You’ve booked your flight to New York City and you probably have an idea of what you’d like to see, eat and do. To make your trip a little smoother, here are 25 top tips for visiting New York City for the first time (especially if you want to save a little bit of money).
- 1 25 Tips for Visiting New York City for the First Time
- 2 1.) Don’t Forget to Carry Cash
- 3 2.) Plan Your Days Wisely
- 4 3.) Don’t Get in the Way
- 5 4.) Tip Often, Tip Well
- 6 5.) Pee Often, Pee Well
- 7 6.) Weigh Up the Tourist Pass Options
- 8 7.) Consider the Tours that are Worth Taking
- 9 8.) Check Out New York’s Museums on a Budget
- 10 9.) Look Out for Events Around the City
- 11 10.) See a Show on a Budget
- 12 11.) Make the Most of Your Jetlag
- 13 12.) Pack Sensible Shoes
- 14 13.) Book Your Accommodation Wisely
- 15 14.) Jaywalk Wisely…or Not At All
- 16 15.) Learn your Cross Streets
- 17 16.) Get Out of Manhatten if You Have Time
- 18 17.) Hailing a Cab is Fun but Slow
- 19 18.) Don’t Eat at Chain Places
- 20 19.) Plan Your Combos
- 21 20.) Pack Layers
- 22 21.) Avoid the Horse and Carriage Rides
- 23 22.) Drink the Water
- 24 23.) Factor in Tax
- 25 24.) Queueing is Unavoidable
- 26 25.) Take Out Comprehensive Travel Insurance
- 27 Final Thoughts on These Tips for Visiting New York City for the First Time
25 Tips for Visiting New York City for the First Time
1.) Don’t Forget to Carry Cash
This may seem strange to many tourists, especially those of us that use contactless payments all the time and no longer carry money. Lots of locations don’t take card under $20 and many restaurants are cash only. Contactless payments are starting to appear but is much safer to have a minimum of around $50 with you. It is worth taking out a chunk at a time as cash is expensive to get out. Many machines cost up to $5 for each transaction. Please ensure you carry your cash safely. Split it between your party and maybe pop some in your sock/shoe/moneybelt.
2.) Plan Your Days Wisely
I don’t mean planning your itinerary minute by minute. Instead, there are three main things to make sure you check before you start your day of sightseeing:
Check Your Journey
The New York Subway can be a wonderful thing, whisking you across Manhatten and further afield quickly, and for a great price. However, it does go wrong and sections can be shut for maintenance. Plus, it can often be faster to walk to a nearby destination. Download the City Mapper and NYC Subway apps to ensure you are still on track to get where you are going.
Check Your Dining Options
There may be wonderful street food options throughout the city, but if you have your heart set on a bucket list dinner location, plan your itinerary to turn up at that spot when you are actually hungry. There is nothing worse than finally reaching the front of the cronut queue, only to realise the hot dog you scoffed half an hour ago is still sitting in the way of being hungry stopping you appreciating it.
Check the Weather
From the freezing winds of winter to the cloying humidity of summer, the weather in New York can be extreme. Rain showers can come on quickly so check a weather app before you leave the hotel. You may need to pack a scarf, sunglasses or umbrella for later in the day. We have been caught out by crazy thunderstorms more than once!
3.) Don’t Get in the Way
Being a rather busy city, New York is full of people on the move. Some of them are in rather a rush. When walking along the pavement (sidewalk) stick to walking on the right and don’t take up the whole thing. Especially if you are in a group, walk in ones or twos allowing fast-moving individuals to pass easily. Being stuck behind a slow-moving lump of dawdling tourists can be intensely frustrating if you have a meeting to get to…or just a naturally quick walk.
If you are visiting New York from the UK, you may notice that although people are on their phones constantly, they are actually having conversations. There is a LOT less wandering slowly whilst sending WhatsApp messages, so keep your phone away to keep step with New Yorkers. If you need to stop to check a map, take a photo or marvel at the skyscrapers above you, step to the curbside or against the buildings.
