Last Updated on January 20, 2020 by Anisa
New York City is like no other city in the world and it’s definitely a place that everyone must visit. There are so many iconic spots – The Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Central Park, Times Square, and more. It can be overwhelming though, especially the first time.
To help those of you planning a trip to NYC, I thought I would share some of the things I learned during my 13 years of living in Manhattan. Even if you have visited NYC before, you may find these tips for visiting New York City for the first time helpful too.
A few of these NYC insider tips might surprise you, these are important things to know about New York before visiting. If you have additional questions, just leave a comment and I am happy to answer.
Also, be sure to check out my printable travel planning checklist to help you prepare for your trip.
Note: This post contains affiliate links. Please see disclosure for more information.
Planning Your First Visit to NYC
I am going to start off my list of NYC travel tips with some things to consider when you are planning your first visit to New York. If possible, I suggest that you start planning your trip at least a month in advance. It will make a big difference if you have time to get organized and do your research before you leave.
I know sometimes it is fun to just wing it, but that doesn’t always work for New York City. There is just so much to do, you are going to need to prioritize and come up with a plan.
If you have your heart set on certain popular attractions, if you don’t book ahead, you won’t be able to go. For example, the Broadway show Hamilton is usually sold out almost a year in advance. If you don’t book ahead, you could try the Hamilton lottery or pay through the roof on StubHub but there are no guarantees.
If you want to visit the crown of the Statue of Liberty, you should book a few months in advance, especially if you are planning on going on a weekend. Also, free tickets for the popular tv show tapings in NYC should be booked at least a few weeks in advance.
The Best Time to Visit New York City
You may be wondering what time of year you should visit NYC. The good news is that New York City is an amazing place to visit all year round, so choosing the right time depends on your preferences. Weather is usually nicest in May, June, and September. The fall colors are usually at their peak towards the end of October. Winter in NYC will be cold!
If you are on a budget or want to avoid the most crowded times, I would avoid coming in the summer or around Christmas. While there are lots of special things to see in NYC at those times, the prices for accommodation goes through the roof. The cheapest time to visit New York is in February, just avoid Valentine’s and President’s Day Weekends, but be prepared for freezing weather and possible snow.
If you do plan on visiting during the Christmas season, check out my post for recommendations for things to do during the holidays in NYC.
Be careful about booking Airbnbs as many are illegal
In most of New York City, it’s now illegal to advertise or rent an entire apartment for less than 30 days unless the host is present and there are only one or two guests. I would be careful even just renting one room because if the host has rented the other rooms and is not living there it could be illegal too.
Honestly, I wouldn’t risk it, I think it is better to spend a little more and get a hotel. You don’t want to find out last minute that you can’t stay where you were planning on staying or even worse have to move out of your vacation rental. NYC is one case where hotels are a better option than vacation rentals.
Choose a hotel in a convenient location
If you are wondering where to stay on your first visit to NYC, I would recommend choosing a central location. You will be walking a lot and at the end of the day, you will be exhausted. It’s nice to be close to your hotel so that a taxi ride is not too expensive.
Koreatown/Herald’s Square may not be the trendiest neighborhood, but it is really central and you can find reasonable (per NY standards) hotels. I like the Hampton Inn. (Click here to check current price and availability or read Tripadvisor reviews here). Before I lived in NYC, I would stay at the Sheraton New York Hotel. It is on the edge of Times Square and close to Central Park. (Click here to check current rates and availability or read Tripadvisor reviews here.)
If you are on a budget, I would recommend trying one of the Pod hotels. The rooms are tiny, but you will save some money. Plus, the Pod 39 hotel has a nice rooftop bar. (Click here to check price and availability for the Pod 39 hotel or read Tripadvisor reviews here.)
If you are coming to NYC for one of the big events in Times Square (like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade), I would recommend booking the Marriott Marquis. You may get lucky and have a view of the action from your room. (Click here to check current rates and availability or read Tripadvisor reviews here.)
If you are traveling with the family, check out this list of where to stay in NYC with kids.
