New York City Travel Tips You Need to Know Before Visiting
So you’re visiting New York City? Nervous about your first time being in the Big Apple? Well, it’s a good thing you stumbled on this article because today I am going to tell you the most important travel tips you need to know before visiting New York City!
Yep, that’s right, so wipe your worries away knowing these 25 tips come from a local New Yorker with a mission of helping you experience the best of NYC (without looking like a tourist)! And even if you still look a little bit like a tourist, that’s totally ok!
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links where I may make a small commission at no cost to you.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- New York City Travel Tips You Need to Know Before Visiting
- 1. NYC is Best Navigated by Public Transportation
- 2. Don’t Rent A Car
- 3. See Times Square, but Don’t eat in Times Square
- 4. Don’t Eat at Chain Restaurants
- 5. Pizza, Bagels, and Egg Sandwiches are Life
- 6. Tipping is Important
- 7. New Yorkers Aren’t Really Rude
- 8. Sidewalks Have Their Own Traffic Rules
- 9. Real New Yorkers Don’t Wait for Walk Signs
- 10. Beware of Buses, Cabs, and the Bike Path
- 11. Finding Bathrooms Can Be Difficult if You’re Not a Customer
- 12. NYC is Dirty
- 13. Avoid Empty Subway Cars
- 14. Avoid Tourist Traps
- 15. To my Lady Travelers – Don’t Be Surprised if you’re Cat Called
- 16. Use Bank ATM’s
- 17. Learn Your NYC Street Terminology
- 18. Diners are Best for Breakfast and Lunch Food
- 19. Shoe Game is Important
- 20. Make Sure to Get Outside the City
- 21. Check Out at Least 1 Sky deck
- 22. Don’t Rule Out an NYC Sightseeing or City Pass
- 23. Visit at Least One Museum
- 24. See a Broadway Show
- 25. Take Advantage of Free things to do in NYC
- Additional Travel Tips to Know in NYC
- New York City Travel Tips Review
If you didn’t know, now you know the best way to get around NYC is by good ol’ fashioned public transportation! Traffic in NYC is insane, I kid you not. You can be stuck at the same traffic light for over 10 minutes and driving through Times Square…kill me!
So, while in NYC make sure to get familiar with navigating the NYC Subway here!
You can take the buses too, however, I’ve always found the subway to be much better. If you are heading to Staten Island in a hurry, there is the Express bus, or you can take the Staten Island Ferry for free, which I would recommend doing regardless if you want to see a nice view of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty.
However, if you don’t want to jump on the subway, you can of course hail a cab just like you see in the movies. Stand in or by the street with your hand up when you see a cab coming by. Or you can use Uber/Lyft. I’ve found Uber/Lyft is more affordable. I’ve never had a problem with cabs running the meter, but it never hurts to check.
2. Don’t Rent A Car
This brings me to number 2 of my NYC travel tips, DO NOT rent a car in New York City! As I mentioned before, the traffic in NYC is horrible, there is nowhere to park, and if you find a garage, it’s super expensive! Also, drivers in the city are crazy!
Additionally, because NYC traffic is so bad, you can usually get to your destination faster by walking or taking the subway.
Besides Google Maps app, you can also use Citymapper for the subway which I find to be more helpful.
3. See Times Square, but Don’t eat in Times Square
As first time visitors to the Big Apple, Times Square is a must-see, but do not, I repeat DO NOT eat in Times Square! It’s over-priced for subpar food! Think about restaurants in your hometown city. The biggest tourist attractions tend to have meh food. If you have time, Times Square should be seen during the day and then again at night to get the real feel for it. Thankfully it’s free!
There can be some exclusions like Carmines, but overall, I’d choose to eat elsewhere.
4. Don’t Eat at Chain Restaurants
This brings me to my next point, avoid eating at a chain restaurant (unless it’s Eataly or a famous 5-star restaurant)! NYC is known to be a culinary gem with tons of amazing places to eat that are NOT Red Lobster, Fridays, Olive Garden, or Planet Hollywood.
You can literally find cuisines from around the globe in New York City.
Also if you do plan to eat at a nice restaurant, remember to make a reservation!