When strolling through a park, across Brooklyn Bridge or in other multi-use spaces, make sure you don’t stray into the bike lane. Ensure you pay attention to anyone who calls out, “On Your Left”. Cyclists use this warning as they zip past.
In the subway, there needs to be a little structure or it would be chaos.
- Have your Metrocard ready to swipe before you reach the barriers to the platforms. Take your time and don’t swipe it too quickly. Try it twice and then step aside to let a few people through before you try again.
- When your train arrives, step to the side and allow everyone off the train first before you climb on board yourself.
- If you are standing near a door in a crowded carriage, step out to allow others off the train and then reboard.
- If you are holding a pole, do just that. Hold it, don’t lean on it, or hug it tight like your long lost love.
- Take rucksacks/backpacks off if you are standing. If you have a seat, do not use the seat next to you for your luggage. This is for human bottoms, not your backpack.
4.) Tip Often, Tip Well
Tipping culture varies the world over but travelling to New York from elsewhere, it can feel like q rather rude shock. The simple fact is, you need to tip like a local…no matter how painful it can be. Just remember to budget for this when you are planning your trip. So what should you be tipping?
- Servers in restaurants are usually tipped 20%. If the service was poor, reduce it to 15% but it would be better to just address the problem with words. The sad fact is, servers are not entitled to minimum wage and live on tips.
- Round up taxi fares by around 10%. You can tip after your journey with many ridesharing apps.
- For bellhops tip at least $1 per bag. If you aren’t prepared to tip, hang onto your bag for dear life.
- Add around $1 per drink for bartenders. Some people add more for complicated cocktails. Not only does this show appreciation but it could help you get served more quickly if you are ordering some more beverages later on.
- Don’t forget to leave some money for buskers that you have enjoyed. Double it if you are taking photos or videos. There are many talented musicians performing in Subway stations. However, it is illegal to busk on the trains themselves. The “Showtime” dancers that move from carriage to carriage are breaking the law and shouldn’t be encouraged.
5.) Pee Often, Pee Well
Public restrooms are quite hard to find in New York City. We highly recommend downloading the Flush app, which shows you all of your nearest pee stations and what condition you can expect to find them in. If you have data it will update in real-time and give you directions but there is also offline capability too so you won’t be left completely in the dark.
Bars, restaurants and hotels will have loos but you may need to convince someone in your party to buy something. (You don’t want to end up needing a wee again in another 30 minutes so pick a snack rather than a drink). Coffee shops and bars have much cleaner bathrooms than stations or other similar public conveniences. Plus, you may be lucky enough to use a toilet with a door that reaches both the floor and ceiling!
6.) Weigh Up the Tourist Pass Options
If you are staying in NYC for a week or so, it is definitely worth investing in a 7-day unlimited rides Metrocard. This will allow you endless travel on the subway and buses. It is $33 (plus $1 for the card) which seems like a lot all at once but it is cheaper than taking two single journeys per day. If you plan to hop around New York, or just like the flexibility to jump n a train when your feet are sore then it is worthwhile For shorter stays, just top up your card as needed.
If you are planning to try and see everything in one trip then you need to consider one of New York’s sightseeing passes. These are pretty pricy but if you plan your itinerary carefully, you’ll get good value out of them. (We have never used these as we visit regularly and so spread the sights out across trips).
Pick a 1,2,3,5,7 or 10 day pass and get ready to take it all in. This pass allows free entry to over 10 attractions. Prices start at $117 for one day and rise to $269 for 10. You’ll find all the biggest viewing platforms in the city included like Empire State Building, Edge and Top of the Rock. There are also chances to hire bikes for Central Park, a one-day Big Bus tour and interesting walking tours included.
Choose between 2 – 10 days of unlimited sightseeing with this pass. It the most expensive pass but covers a huge variety of attractions. You will need to sightsee at a furious rate to get the value out of this but if that is your thing, then this is definitely for you. You are also allowed to use hop-on, hop-off busses for the duration of your pass, saving money on public transport and taking you right to the things you want to see. This also includes a transfer on the Go Airlink shuttle so you know your travel into the city is sorted.
