New York is one of the world’s most visited—and most exciting—cities. There are so many places to see and things to do, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, especially if it’s your first visit.
If a trip to New York is on your horizon this year, here are a few great tips to make your first encounter with the Big Apple run smoothly.
1. Time your trip carefully
Although there’s plenty to do in the city all year round, you should think about what you most want to see and do, and time your trip accordingly. Winter can be bitterly cold and snowy, but it’s a magical time—there’s the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, and the amazing holiday window displays.
In spring, Central Park’s gorgeous blooms come to life and the weather is pleasant. Baseball season is in full swing; take in a Yankees or Mets game before it gets too hot.
Summer is peak tourist season, although the weather is occasionally quite hot and humid. You can’t beat the Fourth of July displays and Shakespeare in the Park.
Whenever you visit, you should give yourself plenty of time to get to know New York. Three days is usually the absolute minimum, and a week is close to ideal.
2. Leave your car at home
You’ve probably read that New York traffic is among the worst in the nation—totally true! But even if you don’t mind endless traffic jams, aggressive drivers, and confusing one-way streets, you should still plan to leave your car at home. For one thing, parking is expensive and difficult to find (and you’ill get a ticket if you don’t follow the rules).
But even more importantly, New York is pedestrian-friendly and public transportation is relatively inexpensive and efficient. You’ll have a more authentic New York experience if you take the subways and trains like natives do, and see more of the city when you hoof it.
3. Move beyond Manhattan
There’s more to NYC than its most famous borough—and you’ll enjoy your visit (and save a little money) if you venture outside the Manhattan bubble.
Cross into Brooklyn and enjoy a picnic at the Brooklyn Bridge Park or an outing to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens.
Visit Rockaway Beach or City Island for a taste of Cape Cod in the Bronx.
The Bronx is also the home of the real Little Italy, nevermind Lower Manhattan’s version. You can get an incredible Italian meal on Arthur Avenue for about half the cost.
4. Get your bearings with a city bus tour
New York is huge and it’s easy to get disoriented as you wander around looking for landmarks and attractions.
It’s a great idea to book a city bus tour to get an overview of the city and a brief introduction to the most popular attractions. If your time is limited, you’ll be able to see the most important sights, and if you have more time to explore on your own, you’ll be more familiar with how the city’s laid out and the location of things you want to visit again.
5. Save money with free attractions
Like all major international cities, New York is expensive—but you don’t have to break the bank to have a great trip.
Most museums have free hours or free days each month so you can save hundreds on admissions, and there are lots of museums and attractions that are free all year long.
6. Try the street food
New York is a well-known culinary destination, and the city is home to some of the most famous restaurants in the world. But you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you skipped the city’s amazing street food.
Of course you’ll find plenty of pizza, hotdog, and breakfast bagel cart vendors, but try the more international street fare—shawarma and falafel, pupusas, lumpia, and tamales. Or try the Red Hook Lobster Pound truck for fresh-from-the-sea Maine lobster rolls.
7. Learn subway etiquette
New Yorkers call the subway system “trains,” never the “metro,” the “underground,” or the “tube.” The New York City trains operate in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, and there are commuter trains to other destinations such as New Jersey and Long Island.
Metrocards are essential, and you should have yours ready before you hit the turnstile. Make sure you’re in the right place for the train you want; uptown and downtown trains typically enter from different streets.
Finally, observe the unspoken rules:
- Don’t bring bulky backpacks; a daypack with your supplies for the day’s adventure is adequate—and don’t take up a seat with your belongings.
- Don’t eat on the train; food odors are magnified in tight quarters.
- Move away from the door once you enter the train; it’s bad manners to block others from entering.
- Be alert exiting the train—that’s not the time to check your map or your phone.
- It’s generally considered bad manners to make eye contact or chat up a stranger on the train.
