10 BEST Neighborhoods in Manhattan (First Time Visitors Guide!)

If you’re looking for the best neighborhoods in Manhattan you’ve come to the right place. Although it’s often referred to as a tiny island, there is still so much to see, so much to do, so much to eat!

There are 1.6 million locals who call more than 50 unique Manhattan neighborhoods home, which are all claimed to be the best. Although each neighborhood has its merits, there are some that stand head and shoulders above the rest.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed (and sometimes lost) when perusing through Manhattan neighborhoods, but I’m going to be your friendly local guide. Together we’re going to make the most of your time in the Big Apple, so you walk away with a greater appreciation for the city I call home.

Visiting New York City? If you haven’t decided where to stay (yet) check out our helpful guide on Where to Stay in New York City (The best neighborhoods for first timers +2 to avoid). Don’t have time? Here’s our favorite hotel in NYC, hands down.

Tips for visiting Manhattan neighborhoods

  • Comfortable walking shoes are non-negotiable. The most common (and effective) means of transportation are your own two feet. Expect to be walking 10,000+ steps a day so treat your feet to a comfortable pair of shoes (these are my favorite).
  • Use Google & Apple Maps when using the subway. No need for giant foldable maps or brochures, your phone is the key to getting to all of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan. Simply set the method of transportation to the subway and let the apps do the navigating.
  • Treat the sidewalk like a highway. People live here and they have places be! Be courteous and avoid eye rolls from the locals by stepping to the side when taking a photo. Also be mindful of your group size and avoid hogging the sidewalk by walking side by side.

Interested in more tips? Check out 20 HELPFUL Tips for Visiting New York City (Written By a Life-Long Local)

#11. Upper West Side

Although most locals consider the Upper West Side (UWS) a sleepy residential neighborhood (is anything really sleepy in NYC?), that doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t one of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan.

Sandwiched between Central Park to the east and the Hudson River to the west, the Upper West Side provides a very welcome reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the city.

The brownstones on the UWS make for a picturesque New York City neighborhood where it’s hard not to feel like the main character in a movie. Home to a plethora of great restaurants, grocery stores and charming shops it doesn’t take much to see why this is one of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan.

Things to do in the Upper West Side

Spend the day at the American Museum of Natural History. The museum is home to 33 million specimens, yet only 3% are on display. Ancient dinosaur skeletons and the life size replica of a blue whale top the list. In their Hayden Planetarium visitors can find the largest meteorite found in the U.S.

Visit General Grant’s Tomb. Our 18th president was laid to rest in the UWS in the largest tomb in North America. It’s a sight to be seen, especially for history buffs. You can get free tours of the mausoleum through the National Park Service.

Explore Central Park. There’s so much to see in Central Park, you can get lost in it for days. If you only have a time to see a few I suggest Strawberry Fields (a tribute to John Lennon), Belvedere Castle, and Bethesda Terrace & Fountain.

Further Reading: 20+ EPIC Things to Do in the Upper West Side (Local’s Guide)

Where to eat in the Upper West Side

Bluestone Lane is an Australian coffee shop with all the traditional fixings. Whether you’re looking for a brunch meal or just a cup of coffee & pastry this is what I recommend.

You can’t come to New York City and not have a hot dog right? Gray’s Papaya is a famous hot dog chain that’s been around for nearly 50 years. Their flagship location is at 72nd St. & Amsterdam

If you’re in need of a dinner spot I recommend Asset. The restaurant provides a seductive, low light setting for a romantic dinner. The menu is an upscale traditional American, and my go to order is the wagyu burger.

Vin sur Vingt is my favorite place for drinks in this Manhattan neighborhood. It’s a small & cozy setting for good chat over glasses of wine.

Where to stay in the Upper West Side

#10. Chinatown

Manhattan’s Chinatown is home to the largest population of Chinese people in the western hemisphere, so in other words, it’s authentic. It’s commonplace to walk the streets and hear locals chatting with each other in Chinese, at times it can feel like you’re in the mainland yourself.

During its formative years Chinatown served as a sanctuary and starting point for Chinese immigrants coming to America, but in the present it has become one of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan.

