I can’t count how many times I’ve visited NYC over the years, but I do remember my first time like it was yesterday.
New York City is unlike any other city in the world. It’s a city that ignites every sense you have and expels a kind of energy that can both excite you, and exhaust you, at the same time.
I’m not going to lie, it can be an overwhelming experience visiting NYC for the first time. It’s loud, it’s busy, it’s chaotic, and if you don’t go in prepared, it can rinse your wallet!
This is why we’ve prepared this guide to some of the most essential New York City travel tips, so you can go in armed with all the information you need to know before you go and have the most pleasant experience in the Big Apple.
Things To Know Before You Go To NYC
1. Winter is Cold, Super Cold
Traveling to New York City in the middle of winter was challenging. We are not cold weather people, and New York City is cold.
The average winter temperature is somewhere between 25°F to 40°F (-4°C to 4°C), but it can get colder. Snow is common, but that’s not what gets your bones chilling.
NYC’s position on the Atlantic Ocean means there is always a cold front wind blowing through the city, which can make temperatures feel colder than they are.
This is not to put you off, we had so much fun exploring everything on offer and NYC at Christmas Time is just magical. Even in the snow, we came to realize there really is no other city quite like the Big Apple.
Plus, Central Park dusted in snow is a sight to behold.
Just remember to wrap up in your warmest clothes.
2. Walking Is The Best Way To See The city of New York
The best way to experience New York City is by foot. That way you get to explore at your own pace, you can discover hidden gems along the way, and you can buy a cup of coffee and a donut from the street corner vendors and continue on your way.
Walking around NYC is made easy by the fact that it’s flat, it’s well laid out, and easy to navigate.
We highly recommend a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. This famous landmark has a pedestrian walkway and it offers amazing views back to Manhattan.
It can be appreciated both at daylight, and especially in the nighttime with the city lights lit up. And watching the sunset on Manhattan from the Brooklyn side is a great site.
We really recommend joining a guided walking tour, or food tour. It’s such a great way to learn interesting history and culture of the city, get to know its people and try yummy food. We have a list of some of NYC best food tours. We also love the company Devour Tours who have a Ultimate Greenwich Village NYC Food Tour and Dumplings, Delis, & History: Lower East Side Historical Food Tour
3. Central Park Is A Must-Visit Attraction
It doesn’t get much better than a stroll around arguably the most famous city park in the world.
From the lovely lakes, pavilions, monuments, horse drawn carriages, and squirrels at play, a walk around this park is a great relief from the hustle and bustle that is New York.
Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to finally live the life you had always seen in the movies?
This is how we found ourselves on Christmas morning in 2004; ice-skating in Central Park, with the New York City skyline in front of us, jingle bells playing in the background, and Santa zooming right past as we scrambled to keep our legs upright.
4. Walk from East to West and North to South
When walking around the city, the best route to take is East to West, and then North to South. This way you can explore the quaint bars of Greenwich Village, the buzzing excitement of Times Square, the hip areas of Soho and Tribeca.
We also walked the famous boutique stores along Broadway and Fifth Avenue, not for shopping of any kind, but to spend 5 minutes smothering our body in warmth so we could continue seeing more of New York.
Although it did feel good to dream that one day we would return, just as Julia Roberts did in Pretty Woman, and go on a shopping spree!
Other walking destinations include Wall Street, Little Italy, Brooklyn, and of course Chinatown. There really is no other way to see this city.
5. Spend New Years Eve in New York City With a Local
Spending 6 hours standing shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of thousands of other crazy people freezing their asses off with nowhere to buy a drink and nowhere to pee, didn’t sound like our kind of fun.
So, when the invitation arrived to attend a locals New Years Eve bash in an apartment over looking the Statue of Liberty, we jumped on it.
Now we had warmth, yummy food, our own music, an unlimited supply of alcohol, somewhere to pee, and the added bonus of a roof top terrace to watch the fireworks display over the Statue of Liberty.
Maybe it’s on your bucket list to see the ball drop in Times Square, and maybe we will someday too, but if an option becomes available party with a local, seriously consider it.
4. Take the New York City Subway
The NYC subway is an attraction in itself, not just a form of public transportation.
It reminds me of the London Underground, with a kind of old-fashioned aesthetic. The subway is relatively safe and efficient, but it can also be chaotic so we only recommend taking it for long distances.
If possible, ride the subway to Harlem and check out a local Gospel choir in Harlem.
The people watching on the subway is very interesting, and the gospel choir was amazing. Get there early as tourists tend to line up to get a seat.
Oh, and you no longer need a Metrocard. You can simply use contactless payment on your credit card if you have this feature.
5. Make Time For Cafes and Coffee in New York City
Coffee culture is a big thing in New York City, and you can find some really great independent coffee shops and cafes that serve up the best coffee and sweet treats.
One of our favorite coffee shops in NYC is MUD coffee. There’s a cafe in East Village but also the MUD trucks in Astor Place and Greenwich. The chai lattes are to die for!
Joe Heart of Coffee has several locations in NYC and also has excellent roasted coffee.
Typically when we visit New York, you will find us in Aussie cafes, because, you know, we do outstanding coffee. Our favorites now have multiple locations as they’re so good! Check out Blue Stone Lane (grab a lamington) and In Common in Hudson Yards (great food too)
6. Don’t Forget About A New York City Pizza
And of course, you can’t go to NYC without trying pizza.
