Last Updated on August 18, 2023 by Nicole
New York City is probably the one city in the world that is on everyone’s bucket list. It is filled with internationally renowned museums and art galleries, wallet cleansing shopping, exceptional restaurants, a dazzling array of fun and interesting attractions, and a mind bending night life. However, what makes this city so attractive also makes it an overwhelming destination for those planning their first visit. Accordingly, I decided to ask travel experts, industry insiders and native New Yorkers for their best tips for first time visitors to New York City.
This post may contain affiliate links. That means that I may earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you buy something through my site. This helps me run my website and produce the articles that I hope you find helpful.
New York City Attractions And Itinerary
I have been to New York City countless times over 30 years. I’ve gone on girl’s trips, with my husband, and also with my three teenage kids. My husband lived in New York for 4 years as did my oldest daughter for two years – but 30 years later! My normal stay has been around four nights, with three full days of exploring, and I always felt that was the perfect amount of time for a getaway, even when I had to travel from the West Coast.
I’ve written a couple of articles about my times in NYC. Mostly from the perspective of what I did with my teenage kids and whether they liked it or not. Quite frankly, my husband and I enjoyed ourselves as much as our kids even when we did New York city activities that we had done before. There is something about seeing the world through the eyes of your children.
However, fundamentally, New York is just plain fun. If you arrive organized with some basic understanding of where you are staying and how you want to organize your time, then you will have fun too. Like all holidays, the more you research and plan, the more you will see, the safer you will be, and the more money you will save. If it helps, I set out my step-by-step process of planning trips in my article – Planning A Holiday: A Foolproof Guide To Easy Vacation Planning. As for New York, these New York City tips are awesome and will give you even more insight into creating the best experience possible.
If you are interested in my New York City articles, please see:
There are other destinations in the world that are just as overwhelming as New York.
London, England is another. Here are 50 Best Travel Tips To London For First Time Visitors.
New Orleans is one of the most unique cities in the USA. It offers culture, cuisine and southern hospitality derived from its French, African, Spanish and Creole influences. Things are done a little differently than most other places in the United States. For travel tips for first time visitors, please see 40 Best Travel Tips For First Time Visitors To New Orleans.
Best Tips For New York City For First Time Visitors
The best tips for New York City fall into several categories. Those include:
- How to get around;
- Ways to save money;
- Where to eat;
- Where to avoid;
- How to stay safe;
- Shopping tips; and
- Broadway Shows.
There were three tips that I consistently received from multiple travel experts and native New Yorkers.
- Take the subway.
- Wear comfortable shoes.
- Avoid Times Square as much as possible.
Here are those tips explained and the rest of the best NYC tips.
Best New York City Tips For Getting Around
New York City is a fast paced and exciting city. There are cars, taxis, buses, subways, trains, and throngs and throngs of people almost everywhere. Knowing where to turn left or right much less how to get from one side of the island to the other can be confusing. However, there are ways to make this less stressful. Here are some of the best New York City tips for getting around.
Travel From Airport
All three airports servicing New York City (La Guardia, JFK, and Newark) offer mass transportation for a fraction of the cost of renting a car or opting for ride sharing, such as Uber or Lyft. Depending on the day and time, it could also be much faster. Research ahead of time and have a plan.
Take The Subway And Get a Metrocard
Anton from Airadvisor says, “Traffic in this city is ridiculous, and it does not stop. Streets are packed with cars and those yellow cabs day and night. Getting a MetroCard and using the subway will save you time and money.”
Purchase A Multi-Day MetroCard
Kristofer from Elevated Coffee Brew recommends exploring the 7 day MetroCard pass, even if you are in New York City for less time. You pay a flat fee and can use public transportation as many times a day as you want. Depending on your expected itinerary, this might still be less expensive than purchasing single tickets.
Learn How To Take The Subway
Angela from Boutique Travel Advisors says, “If you are unfamiliar with public transportation systems, like subways, then consider joining a private or small group tour that uses the subway to get around at the start of your trip to learn as you go.
For a large group, you can also hire a guide for the day thus saving the cost of private buses or the stress of leading your group in an unknown place.”