Some top restaurants to eat at in NYC include:
- Peter Lugers: AMAZING and Famous Steak House in Williamsburg (Only accept cash).
- Carbone (Italian)
- Old Homestead Steakhouse in Meatpacking
- Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse – Nice during the holidays
- Tutto il Giorno: Italian in Meatpacking District
- Pietro Nolita: Italian and Instagrammable
- Katz’s Delicatessen: Classic Jewish Deli
- Chelsea Market
- Stone Street – Nice during summer days
- Catch NYC
- China Town
When choosing a place to eat, also make sure to look for an “A” rating in the window. This “A” rating means that the board of health believes this is a clean establishment! Additionally, you can check out this guide on things to eat in NYC!
5. Pizza, Bagels, and Egg Sandwiches are Life
Now that I’m incredibly hungry you should know that Pizza, Bagels, and Egg Sandwiches are like a religion for us New Yorkers! As a first-timer in New York City, it is important for you not to leave NYC without having these necessities!
New York Style Pizza is generally sold by the slice, and there are so many different slices to choose from! OH, and if you don’t want people staring at you like you are an alien, do not, I repeat, DO NOT, eat your pizza with a fork and knife! Just sayin.
Pizza is meant to be folded down the middle if it’s a triangle slice. If it’s a square slice just hold it in your hands!
Also, we call a cheese slice a plain or regular slice in New York (but they’ll understand if you say cheese). So, you can walk up and say, ” can I have two regulars.”
When it comes to bagels, you won’t find any better than in New York! Enjoy a big giant fluffy bagel with loads of different cream cheese spreads or have an egg sandwich! The secret to NY bagels is actually our soft water.
The most popular egg sandwich is a bacon, egg, and cheese (BEC), however for my vegetarians, I usually get egg white, spinach, and mozzarella cheese. My favorite bagel place in NYC is Brooklyn Bagels in Chelsea.
Some Pizza Spots are:
- 2 Bros (super cheap) – if you’re on a budget
- Joes Pizza – One of the Best
- L&B Spumoni Gardens – if you’re in Brooklyn
- Ignacio’s – if you crossed the Brooklyn Bridge. They have really good personal pies
6. Tipping is Important
As a girl who was a waitress in NYC trying to pay my way through college, I can’t stress this enough. And I know this can be annoying but, unfortunately, business owners refuse to pay restaurant workers a normal living wage, therefore they have to live off tips.
Traveling through Europe and Asia where there is basically no tipping, it’s a huge change.
Tipping is generally 15-20% of the bill. If the tip was already included, it will say so on the receipt! Usually, wait staff prefers being tipped in cash, however, you can still tip on your credit card.
7. New Yorkers Aren’t Really Rude
Hear me out! For some reason, New York has this image of being full of rude people, but that’s really not the case! If you were to ask for help from a “stable” looking human on the streets, most people will be more than happy to help you!
In general New Yorkers are just known to be in a rush, like things fast-paced, potentially overworked, or stressed. City life! Also with so many people crowded in the city, it’s just easier not to make eye contact with people.
New Yorkers do have some pet peeves that could bring some rudeness out, but as long as you know these New York City travel tips, you shouldn’t run into any trouble!
8. Sidewalks Have Their Own Traffic Rules
So as I just mentioned before, New Yorkers tend to be in a rush, and the city is crowded, therefore, sidewalks need to run optimally!
Firstly, never, never, ever just stop walking if you are on a busy sidewalk! You would basically be like a car, blocking all the traffic for no reason. If you must stop, find a place off to the side or up against a wall.
Also, you will realize the sidewalks will have 2 lanes of people traffic. Make sure you stay on your right side, and if you are not walking fast, make that all the way to the right! This is also the same for escalators. If you plan on not walking up it, make sure you stay to the side so others can pass by.
If you are in a big group, do not take up the whole sidewalk by lining up next to each other.
When walking the streets of NYC, just strut confidently down the sidewalk, and you will blend right in!
9. Real New Yorkers Don’t Wait for Walk Signs
I love taking people to NYC and crossing the street. The usual reaction is OMG what are you doing?! But in NYC, we cross the street at the intersection when no cars are coming no matter what color the light is.
