A First Timer's Guide to NYC
Disclaimer: While I am not an NYC native, I have frequented this city far more times than I can count even before moving here and making this place home. So this is my gift to you--a compilation of years and years of accumulated knowledge and serendipitous finds throughout that time to help make your first visit to NYC as magical as this city has always been to me.
This guide has been a long time coming--in fact I had actually started this years ago when I made this NYC Guide for a friend visiting for the first time. I just never took the time to make a blog post about it. But with the recent influx of people asking for NYC recommendations, I have decided to finally put it all down in one place!
A FIRST TIMER’S GUIDE TO NYC
Oh New York. My soulmate of a city. My favorite place in the world. The city that never sleeps. Pure chaotic craziness. What’s not to love? I may or may not be biased, but New York City is the best city in the world. In fact, NYC is its own world. From the insane skyscrapers and a skyline that gives any other skyline a run for its money to the burgeoning food scene and incredibly photogenic streets to the fact that you can be transported to completely different worlds just by taking a train to another neighborhood. New York City is a smorgasbord for the senses and a place you can easily spend the rest of your life visiting without ever running out of things to do.
I’ve divided this guide into sections to make it easier for you to navigate and find exactly what you are looking for
Getting to/from the City to/from the Airport
NYC has 3 major airports that you can fly in and out of. They are all pretty far away from the city so expect travel time to be 1-2 hours from the airport (depending on where you are going and what mode of transportation you opt for).
JFK (~1-1.5 hours depending on traffic)
Public Transport (AirTrain + Subway) - This is your cheapest option and is actually not as hard to navigate as everyone thinks. It costs $7.95 to get anywhere from JFK ($5 for the AirTrain and $2.95 for a one way subway ride). *I try to use public transport as much as possible during rush hour times because traffic can have you sitting in a car for 2 hours instead of the 1 hour it usually takes.
Rideshare - Typically $36-$46 to Midtown (and varies depending on where you want to go). This is a good option for you if you do not have a lot of luggage and if it is just you and another person. When I’m alone and arriving late at night, I typically just take a Lyft Line.
Taxi - $52.50 flat fare (non-metered), plus bridge, tunnel tolls and gratuity
Public Transport - This one is a little tricky because the subway does not run to LGA, but 2 express busses do (M60 and Q70). So you will need to take a bus to a train station. The Q70 goes nonstop to Jackson Heights/Roosevelt Avenue, a major subway hub in Queens with five lines. The M60 runs to Harlem and connects to all the major subway lines in Manhattan. How to find the ticket station at the airport: At La Guardia Airport, head to the departures level on the second floor and follow the MTA/ Public Transport signs. You’ll then find a machine where you can purchase a metro card that you’ll need for the bus and the free subway transfer.
Rideshare/Taxi - Typically $29-$37 metered fare, plus bridge, tunnel tolls and gratuity. ~30-45 mins to Midtown (again depending on where exactly you are going and traffic conditions). *Rideshare is cheaper if you are by yourself as you can pool a ride and it will be cheaper than a taxi.
Newark Airport Express - This is the best and cheapest option if you are flying into or out of Newark. The cost is $31 roundtrip or $18 one way (you can purchase online or on the bus). The bus has stops at Port Authority, Bryant Park and Grand Central
Rideshare - Typically $50-60 for a shared ride and around $60-$70 for a regular Lyft
Taxi - The fares differ depending on where you are coming from. Typically $50 to $75, plus bridge and tunnel tolls and gratuity; 45 to 60 minutes to Midtown Manhattan. During weekday rush hours (6–9am and 4–7pm) and on weekends (Saturday–Sunday, noon–8pm), there is a $5 surcharge for travel to anywhere in New York State except Staten Island. When traveling to the airport from Midtown Manhattan, service is via New York City’s regulated yellow taxis. Metered fares range $69–$75, plus a $17.50 surcharge in addition to tolls and gratuity (so you are looking at nearly $100). Just take the bus at this point.
