Enjoying New York City on a Budget
Getting to know Manhattan neighbourhoods
Planning your New York City trip
First, you should learn the main streets and neighbourhoods, and thus feel comfortable on your own.
Let's start with Manhattan neighbourhoods.
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 and south street.
In this time it 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.
Lower Manhattan (Wall Street)
What New Yorkers still call downtown or Lower Manhattan refers to the former Dutch city Nieuw-Amsterdam century at the southern tip of Manhattan Island.
If you see a subway car whose destination sign says "Downtown," that's where it is going.
Feeling a need for protection, the Dutch build a wall. You guess it. Wall Street now runs along where that existed. The entire neighbourhood south of that became known as Wall Street. (Considering the subsequent history of the United States, native peoples might have been wise to have built their own walls.)
After the British took over Nieuw-Nederland and then the American Revolution took that away the Wall Street area continued to be the focal point of business and governmental activity. The United States Congress first met at Federal Hall in the Wall Street neighbourhood in 1789. The U.S. government functioned there for some four years.
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.
North of Wall Street
North of Wall Street and south of Washington Square in Greenwich Village, you'll find
- A growing Chinatown due to robust immigration,
- Little Italy, and
- The trendy SOHO, TriBeCa, and NOHO areas, where many of the "in" clubs and restaurants are.
Mixed within these neighbourhoods remain of crime-ridden public housing projects and abandoned warehouses and factories. Keep to busy streets especially at night and use Uber or taxis when necessary.
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. You should find this area of New York City exciting.
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 still seems a bit leftover from the late 1960s. The neighbourhood is famed for budget restaurants. If you're a vegetarian, this is the Motherland.
All though has been changing rapidly. New York real estate prices have sparked major redevelopment and significantly increased rental rates are driving both residents and smaller businesses away from East Village.
Just south of Washington Square, sits the traditional Greenwich Village entertainment area, including historic music clubs like the Bitter End. Also, the classroom and administration buildings of New York University are here.
The square itself is a must visit on a nice weekend day or holiday. It functions as a neighbourhood festival.
Use some extra care throughout the entire Greenwich Village area, especially off the busiest streets and east of First Avenue.
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. There's perhaps New York City's most popular farmer's market located here some days.
You can track the movement of the city centre northward by names used. This area developed after the Union army defeated the Confederate one in the U.S. Civil War.
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 the real downtown New York.
Also here, you'll find 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 flagship 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 Frank Lloyd Wright's sublime Imperial Hotel was torn down in Tokyo. Utter outrages both. The current Penn Station stands as one of the least welcoming environments in the U.S.
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.
Southwest of here be sure to enjoy NYC's wonderful elevated High Line Park.
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.
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.
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 or Uber.
Central Park South
If your budget permits, the area
just south of Central Park provides a super 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.
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 or Uber 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 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 and other low cost 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 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 perhaps so should you.
Sadly, there aren't many hotels in this area, but you do find a humongous hostel, the HI New York City Hostel, which may have a bed for you..
Upper East Side
Not to be out gunned by the culture on the west side, the Upper East Side has weapons 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 very expensive.
Fronting Central Park on its north, predominately of African or Hispanic descent Harlem has moved far from being considered a slum since World War 2.
Harlem's location was too good to remain so depressed. The area is also considered much safer now.
A fine way to experience Harlem is to grab tickets for an event at its legendary Apollo Theatre.
Seldom visited by travellers, the northern tip of Manhattan is very special. For future trips research it. To whet your appetite, you will find a virgin never-logged forest. Not many big cities, if any, host one of those.
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 Republican enclave in an otherwise ultra liberal New York City)—for later visits.
Note 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.
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: seeing the Statue of Liberty
New York City day trips
New York City walks
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