Manhattan tourist guide - New York car hire advice
Manhattan is one of the five boroughs of New York in the United States and for many, the heart and soul of the city.
The borough of Manhattan is formed by the island of Manhattan and several, lesser known, small adjacent islands. It was in the southern tip of Manhattan Island where, with the British colonisation in the 17th century, a small settlement originated what is today the economic and cultural centre of the US, as well as one of the most iconic tourist destinations worldwide.
Being also one of the most densely populated areas of the US, Manhattan is not easy to navigate through. If your time in New York is limited, find below a few tips on what not to miss out on during your visit to Manhattan. With the help of an internet search engine of car hire, Cartrawler, you will be able to compare prices of car rental in different areas of Manhattan.
Areas of Manhattan - find your way in New York city centre
The island of Manhattan is roughly divided into three areas (north to south): Uptown, Midtown and Downtown.
Since the island urban plan is based on a very regular grid of streets, running east to west and avenues, running south to north, the above areas can be delimited in the following way: Downtown Manhattan/Lower Manhattan is the southern part of the island, south of 14th Street; between 14th and 59th streets there is Midtown Manhattan, being the remaining part, north of 59th Street, Uptown Manhattan/Upper Manhattan.
Within each of the areas there is a plenitude of smaller neighbourhood based on a more or less formal division. From a tourist point of view, areas worth visiting are found all across the island, depending on your particular interests and tastes.
Manhattan landmarks by area - Lower Manhattan (Downtown Manhattan)
The southernmost part of Manhattan is the business district of New York and the financial capital of the United States. Apart from New York Stock Exchange and Wall Street, amongst the most famous landmarks of Lower Manhattan are:
Ground Zero - 9/11 Memorial
Ground Zero, the area where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center used to be is one of the most impressive New York sites. The Twin Towers collapsed as a result of a terrorist attack in 2001, killing over 2000 people and causing damage to the area of Lower Manhattan.
The 9/11 Memorial Museum is a must for any tourist in New York.
See detailed map of Lower Manhattan (click to enlarge).
The Statue of Liberty
The symbol of New York, the Statue of Liberty raising on the Liberty Island in the New York Bay approx. 1,5 mile south of Manhattan, although accessible from both Manhattan and New Jersey, is considered a Manhattan site. On a clear day the Statue of Liberty can be seen from Manhattan, however for a closer look, take a ferry departing from the Battery Park.
Chinatown and Little Italy
Celebrating the ethnical diversity of New York, some of its neighbourhoods were named for the predominant immigrant communities, as is the case of the popular areas of Chinatown and Little Italy.
Immortalized by Roman Polanski’s movie, Chinatown is the largest and the oldest Chinese enclave in the Western world. Chinatown, located in the centre of Lower Manhattan is a popular stop for tourist looking for an Oriental vibe and excellent food in the very centre of New York.
From the north, Chinatown is bordered by Little Italy, the setting for the Godfather movie. Nowadays, the number of Italian ancestry residents of this part of Manhattan has shrunk considerably, although Little Italy remains famous for plentiful Italian restaurants and the September celebrations of the Feast of San Gennaro.
Watch a video from Mulberry Street, in the heart of Little Italy, known for its many famous restaurants:
SoHo and Tribeca - the cultural trip in western Lower Manhatan
West of Little Italy, SoHo (derived from ‘south of Houston Street’ is a popular location for dinning, shopping and a bit of cultural experience in New York.
In the past a little attractive, post-industrial area of Manhattan, SoHo became a favourite (and affordable) neighbourhood for artists. Tourists visit Soho for its bohemian atmosphere, plentiful art galleries, restaurants and shopping opportunities.
South of SoHo and west of Chinatown, Tribeca (a short name for ‘triangle below Canal Street’) is a more tranquil neighbourhood, getting animated and attracting most tourists during the famous Tribeca Film Festival founded by Robert de Niro.
Major tourist attraction of Lower Manhattan: Wall Street, New York Stock Exchange, World Trade Center, Ground Zero (9/11 Memorial), China Town, Little Italy, SoHo, West Village, Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty, Battery Park.
