The classic shorthand way in which New Yorkers tell each other where something is in Manhattan is they’ll say it’s in Downtown, or it’s in Midtown or it’s on the Upper East Side, or it’s on the Upper West Side. If you are visiting a New Yorker will say this to you, fully expecting you’ll get it, because it’s just part of the NYC DNA. So to save you the embarassment of saying “Where’s Downtown” etc, here’s where each of these divisions is.
Think of yourself as standing in 14th street looking towards Central Park. Everything behind you is Downtown. There’s an area above you from 14th St to 23rd/25th Sts which is sometimes called Downtown and sometimes called Midtown. Above 23rd St to 59th St, which is right at Central park is the area called Midtown without anyone arguing about it. Then everything from 59th St up, is Uptown. The West side of Central Park is called the Upper West Side and the East side of Central Park is called the Upper East Side. These 2 areas of NYC used to be very posh but the whole of NYC is pretty posh these days, so don’t sweat it. Above Central park is a group of neighborhoods the most well known of which is Harlem, all of them in Uptown.
If you are walking on an east/west street and you can tell if you are because only roads going from east to west are called streets, you are going Crosstown. The roads that run down the length of Manhattan from north to south are all called Avenues, so that is another way to orientate yourself.
So there you have it, once you can fling these terms around you are definitely a serious New Yorker in training.
It’s also useful to know which major neighborhoods fit into each of the over arching areas called Downtown or Midtown etc. You will find all this information on the sheet called ‘Understanding the neighborhoods of New York City’. Just as people say it’s in Downtown expecting you to understand, they’ll say it’s in the Meatpacking District again expecting you to know what that refers to.