The Explorer Pass allows you to pick between 2 – 10 sights that you can visit in 60 days. The price starts at $73 and goes up to $199. With the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock and One World Observatory included, you can probably get the value out of this but choose wisely or you could end up paying above the odds.
This pass costs $103 but it will save you 40% on some of NYC’s biggest tourist attractions. For example, you’ll save around $22 on the Empie State Building, $11 at MoMA, $12 at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, and $15 at Top of the Rock. You can see that the savings add up but you must be quick as it is only valid for 9 days. Plus, you’ll get to skip the queues in most of these spots.
7.) Consider the Tours that are Worth Taking
We are all for independent travel here at Flying Fluskey BUT it is sometimes well worth seeking out a quality tour to help you see under the skin of a new city., There can be so much to see in New York City that you forget it has been a home to millions of people for hundreds of years Learn their stories and how they are intertwined with this special place through these wonderful guided adventures:
Harlem with Free Tours by Foot
When you think of Harlem, you may have images of riotous jazz clubs pushing New York’s music scene forward, it may be of riots stemming from challenging race relations in the city, or it may be of beautiful brownstone houses lining leafy streets. Well, on the Harlem walking tour with Free Tours on Foot, you will discover all of these sides to Harlem and many more. Pay what you think the tour is worth and leave with a new stack of knowledge of the area just north of Central Park.
Lower East Side Food Tour with Sidewalk Food Tours
The Lower East Side was a melting pot of new arrivals into the city. Jewish families, Italian families, Chinese families and more all crammed into the USA bringing some wonderful food traditions with them. Taking a food tour around this area of the city ensures you can try the very best of these traditions in one interesting afternoon. Sidewalk Food Tours is just one of the providers that will tingle your tastebuds and tell you the tales of these fascinating cultures.
8.) Check Out New York’s Museums on a Budget
New York has some world-class museums but as such, they don’t come cheap! Seeing every museum could leave your pocket feeling extremely light BUT if you plan your trip accordingly, you could save a fistful of dollars. Many museums do free days or times. You will find that these times are very busy (for obvious reasons) but it is worth it.
- MOMA (The Museum of Modern Art) is free to visit on Fridays between 4-8pm.
- Nearby, The Morgan Library is free on Fridays between 7-9pm so you can get a fantastic free 241, a lovely way to spend a Friday evening.
- Across town, the Whitney Museum of American Art is free 7:30-9pm.
- On Tuesdays 5-8pm, you can visit The 9/11 Memorial Museum for free.
- For a spot of morning sunshine, head to either Brooklyn Botanic Gardens or New York Botanical Gardens on Saturdays 10am-12pm.
- There are also plenty of museums that offer a “pay what you wish time” but in practice, it doesn’t seem that we pay any less during these hours.
- In the leafy streets of Chelsea, art exhibitions cluster. On a Friday evening, you can do a spot of gallery hopping. Entrance is free and you may even be lucky enough to get a glass of wine or two on the house. Just make sure you look like you are considering making an art purchase and don’t just scan the room for the booze!
9.) Look Out for Events Around the City
New York’s vibrant arts and event calendar is enough to keep even the most ardent culture vulture busy 24/7. When you arrive in town, hunt out a copy of something like Time Out and check out everything that is going on during your trip. You may be lucky enough to stumble upon a fun parade or two. We have bumped into the Colombus Day parade and German-American Stueben celebrations on Fifth Avenue, as well as the Italian-American feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Williamsburg during our trips.
10.) See a Show on a Budget
Broadway tickets are expensive, eye-wateringly so in fact. Popular shows can go for $200 a head and that is why you shouldn’t be paying full price. Here are few tips in order to nab a bargain seat at a wonderful show.
- Rush tickets are available at many theatres when the box office opens. Turn up early, make sure you have plenty of patience and if you dying to see a particular show, remember that on matinee days, you have double the chance to get your seats.
- Ticket lotteries mean you don’t have to be on a 07;30 subway to Broadway, but it is entirely up to luck whether you get seats or not. We have never managed to win a ticket lottery so don’t favour this option.