8. Get out on the water
There are so many great ways to get a whole new view of the city skyline, but one of the best is from the water. Take the Staten Island ferry, the Governor’s Island ferry, or the Ikea Express for an inexpensive adventure.
Just so you know; there’s a boat cruise included on our day tour through the city between April 1st and December 1st.
9. The views from the rooftops are amazing
You can spend a fortune to go to the top of the Rock or the Empire State Building or the Chrysler Building for panoramic city views—or you can get similar views for the price of a drink at one of New York’s many terrific rooftop bars.
Harriet’s Rooftop in Brooklyn Heights, CloudM on the Lower East Side, the Refinery Rooftop, Penthouse 808, the Sky Room and Bar 65 are all great choices to see the skyline and enjoy a cool drink and an appetizer.
10. There’s more than TKTS for cheap Broadway shows
For most first-time visitors, a Broadway show is a must-see. But tickets can be outrageously expensive, especially for the most popular shows.
Everyone knows about the TKTS booths for discount tickets, but there are other ways to score cheap tickets (without standing in line).
Online sites including todaytix.com and broadwaybox.com are a good place to start, and sometimes you’ll find good deals on Groupon. You can also look into a Theater Development Fund membership for discounts of up to 70%.
Of course, if you don’t mind waiting in line, lottery, rush, and standing-room-only, tickets day of the performance can save you lots of money.
11. Don’t walk like a tourist
New York is a city of walkers, and since it’s a standard mode of getting around for locals, it helps if you follow the understood rules.
For example, if you’re wandering along admiring the sights, stay right and leave the left side for fast-walking locals. Don’t walk in large groups; separate so you don’t take up the entire sidewalk. Keep bags and belongings close to your body. And whatever you do, don’t text and walk!
12. Wear the right shoes
You’ll do a lot of walking on your New York City trip, so wear comfortable, well-broken-in shoes. Keep in mind, you’ll encounter uneven pavement, cobblestone streets, and all kinds of pedestrian paths, so avoid pointy heels and shoes with very thin soles.
Athletic shoes are popular on city streets and in the park, and if you’re only planning to sightsee, sneakers are just fine. But if your day’s itinerary includes restaurants, bars, or clubs, you may want to reconsider your footwear, since many won’t let you in with flip flops or athletic shoes on your feet.
13. Central Park is incredible all year round
Central Park is pretty much a must-see no matter when you visit New York; even in winter, it’s a wonderful place to visit.
There are gardens, lakes, reservoirs, waterfalls, bike paths, ice skating rinks, fountains, carousels, a castle, a zoo, and even a statue of Balto. It’s an endless expanse of natural beauty with a little bit of magic. Plan to spend at least an afternoon (or an entire day) there.
14. Be cautious about booking Airbnbs
Although Airbnbs are a great alternative to pricey hotels in many international cities, New York isn’t one of them.
There are strict rules for short-term rentals, which make it almost impossible to find a legal Airbnb. And there’s nothing worse than having your stay cut short by an angry landlord giving you the boot because the owner illegally rented out his apartment or co-op.
Your best bet for legal short-term rentals is to go through a real estate agent specializing in short-term furnished leases. It’s a lot of trouble, sure, but better to be on the right side of the law.
15. Consider getting a New York City Pass
There are certain attractions you’ll definitely want to see—maybe the 9/11 Tribute Center and Ground Zero Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and MOMA, the Statue of Liberty, and a Central Park bike tour, for example. Costs add up fast and it’s easy to spend $150 or more per day per person on admission prices and fees alone.
City Passes come in two styles: An all-you-can-do day pass for between one and seven days, or a flex pass that lets you see and do between two and 10 different things during your trip. Passes also include discounts for restaurants, entertainment, and shopping in the city.
A three-day pass is $239 for an adult and $189 for a child. If you spent just $100 per person per day on activities and admissions, you’d save a bundle with a three-day pass—and it’s very easy to spend that. If you’re planning to do the most popular attractions, a City Pass is definitely worth the money.
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