Renter’s Guide, Part 3: the Neigborhood- Manhattan

Part 3:   the Neighborhood

■       What is this east side/west side dialogue in Manhattan?

New Yorkers make a big deal about east side/west side partially as function of the subway system. There are local (stop frequently) and express lines that run up along the east side (4,5,6) and lines that run along the west side (1,2,3, A, C, E) of Manhattan. However, there aren’t many lines that go across town. The main areas for cross-town transfers are 14th street Union Square (L) and 42nd street Grand Central or Time Square (7 or the Shuttle). Several train lines make diagonal cuts of the city (N,Q,R) or go *slightly* East to West in a more roundabout way (B,D,M).

It can be faster to go from lower Manhattan (east) to far upper Manhattan (east) than to go from lower Manhattan (east) to lower Manhattan (west).

■       What are the different neighborhoods like? Where is the East Village, again?

Let’s get oriented first.
–     Hudson River=West=Jersey side.

–     East River=East=Brooklyn/Queens side.

–     The Bronx is north of Manhattan.

–     There’s an inhabited island between Manhattan and Queens called Roosevelt Island.

Below are brief overviews of some popular neighborhoods in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. Maps follow the neighborhood overviews. Note: Neighborhood boundaries are debatable so take what’s below as a rough guide.


Lower Manhattan (unnumbered streets to 14th street, Union Square):

–     Financial District– Near Wall Street. Many financial services employees live here because of the short commute, but other people have moved in for the nice, doorman apartments. Quiet and safe, convenient transit to Brooklyn and Union Square (14th street), but lacking in neighborhood feel.

–     Tribeca– Think beautiful rehabbed lofts. Many affluent financial/ professional services employees have relocated here. Industrial/neighborhood feel but is also the city’s richest precinct. Home to the Tribeca Film Festival—hence the “I’ll be in Tribeca, right next to Deniro line,” from Jay Z’s NY anthem, “Empire State of Mind.” Great west side transit; east side transit is walkable. Hudson River waterfront access.

–     Chinatown/Civic Center– Name is self-explanatory. Changing neighborhood with blurred borders between Lower East Side and Nolita. Great food and access to lower Manhattan nightlife. Bustling during the day (especially Saturday) and not the cleanest of neighborhoods. High percent of “walk-up,” non-elevator buildings where one can find deals. Canal is the main feeder street famous for fake Rolexes—well fake anything. Canal is also a great transportation hub mixing some east side/west side subways. This is the neighborhood to come to for the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge!

–     Nolita– A mix of Little Italy and Chinatown. Now known for fashion boutiques because of its proximity to Soho. Great food and walkable access to nightlife in lower Manhattan. Increasing rents.

–     Noho (north of Houston street, between East Village and Soho)- Home to Bowery street, a unique corridor of food, nightlife, and music venues. Noho is increasingly becoming upscale. Located on the east side but has walkable access to west side transit. The gateway to the East Village and Soho. See Nolita.

–     Lower East Side– The gentrified, former tenement neighborhood of New York. Vibrant and diverse with some of the best food and nightlife in the city. Many people want to be here, which is why LES gets crowded at nights. Limited subway access but many people will be coming to you! You can still find deals on some of the tenement walk-ups.

–     Soho (south of Houston street)- Fashionable. All the retail you want plus great cafes, restaurants, bars and lounges. Expensive.

–     Greenwich (Central) Village (between East Village and West Village)- Think the nexus of NYU and all things that students would want. Has a bohemian history.

–     West Village (the west part of where the map says “Greenwich Village”)- Beautiful tree lined, winding streets laden with boutiques and wonderful food and entertainment options. Think brownstone. Expensive. Space is generally small. Served by west side trains.

**Numbered streets on the grid (e.g. 1st street and 1st avenue) start here.

–     East Village (goes east to alphabet city, avenue a, b, etc.)- Once an artist enclave, East Village still has remnants of the bohemian vibe. Great access to retail, food, and nightlife because the neighborhood is so concentrated. This means if you live here people will come to you after work hours.  Alphabet city feels more like a neighborhood with some of the city’s best community gardens. Subway access becomes sparser as you move east towards the river but you can still walk to trains. Stay west of 1st avenue, and trains are near. NYU borders East Village. Rents have become high because of the neighborhoods’ desirability. Shared housing is common.

–     Union Square (border of East Village and Gramercy Park)- A park that is effervescent with life with wonderful cross-town subway access. Home to one of the city’s best farmers markets. Borders other desirable neighborhoods like East and West Village, which is why rents near the park are high. Good budget retail options like Nordstrom’s Rack, H&M, etc.