Also, New Yorkers stand a few feet in the street while waiting for the cars to finish passing. No, we don’t have a death wish, we clearly just have no patience!
If you do wait for the walk sign and stand on the sidewalk while waiting, New Yorkers will immediately know you are likely a tourist.
Of course, if you don’t feel safe, it’s totally fine to just wait for the walk sign. I would never want anything bad to happen to you!
10. Beware of Buses, Cabs, and the Bike Path
Add buses, Cabs, and bikes to your growing list of New York City travel tips! When I say beware of buses, taxis, or even bikes, it might not be what you think!
These people are like drunk drivers swerving down the street! I can’t even count how many times I’ve almost seen accidents with their crazy driving! And you best watch out for that bike path because they will run you over!
11. Finding Bathrooms Can Be Difficult if You’re Not a Customer
If you are in need of a bathroom, it’s best to use one at the next restaurant you eat at. Most places will not allow you to use the bathroom unless you are a customer.
However, some free places you can find bathrooms are at Starbucks and at Penn Station in the Long Island Railroad terminal or New Jersey Amtrak. They may not be the cleanest, but when ya gotta go, ya gotta go!
I’ve also heard others recommend just walking into a hotel like you own the place and they likely won’t question you, but I’ve never tried this one! You can also try this app called Flush. It shows you where you can find bathrooms nearest you.
12. NYC is Dirty
I hate to say it but it’s true. NYC is dirrrtyyy! You will never catch me touching anything without a bottle of Purell! I’d avoid touching rails, especially in the subway!
Also, don’t be surprised if some streets smell like total garbage. Sorry guys, but this is just the reality of a big city.
13. Avoid Empty Subway Cars
Picture this, you swipe your metro card, wait at the platform, and see this empty subway car pulling up. You think YES, now I don’t have to bump shoulders with strangers!
But what you actually get is a car with no air-conditioner, smells of a dirty locker room mixed with urine, and has what appears to be an unstable individual.
Now you know why you need to avoid empty Subway Cars! Is this always the case, NO, but it’s always best to just follow the crowd in this instance!
14. Avoid Tourist Traps
I’m sure you’re saying to yourself, well obviously I know to avoid tourist traps, but what are they! Some of the most common tourist traps in NYC are people trying to sell you anything on the street.
Whether it be tickets to a comedy show to see Kevin Hart for $10 bucks (this doesn’t happen too often), “Real” Louis Vuitton bags for $20, or free entry to places, it’s likely a scam.
The bags are never real and the tickets are usually fake.
Walking through Times Square and they pull you in for a picture? I can promise you it’s not out of the goodness of their hearts. After the photo, they will harass you for a tip. Just tell randos walking up to you on the street No Thanks!
15. To my Lady Travelers – Don’t Be Surprised if you’re Cat Called
To all my ladies! Unfortunately, men in NYC think it’s totally ok to whistle, call you names and try and stop you to talk and it’s totally not ok, however, I haven’t figured out a way to stop it.
I simply put my stunna shades on and walk by like I don’t have a care in the world, and I can’t hear what anyone says!
If you are walking by a construction site, it’s way more likely to happen.
16. Use Bank ATM’s
Want identity theft? I think not! Therefore, it’s safest to withdraw money from a bank ATM. Some of the most common banks you will see around New York City are Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, TD, and Capital One.
Just avoid those random ATMs in the back of a shack of a store!
17. Learn Your NYC Street Terminology
You can’t visit New York City without knowing some NYC slang and how to not get looked at with 100 heads.
How New Yorkers Give an Address
When New Yorkers give an address, we generally give the cross streets instead of a full address unless it’s a super popular destination like Times Square or Rockefeller Center.
So for example, if I were at the Fashion Institute of Technology, I’d say I’m on 7th and 27th street, or I’m on 27th between 7th and 8th ave. Once you look at a map, it will make more sense!
New York City is called “the City”!
Another one of my favorite New York City travel tips is when people ask you where you are, you say the City! We don’t call “the City” NYC or Manhattan, just plain and simply the City!
Learn the Way the Streets Run
The City basically runs on a grid North and South and East to West. There aren’t many curving streets. Also, just about every street and avenue are one-way streets. They switch directions every other street/avenue mostly.
