Explore New York City

10 Tips for First Time Travelers to the Big Apple

Here are some helpful hints for new travelers to New York City on where to eat and what to do.

Traveling to NYC for the first time might seem a little intimidating because it's a bustling city with lots of things to do and see. Here are 10 handy tips to help you out on your trip to the Big Apple.

1. Public Transportation is the Way to Go.

Besides walking, the cheapest way to get around town is public transportation. MTA cards can be acquired at any subway station and paid for by value (put a dollar amount of your choosing on the card—each ride on the subway costs $2.75) or time (unlimited seven- and 30-day passes). Routes often run differently late at night and on weekends, so be sure to read the signs posted in the stations and check with the New York City Transit Authority, the MTA, for the most up-to-date changes in the schedule.

2. Keep a Map Handy.

In Manhattan, crosstown buses—scenic, but slow—are a good way to get from east to west (and vice versa), while subways run mostly north and south. While most of Manhattan's Midtown and uptown streets are laid out in a grid, below 14th Street, streets start to twist and turn. It's good to have some sort of map app on your smart phone or pick up a handy Where New York map at your hotel.

Cabs lined up in New York City street with buildings in the background
Look closely... the cab on your right is the one you want to hail. (©Andrew Ruiz)

3. The 4-1-1 on New York City Cabs

If you’re looking to hail a cab, only try to flag down one that has its roof medallion lit up. Also, know the cross streets or a nearby landmark of your destination before you get in the cab because, unlike the movies, NYC cab drivers do not automatically know where every destination is.

4. Ride the Staten Island Ferry.

For a great, free view of the Statue of Liberty, hop on the Staten Island Ferry. This five-mile, 25-minute journey on a bright orange boat takes you past both the famous statue and Ellis Island. The ferry—actually a fleet of multiple ferries with several operating per day—runs all day, every day of the year and is considered to be the most reliable form of mass transportation in the city. It's cheaper to ride the ferry now than it was back in 1897, when it cost five cents to ride between Staten Island and Manhattan. 

"Wicked" company on stage during a performance
The company of "Wicked" (©Joan Marcus)

5. How to See a Broadway Show on the Cheap    

Interested in seeing a Broadway show but want to stick to your budget? Here are a few hints to score cheap tickets:

The TKTS Booth in Times Square and other NYC locations sells same-day discounted tickets to numerous shows, often 20 percent to 50 percent off the original price.

Check BroadwayForBrokePeople.com. This website tells you which Broadway shows have rush tickets, online or digital lotteries or in-person lotteries to score great seats—often for less than $40 apiece.

Download the TodayTix app on your smartphone. This app lists current-running Broadway and off-Broadway shows, offering discounts and lotteries for same-day performances, as well as the opportunity to buy discounted tickets up to a week in advance. First-time users can receive an additional discount by entering in a referral code from someone who already uses the app.

The View from Top of the Rock in NYC
Take in the view from Top of the Rock (©iStock)

6. Where to Get a Great View of the City

Want a great view of the city? Check out these soaring spots:

Top of the Rock—on the Rockefeller Center's observation deck on the 70th floor—is open every day of the year. John D. Rockefeller’s “city within a city” offers, at its apex, a panoramic view of the city from just east of Times Square.

The observation decks on the 86th and 102nd floors of the Empire State Building offer some of the best views in town. The most iconic building in the heart of the city opened in 1931 and was considered the tallest building in the world until the World Trade Center opened in 1972.

One World Observatory: "See Forever" from the tallest building in the entire Western Hemisphere, located near the southern tip of Manhattan. And you don’t want to miss the Sky Pod elevator experience that zooms you up there—it’s something special. Observation deck on the 102nd floor 

7.  Where to Shop in New York City

NYC doesn’t have malls, per se, but we do have great indoor shopping destinations where you can find the latest in fashion, technology and food:

The Shops at Columbus Circle—on the southwest corner of Central Park—is an upscale retail establishment which, at various points, offers breathtaking views of Central Park and has everything you need from Cole Haan, Hugo Boss, Sephora, Williams-Sonoma, Whole Foods, Swarovski, Bouchon Bakery and even an exclusive lounge for MasterCard holders. Upscale dining destinations include Per Se and Landmarc.

Brookfield Place: High-end apparel shops include Burberry, Hermes, Saks Fifth Avenue and others. Among restaurants like Parm, Mighty Quinn's Barbeque and Umami Burger, there is a Starbucks Reserve Bar and an authentic French marketplace called Le District. Battery Park City along the Hudson River

Westfield World Trade Center, inside the Oculus in the Financial District, is an architectural wonder whose roof looks like a bird in flight. The center was new to the city in 2016 and boasts an Apple Store, Eataly, John Varvatos, Kate Spade, Lacoste, Lady M Confections, Moleskine, Shake Shack and more. 

Metropolitan Museum of Art exterior with cabs zipping by in the street
Metropolitan Museum of Art (©Evan Lee)

8.  Take Advantage of Donation-Based Museums. 

While museums have suggested prices of admission, dozens have Pay What You Wish options and/or offer free admission on certain days/hours of the week. Go see the giant blue whale at the Milstren Hall of Ocean Life at the American Museum of Natural History! Enjoy the Museum of the City of New York's new interactive permanent exhibit, "New York at Its Core!" Learn all about Native American culture at the National Museum of the American Indian! For more information, check out this website.

9. Where to Find a Peaceful Spot  

Need a minute to catch your breath and regroup? Here are some peaceful spots in the City that Never Sleeps:

Hearst Plaza at Lincoln Center: This respite has shady seating in the summer months, an infinity pool and access to WiFi. St. Vincent’s Triangle Park in Greenwich Village is another calm spot that has benches and landscaped gardens line the paths through the quaint park. Louise Nevelson Plaza in the Financial District is also a must-visit for its steel sculptures by Louise Nevelson that tower over guests in this Wall Street area spot.

Lox, onion slices and capers topping a bagel on a yellow plate
(Courtesy Tompkins Square Bagels)

10. Eat Like a New Yorker

Food, glorious food! Try these NYC-specific eats to make you feel more like a local:

Bagel and schmear—cream cheese—is a New York City classic. Try Tompkins Square Bagels (East Village), Murray's Bagels (Greenwich Village) and those from Russ & Daughters (Lower East Side) for an authentic New York bagel experience, which includes a recipe of New York City-specific water and boiling the bagels to crispy perfecion.

Buying food from a cart on the street is a right of passage in NYC. Try dishes from city-favorites like The Halal Guys (Theater District), Tony "The Dragon" Dragonas (Upper East Side) and NY Dosas (vegetarian eats in Washington Square Park).

Deli Sandwiches are also a staple in NYC. What makes a city deli a city deli? Complimentary dishes of pickles and coleslaw, and sandwiches made of fresh and flavorful turkey, pastrami and other meats piled high between slices of scrumptious, caraway-dotted rye bread, so huge you will be baffled as to how to bite into it. Try the protein-packed dishes from Barney Greengrass (Upper West Side), Sarge's Deli (Murray Hill) and Katz's Delicatessen (Lower East Side).

Pizza is the last must-munch dish on our list. Grab a slice, fold it in half and enjoy it like a true New Yorker. Though there are plenty of great spots to get pizza, you can't go wrong with slices from Juliana's (DUMBO, Brooklyn), Lombardi's (NoLIta) and John's Pizzeria (Times Square).