New York City, the vibrant concrete jungle that never sleeps, is a must-visit destination for travellers from around the globe. From iconic landmarks like Times Square and the Statue of Liberty to world-class museums and restaurants, this bustling metropolis has something for everyone.
However, navigating through the city’s fast-paced environment can be overwhelming for first-time visitors. Fear not! In this post, I have curated seven helpful tips to ensure your trip to New York City is smooth, enjoyable, and unforgettable. Whether you’re planning a weekend getaway or an extended stay in the Big Apple, these tips will help you make the most of your time in this extraordinary city.
We went on a family trip last August and spent seven amazing days sightseeing and eating. I shared plenty of content across my social platforms while we were there, which you can check out here.
Here are 7 helpful tips to enjoy New York City.
1. Travel by subway
The best way to get around the city is to travel by subway. It consists of 24 lines that cover all five boroughs of New York City, including the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island.
To use the subway, you need to purchase a MetroCard, which costs 33 dollars for seven days. The card is rechargeable and is available at subway station booths and vending machines. For some reason, the machine wouldn’t accept our bank or credit cards, so we paid by cash.
You can also use your phone or a contactless card by tapping it at the turnstile. This is called the OMNY system. Once you’ve hit 12 paid trips starting Monday, the rest of your rides through till Sunday of the same week are free.
The MetroCard was the most effective method for us, as a family of four because you can’t get unlimited taps for seven days for everyone using the same payment method. There are more details here.
It took us a few journeys to really get to grips with the subway and our direction of travel but the MTA app and Google Maps had us covered.
Enjoy New York by subway
The subway a convenient way to travel and it’s also cost effective compared to other modes of transportation in the city. This is especially true if you’re planning to travel frequently or for longer distances.
New York is notorious for its heavy traffic. Using the subway helps bypass traffic congestion, especially during rush hours, making it a more time-efficient option for commuting. The system has numerous stations spread throughout the city, making many landmarks, attractions, and neighbourhoods easily accessible.
Trains run frequently, especially during peak times and it operates 24/7, making it convenient for late-night travel. It’s a relatively safe mode of transportation.
2. Don’t fall into tourist traps in Times Square
Times Square is one of the most popular tourist destinations in New York. You’ve all seen the bright lights, billboards, and bustling atmosphere in films and on TV shows. But unfortunately it’s known for it’s tourist traps.
Don’t feel rushed. If someone’s trying to pressure you into making a decision on buying something, take your time and think it through. It’s better to walk away than to regret a hasty decision.
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of Times Square. It’s OK for a quick visit during the day, if it’s your first time in New York. And maybe at a push, one visit at night. Don’t spend your valuable time in a city that has so much to offer, by sticking to such a touristy place.
How to make the most of Times Square
Before venturing into Times Square, conduct thorough research about the area. Familiarise yourself with nearby attractions, authentic dining options, and hidden gems off the beaten path.
By having a plan in place, you’ll be less likely to get lured into overpriced establishments or scams targeting tourists.
One common trap in Times Square is chain stores disguised as unique NYC outlets selling merchandise at inflated prices. Instead of wasting your money on generic souvenirs from these shops, wander through independent boutiques or explore nearby neighbourhoods like Chelsea Market or SoHo for truly distinctive items that reflect New York’s diversity.
3. Wear comfortable shoes
Whatever you do, invest in some comfy shoes because you will be doing a lot of walking. You may find yourself walking long distances to get from one place to another.
Get shoes with good arch support and cushioning and break them in before your trip. The last thing you want is blisters or other foot problems. And of course always bring a back-up, which is also broken in and ready to go.
What shoes to consider to enjoy New York
It seems like such a minor thing but there are things to look for to make sure you’re comfortable on your trip.
Opt for well-cushioned sneakers or walking shoes that provide support and comfort for long walks. During colder months, choose shoes that are waterproof and warm. In warmer weather, breathable and lightweight options can be more comfortable.
While stylish shoes might complement your outfit, they may not be practical for long walks or navigating the city’s streets and subway system.
Overall, prioritising comfort and practicality over fashion when it comes to footwear can significantly enhance your experience exploring New York City.
4. Check out an observation deck
There are a few observation decks that offer panoramic views of the city and it’s iconic landmarks. There’s the Empire State Building in midtown Manhattan, the One World Observatory, located at the top of One World Trade Center and Top of the Rock, located at Rockefeller Center.
Then you have The Edge, which is located at Hudson Yards and opened in 2021. Each of these observation decks is different, so it’s worth considering which one is the best fit for you. I did Top Of The Rock in 2012 and I think it’s fairly over-hyped.
So we decided to go with The Summit One Vanderbilt because after doing our research, this was the one that appealed to us most. It’s not just an observation deck, it’s an experience.
You ascend in an all-mirror elevator and then there are a few different levels to check out. One of the rooms is almost completely made of glass and mirror, so you get an immersive experience.
But ladies, be warned. Do not go in a short dress like Shalini and I did. We had to clutch our dresses every time we stepped onto the mirrored floor!
Our favourite room the one with inflatable silver balloons that float through the air. You can easily spend a good couple of hours experiencing the different rooms and levels. By the time we got up to the rooftop observatory, it was night and the views over the city were spectacular.
Why you should visit The Summit One Vanderbilt
The Summit is easily accessible from near Grand Central Terminal. It provides visitors with an immersive experience offering 360-degree views of New York City from a height of over 1,000 feet.
Visitors can enjoy unobstructed views of landmarks like the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, Hudson Yards, Central Park, and many more iconic sights.