Whether it’s thanks to the Manhattan neighborhood’s colorful decorations or the unique shops that line the streets it’s hard to be bored. Here are some of the best ways to spend a day in Chinatown.

Things to do Chinatown

Visit the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA). Take a deep dive into not only the history of the Manhattan neighborhood but also other Chinatowns in America. The museum explains the many adversities Chinese immigrants faced when coming to America and the ingenious ways they found to not only to survive, but thrive.

Walk down the Bloody Angle. During the early 20th century Doyers Street came to be known as the “bloody angle” after violent gang altercations took place here. Today it’s home to New York’s oldest dim sum restaurant and has one of the best murals in NYC painted on the street.

Celebrate Chinese New Year. If you happen to find yourself in NYC during the Chinese Lunar New Year (January/February), Chinatown is one of the best Manhattan neighborhoods to be in. The streets come alive with locals in festive, traditional wear and music fills the air. The festivities culminate in the Lunar New Year parade.

Where to eat in Chinatown

I always tell myself I’m only stopping by Sweet Moment just for coffee, but the real stars of the show are the plentiful pastries and desserts. The menu also boasts teas and specialty drinks, like a delectable matcha bomb (matcha, choice of milk, topped off with espresso).

Big Wong is a no frills, cash only, bustling restaurant in the heart of Chinatown. The prices are low and the food is incredible, need I say more? The service is friendly and food comes out quick & hot.

If you have enough time to wait in line, Nom Wah Tea Parlor is the oldest dim sum restaurant in NYC and merits a stop. The century old establishment has a menu full of dumplings, noodles & soups that are sure to satisfy.

At Apotheke mixologists in lab coats create inspired cocktails in a relaxed atmosphere that doesn’t lack imagination or romance. The menu is broken down into six distinct “prescription” sections: Health & Beauty, Aphrodisiacs, Pain Killers, Euphorics, Stimulants and Stress Relievers.

Further Reading: Apotheke is one of 10 Memorable Manhattan Bars Everyone Should Visit

Where to stay in Chinatown
best neighborhoods in Manhattan to explore Chinatown

#8. Upper East Side

The Upper East Side has been portrayed in television and movies as the place where wealthy and socialite circles live and hang out. In reality, oh wait – it is.

Posh cafes and high-end shopping destinations serve as the playground for the upper class in the Upper East Side. The opulence alone isn’t what makes it one of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan though, there’s plenty to enjoy.

Whether it’s taking in history at a museum or visiting New York City staples, the Upper East Side makes for an entertaining day.

Things to do Upper East Side

Spend the day at the MET. With more than 2 million pieces of art spanning 5,000+ years, the Met is the largest museum in the country and the fifth largest museum in the world. Making a pit-stop at the Met is a non-negotiable when visiting New York City, whether its your first or tenth visit.

Visit the Albertine Bookstore. Home to the largest collection of French-language books in the United States, Albertine Bookstore is located within the Payne Whitney Mansion (home of the French embassy’s cultural center). The building was designed by the same architect responsible for the Washington Square Arch — Stanford White.

Visit the Guggenheim Museum. The unique architecture of the Guggenheim Museum warrants the visit alone. The spiral staircase is a work of art itself, but once inside there’s plenty to see.

Where to eat in the Upper East Side

If you’re after a great cup of coffee I suggest making a pit stop at Ralph’s. The postage-stamp sized cafe is as charming as can be which should come as no surprise since it’s owned by Ralph Lauren.

JG Melon has been around since 1972 and serves the best burger in NYC. Think perfectly juicy and flavorful patties sandwiched between buttery buns. The fries are worth an order and the decor alone warrants a visit. Just note – JG Melon is cash only so come prepared!

In a lot of ways Bemelmans Bar is exactly what an Upper East Side bar should be. The staff is dressed to impress, the bar is dimly lit and the aged leather banquettes offer an air of sophistication and class. Found in the classy Carlyle Hotel, this bar is best known for the alluring murals that adorn the walls.

