10 Things Every First Time New York City Visitor Should Know

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10 Things Every First Time New York City Visitor Should Know

The Schuyler sisters sing how New York City is the “Greatest City in the World” in the musical Hamilton and after a recent visit it’s a hard opinion to refute. 

Culturally rich, incredibly diverse (nearly 38% of its residents are immigrants), and loaded with famous landmarks, New York City is not just one of the most iconic cities in the United States, but in the world. 

While my wife and I have both visited New York several times on our own, a recent four day excursion was our first vacation to the Big Apple together. The goal was to jam as much quintessential New York-ness into four days as we could. Our trip was fantastic! We maximized our time so we were able to see everything we wanted, but didn’t have to sacrifice our budget because deals abound. 

If you’re visiting New York City for the first time, here are a few things you should know.  

New York City is more affordable than you think

For a major metropolis, New York City is incredibly economical. Public transportation is abundant and cost effective (more on that later) but most surprisingly you don’t have to spend a lot on meals. Here’s just two examples. One afternoon my wife and I ate at Joe’s Pizza, a local establishment that’s been around since 1975 with five locations around the city. A huge salad was $9 and a delicious slice of pepperoni was $4.75. For one of our evening meals we purchased a fixed menu dinner in the Theater District. For $60 we had an appetizer, two entrees, a bottle of wine, and a dessert. Affordable, quality eateries are all over, you just have to look. 

Money = Time

If there’s a line, I want to avoid it if I can. Tickets for the Empire State Building’s 86th and 102nd floor observation decks are $79. However, I know from experience that these lines are long. So I went with the express pass ticket for $119. While other people were waiting in line, my wife and I walked a literal red carpet and saw the sights of New York and took a ton of great photos. If you need to spend a little more money to get more time on a vacation, take advantage of it. That said…

There are plenty of free (or inexpensive) things to do in NYC

While I enjoy saving time, that doesn’t mean I want to waste money. Here are just five of the many free or affordable things you can do. My wife and I did all of these. 

  1. Take in Central Park: This amazing 843 acre park is a great place to walk, ride a bike, or have a picnic. 
  2. Visit The Statue of Liberty: Tickets to see Lady Liberty are only around $25/per person. 
  3. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge: The Brooklyn Bridge offers great views and also has local vendors selling inexpensive souvenirs. 
  4. Dive into events at Bryant Park: There’s always something going on here. On one of our nights, a free showing of Goonies was being offered. The Picnic Performance series, also free, is relaxing and a fantastic cultural experience. 
  5. People watch: You can do this anywhere, but Times Square and Rockefeller Center are a short walk from each other and are fun places to sit and take in colorful locals and tourists. 

Stay in Midtown

Midtown, which goes roughly from 30th Street to the southern border of Central Park at 59th Street, is home to easy-to-reach destinations such as the Empire State Building, The Museum of Modern Art and Grand Central Terminal, just to name a few. With simple access to places many first time visitors want to see and lodging ranging from cheap ($) to pricey ($$$$), Midtown is the best place to stay. 

New York is a walking city

Not only is anything you need (food, shopping, transportation) a quick walk from wherever you’re staying, but walking is a free and fast way to get around Manhattan. It helps that many tourist attractions are also close to each other. After my wife and I visited The Statue of Liberty, we walked from Battery Park to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in 10 minutes. When combined with the subway or a bike rental (only $19 a day via Citi Bike, which has bike racks everywhere), getting around Manhattan is a breeze. 

A Broadway show is a must do

Going to New York and not catching a Broadway show is like flying to Paris and skipping the Eiffel Tower. It just doesn’t make sense. My wife and I bought Hamilton tickets first, then planned the rest of our itinerary around the show. Get the tickets you want first, as every other destination on your wish list can easily be built around it. You won’t regret it. 

The subway is your friend

For most Americans, it’s easier to drive where you want to go than take a bus or train. But in New York public transportation, and the subway in particular, is a way of life. While it might be tempting to take an Uber, Lyft or taxi, the subway is less expensive and more efficient. It’s cheap ($2.75 a ride), super easy to use, operates 24 hours a day, and with 493 stations on 25 routes, along 693 miles of track you can get anywhere you want in no time. 

Google Maps is also your friend

Getting around New York City may be simple but that doesn’t mean you can’t become disoriented. Use the Google Maps app to make sure you’re headed the right direction. It’s also a great tool to find subway stations and can help you decide which mode of transportation to use depending on where you’re headed.

If you have a question, ask a local

New Yorkers have a reputation for being tough, direct, and bold. While that may be true, they’re also friendly. This is a city used to tourists (66.6 million in 2019) so don’t be afraid to ask questions if you need help. Just remember two things: 1. Ask people wearing uniforms or who work in stores and restaurants. 2. Don’t dawdle, ask your question and move along. New Yorkers may be polite, but they’re also usually in a hurry. 

Chain stores are to be avoided

Just like every other city, New York has all the chain stores and restaurants you’re used to back home. That said, avoid them. Take a little extra time to find local places to eat and shop. You didn’t travel to the Greatest City in the World for the same experiences you can have at home.

Terry Terrones is a Television Critics Association and Critics Choice Association member, licensed drone pilot, and aspiring hand model. When he’s not singing along to Hamilton, you can find him hiking in the mountains of Colorado. You can follow him on Twitter @terryterrones.

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