From the Statue of Liberty to Radio City Music Hall, New York City’s landmarks are renowned the world over. But the soul of the Big Apple lies in its rich cultural flavor.
Unlike many popular destinations, New York City’s main industry isn’t tourism. Explore the nation’s largest metropolis with a mix of respect and adventure — your next delight is just around the corner.
The most efficient way to see the city is by subway, bus, ferry or train. Most rides cost $2.75 one way, regardless of how far you’re traveling. Just head to a Metropolitan Transportation Authority kiosk, purchase a MetroCard, swipe at a turnstile and hop aboard.
2. Plan routes in advance …
While some subway stations offer Wi-Fi, coverage is spotty throughout the ride and not guaranteed. So it’s best to plot your travels ahead of time. Google Maps is a sturdy aid, as are the MTA’s app and Citymapper.
3. … and pack for the day.
To make the most of your trip, avoid stopping back at your hotel room or rental. Consider packing daily essentials in a backpack, and grab a slice of $2 pizza for lunch if cash is tight. In true New Yorker style, embrace the shade at a nearby park or coffee shop.
4. Stay alert (and don’t stop in the middle of the sidewalk).
On the streets of New York, energy swirls from every direction. Keeping your eyes up is key — not only to prevent theft, but also out of courtesy for others. Stepping off the sidewalk could put you directly in the path of a fast-moving biker.
Sometimes New Yorkers get a bad rep for being rude. The reality is that most are quite friendly. But understand that though you’re on vacation, you’ll likely cross paths with someone’s daily commute. Staying mindful ensures everyone is able to travel smoothly.
5. Make time to laugh.
The comedy scene in New York is legendary, and there’s something for every taste. Whether you’re looking for an intimate indie hideout or bright lights and big names, you’ll laugh along with some of the greats at a comedy show in the city.
6. Wear comfortable shoes.
Nothing sabotages a trip faster than blisters and bloody heels. Prioritize comfort over style when visiting the Big Apple, even if it means leaving your fabulous stilettos behind.
7. Explore beyond Times Square.
Think of Times Square as the midway of a state fair: It’s bright, crowded, loud and stuffed with expensive spots. Sure, it’s worthwhile to see — and home to Broadway theaters — but it’s just one note in New York’s glorious symphony.
Ignite your senses in Harlem’s rush of jazz, soul food and street art. Wander through Greenwich Village’s romantic, zig-zagged streets and take a break in Washington Square Park. Soak in the riches of immigrant history at the Lower East Side’s Tenement Museum, then head north to admire the art deco magic of Grand Central Terminal and couturiers on the Upper East Side.
And don’t forget about the Upper West Side, Washington Heights, Hell’s Kitchen, the Flatiron District, Union Square, Chelsea, East Village, Little Italy, SoHo, Tribeca, Chinatown and the Financial District.
8. Check out the outer boroughs.
True, you could spend years exploring Manhattan alone. But Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island are add to the city’s overall flavor.
Whether picnicking in Prospect Park or admiring art at MoMA’s PS1, you’ll get a clearer picture of local life by venturing off the island.
What’s a bodega?
Bodegas are corner shops that are part supermarket, part convenience store and wholly neighborhood landmarks. The word bodega comes from a Spanish word that means “warehouse” or “wine cellar.” In the 1940s and ’50s, bodegas were typically operated by Puerto Rican immigrants. Stop in to grab last-minute munchies, snag a bottle of wine or pet a mascot cat.
Are ATMs common?
Yes. ATMs are found on nearly every block throughout the city and outer boroughs. Police recommend covering your hand when inputting your pin, and taking your cash as soon as it comes out to help prevent theft.
Can I pay for a MetroCard with a credit card in NYC?
Yes. MetroCard Vending Machines accept cash, credit and debit cards.
Do street food vendors accept credit cards in NYC?
While some food trucks may accept credit cards, most street vendors selling coffee, hot dogs and similar fare do not. It’s a good idea to keep cash on you at all times in NYC — especially if you’re prone to street food cravings.
Cash transactions are generally more economical for vendors because they avoid credit card transaction fees.
Are pickpockets common in NYC?
Not particularly. However, pickpockets target tourists, so stay aware of your surroundings at all times — especially in crowded places. Keep valuables zipped away close to your body.
New York City is one of the most walkable cities in the world, with coffee shops and bodegas never more than a few blocks away. But what happens when you start in Washington Heights and want to loop down towards the Statue of Liberty, finishing up at the Met on the Upper East Side? An itinerary like that calls for public transportation.
Public transportation in New York City
Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) operates the city’s rail and bus system. To navigate routes, use MTA’s Trip Planner online or via the mobile app — or use Google Maps. You can also use apps like Citymapper to compare routes and see any service changes that could affect your trip.