Further Reading: 15+ Great Things to Do in the Upper East Side

Where to stay in the Upper East Side
Best cafes Upper East side

#7. Lower East Side (LES)

Few Manhattan neighborhoods capture the ongoing shift from an old New York to new like the Lower East Side. With a quick look at the buildings you’ll find pre-war buildings next to modern apartment buildings.

The businesses who call this Manhattan neighborhood home also reflect both worlds. There are century old delis only blocks away from new and trendy bars. Locals who have been here for decades are now neighbors with millennials and newcomers.

Therefore among Manhattan neighborhoods the Lower East Side is one of the most unique. Visitors get some old school flavor mixed in with some new school trends.

Things to do Lower East Side

Tenement Museum. The museum is dedicated to the stories of immigrants who came to America, focusing on where and how they lived. There are tours available of old, time-specific apartments that recreate where and how New York’s immigrants lived, and in a lot of cases flourished against all odds.

The Museum at Eldridge Street. The Eldridge Street Synagogue was built over 130 years ago and was one of the first synagogues built in the US by Eastern European Jews. In present day it is still an operational synagogue but also allows admission for tours. Pricing and schedules can be found here.

Walk the Williamsburg Bridge. The most underrated bridge in NYC connects arguably the two trendiest neighborhoods in their respective boroughs. The Williamsburg Bridge connects Williamsburg, Brooklyn with the Manhattan neighborhood of LES. The 100 year old bridge is longer than it’s southern neighbor, the Brooklyn Bridge so wear comfortable walking shoes.

Where to Eat Lower East Side

My two coffee shop stops in the Lower East side are Koneko and Pause Cafe. Koneko is a Japanese cafe with cats (yes, live cats) that roam the shop interacting with guests. The cats are up for adoption. Pause Cafe has hearty & healthy breakfast options like açaí bowls in a laid back, Moroccan inspired coffee shop.

For those after a light snack Russ & Daughters is the spot to be. There’s no better way to start your morning than with a bagel from Russ & Daughters. Russ & Daughters has expanded over the last 100 years but I suggest visiting the original store on the Lower East Side. Nothing beats the original. 😉

If you’re looking for a full meal there is one obvious Lower East Side staple, Katz Deli. The deli has been around for 130 years, with presidents and celebrities traveling from afar to try a bite of the mile high thick-cut pastrami sandwiched between rye

Looking for drinks? Might I suggest Attaboy, the #1 bar in North America? The bar doesn’t have reservations, it is first come first served. Open 7 days a week, until 4 AM, there should be plenty of time to make a stop.

Two iconic New York City Restaurants only a few blocks from each other? No wonder the Lower East Side is one of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan.

Where to stay in the Lower East Side

#6. Tribeca

One of many neighborhoods in Manhattan that have abbreviated names, Tribeca Stands for Triangle Below Canal St. In reality – it’s not a triangle, it’s somewhere between a rhombus and parallelogram. (Just showing off my geometry in case Mrs. Berry is reading.)

Tribeca is one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Manhattan and is home to celebrities and wealthy executives. The cobblestone streets are incredibly well kept and clean brick buildings add the upscale feel.

It’s also relatively quiet for being downtown. (Nothing is really quiet in NYC). The commercial buildings have largely been turned into housing, so the neighborhood feels residential and undisturbed.

Things to do in Tribeca

Visit Ghostbusters HQ. Firehouse Hook & Ladder Company 8 can be found in Tribeca and it’s waiting for you to come and take a picture in front of it. Just note it’s still an operating firehouse, so get the hell out of the way if you hear sirens!

Check out the Woolworth Building. It was the tallest building in the world when it opened in 1913 and still one of the 100 tallest in the US today. Over 100 years later it’s still a beloved fixture in the NYC skyline. Private tours were suspended due to the pandemic but should be available soon.

Tribeca Film Festival. Created as a way to bring liveliness back to one of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan after the attacks on 9/11, the Tribeca Film Festival has become one of the premier film festivals in the world. Over 600 films are played and more than 150,000 people attend annually.

Where to eat in Tribeca

Maman has beautiful cafes all around New York City but the one in Tribeca is especially beautiful. It’s a quaint and charming spot for coffee and a pastry.