Download Subway App
Download one of the many apps for the New York Subway. Several work offline as well.
Deanna says from The Detailed Traveler, “Take your time to plan your route beforehand and understand where you’re going. I highly recommend downloading a NYC Subway maps app on your phone so you can plan your route and write down which line you are taking and what direction you need to go.
Trains like the 123 line can run on the same line for a bunch of stops and then farther down the line, they split into separate lines, the 1, the 2 and the 3. The train will always list its ending destination which is important to know, because it tells you which line you are going to go on. That’s why I recommend checking out the map beforehand and paying attention to the final destination of the train.”
If Not The Subway, Take The Bus
Sometimes you may not want to take the subway or you want air conditioning. Then, take the bus.
Axel from Tripplo says, “But beforehand, make sure to check the schedule as they run less frequently than subways and they can be harder to figure out.”
Allot Extra Time For Weekends
Sean from Living Out Lau says, “When you are visiting New York City for the first time, the MTA Subway system is an excellent way for you to travel inside the city. However, the service that seems rather reliable and regular on the weekdays is an entirely different story on the weekends.
Not only do subway trains run less regularly, but some of them either don’t run at all or they skip stops that they normally wouldn’t on the weekdays.”
If you have to be somewhere at a certain time, then this might be an extra stressor when taking the subway. However, it is also an opportunity to explore neighbourhoods that you wouldn’t otherwise have visited.
This seemed to happen quite frequently on one of our summer trips to New York. Several trains that we got on skipped a stop because of construction. We ended up having to wait until the next stop to get off, and then walk back. However, it ended up being a fun adventure and we discovered shops, cafes, even smaller museums that we never would have found otherwise.
New York is generally organized around a grid pattern.
The Hudson River is on the westside and the East River is on the eastside. The Avenues run north/south (up and down) or parallel to the rivers. They move chronologically from east to west – the easternmost avenue is 1st and the westernmost is 11th.
The streets run east/west. 5th Avenue is considered the center of the city and divides it between east and west.
New York does not follow the grid pattern below 14th street. However, you can generally rely on this grid pattern from 14th street as you move north.
Jessy from Brighter Things Planning says, “There are LOT of other random streets and avenues thrown in but remembering this will help you when you are exiting the subway station and you need to know whether you should be turning right or left.”
Best Tips To Save Money In New York City
New York City is expensive. Unfortunately, this is a reality that is largely hard to avoid. However, there are some very useful money saving tips to reduce some costs. Here are some of the best tips to save money in New York City.
Purchase A New York Pass
A New York Pass is a prepaid sightseeing card that can be used to get free fast-track entry to the city’s top tourist attractions, including the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour, Empire State Building, and Top of the Rock Observatory. You can choose from over 100 NYC attractions. The Pass is valid for up to 10 days and can save you up to 70% compared to purchasing tickets at each attraction. Lastly, you can visit an unlimited amount of NYC attractions each day.
Purchase A New York Pass Online
Buy the New York Pass online to save time and hassle. In addition, you will save extra money off the retail price.
Go To Matto Espresso For Cheap Coffee
Sara from Restless Meanderer says, “A lot of us love our daily coffee but it can get so expensive, especially in a city where you’re tempted to go to all the cute cafes. Matto Espresso is a chain all over NYC and their whole business model is serving a wide range of great coffees and pastries at affordable prices. I wish I had known this my first time in NYC. I wouldn’t have spent so much time trying to look up the “perfect” cafe and would’ve just popped into Matto, grabbed a drink, and kept walking around the city.”
Avoid Tourist Spots
If you want to visit an iconic New York City attraction, do so, but avoid doing anything else nearby. Restaurants, cafes, and shops around them can be double the cost of the same product or service a few blocks away.
Take The Hop On And Hop Off Bus
A great way to tour the city on a budget is to take a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour. It will allow you to see the city at your own pace and take care of your transportation.
Tickets are valid for 24 hours and enables you to see and learn about the city. You can either get off and go into a specific attraction and catch the next bus after you are done, or you can go back to the attraction and explore after your bus ticket expires.