Tips for Things to See Your First Time in NYC
You should start thinking about what you want to see on your trip because you have to prioritize. There are so many things to do in NYC! It may be hard to decide which attractions to go to on your first visit to NYC with all the options, but hopefully, these NYC tips will help.
Take advantage of the amazing museums
I know some people don’t like museums, but in NYC you should give them another chance. It’s the best thing to do when the weather is bad too. There are so many different museums I feel like there is something for everyone.
Some of my favorites are MOMA, The Met, the Tenement Museum, and the Brooklyn Museum. I also highly recommend a visit to the National September 11th Museum, it’s a difficult subject but it’s done well.
There are a few museums that are free and most museums have a day when you can get in free – check the details here.
You must visit Central Park
Central Park is my favorite place in New York City, so you must visit! Most people don’t realize how big it is and how much there is to see there. Plus, it’s beautiful and you can easily forget you are in the middle of Manhattan. You can visit the Park all year around. I love seeing the leaves change in the fall and the flowers bloom in the spring. During the summer, it is at its greenest. When it snows, it is beautiful too.
See NYC from above
To get a good sense of the size and density of New York, you need to see it from above. You have three options for observation decks: One World Observatory, the Empire State Building, and Top of the Rock. Personally, I prefer Top of the Rock because then you can take pictures that have the Empire State Building and the Freedom Tower (One World Trade) in them. If you purchase one of the New York attraction passes, Top of the Rock will be included.
If you don’t have an NYC tourist pass and you are on a budget, you can also get a great view from one of the cities rooftop bars. Of course, the summertime is peak rooftop season, but many NYC rooftop bars have indoor areas so you can go all year around. There are also a few that have heated areas and provide blankets. My favorite rooftops during the winter are Mr. Purple, Plunge, The Ides, and the Press Lounge. The 230 Fifth rooftop is also open all year, the views are great but personally, I think it’s a bit touristy.
Walk over the Brooklyn Bridge
If the weather is decent, it is definitely worthwhile to do a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. There is just something special about it and the views are fantastic. You can even see the Statue of Liberty.
Fair warning though, unless you go early it will be crowded and you need to watch out for the bikes. They will run you over if you are not careful. Also, please don’t leave any love locks. They are not good for the bridge and will be cut off anyway.
Once you cross the bridge, you might want to break for some pizza? Try Juliana’s!
Get out on the water
I love the view of the NYC skyline from the water, so if you have time, I would recommend taking a boat ride. If you are on a budget, just take the Staten Island Ferry. It’s free and you pass right by the Statue of Liberty. There are also several different boat tours included in the different NYC attraction passes. If you would like to splurge, I can recommend the Bateaux dinner cruises.
Visit the “other” boroughs
New York City is more than Manhattan, so to really do NYC, you need to visit the other boroughs – Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island. In case you are wondering what you can do in the outer boroughs, here are a few ideas:
- Brooklyn – Brooklyn Bridge Park has a lovely view of Manhattan, check out the street art in Bushwick, Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, Brooklyn Museum, Coney Island
- The Bronx – NY Botanical Garden, go see a Yankees game, visit the Real Little Italy (Arthur Avenue)
- Queens – Go see a Mets Game at Citifield, check out the Museum of the Moving Image, visit Gantry Plaza State Park for amazing views of midtown Manhattan
- Staten Island – Great view of downtown Manhattan from the Staten Island Ferry, See the Staten Island Yankees (minor league baseball team), visit the Staten Island Museum
You can’t see everything in one trip
I lived in NYC for 13 years and there are still museums I want to go to, restaurants I never got to try, and Broadway shows I still need to see. You are not going to see everything on one trip even if you stay for a month. Not even if you follow all the New York City trip tips ever written! But that’s ok, the good news is that you always have a reason to come back to NYC
Tips to Save Money When Visiting NYC
Depending on where you are traveling from, you may be surprised at some of the prices when you visit New York City. NYC can be expensive, but there are some easy ways to save money and still enjoy yourself. I want to share a few tips for visiting NYC on a budget.