For the most part, it’s all numerically numbered. The further up you go, the higher the numbers. The further down you go, the lower the numbers until you get downtown and it turns into street names.
On the West Side, the Avenues will be the highest, and going towards the East the Avenue numbers will go down.
East Side, West Side Uptown, Downtown
Speaking of navigation, there’s the Westside, Eastside, and Downtown or Uptown. There’s no North and South when explaining where you are or going. For some reason, we couldn’t make it simple and needed to change up the lingo.
The Meaning of a Block
When a person tells you your destination is a couple of blocks down, blocks are streets. So if you walk down from one street, 28th to 27th, that is one block.
18. Diners are Best for Breakfast and Lunch Food
You can’t visit New York City without going to at least one diner. Believe it or not, Diners cant be found in many places around the USA.
So when you sit down at the diner, it’s important to know while diners serve dinner food, diners are best for breakfast and lunch foods!
Another cool thing about dinners is that the menu is pretty customizable! You can switch from regular eggs to egg whites, change any of the fillings to your melted, the sides, or even cheese!
However, they may charge additional for the substitutes, but at least you can get exactly what you want.
And Diners are usually open 24/7 for those midnight snacks!
19. Shoe Game is Important
I get you to want to look stylish while walking the streets of New York City, but this might be one of the more important New York tips. I urge you to wear comfortable shoes because you are going to be walking A LOT!
If you want cuter shoes for photos, I’d suggest throwing them in your bag to change out!
20. Make Sure to Get Outside the City
When people travel to New York City, they forget there is more to New York than just the city, so my tip to you is to get out of the city!
Whether you hang out in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for smorgasbord, Dumbo, Brooklyn after crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, go wine tasting, or hit the beaches out on Long Island, it’s worth getting out of the city!
While there is really no place like New York City, New York State does have tons of other awesome things to do!
21. Check Out at Least 1 Sky deck
This is probably more of a tourist thing to do, but the views on a Sky deck are really incredible! As a local, I can’t believe it took me so long to go to the Top of the Rock (my fav!). After all, they offer some of the best skyline views in NYC!
So yea, make it to a sky deck whether it be Top of the Rock, One World Trade (One World Observatory), Empire State Building, The Edge, or Summit (very new and exciting)!
22. Don’t Rule Out an NYC Sightseeing or City Pass
If you are planning on seeing a lot of NYC’s attractions, I’d consider looking into the NYC Sightseeing or NYC City Pass. If you didn’t already know, NYC is extremely expensive! By getting one of these passes, you should be able to save some considerable dough!
Deciding on which pass really depends on what you want to see and how long you plan to stay. Each pass offers different attractions so you can pick the one that checks most of your boxes! NYC Sightseeing Pass Here | NYC City Pass Here
23. Visit at Least One Museum
I know museums can be expensive, but if you travel to New York City, my tip is to make it happen! Whether that be the MET, the MOMA, etc, it’s worth it. Sometimes museums even offer free entry. Learn more about free museum days here!
24. See a Broadway Show
If you have time in your New York itinerary, make sure you hit a Broadway play! It’s a spectacular experience, and sometimes you can even get a discount on the tickets!
Now if you want to see the top plays, getting a discount is rather hard, but you can always show up at the box office early or check with a TDF location. Some top shows to see include Wicked, The Book of Mormon, The Lion King, and Hamilton. There are also off-Broadway Shows that are equally as great.
25. Take Advantage of Free things to do in NYC
And finally, one of my favorite New York tips is to take advantage of all the free things the City has to offer! Food alone can cost you an arm and a leg, so this is your chance to save money a little while still seeing tons of the City!
If you are visiting NYC on a budget, definitely check out my 40+ totally awesome things to do in NYC here!
Additional Travel Tips to Know in NYC
With all of this being said, one of the most common things people wonder about New York City (especially first-timers) is if New York City is safe. Just like any big city, it is important to watch your surroundings.
Is New York City Safe?
I lived, went to school, and worked in New York City for 5 years and have been a New Yorker for over 12 years. My whole family is from NY and still lives there. Non of us have ever had a problem yet. Thankfully pick-pocketing is not that popular (unlike many big European Cities).
