I am a Southerner, born and raised. My parents took my brother, sister, and I all over the Southeast, to the Caribbean, even Hawaii one time. Never up North. The farthest north we went was a trip to Washington DC.
My parents are just not big city people and I prefer the middle of nowhere over a city too honestly. I had always wanted to go to New York City though.
Finally, this summer at the age of 24 I made it to the Big Apple. I took the trip with my younger brother and sister and the days leading up to leaving were so strange. I was excited, but I was so nervous about New York. Nervous about our safety, transportation, what if we got lost… You name it and I was worried about.
After we got up there though I realized that none of my anxieties were valid. Everything went smooth and we had a wonderful trip! I even plan to go back when I get the chance.
Related: A Weekend in New York City Itinerary
I hope that if you are taking a trip to NYC soon and it’s your first time, then these tips will help ease some of your worries before you get up there.
Because you really should just enjoy every minute instead of spending it thinking up worst-case scenarios. So here are my New York City tips for first-timers.
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It is not that hard to find the taxi stop at Laguardia Airport.
As I was reading through all the transportation recommendations that I could find, I found that no one was fond of Laguardia Airport. You have to realize though, when I fly, I choose the cheapest flight that I can find. I don’t care what airport it’s going into or what airline I’m flying or if it does not include a carry-on bag. The main reason we went to New York is because I found a cheap flight. So Laguardia it was for us.
Related: How to Find the Best Flight Deals
I may have some form of social anxiety because I was terrified that I would not be able to find the taxi stop after we landed at the airport. Why I worried about this I am not sure since I would have just been able to ask someone. But anyways, it really isn’t that hard to find. Once you land there are signs everywhere for baggage claim. We all took carry-on only (the only way I travel unless it’s winter) but we still had to check them because of the size of our plane. After you pick up your luggage at baggage claim there are a blue-million signs for the taxi stop. There was a ton of construction going on since they are remodeling, so I guess they really don’t want people to get lost.
Technically the taxi stop is off site, so you have to take a shuttle bus to get there. You follow the signs for the bus and you actually go past the stop for the public transportation bus. More on that later. Once you get on the bus, it takes you right to all the taxis. I have never seen so many taxis in my life. They were all lined up as far as you could see waiting on their turn for people to climb in. There are also airport employees directing people into the correct taxis, so you don’t even have to worry about which one you are supposed to get into. Like I said, nothing to worry about.
If you’re flying into JFK check out this article all about how to get from JFK to Times Square (or anywhere near Midtown Manhattan) by Five Pax. They go way in depth on exactly what you have to do to get where you are going.
Also not that hard to find the public transport bus.
It seemed like one of the main reasons that people didn’t like Laguardia was its lack of public transportation options. Honestly, I found this to be incorrect. If you read the first tip, then you know that on the way to the taxi stop you go past the public transport bus. There is a kiosk there to buy your metro card and everything. All you need to do is buy the metro card, load it with however much money you want and you can use that to ride the bus and take the subway.
Don’t be afraid of the Subway.
Speaking of the Subway, it is super easy to use. Don’t pay attention to the colors on the map, pay attention to number or letter and whether you are going uptown or downtown. If all else fails just ask someone. You can buy a single ride ticket, a pay-per-ride metro card, or unlimited ride metro card. To find the fees and more information about these options look here.
Once you have your card you just insert it or swipe it on the kiosks in front of the gates and it’ll let you through. If you purchased the pay-per-ride option it will tell you how much money is left on your card on the little screen on the kiosks. If you are just spending a weekend in NYC, then pay-per-ride is the way to go. As of August of 2019, the fare for a single ride is $2.75.
The only other confusing part is the express vs. local stops, but I am about to make it super easy for you. If you look at the subway map, the white circles are express stops where both local and express trains stop. The black circles are local stops where only local trains stop unless an express train makes the announcement that they will make all local stops. So white = all trains stop and black = local train stop unless an announcement is made. Find more subway tips here.
If you are on a sidewalk with a lot of people, keep moving.
During my research, I found this tip come up the most out of any other. I can see why this would be annoying though because I get a little aggravated when it happens to me around home. There aren’t even that many tourists where I live, so I can only imagine what it’s like if you live in NYC. Just be considerate of those around you and realize that if you are standing in the middle of the sidewalk just looking around some people may be trying to get to work.
Wake up EARLY.
This is a universal tip, but I will never stop sharing it for individual locations because it’s so important. If you wake up early you can beat the crowds and see another part of the city that you usually wouldn’t. You get better photos and more bang for your buck since you’re spending more time sight-seeing than lounging around in the bed. You can lay in the bed at home.
I don’t know that you’ll be totally by yourself at some of these landmarks if you get out super early because this does truly seem to be the city that never sleeps. It will weed out a lot of your competition though. But there are people out and about at all hours of the night and day here.
Map out where you want to go and visit the locations that are close together on the same day.
Walking the city combined with using the subway is your best mode of transportation here. In order to cut down on wasted time and on subway fare costs try to plan out the museums, landmarks, and other attractions you want to see ahead of time. That way you can plot them on the map and visit everything that’s close together in one day. This is extremely important if you’re only spending a couple days in the city. You don’t want to spend all your time walking or sitting on the subway.
