New York City 2019 – My 17 Best Tips to Get The Most Out of Your Stay.
New York City- Bustling, Crazy, Beautiful!
Like me you would’ve seen a lot of Manhattan on your television screens and in the cinema.
It’s one of the most recognisable sites in pop culture, with an almost magical feel.
For me it started with Mick Dundee in a small boat in the Hudson, throwing explosives into the water to catch fish, leading to a police helicopter swooping in. Only for the police officer to say, “Oh it’s you Mick!”
For earlier generations it might be the iconic Breakfast at Tiffany’s which is still well known today.
For millennials it might be Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a movie I also thoroughly enjoyed.
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Like a Sledgehammer to the Face!
I was awestruck when I first walked into Times Square. One thing you need to remember is, keep your wits about you!
Many people in New York City are very keen to separate you from your hard earned dollar. Just remember, if someone approaches you to help and they are not a government official – they want money!
In this article I’ll break down some of the things I fell for. I’ll also let you in on tips to get around and see as many things as you want to in one week.
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1. "No thanks" and Keep On Walking!
I found the best thing to do when approached by a stranger on the street is to politely decline and keep on walking.
But I did find out the hard way!
Like when the Buddhist Monk looking guy pushed a token into my hand saying “peace,” he wanted money!
Or the guy who said to me, “shake a brother’s hand!” He pushed a CD into my hand that he was “giving away” before saying, “Just a 20 or 10 will do!”
I might be a slow learner but I finally stopped falling for their tricks.
They’ve adapted to surviving on these streets and how to pick out a tourist at 50 paces!
2. Embrace the Subway! (Metro)
It’s a great, cheap and fast way to get around New York City.
Buy yourself a week long Metro Pass for $33US (Nov 2018) and you can have unlimited bus and subway travel for a week or longer (you can buy longer passes if you wish).
A few minutes ride will get you from Midtown to Central Park or to lower Manhattan.
So much cheaper than going on one of the hop-on hop-off buses which are about $35US per day!
I do think the hop-on, hop-off buses as they can be helpful on your first day to get a bit of a feel for the city.
Bonus Subway Tips!
- Buy yourself a $33 pass which will get you unlimited rides on the subway and on the city buses.
- An appendix to tip 1. above is that you cannot use your week long ticket more than once in a half hour. So if you do make a mistake and go through the turnstile to the wrong platform, you may have to buy a single ticket like I did.
- Look for the green ball on a post which signifies an entrance to the subway. N.B. Not all entrances have these balls so it only helps sometimes.
- Use Apple or Google Maps app to ensure you know which direction you are going. Are you travelling Uptown from midtown? Or are you going downtown from Uptown? Crucial information.
- Survey the intersection above ground before going underground! There are often different entrances for uptown and downtown bound trains so make sure you use the correct one.
- Check to see what level your train is travelling on. Yes! There is often 2 levels of track.
- There is a coloured lettering system to help ensure you are choosing the right platform for where you are going. Make yourself familiar with the appropriate code before setting out.
3. Use Apple or Google Maps.
The map on my iPhone was invaluable in helping us get around the city particularly when using the subway.
You have to read the subway signs very carefully before running your Metro card or ticket through the turnstile.
If you make a mistake and have to run it through again before it resets you can’t go through without buying a single ticket.
It will show you step by step directions including time and distance to your destination.
It helped us understand the subway system.
Be careful to note the subway station (eg 50 St), which letter or number train (eg C subway) and in which direction (eg Downtown towards Euclid Av).
We got a bit confused by the multiple entrances to the same subway.
Some people prefer Google Maps and I’m sure it works well but we didn’t try it.
Tripsavvy have a great article here for the best maps for any New York City situation.
4. Check Out The New York City Pass.
Want to go to the top of the Rockefeller centre?
Or do you want to pay your respects at the 9/11 memorial and museum, or maybe a catacombs tour is your thing.
The New York Pass includes these plus The Natural History Museum, The Guggenheim, MoMa, The Met, a river cruise, the viewing deck on the EmpireState Building and many more.
All of the paid “must sees” for me were covered.
But, and it’s a big but, you really have to be prepared to smash it to get value out of the New York City Pass.
