Uptown, downtown

One New York, so many vibes, so how to find the one that suits your style? It's not hard, writes Ute Junker, who's done all the groundwork for you.

Are you an uptown girl or a Brooklyn hipster? A king of Queens, or one of the Village people? Each of New York's neighbourhoods has its own vibe, and where you choose to stay shapes your entire stay. Our guide to New York's hottest 'hoods helps you find the one that suits you best - or try a few on for size and see some vastly different sides to the city.

Manhattan: Midtown

Best for First bite at the Big Apple.

Why it's a hip 'hood Block for block, midtown offers more must-see icons than any other part of town. There's Times Square, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and Grand Central Station, all within easy walking distance.

And of course, you're poised perfectly between uptown and downtown, which makes exploring further afield just as easy.

What to do Rule one: just keep walking. There's nothing like the serendipitous feeling of going for a walk around the block, only to discover a dramatic vista with the Chrysler Building front and centre just around the corner.

Must-visits include the Museum of Modern Art and the Top of the Rock, the viewing platform at the top of the Rockefeller Centre on 50th near Sixth. Forget the Empire State Building - the Rock offers the best view in town.

Also worth a visit is the New York Public Library, which has an interesting roster of free exhibitions.

Right next door to the library, Bryant Park is one of Manhattan's most loved public spaces. In summer, you'll find everything from yoga classes and outdoor movies to live readings taking place; in winter, it's a popular ice-skating venue.


Where to stay It's easy to walk past the Gansevoort Park Avenue's discreet entrances, one on Park Avenue, the other on 29th. While most of midtown is dominated by big chains, the Gansevoort quietly delivers plenty of bang for your buck, with comfortable rooms (love that oversize bath-tub) and lots of little extras. The rooftop bar and swimming pool are particularly appealing.

Eating and drinking In the list of New York foodie neighbourhoods, midtown hovers somewhere near the bottom. That doesn't mean there aren't any good restaurants, of course, just that you need to know where to look.

Directly across Park Avenue from the Gansevoort you'll find Les Halles, a classic French bistro that's the home base of globetrotting celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain.

Just around the corner is Blue Smoke, one of the better restaurants catering to the current trend for southern barbecue fare. After dining on pulled pork smoked over hickory and apple woods, head downstairs to catch some cool beats at the Jazz Standard club.

Manhattan: Uptown

Best for Label lovers and park people.

Why it's a hip 'hood The allure of the Upper East Side has always been based on elegance and exclusivity: the exquisite buildings, the stylish boutiques, the sophisticated locals. Being right up against Central Park just adds to the attraction.

What to do When you've finished wandering the boutiques of Madison Avenue or strolling through Central Park, it's time to hit Museum Mile, the stretch of Fifth Avenue along the park that is home to many of New York's best museums.

Start at the Guggenheim, which has a superb collection of modern and contemporary art housed in a striking Frank Lloyd Wright Building that alone would be worth the visit.

Depending on your areas of interest, your next stop might be the Whitney Museum of American Art or the Frick Collection, where you'll find European art and French furniture and porcelain. Save at least half a day to get lost in the Metropolitan Museum, with a bewildering collection that ranges from ancient Egypt and Asia to Pollock and Picasso. A drink on the roof garden lets you enjoy one of the best views in New York.

Where to stay Nowhere delivers uptown flair like the Pierre, a Leading Hotel of the World that combines old-school service with new-wave warmth. At the Pierre, you don't have to press your own elevator buttons: the lift attendant will do that for you. You don't even have to push the revolving door: the attendants will help you with that, as well. If you score a room on the higher levels, you'll be blessed with both gorgeous park views and a respite from New York's traffic blare.

Come back down to earth to enjoy inventive cocktails in the bar, or one of the hotel's sensational massages.

Eating and drinking Chef David Burke has a number of New York eateries, including the Michelin-starred Townhouse, where his food-should-be-fun philosophy is expressed in everything from the eye-catching interiors to the whimsical, yet impressive, dishes.

