Park West and 79th Street! Get ready to eat some of the best Belgian waffles in town, any way you wish – sweet or salty… Are you more of a waffle-biscuit with egg, bacon & cheese type or a full Nutella, sugar, ice cream and strawberry type of foodie?
Wafels & Dinges @angiolina via Flickr
For a cheeky quick and cheap lunch, head to Absolute Bagel where you’ll spend under $10 for a drink and a delicious bagel. You can add anything you like in these homemade bagels, from cream cheese, meat, vegetables to fruits. Okay, we’re officially hungry!
The perfect cure for any hangover? A massive brunch with tons of tea my dear! Have a look at extravagant Alice’s Tea Cup. Bring your friends or the travellers you met in the hostel along to enjoy the experience. Careful, they take tea really seriously over there (you’ll have hundreds of options). Oh, and if you’re lost or time is ticking, just order the “Mad Morning”.
Alice’s tea cup @cecilia via Flickr
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” right? So after a crazy night out, go to Rosa Mexicano and order a Frozen Pomegranate Margarita or a Bloody Mary. While you’re there, you might as well order some delicious tacos with the best homemade guacamole in the city.
Okay, let’s be serious for a minute. Wanna have real comfort food? We’re talking craft beers and pickles (yes, you read that correctly). At Jacob’s Pickles, a pickle is way more than just “a pickle”…. Get ready to order a pint of fresh beer with a pickle jar. Enjoy!
you’re a morning person and are happy to wander around the city while everyone sleeps, make a detour to Levain Bakery for the greatest chocolate chip cookie of your life. You might also have a delicious brioche…It will be hard to resist.
Best hostels in the Upper West Side
Good news: you’ll find awesome hostels on the Upper West Side as well! A nice mix of cosy places to chill before exploring the city, meeting other backpackers in the common areas or have some pre-drinks before heading out to party all night.
If you’re looking for a boutique hostel in the Upper West Side (because why not?!), head to Broadway Hotel & Hostel. You’ll meet backpackers from all around the world in a vintage-chic hostel, relax in the lounge (especially by the fireplace in winter) or enjoy a nice cup of coffee in the kitchen. You will feel like you’re at home, away from home!
Just a few steps away from Central park (hello beautiful view), West Side YMCA Hostel is the perfect spot for travellers that want to stay fit. This hostel has a fitness centre with a steam room, sauna, 2 swimming pools and free classes such as Pilates or Yoga. When you’re done exercising, head to the restaurant and enjoy a nice cup of coffee.
If you want to be in a top location, right next the hot spots, Jazz on Colombus Circle Hostel is what you’re looking for. You’ll be just steps away from the best bars, restaurants, cafés and clubs… The night is yours!
Are you travelling solo and want to meet cool people on the way? International Student Center Hostel is perfect for you! Most of the hostel guests are international students, looking to have fun and have the best experience in New York City. The staff are happy to share their best tips to explore the area on a budget.
6. Brooklyn, best area in New York for hipsters (bonus)
Okay, we know Brooklyn is technically not part of Manhattan but it’s still part of New York city life… And you will soon understand why. It is said that the coolest people left the big apple (where rent became a little crazy) to move to Brooklyn (yasss).
@cbarbalis via Unsplash
Over the past 5 years, Brooklyn has become one of the most popular neighbourhoods in New York City. It’s actually super easy and quick to reach the city with several bridges and tunnel connections. The area also has a cool mix of art galleries, independent coffee shops, nice cheap restaurants, hidden gardens, warehouse bars, rooftops, peaceful parks and so much more. You won’t know where to start! Not to mention that no matter what you do, you’ll have the most beautiful view over Manhattan just in front you.
It’s easy to get slightly overwhelmed if you’re exploring Brooklyn, especially for the first time… That’s where we jump right in to give you the best tips and places to go, to make the most of it. Let’s get it on!
What to do in Brooklyn
The most popular thing to do in Brooklyn is to head straight to Dumbo, a previous industrial neighbourhood that now has some of the coolest lofts in the city (Dan Humphrey in Gossip Girl anyone? Promise, we’ll stop with the GG mentions). Just walk around and you’ll find some independent coffee shops and trendy art galleries. Go to John Street Park or Parc Citadin, right under Brooklyn Bridge for a little picnic or for an early yoga session (best view ever).
You’ll then NEED to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge: during sunrise or sunset, it’s just magical.
@brookecagle via Unsplash
Explore the famous Brooklyn Flea organised every weekend, no matter the season (on Saturday it’s in Williamsburg and on Sunday in Dumbo). It’s actually a good opportunity to explore the hipster areas such as Williamsburg and Dumbo and find ultra-cheap vintage clothes or furniture.