In the seven days of our New York City Pass we visited:
MoMa; The Metropolitan Museum of Art; American Natural History Museum; The Intrepid Air, Sea and Space Museum; Empire State Building viewing deck; Madam Toussaud’s wax museum; Landmark Cruise; The Catacombs tour; 9/11 Museum and Memorial; and the Hop on Hop Off Big Bus.
This exhausted us and really filled up our days for the whole week.
We managed to save around 100USD for two tickets and that was with a 25% discount.
This of course did not include the gratuities or tips that we often paid to tour guides.
So make sure you do the math, and if you think you can get good value, then it’s certainly a great way to see and learn a lot about this grand city.
5. Free Travel Guide!
Even if you decide not to buy the New York pass, you can still use it as a great guide.
Click on this link here to see all the attractions that are offered in the New York City pass and their prices.
You will also get a bit of a rundown on what each attraction has in store.
This can help you to find many attractions that you probably never would have heard of without it.
So do your sums, if it’s worthwhile get the pass, and if not, use it as your free guide to the New York City!
6. Take the free Staten Island Ferry.
Do not listen to spruikers out front of the Ferry gates… They tell lies!
This guy approached us in an official looking uniform.
He proceeded to tell us that if we went on the free ferry we might as well take a picture from Battery Park because it’s just as close.
We decided to take the free ferry anyway and it was perfect.
The photo of Miss Liberty in this article was taken with an iPhone X from the Staten Island Ferry.
Great views of The Statue of Liberty and was very easy to get on and off and we got seats.
Going at an off peak time is probably advisable.
7. Familiarise yourself with the street system.
The numbered streets run East to West e.g. 42nd Street.
The Avenues run from North to South e.g. 5th Avenue.
One exception to this rule is Broadway which runs from the lower to the upper side but on an angle across the streets.
Greenwich Village in the lower end of Manhattan is another exception as it was built before the grid system started.
In Greenwich Village you’ll find that West 4th Street intersects with West 10th, 11th, and 12th Streets before ending at West 13th Street.
8. Tipping or gratuities.
Australians and some other travellers are not used to but in the US the service workers depend on it.
Restaurant staff even if you are taking away, the room cleaners or housekeepers in a hotel room, drivers from the airport (shuttle or taxi cabs) all expect it.
Street entertainers will explicitly ask for it.
Do a quick Google search to check that your tip is within range.
You don’t want to overdo it or pay too little.
Many restaurants and cafes will have tipping automatically but you get the choice to tip 18, 20, or 22%.
If you receive poor service (and you will), don’t tip as much.
9. Save on Broadway Tickets!
Head down to Times Square to the TKTS box Office for cheaper Broadway and Off-Broadway tickets.
Discounted tickets for same day Matinee shows go on sale at 10am and 3pm for evening shows.
These tickets are heavily discounted and are tickets that haven’t sold through the usual methods.
TKTS is run by the Theatre Development Fund which is a not for profit organisation established to helping the theatre industry in NYC.
You can be confident that the ticket you purchase is the real deal and you won’t be ripped-off.
Consider an off-Broadway show.
The talent is incredible and you will have an amazing time.
10. Don't take it personally.
People in authority at attractions can be loud and very direct.
People on the street will rush past and bump you and not say a word.
Don’t take it personally, I think it’s just a symptom of living in such a big city and having to fight their way to get places.
“Excuse me” or “sorry” are very seldom heard.
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11. Try to stay somewhere central in Manhattan.
This way you’ll be quite close to lower Manhattan which includes the financial district, 9/11 memorial, The High Line, Tribeca and Staten Island Ferry.
You’ll also be quite close to Central Park, the Upper West and East sides, Broadway, Maddison Square Garden and a diverse range of cafes and restaurants in Hell’s Kitchen.
Pretty much all of the main attractions are within a short subway ride away.
12. Enjoy the diverse range of great meals available at Hell's Kitchen.
Thai, American, Italian, Jewish, Chinese, Korean, Indian and Pakistani, Turkish, and many more are on display here.
Got a hankering for Uzbek/Russian halal? You’ll find that here as well!