Find Free Activities
There are a lot of free things to do in NYC including iconic attractions such as Central Park, walking the High Line, and crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.
Take The Staten Island Ferry
The State Island Ferry is free and it sails right past the Statue Of Liberty and Ellis Island, and gives you a stunning view of New York Harbor.
However, Brett from Behind The Flight Deck Door says, “Try to avoid peak hour traffic when it is full of worker commuting to Manhattan.”
Find Inexpensive Activities
There are also lots of inexpensive activities.
Deanna from The Detailed Traveler says, “A little hidden treasure is the boat rides at The Loeb Boat House in Central Park. For $20 per hour per boat with a $20 refundable deposit, you can cruise around the pond in central park, see the skyline, and just enjoy a moment of bliss. It’s one of our favorite things to do.”
There are lots of bike rental shops around Central Park that either offer inexpensive hourly rentals or guided bike tours. We did a two hour guided tour with Bike Rental Central Park. It only cost $29 per person and we had an amazing guide that showed us hidden treasures within the park. We could have easily spent the rest of the day in Central Park exploring and hardly spending any money.
Look For Free Events
Henrik from Every Country In The World says, “There are lots of free events that come and go. Take the time and research what is available when you are there.”
Try searching “things to do in New York this weekend” for the most up to date events.
Look For Deals
Free or “Pay As Much As You Want” Museums
Once you find a museum or art gallery that you want to go see, find out whether they offer free admission on certain days or times, or allow you to pay only what you want.
Christine from Luxury Under Budget says, “I love going to museums in New York City and I used to pay full price until I realize that I could get into some of the best museums for free on certain days or times. Other museums allow you to pay only what you want or can afford.”
Avoid Paying Too Much For The Empire State Building
A standard ticket gets you to the 86th floor. Alternatively, you can pay almost 70% more and go 16 floors higher to the 102nd floor. However, it isn’t necessary. The views from the 86th floor are breathtaking and nothing really changes going 16 floors higher.
Go In Winter
Mark and Kristen Morgan from Where Are Those Morgans say, “In winter, not only will you find flights and hotels offering incredible value and deals but there’s also Broadway and restaurant week in late January early February. That means 2 for 1 tickets to the best theater shows in the world and eating at luxury high end restaurants for affordable prices.
“New York’s top attractions like the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building and The High Line will be crowd free. Brooklyn Bridge is essentially impassable from spring through fall, but in winter, you can have sunsets and the Manhattan skyline almost entirely to yourself.
If possible, avoid driving in New York City. It is busy and stressful, and parking can be difficult to find and expensive. However, if you can’t avoid it, there are two ways to save money.
First, you can park on the street. This is by far the cheapest route to take, but depending on the day or time, a parking space may be difficult to find. If you do, make sure you read the street signs with parking restrictions and comply or run the risk of being ticketed or towed.
Second, if you don’t want to leave the stress of street parking, consider pre-booking a parking space. Jeannie from way.com says, “This is a much more relaxing and cost-effective experience to book parking ahead of time throughout the city.” You can see what is available and compare costs.
For other simple travel tips to save you money, please take a look at 10 Best Money Saving Travel Tips.
If you would like to Travel Cheaper, Smarter and Easier, then join the thousands of subscribers who receive my weekly newsletter filled with the most up to date and best travel tips around. Sign up with this link!
Best Tips For Finding The Best Food In NYC
New York City is a foodie paradise. You name the food and most likely, New York has a restaurant offering one of the best versions of it in the world. So, how do you figure out where to go, what to eat, and how much to pay for it? The experts have some suggestions. Here are the best New York City tips for food and restaurants .
Try the Bagels and Pizza
New York City is “known” for bagels and pizza. Sara from Restless Meanderer says, “In such a big city you are overwhelmed with options. If you are someone who likes all kinds of food it can be hard to decide where to go. It was helpful to have in mind a couple “must try” foods so that I would have less decisions to make come mealtime.”
Make Dinner Reservations
The good restaurants in New York City will be busy. If you want to try them, do not wait until the last minute to make a reservation or show up without a reservation. You won’t get seated and will be disappointed. Make dinner reservations as early as you can for the best choices at the best times.
