Manhattan Island is the beating heart of New York City, known to many of its residents as ‘the centre of the universe’. Over 50 million tourists visit the city each year, all looking for the best places to stay across the five boroughs. Here we’re going to concentrate on the wildly different neighbourhoods of Manhattan Island, check out part 2 of our guide for the best areas to visit outside the core of the big apple.

Midtown

Midtown is bang in the middle of Manhattan, where many of the city’s best known and loved locations can be found. Staying in Midtown you’ll be within walking distance of legendary Times Square, the Empire State Building and the Rockefeller Centre. Midtown is also home to much of the city’s best shopping, with the famous Saks Fifth Avenue department store and many other top designer outlets.

The west side of Midtown, often called ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ is better for sights, restaurants and nightlife; and also close to the Theater district and the world famous Museum of Modern Art. The Eastern side of Midtown is mainly catered to office workers, so lacks any real charm but will be peaceful at night.

NY-cabs

Two of New York City’s iconic yellow cabs wait a set of traffic lights

Upper East Side

One of the city’s quieter districts, the Upper East Side is packed with museums and art galleries, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim. There is beautiful architecture to be seen everywhere. One of this district’s key features is that it runs parallel to Central Park.

There is a great selection of restaurants, although prices can be a little high in this area. On the opposite side of Central Park, the Upper West Side offers similar attractions, with more casual dining opportunities.

Gramercy/Flat Iron

The area surrounding the impressive, if slightly odd, form of the Flat Iron building is a relatively quiet district, away from the tourist throngs while still within walking distance of the Empire State Building. Staying in this district offers several other advantages – close to peaceful Madison Square Park and within walking distance of Shake Shack & Burger Joint – two of New York’s most famous restaurants.

Gramercy is Manhattan’s main hotel district, with a few cosy restaurants dotted around, but little in the way of character or nightlife.

Chelsea/Greenwich Village

Down in the south west corner of the island, Chelsea is a charming neighbourhood that’s home to an eclectic mix of pop up boutique, antique markets and other quirky cafes and shopping places. This is the premier destination for art lovers – with over 350 galleries squeezed; and one of the city’s main gay hotspots.

The Highline is an unmissable Manhattan attraction, a former industrial railway line that brought goods into the Meatpacking District, it has now been converted into a peaceful park with stunning views of the city skyline.

Soho/Lower East Side

For most of the 20th Century, the Lower East Side was the first stop for newly arrived immigrants looking for cheap accommodation in tenements, as they tried to build a life for themselves in the United States. In recent years the area has seen widespread gentrification, although there is still a bit of an edge.

Nowadays the area is packed with some of the city’s trendiest bars and restaurants; still mingling traditional deli’s and street markets; reminders of the district’s vibrant past.

SoHo (short for South of Houston Street) has a similar story, formerly an industrial district; the imposing cast-iron architecture is all that remains in what is now a hip night life center, teeming with young people. These 2 districts are great in their own right, but a little far away from the main sights further north for some travelers.

Lower Manhattan/Financial District

The southern tip of Manhattan is home to many of the skyscrapers that make up the city’s iconic skyline. Guests staying in Lower Manhattan will enjoy easy access to the platforms for ferries to Staten Island, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.

This is the oldest part of Manhattan, where the streets pre-date the grid system, so it’s much easier to get lost here than elsewhere in the city. As it is primarily an office area, the streets can same eerily quiet at night.

East Village

The East Village is one of Manhattan’s most alternative districts, with a wealth of vegan restaurants, yoga studios, tattoo parlors and alternative theater. It’s a great place to people watch, with locals hanging out everywhere.

Since the 1960’s the East Village has attracted struggling artists from all over the place; and although the area has begun to be gentrified (like most of the city), it still holds much of its original charm – seen by many as one of the city’s grimier districts.

The area is very busy at weekends, particularly at night, and is popular with the often rowdy students of nearby New York University.

Little Italy/Nolita

Little Italy is a lovely place to walk around. Although the authentic Italian presence is shrinking, as prosperous families move out to the suburbs, there are still some great (if a little pricey) restaurants and boutiques to browse here. The fantastic San Gennaro Festival takes place each September.

Little Italy is also the best place to explore New York’s murky mafia history, with several famous landmarks located around these few blocks in southern Manhattan. Nolita (short for North of Little Italy) has a similar feel to it; a pleasant place to stay, although it has become something of a tourist trap recently.

Chinatown

As Little Italy shrinks, Chinatown continues to grow rampantly into the vacant space. Enter this district and you’ll instantly feel like you’re on a different continent; markets on every street selling live seafood, square watermelons and everything else from jewelry to DVDs.

For more adventurous diners, Chinatown is one of the best places in the city to grab some food. There are restaurants representing every region of China, plus several other Asian countries, as well as an incredible selection of street food on offer.

New York Chinatown

The annual parade celebrating New Year in New York’s Chinatown. Photo: Explore Chinatown via FlickrCC

Harlem

Harlem is a lively district; and one where the clash between old and new that’s going on all over New York City is clearly visible. Known worldwide as a center for African-American culture, Harlem is home to some fantastic attractions, including the Apollo Theater and the ornate façade of the First Corinthian Baptist Church.

Big businesses – Starbucks and co – are beginning to creep onto 125th Street, but the area still has a unique energy with street vendors selling more or less everything you can imagine and a great selection of local restaurants and cafes.