New York City is a popular tourist destination for a reason – it’s full of culture, excitement, and endless things to do. However, if you’re not from New York or if it’s your first time visiting, there are definitely some things you need to know before heading into the Big Apple. In this blog post, we will provide practical travel tips for New York City that will help make your visit as enjoyable as possible!
Do Not Rent a Car in NYC
First things first, please don’t rent a car. New York City is congested, the traffic is overwhelming and parking is near impossible. You better know how to parallel park like a champion if you do drive. Or, have lots of money per day to park. Most hotels do not have parking garages. When you do find parking expect to pay up to $70 per day.
The major airports in New York City are LaGuardia, Newark, and JFK. LaGuardia is the closest airport to midtown Manhattan and the most “affordable” option for a taxi ride.
I only ride in a taxi to and from the airports. After that public transportation, aka, the subway system, is the best mode of transportation in New York City and definitely the most cost-efficient.
Stay at a Convenient Location
If you are traveling to New York City for the first time, I suggest staying in Midtown Manhattan.
I stay at a specific hotel each time that is affordable, clean, and nice. The best part is I can get anywhere in the city in less than 15 minutes on the subway. This hotel is by the Empire State Building, Summit One NYC, Bryant Park, and the famous Macys.
Other great neighborhoods to stay in New York City:
Know Your Boroughs & Neighborhoods of New York City
There are five boroughs in New York City: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island. Each has its own unique character and culture.
- Manhattan is the most densely populated borough and is home to many of the city’s iconic tourist destinations, such as Times Square and the Empire State Building.
- Brooklyn is known for its large hipster population and vibrant arts scene.
- Queens is ethnically diverse, with a large number of immigrants from all over the world.
- The Bronx is home to Yankee Stadium and the Botanical Gardens.
- Staten Island is known for its scenic waterfront views and fantastic food.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Subways in NYC!
The NYC subway system is one of the most efficient means of public transportation in the world. It’s quick, convenient, and a great way to quickly get around town.
- You will need a MetroCard for entry into the subways systems. There are kiosks at any of the terminals. Your best bet is to purchase the unlimited seven-day pass for $33 or you can pay per ride.
- Never get into an empty subway car. It is not safe.
- Never sit in the empty seats in the corners of the subway trains. Please don’t.
- Never stand near the edge of platforms (some trains are express which stop very quickly and you could easily be knocked onto the tracks), and always be aware of your surroundings.
- I use Google Maps to navigate the New York City subway system. I find it the most detailed in giving directions to my destination. Google Maps will tell me exactly which street corner to head down, which train when it is arriving etc.
- Pay attention to the “Uptown” and “Downtown” trains. The letter of trains A, B, C, etc. will be the same the the north and southbound trains will indicate Uptown and Downtown. If you get on the wrong train, you’ll head in the opposite direction.
- If you do happen to get on the wrong train, don’t panic, it’s ok. It happens. I ride the subway trains while in New York City solo all the time, if I can do it, so can you.
- If you do get lost, do not be afraid to ask someone for help. New Yorkers have a bad rap for being rude and unfriendly, but the opposite is true. They are more than willing to help someone out.
Do Not Stay In Times Square
There’s a love-hate relationship with Times Square. Go visit and explore Times Square is a must when you travel to New York City. If you are exploring NYC at night, Times Square of a must, just please do not book a hotel or Airbnb in Times Square or close.
Times Square is crowded. Yes, the entire island of Manhattan is crowded and there are literally millions of people. However, Times Square is a new level of crowded, street performers in your space, crowds sometimes shoulder to shoulder in this strip of the street.
Stay somewhere convenient to get around town, especially if it is your first time in New York City.
Do Not Eat in Times Square
While there may be some good restaurants in Times Square, you will pay a pretty penny for the food and it’s mainly chain restaurants.
When I first went to New York City, I of course stayed and ate in Times Square. You will pay upward of $26 for a sandwich that is subpar.
Do Not Eat at Chain Restaurants
A chain restaurant may look and feel like home, but dang it, you are in New York City!
New York City is full, I mean full, of some of the best places to eat and restaurants in the world. There are so many quaint cafes, coffee, bagel, and donuts shops, over-the-top dining experiences, amazing pizzerias. Try some.
I have never had a bad dining experience in New York City. The restaurant world in NYC is highly competitive and they must be the best. Therefore, most are fantastic.
If you are ever out of suggestions, try Yelp or Open Table for a dining suggestion. New Yorkers will not point you in the wrong direction when it comes to food, just read the reviews.