Eat Where The Locals Go
Tammy at Dream Vacations says, “Whenever we are in a new location, we want to eat where the locals go. So typically, we ask a Police Officer. When we were in NYC we chatted with three Officers for about 30 minutes in Times Square, who were super friendly and helpful, and then we enjoyed the best seafood pasta dish EVER.”
Do A Food Tour
Deanna from The Detailed Traveler says, “The best way to experience famous NYC food is to do a food tour! One of my favorite companies is Free Food Tours By Foot. The tour is free and you only pay for what you want to taste at each stop (Usually $1-5 per stop). The guides only ask for a tip at the end. Usually for two of us, we only pay $50 total, which is a steal!”
Lanie from Make More Adventures says, “A food tour offers a great way to learn about a neighborhood and try a wide variety of food. If you are nervous about leaving midtown on your own, this is a great way to start. I suggest food tours to everyone, even those who live in NYC.”
Best New York City Tips For A Broadway Show
Broadway is synonymous with New York City. Many people can’t fathom a trip to NYC without going to at least one Broadway show. However, they are pretty expensive and if the show is popular, tough to get tickets. Here are some of the best tips for going to a Broadway show in New York for the first time.
Purchase Tickets Early
If you know that you want to see a certain show that is popular, buy your tickets as early as possible. They are not going to get any cheaper and chances are, you will have to pay more if you wait because you might have to go to a ticket resell site or you will have to purchase seats in a more expensive section.
Purchase Discount Theatre Tickets
There are several websites that offer advance tickets to Broadway shows for discounted prices. Broadway Box is one of them. You can subscribe and also receive weekly notifications of newly discounted shows.
Alternatively, you can wait and purchase discount tickets once you are in New York. TKTS is the best option for same day discounted broadway tickets. There is a booth in Time Square as well as other locations. Check for opening hours as they change daily.
For the best choices, go early. Depending on the day, you may have to wait an hour or two so you have to decide whether that is how you want to spend your time.
Robin from Around The World With Kids says, “My advice is to skip the booth in Times Square when you can. Go to another location where they will have a significantly shorter line and the same ticket selection.”
Lastly, many shows, including sold out ones, offer online lotteries for discounted tickets one day to one week before the date of the show in which you are interested. Further, many shows offer “rush” tickets which is the ability to purchase same day discounted tickets at the box office. In addition, some shows offer standing room tickets at discounted prices. Playbill provides a comprehensive list of all these shows. Here is the link. – Broadway Rush, Lottery and Standing Room Only Policies.
Know Proper Behaviour
Bailey says, “Live theatre is a shared experience. Talking and cell-phone use during shows can distract not only audience members, but the performers on stage. They can see everything!”
Celebrate Your First Broadway Show
Audience members can go to the merchandise counter and ask for a “My First Broadway Show” sticker sheet with two stickers: one for the Playbill, and one for the audience member.
Consider Off Broadway Shows
An off broadway show is one that is showing in a theatre with less than 500 seats. It doesn’t speak to the quality of the show or the actors, or whether it is worth seeing. You will likely pay much less than a Broadway show and may see an upcoming show or actor before they become famous.
Pick A Show You Will Like
Do not pay a premium for a show that you won’t enjoy simply because everyone says it’s “the best” show on Broadway or has won Tony awards. If you don’t like musicals, save your time and money, and don’t go to one. You only have so much time in New York – make the most of it.
Best Tips For Shopping In New York City
Everybody has different tastes and budgets. Accordingly, giving shopping tips is a bit of a hit or miss topic. However, everyone likes a deal. Here are the best New York City tips for your next shopping spree.
Spend And Help Others
Housing Works is a chain of social enterprise Thrift Shops which help fund the organization’s mission to end homelessness. It consists of 10 brick and mortar locations throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn as well as an eShop.
Jada says, “The shops offer expertly curated goods in home and fashion. The Thrift Shops are also the best kept secret for interior designers as well as fashion stylists looking to secure one-of-a-kind items for their clients. Housing Works also does celebrity collaborations. The stores also offer a unique insight to the city’s residents as as each location is uniquely merchandised to reflect the sensibilities of the local neighborhood.”
