Planning a solo trip to NYC? Here’s everything you need to know for your visit:
- New York City (NYC) is the most populous city in the US, with around 8.4 million residents.
- Manhattan is just one borough of NYC (along with The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island). The five 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 (sorry, London!)
- Nicknames: NYC, The Big Apple, the Empire City, Gotham City, The City (referring to Manhattan).
- 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. Many well-heeled New Yorkers leave the city during late summer, due to high heat and humidity. Summer also sees the most tourists.
- Arriving via John F. Kennedy airport (JFK): A $5.00 AirTrain ride will take you to an MTA subway station with lines that go to Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. Public transport directions (Google Maps). You can buy a Metrocard (needed to ride the subway and bus system in NYC) along with the AirTrain ticket at the same time. Taxi cost: about $75.
- 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
- Best hostel for solo travelers: The Local NYC. A clean, safe, and welcoming establishment in Queens (you can be in Manhattan in minutes via the subway). Great atmosphere, and a common area with books – perfect for hanging out and meeting fellow travelers. You won’t find better for the price in NYC – book ahead!
- Accommodation here does not come cheap! If you’ve got the cash, the West Village, Chelsea, and Soho are the areas to be in. In Brooklyn, Williamsburg is the hip area.
- Midtown and FiDi (Financial District) are a good compromise of price and location: these are not considered “sexy” areas, so accommodation is more manageable.
- If you’re looking for more affordable accommodation, check out Brooklyn (Greenpoint, or the area near Bedford Av. station). Another potential area is LIC (Long Island City) in Queens – with very fast subway connections to Manhattan.
- Public transport is good here (arguably the best in the States), so just about anywhere in Manhattan below 90th street would be a good place from which to check out the city.
- New York is a perfect walking city – it’s flat, fascinating, and immense. If you plan your day right, you may only have to use the subway a couple of times per day (the rest can be explored on foot).
- 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, and runs 24 hours a day! 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 initial charge, credit cards accepted) but harder to come by in other boroughs. Most residents prefer using Uber or Lyft.
- 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.
- Check out Lower East Side and/or Williamsburg for the bar scene. If you’re looking for dive bars (cheap drinks), head to the East Village. Meanwhile, the West Village is 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, with skyline views of Manhattan).
- 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.
- Great bars in Manhattan for solo travelers: Mama’s Bar (dive), Welcome To The Johnsons (dive), McSorley’s Old Ale House (oldest bar in NYC – lots of tourists, great for extroverts).
- Brooklyn dive bars: Ontario Bar, Redd’s Tavern, Harefield Road, Alligator Lounge, Berry Park (rooftop views), Union Pool, Barcade (arcade games – there’s one in Manhattan too).
- Cocktail bars to check out: The Summit Bar, Death & Company, Employees Only.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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, along with upscale parts of Brooklyn (e.g. Williamsburg).
Recommended trip duration: 4-5 days