Or, while in a coffee shop or standing on a street corner, ask a local this, “if you had to eat at one restaurant for the rest of your life in NYC, which would it be?”
I have done this a few times and have had the best meals of my life.
Always, always look in a restaurant window or food vendor cart. Look for their health inspection certificate, go for the A, always.
Make sure if you are going to a popular restaurant, get a reservation well in advance. You will wait hours sometimes for a seat.
New York Travel Tip: Food vendors will try to price gouge. Do not let them. There is a set price for food vendors, especially in Central Park and the more touristy areas. A hot dog should never cost more than $4.00, that is actually high. If you feel the price of food from the vendor is high, leave and find another.
Do Not Ride the Horse Drawn Carriages In Central Park
Please, please do not ride the horse-drawn carriages in Central Park. These animals endure hours upon hours of hard work in climates and conditions that are not always great. The asphalt is hard on their feet and they rarely receive breaks from the hard surfaces.
It may seem dreamy and romantic, but it’s cruel. There are accidents all the time, and the horses are euthanized right there.
If you want a ride through Central Park, employ a person on a pedicab that is working hard for money or do a fantastic motorized scooter tour that will take you to all the awesome places in Central Park you may miss. Or rent a bike which is an amazing way to see Central Park.
Get on the Double Decker Bus
These double-decker buses get a bad rap and I do not know why. Dorky, maybe? I think if you are going to New York City for the first time, this is an excellent way to see everything, and it is great as a hop-on and off way of transportation.
However, pay for your bus tour ahead of time and avoid paying someone cash outside of your hotel or in Times Square for a bus ticket.
There is no shame in the double-decker bus game. It is actually fun and you will see lots of New York City you may not see in the underground subway system.
Additionally, using a pass to several attractions and sightseeing spots in New York City can be beneficial.
Tipping is Customary
Tipping is standard in New York City. The Naked Cowboy in Times Square even wants you to “put a tip in his geeeetar.” I’m not kidding. Any of the street performers, or characters, if you take a picture or interact with them, they expect a tip.
Waiters, waitresses, drivers, taxi cab drivers, tour guides, pedicab drivers, bellmen should be tipped. Depending on the activity, 15%-22% is a good tip. These people work hard in a tough, expensive city. Tip accordingly.
It’s a Big City! Pace Yourself
New York City is so small, yet so BIG, so don’t try to do everything at once – it’ll just leave you feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.
Plan your activities and restaurants according to areas and neighborhoods all in advance. What do you want to see the absolute most in NYC? If you have time left over, then have some backups.
Buy your tickets and experiences in advance before you arrive. Many of the popular tourist attractions have long lines and can be quite crowded – especially during the spring and fall months. There are also a lot of great deals to be had on Broadway shows and other events if you buy tickets well in advance!
New York City Travel Tip: Get Your Guide is the best place to buy your tickets for tours, attractions, and museums tickets. Travel plans change and you can cancel your tickets up to 24 hours before your arrival for a full refund. They also have the best prices and skip-the-line options.
Keep Yourself and Items Safe
Is New York City safe? Overall, absolutely. I have never felt unsafe in New York City, even NYC at night, other than in the Times Square area. Pickpocketing is a problem in New York City, but always be alert of your surroundings. Keep your wallet/phone hidden from view at all times and don’t carry too much cash on hand.
- Use an anti-theft backpack or crossbody while doing tourist attractions. Tourists are a target in these populated areas.
- Get a credit card pouch/sleeve for your phone. My guess if you have your phone on you at all times.
- Keep a loaded prepaid Mastercard or Visa in the safe of your hotel room. This is a “just in case” you lose your cards or cash. I also have copies of my ID and Passport.
- Never get cash out of an ATM that is not in a bank. They are hotbeds for credit card number theft.
- This is my very favorite item for traveling in general, especially in NYC, where I am constantly draining my phone. I suggest buying a power bank/portable phone charger, it’s a life-saver.
Wear Comfortable Shoes and Bring Layers
If you are doing the tourist thing in New York City, wear comfortable shoes and clothes. This may be a given, but bring comfortable shoes and bring your Christian Louboutin’s for a night out in the city.
You will walk A LOT. In one day, I log about 7-8 miles of walking in New York City.
Check the weather before arriving. In spring and fall, the weather may feel warm, but wind funnels through the big skyscrapers and streets, and it can get very chilly. Bring a couple of extra layers.