When you visit a smaller museum, call ahead of time and see if you have to book a time or if they are open.
Two museums that we wanted to visit while we were in town were the Tenement Museum and the The Museum of the American Gangster. I did definitely let everyone down with planning this portion of our trip. This will prove why you need to thoroughly research these smaller museums.
We arrived at the Tenement Museum to find that you have to book a tour time because you can’t walk through on your own. The whole point of the Museum is so the stories of the families that immigrated here and lived in these buildings are told.
Well we got there Saturday morning and all the morning tours were booked and we had a food tour that afternoon, so we had to move our schedule around. We booked a tour for Sunday morning instead.
Minor inconvenience since we spent time walking over to the museum and had to walk back toward where we came.
Sunday after our Tenement Museum tour we walked over to the The Museum of the American Gangster which was a 15-minute walk only to find out that it was closed. Apparently, this is a very small museum and the person who was supposed to be giving tours that day was sick and they don’t have anyone on call. So the other people who work there were busy.
This was our last day in the city so we couldn’t come back and just wasted a ton of time coming to this part of town. This is why carefully planning your trip is so important!
If you know the museum is small, then be sure to call ahead and verify they are open. I would never have thought about this.
Stay away from Times Square.
We had to go through Times Square to get to the New Amsterdam Theater for our Broadway Show, but I would never go back just to hang around. It was neat to see once, but the crowds are outrageous.
You have to push your way through walls of people just to get anywhere. Plus any restaurant, souvenir shop, or clothing store is going to be way overpriced. If you can avoid it, I would at all costs.
Don’t expect anyone to ask if you want your photo taken. (or anything else for that matter)
I think this will only be weird to people who are from the South, but don’t expect any one to talk to you. People don’t make eye contact and smile when walking down the street.
If you are trying to take a photo of you and a group of friends, don’t expect anyone to ask if you want them to take the photo for you. Don’t expect anyone to sit down beside you on the subway and ask “How’s it going?” It’s a totally different culture when it comes to that kind of stuff.
Watch your kids. Especially at the Memorials.
This may sound rude at first, but hear me out. While we were at the 9/11 Memorial, we walked through a section called the Glades (picture below). There was a little boy running around while his parents lagged behind and he ran up on one of the rock formations.
As soon as his foot touched that stone, the security guard ran at him full speed with arms waving in the air and shouting. The little boy got scared and ran back to his parents crying. The parents were not happy and went to get a couple police officers even though they were really the ones in the wrong.
In places like this meant for remembrance and reflection it is so important to explain to your kids that they must be quiet and respectful. This security guard was doing his job and making sure the Memorial was seen as a sacred place instead of a jungle gym.
You can rent row boats at Central Park.
This is just a public service announcement. I did not know about this until we were walking through Central Park by the lake and saw row boats all over the place. They are so cute!! Go by the Loeb Boathouse to rent one.
Don’t discount Off-Broadway or Off-Off-Broadway shows.
While we were on our food tour on Saturday, I learned that the only difference in Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Off-Off-Broadway shows are the number of seats they have in the theater. The quality of the shows is still great, but the theaters are just smaller. So you can still see a great show with cheaper tickets.
It feels very safe in Manhattan.
This is the last and possibly most important tip. I was terrified that something was going to happen to us while we were there. It was probably a combination of news reports of safety issues and watching too many fictional TV shows.
While we were there though I definitely stayed vigilant, but I never felt unsafe. We walked all over Manhattan and had no issues at all. So while I would definitely be aware of your surroundings, there is no need to be anxious over safety during your trip to New York.
I hope these tips help ease your anxieties if you have any about visiting NYC. It’s really an awesome experience especially when you aren’t used to big cities. Even if you aren’t anxious about your trip I hope these tips help you plan a little better.
Good tips Anna. I’ve never been to the big apple, so I can’t offer anymore. I’ve made that mistake with museums many times, of not calling ahead. That’s how I missed Anne Frank. All part of travelling I’m afraid.
Oh no, hate that you missed the Anne Frank Museum! I loved it, hope you are able to go back. Yes I’m hoping that I learned my lesson with museums here but I can be very hard-headed sometimes.
I think loving a bit of every style is the mark of a true traveller. What a wonderful memory, and 100 times a better holiday too
Thank you. 🙂 It definitely keeps things interesting. Yes, that first trip was very memorable.
Thank you for your article! Can you give. Me advise on were to rent bikes? We are staying close to grand central. I am travelling with my 14 yr old son and we are from Amsterdam. So very used to biking in cities. I looked at the citi bike option but the 30 min limit every time is a no go for me. Thank you very much! Gaby
Hi Gaby, you’re welcome! I’m sorry, but I didn’t rent bikes when I was in NYC so I can’t give any advice on that. I will say that cities in the US overall aren’t as bike-friendly as Europe – especially Amsterdam. We took the subway everywhere and it worked well for us. – Anna
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