In general, I’ve always felt pretty safe. The one big caution I’d take is to not walk alone late at night. Additionally, neighborhoods like Chelsea, Midtown, Soho, Central Park, the Upper East Side, and the Village tend to be great areas to be around.
How Expensive is New York?
Another popular question is how expensive is New York City. Well, it’s pretty expensive, especially food. Most items on a menu will usually be above $10 US dollars, and that is generous, especially in recent times. You can expect to spend at least $20 USD per person on a meal. At a nice restaurant, it will likely be over $30 for a dinner plate.
However, there are tons of ways to visit NYC on a budget including eating pizza, getting halal food at the street vendors, staying at hostels or outside of the city, and doing a lot of the free activities in NYC.
How Much Money do I need When Visiting NYC?
This completely depends on your travel style. A hotel room is going to be at least $150 a night. Most hotels also have what they call a resort fee which is extra on top of the room rate. You can figure each meal will be at least $20 per person unless you get quick snacks or bagels. Then you have a 7 day metro card for $33 or $2.75 per ride. Additionally, there are attractions which are mainly observation decks and museums.
Giving yourself extra room in your budget is all I can say. There are tons of souvenir shops around, and I can’t promise you won’t buy something lol.
Do I Need to Bring Cash for New York
Generally speaking, almost everything can be done with a credit card. Smaller shops may ask you to pay a minimum to use a credit card, but it is pretty rare places won’t accept a credit card (aside from Peter Lugers). A new thing we have been seeing in the City, however, is that some vendors are charging you more to use a credit card.
Tipping in Cash is usually preferred, but again, you can put it on a card. I never carry cash and have yet to have any real issues. I always hear of many International visitors to New York City using the Revolut card. It offers 28 in-app currencies and acts like a debit card connected to your bank. I’ve personally never tried it, but it seems many like it.
What are the Pharmacies and Grocery Stores?
If you are looking to buy food, snacks, or general stores, you can go to CVS or Duane Reade for first aid, makeup, snacks, etc, and Bodegas. For grocery stores, there are Whole Foods, Gristedes, Dean and Deluca (fancier food market), and Trader Joe’s.
Getting to NYC from the Airport
I see this NYC question come up almost every day, but don’t worry, it is pretty easy! So, you have several options. Taking the subway will be your most affordable option, and you will find signs coming out of the terminal to catch the subway. However, if you packed large bags, the subway can feel daunting.
Your other option is using Uber or Lyft. I do this if my friends or family can’t pick me up. The airport will have free wifi for you to connect it if you’re from out of the states.
Additionally, you can take a car service or Yellow Cab. This is generally around $60 – $70 USD. If you do a Yellow Cab, you will have to wait in line at the airport.
Where to Stay in NYC
So you booked your flights, and now you are trying to figure out where to stay. Well, I have you covered with this detailed neighborhood guide and hotels to choose from. Check out Where to stay in NYC here!
How Cold is NYC in the Winter?
This is another common question when people consider visiting NYC in the winter. To be honest, it really depends. Every year is different, and the weather has been crazy. So my best NYC travel tip for you would be to check the weather about 1 week before visiting.
January, February, and March will be the coldest months, and most likely to snow. November can feel like Fall weather in the 50s or below freezing. Generally, you can expect November and December to be around 45 degrees on the high-end and below 32 degrees on the cold end. Again, just check the forecast before you come.
In a worst-case scenario, there are tons of places to go shopping to grab yourself some warm clothes including Macy’s. Additionally, if it is brutally cold or raining, check out the best things to do in NYC on a Rainy (or cold) Day!
New York City Travel Tips Review
Aren’t you so glad you have finally made it to the bottom of these NYC tips? I hope that these New York City travel tips not only help you have the most amazing time in the City but also help you feel like you have a little bit of NYC in you! NYC is one huge melting pot after all!
Additional NYC Resources: NYC 4 Day Itinerary | Photo-Worthy NYC Spots | 45 Best Things to do in NYC | Fall in NYC | Holidays in NYC | Best Things to do in NYC at Night | Christmas Day in NYC | Cute Cafes in NYC | NYC Quotes | Best NYC Christmas Decorations
Found this New York tips guide helpful, want me to add something, or have any questions? Let me know in the comments!