If you want seafood, Flex Mussels offers mussels served in 23 different ways.

Wind up the evening Mad Men-style with a cocktail in the Carlyle Hotel's Bemelmans Bar, which has live jazz and wall murals by the creators of the Madeline children's books.

Manhattan: Downtown

Best for Hipsters and hanging out.

Why it's a hip 'hood Downtown has always been the place to find the creative crowd. Whether you're into design, fashion, food or bars, you'll find plenty of inspiration in neighbourhoods such as Chelsea, the West Village, Tribeca and the Lower East Side.

What to do It's not so much what to do as where to start. You can easily spend a day in Chelsea's gallery district, where industrial lofts and elegant brownstones have been taken over by big-name galleries such as the Gagosian, the Pace and the Mary Boone. Not far away is the Joyce Theatre, which is dedicated to the art of choreography and hosts everything from flamenco and tango to contemporary dance.

Or head to SoHo, where you'll find one designer outlet after another in the area's signature cast-iron buildings, ornately decorated with cornices, columns and railings. There seems to be some bylaw that everything in SoHo should be aesthetic: how else to explain the grocers who arrange their vegetables in elaborate still lifes?

Downtown's much-loved High Line has recently been extended up to West 30th Street. This historic freight line-turned-public park is a quintessential New York experience: where else would you find a park high above the streets?

Where to stay Is Dream Downtown the hippest hotel in lower Manhattan? If you're stuck in the queue trying to get into the hotel's pumping rooftop bar, the PH-D, it certainly feels that way. There are plenty of other reasons to love this hotel, from the 21st-century chic-meets-maritime heritage decor to the outdoor pool - complete with cabanas and imported sand - which is permanently packed with beautiful people.

Eating and drinking With a hip converted warehouse setting and with an adventurous menu, Public is the upmarket restaurant we all dream of having in our neighbourhood - except this one is graced with a Michelin star. Chef Brad Farmerie is out to challenge palates with unusual ingredients from around the world. On occasion that includes kangaroo, but you'll also find more exotic treats such as fried Hama Hama oysters with shiso, sansho pepper and wasabi-yuzu dipping sauce.

If you're in the mood for something less formal, pull up a stool at El Quinto Pino, Chelsea's hippest tapas joint. The menu goes way beyond tortilla - you're more likely to be offered fried sand eels in adobo and organic egg, or the signature sea urchin panini - and is accompanied by a sterling selection of Spanish wines.

Brooklyn: Cobble Hill

Best for Foodies and funksters

Why it's a hip 'hood Brooklyn is New York's noughties success story: a once-rundown area that's become a hub for all things hip and happening. While areas such as Williamsburg have gained a lot of press, newly hot Cobble Hill captures all that is best about Brooklyn: tree-lined streets, historic brownstones and intimate eateries drawing on local produce.

What to do The best way to savour the Brooklyn vibe is just to hang out.

On weekends, head for the area's burgeoning markets. Brooklyn Flea, held on Saturdays at Fort Greene and Sundays at Williamsburg, has hundreds of stalls selling everything from beautifully handcrafted wood kitchenware to arts and crafts, including jewellery made from recycled skateboards and vinyl records. The market's food trucks - featuring everything from lobster rolls to Japanese tacos - are a highlight and can also be found en masse on Saturdays at Williamsburg's Smorgasborg food market.

On weekdays, visit the Dekalb Market, a pocket-sized hub where entrepreneurs have set up studios in shipping containers.

Alternatively, browse the cafes and shops on one of the area's hip strips. On Court Street, you'll find a mix of vintage-vibe clothes, bags, and bits and pieces: try Store 518 at 518 Court, or for fellas with attitude, try Olaf's directly across the road. Must-visits on Smith Street include By Brooklyn at No.261, which stocks made-in-Brooklyn products. You'll be amazed at the array: from hand-painted ceramics and leather goods to T-shirts, caramels and even sodas.