Century 21 Department stores offer top designers at discounted prices.
Best Tips For Choosing Accommodation In NYC For First Time Visitors
Choosing accommodation in New York City can be an overwhelming task. There are hundreds of options, price points, and locations. However, there are some strategies to make this easier. Here are some of the best tips for choosing accommodation in New York.
Stay Where You Plan To Play
Angela from Boutique Travel Advisors says, “New York City is enormous and divided into 5 different boroughs. If you plan to spend most of your time near Central Park and attend Broadway shows, then stay in Uptown or Midtown. On the other hand, if you plan to visit the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, 9/11 Memorial and Museum, look at staying in Tribeca or Soho.”
Know What’s Available
Once you choose your hotel, make sure you know where to find easy eats or groceries. You may start early or end late, and you want to be able to pick up something at all hours of the day.
Avoid Staying In Midtown If On A Budget
Midtown Manhattan is expensive relative to other parts of New York. It also lacks a neighbourhood feeling. For less expensive accommodation, consider Brooklyn or Queens. You will also get a true New York “neighbourhood” experience. You can easily take the subway into Manhattan.
Best Tips For First Time Visitors To Times Square
I received so many comments about Times Square that I felt compelled to create a separate heading. Travel Experts and frequent visitors felt very strongly about these recommendations. In essence, go, see it, take some photos, and then leave as quickly as you can. Here are more tips for visiting Times Square in New York.
There Is So Much More To NY Than Times Square
Sara from Restless Meanderer says, “As someone who had never been to NYC, the first time I went of course I was going to Times Square! However, the constant crowds was crazy overwhelming! Yes, there are some amazing stores around but I couldn’t believe all the ads, noise, street performers, and tourists that were there with me. That weekend was a blur of running from one street corner to the next trying to push my way through everyone.
The next time I went I explored a little further from Times Square and realized how pretty and actually relaxing NYC can be! I found areas way less crowded but the experiences were just as amazing and unique.”
Be Careful In Times Square
Deanna from The Detailed Traveler says, “Don’t take a picture with any characters unless you plan on paying them for it. Don’t take any mixed tapes or handouts on the street, again, unless you plan on paying for it. Be on your guard in this area as it is easy to get pickpocketed, lost in the crowd and plain old just taken advantage of.”
Don’t Eat In Times Square
Lanie from Make More Adventures says, Times Square is great for a photo, but you do not need to spend time there and you definitely do not need to eat there. If you need to eat and you happen to be in Times Square, walk a few blocks east or west to find better and cheaper restaurants. Same for street food. It is more expensive the closer you are to Times Square.”
Don’t Book A Hotel In Times Square
You should visit Times Square on your first visit to New York City, but don’t book a hotel in that area. It is crowded, noisy and less safe than other areas. Also, everything is a lot more expensive as it is solely a tourist attraction.
Lanie says, “While it is great for transportation, you can easily stay further downtown and still find the subway line that you need. Plus if you stay in a neighborhood like Greenwich Village, Soho, or Chelsea, there is more for you to do near your hotel than just hang around Times Square. You will save money on meals and they will be much better restaurants.”
Best Tips For First Time Visitors To Stay Safe In New York
New York is a big American city and like all cities, you have to make good choices and be aware of your surroundings. Personally, I have never felt unsafe in New York, but I grew up in a city. Regardless, here are some safety tips to keep in mind.
Know What You Are Doing
The best defence to something bad happening is being prepared. Where are you going? How are you getting there? How much should it cost? In New York, be suspicious of someone trying to help you without you asking. New Yorkers are happy to help but they aren’t spending their day looking for lost tourists.
If you are unlucky and stumble upon the wrong person who thinks you don’t know what you are doing or where you are going, they will likely try to take advantage of you. If it doesn’t feel right, walk away.
Don’t Walk With Earphones In
Claire from The Detour Effect says, “Don’t walk the streets with your earphones in (especially at night, and as a solo female). When I was walking home one evening from my subway stop, I was blasting music in my headphones and wasn’t aware of my surroundings. Next thing I know, I was mugged. Had I been listening and aware of my surroundings, I don’t think that would have happened.”