This amazing observation deck provides visitors with an opportunity to experience breathtaking views of New York City’s skyline while also offering interactive and engaging elements that educate and entertain visitors about the city’s rich history and iconic landmarks.
Tickets for The Summit One Vanderbilt can be purchased online or at the venue.
5. Avoid eating at chain restaurants
Chain restaurants can be convenient but for me they lack the character and charm of local eateries. And why would you want to eat a restaurant you can get anywhere in the world when you have so many independent places that offer delicious and authentic cuisine?
We did our research beforehand. There were places we wanted to hit in Chinatown after watching several YouTube videos. We also knew we wanted to do a food tour in Flushing and Jackson Heights, Queens.
The rest of the time we spent in Manhattan and even then only ventured to a chain restaurant once.
Don’t be afraid to explore off the beaten path. You never know what gems you might find. We relied heavily on Google and Tripadvisor and found some great restaurants.
Eating local is also a great way to support the community and family businesses.
Enjoy New York by eating like a local
New York City is celebrated for its diverse and thriving food culture. Choosing local eateries and independent restaurants allows you to taste authentic and unique dishes that reflect the city’s rich culinary heritage and the creativity of local chefs.
Opting for locally-owned restaurants supports the local economy and small business owners. It helps sustain the vibrancy of the neighbourhood food scene and often provides a more personal and genuine dining experience.
Independent restaurants often prioritise using fresh, locally-sourced ingredients and may offer higher-quality dishes compared to mass-produced chain restaurants.
Dining at non-chain restaurants allows for culinary exploration. It encourages trying new cuisines, discovering hidden gems, and having unique dining experiences that might not be available in chain establishments.
Local restaurants often have a sense of community and authenticity, fostering connections with the neighbourhood and creating a more intimate atmosphere for diners.
6. Walk as much as possible
Walk as much as possible because you don’t want to miss anything in such a vibrant city as New York. If you spend all your time in taxis or on the subway, you might miss a great spot to eat or a place to shop or visit.
The city is known for its bustling streets and vibrant neighbourhoods, and walking allows you to fully immerse yourself in the local culture and atmosphere.
Another plus-point is being able to stay active and healthy whilst on holiday. Even though we used the subway a lot, we also walked A LOT. We clocked up between 20 and 30-thousand steps a day.
We were there during the peak of summer so it was important to wear comfy shoes, stay hydrated, taking breaks and planning our route. Google Maps was our best friend.
Enjoy New York on foot
Walking allows you to take in the city’s iconic landmarks, architecture, and hidden gems up close. You can discover unique neighbourhoods, vibrant street art, historical sites, and charming local spots that might not be accessible by other means of transportation.
Walking gives you the flexibility to change your route, stop at interesting places, and explore at your own pace. You’re not confined to specific schedules or routes, providing a sense of freedom while discovering the city.
Walking is an excellent form of exercise. In a city like New York, where you can cover significant distances while sightseeing, walking helps burn calories, promotes cardiovascular health, and keeps you active during your travels.
New York City is notorious for its traffic. Walking can sometimes be faster than taking public transportation or taxis, especially for short distances or during peak traffic hours.
Walking is a budget-friendly way to get around the city. It doesn’t require any fare or ticket, saving you money on transportation costs.
Opting to walk reduces your carbon footprint and contributes to environmental sustainability by minimising reliance on motorised transportation.
7. Check out a couple of boroughs
New York City is made up of five boroughs: The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island.
Each borough has its own unique character and attractions, so it’s a good idea to explore a couple of them during your trip to New York City. Don’t be afraid to venture out of Manhattan!
When planning our trip, we decided to do a trip to Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) which is a neighbourhood in Brooklyn. I’ll write more about our time in Dumbo in a later post but you hit the area as soon as you walk over the Brooklyn Bridge.
Next time I’d like to explore more of Brooklyn and maybe even stay in an Air BnB or hotel in Brooklyn, as it’s cheaper than Manhattan but still easily accessible.
We also visited Queens, which has a diverse population and vibrant neighbourhoods. We visited both Flushing and Jackson Heights and again, I shall write about these trips in a later post.
Boroughs to visit in New York
Whether it’s Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island, or Manhattan, each borough has its own treasures waiting to be discovered.
Known for its trendy atmosphere, Williamsburg offers a mix of artisanal coffee shops, hipster boutiques, street art, and a vibrant nightlife scene. You can stroll along Bedford Avenue, visit the Brooklyn Brewery, or enjoy the views of Manhattan from the East River State Park.
Brooklyn Heights boasts beautiful brownstones, tree-lined streets, and stunning views of the Manhattan skyline from the Promenade. It’s home to historic sites like the Brooklyn Historical Society and the iconic Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Famous for its beach and amusement park, Coney Island is a nostalgic destination with attractions like the Wonder Wheel, Luna Park, the New York Aquarium, and the historic Coney Island boardwalk.
Known for its diversity, Flushing is a hub for various ethnic communities and offers fantastic culinary experiences with its diverse range of Asian cuisines. Explore Flushing Meadows Corona Park, home to the Queens Museum and the iconic Unisphere.
The Big Apple can be an exhilarating and overwhelming experience, but with these seven helpful tips to enjoy New York, you can navigate the city like a pro.
From planning your itinerary and utilising public transportation to embracing the local cuisine and walking as much as possible, there are plenty of ways to make the most out of your trip.
Remember to stay flexible and open-minded as you explore this vibrant metropolis, as unexpected adventures often lead to the most memorable experiences. So pack your bags, follow these tips, and get ready for an unforgettable adventure in the concrete jungle that is New York City.
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