I still remember wandering around the Times Square in Manhattan, staring at the vibrant billboards, smiling with joy, and giggling with delight when a taxi just stormed by, right past me without even honking. Phew! That was close.
I still remember strolling towards the Brooklyn Bridge, and moving closer to the railing to catch a better view of the skyscrapers, when a cyclist rode right past me without any warning. Yikes! I was on the cyclist’s lane.
‘Will somebody please help me? This is my first time in New York!’ I exclaimed. But sadly, no one was around because I was on a solo trip to the Big Apple.
Now New York is unlike any other destination in the world. It is fast-paced, cosmopolitan and exuberant. It has the rustic charm of its authentic buildings and the glamorous touch of its multiracial culture.
Visiting New York for the first time can be a bit overwhelming but it can also be one of the most amazing experiences you would have ever had in your life!
Here are my Top 14 Tips for Your First Time in New York City!
Understand the 5 Boroughs in New York City
New York City is composed of 5 Boroughs. They are:
- The Bronx
- Staten Island
Manhattan and Brooklyn are the most famous spots in New York City and are often swarmed by several tourists. While these areas do have their own charm and a fair share of entertainment, having knowledge of the other boroughs is a good thing and can sometimes appeal to those who are actually seeking something offbeat and away from the tourist crowds.
Learn the Map of New York City
New York City is a small city and having a visual idea of how it looks is extremely beneficial when you plan your trip. It can help you utilize your time efficiently, and reduce the cost of your trip.
For example, if you’re interested in exploring Manhattan, you can first identify the three parts to the borough – Uptown, Midtown, and Downtown and then cluster the nearby attractions. You can then plan your days accordingly.
On day 1, you can start exploring Downtown Manhattan by visiting the Statue of Liberty, the 9/11 Museum and the Wall Street. And on the other days, you can visit the other parts of Manhattan.
Once you have an idea of the places you want to visit, you can book the hotels accordingly.
Book a Hotel in a Convenient Location (Even if it’s Expensive!)
‘Where should first time visitors stay in New York?’ a question, I get asked quite often.
Booking a hotel in NYC can be a bit overwhelming because they’re quite expensive! However, booking a slightly expensive hotel in a convenient location will help you save time, and take rest, in the middle of the day.
Most of the people in New York City travel by foot or take the subway. If you are exploring the city as a tourist, you might want to go back to your hotel in the afternoon for a quick nap before you head out again in the evening.
So book your hotel in a convenient location even if it turns out to be expensive.
Find the best NYC hotel for your budget
Plan a Day-wise Itinerary
Once you have an idea of the map of New York City, the attractions you want to visit, and the hotel where you want to stay at, plan a day-wise itinerary.
Although you don’t have to strictly adhere to your itinerary, having a basic plan in hand will give you a better perspective about the city and the things that you want to do.
It will also help you be prepared for the unprepared NYC!
Master the New York Subway System
I don’t think I can stress enough on the importance of understanding the NYC subway system. Almost everybody in New York City uses the subway and it is extremely essential if you want to get from point A to point B.
Initially, it might seem a bit daunting because everybody’s in a rush and nobody ever almost stops to help you. Nonetheless, once you understand the concept of Uptown and Downtown, you have achieved 80% mastery!
Then, follow Google Maps diligently which tells you which train to take, where to change the train, and where to get off.
Follow the Traffic Rules (or you Might Get Run Over!)
New York City is known for its notoriety when it comes to imprudent taxi drivers who don’t care about the pedestrians!
Whether you’re in the city for the first time or are a local, nobody cares, and chances are that you might get run over if you don’t follow the traffic rules strictly.
There are two things to keep in mind when you’re in NYC:
- Taxis drivers won’t stop to make way for a pedestrian unless the latter is on green light.
- Cross the road only when you see a green pedestrian light.
Be Aware of the Exorbitant Pedicabs!
In NYC, you will often find pedicabs that charge an exorbitant amount to get you from point A to point B. Some charge about $4 per minute, and others, about $7 per minute.
And cabs or taxis between the same two points cost about $5 – $7 for the whole ride!
I had such a horrible experience with a pedicab rider due to lack of information and communication. I have linked the video narrating my experience below.
I would recommend you to walk, take the subway, or take an Uber cab/ a yellow taxi, instead, while commuting within the city.
Note: I do understand that some of the carriage riders in NYC are trying to make a living out of it but without a system in place, and with sky-high prices, it is not something that I would recommend for my readers.
Avoid the Cyclist Lane on Brooklyn Bridge
Out of every tip that I have mentioned so far, you will thank me for this one. I am so confident that you will write to me and thank me for this one!
Dear first time traveler to New York, if you ever plan to visit the Brooklyn Bridge, DO NOT cross over to the Cyclist’s Lane. Because you might simply piss them off and probably be run over by one.
