Finding the perfect neighborhood in a city the size of New York isn’t easy. Even born and bred New Yorkers are unlikely to have visited every neighborhood this eclectic city has to offer, and even if they have, first impressions can be deceptive. It’s often not until you’ve spent time in an area that its true character is revealed.
So, given these clear challenges, just how do you find the right New York neighborhood for you?
Get to know New York’s boroughs
You can’t even begin to understand New York’s neighborhoods if you know nothing about the boroughs those neighborhoods are in. There are five boroughs for you to get to know: Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island. This guide from the city’s tourism agency provides an excellent introduction to each of NYC’s boroughs for beginners.
To give you a quick overview:
- Brooklyn - NYC’s most populous borough boasts live music, world-class culture, rich immigrant history, and of course, the majestic Brooklyn Bridge. It’s also home to the famous beach and amusement park in Coney Island, and Prospect Park, which is the city’s second-largest green space.
- The Bronx - The Bronx, famous for being the cradle of rap and hip-hop, has changed beyond recognition in recent years. It is now considered to be one of the trendiest areas in New York, and the Hudson River area in particular has plenty of neighborhoods that are well worth checking out.
- Manhattan - Manhattan is the most famous borough in New York and is home to world-famous attractions such as the Empire State Building, Times Square, and Central Park, as well as business districts like Midtown and the Financial District. However, this 22 square mile island also has some charming neighborhoods, hidden green spaces, and wonderful restaurants that make it a great place to live - if you can afford it!
- Queens - The largest and fastest-growing borough in New York is known for its flourishing art and jazz scene. It is hugely diverse, with more than 100 languages spoken in the borough and more than half of its residents born overseas. That produces a rich cultural medley that’s mirrored by its fantastic range of cuisine.
- Staten Island - With beaches, parkland and, architectural landmarks, NYC’s southernmost borough offers residents a more peaceful way of life away from its busy mainland neighbors and provides. However, it’s also the only borough that’s not connected to the other four by the subway, so you’ll have to be comfortable commuting by bus.
Then figure out the neighborhoods
Once you have found a borough that feels right for you, it’s time to find your New York neighborhood. This will involve a lot of research time online. The People’s Guide and Renter’s Guide from Curbed are a great place to start. They will give you the lowdown on each of the neighborhoods so you can get a feel for the general vibe. Certain neighborhoods are also particularly well suited to certain groups. On the Upper West Side, some neighborhoods are very popular with older people, while Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen are favorites among the LGBTQ community. Astoria is favored by the Egyptian community, while Washington Heights has a thriving Dominican population.
Balancing location, space, and price
Wherever you are in the world, every renter or homebuyer has to balance the dueling considerations of location, space, and price. In New York, sacrifices have to be made. Before you start your search, think about which of those factors is most important to you and let that guide you. If space is your priority, be prepared to go off the beaten path. If you want a location with restaurants, bars, and lots of attractions, you may have to sacrifice space and pay a premium. Listing sites like StreetEasy let you search by square footage, so you can get a sense of the neighborhoods where you can afford the kind of property you’re looking for.
Think about your commute to work
You might be working from home at the moment, but for many people, that’s not going to last, so you won’t want to be too far from work. Although New York has the best public transport coverage in the country, there are still large swathes of Brooklyn and Queens that are subway deserts. Staten Island has just one rail line, so if that’s your choice of borough, you may have to take the bus. Citi Bike is planning a major expansion in New York over the next few years, so that could be an alternative if you’re within a rideable distance from work.
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