Expectations for the first night I ever spent in a budget hotel near Newark Airport were fairly low. It was Newark, it was the airport, I was paying $109 a night. (That’s not a lot in these parts.) What could possibly go wrong, right, besides everything? But with a flight scheduled to leave first thing the following morning, I had little choice but to sleep somewhere close by.
Surprise! The stay was great. Free internet, free breakfast, spacious, clean room—even a view of the New York City skyline. Climbing aboard the airport shuttle (also free) the next day, I found myself among a group very unlike what you’d typically find pre-dawn in a hotel van headed for the airport.
These weren’t somber, sleep-deprived flight attendants, or impossibly-coiffed-for-this-hour business travelers—instead, I was surrounded by European tourists, clutching cameras and maps. They seemed to be having…fun? Clearly, they weren’t heading for the airport. At the first stop—the one with the connection to New Jersey Transit and Amtrak trains—they all hopped out. Of course: They were headed into Manhattan, just 25 minutes or so away.
This wasn’t a fluke, I would learn. You or I might bunk at Newark Airport only when absolutely necessary, but savvy overseas travelers see insanely low price points and relatively decent transit links to New York City and say to themselves, yes, please.
Why shouldn’t they? They get to have an affordable vacation in New York City and a decent hotel that won’t nickel and dime them for the extras. Who cares about a little commute, particularly when far less generous hotels in Manhattan (with more compact rooms, don’t forget) could cost up to four, five times more on any given night?
For some, the idea of a vacation to Newark Airport is a jet bridge too far—entirely understandable. Luckily, Newark has more tricks up its sleeve for the budget traveler looking for a cheap New York City getaway.
Anyone unfamiliar with the city might be just as hesitant to consider a downtown Newark hotel as a base of operations when visiting New York. Truth is, the area has undergone some major improvements in recent years. It’s also where you’ll find a handful of very good hotels, each within walking distance of one of the most underrated transit hubs in the Northeast, Newark Penn Station. Here, you can catch New Jersey Transit and Amtrak trains, along with the efficient PATH train, which accepts NYC Transit’s MetroCard and whisks you to One World Trade Center and a transformed Downtown Manhattan in twenty minutes or so, all day long. (A quick transfer along the way will take you to Greenwich Village and then on to Herald Square and Midtown.)
Not that you need to be in a huge hurry to hop the train—from the increasingly vibrant (and historically important) downtown to the thriving Portuguese-Brazilian area just east of the train station (The Ironbound), plus pre-existing cultural lures like the impressive Newark Museum and the busy New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Newark is hardly a wasteland, even if can look like one in places—there’s even a new Whole Foods Market, right on Broad Street. A block away, on Halsey Street, art galleries, small cafes and independent restaurants are filling up blank spaces. There’s a real, live artist community here, thanks to relatively affordable rents. Okay, so Newark on its best day will never be New York, but this is actually a pretty interesting home base on your next New York getaway—and hey, did we mention those low, low prices?
The best hotels in Newark
Our top pick would have to be the cheerful Hotel Indigo Newark Downtown, the latest tenant of a handsome, Cass Gilbert-designed bank tower just a few seconds on foot from New York fave Dinosaur BBQ, a Chipotle (useful!), events and games at the Prudential Center and a couple minutes more from Penn Station. Upcoming weekends priced out at around $129 a night—that’s at least $100 less than you’ll typically get at the Indigo in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.
Equally easy on the wallet—particularly on weekends—is the Courtyard Newark Downtown. It is not unheard of to find this business travel-focused Marriott brand hotel going for $119 a night. It’s just a few doors down from the Indigo; when you’re too lazy to go out, the hotel’s simple (but-does-the-trick) Bistro offers dinner until 10pm.
Up Broad Street, steps from the new Whole Foods, the Best Western Robert Treat used to be the budget pick downtown. This is still a great deal, even if it’s very much in third place now—there’s always seems to be a $100/night-ish rate floating out there somewhere. Penn Station is once again a short walk away.
For extreme proximity to transit, the Hilton Newark Penn Station is, as advertised, pretty much on top of Penn Station. As such, rates here tend to be much higher. You aren’t really in actual Newark, staying here—it’s located inside the Gateway Center, essentially an office park in the middle of the city, with sky bridge connections eliminating the need to ever set foot on the street.
As with any city, downtown hotel rates can climb, depending on demand—Devils games, reality shows filming at NJPAC, weekdays during peak times for business travel can all play a part. Not that you should give up on Newark, however—at times like these, you’ll typically find those airport hotels still offering up some of the best value for the price near New York City.
For more Newark hotel deals along with thousands of user reviews, check out Tripadvisor.