The Brooklyn Bridge has two lanes – one for the pedestrians, and the other for cyclists. I didn’t know this until a few cyclists brushed past me on purpose.
So, if you visit the Brooklyn Bridge, be vigilant and stick to the pedestrian lane unless of course, you are cycling across the bridge.
Dress for the Weather, Culture and Activities
‘How do you dress in New York?’ is a question that has popped in each one of our heads.
Dressing up for a city is dependent on three factors:
- The Weather – are you visiting the city during summer or winter?
- The Local Culture- how can I dress to blend in and respect the local culture?
- Activities- how can I dress suitably for the activities of the day?
If you are visiting New York in winter, pack a ton of layers!
If you are visiting New York in summer, pack your regular casual wear.
Speaking of the culture, NYC is home to a lot of immigrants, and people from all over the world. Most of them wear black suits and black boots (yes, just how you have seen it in the movies). But people dress up casually as well.
But irrespective of what you are wearing, if you don’t have the right footwear, you will struggle a lot.
You will be walking A LOT in NYC. So, wear comfortable shoes.
Tip: Wear sneakers or sports shoes when you set out to explore and heeled boots when you step out for a drink.
Buy a Sightseeing Pass to Explore the Attractions in NYC
Buying a sightseeing pass is going to save you a lot of money! Whether you want to visit the Empire State Building, or the Statue of Liberty, or the American Museum of Natural History, all of the top attractions are covered in a sightseeing pass.
Which is the best sightseeing pass in NYC?
Read my post here for a detailed comparison of all the sightseeing passes available, and the best one to buy for a week’s trip!
Make a list of the Vegan and Vegetarian Restaurants in NYC
NYC is known for its food. Be it bagels, pretzels, or pizza, if you don’t try the local food, you will miss out on one of the most important aspects of the New York culture.
As a vegan, I don’t have the liberty to head over to a cart at the corner of the street in NYC, and order something vegan because let’s face it, most of the road-side carts don’t sell vegan food.
But that doesn’t mean I have to suppress my temptations! On my trip, I explored several vegan restaurants in NYC and ate my heart out.
Creating a list beforehand, saved me a lot of time and allowed me to plan my visits accordingly.
READ MORE: How I Survived Being Vegan in the USA
Tipping is a Thing
Tipping in NYC is quite common and is expected from everyone –be it a from a local, or from a tourist. Be prepared to tip for coffee at Starbucks, for dinner at a decent restaurant, for a pretzel at Bryant Park, and basically for every meal that you eat, except for those at fast-food restaurants.
People expect a tip from about anywhere between 10-15% and if you don’t leave one, you will be frowned upon. You will be expected to tip, even when you pay by card.
Safety in New York
I have always believed that safety is what you make of it.
I am going to answer a few questions that people have about safety in New York.
Is it safe to walk in NYC at night?
It depends. Are you at an isolated place or are you in a crowded place like the Times Square? Are you walking with someone or are you alone?
Depending on where you are, NYC is quite safe to walk in at night as long as there are people around and you are vigilant of your surroundings.
Is New York subway safe at night?
The New York subway is one of the safest means of public transport during the day. However, during late night or early morning hours, you might find yourself alone in the entire compartment. And this is a risk, according to me.
As a solo female traveler, I would avoid taking the subway when there are hardly any people. I would instead take an Uber cab because my ride will be tracked.
Do people get mugged in NYC?
Yes, they do. Some of the neighborhoods in NYC are quite notorious and high in crime rates. The first thing to do is avoid going to such places especially when there’s nobody around and when it’s dark.
Next, carry an extra wallet with you with some cash in it. If you get mugged, hand over the wallet and run.
Is New York City safe for solo female travelers?
Absolutely! New York City is one of the liveliest places in the world where everybody minds their own business. So don’t worry as long as you don’t venture out into isolated places or stay out when it’s too dark and lonely.
Consider Avoiding These Places in New York City
As a travel blogger, I would hate to say this, but do consider avoiding the following places:
- Harlem, Union Square, Garment District, Koreatown, Alphabet City, and Meatpacking District in Manhattan
- Vinegar Hill, Downtown Brooklyn, Greenwood Heights, East New York, Ocean Hill, Fort Greene, Brownsville, and Navy Hill in Brooklyn
- Port Morris, Hunts Point, Bronx River, Mount Eden, Longwood, Mott Haven, and Fordham in the Bronx
Surprisingly, as per Address Report, even Times Square in Manhattan is considered to be a place of high crime rate. However, this number could be attributed to the high number of tourists. Where there are more tourists, there are more criminals waiting to prey on them.
If you really want to visit these places, go for it. But make sure you take all the necessary precautions and use your common sense while traveling.
So these, are my New York travel tips for anybody planning to visit NYC for the first time. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t freak out. Take it easy and enjoy what this magnificent city has to offer!
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