For breakfast or brunch there is no place better in Tribeca than Bubby’s. Churning out arguably the best pancakes in all of New York City, lines can get long so reservations are strongly encouraged.

Black Burger is a no frills joint serving up delicious burgers, fries and shakes. They’re open late (3AM) so there’s no excuse not to visit when exploring Tribeca.

Dinner & drinks? Why not make a stop at The Odeon. The exterior looks like it could be on a postcard and it’s rumored this is where the where the Cosmopolitan was invented. Serving French-American cuisine the 40 year old restaurant is sure to have something to satisfy every palette.

Where to stay in Tribeca

#5. Flat Iron District

The Flatiron District is on the smaller side, but still one of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan and one you can’t miss during your visit. The neighborhood is in the middle of NYC and when walking the streets you can feel it.

Busy streets and storefronts are full of locals and tourists alike going about their day. Although there has been ongoing construction of residential buildings in the area the neighborhood hasn’t lost its lively feel.

Things to do Flatiron District

Take a photo in front of the Flatiron Building. Ask anybody list New York City’s most iconic buildings and it won’t take long to get to the Flatiron Building. The building is full of offices, but the outside is what’s memorable.

The NYC landmark is so famous it’s been featured in movies (Spider-Man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Godzilla). Don’t miss an opportunity to snap a picture in front of the Flatiron District’s namesake.

Hang out in Madison Square Park. Named after James Madison, the 4th president of the United States, Madison Square Park has been around for 175 years. In its nearly 2 centuries of existence the best thing to come out of the park? This is where Shake Shack was born. They are still there today so make sure to grab a burger and shake and enjoy it in the park.

Check out the birthplace of our 26th president. Theodore Roosevelt was born in one of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan at a townhouse located at 28th E. 20th Street on October 27, 1858. It was demolished in 1916, but when Roosevelt died in 1919 a replica of the home was promptly rebuilt. Today tours are offered through the NPS on a first come first served bases.

Where to eat Flatiron District

Whether you’re after a cup of coffee or a quick bite there are few better joints than the Flatiron Plate. Right outside the Flatiron Building the cafe has all outdoor seating so you can soak in the views of one of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan.

I’d be a horrible friend if I didn’t make sure to tell you to stop at Eataly during your time in the Flatiron District. An Italian market that houses multiple different restaurants where you can pull out a barstool and enjoy a hot meal right inside the store.

Gramercy Tavern is can’t miss dinner spot in the Flatiron District. They have a city-wide famous burger but unfortunately that means there tends to be a wait. I suggest making reservations, you won’t be disappointed!

Where to stay in the Flatiron District
Image Courtesy Getty Images

#4. SoHo

SoHo (South of Houston St.) has seen as much change as any of the other Manhattan neighborhoods. It was home to the first free black settlement in Manhattan, became a booming manufacturing neighborhood and today is a shoppers paradise.

Today the cobble stone streets of SoHo are home one of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan. Back in the day this area was covered by factories and warehouses, which have since been converted into expensive condos equipped with storefronts at the ground level.

Best things to do SoHo

Spend the day shopping. You’ll find quite the mishmash of high-end luxury designers, unique boutiques and clothing stores in SoHo, all crammed together from one block to the next. The best shopping is done by getting lost, so allow yourself to roam free, just make sure to bring the credit cards with!

Enjoy some sweets at the Museum of Ice Cream. The Museum of Ice Cream might be deemed a museum but it feels more like a playground. Adults love this interactive musuem as much as kids because it’s ripe for exploration! The museum makes this one of the ideal neighborhoods in Manhattan for families.

You’ll learn all about the world of ice cream through colorful exhibits. The star of the show is a toss up between the 3-story slide (longest indoor slide in NYC) and the sprinkles pool.

Where to eat SoHo

Balthazar is tiny and cute NYC bakery that sells thousands of croissants a day, which is probably all you need to know about how good they are. And it’s true, the croissants are perfect, but so is everything else on the menu.

I first visited Dominique Ansel for the world-famous cronut and left with a handful of irresistible baked goods. And I must admit this iconic bakery in NYC is completely worth the hype. This bakery single handedly places SoHo among the best neighborhoods in Manhattan.

