When it comes to making the big move to the Big Apple, finding a place to live can be confusing for an incoming student. Online searching can easily bring you great prices on places but you may also be an hour away from class. Or there may be somewhere close to school but the space is limited and it’s far away from the vibrant downtown life you may be looking for. Here is a guide on where to live in New York as an incoming SIPA Student and finding the neighborhood that is perfect for YOU!
Morningside Heights is the neighborhood in which Columbia University resides in. It spans from west of Morningside Park to Riverside Drive and from 110th to 125th. Some of the landmarks in Morningside Heights include Morningside Park, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, Mt. Sinai Hospital, and Riverside Church.
Pros: This neighborhood is great for anyone who is trying to live close to school. With everything from grocery stores to bars to classes being within a 15 minute walking distance, you’re close to the academic action, school happy hours, and classmate study sessions.
Cons: You may feel that you’re trapped within the Columbia bubble when living so close to school. Downtown can easily take 40-50 minutes to get to. It’s also quite an expensive area. You won’t get much size for your buck in this neighborhood, the grocery stores can be fairly expensive and an average meal at a local restaurant will cost you upward of $15.
Harlem, while contested where it actually begins and ends, is generally considered the large neighborhood east of Morningside Park. A historically black neighborhood undergoing gentrification, Harlem is not what it used to be but has always been a culturally rich area to live. Its major landmarks include the Apollo Theater, Sylvia’s Soul Food, El Museo Del Barrio, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
Pros: The neighborhood has a wide range to accommodate wallets of every size. There’s top tier restaurants like Red Rooster and Minton’s Playhouse and homey, cheap and delicious eateries like Lolo’s Seafood Shack and Lolita’s Mexican Restaurant. For apartments, sizes are much bigger for much cheaper than surrounding neighborhoods. The further east and north you go in Harlem, the cheaper the prices are. There’s also a lot to do in Harlem, from theaters to museums to bars. It can accommodate anyone’s extracurricular interests.
Cons: The only way to get to Columbia from Harlem is to ride the bus or to walk up the hundred stairs of Morningside Heights. Which on a day that’s too hot or too cold, can be quite miserable. Also, food in Harlem isn’t the easiest for restricted diets. Many have found it difficult to be a vegetarian or vegan in the area with many franchise fast-food restaurants and not too many options on health-based cuisine.
I’m bringing these two neighborhoods together into the same synopsis because they offer very similar vibes and blend together. Manhattanville and Hamilton Heights are the neighborhoods between 125th Street and 155th Street, bordering Harlem to the East and Riverside to the West. Key landmarks include City College of New York, the sub-neighborhood of Sugar Hill, Claremont Theater, and St. Mary’s Protestant Episcopal Church.
Pros: Hamilton Heights and Manhattanville is within spitting distance of Columbia University. Just take a few stops down the 1 track and you’re at the campus. Prices for housing are relatively cheap in this neighborhood also. Your average 3 bedroom, 1 bath will run around $3000-$3300/month with many rent-stabilized options available.
Cons: The neighborhood is very lively on the streets which can lead to a lot of noise. Also, living anywhere near the train station on W. 125th street, one of the few stations in Manhattan that is above ground, can be very loud. It may not be the ideal neighborhood for people looking for some peace and quiet. There also isn’t much to do in the neighborhood compared to its surrounding neighborhoods. Some may find it boring.
Upper West Side
Upper West Side is the Neighborhood between 59th and 110th and west of Central Park. Key landmarks include Lincoln Circle, the Ghostbusters Building, Julliard, and the American Museum of Natural History.
Pros: This neighborhood is known for its excellent food scene, proximity to Central Park, and nighttime quietness. If you’re looking for any type of food, you can probably find it in the Upper West Side. Central Park is all but a few steps away and at night, it’s usually a very quiet area in the city.
Cons: Upper West side brings a new definition of expensive, especially if you’re living below 100th street. There’s also not much of a nightlife in the area. To find your fun, you’ll most likely have to travel to Harlem or Midtown/Downtown. The area also lacks much of the New York culture one may be looking for. If you’re looking for art, museums, and exhibits, you’re on the wrong side of Upper Manhattan.
Midtown is truly the heart of New York, with neighborhoods like Times Square, Hell’s Kitchen, and Turtle Bay. Midtown is the entire area of Manhattan between 34th and 59th street and where you’ll find some of your fellow Seeples.
Pros: In Midtown, there is quite literally everything to do. It’s a vibrant part of the city with endless options of fun. The nightlife in Hell’s Kitchen is incredibly LGBTQ friendly. There’s also many popular food and shopping options in Times Square. The location of midtown is also perfect for anyone who wants to make a quick ride to Brooklyn or uptown.
Cons: The area is tourist central so expect it to be incredibly packed and people stopping every few feet to take pictures. Because of the amount of tourism, the area is incredibly loud. Lastly, rent in the area is sky high as it’s near so much. You won’t find any housing for cheap in this area.