Just take a walk along 9th Avenue between 34th and 59th streets and you’ll find whatever food your heart desires.
For a great pizza (and service) we couldn’t go past B side Pizza and Wine Bar, 370 W 51St (between 8th and 9th Avenue).
They have superb Italian style wood fired pizzas and a good wine selection to go with it.
Qi restaurant offered great Thai food with amazing tastes, great service and reasonable prices.
You’ll find Qi at 698 9th Ave (SE corner of W 48th St).
13. Free stuff!
There is plenty of great free stuff.
I mentioned the Staten Island Ferry before, that is a must.
Walk over the iconic Brooklyn Bridge to many trendy bars and restaurants that have sprung up over the last couple of decades.
Walk the Highline to Chelsea Markets, go to the New York City Library, head to Trump Tower, or Grand Central station and take in the sights along 5th avenue.
Stroll through Central Park and see the “Imagine” mosaic and Strawberry Fields both in named honour of the late John Lennon who lived in and loved New York.
14. Get your walking shoes on!
New York City never sleeps, but you are certainly going to walk!
That is if you really want to get the most out of your visit.
Even on a quiet day we walked a minimum of 10,000 steps.
On busy days we got near the 20,000 step mark.
Yes the subway and bus system are great but there are plenty of times when you have to walk a few blocks to get where you need.
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Coffee is different in the USA to what many people from Europe or Australia and New Zealand are used to.
But Australians have infiltrated Manhattan with dozens of Aussie style Espresso coffee.
Now I say Aussie style, of course I know that Espresso Coffee started in Italy but Aussies are so obsessed with coffee that we invented the flat white (New Zealand also claim they did so let’s call it a draw).
So if you’re looking for a great Espresso Coffee, there should be one not far from where you are.
We found that Bluestone Lane was very good and they are dotted throughout the city. They also do a great Avo on toast if you are missing your magic green fruit.
St Kilda Coffee on 328 W 44th St (between 8th & 9th Ave) was also exceptional.
16. 9/11 Museum and Memorial
A must do for any visitor to New York City.
The single largest event in New York’s history which not only changed this city but had a lasting impact on all our ways of life.
It should be obvious but please be very respectful when visiting.
Some of the volunteer staff lost loved ones that fateful day as did many of the local regular visitors.
The 9/11 museum underneath the ground is extremely well done.
Many people are content with the impressive memorial plaza which consists of two Memorial Pools and the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere “One World.”
The pools have all the names of the people who lost those lives in the attack engraved onto bronze plates.
Each day poppies are placed on the names of the people who’s birthdays are on that day and the other terrorist attack on the buildings that took place in 1993.
17. Enjoy Your Stay and Sleep Well!
I hope you enjoy your stay in the Big Apple as much as we did.
I’m sure you’ll find something in these tips that’ll help your trip to go that little bit smoother.
Make sure to check out my bed review of the Belvedere on West 48th Street here.
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Quick List 17 Top Tips For Staying in New York City
- Politely Decline and Keep Walking Quickly – When approached on the Street.
- Embrace the Subway (Metro).
- Use Apple or Google Maps.
- Check Out the New York Pass – May be good value if you are ready to go hard!
- Else use the New York Pass as a Free Travel Guide!
- Take the Staten Island Ferry – Free trip and great way to see the Statue of Liberty.
- Familiarise Yourself With The Street System – Simple in most areas.
- Tipping or Gratuities – You may not do it at home, but it’s important here!
- Buy Cheap Broadway Tickets at the TKTS Booth in Times Square.
- Don’t Take It Personally – Accept that people will seem abrupt and rude.
- Try to Stay Somewhere Central to Get the Best of Up and Downtown.
- Enjoy Meals From Around the World at Hell’s Kitchen (Midtown).
- There is Plenty of Free Stuff to Enjoy.
- Get Your Walking Shoes On- To enjoy NYC, you’ll need to do a lot of walking.
- Coffee – Very different to that in Europe or Australia. But many Aus cafes now dotted throughout.
- 9/11 Museum and Memorial – a must see. Be prepared to be moved, and please act respectfully.
- Make Sure you get a Good Mattress – You’re going to need some rest!