You might recognize Jack’s Wife Freda as one of the most photographed restaurants in NYC thanks to the floral arrangement that that adorns the entrance. What you may not know is that it’s one of the best restaurants in NYC. Whether it’s for brunch, lunch or dinner the American-Mediterranean cuisine is hard to beat.

Where to stay in SoHo
Moving to NYC

#3. Financial District

Home to picturesque New York City, few neighborhoods in Manhattan represent what visitors expect to see when they visit the Big Apple quite like the Financial District. The grandeur of the city is on full display.

Businessmen in suits popping up from the subways, enormous skyscrapers, and the never-ending sound of construction & honking cars. Take a deep breath my friends, we’re in quintessential New York City.

Things to do Financial District

Check out the observation deck at the One World Trade Center. When touring the Financial District take a trip to the observation deck in the One World Trade Center. The building caps out at 1,776 feet and from this vantage point you’ll be able to see a lot of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan.

Pay your respects at the 9/11 Memorial. Sometimes I’m hesitant to mention visiting the 9/11 Museum because it’s such an emotional experience. The 9/11 museum is a profound tribute to the 2,977 lives lost on September 11, 2001. It’s worth the visit, as long as you can emotionally brace yourself.

Visit the Oculus Mall. Located right across the street from the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, the Oculus Mall looks like the spine of a fish long forgotten. It’s quite the architectural feat! Not only is it an actual mall, it’s also a functioning subway hub.

Honorable Mentions

Other popular sites you can’t miss while exploring one of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan:

  • Wall Street’s Charging Bull
  • The Fearless Girl statue
  • The New York Stock Exchange
  • Pier 17
Where to eat in the Financial District

While exploring the Financial District my go-to coffee shop is Black Fox Cafe. The coffee is delicious and it’s a great space with plenty of seating to rest your legs and take a breather before continuing on your exploration of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan.

Pisillo Italian Panini is a hidden gem. They make some of the best sandwiches in NYC and don’t skimp on the ingredients. It’s not uncommon to have leftovers to take home with you. This joint is cash only but there is an ATM inside.

For dinner & drinks, (especially drinks) there are two can’t miss spots. They are The Dead Rabbit & Dante, which are both are on our list of the best bars in Manhattan.

The Dead Rabbit is reminiscent of an old school Irish pub, but the drinks keep up with the fanciest bars in NYC. Dante is an 100+ year old establishment, and the FiDi location is a new spot with incredible views of the water.

Where to stay in the Financial District
Trinity Church

#2. Chelsea

Chelsea has seen quite a transformation over the last two decades. The area has become an epicenter for nightlife in NYC, full of lively bars that are open into the late hours of the evening, trendy restaurants and plenty of clubs. It’s become one of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan for young folks (and the young at heart).

There’s a plethora of things to do which all have a flavor associated with old New York City. There is history to be appreciated around every corner, and construction pushing forward a new future.

As one of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan there’s plenty to see, so expect to be wowed all day long.

Things to do Chelsea

Walk the High Line. The elevated tracks this NYC park was built on were originally used by freight trains delivering cargo to the city. For ages, the railroad track was abandoned and neglected, a blight on the neighborhood.

That is until a plan to transform the derelict train tracks into a park for the people was approved. The High Line opened in 2009 and became an instant success.The elevated promenade stretches 1.5 miles and receives an average of 8 million visitors annually.

Hang out at Little Island. Little Island is one of the most unique parks in New York City. It’s a redesigned pier that extends over the Hudson River with a beautiful design meant to be an oasis in the concrete jungle. The greenspace and water make it tranquil and there are usually vendors selling food & drink.

Catch a performance at Madison Square Garden. Having served as host to some of the biggest icons in music, comedy and even two popes, the place where MSG truly shines is in regards to sports.

Athletes by and large have named the Madison Square Garden as their favorite place to compete. Having hosted historic sporting events such as the “Fight of the Century” between Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier, MSG is the pinnacle of competition. It is not without reason that it’s affectionately known as the Mecca of Basketball.

