Everybody wants to come to New York City. But few people want to pay Manhattan hotel rates -- this is a place where $250 is considered "cheap." We at Frommers.com agree that first-time New York visitors should stay in Manhattan if they can. If all the Manhattan options bust your budget, or you want to see a little more of the "real New York," head out to the royal boroughs -- Kings (otherwise known as Brooklyn) and Queens.
More than half of New York City's eight million people live in Brooklyn and Queens, including -- at this point -- most of the immigrants, most of the strivers, and a growing chunk of the middle class who've been priced out of increasingly wealthy, increasingly sterile Manhattan neighborhoods. If each borough was a separate city (and they once were), they'd be the fourth and fifth biggest in the nation.
In Brooklyn, you'll find neighborhoods of 19th-century brownstones, cutting-edge galleries and a park to rival that other, more central one. In Queens, you can hop, skip and jump across countries: from Greek to the Balkans to Arabic neighborhoods, through Korean, Romanian, Filipino, Bangladeshi, most of Latin America, China, and a hundred other places.
Astute bargain-hunters long ago figured out the trick of scoping out New Jersey hotels for New York discounts, but the boroughs are better bets all around. Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods tend to be more walkable, more lively, and served by the 24-hour subway system. That's something you can't get in East Rutherford.
Brooklyn and Queens are overrun with low-rent hotels, motels and motor lodges. Many of them are either inconvenient for travelers without cars, unpleasant places to stay, or both. Here are our picks for some of the best.
You can literally walk to Manhattan over the 59th Street Bridge from the Comfort Inn Long Island City (42-24 Crescent Street, Long Island City, NY; www.choicehotels.com; rates from $110), but it's a better bet to take one of the three subway lines that stop just half a block away; it's a four-minute trip to Bloomingdale's. Tucked away on a side street in a gritty neighborhood of junkyards, auto body shops, and all-night check-cashing places, the advantage here (ironically) is location: you can't get easier access to Manhattan, with rooms this nice, for this little dough anywhere else.
Rooms in the Comfort Inn LIC are clean and new, but a bit dark, with the windows generally overlooking a side street or some air-conditioning units. Rooms have sparkling new showers and free wireless Internet access. You'll appreciate the free breakfast in the sunny lobby (with a view of Malta Collision Repair, "where we meet by accident,"), because the depressing neighborhood's array of greasy fast-food joints and donut shops offers nowhere to eat. Best to hop on that train for the four-minute ride.
A few more dollars gets you a neighborhood with dinner options, and only a little more travel time. The La Quinta Inn Queens (37-18 Queens Boulevard, Long Island City, NY 11101; rates from $149) is a block from Sunnyside, a neighborhood that's a joyous riot of ethnic cuisines where Japanese, Indian, Turkish, "Asian fusion," a "Latin rock cafe" and a piano lounge all jostle elbows across the street from each other. An independent coffee shop a block away attracts the hipster crowd, while a classic New York diner slings hot, cheap breakfasts. The La Quinta itself is another unprepossessing, clean-and-shiny, newly built motel (this one with free parking, first come first serve) with free Internet, free breakfast, refrigerators in every room and slightly bigger rooms than the Comfort Inn. Take a room facing the side parking lot if you can; others face the #7 elevated train, and you can hear the rumble. On the positive side, that frequent, 24-hour train will get you to Grand Central Station in 11 minutes.
Flushing, Queens would be a town in and of itself if it weren't embedded in New York City. A bustling Chinatown, Flushing is chockablock with bubble tea cafes, floor-through Asian mini-malls, tasty Thai, Chinese and Malaysian restaurants and even Macy's and Old Navy outlets. It's also quite near LaGuardia Airport, making walkable, convenient Flushing an alternative to those marooned airport hotels that crowd the highway. Flushing is 32 minutes from Grand Central on the cheap, frequent #7 subway line (every three minutes during its busiest times), or 19 minutes from Penn Station on the slightly fancier LIRR commuter train, which leaves every half an hour.
Flushing is also home to a gaggle of hotels that are steps from the subway, including Queens' fanciest, the Sheraton LaGuardia East (135-20 39th Avenue, Flushing NY 11354; www.sheraton.com; rates from $239) For an entry-level price in Manhattan you get four-star service in Flushing; the queen-bed rooms are spacious, with a daybed couch and two armchairs. (Double-bed rooms do away with the daybed.) The hotel is studded with Asian art and features an Asian fusion restaurant, Deluge, downstairs.
Cheaper and more basic are the Best Western Queens Court (133-51 39th Avenue, Flushing, NY 11354; www.bestwestern.com; rates from $149) and the Howard Johnson Flushing (135-33 38th Avenue, Flushing, NY 11354; www.hojo.com; rates from $149). The Best Western is the nicer of the two, both of which offer small, clean rooms with new fixtures, free Internet and free continental breakfasts. The tiny, narrow-but-tall HoJo tries to make up for its diminutive size by putting a DVD player in every room. In these hotels, you want rooms in the front so they aren't facing active parking lots; also, avoid the basement rooms at the Howard Johnson.
If the grand hotel is Manhattan's specialty and Queens has an affection for motels, Brooklyn is the borough of bed and breakfasts. Brooklyn's B&Bs aren't the humble budget lodgings you'll find in European cities. They're gracious and culturally themed, with rates generally around $130-150 per night. Try to stay in the neighborhoods of Brooklyn Heights, Carroll Gardens, Fort Greene or Park Slope if you can; they're the busiest and most historic, with the easiest access to Manhattan attractions.
Shoved above a commercial building on a bustling downtown Brooklyn shopping street, the Awesome B&B's (136 Lawrence Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201; www.awesome-bed-and-breakfast.com; rates from $140) greatest strength is location; downtown Manhattan is literally minutes away on seven subway lines, and the uber-hipster Brooklyn nabes of DUMBO and Williamsburg are also easily accessed. The Awesome's uniquely-furnished rooms are each one of a kind, to be sure; pastries are delivered to your room each morning by the laid-back owners. All rooms are shared bath.
If the Awesome B&B has sort of a crazy-hippie-'70s feel, Baisley House (294 Hoyt Street, Brooklyn, NY 11231; http://www.virtualcities.com/ons/ny/n/nyn1901.htm; rates from $139) looks like it was decorated by a rich, insane aunt. It's a museum of decorative excess, with an "Egyptian revival parlor suite" and a back garden full of Victorian furniture. Baisley House is in Carroll Gardens, a residential neighborhood of attractive rowhouses and hip little shops along nearby Court and Smith Streets. From a subway stop two blocks away, you can be crawling the bars of Manhattan's hip East Village in 12 minutes.
Scared off by quirkiness? The New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge (333 Adams St., Brooklyn, NY 11201; www.marriott.com; rates from $199) is a big, stately, corporate hotel in downtown Brooklyn with all of the expected amenities plus one: a "plug-in panel" where you can plug your iPod, DVD player, or PC into the rooms' new 32-inch flat-screen TVs. The plug-in panel didn't work in our room, but the staff said they would fix that problem for the future. The iPod-dock-alarm-clock by our bed worked perfectly, though. The Marriott is on a windswept block facing a gigantic court building, but it's just a brief walk from the most charming parts of Brooklyn Heights, and a quick subway ride from Manhattan. For slightly less dough, you can also stay at the motel-like but utterly brand-new Holiday Inn Express New York -- Brooklyn (625 Union St., Brooklyn, NY 11215; www.ichotelgroup.com; rates from $163). That one is on a rather bleak avenue that's one long block from the more genteel, restaurant-filled Park Slope neighborhood with its gorgeous brownstone homes.
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