New York City Skyline
NYC Skyline (Photo credit: Unsplash)

New York City Travel Guide

QUICK FACTS

  • New York City (NYC) is the most populous city in the US, with ~8.4 million residents.
  • Manhattan is just one borough of NYC (along with The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island). The boroughs were consolidated into a single city in 1898.
  • NYC is a global center of finance, culture, media, art, fashion, education, technology and entertainment; the city is sometimes considered the unofficial capital of the world.
  • Nicknames: NYC, The Big Apple, the Empire City, Gotham City, The City (borough of Manhattan).

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

  • Currency: US Dollar (USD)
  • Spoken languages: primarily English (over 800 languages are represented in NYC – it is one of the most diverse cities in the world!)
  • Best time to visit: in the spring or fall. The best of the city blooms in the spring, and autumn is similarly pleasant. Most well-heeled New Yorkers leave the city during summer, which can feel insufferable. Summer also sees the most tourists.
  • Arriving via John F. Kennedy airport (JFK): public transport directions to Penn Station. Taxi rides are ~$75. A $5.00 AirTrain ride will take you to an MTA subway station with lines that go to Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. Buy your Metrocard (needed to ride the subway and bus system in NYC) along with the AirTrain ticket at the same time.
  • Arriving via Newark airport (EWR): public transport to Penn Station. Taxi rides are ~$50.
  • Arriving via LaGuardia airport (LGA): city buses run from LaGuardia to train stations in Queens and Manhattan for just $2.25 ( you must have exact change). Otherwise, there are plenty of taxis waiting outside, and trips to the nearest train station start around $10, with rides to Manhattan starting around $20.

WHERE TO STAY

NYC accommodation does not come cheap. High-volume areas in Manhattan like Columbus Circle, Midtown and Times Square see the biggest names in five star luxury hotels, whereas smaller, boutique chains could be found in SoHo and downtown Brooklyn. Public transport is good here (arguably best in the USA), so just about anywhere in Manhattan (below 90th street) would be a good place from which to check out the city. Mid-range and budget hotels can be found in out-of-the-way parts of Brooklyn and Queens, and hostels are sprinkled throughout.

GETTING AROUND

  • New York is a perfect walking city – it’s flat, fascinating, and immense.
  • Cycling is gaining steam in the city as a free, eco-friendly and fast way of getting around. Brooklyn has a big bike scene and there are plenty of public rides to join. However, traffic is notoriously hectic in New York – wear a helmet, obey all traffic laws, try stick to bike lanes, and stay aware.
  • The NYC subway is one of the largest systems in the world. Subway rides are $2.75, and add-value (MetroCard) cards are available at most subway stations.
  • Buses are widely available in all five boroughs, with lines usually running down one street or main avenue. For example, the M6 travels down 6th avenue in Manhattan.
  • Taxis are everywhere in Manhattan ($2.50 minimum, credit cards accepted) but harder to come by in other boroughs. Non-yellow taxis are commonly called “gypsy cabs” and don’t have meters, so you’ll have to negotiate a price. Everything you’ve heard about cabs in New York is true: the ride can be hair-raising. Some residents prefer using Uber or Lyft.

NYC NIGHTLIFE

  • Drinking age is 21, and last call is usually just before 4 AM. Just like everywhere else in the USA, ID is usually checked at the door.
  • Anything and everything goes in New York nightlife. As a general rule, the most active pockets are in Lower Manhattan (below 15th Street and above Canal Street) and the hip parts of Brooklyn (i.e. Williamsburg).
  • If you’re looking for the clubbing scene, head directly to the Meatpacking district.
  • Check out Lower East Side and/or Williamsburg for the bar scene. If you’re looking for dives (cheap drinks!), head to the East Village. Meanwhile, the West Village tends to be more upscale.
  • No visit to New York is complete without a drink on one of Manhattan’s rooftops. Check out the Flatiron and Midtown to get your fix (there are solid options in Williamsburg, too).
  • Greenpoint and Williamsburg in Brooklyn are the hipster capitals of New York, with a bunch of live rock venues. Park Slope, Downtown Brooklyn and Carroll Gardens bars have a calmer ambiance, as they are more family-oriented than other neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT

  • There are many great museums in NYC. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) is an absolute must see – the exhibits are world-class. Other great museums include: MoMA (Museum of Modern Art), the Guggenheim, and the Museum of Natural History.
  • The Brooklyn Museum houses the city’s second-largest collection of artwork, and is donation-based. You can make an afternoon out of people-watching in the plaza out front or strolling the grounds of the adjoining Brooklyn Botanical Garden.
  • Check out the largest train station in the world at Grand Central Terminal, whose main concourse ceiling displays a stunning astronomical mural.
  • Head to Lincoln Center for a classic New York scene: 16 acres of Modernist buildings dedicated to the performing arts. Its fountain and various theaters are brilliantly lit up at night.
  • Union Square Park is a public park that symbolizes Downtown New York culture. The best time to see it is on weekends, when the Farmer’s Market stretches on the North side and artists sell their eclectic wares on the South. Other interesting parks to check out include Madison Square Park, Bryant Park, and Central Park.
  • Check out to the roof of the Rockefeller Center (Top of the Rock) for stunning views.
  • Visit the Transit Museum to see how the city’s public transport developed over time.

INTERESTING WALKS

  • The High Line is an elevated park developed on the site of an old train line and stretches for one mile in Chelsea.
  • A walk around The Ramble or Strawberry Fields in Central Park is all but obligatory.
  • The Brooklyn Bridge has long been a symbol of New York City itself, and a sunset stroll from Manhattan to Brooklyn (or reverse) is one of those quintessential city experiences you can’t miss.
  • The Botanical Garden in The Bronx is the biggest in the city, offering the most expansive green hideaway within New York.
  • Walk along the trendy streets of SoHo and the West Village, packed with restaurants and boutique shops.

LOCAL WISDOM

  • New Yorkers are not that rude – they are just in a hurry!
  • New York is a multicultural melting pot containing all walks of life. Don’t be surprised if you see a drag queen in line at McDonald’s, teacup terriers in elaborate dress on the Upper East Side, or a Bronx mother with five children next to supermodels on the subway.
  • Homelessness is a big problem in NYC and you will most likely be asked for change more than once every day.
  • Anyone who rides the MTA is subject to random search by the New York Police Department, so stay calm if it happens to you.
  • Where to find good cheap eats: Queens is where you can find the cheapest food. Its high number of immigrants brought street food scenes here that are generally lacking in the U.S. Taco trucks, samosa stands and falafel carts especially line the streets of Jackson Heights, Sunnyside and Astoria – the latter of which has a strong Greek food culture. In Manhattan, the cheapest good eats are at the Chinese restaurants, with the most affordable, insanely delicious bites found in Chinatown. There are also some great restaurants in Koreatown.
  • Dangerous areas: while the city has gotten safer over the years, it still has a high crime rate. You generally want to stay out of residential neighborhoods (more common in the outer boroughs) and stick to crowded, well-lit areas at night. Manhattan is generally safe.

RECOMMENDED NYC GUIDE BOOKS

Recommended trip duration: 4-5 days


SEE ALSO:
New York City Travel Guide was last modified: September 23rd, 2016 by Nick
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