Helpful Travel Tips For New York City
Planning a trip to NYC? Need some New York City tips?
One of my lovely readers let me know that she’s headed over to the East Coast of the USA and wanted some helpful New York City tips! Rather than send a personal email, I thought I’d post them here for everyone!
Some New York City tips!
Getting Into Manhattan
When I travel to New York City, I always stay in Manhattan. I don’t have any tips for the other boroughs (sorry). Taxi prices are sky-high these days and UberX was quoting $60+ in April 2017 so I have been taking public transit to get into the city.
From JFK Airport, I’ve taken the subway into Manhattan. It takes over an hour into downtown Manhattan so if you’re in a rush, take a cab. From the airport terminal, I follow the signs that lead me to the Air Train ($5). At the Air Train station, I took the Air Train to Jamaica Station. From there I can take either the subway for $2.75 or the Long Island Railroad.
On one of my last NYC trips, my buddy Nate recommended me to try the LIRR. At Jamaica Station, I bought an LIRR ticket and it cost me $9.50 (peak hours). The LIRR takes about 30 minutes to Penn Station. When I got on, the train was full. There were no seats available but standing up for 30 minutes after a long flight was probably good for me. From Penn Station, I took a subway to my accommodations in Chinatown. All together that cost me about $17.
If you have more time, taking the subway from JFK is easy too. I have taken it in the past but it takes over an hour and these days I don’t have the patience for that. If it’s your first time to NYC I suggest it as its good fun to people watch, and take in the fact that you’re in NYC!
If you are flying into Newark, it’s faster and cheaper to take the train than a taxi or car service. From Newark Airport, I took the Air Train from to Newark Airport Station. From there I took the Amtrak into Manhattan’s Penn Station and this cost me under $13US. On the way back, it was about the same process except I took NJ Transit Train. There’s a ticket counter and they will tell you which line and where to stand to get off for your train. If you have any questions, the conductors are friendly enough and will tell you where to get off, etc.
When I know I will be in New York City for at least a week, I buy the 7 day MetroCard pass for $33 (please check updated prices). This card is good for subway and local bus rides. Even though the taxis are fairly cheap it can add up when you’re exploring. **PATH, AirTrain, and Express buses do not accept 7- and 30-Day Unlimited Ride MetroCard.
After buying a 7-day pass at the airport and trying to use the card for the Air Train, it didn’t work. Someone in the station let me know because I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Lesson learned and shared!
General Helpful New York City tips
- Be mindful of the traffic around you. Don’t just stop in the middle of the sidewalk to look at your phone/map or to shoot a photo. I see this happen all the time. Stop, move to the side and then shoot a photo/look at your phone or map. Wait till there is no traffic or others who need the sidewalk. I know this sounds so basic but I see it all the time especially with the invention of the smartphone. This is a very important tip for the Brooklyn Bridge. I see people stop and not stay aware of their surroundings. There are cyclists that share the pathway so it’s important to be aware to avoid accidents.
- Subway etiquette: Wait till others exit first and then move towards the center of the train. Keep your bag/purse on your lap when you are seated or your suitcase/backpack in front of you if it’s big. Subways get packed!
- Co City Pilot is your trusted front desk, daily luggage storage, key exchange and/or makes package delivery made easy. They are like your Doorman On-Demand service. While this is mostly a great service for those living near the Lower East Side in New York, this company can be helpful for travellers. It was helpful for me during a visit to New York. I stay with a friend who’s often travelling or at work when I arrive. Co City Pilot is a key exchange which is handy for people who sublet their apartments or rent it out on Air BnB. I’m a fan. They were really great to deal with and I was able to pick up my key while my friend was on a job and get into his apartment after my red-eye flight from LA.
New York City tips: Free Activities!!!
Do you like free stuff? Of course, you do! I do! Here are a couple of favourite things to do in New York City that is free:
The Highline is park space built on an elevated train line that was no longer used in the city’s West Side. It’s free and it’s one of my favourite things to do in the city.
Last November, I went three times. I lucked out with great weather each visit. One of the visits my cousin and I started at the top at 34th and walked all the way down to the Meat Packing district. We ended with a drink at the Standard Hotel. In warmer months try to just sit on the benches and chill out. It can get really busy at times but it’s worth the visit.