Your options for getting around in NYC include:
Subway. Get from one neighborhood to the next in minutes. NYC’s subway system spans the city and surrounding boroughs, making it ideal for commuters and tourists alike. You’ll need to buy a $1 MetroCard, and each trip is $2.75.
Bus. Watch the neighborhoods roll by while riding the city bus for $2.75 per ride. You can pay with a MetroCard, exact change or on some buses with Select Bus Service, at a sidewalk kiosk.
Ferry. Manhattan’s island status makes water transport essential — and unforgettable. For $2.75 a pop, you can cross the East River to get from Manhattan to Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx on one of MTA’s ferries. On a clear day, enjoy views of the skyline with a locally sourced refreshment.
Roosevelt Island Tram. Connecting Roosevelt Island to 59th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan, the Roosevelt Tram provides an awesome aerial view of the city over the East River. Hop aboard with the swipe of a MetroCard — that’ll be $2.75. Up to three children under 44 in. tall can ride for free with an adult.
Train. Penn Station and Grand Central Station are two hubs for choo choo transport off the island. Metro North trains depart from Grand Central Station and run up towards Connecticut and Westchester, ideal for folks who commute from the suburbs. Penn Station hosts the Long Island Railroad and New Jersey Transit, which connect Manhattan to Long Island and New Jersey, respectively.
The surest mark of a clumsy tourist is someone who doesn’t follow subway etiquette. How to blend in:
Don’t lean on the poles. Grimy as they may be, subway poles are meant for hands, not bodies. Leaning against a pole means that no one else can use it to balance. If the subway car is crowded, get a sturdy grip and stand back so others can do the same.
Be ready to swipe your MetroCard. City dwellers are used to moving through subway turnstiles quickly. Even if you’re a slow swiper, at least have your card out and ready to go when you approach the turnstile to avoid holding up the flow.
Wait your turn. When a subway car arrives, your instinct may be to rush on immediately. Let passengers leave the train first so you can board without bumping into each other.
Taxis, rideshares and tours
Taxi. Tell-tale taxis comb the city in that classic shade of yellow (green in the outer boroughs!) and accept cash or credit cards. Though more expensive than public transportation, they can be a godsend on humid summer days or frigid winter nights. It’s customary to tip about 15% to 20%.
Rideshare. Uber and Lyft transformed the NYC transportation scene in the early 2010s. Call a private or shared car through an app on your phone. You can also hop aboard a Via van, a service that moves along a set route toward your destination.
Bike. Citi Bike is NYC’s bike share system that operates between Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Jersey City. Unlock a bike by swiping your card at a nearby kiosk or using the Citi Bike app. A 30-minute ride costs $3, while a 24-hour pass with unlimited rides costs $12.
Pedicab. See attractions in the Big Apple from the back of a rickshaw. Pedicab drivers in NYC charge a flat rate per minute, ranging between $3 and $10.
Tour group. Signing up for a themed tour around the city — say, a food tour in Greenwich Village or the New York City Explorer Pass — is a wonderful way to see sights through the eyes of a guide.
Renting a car
If you’d rather be behind the wheel, consider renting a car. But be wary that New York City is infamous for heavy traffic, quick swerves, and loud horn honks — not to mention, parking is almost nonexistent outside of garages.
Renting a car for two days can cost anywhere from $73 to $176 depending on the type of car you rent and service you choose. Reserve a car in advance to save.
Driving in New York City
Unlike many other cities, driving in NYC is more of a hassle than taking public transportation. But if it can’t be avoided, here’s what you need to know:
You can’t turn right at red lights. Due to pedestrians, bikers, and public transport vehicles, turning right at red lights is prohibited — except if there’s a sign indicating that it’s OK.
Signs can get complicated. You can’t make a left turn on some major avenues at certain times. To avoid getting a ticket, keep your eyes peeled for signs—always. When parking, be careful to note any exceptions or caveats because the entire city is technically a tow-away zone. As a general rule, watch out for red signs as these generally indicate a prohibited area.
When parking streetside, pay the meter. Instead of quartered meters, NYC has adopted muni-meters, which accept cash, coins or plastic. You’ll get a receipt to place on your dashboard, proving you paid.
Plan garage parking in advance. The average cost for NYC residents to park in a garage each month is $430 — and the high cost of daily parking for visitors follows suit. If you’re planning to park in a garage overnight or during the day, locating a spot in advance will help you compare prices and stay within your budget. Take note of special rates like early bird pricing too. NYC Bestparking is a useful tool.
