Enjoying New York City on a Budget
Getting to know Manhattan neighbourhoods
Planning your New York City trip
If you've taken a harbour cruise, as suggested in Part I, you've had an outstanding start to your New York visit.
Now it 's time to explore Manhattan itself.
But first, you should learn the main streets and neighbourhoods, and thus feel comfortable on your own. Let's start with Manhattan neighbourhoods.
NYC hotel bargains. Check out: Hotwire.com
The wanderlust of New York's downtown—will it ever find a home?
For over three hundred years, centre city Manhattan has been moving north along Broadway, the main north - south street.
It has moved from the very southern tip of the island to the middle.
Now called Midtown, the current city centre is located from 42nd Street to Central Park, with the main corporate power centre southeast of Central Park.
Although stocks and bonds continue to change hands on Wall Street, the true centre of corporate power in America has moved to Midtown East.
In this area you'll find the Citibank's, the Madison Avenue advertising agencies, the multinational law firms, the Trump Towers, the Bloomingdales department stores, deluxe shops such as Gucci, etc.
As you can imagine, you'll have a hard time finding truly budget restaurants and hotels in this area. You can enjoy some Trump Ice Cream, though, for just over $4.
What New Yorkers still call downtown or Lower Manhattan refers to the downtown of the 19th century in the Wall Street area at the southern tip of Manhattan Island.
This area has been been undergoing revitalization, especially with older commercial buildings being converted into deluxe condos.
When the Dutch ruled Manhattan, Wall Street was indeed a wall used to protect the colonists from the indigenous peoples. (Considering the subsequent history of the United States, the native peoples might have been wise to have built their own walls!)
South of Washington Square in Greenwich Village, you'll find the old downtown, the Wall Street area, the site of what remains of the World Trade Centre complex, a growing Chinatown due to robust immigration, Little Italy, the trendy SOHO, TriBeCa, and NOHO areas, where many of the "in" clubs and restaurants are, and large areas of public housing and abandoned warehouses and factories.
Outside of Wall Street and the busiest tourist areas, such as central Chinatown, the southern area of Manhattan requires extra caution.
You may wish to avoid using hotels or hostels south of Washington Square, as it is too easy to wander into unsafe neighbourhoods at night.
Do visit Chinatown, Little Italy, and other popular Lower Manhattan areas at night, but stay among other visitors. Use taxis to access other parts of this area, especially at night.
Around Washington Square at the south end of Fifth Avenue, the Greenwich Village area contains the large student population of New York University and many restaurants and music venues. This is an exciting area of New York City.
The West Village tends toward gay commercial and residential. This area also attracts others who love to live among the historic buildings, yet close to major employment areas.
The East Village around Second Avenue and Eighth Street seems leftover from the late 1960s—it seems colourfully dysfunctional. This area is famed for budget restaurants. If you're a vegetarian, this is the motherland.
Just south of Washington Square, you'll find the traditional Greenwich Village entertainment area, including historic music clubs like the Bitter End. The classroom and administration buildings of New York University are also here.
The square itself is a must visit on a nice weekend day or holiday. It functions as a neighbourhood festival.
Use extra care throughout the entire Greenwich Village area, especially off the busiest streets. Avoid completely the area east of First Avenue.
However, do visit the main areas of the village, as these are some of the most interesting parts of New York.
New Yorkers love the Union Square area at Broadway and East 14th Street, but this fun and lively area is often overlooked by tourists.
You'll enjoy walking around the square.
Zen Palate, at 34 East Union Square, makes a excellent stop for money conscious travellers.
In this case, Zen implies no meat and no cheese.
You'll find nicely arranged tasty Asian-influenced combo plates under $10. Try the sweet and sour tofu one. There are a variety of fresh juices and desserts.
The hip student and media crowd here knows a good thing. There's sidewalk dining in season.
This food will also appeal to non vegetarians.
Another nearby venue worth visiting—in the evening—is the Gotham Comedy Club. It's one of the premier comedy venues in the U.S., but is not expensive.
Going up island, within several blocks of Broadway and 34th Street, you reach what was the city centre in the 1930's and 1940's.
When the Empire State Building popped up here during the Great Depression, this area truly became downtown New York.
Also here, you'll find the underground Penn Station (Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, NYC subway, and Long Island suburban trains), Madison Square Garden (on top of a portion of Penn Station), and the humongous Macy's Department Store.
Penn Station lies below street level.
The destruction of the former Penn Station in the 1960's was perhaps the perhaps the most ill-advised urban project since Tokyo tore down Frank Lloyd Wright's Imperial Hotel. Utter outrages both.
The Garden is a large concert and sports venue.
This area has declined somewhat in recent years, as the commercial centre of New York has continued to move north. However, it remains a great area to find good, but less expensive hotels.
Both Hotwire.com (no bidding) and Priceline.com Hotels (bidding, but you have to have a credit card with a U.S. billing address) call this area "Midtown South."
West of Broadway, between Penn Station and Times Square, lies the old Garment District. Its production has largely moved offshore or to the southern U.S.
Times Square and Midtown
The action begins again at 42nd Street.
Times Square, which has become more wholesome during the last few years, sits where Broadway, Seventh Avenue, and 42nd Street meet. This is a major public transportation hub.
Not everyone loves how Times Square has changed. A Disney theatre in Times Square? Unthinkable, but it's there. The Lion King awaits.
Regardless, Times Square remains a must for every visitor.
The Port Authority Bus Terminal (Greyhound, Trailways, New Jersey Transit, Shortline, Peter Pan, etc.) looks out at 42nd and Eighth Avenue. (Be sure to read the safety lessons).