Midtown Manhattan - the heart of New York City
The greatest concentration of New York landmarks is found in the area of Midtown Manhattan limited by the 14th and the 59th Street.
In Midtown Manhattan you will find the iconic skyscrapers, Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building. The latter stands on the corner of the 5th Avenue with the E 34th Street, in the very centre of Midtown Manhattan and only few blocks away in north-east direction, on Lexington Avenue/E 42 St there is the Chrysler Building. Both skyscrapers constructed in the early 30's in Art Deco style, for many years after remained some of the highest buildings worldwide.
At the intersection of the 7th Avenue and Broadway, one of the oldest thoroughfares in New York, you will find Times Square, another icon of the Big Apple. Also referred to as ‘the Crossroads of the World” Times Square is a real magnet for tourists in New York, attracting nearly 40 million of visitors per year.
Be prepared, though, that the tourist crowd filling Times Square day and night makes it difficult to appreciate the architectonic beauty of this part of the city.
Broadway - Theatre District Manhattan
The ‘centre of world’s entertainment industry, stretches west of 6th Ave. between 34th and 59th Streets featuring a large number of theatres along Broadway or in a short distance from the iconic thoroughfare.
New York Theatre District is home to premier performing arts venues, such as Carnegie Hall. Metropolitan Opera, a part of the Lincoln Center of Performing Arts is located on the northern edge of the Theatre District, near Central Park.
Grand Central Terminal
Manhattan Grand Central Station, or more correctly, Grand Central Terminal, is not only the world’s largest train station and a hub for New York transportation, but also a tourist attraction itself.
Find out more about Grand Central transportation - Grand Central tickets and timetables.
A century old, recently restored building in Beaux-arts style was featured in uncountable Hollywood movies (amongst them Superman, The Movie, Men in Black, I am a Legend). Apart from extensive choice of train and metro connections, Grand Central attracts visitors with plentiful shopping and dining opportunities as well as art expositions and events held in the Vanderbilt Hall.
One of Grand Central’s charms is a certain touch of mystery involving secret underground passages and platforms, for instance the so called ’61 Platform’ connecting the station directly to Waldorf Astoria Hotel, supposedly used by Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Plan your visit to New York Grand Central Terminal.
Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen
The sightseeing of Midtown Manhattan is not complete without a visit to Chelsea and the neighbouring area known as Hell’s Kitchen.
Although there are not many historic monuments in post-industrial Chelsea, the area stretching between the 14th and 30th streets of the western part of Manhattan is invariably popular with both New Yorkers and tourists. Amongst the charms of Chelsea are numerous art galleries, vintage clothes shops, ethnic restaurants and cafés. Chelsea Market is a great place for buying organic food trying delicacies from all over the world.
Chelsea, in New York, is nowadays mostly a residential area, sought after because of original housing solutions: lofts and renovated townhouses. Tourists, however, will find here several budget hotels, including the famous Chelsea Hotel known for having hosted Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Sid Vicious and Leonard Cohen, among other celebrities.
Hell’s Kitchen, north of Chelsea, is another up and coming neighbourhood of Manhattan. In the past a rough area of New York, Hell’s kitchen has gone through a radical makeover, which shows clearly in rapidly increasing prices of real estate, as well as in improving services sector. One characteristic of this area remained unchanged though. Due to its proximity to the Theatre District, Hell’s Kitchen remains a favourite location for actors and performing artists. Also, the famous acting school, Lee Strasburg Studio is located in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen.
Tourists visiting the area will surely find their way to one of the greatest concentrations of renowned restaurants in Manhattan. The so called Restaurant Row is a stretch of W 46th Street, between 8th and 9th Ave, lined with some of the best restaurants and eateries of New York, amongst them Becco, Fire Bird, La Rivage, Meson Sevilla, Orso and Vita.
Major tourist attractions of Midtown Manhattan: Times Square, Rockefeller Centre, Chrysler Building, Empire State Building, Grand Central Terminal, Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea, Bryant Park.