- Download the TodayTix and TKTS apps. The apps offer cheap on the day show tickets and both rush tickets and ticket lotteries which are by far the cheapest way to see the biggest Broadway hits.
- Remember that New York is stuffed full of incredibly talented performers and so opting for a cheaper, Off-Broadway option can allow you to see a wonderful show without breaking the bank.
- Finally, you can apply to be part of a TV audience for free. Apply early and arrive early on the day to be seated in a good spot within the studio. There are plenty of late-night shows with presenters you know and love to choose from.
11.) Make the Most of Your Jetlag
From the East
If you are visiting New York from the UK or elsewhere in Europe, you will find your eyes springing open in the very early hours of the morning for the first couple of days. Don’t lie in bed waiting for the world to wake up, New York is the city that doesn’t sleep so why not hit the streets and start your day early? You will find plenty of breakfast spots open and you can get ahead of everyone else for those theatre rush tickets or the hottest Instagram spots. When else will you find it clear(ish)?
From the West
Another perfect chance to experience the city that doesn’t sleep, but from the other end of the day. If it is 23:30 and you find yourself still out and about, thoroughly awake, head over the Times Square for a little known art exhibition. At 23:57 – 00:00 every night, the advertising boards put on a show with changing artworks. Most people don’t even know it is happening but y can’t miss the Midnight Moment.
Alternatively, you will find plenty of bars or diners stay open late so you can overindulge in whatever your vice happens to be. Check out Our Favourite Bars in New York.
12.) Pack Sensible Shoes
I know, I know, you were hoping for your Carrie Bradshaw moment. Running through the streets of New York with sky-high heels to match the sky-high buildings looks such fun, but as a tourist, you will be walking ALL day and blisters would make it terrible. If you want cute heels for your dinner out or Instagram moment, just pop them in your bag and whip them out at the right time.
13.) Book Your Accommodation Wisely
Hotel rooms in New York are notoriously expensive and diminutive. Luckily, if you are anything like us, you won’t be spending an awful lot of time in your room other than sleeping. Here are a couple of tips for booking accommodation for your trip to New York.
- Pick accommodation that is close to a transport hub (ideally a subway station). This allows you to get around the city quickly and to end the day easily when you are tired.
- To find a bigger room, book a double. These have two beds in and so, by default, have more space.
- If you are booking a hotel, remember to bring a credit card. The hotel will more often than not, ask to hold a charge on it which will be refunded when you leave. It allows them to charge you for incidentals.
- You must also bring the card you booked with or you may be asked to pay again.
- If you are booking through Airbnb, don’t book a whole apartment! As well as adding to a housing issue within New York, residents renting out whole apartments is actually illegal so you may end up being evicted from the accommodation part-way through your stay.
14.) Jaywalk Wisely…or Not At All
Jaywalking is technically illegal in New York but it is often ignored by locals. If you are used to strolling across empty roads whenever you fancy, you will need to think a little harder to change the habit. You should definitely not cross in front of the police but if others are taking advantage of a clear moment, you may be able to join them.
When crossing at lights (crosswalks), stop when the red hand shows, and walk when the white man appears. In New York, cars are allowed to turn left even when you are crossing so stay alert and look for cars coming around the corner.
15.) Learn your Cross Streets
There is something immensely satisfying about New York’s street grid system. Although there are some wandering streets, the majority of Manhattan is set into rectangular blocks edged by simply named roads. In general, the avenues run between up and downtown whilst the streets runs perpendicularly across Manhattan. It makes it much harder to get lost. However, these things so happen. If you are looking for something specific it really helps to look up the cross streets first. This will help you find it, or help anyone you ask for directions.
16.) Get Out of Manhatten if You Have Time
When visiting New York, especially if you are on a tight schedule, it can seem like Manhatten is everything. To be honest, you can easily spend a week in Manhatten and not run out of things to do, but to get a real sense of New York City, take in some more of the five boroughs. Here is a quick highlight of each of these special spots.