Pro Tip: The biggest thing I had to get used to moving here from Las Vegas was the fact that the airports are pretty far from the city. When I lived in Vegas, I could get away with leaving to the airport 20 minutes before when I needed to be there--that is not the case in NYC. I suggest leaving 2 hours before when you need to be there (not when your flight leaves!)
Getting Around NYC
This will obviously be your cheapest option because it is free. As I have previously said, NYC is an incredibly photogenic city so if it is your first time in the city, walking is a great way to see as much of the city as you can while saving money!
Manhattan is very easy to navigate especially if you are anywhere above Houston as all the streets just ascend from one and all the avenues are easy to remember (From the East River: York Avenue → 1st Ave → 2nd Ave → 3rd Ave → Lexington Ave → Park Ave → Madison Ave → 5th Ave → 6th Ave → 7th Ave → Broadway → 8th Ave → 9th Ave → 10th Ave → 11th Ave). So if you get lost, just remember it is in ascending order South to North and East to West (with the exception of the named avenues).
Though the MTA is never on time on most days, New York City still is truly one of the best connected cities in terms of public transport which makes commuting from place to place incredibly easy. There are so many options to get around all over the city and even to other boroughs (and states!) that you can live here your whole life without ever needing a car. If you are on a tight budget and do not want to spend a fortune on rideshares or taxis take the subway! They are everywhere and will be your CHEAPEST option after walking which is free.
Subway stops are marked with green and a circular half green, half white globe. (see picture for reference)
***The NYC Subway system runs 24 hours. However, not all lines operate at all times. There is a different subway schedule from Midnight to 6 AM (late night subway service—you can find this on the MTA website or the app) and a different weekend schedule***
Pro Tip: I suggest buying a Subway card that you can refill! If you are staying 5-7 days and know you will be using your subway card more than 2-3 times a day, the unlimited is worth purchasing!
Aside from Uber and Lyft (that are actually pretty expensive in the city--unless you are by yourself and doing a pool), NYC has a lot of rideshare apps that make getting around the city super affordable!
Here are my favorites:
(This is my favorite ride sharing app to use in NYC, I actually prefer this over Uber/Lyft because I can get anywhere in Manhattan for $5)
On weekdays between 6 AM – 8 PM, all rides within Manhattan cost $5 with pre-purchased ride credit. (15-minute/4 mile Uber rides I took cost me $15 each)
Rides to and from the airport are also reasonably priced through Via:
Via rides to LaGuardia Airport = $24.95 + tax and tolls.
Via rides to John F. Kennedy airport =$39.95 + tax and tolls.
Via rides to Newark International Airport = $49.95 + tolls.
Via rides from Newark International Airport = $29.95 + tolls
Note: These prices are for 1 person only—an additional person is an additional $5
Use Code: paula4a7 (get $20 worth of ride credit)
If you are visiting alone or with just one other friend, Lyft can be a cheap option if you do not want to take the subway. I personally prefer Lyft over Uber because they have a partnership with Delta in which I can earn miles for all the rides I take, so it is a double win for me!
I don’t use this that often, but you get 30% off your first ride
Learn the Lingo
New Yorkers love to abbreviate pretty much everything they possibly can and will expect you to understand them when they speak to you so here’s a rundown:
SoHo = South of Houston
NoHo = North of Houston
FiDi = Financial District
DUMBO = Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass
TriBeCa = Triangle Below Canal
NoLiTa = North of Little Italy
NoMad = North of Madison Square Park
WaHi = Washington Heights
UES/UWS/LES = Upper East Side, Upper West Side, Lower East Side
BK = Brooklyn
The Village = Greenwich Village
Houston = Phonetically pronounced as HOW-ston not Houston like the Houston, TX. Don’t ask questions--just do it.
The “City” = Manhattan (what everyone that lives in other boroughs says)
Downtown = Anything south of Canal Street
Must Visit Neighborhoods
The East Village is what most people describe as very “hipster”. It is my absolute favorite place to hang out both to eat (as it has all the trendiest food places) and for its night life. YOU MUST VISIT ST. MARK’S PLACE!!!