Dock Your Citibike
Renting Citibikes is a fun activity in New York City. I am not going to lie. A little scary too. If you do rent a bike, you must have the app downloaded, and I would do this before you arrive.
Locals, bike messengers, and food deliveries use the bike lanes as the fastest means of getting somewhere, and they mean business. So stay out of their way, stay to the right as much as possible. If you want to see a New Yorker mad, this is how you do it, getting in their way.
Do not confuse the bus lanes with bike lanes, obey all traffic patterns, lights, and stop signs and stay off sidewalks.
Here’s the biggest NYC tip. Dock your Citibike properly when you are done riding. I had the misfortune of not docking my bike correctly. Make sure all the green lights light up, and you can’t pull the bike out of the dock. They will charge you $1200 for the bike, and your time will keep running. A lucky someone might even see it undocked and take it home.
See New York City Different Way
In the skyline: The best experiences in New York City are sometimes up high. When you are planning your trip, plan to see at least one observation deck (sky deck). We personally love Summit One NYC and The Edge NYC. There are so many to choose from, yet they are all pretty awesome.
By water: Planning a New York City view by water is also a great way to see the city’s skyline. There is plenty of boat and yacht experiences and tours that offer cocktails, brunch, lunch, or dinner.
In the air: New York City has some of the best, most amazing helicopter tours. You can drink champagne, see the city during the night or day, plan a proposal or even have one pick you up at the airport.
Get the Heck Out of the Way on The Sidewalks
Seriously. New Yorkers are very nice, gracious people. Until you get in the way or do not walk fast enough. Use the sidewalks like you would driving a car in America:
- The slow lane is on the right. If you are not keeping up with the pace, stay to the right.
- For the love that is all mighty, do not just stop in the middle of the sidewalk; move to the side out of the way of the people briskly walking.
- If you are in a group, walk in a line, not side by side, if there are a lot of people on the sidewalks.
The crosswalk signs mean nothing, too. If there are no cars turning or coming, go across the street. New Yorkers do not wait for a walk sign if no oncoming traffic is coming. They just go.
Additionally, if you are traveling with children to New York City, keep a close eye on them at all times. Keep them away from the sides of the streets and subway platforms. If you are bringing a stroller, buy a city stroller that is compact and can be easily put down to carry down into the subways or get into a cab. Make sure the stroller also, can handle the uneven streets and sidewalks of NYC.
Make it a Priority to See The National 9/11 Museum & Memorial
If you choose one thing to do in New York City, make it The National 9/11 Museum & Memorial. The National 9/11 Memorial & Museum is a tribute of remembrance and honor to the 2,983 people who were killed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, at the World Trade Center site, near Shanksville, Pa., and at the Pentagon.
This powerful museum and memorial capture first-hand accounts from survivors, first responders, and witnesses during one of America’s darkest days which unfolded before our eyes. Located within Ground Zero where the Towers once stood tall, is now a place for families to grieve and pay respects to those lost.
NOTE: Taking pictures at the memorial is of course ok. However, I have seen people take “selfies” which I find to be disrespectful. This area is very quiet, a time for reflection and respect.
Find Cheap or Free Things to do in NYC
New York City can be very expensive to visit. However, there are plenty of cheap and free things to do in the city that are well worth doing. Here are a couple of ideas:
- Roosevelt Island Tram– this cable car tram costs only a MetroCard swipe of $2.75 and gives you the most amazing views. You will ride across the East River from the Upper East Side to Roosevelt Island along the Queensboro Bridge. Once you are there, Roosevelt Island is full of interesting things to do, parks, and views of Manhattan.
- Check with NYC Museums for free days or “pay as you wish” days.
- Little Island is a hidden gem waiting to be explored. This unique park offers a quiet respite from the hustle and bustle of NYC. This is the most unique little park with benches for sitting, trees for shade, flowers, and a beautiful view of the skyline and the Hudson River.
4. Bryant Park located in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, is a popular spot for visitors and locals alike. The park features beautiful gardens, a lawn, fountains, and a variety of restaurants and shops. Bryant Park is also home to numerous events throughout the year, including free movie screenings, concerts, activities, and holiday markets.
5. The High Line. What once was an unused, elevated train track is now one of the most popular tourist destinations in New York City – The High Line. Tourists and locals flock to this awesome park/walkway to enjoy the beautiful gardens and stunning views of the cityscape. Free public tours are offered; information is found here.
