So you’re traveling to NYC and you’re not sure what to expect, keep reading for the ultimate travel guide to 101 things you need to know before visiting New York. I am breaking it down into 7 sections: geography, transportation, cost, weather, where to stay, best food to eat and Broadway tips. There’s also a printable bucket list below!
Geography of NYC:
1. 8 million people live here.
2. Over 60 million people visit each year, so it can be crowded!
3. There are 5 boroughs.
4. Manhattan is the smallest borough but usually steals the show.
5. I might be biased towards Brooklyn, but did you know if it was a city and not a borough, it would be the 4th largest city in the US.
6. I recommend going outside Manhattan for local neighborhood experiences if you have time visit Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and … maybe Staten Island.
7. Or at least take the Staten Island Ferry for a free boat ride with views of the city and the statue of liberty.
8. NYC, especially Manhattan is a grid system of mostly rectangles.
9. Three short NYC blocks between streets usually equals 1 long block between avenues.
10. It usually takes about 1 minute to walk 1 short block between streets and 5 minutes to walk 1 long block between avenues.
11. 20 short blocks between streets is about a mile.
12. Most of Manhattan has STREETS that run east-west from 1st street to 220th street uptown.
13. Avenues run south-north from the east side to the west side 1st ave, 2nd ave, Lexington, Park, Madison, 6th ave 7th ave to 11th ave.
14. 5th ave divides Manhattan’s east from its west side
15. Broadway crisscrosses against the grid diagonally through Columbus Circle, Times Square and down to Union Square.
16. We talk about the city in directions: uptown or downtown, east side or west side.
17. When asking for directions don’t say a specific hotel or address but give the cross streets.
18. You need to walk with purpose and confidence here. Slow walking is illegal here… or at least it should be. New Yorkers walk with purpose, don’t usually pay attention to walk signs and will walk in front of cars and yell at cars with the right of way for not stopping.
19. 99% of NYC is not at all dangerous, just don’t be dumb with your stuff and you’ll be fine.
20. The easiest way to piss of a New Yorker (with somewhere to be) is to stand in their way. Don’t stop in the middle of the sidewalk or at the top of stairs to look at your map, step to the side to let foot traffic by.
21. It might be an island, but it doesn’t have great beaches. In the summer go to Rockaway Beach, Coney Island, the Hamptons or the Jersey shore.
22. Houston Street: it’s pronounced House-ton not Huse-ton.
Transportation in NYC:
23. If possible, avoid traveling during rush hour when people are going to work Monday – Friday 8-9:30am and 5 -6:30pm.
24. Yellow Taxis are great for sightseeing above ground if you don’t have time to walk or if you’re going somewhere not easily accessible by the subway.
25. Don’t wave down a taken cab, the trick is: If the number is lit up it’s empty, if it’s not lit up it’s taken.
26. To hail a cab: stand on a prominent corner with your hand up, if it is a one-way street or avenue, try the corner in the direction you’re going.
27. For cheaper shared rides try Lyft or Uber or Via.
28. You can borrow a Citi Bike for a day for $12, riding it for unlimited 30-minute intervals as long as you redock it before 30 minutes.
29. The subway is usually the fastest and cheapest way to get around.
30. Stairs or Escalators: stand on the right. Keep moving on the left.
31. Have your MetroCard ready before stepping up to the gate to avoid a human traffic jam.
32. One MetroCard swipe currently costs $2.75
33. If you need a specific number of swipes you can customize the exact amount you add on.
34. If you’re here a full week and will use it 13 times or more get the unlimited weekly pass.
35. There are also monthly passes.
36. If you move here, ask your employer about tax free metro cards.
37. If you’re not from the USA and you pay with a credit card put your zip code as 99999.
38. Some entrances are direction specific- so check if it says downtown only and you’re going uptown you need to cross the street for the other entrance. If you accidentally swipe into the entrance for the wrong direction that doesn’t have an underpass to the other side, you might have to wait 18 minutes.
39. There are local and express trains. Local stops are marked as black circles on the subway map, express stops are marked by white circles.
40. Allow passengers to exit a subway car before entering; do not block the doors.
41. If a train car is empty and others around it are not, don’t get on, it probably smells terrible or has a broken air conditioner.
42. Subway platforms are not air conditioned or heated in the summer or winter, only the trains are.
43. For the cost of one swipe on your MetroCard you can ride the red Roosevelt tram, like Spiderman, for great views and cherry blossoms on Roosevelt Island in the Spring.
44. If you dare to eat on the train avoid smelly or messy meals, just have a granola bar.
45. You will probably loose cell service below ground.
46. Don’t lean on the poll.
47. Don’t listen to music without headphones.
48. Take off your backpack.
49. Don’t take up more than one seat.
50. Listen to announcements, if you can hear them, just in case the train takes another route.
Cost of NYC:
51. NYC is expensive.
52. But some things can be super affordable. You can find pizza for $5 per slice which can be amazing or $1 dollar pizza that is not bad!
