I often get asked for tips for traveling to New York and honestly, someone could write a book on tips to visit this city because there are tips and tricks for just about everything you do. But, I wanted to do a post with some of my biggest tips, ones that I would give to someone who might be traveling here for the first time.
While writing this, I realized I have so much to say that I should do a whole series, so I'm working on a couple of extra guides including one for the subway. In the meantime, here are my biggest tips for your trip to New York City. Warning, these tips might be a little snarky.
Take the subway
I know some people find it daunting, but with Google Maps, there's really no reason not to take the subway. It will save you so much money that it's worth the adventure and if you get confused or go the wrong way, mistakes can easily be fixed. I'll do a full, in-depth post on using the subway if you're interested but my biggest tips are simple:
1. Utilize Google Maps
2. Know which direction you're going to make sure you enter on the correct side of the track.
3. Get a 7-Day Unlimited Pass if you're staying longer than a short weekend.
Eat dinner early to avoid crowds
If you're visiting from somewhere else (in America at least), you're probably used to eating dinner earlier and this can work to your advantage. For dinner, restaurants tend to start getting busy around 7-9 pm. So, going at an earlier dinner time like 5-6 pm will mean shorter wait times and smaller crowds, which is always a nice treat especially if you're in need of some quiet after a day surrounded by people.
Book a hotel in Brooklyn
If it's your first trip to the city, it's probably best to stay in Manhattan but for return trips, consider booking a room in Downtown Brooklyn or Williamsburg. Whether you're in the Brooklyn Heights area or Williamsburg, there's a lot to do, they're cute areas, and both still very close to Manhattan by train. But, you're getting a nice room for less money than you would in Manhattan.
I recommend The Williamsburg Hotel, The Wythe Hotel, 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, The Marriott Brooklyn Bridge (huge rooms), The William Vale, and the McCarren Hotel. Rooms at these hotels start at about $150 - $250 as opposed to $300 - $800 at comparable Manhattan hotels.
Stay to the right and keep moving
The most important rule to keep in mind is to always stick to the right when walking on the sidewalk or up and down stairs/escalators. This allows foot traffic to keep moving and provides space for people who want to walk up the escalator.
And keep moving!
Please for the love of God, do not stop in the middle of the sidewalk, after going through the turnstile, and especially at the bottom of escalators. If you need to stop, move to the side to stay out of the way. I seriously have been behind someone who stopped at the bottom of the escalator, so I was trapped on the moving part and thought I was going to get sucked in. Was not pleasant!
Carry hand sanitizer and use frequently
I love this city but it can be very disgusting and with 8.5 million residents alone (not including tourists), germs are abundant. I've seen teenagers with their dirty shoes up on the handrails people use in the subway and all sorts of other unsanitary behavior. So yes, bring a travel hand sanitizer with you and use it before every meal and every time you exit the subway.
If someone tries to talk to you on the street or at the airport, just keep walking
Usually, if someone is trying to stop you in public, it's either sketchy or just not worth the time. When you arrive at the airport, someone hanging around baggage claim might ask if you need a cab. Look straight ahead, keep walking, and go to the taxi line or order an Uber. Legit drivers aren't going to be waiting inside to accost you.
On the street, it's more likely to just be a waste of time. If you stopped for every person who tried to reel you in, your entire trip would be spent trying to escape awkward conversations. Never lock eyes and if you do, look away and keep walking.
Don't eat at big, national chain restaurants
Because what's the point of spending so much money to travel to the city if you're going to have dinner at a place you can visit in any old mall in the U.S.? You'll have access to some of the best restaurants in the entire world and can get any cuisine you'd like, so take advantage and see below for combating decision fatigue.
Make a loose itinerary
This is my biggest travel tip in general. While I don't recommend planning your trip hour-by-hour, it is smart to make a loose itinerary to help ward off the decision fatigue that is very real in New York.
Determine which neighborhoods you'll be hanging around, then make a list of restaurants that sound good and keep it on hand. That way, when you're hungry, you know a good place to go and don't have to stand on the corner Googling places or end up somewhere that's not worth your money.
Extra tip: If you really don't know where to go or are just looking for somewhere quick and affordable, here are some ideas (with multiple locations) that you still aren't likely to find in your hometown: Pret-a-Manger, Le Pain Quotidien, Dig Inn, Westville, Sweetgreen, and Hale & Hearty Soups. Chances are, you'll always be near one of these.
Know which attractions are worth your time
There really is so much to do here that it's good to determine which tourist attractions are worth your time and which are just taking away from time that could be spend doing something more "authentically New York".
Here's my harsh opinion on the matter:
Worth Your Time: Central Park, The High Line, 9/11 Memorial, The Oculus, shopping on 5th Ave and Madison Ave, going to a live TV taping, taking the free Staten Island Ferry for a view of the Statue of Liberty.
Take a Pass: Pretty much everything else. Top of the Rock provides a great photo op, but I'm not sure it's worth the entry price just for that, especially when you can just go to a rooftop bar or do the 9/11 Memorial tour. You definitely don't need to do a bus tour, especially when the price of one can get you a ticket to a show, a really good meal, or an Uber when you're tired. Times Square should honestly be avoided at all costs once you've seen it once, unless you're going to a Broadway show.