Majestic Grand Central Station sits at 42nd and Lexington Avenue, just east of Times Square. Be sure to see the restoration of its lobby, including its wonderful celestial ceiling.
The United Nations building lies just north of the east end of 42nd Street along the East River.
The Hudson River flows along the west side of Manhattan, and its branch, the East River, travels along the east side, until they meet at the southern tip of Manhattan Island.
New York City names
Across the river from the United Nations building toward the south is the New York City borough of Brooklyn. This is also the governmental jurisdiction of Kings County, Brooklyn's name prior to the American Revolution.
The borough of Queens sits directly across the river and to the north. This is both the New York City borough of Queens and the New York County of Queens, also, of course, a name left over from British rule.
Could it be that the good people of Kings County were more republican than those of Queens?
While on the topic of New York City names, New Amsterdam became New York City, when the British took control, but the New York City neighbourhood of Harlaam became just Harlem.
Western Long Island, outside of New York City, a major suburban area, remained Dutch: Nassau County.
The descendants of the first Dutch settlers of New York have included many famous Americans, including
- President Theodore Roosevelt,
- President Franklin Delano Roosevelt,
- John D. Rockefeller, the founder of the Standard Oil Company and once the richest man in the U.S.,
- Nelson Rockefeller, former governor of New York and Vice President of the U.S., and
- Cornelius Vanderbilt, who assembled (from smaller railroads) the New York Central Railroad, once the premier railway between New York City and Chicago.
Dr. Voyageur has digressed.
At and just to the north of Times Square extending down various side streets, you'll find the Broadway theatre district.
During the day, a kiosk in the centre of Times Square sells half price tickets to various evening shows and afternoon performances.
Some are failed new shows soon to close, but many are outstanding shows near the end of long runs. A few are the most popular shows that have had group cancellations.
Access the Playbill site, the New Yorker magazine, or the Sunday New York Times for show information.
Off-Broadway theatre refers to less elaborate productions often held in less expensive venues elsewhere in the city. Some of these shows become so popular that they move to larger Broadway theatres. Others would turn off any mainstream audience.
Some Off-Broadway shows, as with many alternative music clubs, are in unsafe areas, where rents are cheap. When in doubt, take a taxi.
Central Park South
If your budget permits, the area
just south of Central Park makes
a fine hotel location.
Not only are you adjacent to Manhattan's "lung," Central Park, you're within walking distance of all of Midtown.
This area is discussed more thoroughly in New York City walks.
The southern two-thirds of Central Park is considered reasonably safe during the day, as long as you stay among other people.
Night is another story.
Except to attend well-policed outdoor concerts and theatrical events, such as the famed Shakespeare in the Park series during the summer, or to use a taxi to take a date to dine at the expensive, but romantic Tavern on the Green, you should avoid the park at night.
Note that the very southern portion of the park features attractions for children.
Dr. Voyageur discusses Central Park in the New York City walks.
Upper West Side
Not so surprisingly, you'll find "Upper West Side" west of Central Park.
Predominately residential, the Upper West Side attracts a hipper crowd than the far more staid and wealthier Upper East Side, on the other side of the park.
Here live many young working people and Columbia and other university students, who enjoy the large number of lower cost ethnic restaurants in the neighbourhood along Amsterdam, Columbus, and Broadway. You'll find many fun places to hang out at in the evening.
Here, also, live many famous New Yorkers, as did the late John Lennon. This is the area depicted in the television show "Steinfeld."
The main attraction in this area is the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, America's premier ballet, opera, and symphonic music venue, as well as a centre for theatre and film. The Lincoln Center includes New York's famed Julliard School, the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Ballet, and other cultural icons.
Whereas big deals like the Philharmonic may sell out months in advance, you may still be able to enjoy some chamber music or a film. The centre is a stop along our New York City walks.
The Upper West Side also has the American Museum of Natural History, which includes the outstanding Hayden Planetarium in its Rose Center for Earth and Space. Every New York school student has seen it, and so should you.
Sadly, there aren't many hotels in this area, but you do find a huge hostel, which is discussed in the Finding suitable accommodation section.
Upper East Side
Not to be outgunned by the culture on the westside, the Upper East Side has icons of its own, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art.
You'll have a chance to visit these on the New York City walks.
You'll also mingle with the residents of one of the richest neighbourhoods in the world.
Hotels here tend to be expensive.
Fronting Central Park on its north, predominately of African or Hispanic descent Harlem has really improved in recent years.
Harlem's location was too good to remain so depressed. The area is also considered much safer now.
Still, most visitors will be more comfortable on an organized tour, easily arranged at your hotel or hostel.
Another way to experience Harlem is to grab tickets for an event at its legendary Apollo Theatre.
For the most part, with few exceptions, a first time visitor should save the other boroughs (counties within the City of New York)—the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and thinly populated Staten Island ("a game park for Republicans" in an otherwise ultra liberal New York City per Richard Brookhiser)—for later visits.
The main action is in Manhattan, the star of New York's five boroughs.
Note, however, that Brooklyn, if it was not part of New York City, would itself be the fourth largest city in the U.S., a place with much to offer visitors.
Note, too, that the Bronx has one of the best botanical gardens in the world.
Getting around New York City
You'll enjoy these neighbourhoods more if you know Manhattan's street system. So, that's next.
After that, you'll find out what you need to know about New York City transportation.
Go to other pages in this section:
New York City orientation: starting on the water and introduction
New York City orientation: understanding Manhattan's street system
New York City orientation: using New York City transportation
New York City orientation: finding suitable accommodation
New York City orientation: seeing the Statue of Liberty
New York City day trips
New York City walks
Zagat NYC restaurant guide