Be Aware Of Pick Pockets
Keep valuables close to your person and if things must be in your pockets, keep them in the front, or keep your hands in your pockets alongside them.
Claire from The Detour Effect says, “I also noticed that sometimes when walking in the streets or through the subway system, other people would go out of their way to walk or bump into me to the point where it couldn’t possibly have been an accident. Someone told me it’s because they’re trying to pickpocket me. I did start to notice that it mainly happened when I would wear big coats with pockets.
Stay Away From Platform Edges On The Subway
On the subway, avoid standing by the platform edge at all times. Instead, you should stand with your back against the metal beams on the platform or simply be far enough away from the edge that you are not at risk of someone accidentally or intentionally knocking you onto the tracks.
Bernadette from Explorer Chick says, “Being aware of your surroundings is even more important when on the subway and waiting for the train on the platform. Unfortunately, there are instances when people have been pushed onto the tracks.”
Best Tips For First Time Visitors To New York City
Some of the best New York City tips for first time visitors defy a category. However, these tips are equally important.
You Can’t Do Everything
You have to be realistic about what you can do with the time that you have allotted. The minimum amount of time that you want on your first visit is four nights so that you have three full days to explore. Pick one major tourist attraction for each day, then fill the rest of the day with eating, shopping, going to a Broadway Show or exploring an area.
Book Tickets In Advance
Angela from Boutique Travel Advisors says, “You are not going to have time to wait in lines, nor do you want to find out something is SOLD OUT when you get there.”
Join A Tour
Joining a tour often allows you to skip the line and pay less when you add up transportation costs, admission, and the guide.
Don’t Only See The Iconic Attractions
Do some research and find out what else is available that may interest you.
Emily says from Family Destinations Guide says, “Don’t only go to the most famous spots like the Empire State Building, The Statue of Liberty, etc, as there are a lot more amazing things to do that you may have never heard about before.”
Brian from Timeshatter says, “Remember New York City is divided into five boroughs and all five have their own unique charm. So many people end up only visiting Manhattan and while Manhattan is great, it’s not the full NYC experience. Plan ahead before you go and research what you may want to see throughout all five boroughs.”
Make A Plan Before You Arrive
Marc from JT Travel says, “You can maximize the number of places you visit and stretch a buck at the same time if you plan and find the best deals and offers beforehand.”
Get Out Of The Way
Lanie says, “Keep walking and get out of the way if you stop. The easiest way to identify a tourist is that they stop in the middle of the sidewalk and hold everyone else up. Just step to the side and check your phone or map or whatever it is that is making you stop. This is how to make friends in New York City!
Buy A Sim Card
If you don’t have a phone plan that covers New York, buy a local Sim Card so you can easily access maps.
Isabella from Boundless Roads says, “In the subway station you get free wifi, and sometimes in others spots in the city, but it’s not always reliable. If you are somebody who loves to walk and explore, a local SIM card will allow you to access maps and never get lost.”
Purchase Advanced Tickets To Go Into The Statue of Liberty
Anyone can line up to catch the ferry to Liberty Island where the Statue of Liberty sits. The amount of time you wait depends on demand. However, a better way is to purchase advanced tickets. Not only can you skip the line and get on the ferry faster, but you can purchase tickets to go into and up the Statue of Liberty. Only a limited number of tickets are available each day to actually go inside the Statue of Liberty. In high season, they sell out months in advance.
Wear Comfortable Footwear
It sounds obvious, but it bears reminding. You are going to be on your feet all day and without comfortable supportive shoes, you are going to be miserable.
Sherry says, “Of course we want to look our best. But New York is a very busy city and traveling by foot is what makes it interesting.”
Ravi from Rover Pass says, “It is equally as important for your entire foot to be covered. Native New Yorkers know the importance of closed-toed shoes – from dirty streets to the busy Subway, you never want your feet to be exposed!”
New York City is a dream destination. However, it is big, busy, and intense. That means your experience can be amazing and exhilarating, or overwhelming and scary. If you come prepared and follow these best tips for first time visitors to New York City, you should be one step closer to having one of the best times of your life.