NYC tourist passes can save you money
If your plan is to see as much as possible, one of the NYC attraction passes is your best bet. The admission prices for things to do in NYC add up fast. You can save money and even skip a few lines if you have a NY tourist pass. You have a few options to choose from. I wrote a post with more information to help you figure out which NY attractions pass is best for you.
You don’t have to stand in the TKTS line to get cheap Broadway tickets
Most people know about the TKTS discount booth in Times Square, but that is not the only way to get discounted tickets. Try to stay open to seeing any Broadway show, there are so many good ones, it will open up more options. You can use an app, website, join a club, Groupon, or try the lottery. Read my post for all the details on how to get cheap Broadway tickets
Chinatown is the cheapest place to get your I heart NYC souvenirs
You will find tourist shops all over the city, but I have found the ones in Chinatown to be the cheapest. In some of the shops there you can even bargain. The worst thing that happens is that they say no. While you are in Chinatown, consider having some Dim Sum, it’s quite the experience, my favorite spot is Golden Unicorn.
Take advantage of free seasonal events
It’s New York City so there is always something going on! You will find lots of great outdoor free events in the summer. There are plenty of free events at different times of the year. Some of the other things I look forward to are the Macy Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Easter Bonnet Parade, Chinese New Year, and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Of course, there is also watching the ball drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. I did do that once when it was not too cold and I’m not sure I would do it again. Especially if it is cold, I wouldn’t recommend doing it. You just have to wait outside for a long time. Don’t plan on going to one of the nearby restaurants to watch the ball drop, they will all have outrageous cover charges.
Tips to Eat Well in New York City
One of my favorite things about NYC is the food. I think you will find some of the best food anywhere in the world here. I wouldn’t worry about calories too much, since you will be getting a lot of exercise walking around.
When it comes to eating in New York, you have plenty of restaurants and cuisines to choose from. I have a few tips and recommendations that will help.
Don’t eat at chain restaurants
New York has some of the best restaurants in the world! Don’t waste your meal here on the chains, you can do that at home. In NYC you can choose from pretty much any cuisine and many different price points, so there is something for even the fussiest eaters. Most restaurants are also pretty good about catering to those with dietary restrictions like gluten-free or vegetarian/vegan.
There are many fabulous markets/food halls in New York City, like Gotham West, Urbanspace Vanderbilt, and Gansevoort Market, which have a variety of food options. Everyone can find something they like! If you want to sample several different foods, you might enjoy this Chelsea Market Tour.
Better yet, maybe you want to try a foodie spot that is one of the most instagrammable places in NYC.
You don’t have to spend a lot to eat well
Don’t think that you have to go to a fancy restaurant to eat well. There are plenty of great food options that are relatively cheap. Some of my favorite affordable eats are Mandoo Dumpling Bar, Empanada Mama, Pongal, Mamoun’s, Xi’an Famous Foods, and Caracas Arepa Bar. Also, check out this list of more cheap New York City restaurants or my recommendations for NY Pizza below.
Also, if you happen to be in NYC during Restaurant Week you can dine at some of the top restaurants for significantly less than normal. Three-course dinners are $35 when they would normally could be $80 or more. You have to select from a special Restaurant Week menu. Also, be sure to make a reservation in advance.
Note: Although it is called Restaurant Week, it usually last a couple of weeks and happens once in the winter and once in the summer.
Don’t just settle for any pizza (especially ones selling $1 slices)
NYC is famous for its pizza, but not all pizza in New York is created equal. Please avoid those places that sell a slice for $1. You get what you pay for! My favorite NYC pizza places are Adrienne’s on Stone Street, Lombardi’s, Don Antonio, and Juliana’s (in Brooklyn). Pizza lovers may also enjoy taking a half day NYC pizza tour.
Try some food trucks
I know to some people it might seem weird to eat food from a food truck, but in NYC people do it all the time. Food trucks offer a variety of different food options, but sometimes they are hard to find. Download the app TruxMap to help, although it is not a comprehensive list. In my opinion, some of the best NYC food trucks are Kimchi Taco, Gorilla Cheese, Luke’s Lobster, Mr. Bing, Souvlaki GR and Mac Truck.