A nice daytime shot
A visit to New York City is not a proper one without a visit to Central Park. I usually stay with friends in Lower Manhattan so I will schedule a whole day’s activities uptown (** schedule your activities around a certain area or neighbourhood so you’re not going back to the same place and wasting time). I usually visit one of the museums, then talk a stroll through Central Park and eat in the area.
This is the fall foliage but I love Central Park anytime
I haven’t done this in eons but I rode the Staten Island Ferry once because I wanted to see the Statue of Liberty up close without taking the touristy boats. You can see Ellis Island and Lady Liberty from the deck of the ferry. The best part? It’s free. If you have about an hour to spare, it’s approximately 25 minutes each way for the ride.
I love walking over the Brooklyn Bridge. Any time of day is great but I’ve been going at sunset to catch the sun coming down over the city and to watch the commute home. It’s also always fun to people watch. If you don’t walk to walk both ways, pop into the subway and walk one way there or back.
The iconic Brooklyn Bridge
It’s really touristy and hectic but you have to go at least once. I like to people watch since there’s a grandstand which you can sit on and absorb the madness. I remember going to New York City in the early 90s and Time Square was still really seedy and lined with pawn shops and strip bars.
Another photo from Times Square
Galleries in Chelsea
If you have visited a few of my travel guides, you know that I love visiting museums and galleries. I love the ones in New York. Over the years, I have been able to see some really cool art and photography exhibits.
If art is your thing, meander around Chelsea. The best part is it’s free to visit the galleries! Check out websites for Mary Boone Gallery, David Zwirner, Milk, and the Gagosian Gallery. They usually have amazing exhibits happening. Then wander around the galleries in the same vicinity. If you are visiting the Highline or Chelsea Market, put aside some gallery time!
Madonna by Richard Corman at Milk Gallery
Selfie at Yayoi Kusama’s exhibit at the David Zwirner Gallery
You can pay to go to the Empire State Building or to the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center but you can also see some iconic buildings for free!!
Grand Central Station is a hub of activity. It’s great to people watch and if you’re hungry, head downstairs to the concourse. There are great food options and shops down there!
I also love the Flat Iron building. Eataly is close by so I love heading there and grabbing a coffee and sitting at Madison Square Park which is a short walk away.
You can also head down to the World Trade Center site and pay respects to all those who lost their lives on 9/11 and see the Freedom Tower gratis or you can visit the 9/11 Museum where admission is charged. Information here.
Grand Central Station
Flat Iron Building
9/11 Memorial Reflecting Pools
New York City tips: For The Museum Lover!
If you do plan on seeing the big museums or sites like the MET, MOMA, Guggenheim, and Natural History Museum, consider buying a CityPASS. It also includes entry into the Empire State Building and the Top of the Rock, Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island or Circle Line Cruises. If you are planning to see a handful of them the price is a great deal IMHO. It’s currently priced at $132 and if you were to see all, that’s a savings of $91. Take a look at the places you want to visit and add up the regular prices. It might be worth it to grab the pass and be able to see extra places. Once the pass is used, you have another 8 days to see everything else (so 9 days in total).
In November 2014, I visited the Brooklyn Museum. This museum always has great visiting exhibits and I was keen to check out a shoe exhibit called “Killer Heels”. Last year they hosted Ai Weiwei’s travelling exhibit “According To What” and this April will be hosting a Basquiat exhibit.
If you’re a real museum lover and have time to head out of New York City proper, I recommend going to DIA: Beacon for the day. It used to be a cracker factory so it’s enormous. When I went I saw pieces by Andy Warhol, Richard Serra, Louise Bourgeois, and John Chamberlain among a host of others.
It is a 4-hour train ride both ways to Beacon, NYC. My friends and I used ZipCar go there but after our experience, I will never drive in or out of New York City again. The traffic in New Jersey and coming back into Manhattan was crazy which caused us to be several hours late when returning our Zipcar.
If you still want to rent a car instead of taking the train, rent the car for a whole day and not with a scheduled return time. Taking the train is about $35 per person and I heard the scenery along the way is lovely. Entry to DIA is $12.
Not supposed to take photos of the art at DIA but I take one of the space!