Where to stay in New York City if you prefer going local to ticking off sights – our neighbourhood guide covers the New York City boutique hotels we recommend for travellers who enjoy exploring local neighbourhoods and getting a taste of the rhythm of everyday life.
This guide to where to stay in New York City is focused around the most local of neighbourhoods to explore and the areas’ best New York City boutique hotels for going local – lodgings that are not only well positioned for discovering the neighbourhood that they’re located in, but hotels that are a part of the community, with restaurants, cafés and bars that local residents frequent.
So why are we recommending New York City hotels and not the holiday homes and apartments that we’ve been encouraging you to stay in since we launched Grantourismo ten years ago? Well, things have changed the city since our 2010 yearlong grand tour when we stayed in holiday rentals around the world for two weeks at a time, advocating slow, local and experiential travel as more sustainable travel forms.
In the decade since we settled into a snug East Village apartment for two weeks, New York City has initiated lawsuits, campaigns and legislation aimed at banning short-term residential rentals on home-sharing platforms, which they deemed illegal and a safety risk, while exacerbating the city’s housing crisis.
It would therefore be irresponsible of a site that advocates more responsible travel to recommend apartment rentals, which is why we are recommending boutique hotels in New York City for now.
So here’s our guide to where to stay in New York City based on the neighbourhoods that will give you more of a local experience and the kind of bite of the ‘Big Apple’ that the city’s locals get to enjoy every day.
Where to Stay in New York City – Neighbourhood Guide to Going Local in New York City
Where to stay in New York City really depends on how you want to experience one of the world’s most popular destinations. While we stayed near touristy Times Square in the Theatre District on our first trip during an icy winter in January 1994, it was primarily to check into Rubell and Schrager’s Paramount, one of the first boutique hotels in the USA.
We were first-time travellers to New York City, so we crammed the first days with Manhattan’s top sights – Statue of Liberty, Central Park, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Guggenheim, etc – then a few days later left the island for the home of a musician cum music producer friend in Williamsburg (well before it was hip).
Film buff that I was at the time, I had a few Brooklyn spots on my to-do list that had served as locations for Spike Lee films, including Fort Greene Park where She’s Gotta Have was set, and Spike’s Joint, a shop where the filmmaker sold movie merch, where we picked up Do The Right Thing hoodies and baseball caps.
With a local friend to sort us out, we were tucking into pierogi at local Polish joints, watching our friend’s jazz band perform at MoMa, and downing beers at dive bars. Stay in a boutique hotel in one of these neighbourhoods and you can go local too. Click through to find all the New York City hotels that we recommend.
The East Village is where we settled into an apartment for two weeks on that 2010 yearlong grand tour focused on slow, local and experiential travel that launched Grantourismo. We chose the East Village partly because of its counterculture history – in the 1960s it was home to some of the USA’s most progressive writers, musicians, poets, and activists – and because our American friends said it was one of the most laidback and local of New York City’s neighbourhoods. Located between Houston and 14th Streets and the East River and the Bowery, the East Village is where to stay in New York City if you like the idea of a neighbourhood that is “young, lively, unpretentious”, that has residents of “all types from funky to hipster to utterly ordinary” and boasts “great restaurants that won’t dent your pocket”, which was what our Local Knowledge insider said he loved about his neighbourhood. We also loved the lush oases that are New York’s secret gardens, some of which offer yoga, poetry nights, belly-dancing classes, and film screenings (see our tips to enjoying New York’s community gardens), and enjoyed beers in the historic pubs such as McSorley’s Ale House, dating to 1854, cocktails at East Village speakeasies such as PDT, and meals at casual eateries, serving up everything from Russian to Peruvian to food.
Where to Stay in the East Village
The Standard, located on Cooper Square, spreads its accommodation and public spaces across two historic tenement buildings and a modern glass tower. The hotel has cafés, a bar and restaurant that are frequented by as many local residents as hotel guests; the restaurant Narcissa serves sharing plates and natural and biodynamic wines. There are bicycles available for guests to explore the neighbourhood.
Lower East Side
South of the East Village, bordered by the East River, Canal Street, the Bowery, and Houston Street, the Lower East Side is where to stay in New York City if you like the idea of a neighbourhood that’s earthier, edgier and even more multicultural than the Village. The Lower East Side, or ‘LES’ as the locals call it, has a long rich history of immigration. If, like us, you see museums as spaces of learning to gain deeper knowledge of places, rather than merely sights to be ticked off, get to the Tenement Museum before you start exploring to learn more about the working class migrant history of the neighbourhood, then do a walking tour with the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy to get an insight into the area’s Jewish heritage. There are more of those wonderful community gardens in the Lower East Side, as well as quintessentially New York culinary spots, which have remained as popular with locals as with food tourists, such as Katz’s Deli (for the corned beef sandwich, chopped liver, dill pickles, Matzah ball soup, potato knishes) and the old Russ & Daughters shop and café (for the smoked salmon, caviar, bagels, herring plate with pickled beets and pumpernickel bread, and classic egg creams and sodas).