A little further away, but still worth the ride, is Coney Island. The perfect beach gateway during spring and summer (you can also jump in the icy water if ‘you’re brave enough) or just stroll around with an ice cream There is a super kitsch vintage side to it, you either hate it or love it, there’s no middle ground…
@danielcgold via Unsplash
@jipy32 via Unsplash
Another stop that is worth a peek is Bushwick and its super cool street art on every corner (perfect to take that next level Insta-snap). You’ll discover some of the best artists in the world, using the streets as a colourful playground. If you don’t know where to start, have a look around Saint Nicholas avenue or Morgan Avenue and just have fun getting lost.
If want a little break from the noise of the city, go to Prospect Park. There will be plenty of space for you to walk around, rent a bike, have a picnic, read a book or simply have a cheeky nap before you party all night. If you’re lucky, you might even enjoy free concerts during the summer in the park.
Bushwick Street Art @jverdi via Unsplash
Places to eat in Brooklyn
Brooklyn offers an endless choice of food and drink. It has many cosmopolitan restaurants, bars and coffee shops, so get ready to eat A LOT! It’s simply a foodie heaven, where you’ll find hidden gems away from the crowds at a decent price. What else do you need in life?!
Let’s start this food tour in DUMBO, at Grimaldi’s, known as the “best pizza in Brooklyn”. No wonder it’s in almost every New York guide, which might also explain the massive queue at door (but trust us it’s worth the wait!). Warning: they only serve “pies” (a whole delicious pizza) and not slices, so make sure you keep enough space to finish up.
Grimaldi’s DUMBO @aaron Lum via Flickr
Who said that brunch has to be on Sundays only? Sunday in Brooklyn (don’t be fooled by the name) is celebrating Sunday every day, all day long (yess). Sit outside and order the full brunch with their delicious hazelnut pancakes. Heaven!
For a live Rock ‘n’ Roll gig, you’ll have to try National Sawdust in Williamsburg. It’s an ancient factory that’s been converted into the coolest place to listen to acoustic and electronic music. Check out their calendar before your visit and enjoy the cool vibe once you’re there!
If you happen to be in New York on a Saturday, make sure to free up your overbooked backpacker schedule for the Smorgasbug market. We’re talking about 100 food stands, selling international dishes, from Dutch waffles, pasta, donuts, vegan dishes, Vietnamese flan, coffee, German dumpling sandwiches to pizza cupcakes and much more… Just perfect for foodies on a budget.
Smorgasburg @gabriel Li via Flickr
If you’re planning to make the most of your night in New York, then go to Brooklyn Steel. This converted steel fabrication warehouse has many bars, balconies and a green rooftop. Oh yeah and some of the best concerts in town. Cheers to that!
Looking for the coolest rooftop bar in the area? Make a small detour to Greenpoint to find Northern territory, an Australian inspired outdoor bar overlooking the skyline. It’s just the perfect spot to enjoy a beautiful sunset, with a frozen drink or fresh beer in hand. Attention please: it’s only open in the summer, so that will give you a good reason to come back if you’re planning to explore New York during winter.
Last but not least, what would this guide be without a good craft beer, especially in Brooklyn?! Beer lovers, this one is for you: Spritzenhaus. Get ready to spend hours in this massive beer hall, trying different pints of craft beers. We strongly advise you have a bite to eat while you’re there, as you’ll have good options among the delicious German dishes on the menu (one salty pretzel and a bratwurst pleaaase).
Spritzenhaus @lulun & kame via Flickr
Best hostels in Brooklyn
If you’re looking for a cheap place to stay, a little away from the craziness and the tourists, but in a super cool area, Brooklyn is the place to be. You’ll find chilled hostels where you’ll meet travellers from everywhere. And no matter where you stay, you’ll have an unbeatable view of Manhattan’s skyline.
You’ll be happy to know that exploring New York and having fun on the way doesn’t have to cost a fortune… That’s exactly what you’ll be doing at NY Moore Hostel located in East Williamsburg. You’ll be able to relax in the courtyard or in the lounge with other backpackers, and when you’re ready to party, you’ll find the coolest bars and clubs just a few steps away.
If you’re looking for an affordable place with a stunning view over the riverfront, head to Greenpoint YMCA. You’ll be able to meet many travellers during the group activities organised by the hostel and the helpful staff will be super happy to share their favourite off the beaten track spots in the neighbourhood.
Are you ready to explore the streets of New York City after reading our insider guide? Whether you’re a foodie, a party animal, a culture addict, a nature lover and if you’re travelling with friends, riding solo or with your other half, you will find what you’re looking for in the big apple.
@mercedesalvarez via Unspalsh
Have you stayed in any of our recommended neighbourhoods and have something to add to this guide? Or maybe you’ve found hidden gems that other travellers shouldn’t miss? We’re super curious, so leave us a comment below!