Mid Manhattan (14th street to 60th street)

–     Meatpacking (border of West Village and Chelsea towards the Hudson River)- High end club and fashion designer mecca, although the meatpacking industry still does exist here. Cobblestoned streets in some parts. Close to water and is home to a beautiful above ground park called the High Line. Served by west side trains.

–     Chelsea– A mix of charming brownstones on tree-lined streets and bigger apartment complexes. Home to many and known for also being the epicenter of the gay population. One of the greatest visual arts districts in the world because of the many art galleries through out the neighborhood.  Great food, entertainment, and retail options. Google has its Manhattan office here. Served by west side trains. Rent prices vary but are generally on the high-side.

–     Gramercy Park– East of Union square, known for the only private park in the city. A wealthy community lives around the park but you can still find reasonable apartments just south or north of the park. Quiet but easy access to nightlife further downtown. Beautiful Irving street leading up to park is lined with restaurants and bars. A few blocks to the east are the massive Stuyvesant Town (Stuy-town) and Peter Cooper Village complexes. Served by east side transit.

–     Flatiron (between Union Square and Murray Hill)- Central and above Union Square. A mixed business and residential district. Home to the Madison Square Park which boasts the famous “Shake Shack.” Many startup companies in NY’s “Silicon Alley” are based here or just south. Empire state building to the north and Korea-town/Penn Station/Big Macy’s to the north-west. Both east side and west side trains are readily available.

–     Murray Hill– A popular post-college graduate neighborhood because of its vicinity to the midtown business district. Think rows of Irish bars. Sometimes called Curry Hill because of a row of Indian restaurants on Lexington avenue between 26th and 30th streets. Served by east side transit.

–     Midtown East– Namely a business district, especially around transportation hub, Grand Central Station at 42nd street so subway access is good. Does not feel like a neighborhood at night because all the professionals  go home, but people do live here for the full-service apartments that you might get a deal on. The UN is way east towards the East River. Bordered by the high-end shops on Madison and 5th avenue to the west.

–     Midtown West– Business district but home to much of New York theater—Broadway, off-Broadway, Times Square. The Port Authority bus terminal is also here and Penn Station/Madison Square Garden lies just South. Grittier than Midtown East. Tourist central. Access to every subway line.

–     Hells Kitchen– Corridor of great restaurants close to the theater scene and not too far from Central Park and the beautiful Hudson River Park. Quite a few industrial lots as you head closer to the Hudson River. The Daily Show and Colbert Report are taped here. You can still find apartment deals. Served by west side trains.

Upper Manhattan (60th street and above to 200th street, right before the Bronx)

–     Upper West Side– Home to Lincoln Center (arts central) and the Natural History museum, UWS is hosts  many cultural activities. When we think of UWS, we think of young families and Central Park. If you go further up towards 90th street, the population is a mix of people- students, actors, families, etc. These people migrate further uptown for cheaper rents, space, proximity to Central Park, and a local neighborhood vibe. Served by west side trains.

–     Morningside Heights– diverse neighborhood home to Columbia University (116th and Broadway). Served by west side trains. Wonderful greenspace, local neighborhood, and great groceries al la Fairway ( Not much “destination” nightlife—more of a student bar neighborhood.

–     Harlem– has changed from the days it was known for rampant crime. There are pockets of grit and crime but Harlem has gone through another renaissance. It boasts beautiful apartments and is the nexus of African American music and dance culture. Home to the Apollo Theater (Showtime at the Apollo) and original jazz joints. Cheaper rents and more space. Served by west side trains.

–     Upper East Side– The UES is most famous for old money. This is why George and Wheezy Jefferson made such a big deal about “movin’ on up to the East Side.” UES is a beautiful, spacious, and green neighborhood very close to Central Park and the Met art museum. This neighborhood is now a mix of wealthy people, families, and young professionals who find great apartments between UES and Spanish Harlem. Served by east side trains.

–     Spanish Harlem (East Harlem)-  El barrio has also gone through a partial gentrification but the Latin culture is very much alive-you can feel it in the bodegas. Slightly more isolated in feeling than Central/West Harlem and some pockets of grit/crime. There’s a touch of suburbia here with the opening of a Costco and a Target. Cheap rents. Served by east side trains.

–     Washington Heights (above Harlem on map)- Famous after the “In the Heights” musical, Washington Heights is a diverse neighborhood that has largely escaped mass gentrification and is much safer than reputed. Strong Dominican and Puerto Rican influences and Jewish influences as you get close to Fort Tyron park. Cheap rents and loads of space but far uptown.

Lower and Mid Manhattan neighborhood map:

Lower and mid Manhattan subway map:

Upper Manhattan and The Bronx neighborhood map:

Upper Manhattan and The Bronx subway map:

Maps courtesy and


About Tina Shah

Hi! I’m in my 30’s learning how to breathe properly. Read Tina's Story in the menu bar to learn more.
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