Where to Stay on the Lower East Side
The Ludlow has a vintage vibe in keeping with the neighbourhood with cosy rooms with floor to ceiling windows with quintessential New York City views, warm throws on the beds and sheepskins on the retro chairs. The inviting Lobby Bar has comfy leather sofas, a fireplace, and garden courtyard, while Dirty French feels like a village bistro in rural France and serves updated French classics.
Located within Delancey and Chambers Streets and Broadway and East Broadway, Chinatown is where to stay in New York City if you’re a lover of Asia and Asian food. One of our favourite New York neighbourhoods, Chinatown’s streets buzz with the sights and sounds you expect to find in a city in China or Southeast Asia, but perhaps not in New York City, from the calls of hawkers shouting out deals at the outdoor street markets to the old-timers singing Chinese Opera which emanates from Columbus Park. In its early days, the neighbourhood was home to both Italian and Chinese immigrants, as I learned on the ‘taste of the immigrant experience’ food tour I did with a culinary historian on our 2010 trip. While the Little Italy part of the neighbourhood doesn’t have much of an Italian community anymore, having given over to tourism a long time ago, Chinatown has maintained its Asian roots, and its entrepreneurial spirit has enabled it to evolve over time in ways that appeal as much to locals as tourists. In between the old-school dumpling joints and vintage teahouses, such as retro Nom Wah Tea Parlor, New York City’s first dim sum spot, which started out as bakery in 1920, and 800-seater yam cha banquet restaurant Jing Fong, you’ll find cool boutiques, contemporary art galleries and speakeasies. See our guide to things to do in Chinatown for details and more ideas.
Where to Stay in Chinatown
Hotel 50 Bowery is owned by the younger generation of an old Chinatown family with a chic design that celebrates the spirit of the neighbourhood. Rooms have original art on the walls and panoramic views from the ninth floor up. There’s a permanent exhibition by the Museum of Chinese America (MOCA) in The Gallery, the 21st floor rooftop bar and lounge called The Crown does Asian-inspired cocktails, while buzzy Rice & Gold has vibrant street art by a local artist, and Asian-American fare.
I have to confess to having included Tribeca on our itinerary on our very first trip to New York City many years ago simply because it was home to Robert De Niro’s film company Tribeca Productions and his restaurants, the Tribeca Grill and Nobu. By the time we’d returned to the city in 2010 it also hosted De Niro’s Tribeca Film Festival and was the address of the actor’s hotel, The Greenwich. Located to the west of Chinatown, Tribeca, originally written as TriBeCa, a portmanteau of ‘Triangle Below Canal Street’, couldn’t be more different to the East Village and Lower East Side – Tribeca is home to Manhattan’s wealthiest residents (many of them actors, musicians, celebrities, and entrepreneurs) and priciest real estate – yet it holds similar allures for lovers of local travel. There’s a dearth of tourists, laidback locals, a low-key vibe, secret parks, and plenty of great spots to eat and drink. Tribeca is where to stay in New York City if you really want to get away from the sights and concentrate on doing the stuff that locals do: stroll the cobblestone streets, lined with historic warehouses converted into loft apartments, dropping into edgy fashion boutiques, contemporary art galleries and cool interior décor shops; head to Whole Foods for picnic ingredients then spend the afternoon in Hudson River Park; or linger over dinner and drinks at the Tribeca Grill.
Where to Stay in Tribeca
Where else would we recommend you stay in Tribeca but Robert De Niro’s The Greenwich. Hotels don’t get more local than this. First of all, of the hotel’s 88 suites and rooms, no two are like. As you’d decorate your home, each room is distinctive, with furniture and décor drawn from an array of styles, coffee tables strewn with magazines and vases of flowers, and shelves filled with books, board games, a ceramic bowl here, a stone statue there. Pets are welcome and they’ll even let you borrow the car for short distances. There’s an interior courtyard, indoor pool, and the hotel’s decade-old Italian taverna, Locanda Verde, is a local favourite.
This post on Where to Stay in New York City was brought to you by hotel booking site au.hotels.com, however, all anecdotes, recommendations and opinions are our own obviously.