I’m well-qualified to write these New York City travel tips, having lived just outside of Manhattan in Connecticut for most of my life. I’ve been lucky enough to have spent a lot of time there and have experienced almost every facet of this great city.
Just an hour train or car ride away, it was easy to visit for day trips and I also often stayed overnight at various friends’ and relatives’ apartments, extending my stay and getting a feel for what it’s like to live in the city (that’s the way us tri-staters refer to it – just “the city”). Having friends and family who lived in the city didn’t hurt either – they really got to know the ins and outs of the city and passed them on to me.
All this time spent in the city has given me a great deal of know-how on how to navigate its streets, places, and people. Even if you’ve visited NYC before, there’s probably a nugget among these New York City travel tips you can use the next time you visit what I consider the greatest American city as well as one of the greatest cities in the world.
New Yorkers have a bad reputation of being rude, but I say the rudest New Yorkers live in Westchester County, NY (just outside of the city), not in Manhattan. Those that live in the city are generally outspoken, friendly, and open-minded. They may be considered rude as they say what’s on their minds, but isn’t that better than being smiled at and then stabbed in the back? Now, I’m referring to the average New Yorker, not the hyper-rich who are much less friendly and often treat people very badly. Luckily, for the average visitor, you’ll probably never run into these folks as they stay in their own lofty little world of expensive stores, elite clubs, and penthouse apartments.
Streetwise Manhattan map
The most important New York City travel tip I can give you is to go out and get a Streetwise Manhattan map. These great little laminated maps are easy to open and close and small enough to be discreet (and you don’t want to draw too much attention to being a tourist generally – there are plenty of scammers and pickpockets that just love tourists). With this trusty map, you’ll easily be able to see where all the sights are and how to get to them using subways and buses whose routes are marked clearly on the map.
Taxis may be a fun way to get around, but they’re not only expensive, but they’re also slow when caught in traffic. The very best way to get around is to use the subways – they’re fast, inexpensive, and extremely efficient. No, the platforms aren’t pretty, but the whole system is a far cry from the bad old days of the ’60s and 70’s when the cars were covered in spray paint and trash while hoodlums and bums hung out in the stations and wandered the cars. Not only was it uglier, but it was also very dangerous. Now it’s cleaned up, more brightly lit, and patrolled regularly by the police.
This next New York City travel tip is all about being a pedestrian. Being a pedestrian in NYC is very different from any other city. Always look first before crossing a street – a sign telling you to walk is not very valuable. Also, if the sign says not to walk, you can go ahead if there are no cars coming. I’ve never heard of a person being ticketed for jaywalking in NYC. Everyone just uses their heads, watches where they’re going, and walks right into the street if it’s empty. You can always tell someone is a tourist as they heed all the signs, while all around them New Yorkers are just paying attention to what’s happening on the street and walking when it’s safe. Oh, and be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes!
Hotels in New York City are expensive – if you’ve found a cheap one somehow, it’s probably a rat-trap. If you’re on a budget and interested in visiting NYC on your road trip, consider staying in a hotel outside the city that’s near a train station and taking a train in. You’ll save over $100 a night.
When to go?
Avoid NYC during the holidays, although it seems like a fantastic time to go – all the lights and shows and the big sparkling tree at Rockefeller Center – it’s also when everyone else is there so there are more crushing crowds, less room on the subways, not a cab to be found, hotel room prices go through the roof, and it’s freezing cold with icy winds whipping down the wind tunnels that the long streets become in the winter. If it has snowed, except for that first hour or so after snow stops falling (then it’s gorgeous), all the pretty snow quickly turns into gray slush and massive icy ponds of water that your foot inevitably ends up sunk into up to the ankle. If you insist on going during this time, be prepared for all that I’ve listed above – it’s the same every year no matter what the economy is like, no matter what.
What’s my New York City travel tip for a great time to visit? Spring and fall in NYC are wonderful – neither too hot nor too cold, flowers bursting everywhere in the spring and the trees creating their own gorgeous show in the fall. Summer is very hot and humid and winter is very cold and bitter, so be prepared these conditions if you go during those times of the year.
Make sure to see a Broadway show when you’re in the city. It’s a must-do.
Other sights that you must see include Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Fifth Avenue (particularly the part just before where the downtown portion meets with Central Park), Ellis Island (as well as the lesser-known Tenement Museum) detailing the immigrant experience, Grand Central Terminal, Times Square, the Brooklyn Bridge, Chinatown, Little Italy, Greenwich Village, Soho, and South Street Seaport (particularly for dinner or drinks in the evening).
There are tons of great restaurants in NYC – some of the best restaurants in the world. Get a Zagat’s guide to help you decide where to go depending on your budget. One must-do New York City travel tip is to get a slice of pizza. New York offers the best pizza around (CT is the best in the country – Gourmet magazine has said this as well, so it’s not just my opinion), but NY runs a close second.
Watch your money in New York City – there are all kinds of people after it so is careful. Never use an ATM that’s not in/part of a bank – there are all kinds of scams associated with these and you can really get robbed in a big way. Keep your wallet in your front pocket if you’re a guy and keep your purse tucked up under your arm and the strap wrapped around your shoulder if you’re a woman. Never carry a lot of cash or flash it around. I’m not trying to scare you here – I’m just letting you know that we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.
My very favorite New York City travel tip is to take a dinner cruise if you can afford one. These cruises usually circle the island for great views of Manhattan and, of course, the Statue of Liberty. You’ll watch the sunset reflect off of the millions of windows on the buildings and turn every building golden. The dinners are usually very good and there is even entertainment after the sun sets. If you can’t afford one of these, go on the Staten Island Ferry – it’s cheap and you get to see the island from the water as well as a great view of the Statue of Liberty.
I love New York City, and I know you will, too. Be sure to use these New York City travel tips to make your next visit a great one!