Head north…way north, for the outpost of The Met, The Cloisters. The Cloisters is a beautiful building emulating monasteries around the world. It houses medieval art from the 12th – 15th century. The courtyards provide a peaceful and cool place to escape from the summer city heat.
We’re going to the zoo! Central Park may be the most famous zoo in NYC thanks to the Madagascar films but the Bronx Zoo is next level. It is one of the USA’s biggest zoos and not only does it introduce visitors to marvellous creatures from around the world, but helps run incredibly important conservation around the globe/ It’s nice to know that your tourist dollars are going towards incredible work.
When it comes to Brooklyn, Williamsburg gets all the hype. With a ridiculous amount of amazing eateries, bars and food markets (Smorgersburg for the win), it is for good reason. However, we have a secret love of Coney Island and recommend it for a lovely sunny day out. Enjoy a few rides, relax on the beach and munch on a Nathan’s hotdog. Life runs at a very different pace here. Plus, the hot dog eating contest on Independence Day is hilarious!
For fully authentic Chinese cuisine, hop on the subway to Flushing. If you know us here at Flying Fluskey, you know we are all about dumplings. If you want to get hooked on dumplings too, make a beeline for Dumpling Galaxy. This place does interesting modern flavours and lamb which is unusual outside of very Northern Chinese restaurants. If soup dumplings are your thing, you can’t beat Shanghai You Garden Dumpling House. Pork, prawn and crab xiao long bao are all on the menu.
This is known as New York’s forgotten borough.It is largely residential and was once used as a giant landfill. However, it still deserves a visit. For starters, the free ferry between Manhatten and Staten Island is just a great view of the city and the Statue of Liberty. Discover Fort Wadsworth, a decommissioned military building that sits within a huge park. You can learn about Staten Island’s history, explore the tunnels beneath the fort or just snap some gorgeous photos of Downtown Manhatten.
17.) Hailing a Cab is Fun but Slow
You’ve seen it in countless movies. gorgeous ladies, weighed down with shopping bags just throw a manicured hand in the air and a yellow cab whisks them away. Well, it takes a little longer and a little more patience but you really can hail a taxi in New York by sticking your hand in the air and waiting. To do so:
- Make your way to a street where the traffic is running in the right direction, or to the correct side of a two-way street.
- Stand on the edge of the curb and put your hand in the air.
- When you see a taxi approaching with the centre of their light on, stretch your hand out a little further to indicate you need a ride. (If the whole sign is lit up, or completely dark, they aren’t picking up).
- Hop in the cab, ask the driver how they are and let them know where you want to go.
- Don’t forget to tip.
Catching a taxi means you can travel door to door but it does have its drawbacks too. Finding a taxi in the rain can be tricky and you may end up wetter trying to flag one down than just dashing to a subway. You may also be paying to sit in a whole lot of traffic. As you might imagine, there are a lot of cars on the road and you can spend an age going a few blocks. Again, check google maps or city mapper to see if it would be quicker to catch the subway (or even just to walk).
18.) Don’t Eat at Chain Places
We are all guilty of this. After years of watching TV programmes about the USA, we are tempted to try all of those food places we have heard of (Wendys, Applebees, White Castle, Olive Garden, Chipotle, Taco Bell, Panda Express etc etc etc). However, New York City is not the place to indulge in these. Instead, it is a chance to try glorious food from all over the globe.
Check out The Best Savoury Eats in New York
Now, we aren’t saying it has to be fancy, there is affordable food all over NYC and it is great fun travelling the world by using your tastebuds. From the beautiful Chinese options in Flushing and China Town to the Russian cuisine in Brighton Beach, via thick Cuban sandwiches, mouth-tingling tacos and delicate Japanese delights, there is something for everyone. Test yourself and try some new things.
Got a sweet tooth? Read Sweet Treats you Must Try in New York
19.) Plan Your Combos
This mostly involves getting a drink somewhere with inflated prices but a great view. For example, Top of the Strand on the 21st floor of the Strand Hotel in Midtown offers a decent cocktail menu and a lovely view of the Empire State Building. As night falls, it is fun to watch the lights flick on one by one. Similarly, 230 Fifth is a high open-air terrace with a view of the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings. The drinks aren’t that great but the view definitely is.
