New York City is unarguably one of the best cities to visit in the USA. It’s filled with people of all races, different cultures and cuisines, historical architecture, parks and bridges. There’s so many places to see and things to do. If you’re planning a trip here, here are the best local tips for visiting New York for the first time.
- 1. Use the subway
- 2. Don’t be afraid to ask for directions
- 3. Avoid blocking the sidewalks
- 4. Visit the “touristy” attractions
- 5. Budget your money well
- 6. Check out free museums
- 7. Take the Staten Island Ferry
- 8. Try out different kinds of food
- 9. Explore boroughs other than Manhattan
- 10. Keep your street sense
- 11. Find a guide book that fits your interest
- 12. Consider taking a bus tour
- 13. Dress for the season
1. Use the subway
One of the most useful local tips you have to know is to use the subway. It can usually take you where you want to go quickly. They also run for 24 hours, although less frequently later at night. You can download the subway map on your phone for easy use.
During peak hours or after-school hours, you may also consider walking as the subway can get packed and noisy.
If you’re running late, ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Lyft are also available and cheaper compared to regular taxis.
Renting cars is not advisable due to traffic and expensive parking spaces. However, this is still a good option if you’re going to locations not accessible via the subway system.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask for directions
There’s a stereotype that New Yorkers are rude or mean-spirited, but locals will tell you that a lot of New Yorkers are actually friendly. They are happy to help and give advise on directions and even recommendations on where to eat or things to do. As such, don’t hesitate to ask for help.
Just make sure to be straightforward. New Yorkers are used to being stopped daily by people selling something, so to avoid being ignored, you may want to avoid starting with “Hi, do you have a minute.” Instead, get to the point and say, “What’s the closest stop to the Empire State Building?”
3. Avoid blocking the sidewalks
One of the most common local tips for first-time tourists in New York is to move to the side of the road if you have to stop to ask for directions, tie your laces, or check your phone. In general, New Yorkers are always in a rush so it’s a common etiquette to avoid blocking the way. You will be nudged otherwise.
Also, make sure to keep up with the pace of the sidestreet traffic.
The gist is to be considerate of the public on the sidestreets.
4. Visit the “touristy” attractions
You may get different advice about the best places to visit in New York, but the ones you shouldn’t miss are the places you actually want to see regardless of how “touristy” they are. The Times Square, for instance, is a cliche but it’s still a great place to see especially at night.
Other must-see places include the Statue of Liberty, World Trade Center, 30 Rock, Broadway, and Central Park. The Empire State Building is also a popular tourist spot — however, a better option is the Rockefeller building which is cheaper and less crowded, not to mention with a great view of the Empire State Building itself. The Top of the Rock is also an alternative to the Empire State Building.
Lastly, the Met, Moma or Guggenheim are also good options for those who like art.
5. Budget your money well
New York City is a great place to visit as a tourist, but it’s also expensive especially Manhattan. One important tip is to bring lots of money. A safe budget would be $100 per person per day.
If you have restricted budget, here are some tips you can follow. Research for cheap hotels prior to your visit and avoid those that are heavily advertised. Go where native New Yorkers eat instead of the “tourist traps”. Before entering a restaurant, check that there is a displayed menu outside — otherwise, skip it as it’s probably overpriced. Check out free attractions including museums and parks. If you’re interested in entertainment such as music or theater, book in advance to get discount tickets.
6. Check out free museums
There are several museums you can visit for free. The Metropolitan has a listed fee, but this is a suggested donation and technically it is free. Some museums offer free entrance on certain days only. One of the best museums in the city, the 911 Memorial and Museum offers free admission every Tuesday.
Some of the best free museums you can check out include the American Folk Art Museum, Museum of Modern Art and American Museum of Natural History, to name a few.
7. Take the Staten Island Ferry
You don’t have to pay for a trip to see the Statue of Liberty. The Staten Island Ferry, which goes from Manhattan to Staten Island and back, is free and it gets close to the statue enough for you to get a good photo. It also offers an awesome view of the New York Bay, especially when the city is lit up.
8. Try out different kinds of food
New York is a great melting pot and there are numerous restaurants here to eat good food, from cheap food trucks to Michellin-star restaurants. In fact, you can eat for $2 or $200 in the same block.
Go to Chinatown or Koreatown for some Asian food, head to Little Italy or Grimaldi’s for pizza, and visit Chelsea Market which is one of the best foodie destinations in the city.
A general tip when looking out for a place to eat is: if you see a line, get in it. Obviously this isn’t always the case, but more often than not you’ll discover something great for your palate.
If you’re looking for a unique foodie experience, you might also want to check out the best rooftop restaurants in New York City.
9. Explore boroughs other than Manhattan
New York City consists of 5 boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island. Most people visit Manhattan, but the other boroughs are worth seeing as well. You’ll be able to see how other New Yorkers live, and each borough offers interesting cultural sites to see and things to do.
10. Keep your street sense
New York City is considered one of the safest metropolitan areas, but as a tourist you should keep your wits with you. Be present when walking rather than buried on yoru phone, keep an eye on all your belongings and keep your wallet in the front instead of the backpocket or your backpack. Also, avoid neighborhoods you wouldn’t normally visit at home.
11. Find a guide book that fits your interest
New York City is huge and there’s so many places to see and do. To make the most of your trip, look for a guide book or other resource that matches your interest, whether it’s art, music, architecture, history, sports, fashion or food.
Be selective and make note of sights or activities you want to check out.
12. Consider taking a bus tour
If you feel overwhelmed with choosing which places to go or planning your trip, you might consider taking a bus tour. This will allow you to see the major tourist sites in New York.
You can get 1-day or multiple-day passes. The latter is a good option if you’re in the city for a few days as tour companies offer good deals with combination tickets.
Aside from convenience, you’ll also get to appreciate the views at the top of a double-decker bus.
13. Dress for the season
It’s important to note that during winter it’s extremely chilly in New York City. This makes it difficult to walk due to the heavy breeze. Make sure to bring a huge jacket and ear mufflers. In the summer, meanwhile, it is hot & humid.
Another thing you should consider is wearing comfortable and durable shoes, as you will be walking a lot.
And that ends our list of best local tips for visiting New York for the first time. Do you have anything else to add? Let us know in the comment section below!
Katherine Cortes is a long-time backpacker and a freelance writer/editor. She likes beaches, snorkeling trips, and relaxing staycations (preferably with bath tubs!).