7 Tips for Your First Trip To New York City

In 2013, my husband and I were lucky enough to spend a week in New York City to celebrate our 20th anniversary. For us, a week was the perfect amount of time to touch the heart and beat of this wonderful city, and left us with an understanding of how to get the most from our visit. We’re eager to go back, and when we do, I’ll be following my own advice that I’ve shared here.

If you’ve never been, here are 7 Tips for Your First Trip To New York City:



1. Bring a Map…Then Ditch It

Before our trip to New York City, I bought the Streetwise Manhattan Map – a foldable, pocket-sized, laminated map of the Manhattan borough, complete with subway and bus information. It helped me get oriented before we even got there, and in the first day or so, I consulted it often to get the “lay of the land.” But after the first 24-48 hours in NYC, one of two things is likely to happen. Either you’re going to figure out the N-S, E-W pattern of the streets, or you’re going to get used to asking locals where you need to go.

Within five minutes of stepping off the New Jersey Transit train that brought us from Newark International to NYC’s Penn Station, a person saw our confusion (and us dragging all of our suitcases!) and asked us where we needed to go. That happened a few times, actually. In our experience, NYC locals were friendly and always more than happy to help.

2. Have a Plan A, B, and “We’ll See”

Chances are, if you’ve told any friends or family that you’re going to New York City, you’ve heard a ton of suggestions on what to see, where to go, what to eat. Everyone seems to have their own list of favorite NYC “must-do”s, and are passionate in their insistence that you heed their advice. My advice is that you do a little research, make a loose plan or itinerary to see the things that interest you most, and then be prepared to be very flexible. There are hidden gems all over the city, and if you only have your head down, determined to get from Point A to Point B, you’re going to miss them!

flushing meadows to coney island

We went off the “beaten path” one day, taking a subway out to Flushing Meadows, then riding the entire line from Queens out to chilly Coney Island, Brooklyn!

3. Be Prepared To Walk

And walk, and walk, and walk. At one point during our week in NYC, I told my husband that I felt like I was at boot camp. On our lightest day, we only walked about 2 1/2 miles, on our busiest, it was probably more than 7. Of course there are taxis (and pedicabs – that’s an experience!!), but the easiest, sometimes quickest way to get around is on foot. Then of course you can take the subway (which I highly recommend – we were subway pros in no time, and though they are sometimes smelly and often crowded, we always felt safe), but you have to climb the stairs out at every station, which is another kind of workout. All in all, our week in New York was an incredibly physical experience.

4. Be Prepared To Eat

And eat, and eat, and eat. Oh, the food choices in NYC – they seem endless! Although you can easily find most familiar food chains – Chili’s, Subway, McDonald’s, etc – I highly recommend you explore the many locally (and in many cases family) owned eateries. We found some great, cheap pizza on several street corners, the delightful Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery, and our absolute favorite – the Halal food carts. You have never had a lamb gyro or a plate of chicken and rice like they serve at these Halal food carts. Delicious!! And make sure to drown in all in white sauce (yummmm). We ate from Halal food carts several times during our week in NYC, and it was always super cheap and super tasty.

halal street cart nyc

{photo credit}

5. Have a Few Dollars in Your Pocket

Here in suburbia, we’re used to paying for everything with our debit card. But we were surprised in New York City to find some restaurants and other attractions only accepted cash. Good thing we had some with us! I was also grateful to have a few dollar bills whenever we stumbled upon one of the many, many NYC street performers. We saw musicians, magicians, dancers, comedians and more on most subway platforms, streets, and parks while we were there. And you know what? Most of them were good. I think one of our favorites was the man on the grand piano in Washington Square Park. Nevermind how he even got the piano there, he was fabulous. Talent and creativity abound in this city, and it felt good to reward these entrepreneurial individuals with a few bucks for the tip jar.

man playing grand piano in washington square park

6. Bring a Portable Smartphone Charger

I share this tip out of pure practicality. We used our smartphones a lot during our week in NYC – for taking pictures, for checking in on Facebook and other social media sites, for getting information about our current location or where we needed to go next. Once you head out of your hotel for the day, it’s not likely you’ll be back to quickly re-charge your phone, so a portable charger becomes a lifesaver. I happened to buy the PowerGen Mobile Charger before we left, which had interchangeable tips for both iPhone and Android. It’s small and easy to fit in a pocket or bag, and was able to provide two full charges. We used it every day!

7. Keep That Camera Out

While it makes total sense to take pictures of landmarks like the Empire State Building or Grand Central Station, at first I was a little shy to take pictures of other things that caught my eye – the interesting architecture or ironic street signs. I worried I’d look like “such a tourist” if I held on to my camera the whole time. But you know what? *Everyone* had their cameras out! No matter where we went, I saw people taking pictures of everything famous and everything random. I quickly shed my worries and had a fabulous time taking more than 400 photos during our week in NYC. So, honestly, don’t be shy. Don’t worry about looking like a tourist. New York is an amazing city, and you should squeeze every bit of adventure and memory out of it that you can.

Some of my favorite “random” pictures taken that week…

Random Pictures from New York City

BONUS TIP: Saving Money!

Think your visit to New York City is going to cost you an arm and a leg? Think again! While it may be expensive to fly – and in some cases, stay – in New York City, once you’re there, you can see and do things for surprisingly little money.

For example:

  • Take the free Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty. You sail very close to the Statue, affording you some wonderful photos, and you get an amazing view of the Manhattan Skyline. For free!
  • Pay only what you want to at museums. Or, visit during their free hours! Many people do not know that the admission prices posted at many NYC museums are only “suggestions,” and that you can pay very little to actually get in. We paid only $10 for the two of us to get into the Museum of Natural History, and no one batted an eye.
  • Eat on the cheap! We found several places serving $2 slices of pizza (with a drink!), and it tasted great. Several of the food carts are also very inexpensive.

I would love to know: Are you planning a trip to New York City? Have you already been? What tips would you give to a first-timer there? 

*Note: Amazon affiliate links included in this post.