You can find the best pizza in Manhattan, at Emporio in Tribeca, Lombardi’s in Little Italy which is the first pizza joint in America (apparently), or if you want to splash out, head to Bella Vita on the corner of Times Square.
7. Save Money On Attractions With A City Pass
New York City can get expensive with the sheer amount of things to do. Museums and attractions can get expensive, but you can save massively by getting the NYC City Pass or the NYC Sightseeing Pass, which gives you entrance to select attractions plus other discounts in the city. We share more on saving money in NYC here and go more in-depth to the best NYC attraction passes.
Don’t forget the New York City pass, which saves you money on your admission to six of New York’s most popular attractions. Click here for more information.
One of our favorites is the New York City Sightseeing Pass. They’re especially good if staying several days in NYC and want to incorporate other fun tours and attractions that aren’t only the top tourist attractions.
8. Plan Some Free (& Cheap Activities)
Another way to save money is to plan for free or cheap things to do. A nice cheap thing to do is take the aerial tram at 59th Street over to Roosevelt Island in the East River, which is a residential area with parks and gorgeous view of Manhattan.
Another cheap thing to do is ride the Staten Island Ferry. It’s free, runs 24 hours, and offers stunning views of lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty without having to wait in that awful line to to go Liberty Island.
If you are visiting in winter, you can enjoy free ice skating at Bryant Park, instead of paying a fortune for iceskating outside the Rockafella Center.
9. Don’t Take A Cab
Taxis in NYC are expensive and the traffic is a nightmare. You will be paying to sit in traffic, so don’t waste your time on this.
You can pretty much reach any neighborhood by Subway, so there isn’t a need to take a taxi in NYC.
10. Public Bathrooms Are Not In High Supply
If you need to stop to use a restroom, you’re going to find it hard to find a public bathroom.
You will likely need to stop at a coffee shop or restaurant to use the bathroom, and you will of course need to be a customer to use the bathroom.
Just a heads up…
11. People Walk Really Fast
There is this assumption that New Yorkers are unfriendly, which isn’t usually the case, they just have somewhere to be.
It’s a busy city with a lot of people, and when you’re in a rush, it can get frustrating.
Try not to stand in the middle of the sidewalk to take photos, and avoid sauntering in the subway during rush hour.
12. Eat From Food Carts
You can get a cheap pizza slices or a hot dog from a food cart or street vendors, which is a quick, affordable and tasty way to have lunch.
If you’re on a budget, this will save your wallet from crying.
13. Don’t Miss The Museums
New York City has so many fantastic museums, some of them world famous.
My favorites are the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), Museum of Sex, MoCCA (Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art).
Most museums are “pay what you wish” but there is usually someone at the door that’s asking for you to pay your “donation.”
Look for free days before you visit. You can see dates and times of free entry for NYC museums here.
14. Go Up The Empire State Building Early
Get up the Empire State building as early as possible to avoid the crowds. It might be touristy, but views from the observation deck are still one of the number one things to see in NYC.
Looking down on a city from high up is a great way to get your bearings for your future meanderings.
Oh, and it’s worth going up it twice, as the night time view is just as good!
You can also get great views of the Empire State Building from Top of The Rock.
15. Fly Into John F. Kennedy International Airport (JKF)
New York City has three airports; John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) and LaGuardia Airport (LGA).
The biggest and busiest one is JFK, which is located in Queens. It’s easy to get from this airport to anywhere in the city on public transportation.
16. Check Playbill for Cheap Broadway Tickets
Most visitors to NYC plan on catching a show on Broadway, but it’s not a cheap way to spend an evening.
If you’re not bothered about which Broadway Show you watch, check Playbill.com to see what tickets you can get for a reduced price.
Alternatively, go to Rockwood Music Hall in the Lower East Side for live music. It’s also where you can find a suitably large glass of lovely red wine.
Goign to Broadway is definitely one of our teens favorite things to do in New York City
17. Don’t Skip The Bronx
This borough in NYC has a reputation for having high crime and is considered one of the most unsafe neighborhoods in the USA.
The Bronx Zoo is one of the largest zoos in the USA, and Yankee Stadium in Bronx is a great place to catch a game of baseball
In the day time, the Bronx isn’t as dangerous as people say it is. Just exercise caution and don’t go wandering around alone at night, and you shouldn’t run into any problems.
18. Visit The Beaches
Yes, New York City has beaches. Some of our favorites are Coney Island Beach, Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach Park. On Long Island, Jones beach is very popular.
In the summer, the ocean is very beautiful and you can also swim in the ocean.
19. Book Tables at Restaurants
NYC is always busy and so you can never be sure to find a table when it suits you. Try to be proactive and book a table beforehand to save on time.
Spend as little time in Times Square as possible if you want to eat quickly. If you are in the area, dine at the restaurants on 9th Ave instead of visiting the chain restaurants.
You could also try dining in Hoboken. It’s known for being place with the biggest number of bars in one square kilometer.
Another popular neighborhood to dine at is the French district in upper east side (70th-80th), which has a bunch of nice French restaurants and rooftop bars.
So there you have it, those are some of the things I wish I knew before I went to New York City.
There’s nothing quite like the Big Apple. It’s so diverse and culturally different from anywhere else in the world (well, it is called the city of immigrants), and although it can be overwhelming, it’s definitely somewhere that leaves a lasting impression.
We hope these NYC travel tips helped you plan your trip and helped you feel at ease about visiting.
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Do you have any New York City travel tips? Let us know what you recommend in the comments!