Where to eat in Chelsea

Cafe Grumpy is known for two things, their adorably irate logo and making a delicious cup of coffee. The coffee shop inside the Whole Foods is my go-to when I’m exploring Chelsea.

Whenever I’m in the area and hungry there is one place I beeline towards, the Chelsea Market. The food hall has all types of food, my go-to is Los Tacos No. 1 and my wife’s is Very Fresh Noodles.

If you plan the drink date in advance I suggest getting reservations at Raines Law Room. The speakeasy is a classy cocktail lounge that can is both a great spot for a date or just casual drinking.

Fun Fact: The Chelsea Market is housed in the old Nabisco factory building – this building is the birthplace of the Oreo cookie!

Where to stay Chelsea
best neighborhoods Manhattan to explore

#1. Greenwich Village (The Village)

Greenwich Village is the most charming & captivating of all the Manhattan neighborhoods. In fact, it is often the highlight of almost everyone’s trip to NYC. But let me tell you, once you experience it for yourself, you’ll know exactly why.

Between the cobblestone streets, old brick townhouses, ivy covered buildings and the most endearing corner cafes and restaurants, you can’t help but feel like you’re in a movie set (PS. a lot of stars call this neighborhood home).

It’s also one of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan for foodies, so bring loose fitting clothes.

Things to do Greenwich Village

Snap a picture of the Friends building. Located at the corner of Bedford and Grove Streets, check out the exterior of the apartment used in the opening credits of the popular TV show Friends. It’s easy to spot because there’s typically a crowd of folks eagerly taking photos of the corner.

Grab a drink at the Stonewall Inn. The famous Stonewall Uprising, which took place at the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969 shone a limelight on the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. Frustrated by unjust raids, the patrons at the Stonewall Inn decided to fight back and riots ensued.

These events completely changed the course of history in America, which is why Stonewall was deemed a national historic landmark in New York City. Visitors are welcome to enjoy a drink at this notable gay bar while pondering the progress made and the distance yet to go.

Enjoy Washington Square Park. Best known for the grand marble arch that celebrates the centennial of George Washington’s inauguration, it sits at the northern entrance of the park and overlooks the central fountain.

The inviting atmosphere makes Washington Park a great NYC park for people-watching. The energetic mood is contagious and you’ll notice park visitors from all corners of the world congregate on the various benches and grassy patches.

There’s so much more to enjoy in the Greenwich Village, make sure to check out 22 Exciting Things to Do in New York City’s Charming Greenwich Village!

Where to eat in Greenwich Village

Stepping into Buvette feels like stepping foot into an authentic Parisian cafe. Which is precisely why this is one of my favorite things to do in Greenwich Village when I’m feeling nostalgic for France. The interior of the restaurant is as cozy as can be and the food is equally delicious. I especially like the escargot and seasonal menu items.

One of the (many) restaurants I love in Greenwich Village is Palma. It offers the perfect Italian escape for anyone craving a vacation but lacking the vacation days, sky-miles, funds, etc. to do so. Ask to be seated outside since they have an incredible back patio covered in vines and oozing an irresistible Italian charm.

For dessert here’s my go-to. Magnolia Bakery took the world by storm, thanks in large part to making appearances in Sex and the City. The bakery is known for making decadent cakes and delicious cupcakes, but the banana pudding is where it’s at.

Looking for drinks? Caffe Dante dates back to 1915. It served as a staple for the community before slowly fading into oblivion before two Australians decided to breathe new life into the historic institution in 2015. Within a few years of reopening, Dante was named the best bar in the world in 2019 and appeared on the list again in 2020.

Still Hungry? Check out 12 Charming Restaurants in Greenwich Village Worth the Wait.

Where to stay Greenwich Village
iconic New York City restaurants

Map of the best neighborhoods in Manhattan

Best Manhattan neighborhoods (Post Summary)

  1. Greenwich Village
  2. Chelsea
  3. Financial District
  4. SoHo
  5. Flatiron District
  6. Tribeca
  7. Lower East Side
  8. Upper East Side
  9. Chinatown
  10. Upper West Side

And there you have it my friends – a quick roundup of the 10 best neighborhoods in Manhattan for first time visitors. I hope you enjoyed the post!