The best places to live in New York City
Every year, an impressive number of expats make their dream of living in New York a reality by moving to the city that never sleeps.
New York is one of the biggest, most colourful and inspiring cities on the planet – and it's no surprise that it has drawn the attention of expats and immigrants since its founding. From the influx of immigrants in the 19th century until today, New York has become one of the most ethnically diverse communities in the world with more than three million – that's around 40 percent – of the population in New York being foreign-born.
New York City is divided into five boroughs: Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island and the Bronx. The island of Manhattan is the smallest but most densely populated of the boroughs. Brooklyn and Queens are geographically part of Long Island, while the Bronx is the only borough situated on the US mainland. Each borough has its own distinct character so it's a good idea to explore the city before deciding on a long-term place to settle.
Several personal factors will also need to be considered when deciding on what neighbourhood to live in, such as lifestyle, budgetary concerns and distance to work and school.
Below is a list of areas and suburbs of New York.
Downtown New York City
This thriving district of Manhattan is brimming with unique boutiques, restaurants and cafes. Each September, the community hosts the Feast of San Gennaro, which is marked with colourful parades and religious processions. Most residents living in this area are young professionals or couples. Little Italy is a perfect home for those who enjoy a social lifestyle and want to be close to the dining and entertainment facilities of Downtown New York.
Short for 'North of Houston Street', NoHo is a district in Manhattan situated between East Village and Greenwich Village. One of New York's most desirable neighbourhoods, finding an affordable apartment here is no easy task. This charming area is characterised by loft apartments in transformed commercial buildings along with newer luxury apartments and walk-ups. NoHo is home to several theatres and close to numerous tertiary institutions, making it an ideal choice for students and those who enjoy entertainment and the arts.
The East Village has a rich cultural history and is associated with a number of prominent artists, poets and musicians, including Iggy Pop, Allen Ginsberg and Madonna. The area's heyday is immortalised in Rent, a revolutionary 1990s musical by East Village resident Jonathan Larson. Today, many find the East Village's green spaces and riverside position to be a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. Though relatively quiet during the day, the East Village comes alive at night as the area's bars and restaurants fill up. Housing in this area is mostly in the form of pre-war walk-ups which, while attractive, can be expensive.
The East Village is home to a number of prominent international schools, including Nord Anglia International School New York.
Once an industrial area known for its slaughterhouses, factories and packing plants, the Meatpacking District is now one of the trendiest places to live in New York City and is a favourite among fashion lovers. There's no shortage of exciting things going on in the district, with boutiques, restaurants and bars lining the streets. The most common types of accommodation found here are townhouses and loft buildings.
Lower East Side
In the Lower East Side, olde-world shops sit side by side with a new generation of boutiques and galleries that showcase the best of New York’s avant-garde art scene. Lower East Side cuisine has developed a faithful following, with some of New York City’s best Kosher-style, Chinese and Latin food establishments. Once the sun goes down, the curtain goes up on the Lower East Side’s nightlife where one can enjoy cosy lounges, local bands and poetry readings.
The Lower East Side is a great option for younger expats as rent here is relatively low priced. There's a range of accommodation options in this part of town so whether one is looking for a charming old apartment or a newer build, there is something to meet everyone's tastes and preferences.
Midtown New York City
Once considered the 'rough' side of town, this Manhattan neighbourhood became a hotspot in the 1990s and is now home to everyone from Broadway actors to affluent Wall Street workers. An eclectic mix of restaurants and bars are located here, along with speciality boutiques and art galleries. The apartment buildings are a little older but have a lot of character, and the area's brownstones and walk-ups are generally better value than those in other parts of Manhattan.
Midtown East is populated with some of New York’s most iconic landmarks and tourist attractions, such as Fifth Avenue, Grand Central Station and the Empire State Building. Townhouses are available in this part of town, while apartments are often modern and well serviced, frequently including laundry and gym facilities. Prices for these kinds of accommodation tend to be quite high though. Those looking for something a little friendlier on the wallet should look for walk-ups in the area, which are usually more affordable.
Though often overlooked, Kips Bay is a pleasant but relatively quiet neighbourhood, ideal for a break from the hustle and bustle of life in New York City. Housing here is generally more affordable than surrounding areas. For those who enjoy the outdoors, there are a few parks in the area as well as easy access to the walking path next to the East River.
Uptown New York City
Upper East Side
The illustrious Upper East Side is widely renowned for its high-quality residential living and its world-class cultural institutions. This neighbourhood is famous for being safe, green and beautiful, so it’s no wonder that the Upper East Side is easily one of the most charming neighbourhoods in Manhattan. This is a great area for expats moving to the Big Apple with children – even though not all properties have outside areas, the neighbourhood has plenty of green spaces, making it easy to take the kids to the park to enjoy a bit of fresh air. Similarly, the area is popular with active people and expats will get used to seeing lots of runners and cyclists.
Expat families from France often gravitate towards this area due to the presence of the Lycée Français de New York.
Upper West Side
This upscale area lies between Central Park and the Hudson River and features some of the most expensive real estate in the city, though slightly more affordable options may be found towards the north. Residents are treated to a plethora of elegant restaurants, boutiques and cafes. For those that can afford it, the Upper West Side offers a whole host of entertainment facilities.
For expat families, both campuses of the well-regarded Dwight School are located in the Upper West Side.
Carroll Gardens is a charming neighbourhood with tree-lined streets and beautiful brownstones with front and back gardens. The area offers a diverse array of restaurants, bars, local delis and Italian markets. The neighbourhood is popular with families thanks to a number of good public schools located in the area.
Williamsburg is a neighbourhood with a variety of personalities. Here, expats will find a large Hasidic Jewish community alongside Italian-American and Latino enclaves. This warehouse-filled, once industrial area now has a thriving art and music scene, stellar restaurants and some of the city's most interesting shopping.
Rentals in Greenpoint are some of the most affordable in the city and apartments are quite spacious. There are many parks and facilities here that are geared towards those with children. Young, single expats living in the area are sure to enjoy its music venues, bars and restaurants.
►For more on finding a home in New York, see Accommodation in New York City
"Every part of New York has its own special character, as well as pros and cons. Some are quirkier and more lively, with better clubs and restaurants, but they might also be noisier and more frenetic and have bigger problems with things like garbage on the streets." British expat Jayne's interview about living in NYC is a good read for prospective expats.
"I would recommend that most expats either live in Lower Manhattan (East Villlage, West Village, Lower East Side, Nolita), Upper Manhattan (Upper East Side, Upper West Side), in Brooklyn (Williamsburg for the hipsters and Bed-Stuy for the real hipsters), or Long Island City for the small families." Read more of Australian expat Josh's interview about NYC.
Photo credits: Little Italy by Nicolas Hoizey; Times Square by Andrae Ricketts; Upper East Side by Meredith Owens; Brooklyn by Miltiadis Fragkidis. All sourced from Unsplash.
Are you an expat living in New York City?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to New York City. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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