If you're in the mood to catch some culture, BAM, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, has an impressive roster of performances, from dance and opera to theatre, comedy performances and movie screenings, while St Ann's Warehouse features everything from star turns by Al Pacino and Cillian Murphy, among others, to read-throughs of scripts by filmmakers the Coen brothers.

Where to stay The Nu Hotel has studied the manual for cool city hotels and learnt the lessons well. Great location at the end of Smith Street, two blocks from the subway? Check. Clean white interiors? Check. Funky art by local artists? Check - in fact, if a piece takes your fancy, you can even buy it. Two thumbs up.

Eating and drinking You'll find yourself spoilt for choice on Smith Street. Saul's was one of the first restaurants in Brooklyn to gain a Michelin star and has retained it thanks to its expertly executed French-inspired menu.

A more recent arrival, Seersucker, has also won plenty of fans with its southern-inspired menu.

If you're in the mood for some after-dinner drinks, the Clover Club has stellar cocktails.

Queens: Long Island City

Best for Trendsetters and travellers on a budget.

Why it's a hip 'hood Dismissed as Manhattan's poor cousin for decades, Queens is finally starting to flourish. The area's old industrial buildings are home to increasing numbers of galleries, museums and studios. More diehard Manhattanites are realising that, just one stop from Grand Central on the 7 train, Queens hardly qualifies as a commute.

What to do Check out some of the most interesting museums in New York. The Museum of Modern Art's PS1, housed in a former public school, doesn't have a permanent collection. Instead, it hosts exhibitions of cutting-edge artists, including site-specific installations by big names such as James Turrell and Richard Serra. You'll find the artworks in every corner of the 100-room building, including in the basement and the stairwells.

Sculpture fans will love the Sculpture Centre, a magnificent display space housed in a former tram repair shop. Also worth checking out is the Noguchi Museum, where a tranquil garden and galleries display Isamu Noguchi's stone carvings. The museum also offers lots of family-friendly activities - check out its website.

Across the road, on the shore of the East River, the Socrates Sculpture Park is an outdoor space with a changing roster of large-scale exhibitions. A must-visit for families is the Museum of the Moving Image, packed with interactive exhibits covering all aspects of filmmaking. Make your own stop-motion animation, or dub your voice over classic films such as Some Like it Hot and The Wizard of Oz. The museum also has a great program of movie screenings, which are sometimes introduced by the director.

Where to stay The best bit about not staying in Manhattan is that you get to look at it. You'll find it hard to pull the curtains on the Z Hotel's drop-dead gorgeous views across the river to the Manhattan skyline. The hotel has funky decor and free purple bikes available to guests, but what we love best are the supersize square tubs and the free hourly shuttle into Manhattan - 15 minutes door to door.

The rooftop bar is groovy, but DJs play until late on Fridays and Saturdays: if you're a light sleeper, ask for a room further down.

Eating and drinking Vernon Boulevard is the local restaurant row. Try the Madera Cuban Grill and Steakhouse, or Tournesol, a French bistro. Domaine Bar a Vins, a chic and cosy wine bar, serves more than 40 wines by the glass and live jazz most nights from 9pm.

For handcrafted cocktails, head over to Dutch Kills, which cultivates a speakeasy feel with hand-cut ice cubes and a sawdust-strewn piano room.

The writer was hosted by NYC & Company.

Trip notes

Getting there

Qantas flies daily from Sydney and Melbourne to JFK airport via Los Angeles (LAX),flight time about 21 hours. Return economy fares start from $1500 plus taxes and charges. qantas.com.

Staying there

Gansevoort Park Avenue NYC, 420 Park Avenue South, Manhattan, from $295 for a superior room. gansevoortpark.com.
The Pierre Hotel, 2 East 61st Street, from $895 for a superior room. lhw.com.
Dream Downtown, 355 West 16th Street, from $395 for a queen room. dreamdowntown.com.
Nu Hotel, 85 Smith Street, Brooklyn, from $139 for a queen room. nuhotelbrooklyn.com,
Z Hotel, 11-01 43rd Avenue, Long Island City, rates from $155 for a twin room. zhotelny.com.

More information