nyc geography
remove_red_eye 382
favorite_border 0

Basic Geography in NYC: Everything You Need to Know about the Boroughs

Excited for WorldPride next summer? So are we, as New York City revs up for the biggest LGBT Pride celebration ever. If you’re coming to New York for the first time and unsure on your bearings, we’ve got you covered. Below are tips on what New Yorkers mean by the word “borough,” the importance of Fifth Avenue, and where neighborhoods like Greenwich Village begin and end. Read on, and soon you’ll be leading your crew through the city during WorldPride.

nyc geography
Photo by Jeroen den Otter on Unsplash

Basic NYC Geography: The Five Boroughs

Manhattan: Manhattan is the area most people think of when they think of New York City. It’s the home of the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, the 9/11 Museum & Memorial, Central Park, and Times Square. Manhattan is its own island, a long and slender landmass 13.4 miles long and 2.3 miles wide at its widest point. The other four boroughs encircle Manhattan, and New Jersey lies across the Hudson River on its western side. The island is easily accessible for watercraft to access via the Atlantic Ocean.


Brooklyn: Brooklyn is separated from Manhattan by the East River and sits at the western tip of Long Island. Brooklyn’s wide beachfront on the south end is where you’ll find the famous Luna Park at Coney Island overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. On the north side (below Queens) are the neighborhoods Greenpoint and Williamsburg. Nearly 70 square miles in size, Brooklyn is connected to Manhattan via three bridges, the most famous which is the Brooklyn Bridge, a 1.1 mile distance for millions of cars, bicycles, and pedestrians each day.


Queens: Queens lies above Brooklyn, occupying the north side of Long Island’s western tip. Queens is situated between the Bronx and Manhattan, which both lie on the other side of the East River. Primarily a residential area, Queens is where you’ll find both of New York City’s major airports at LaGuardia and JFK. The Queens neighborhood closest to the East River is Long Island City (offering gorgeous views of the Manhattan skyline), while its easternmost neighborhoods include Cambria Heights and Floral Park. Beyond the eastern boundary of Queens is the remainder of Long Island, where you’ll find residential communities and beach towns in the Hamptons. Queens is 108 square miles in size and is the largest of the five boroughs.


The Bronx: The Bronx is located directly north of Manhattan and is separated from that island via the Harlem River. It’s the northernmost of the five boroughs and is located on the mainland of New York state. Beyond its northern boundary are the small towns of suburban Westchester. The Bronx is connected to Manhattan with 12 bridges and tunnels and to Queens with three bridges spanning the East River. Its southernmost neighborhoods include Port Morris and Mott Haven, while Woodlawn lies along its northern edge. In the central Bronx are attractions like the New York Botanical Garden and the Bronx Zoo. The Bronx is around 42.5 square miles in size.


Staten Island: Like Manhattan, Staten Island is a separate landmass as well as a borough of New York City. This residential island does not offer bridge or railway access to or from Manhattan; in fact, the best way to get there from Manhattan is a free ride on the Staten Island Ferry. This journey across New York Harbor passes the small, iconic islands where the Statue of Liberty and the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration are located. About 60 square miles in size, Staten Island is connected via bridges to New Jersey on the west and to Brooklyn on the east.

Basic NYC Geography: Avenues vs. Streets

Navigating gets a little dicey farther downtown, but everything above 14th Street is arranged by a precise grid system. Avenues go north-south, while streets go east to west. When you see a street called “West 33rd” or “East 102nd,” it designates whether it’s the side to the east or west of Fifth Avenue. Many neighborhood names, such as the East Village, are categorized this way too.


Basic NYC Geography: Major Manhattan Neighborhoods

Below are several Manhattan neighborhoods at a glance. Find out where each neighborhood begins and ends, as well as major features like sightseeing destinations, subway lines, and tips on how to navigate while you’re there. While not a complete list of neighborhoods, this is more than enough to get you started in the big city!


Midtown West

Known for: Times Square, the Empire State Building, Broadway theatres, Rockefeller Center, Hell’s Kitchen

  • North/South Borders: West 59th Street (Central Park South) and West 34th Street
  • West/East Borders: The Hudson River and Fifth Avenue
  • Major train stations: Times Square, Penn Station, Columbus Circle
  • Major thoroughfares: Broadway, West 42nd Street, West 59th Street
  • Adjacent neighborhoods: Midtown East, Upper West Side, Chelsea

Navigation tip: Look for Times Square when you’re lost! It’s big and bright, and you can see it from a mile away. Use it to orient yourself and make sure you’re going in the right direction. (Same goes for the Empire State Building, also visible from miles around.)

grand central station
Photo by Brandon Nickerson on Unsplash

Midtown East

  • Known for: Grand Central Station, Fifth Avenue shopping, the New York Public Library, the United Nations
  • North/South Borders: East 59th Street (Central Park South) and East 34th Street
  • West/East Borders: Fifth Avenue and the East River
  • Train lines: 4, 5, 6
  • Major thoroughfares: East 42nd Street, Fifth Avenue, Park Avenue
  • Adjacent neighborhoods: Midtown West, Murray Hill, Upper East Side

Navigation tip: Starting from the East River, there are avenues numbered 1-3, followed by Lexington, Park, Madison, and Fifth Avenues, in order from east to west.