53. Bring cash. Some markets, food trucks and places only accept cash.
54. Most places have a credit card minimum requiring you to spend 5 or $10 before you can use a credit card instead of cash. There is usually a sign on the cash register or you can ask if you are buying something under $10.
55. Lunch can easily be $10 to $20.
56. Dinner can be $15 to $35 depending on where.
57. Places with views or rooftops are usually more expensive, but worth it.
58. Sales tax is not usually included on restaurant and retail price tags which is 8.875%.
59. The recommended tip amount is 15-20% on a bill for waiters, bartenders and taxi drivers.
When to go and NYC weather
60. The best weather is in Spring and Fall.
61. I highly recommend visiting in spring especially when the cherry blossoms are blooming.
62. Summer is the hottest time, but there are tons of FREE activities but also the most tourists.
63. The second most popular time is Winter to see holiday decorations, but it can be cold and there can be blizzards.
64. Wear extra layers, a big jacket and comfy boots in winter.
65. Wear comfy sneakers in any season because NYC is a walking city.
66. If it rains you can buy a cheap $5 umbrella everywhere but it probably won’t last very long.
67. Avoid big puddles especially when it’s not raining.
Where to stay in NYC
68. If you’re only here for a few days, the most central location to stay is in midtown near Times Square.
69. Times Square is a must-see but it’s a lot, so you probably won’t want to spend too much time there.
70. Avoid the characters asking if you want a photo, they will ask you for money after you take a photo and some characters you didn’t want a photo with will photo bomb you and then ask for additional money.
71. If you have more time, stay in a less touristy area like downtown or Brooklyn, somewhere with a quick 20 minute subway from most things.
72. I love Airbnb if you want to stay in a local apartment, especially affordable if you’re traveling in a group. Use this link for $40 off here.
Food in NYC
73. There’s nothing like a NYC bagel. That is a fact.
74. We love Mexican food. The best tacos are at Tacos No. 1.
75. Pizza is a staple of a New Yorker’s diet.
76. Some top spots are Best Pizza, Roberta’s, John’s of Bleeker Street, Joe’s, Juliana’s, Paulie Gee’s and Prince Street Pizza.
77. Food and drinks come in huge portions and sizes so check coffee cup sizes ahead of time or if you can’t finish your food ask for it to go.
78. Use bathrooms when you see them, there are limited public restrooms, but some great ones are in Chelsea Market, Grand Central, Bryant Park and in hotel lobbies.
79. The corner bodega has everything you need from basic groceries to sandwiches.
80. For a cheap meal go to a grocery store that often has prepared sandwiches, salads or a hot section.
81. If you see a B or C instead of an A outside a restaurant that means they have had over 14 recorded health violations, so you probably don’t want to eat there.
82. Brunch and boozy brunch is a weekend affair, which can get busy and expensive, so make reservations and get there early.
83. Speakeasies are hidden cocktail bars often left over from Prohibition times.
84. Go out on the Weekdays like a Thursday for great happy hour specials and smaller crowds.
85. Enjoy affordable meals at expensive restaurants if you make reservations for Restaurant week.
NYC Broadway Tips
86. There’s also a Broadway week.
87. If you can’t afford that, try getting tickets to the cheaper off-Broadway week.
88. For cheap tickets try a ticket lottery or same day tickets at a TKTS booth.
89. If you have a specific show in mind it is best to get tickets as far ahead as possible.
90. My favorite Broadway show is Wicked. I’ve seen it 3 times.
91. A great family friendly show is the Lion King.
92. Make sure to print out your tickets beforehand.
93. If you are picking up tickets at the box office go earlier in the day to avoid lines.
94. Broadway is a guaranteed great show… but some of the best shows you will see will be free in the NYC subway!
95. Museums often have a free night or pay what you like pricing.
96. Visit a few museums together along Museum Mile uptown.
97. Central Park is massive. There’s more to it than just the Mall, dedicate at least half a day to explore.
98. If you want to blend in wear black, if you want to stand out wear color!
99. Where to get souvenirs: don’t buy souvenirs in touristy areas like near Times Square, the cheapest post cards and souvenirs are often in a Duane Reade in touristy areas or in Chinatown. But for local NY made things check out markets like artists and fleas, Museum stores or Grand Central’s transit museum shop.
100. You cannot see it all! Know this so you can manage expectations and your list isn’t too long like our 101 things to do bucket list. Keep your list realistic for how much time you have and build in free time!
101. Lastly keep reading my other helpful NYC blog posts like NYC tips, Local Food Favorites, Subway Guide or Subway Secrets.
Comment your favorite thing or add a tip below!