You've finally decided to visit New York City, so where are you going to stay? The city is full of hotels -- some towering high on iconic roads and others tucked away on busy pedestrian streets or in sleepy boroughs. Booking a hotel can be one of the most daunting elements of a trip to the Big Apple. Is the property close to major attractions? Is it in a safe area? How close is the closest subway entrance? Are the rooms the size of a matchbox? Do I really need to stay in Manhattan? These are all legitimate questions with answers that ultimately depend on where you're looking to be and what you're willing to spend. With that in mind, here are eight things you should know before booking a hotel in NYC.
1. New York City has five different boroughs.
Although Manhattan is often referred to as “the city,” it’s a common mistake for travelers to think that Manhattan is New York City. It’s actually just one of five boroughs that make up NYC as a whole. Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island are the other pieces of the puzzle that help make this city complete and so diverse. Each borough has its own personality, culture, and pros and cons, so you should choose your hotel carefully — know exactly where it is located, as prices, vibes, and safety can vary from block to block. For example, you might find some cheap hotel rates in Staten Island, but unless that is where you specifically want to be, you’ll wind up spending more time and money getting to and from Manhattan (30 minutes via a free ferry) and the main action found in other boroughs. Also, Brooklyn is huge, but only some of its neighborhoods offer tourist-friendly features like fun activities and buzzing restaurants. Queens is another large borough full of multicultural residents. Though it’s developing rapidly, it hasn’t quite reached the tourism pull of Brooklyn yet. Meanwhile, the Bronx has a rough reputation, while also being home to popular attractions like the Bronx Zoo, the New York Botanical Garden, and Yankee Stadium.
2. Finding the right neighborhood in New York City is key.
As previously mentioned, things in NYC can change quickly, even block by block. That being said, don’t book a hotel without researching the neighborhood first. Since most visitors tend to stay in Brooklyn, Queens, or Manhattan, let’s take a closer look at some of the neighborhoods here.
Manhattan: You can stay almost anywhere in Manhattan and be well-connected, though the most popular neighborhoods for tourists tend to be Times Square (close to several subway lines and Broadway), Midtown (great central location for walkers), Columbus Circle (across from Central Park and close to many museums), and the Lower East Side (excellent location for Lower Manhattan). Unsurprisingly, these areas are also where you’re likely to find the most expensive rates. If you don’t mind being slightly away from the masses and subway lines, compare hotel rates in Midtown East, the Financial District, and Chelsea. It’s also worth noting that — for safety reasons — no hotels in Times Square have balconies.
Brooklyn: We recommend comparing hotel rates in Williamsburg, Prospect Heights, Clinton Hill, Downtown Brooklyn, Fort Greene, and anywhere near the Atlantic Terminal since these neighborhoods are well-connected to subways that run in and out of Manhattan as well as within Brooklyn. They’ve also got great walkability and are packed with restaurants, bars, shops, and small parks. Downtown Brooklyn feels busier than the rest of these neighborhoods, but it’s mostly a business district and lots of the action dies down after work. Clinton Hill is a leafy neighborhood with brownstone-lined streets and a good mix of NYC grittiness and gentrification, while Williamsburg has gone through a full transformation and resembles SoHo in Manhattan.
Queens: If you’re on a budget, Queens is an excellent place to score lower rates while also having a more relaxed vibe and some great views of Manhattan. However, you’ll probably want to stick to the Long Island City neighborhood since it has the best connection to Manhattan and Brooklyn. You can find rooms for almost half as much as hotels just 15 minutes across the river. LIC also has a great vibe and good restaurants, plus the MoMA PS1 museum is worth a visit even if you aren’t staying in the area.
3. It's probably going to be noisy.
The majority of the hotels in NYC will be noisy — it’s a city of over eight million people, after all. Lucky you if you’re a light sleeper, but if not, do your due diligence when researching hotels. Not only should you find out if there is street noise (which there probably is), but you should also check how noisy the hotel itself is. As you probably know, NYC — and Manhattan in particular — is built up, so spaces are compact and walls are often thin. Manhattan hotels will likely come with the most overall noise, but you can find quieter accommodations in Staten Island or certain areas of Brooklyn or Queens. If you’re really worried about it, just pack some earplugs.
4. The rooms in New York City hotels are tiny.
We want to reiterate that NYC is compact. While you’ll likely find larger rooms in less condensed neighborhoods, the average hotel room here is tiny. They often clock in at under or around 100 square feet. Moving into the outer boroughs, like Queens or Brooklyn, can sometimes yield bigger, more standard-size rooms, but not always. Be prepared and pack appropriately, especially if you are staying in a pod-style room or have read reviews that mention the small size of the room.
5. Public transportation is plentiful, but not everywhere.
If you plan on crisscrossing around the city or venturing into other boroughs, make sure your hotel is situated near subway stations that go where you want to be. This is especially important if you aren’t staying in one of the more walkable neighborhoods. Taking the subway is often faster than hopping in a taxi, especially during high traffic times and in popular, packed neighborhoods like Times Square and the Financial District. Buses are also available and cost the same as the subway. Ferries to Staten Island are free, but you’ll have to pay a small fee for rides to Governors Island or to take the East River Ferry.
6. NYC hotels are increasingly charging an extra daily fee.
We might not be in the Caribbean, but you may find a daily resort fee tacked on to your hotel bill. Given that it’s not a resort, NYC hotels change up the wording, calling this mandatory fee either an “experience fee,” a “city destination fee,” or the like. These extra fees can range from around $11 a night to over $50 a night — even if you’ve booked your room through miles or points. Why? For starters, it’s an easy way for hotels to appear to have lower rates, only to raise them with a resort fee on the sly. It’s also a great way for them to get around some of the tax laws. While some hotels don’t offer much more than free Wi-Fi for this daily fee, if that, others find creative ways to pay you back (or at least make you feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth) with wine and cheese happy hours, credits for the hotel or bar, and free local calls. It’s rare that hotels will include parking, but who needs a car in NYC?
7. Construction may be an issue.
New York City is always changing and growing, so it’s worth checking recent reviews and calling your prospective hotel to see if there is any planned construction work during your stay, either in the hotel itself or right outside your room window. Manhattan and Brooklyn are prime candidates for this, especially in rapidly changing or gentrifying areas. Not only can the noise be disruptive, but construction can cut off your access to public transit or limit access to your hotel for cabs and cars. Construction usually starts between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., and mostly occurs during the week, but it’s always worth double checking and asking the hotel directly.
8. Not all NYC streets and avenues are created the same.
Manhattan’s grid is comprised of easy-to-navigate blocks of streets and avenues. There may only be 11 avenues across the width of the island, but don’t let that fool you — avenue blocks are three times longer than street blocks. This is worth considering when you’re looking at prospective hotels. If a hotel says it’s only three blocks from the subway or a certain attraction, it could actually feel more like nine when you’re walking it. Over in Brooklyn, blocks aren’t as varied, though the streets are not as straight, so you’ll probably need to pull up a map to get oriented a few times.
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