So you’re planning a first-time visit to NYC, huh? Well, firstly, you are in for a right treat. And secondly, you’ve come to the right place! Having recently returned from spending 4 days in New York, I’ve learnt first-hand some must-know tips for visiting New York City for the first time. From how to behave and how to master the subway, to cheap tickets and the best place to stay, read on if you want to make your first visit to the Big Apple an absolute breeze!
1. Pick up an Unlimited Ride MetroCard
The subway will be your best friend in New York. You will use it every day. That’s why it’s worth picking up an Unlimited Ride MetroCard. Chances are you’ll most likely purchase a 7-day card as this is the shortest time they offer. At only $33, it allows you to make an unlimited number of subway trips whilst you’re there!
And don’t worry if you’re not going to be in New York for as long as seven days either. A single ride costs $3 so even if you take just 11 subway journeys throughout your time in New York you will easily make your money’s worth. Plus it saves you the time and hassle of buying a single ride each time you need to take the subway.
2. Portion sizes are ridiculous
I feel like this one goes without saying. Everyone knows the USA goes BIG on food. But if, like me, you’ve never visited the US before, it can be a massive shock to the system. Always order less than you think as it’ll inevitably go to waste. Or just justify the obscene amount of food you consume with the amount of walking you’ll be doing. Either or!
3. Remember tips and taxes, even if it’s not custom in your home country
If you are visiting from outside of the US, like yours truly, and aren’t used to tipping, this can also come as a bit of a shock. Oh, and then you throw tax into the mix too? Fabulous. Delightful. Love it.
Even if you had poor service at a cafe or restaurant, you should always leave a minimum of 15%. That number can climb to 20% or more if you had OK or good service. By the time you add tax and a tip, your bill will come out to 30% more than you thought it’d be. I know it’s annoying but you don’t have much choice. So suck it up, factor it into your food budget, and move on. We all know a trip to New York is never going to be cheap anyway!
4. Get last-minute Broadway tickets for cheap
However, there are some ways you can cut down on how much you spend. For example, if you are desperate to see a show on Broadway but are frankly not prepared to fork out a good few hundred dollars for tickets, there are a few ways you can nab them pretty cheaply:
- Line up for TKTS tickets in Times Square for same-day theatre tickets for up to 50% off.
- Buy last-minute tickets online on TodayTix. Simply pay with your card and meet with a TodayTix representative 30 minutes before the show to claim your printed tickets.
- Risk it with the Broadway Direct Lottery! A limited number of tickets for select performances are sold each day for performances the following day, for as little as $10. Just enter your information and hit Enter Now for your chance to win. If you’re selected, you’ll have an hour to pay for your tickets online!
5. Pizza by the slice is a way of life
Any tip to do with recommending pizza is a good tip by me. I swear my diet in New York was 50% pizza by the slice. And boy, do I not regret it at all. New York pizza really is something special. So relish in it. Because you’ll miss it as soon as you get home. Dotted around New York, it’s hard not to stumble across a pizza place – Joe’s is one of the most famous and one of my favourites. But Google Maps helps too if you don’t have any luck!
6. Pick up a New York City pass if you plan on visiting all the big attractions
If you want to tick off all the main New York attractions, I’d seriously advise investing in a New York City pass as it’ll help you save money. At just £115, you can see six of the best attractions in New York: the Empire State Building, the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Top of the Rock observation deck, 9/11 memorial and museum, and either ferry access to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, or Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises.
7. New Yorkers aren’t the friendliest bunch
Quite like Londoners, New Yorkers have a reputation which is certainly more than just a stereotype. I am used to Londoners, so their rudeness didn’t bother me, but I can imagine New Yorkers could be quite jarring for many tourists. However, that being said, we did have some of the kindest, most helpful servers we’ve ever had. Though, to be fair, anything is better than British service.
8. Don’t get photos with costumed characters in Times Square – you have to pay for it
Just don’t bother, okay? In fact, try not to even make eye contact with any of them because as soon as they have their eyes locked on you, they will pounce. Take after the New Yorkers and be an unsociable git – heads down, folks!
9. Wear comfortable shoes – you will walk loads
One of the most important tips for visiting New York City for the first time is to wear the most comfortable pair of shoes imaginable. Comfort is key, folks. You don’t need to look like you’re on the catwalk when you’re walking 20,000+ steps a day. Wear comfortable shoes. Your feet will thank you later. I opted for my Dr. Martens and whilst they did start to rub at around the 15,000 step mark, they provided me great support and warmth in the cold March weather.
10. Wear dark clothes if you don’t want to stand out as a tourist
Again, not a fashion contest, hun. Unless you want to properly stand out as a tourist and just make yourself even more vulnerable to pick-pocketing, opt for darker colours. New Yorkers love their blacks and greys, so you should too. Do as the locals do, after all. I basically lived in my black jeans and black docs and I looked at home in New York.
11. To get to the city from JFK, yellow cabs are cheaper than Ubers
If only I’d read an article of tips for visiting New York City for the first time, ey? We didn’t plan how to get from the airport to the city at all, so when we arrived several hours later, knackered from a long flight, we were stuck thinking “what the fuck is the cheapest or easiest option of getting from JFK to Manhattan?”.
If like me, you arrive after a reasonably long flight, I couldn’t recommend a yellow cab enough. For a flat rate of $52, it was great being in complete comfort as we made our way into the city. Whilst there are a couple of other cheaper options that you can go for (an airport shuffle or by AirTrain and subway), I’m so glad we jumped in a yellow cab both ways as it allowed us to just completely relax and unwind. You want to start your trip off on a good foot, don’t you?