Further Uptown, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is topped by the The Cantor Roof Garden Bar with a gorgeous view of the park. It is a nice place to sit and while away a late lunch or early cocktail hour with its benches, tables and huge lawn. You don’t actually have to buy anything to be up here but…well…why not!?
20.) Pack Layers
This doesn’t just apply for those tricky shoulder seasons but all year. In the height of summer, New York is hot and sticky outside but Baltic inside. The air-conditioning is freezing and though it seems refreshing for the first few minutes, during a long subway journey, Broadway show, or meal indoors, you may well need a cardigan/light jacket/shawl to keep the goose pimples at bay.
On the flipside, to escape the cold winds of mid-winter, you will be ducking into shops, restaurants, subways and museums. these are all merrily heated so make sure you have layers you can easily ditch. You don’t want to end up feeling like a cooked turkey. Zip-fronted layers are great for this.
21.) Avoid the Horse and Carriage Rides
It may sound like a romantic dream. You and your significant other, holding hands and snuggled under a blanket as you slowly clop through a snowy Central Park. Keep it as a romantic dream. Firstly, the whiff of horse manure really takes the edge off the whole thing, but much more importantly, it is said these horses are not treated well. Standing for hours, on hard road surfaces is no good for them and we can’t be sure of their welfare. Until better regulations are put in place and motor traffic is restricted in central Park, we don’t support this activity.
22.) Drink the Water
Drinking water in New York City is perfectly safe and shouldn’t cause you insides any distress. This means you can drink free tap water or icy drinks to your heart’s content without worrying about anything worse than a touch of brain freeze. If you are nervous, have it boiled into oblivion by grabbing a coffee at one of the whopping 277 Starbucks outlets in the city…or another homegrown coffee shop.
23.) Factor in Tax
As well as adding a substantial tip to your meal tab, don’t forget about tax. Unlike the UK, the USA displays prices without including this added cost. This means you need to remember to add it to a food bill or your shopping. Don’t bother getting the exact change out for that pair of jeans you have in the till queue. There is going to be another 9% or so when you get to the front and you’ll have to scramble in your purse all over again.
You will also need to pay hotel taxes on arrival at your accommodation. This is around 15% of the cost and another $3.50 per night. This is especially important to remember if you are on a tight budget. You don’t want all your spending money to go to the hotel before you’ve even started.
New York is busy…it’s PACKED, and when something is popular, there is a queue. They say British people love to queue but I have spent many more hours stationary in NYC than in London. It is only to be expected in a busy city full of locals in search of the newest things to do as well as millions of tourists. The line for the toilet in MoMA was 10 minutes. Waiting for a Friend’s pop up was around two hours. Oh, and the queue for the Shake Shack hut in Madison Square Park is never-ending.
Don’t even get us started about getting “on line” at JFK Airport’s TSA….it is a new level of queueing stress.
25.) Take Out Comprehensive Travel Insurance
I cannot stress this enough. Travel Insurance is so important, especially when visiting the USA from elsewhere in the world. The cost of medical care in the United States is eye-watering. It is more than most mere mortals can cover by themselves. You will also be covered for cancelled flights, stolen luggage, changes in threat levels at your destination and if a loved one falls ill at home. If you aren’t convinced, check out this post all about why travel insurance is vital! World Nomads is a very well respected provider for those of us who like an adventure or three.
Final Thoughts on These Tips for Visiting New York City for the First Time
New York is a truly unique city with a strength of personality unmatched around the world. Whether you are popping through for a hasty city break or lingering for a full week of sightseeing, you can’t help but be bowled over by New York. The city imprinted on me like I was a newborn chick on my first visit 20 years ago. As a result, I am always ready to return at the drop of a Yankees Cap.
If you have any more tips, we would love to hear them so drop us a comment. If you are off to NYC, HAVE THE BEST TIME!