Upper West Side

    Known for: American Museum of Natural History, Lincoln Center, residential communities

  • North/South Borders: West 110th Street and West 59th Street (Central Park North and South)
  • West/East Borders: The Hudson River and Central Park West
  • Train lines: A, B, C, D, 1, 2, 3
  • Major thoroughfares: Broadway, Columbus Avenue, Amsterdam Avenue
  • Adjacent neighborhoods: West Harlem, Midtown West, Central Park

Navigation tip: Think of the Upper West Side as the area immediately west of the rectangular Central Park, which shares the same north/south borders.


Upper East Side

  • Known for: Museum Mile, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Madison Avenue shopping
  • North/South Borders: East 96th Street and East 59th Street (Central Park South)
  • West/East Borders: Fifth Avenue and the East River
  • Train lines: 4, 5, 6, Q
  • Major thoroughfares: Lexington Avenue, Madison Avenue, Fifth Avenue
  • Adjacent neighborhoods: East Harlem, Midtown East, Central Park

Navigation tip: When you’re inside Central Park, look for black lampposts. The approximate cross-street is printed near the base with white paint to help you know how far north or south you’ve walked. For example, the inscription 6602 means you’re parallel with 66th Street, and this is the second lamppost to the west of Fifth Avenue.



  • Known for: Art galleries, High Line Park, Chelsea Market, Chelsea Piers, b LGBT population
  • North/South Borders: West 34th Street and West 14th Street
  • West/East Borders: Hudson River and Sixth Avenue (Avenue of the Americas)
  • Train lines: A, C, E, 1, 2, 3
  • Major thoroughfares: West 14th St., West 23rd St., Sixth Ave., Seventh Ave., Eighth Ave.
  • Adjacent neighborhoods: Midtown West, Greenwich Village, the West Village, Flatiron, NoMad

Navigation tip: The High Line park, a green space atop an old elevated rail line, runs parallel to 10th Avenue in Chelsea.

& nbsp;

washington square park pigeons
Photo by Caitlyn Wilson on Unsplash

Greenwich Village & the West Village

  • Known for: Washington Square Park, New York University, Stonewall Inn
  • North/South Borders: West 14th Street and West Houston Street
  • West/East Borders: West Village (Hudson River and Sixth Ave.); Greenwich Village (Sixth Ave. and University Place)
  • Major train stations: West 4th Street, Union Square
  • Major thoroughfares: Bleecker Street, West 4th Street, Sixth Avenue, Seventh Avenue
  • Adjacent neighborhoods: SoHo, Chelsea, East Village

Navigation tip: The grid system falls apart in the West Village. If you see the intersection of West 10th and West 4th Streets, you’re not crazy! It’s just the slantwise streets that make the neighborhood unique.



  • Known for: Fashion-forward culture, shopping, art galleries
  • North/South Borders: West Houston Street and Canal Street
  • West/East Borders: Sixth Avenue and Crosby Street
  • Train lines: 1, A, C, E, Q, R, W
  • Major thoroughfares: Broadway, Prince Street, Spring Street
  • Adjacent neighborhoods: Greenwich Village/West Village, Little Italy, Nolita, Chinatown, Tribeca

Navigation tip: A twofer! SoHo means “SOuth of HOuston.” And here’s a mnemonic device for remembering downtown Manhattan’s street order, arranged from north to south: Prince spent the Spring Brooming the Grand Canal (with Howard Hester, the Mercer from Essex).


The Financial District

  • Known for: The Statue of Liberty, 9/11 Memorial & Museum, Wall Street, South Street Seaport, Brooklyn Bridge
  • North/South Borders: Barclay Street and Battery Park
  • West/East Borders: Hudson River and the East River
  • Major train stations: Fulton Street, Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall
  • Major thoroughfares: Fulton Street, Broadway, Wall Street, Water Street
  • Adjacent neighborhoods: Tribeca, Chinatown, Lower East Side

Navigation tip: One of the most famous streets in the world, Broadway starts in the Financial District at Battery Park and extends the length of Manhattan and even into the Bronx! Broadway is nearly 34 miles long.

  Want WorldPride content notifications? Sign up for email updates. Want to receive Metrosource LGBTQ content notifications? Sign up for MetroEspresso.