Uptown Manhattan - tourist highlights
North of 59th Street, in Uptown Manhattan, major places of tourist interest include:
With a history of over 150 years, Central Park is one of the most recognizable landmarks of the Big Apple. Favourite location for New Yorkers seeking a short break from the noise and confusion of a busy metropolis, Central Park offers 840 acres of green areas with picturesque lakes and water reservoirs within the very centre of the city.
There are multiple recreational possibilities in Central Park, including rowboats and kayak rental, horse carriage rides, jogging, skating and cycling paths, sports fields and courts, swimming pools and ice skating rings and many, many more.
Families with children will find several playgrounds and a Zoo in Central Park.
Many cultural events take place on the grounds of Central Park, amongst them open air theatre performances and concerts.
See map of Uptown Manhattan (double-click for higher resolution).
Metropolitan Museum and Guggenheim Museum
The area stretching east of Central Park, the Upper East Side is the mecca of cultural trips of Manhattan. Here, in a walking distance from each other, are located two of the most reputable New York museums. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the largest museum of the United States, hosts permanent collection featuring art from classical antiquity to modern era, as well as temporary exhibitions.
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, most commonly referred to as The Guggenheim focuses on art from the Impressionism to the contemporary era. The characteristic modernist building of the museum, designed by Frank Loyd Wright is a cultural icon itself.
The northernmost part of Manhattan does not seem to be equally appealing for tourists as other areas of New York. However, if you would like to get to know different sides of the versatile and multicultural city New York, venture to Harlem, the most famous black community in the US and to its eastern part, known as the Spanish Harlem, where Latino culture flourishes.
Upper East and West Side - upmarket areas of New York
The areas east and west of Central Park, known as Upper East Side and Upper West side, respectively, are the most affluent neighbourhoods of New York.
The prices of real estate in both areas are the highest in the world, and available only for the most fortunate of the mortals. Take a stroll along the streets of Upper Manhattan and there is a chance you will spot more than one celebrity or a high society persona.
Upper East and West sides are also an excellent location for luxury shopping in New York: expect the world’s most expensive brands of clothes, shoes and jewellery to be found in the area of the city.
Major tourist attractions of Uptown Manhattan: Central Park, Metropolitan Museum, Guggenheim Museum, Harlem, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Columbia University.
Find out more tourist attractions on a map of Manhattan.
Manhattan shopping - 5th Avenue New York
The centre of Manhattan retail is the famous 5th Avenue lined with shops of many prestige brands, among them: Armani, Gucci, Versace, Luis Vuitton, Tiffany &/ Co and the, not less popular or fashionable, Apple flagship store.
Watch, below, a video guide to New York shopping:
Even more prestige stores can be found in the east and west of 5th Avenue, along Madison Avenue and 6th Avenue.
Two of the major New York department stores, Saks and Bergdorf Goodman, are located on the 5th Avenue and it is difficult to miss out on Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s or Barneys New York when trotting down the streets of Midtown Manhattan.
Visitors to New York looking for opportunity to purchase top brand goods at discount prices, will surely find their way to the Woodbury Common Premium Outlet, an hour north of the city centre.
Shuttles to Woodbury with departures from convenient locations in Manhattan are available from several private operators.
New York transportation
The city of New York has one of the best developed public transportation systems in the world and only a small proportion of New York residents own a car.
As a tourist in New York, consider carefully car hire and other transportation options. The city struggles with intense traffic and shortage of parking and you may find it more convenient not to rent a car in New York, but rely on the city’s excellent metro, busses as well as urban and suburban trains.
Read more about New York car hire and other transportation options, in our guide to New York City transport systems.
The busiest transportation hubs of New York are Grand Central Terminal and Pennsylvania Station (Penn Station).
Cheap car hire from New York Airports
Cartrawler search engine allows you to compare thoroughly all New York car hire offers, including car rental at three major New York airports: JFK, LaGuardia and Newark. As you may find out, frequently, car hire deals available at the airports are more competitive than renting a car in the city locations and the choice of rental vehicle models and makes - larger.