Get our carefully curated newsletter straight to your inbox.
Major cities usually have unique neighborhoods or parts of town that locals know by a different name. For example, people who live in and around New York City use terms like NoMad, FiDi, NoLita, downtown, and uptown to refer to different areas of the city.
This can be confusing to tourists; they may find that they need a neighborhood guide to navigate around the city. In this article, we’ll break down two specific areas that are often used by New Yorkers: uptown and downtown.
The terms “uptown” and “downtown” are unique to the United States–they are not used in British English. Instead, people use the term City Centre. Since the southern tip of the island of Manhattan was settled first, people started referring to it as downtown. As the years passed, the city could only grow north of the nearby river. In a result, it became common to use the terms “up” and “down.” Eventually, the area became a major commercial and business center, and it became known as downtown.
As more people settled in the western portion of the United States and larger cities emerged, the term got new life outside of NYC. People began referring to a city’s central business and historic districts as downtown. It largely remains true today that downtown is an area in most cities where business and commercial hubs are situated.
Uptown New York: It runs north of 59th Street
Uptown New York is located north of 59th Street. It includes the Upper West and East Sides and borders Central Park. The area is full of Citi Bikes and halal food carts.
Although uptown includes the area north of 59th Street, neighborhoods such as Washington Heights, Harlem, and Inwood, which are in the north of Central Park, are known as being located in Upper Manhattan. Ninety-seventh and 98th Streets on the East Side and 110th Street at Central Park border Upper Manhattan. To some of the residents, only Harlem and areas above may fall under Upper Manhattan. But many New Yorkers disagree with this definition of Upper Manhattan.
Midtown New York: It lies between 30th and 59th Streets
As the name also suggests, Midtown is the heart of Manhattan. Midtown is a large business hub–it’s primarily known for its office buildings. This is where landmarks such as Grand Central Station Terminal, Hell’s Kitchen, the bright lights of Times Square, and the alluring eateries of Koreatown are located. In addition, Midtown is home to the high-rises of Billionaire’s Row.
Downtown New York: It lies South of 30th Street.
Anything south of 30th Street is considered Downtown New York. Many locals believe that Downtown borders at 14th Street and areas like Gramercy, Flatiron, and Chelsea should be excluded from Downtown New York. The area is known for its expensive and trendy stores, and it is where the famous neighborhoods of SoHo, Tribeca, and the West Village are located.
Note: Many citizens consider the area between 14th Street and 34th Street as “Midtown South.”
You might ask what we call the South Street Seaport District and the Financial District. Generally, some might argue that both these areas are also downtown. When it comes to the Financial District, some people use the modifier “super” to describe downtown. However, Lower Manhattan is the official term for the historic tip of the island. Generally, everything south of Houston and Canal Streets is considered Lower Manhattan.
Note: All of these divisions might boggle your mind. Simply put, if you are going north of Manhattan, you’re going uptown. If you are heading south of Manhattan, you will be going downtown.
Uptown and downtown are not unique only to the New York City area–all major cities designate certain areas of town this way. These terms are also heavily used in entertainment media like films, television, and music. U.S. musician Billy Joel performed a song in the 1980s called “Uptown Girl.” A contemporary British television series goes by the name of Downton Abbey, and there is a famous song by Tom Waits called “Downtown Train.”
Having said all that, the terms uptown and downtown are used to refer to certain locations across the United States. But what’s located in these areas will be unique to each city. For some cities, downtown is a place known for commercial buildings and hotels alone. In others, downtown may provide a diverse offering of commercial buildings, shops, and apartments. Over time, we’ll likely see that they flow into each other, and they fluctuate as new residents move in.