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Three airports around NYC offer convenient passage into the city:
LaGuardia (LGA). It’s located in the northern part of Queens and serves mostly domestic travelers.
John F. Kennedy (JFK). Also in Queens, but on the southern edge, JFK is a major international and domestic hub.
Newark (EWK). Just west of Jersey City lies Newark Liberty International airport, a 45 minute drive from midtown. Some travelers favor it as a less crowded alternative to LGA and JFK.
Pro tip – Consider taking a shuttle for safe passage from the airport to midtown. For newcomers and locals alike, shuttles offer predictable convenience at a flat rate, plus space to easily store luggage. You can get roundtrip shuttle service from LGA to Grand Central Station for $30 from NYCExpressBus.
Yes! But you’ll want to use the same common sense that you would on the street: Stay vigilant, and if you feel uncomfortable, trust your gut and take a taxi instead.
The train operator rides in the first car, and the conductor is situated in the middle. Try to sit near them when boarding. And each station has an agent on duty that you can stand near while waiting for a train, if you feel uncomfortable.
Do subways run 24/7?
Yes! The subway runs all day, every day. However, not all routes operate at all times, like nights or weekends, so plan ahead if you need to make an after-dark trip.
Do taxis in NYC take credit cards?
Yes — most taxis in NYC take credit and debit cards and there’s no minimum transaction required. However, most taxi drivers only accept cards from major carriers like Visa, Mastercard or Discover.
Health and safety
Is NYC water safe to drink?
Yes. The tap water in New York City is considered some of the best in the world — it’s even been nicknamed the “champagne of drinking water.” More than a billion gallons are delivered daily from upstate reservoirs.
However, old lead pipes in buildings can sometimes contaminate water. Use a filter to get rid of any contaminants.
Is NYC safe?
Yes. NYC is considered the safest big city in the US — even safer than sunny San Diego. Still, as a tourist it’s best to stay in more populated areas.
Is it safe to eat $1 pizza in NYC?
Yes. Although the skimpy price tag may seem suspect, $1 pizza is safe to eat in general. New Yorkers seem to agree that the taste is fairly average, though.
Are there any beaches in NYC?
Yes! Catch surf and sun at one of NYC’s three main beaches:
Coney Island. The D, F, N or Q train will take you from Manhattan to the Coney Island/Stillwell Avenue station. From there, it’s just a couple of blocks to the beach.
Rockaway Beach. The largest urban beach in the US, Rockaway Beach welcomes surfers and families. Take the A train straight to Rockaway, or change to the S to access Beach 90 Street for surfers or Beach 116 for swimmers.
Orchard Beach. Sunbathers and swimmers can find respite at the Bronx’s only beach. To get there, take the 6 train up to Pelham Bay Park and hop on the Bx12 bus to Orchard Beach.
Also check out Great Kills Park and the Franklin D. Roosevelt beach on Staten Island. And Long Island’s also known for beautiful beaches spanning from Long Beach all the way to Montauk.
Is there a zoo in NYC?
Yes! NYC’s five main zoos are:
Central Park Zoo
Staten Island Zoo
Prospect Park Zoo
Where is Smorgasburg in NYC?
The largest open-air food market in America, Smorgasburg has three NYC locations:
Westfield World Trade Center, 285 Fulton Street. Open Fridays.
East River State Park, 90 Kent Ave, Brooklyn. Open Saturdays.
Prospect Park at Breeze Hill in Brooklyn. Open Sundays.
Go hungry and with an adventurous appetite — raindrop cake, ramen burgers and burnt ends sandwiches are Smorgasburg staples.
Where should I stay?
You’ll find a hearty selection of hotels, hostels and short-term rentals at a range of price points. Choose your top destinations within the city, then use our guide to the best hotels in NYC to find a nearby stay.
Traveling during COVID-19
The CDC continues to advise caution when traveling within or outside the US, However, it no longer requires self-quarantine or a COVID-19 test for fully vaccinated domestic travelers as of April 2021. International travelers need to get tested three days prior to flying out of the US and within three days after returning, even if you are fully vaccinated. It recommends that you delay travel if you’re not fully vaccinated to protect yourself and your family from getting or spreading the virus.
If you’re planning a trip outside the US, bear in mind that many countries have placed restrictions on US tourists. Check the US embassy website for updates before booking international travel.
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Amy Stoltenberg is a staff writer covering all things travel, shopping and lifestyle. After earning a BA at Savannah College of Art and Design, she worked as technical designer in corporate fashion before opting for a career with unlimited travel time. When her laptop's closed, you can find her wandering around Los Angeles looking for hole-in-the-wall eateries and plotting her way to all 50 states (she's currently at 28).
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