12. Many places are cashless, whilst others are cash only
Basically, always have a backup. It’s pretty common for somewhere to only accept one or the other. And you can never really predict which one it will be! For those who are used to very card-friendly countries, such as those in Northern Europe, it can be super frustrating if somewhere doesn’t accept cards.
13. The view from the Top of the Rock is way better than from the Empire State Building
With views across to the Empire State Building and Central Park, the view from the Top of the Rock really is unparalleled. Going up the Empire State Building doesn’t offer any superior views than from the Top of the Rock. However, if you do want to go up both, I’d recommend going up the Top of the Rock in the daytime and then the Empire State Building at night, so you can see the city all lit up!
14. The tap water in New York is some of the best in the United States
Unlike what you’d expect, the tap water in New York is actually some of the best in the US. So remember to always fill up your reusable bottle and take it with you to save money! Plus, if you’ll be doing anywhere near the amount of walking that we did, you’ll need all the water you can get.
15. Be careful of hopping on board an Express vs a Local subway
We certainly made that mistake – oops! Express trains skip certain stations for faster service, while local trains stop at every station along their path. On the map, express train stops are marked with a white circle while local stops show a black circle. We definitely may have missed a good station or two by making this mistake.
To avoid being as dumb as us during your first time in NYC, learn to navigate the subway like a motherfreaking pro. Because let me tell you, you’re gonna be heavily relying on it. And you don’t want to waste any of your precious time going back and forth like a yo-yo, do ya? I’d recommend downloading an NYC subway app or save a PDF copy on your phone.
16. Sleep in Manhattan
This probably won’t surprise you but the best place to base yourself during your first time in New York is Manhattan, especially if you’re only spending a weekend in New York. I’d advise staying as close to a subway station as possible as you will rely on the subway a lot during your trip. Anywhere near Times Square is a great bet because it’s super central to loads of attractions, plus there are so many great things to do in Times Square alone as it is.
We stayed in an Airbnb just a 10-minute walk from Times Square. This was the best of both worlds because we were really central but also stayed on a really quiet street which made for a great nights sleep. Plus, the Airbnb boasted the most incredible rooftop with views across Manhattan. And the best part is that we had the whole thing to ourselves! What a dream.
17. But don’t just stay there!
I know you may think that when visiting New York for the first time you won’t have any time to explore anywhere beyond Manhattan. But you should really make it a priority to do so! Whether it’s Brooklyn or the Bronx, New York’s other boroughs will give you a far more local experience beyond the bright lights of Manhattan.
18. Don’t obsess over having to see all the main attractions in one trip
A list of tips for visiting New York City for the first time would be incomplete without this little nugget! I cannot stress this enough. New York is bloody massive and you’re never going to see everything, even if you are visiting for say two weeks. Don’t spend the whole time exhausted, running around like a headless chicken trying to see everything. Just accept that it’s not going to happen!
You’ll enjoy your time way more if you set realistic expectations with yourself about what you’ll actually be able to see. Then anything on top is just a nice bonus.
19. Go to the toilet whenever you can
I’ll be the first to admit it: I have a bladder the size of a pea. Or of a pregnant woman. Or of a 95-year-old woman. Or of a 95-year-old female pregnant pea. Basically, it’s small. You best believe that I always make the most of a nearby toilet. But if you’re not that way inclined, you should be whilst you’re in New York. This city has a serious public bathroom problem. So make the most of public toilets anywhere – restaurants, cafes, museums, you name it.
20. Research places to eat
There were a few places we were desperate to try out during our first time in New York so we made sure to write them down ahead of time. Of course, we didn’t get to try everything, but at least this way we didn’t just eat whatever because we were hungry and then not properly enjoy it. Whether it’s pizza or bagels, your time in New York will fly by so make sure you get to eat what you want!
20. Don’t show up to museums/attractions last minute
Reality check: there are always really long queues. If you want to visit big tourist attractions during your first time in NYC then you’ll have to accept that you’ll spend a decent amount of time queuing. For example, we queued for ages to get into the 9/11 museum and that was on a Thursday in March. Imagine what it would be like during a weekend in summer!
Plus, some attractions may not always be open, so make sure you do your research before you travel halfway across Manhattan just to find that something’s closed.
21. Keep it moving
This is every New Yorker’s #1 pet peeve and one of my top tips for visiting New York City for the first time. Always keep it moving! Never stand still whilst you take a photo or text or figure out directions. If you need to do any of those things, just respectfully scoot your arse over to a storefront, out of the way of busy locals.
22. Don’t hog the pavement (sorry, sidewalk…)
The aim of the game is to essentially make it as easy as possible for anyone around you to get wherever the fuck they are trying to get to. No matter whether you’re in a couple or in a bigger group, and you’re thinking about taking up all of the pavement: don’t. Just make it easy for people to easily pass you, yeah? You can hold hands when there’s more space.
23. Never block the bike lane
The last three points can basically be summed up by ‘don’t fucking dilly-dally’. I may be being repetitive but at least I’ve hammered the point home before your first time in New York. One of the cardinal sins of visiting New York for the first time is walking in the bike lane. ‘Cause if you do, you can sure as hell expect someone to a) run you over, or b) throw a whole load of insults your way.
So have you got any other tips for visiting New York City for the first time? Let me know in the comments below!