Note: This area is dominated by NYU students, especially on Friday nights as the main campus is in this area!
Shopping and Cobblestone streets. Need I say more? Lots of bloggers take their photos here—so head this way if you want some iconic NYC street style photos
Great pasta, murals and desserts galore!
Best Chinese food and dessert places. Probably the cheapest area in town.
Note: A large majority of Chinatown is cash only, so bring cash!
Where the most beautifully photogenic houses and iconic stoops are located, Carrie Bradshaw’s front porch steps and gorgeous store fronts
Area with the best historical preservation in NYC, lots of good food, Chelsea Market, The Highline
Chelsea Market - A great place to visit for lunch if you do not know what you want to eat! There are also tiny boutique stores there and of course The Highline just above it!
Where all the major sights are: Times Square, Empire State, Rockefeller
Super cheap Happy Hours, esp. margarita!
If you feel like venturing out of the city, here are some of my favorite neighborhoods to visit outside Manhattan:
The BEST Chinese food you will ever eat at all the best hole in the wall places.
Note: It is quite a journey to get to Flushing from Manhattan (read: 1 hour ONE WAY). Yep, you read that right. It’s a 2 hour commitment just to commute to and from Flushing. But, it is well worth it!
Very hipster vibes, the best coffee shops, and tons of hole in the wall restaurants
I used to live in this area so I may be biased, but Clinton Hill is one of my favorite neighborhoods in BK! A young, artistic vibe. Beautiful street and brownstone homes and a ton of amazing restaurants and coffee shops. Best part? It’s not too far from the city!
General THings you should know as a visitor
-Stay on the right side of the stairs, escalators, street—especially in the subway station. There is a silent system in this city and New Yorkers love it very much. Please follow it.
-You do not own the sidewalk! DO NOT be the tourist who walks arm in arm with 3 other friends on the tiny NYC sidewalk. New Yorkers are always in a rush, so they have no problem shoving you if you block their way.
-Let people exit the train before trying to squeeze onto the train! You’d think this was common sense, but it happens more often than not
-Do not be the person who stops in the middle of the sidewalk/street to tie your shoe, check your phone, take a picture, etc.
-Consciously pick up your pace when walking on the busy streets, especially during rush hour when everyone has somewhere they have to get to. New Yorkers have a walking speed of 50mph, try to keep up!
General Tips for NYC
-Broadway tickets can be steep, but that’s no reason not to ever make a show. You can get tickets at TKTS booths day of or day before (for early shows) for crazy discounts. You can also avoid Times Square lines by checking out the South Street Seaport booth (190 Front Street) and Downtown Brooklyn (1 MetroTech Center)
-Don’t spend all your time in Midtown! This is the biggest mistake tourists make.There is so much to explore downtown and in other boroughs. You’ll get a real sense of what it’s like to be a New Yorker!
-Keep your bag in front of you at all times especially in the Subway station, subway cars and places like Times Square
-If you would like to buy souvenirs I suggest getting them from the little stalls in Chinatown, in Battery Park or by Brooklyn Bridge—Manhattan side (they are cheaper here)
-New Yorkers typically eat dinner from 8-10 PM, eat before or after if you want to avoid the rush!
-A lot of places in NYC are cash only (especially in the Lower East Side) → make sure you have cash handy!
-Try not to eat in the Upper East or anywhere starting at Central Park (they are usually pricier), instead go to Lower Manhattan e.g. Little Italy, Chinatown, East Village, etc. (cheaper and will probably taste better)
-Lastly, don’t be afraid to get lost and just find places to eat/things to do as you go along. NYC is teeming with places to see and things to do you will literally never run out of things to fill your itinerary with.
Well there it is everything you need to know for your first visit to NYC! I hope this helped you!
A lot more NYC guides to come (very, very soon), but in the mean time here are some previous NYC centric posts:
Til’ Next Time,