Save room for dessert
You are on vacation so you should treat yourself, right? If you are not excited about the dessert options at the restaurant where you had dinner, that’s ok. In New York, there are several places that actually only serve dessert. Some of my favorites are Ferrara, Chickalicious, Veneiro’s, Dominique Ansel Bakery, and Spot Dessert (there are locations in the East Village and Koreatown).
If you are a chocolate lover, you try Max Brenner’s, the Jacques Torres’ Chocolate Museum, or some of the best hot chocolate in NYC. For the best New York Cheesecake, go to Junior’s, it was originally from Brooklyn, but now there are two locations in the Times Square area. I also recommend going to Black Tap for the best freakshakes. There will most likely be a line so try to go at an off time.
Also, I could write a whole post about the amazing ice cream you can find in NYC. My favorite is Ample Hills where you need to try the Ooey Gooey flavor. If you are looking for something even more unusual, you can try the rolled ice cream at 10 Below, egg waffle ice cream at Wowfuls or Eggloo, or ice cream in a fish-shaped cone at Taiyaki.
Don’t eat at low-grade restaurants
In NYC, restaurants are required to display the results of their recent health inspections. They use a similar scale to schools here with A being the best and F (for failing) being the worst. I usually try to stick to restaurants that got an A, but occasionally I will make exceptions. I don’t recommend trying any places with grades C or lower. The last thing you want on your vacation is to get sick!
Tips to Get Around New York City
It almost goes without saying but don’t rent a car when you visit NYC. Still, you are going to need to get around the city to see different attractions. Some places you may be able to walk between but others you may need to take public transportation. In NYC, this can be intimidating. Don’t worry though, I know you can manage. Here are a few tips for tourists in NYC to help get around.
Do not rent a car in NYC
You don’t need a car because NYC has a good public transportation system. Plus, you can walk to some places or take taxis/ubers if necessary. Parking in NYC is expensive, so you could spend more money on parking than the actual car rental. Also, parking in NYC is limited, so you would waste a lot of time looking for parking spots and then still have to walk.
Having a car in NYC is more hassle than it is worth. If you are visiting NYC as part of a road trip, I would recommend finding a spot to park your car outside of Manhattan and just leaving it there during your visit.
Wear comfortable but stylish shoes
Even if you take the subway or cabs a lot, you will probably walk more than you are used to. Please don’t wear uncomfortable shoes, they could make you miserable. There are some areas with cobblestones (especially downtown and in the Meatpacking District) and plenty of others with uneven ground. The sidewalks and roads in NYC can be interesting!
For women, don’t wear thin heels or anything that you can’t walk in. For me, I live in these Sketcher ballet flats, which are the perfect combination of comfortable and nice looking. If you are used to walking in wedges, those are a good option too. In the winter, boots are ideal because they will also help keep you warm.
I also would not recommend wearing sneakers or flip-flops when going out in the evenings because nicer bars and clubs will not let you in. It’s even more strict for men as most bars will turn them away if they are dressed in sneakers or sandals. Check out this post for more recommendations on comfortable stylish shoes for walking.
The subway may be the fastest form of transportation
NYC can have terrible traffic at any time of the day or night. That’s why the subway can be your fastest way to get from point A to point B. I know the subway can be intimidating especially for those that are not used to taking public transportation, but it’s not that bad! Trust me you will save time and money. You will need a MetroCard, which you can buy at any subway station, to pay the fare.
Here are a few NYC subway tips:
- Download a subway app – You can use google maps to help you get around, but Citymapper is another free app that has a few additional nice features. It will tell you which train car is the best spot to be riding in to be closest to your exit or transfer walkway. You can access the Official NYC subway map, Manhattan bus map, Brooklyn bus map, and Queens bus map offline. Citymapper also has an alert function to let you know when you have reached your station.
- Let people off – Don’t start getting on the train until all the people that want to get off have exited. It’s just common courtesy.
- Consider getting an unlimited weekly MetroCard – Each subway ride costs $2.75, but you can get unlimited rides for seven days for $32. This means you only need to take 12 rides to make the weekly card worth it. That’s only 2 rides per day. You may even be able to get your money’s worth if you are in NYC less than a week.