6. Central Park Picnic. Grab a picnic prepared just for you and head to Central Park for the afternoon.
Things to do in NYC with teens!
Visit At Least One Museum in NYC
Museums in New York City are more than just art and artifacts; they are magnificent institutions that create an experience for their visitors. Even if you do not like museums, these are nothing like ones you have ever been to before. Try at least one. My favorite is The MET, and if you are traveling to New York City with children, The American Museum of Natural History.
Don’t Buy Tickets, Rides, Bags Off NYC Streets
You will be approached a million times by someone wanting to sell you something in New York City. Tickets, bus rides, Chanel bags, you name it.
If it seems too good to be true, it is.
Especially, if you snag a Louis Vuitton for $40 bucks. While it is not illegal for you to buy these items, they are fake, counterfeit, not real, whatever you want to call them. It is illegal for these people to be selling them.
Do some research on where those fake bags come from before you choose to buy one. And your “cheap tickets” to The Lion King on Broadway are most likely fake, and you will miss the show.
Use reputable companies and apps to purchase your tickets, experiences, and rides. Then head to 5th avenue and treat yourself to a new, real luxury bag while in New York City.
Explore Neighborhoods and Boroughs
Manhattan is a tiny island with millions of people and things to do. Most of the tourism is carried out in this borough. Do not be afraid to go into other New York City neighborhoods and branch out. Go off the beaten path, wander around where there isn’t a major attraction. A couple of ideas:
- After riding or walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, head towards Brooklyn Heights or Carroll Gardens, or Cobble Hill. This charming area is my favorite in all of NYC. Go to a tavern, have a cocktail or beer, and have a pizza at the popular neighborhood eatery, Lucali (stop and grab a bottle of your favorite wine, BYOB.)
- Head Uptown to Harlem for a cultural experience like no other. See Apollo Theatre, learn about the Harlem Renaissance, see the beautiful historic row houses, and head to the Red Rooster for cocktails and fantastic eats.
New York City is a Monet
What the heck does that mean?
Monet, not a famous artist, in this case, is slang. Monet means, it’s generally pleasing to look at from afar (ex., Instagram photos, Pinterest, and magazines) but up close, it’s a “mess.”
Do not get me wrong, New York City is beautiful, and there are areas that are extremely clean. But, well, it is dirty, and you will get a random whiff of something you didn’t want to smell. Be prepared for this. The subways are extra gross, the bathrooms (if you can find one) are small and old.
In SOME areas, the streets and sidewalks are dirty and sometimes piled with garbage waiting to be picked up. Just a heads up.
Avoid Long Tours
My very first time to New York many, many years ago, my then-husband and I booked the “Sex and the City” tour and the “Sopranos ” tour. The Sopranos tour went all the way into New Jersey and took eight hours. You cannot just get off or leave the tours.
I feel there are so many more important and awesome things to do than spend hours on a tour unless it really piques your interest. If you do find a tour that you REALLY want to do, of course, do it.
You can easily see certain TV shows’ apartments’, eat at restaurants your favorite stars dine, and see where certain shows were filmed, like Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment (don’t forget your Manolo’s), the Friends or Will and Grace building (which are very close to each other).
You just have to look online simply, and addresses are easily provided, even in Google Maps.
Plan Your Trip to New York City!
New York City is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world for a reason, it’s simply awesome, and there is nowhere in the world like it. There’s so much to see and do, and it can be a little overwhelming if it’s your first time visiting. I hope this post gave you some good, practical New York City tips. if you have any questions, please reach out! Happy travels to the Big Apple!
New York City Resources Wrap Up:
Best Deals on Flights: Skyscanner | Tickets, Tours, Attractions: Get Your Guide | Hotels: Booking.com | Budget Hotels (Where our family stays) Herald Square or Arlo Hotels | Midrange Hotel: The Library Hotel | Luxury Hotel: Baccarat Hotel or Equinox Hudson Yards | Broadway Shows: Vivid Seats | Restaurant recommendations & reservations: Open Table | Sightseeing Pass NYC | CityPass NYC | NYC Travel Essentials
- The Ultimate Guide to NYC: Where to Stay, Eat, Do
- Summit One Vanderbilt: New York’s Newest Cultural Experience
- Where to Stay in New York City-My view from my room was insane
- The Friends Experience: The One in New York City
This post may contain affiliate links. If one of the links is used, I may receive a small commission at no cost or obligation to you ever. Additionally, I am an Amazon Affiliate Partner, if a qualifying link is used, I will receive a small commission through Amazon.