- Have your MetroCard ready – Don’t stop to look for your MetroCard and block others from entering the subway. Either have it ready or step to the side.
- Check the train you are getting on – Multiple trains may stop at the same platform, make sure you are getting the right one. Also, be careful and check if you are getting on an express train or not. Express trains do not stop at every station. If you are not sure, just ask someone.
- Check for service changes on weekends – The subway has a lot of changes due to repair work late at night or on the weekends. Make sure you check the MTA Weekender to see how any changes might affect you.
I could go on, actually, I should probably write a whole post on just this!
Always carry an umbrella
Since you will be outside a fair bit, you need to be prepared for the weather. In addition to dressing for the temperatures, you should be prepared in case it rains. I like to keep a small umbrella in my handbag just in case. You can get a compact one on Amazon – click here to check price and availability.
Don’t block the whole sidewalk
New Yorkers walk fast and nothing annoys them more than people slowing them down. Please make sure they can get around you on the sidewalks. New York streets and sidewalks are busy places and be aware of how you’re using them. If you are in a group, walk in pairs rather than four across. Also, be aware of where you are when you stop to look at the map on your phone, try to stand off to the side.
Be careful crossing the streets
Drivers in NYC are aggressive so you need to pay attention. I have had some close calls myself. Don’t just follow the person in front of you. You need to look and make sure it is safe to cross the street. Be especially careful if you are traveling with children.
Watch out for the smells!
NYC has cleaned itself up a lot over the years, but I would not call it clean. You will most likely come across some pretty unpleasant smells. If you see an empty subway car, especially during rush hour, don’t go in it! The reason it is empty is probably because it is full of an awful smell. I would also recommend avoiding elevators in any subway station as those usually stink as well.
A Few General Tips for Visiting New York for the First Time
These tips for NYC tourists don’t really fit in any category but I think they are helpful to know.
NYC does sleep!
You may know New York City as the city that never sleeps, but actually, it does! Early in the mornings on the weekends (before 9 am) the streets are pretty quiet. If you want pictures without lots of other people in them, this is the time to get them. You can even find Times Square quiet early in the morning on the weekends.
Tipping is engrained in the culture
Tipping is a way of life in NYC, even more than in many other US cities. You need to tip at restaurants, for taxis, spa treatments, and hotels. Watch out at restaurants though, as some will automatically add a gratuity for parties of 5 or more.
Be alert and aware of your surroundings
Don’t worry New York City is a safe place, but like in any big city you need to be careful and use common sense.
Tips for Solo Female Travelers Visiting New York City
Most of the time I lived in NYC, I was single and spent plenty of time doing things on my own, so I can offer my advice. It’s not much different from other cities when it comes to traveling on your own, except there are probably more solo travelers in NYC than many other places. As I mentioned, New York City is safe but as a solo female traveler don’t let down your guard. Here are a few additional tips that solo travelers in NYC might find helpful.
- Expect to get cat calls, but ignore it and don’t let it bother you. The same with unwanted conversations in other places. Don’t feel like you have to be friendly. It doesn’t matter what those people think of you. It’s doubtful you would ever run into them again.
- Be mindful of how much you drink especially when there is an open bar, as alcohol will impair your judgement.
- Don’t feel self-conscious about dining alone. It is more common in NYC than many other cities. If you are not used to dining by yourself, then it might be easier if you sit at the bar or choose a more casual cafe.
- If you feel lonely, consider joining a tour that you are interested in. There is a good chance you might meet other liked-minded travelers.
Ok, so those are my top tips for visiting New York City, did I miss anything? Let me know if you have any other questions. You will have a great time.
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Expert Tips for Visiting New York for the First Time
- You should spend some time in advance planning your trip so you know what you want to see and are able to get tickets before they sell out.
- Use public transportation (the NYC subway), in many cases, it is the fastest way to get around.
- Enjoy the food in NYC, it’s some of the best in the world. Take advantage of all the different options!
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