It has been honored in countless songs, films, and television shows, has earned various nicknames, and been the target of terrorists. New York City is certainly unparalleled and its reputation is justly earned.
For any of you first-time visitors to The Big Apple who are worried that it might be overrated, you have nothing to fear. New York will meet, if not exceed your expectations. This world-famous city is like a living, breathing organism and it makes you feel as if you have entered a completely new world.
To assist you in your travel adventure, I have divided my commentary into three main sections: sightseeing, eating, and transportation, along with some adjunct commentary.
Sightseeing in New York
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Manhattanite in possession of children will be in want of a nanny, and Central Park is overflowing with them. (No joke! They are everywhere!) Since Central Park is certain to be on your “must-see” list, check the weather for New York City right before your trip; you will want to wear good walking shoes and visit the park on a sunny day for the best views.
You can also rent a bike in Central Park if you prefer to see more of the park in less time. I personally regret that I did not bring food and a blanket for a picnic in Sheep Meadow.
Traveler tip: There is actually a Central Park picnic delivery company you can utilize that will save you time if you want the full experience of picnicking in the park like a pro.
To navigate Central Park, I used Google maps, and I also brought a paper map provided by the concierge service at my hotel. (Did you know? The Latin origin for the word “concierge” means slave. If you’re like me, then random trivia is your jam.)
Traveler tip: New York Central Park website has a great map that will show you the different running maps, carriage ride routes, and much much more.
The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) and Metropolitan Museum of Art are located close to Central Park but on opposite sides. After previously visiting the WWII museum in New Orleans, the AMNH was, in my opinion, a let-down.
Several of the exhibits are iconic thanks to Ben Stiller and his Night at the Museum movies, but there were no interactive exhibits that I could find. Despite the beautiful architecture, dinosaur bones, and famous Easter Island recreation, it seemed rather anticlimactic and thus overpriced ($22 for adult admission, $12.50 for kids, and $17 for students and seniors.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA) by contrast, was astounding. The entry fee is any amount you see fit to pay, although suggested admission is similar to AMNH. If you have no interest in paintings, sculptures, or artists such as Van Gogh, Degas, or Caravaggio, then disregard this paragraph. If you find yourself salivating at the thought of standing mere inches away from the work of the masters, then the MMA should be a top priority for you. Be sure to plan your visit in accordance with their hours of operation. We, unfortunately, arrived an hour and a half before closing time and only saw a fraction of what was available.
Traveler tip: Metropolitan Museum of Art hours : Sunday-Thursday, 10 AM – 5:30 PM, Friday and Saturday, 10 AM – 9 PM.
Their gift shop is enormous and features a variety of ephemera ranging from simple magnets and stationary, to umbrellas, coffee table books, art prints, and more.
For all of you Sleepless in Seattle lovers who simply MUST see the Empire State Building, it is most definitely worth the trip and the price. From the stunning art deco design to the view, I do not regret a penny spent on this visit.
There is also a free Empire State Building app that features an audio tour, history of the building, and trivia. Oh, and the building has free Wifi! As for whether you should take in the view during the day or at night, it is merely personal preference. I preferred going during the day, because I was able to see more of the city.
As for the Statue of Liberty, I recommend viewing it from a boat tour on the Hudson River. There are several types of boats and companies to choose from, some of which include a meal if you are willing to pay more. Standing on the bow of that boat while I drank in the view of Lady Liberty was so humbling. Peel away the politics, and she reminds you of the foundational values of our nation and why our potential is so great.
The last site I will mention here is the September 11th Memorial and museum. We did not tour the museum because the wound feels so fresh that we did not want to relive it. Just the grounds and fountains with the inscriptions of the victims’ names were sobering enough. Also, please don’t be one of those [expletive deleted] who smiles in front of the 9/11 memorial and takes a cheesy selfie. Have some decency.
While I did not visit enough iconic places to make it worth my money, there is a New York City Pass you can purchase that will allow you to save money while seeing some of the most popular sights around New York City.
Eating in New York
One of Adam Sandler’s most underrated films is Pixels. It’s humorous, entertaining, and creative. During one segment, the movie features a gigantic Pac-Man chomping his way through the streets of New York City. That visual perfectly captures the ravenous swath I cut through the restaurants of the Big Apple. Why Eat, Pray, Love, when you can just eat?
First stop, Eataly. This cosmopolitan joint is a food lover’s paradise. It is an indoor market as well as a collection of multiple, open-area restaurants specializing in their own niches. There’s a gelato spot, a handmade pasta deli, a variety of brands (and prices) of olive oil, and aisles upon aisles of different packaged pastas.
One restaurant area only prepares seafood and veggie dishes. Naturally, we traipsed right on through that one to find Carb-vana (my name, not trademarked yet but still proprietary), another restaurant portion where pizza and pasta are freshly made. The portion sizes are completely un-American, meaning they are actually fit for your stomach and not your star-spangled, gluttonous eyes. Everything we tried was delicious, from the appetizers to the entrees. I highly recommend the ciabatta bread layered with ricotta cheese, honey, and LAVENDER. It was fancy, flavorful, and freakin’ delicious.
Chelsea Market is another popular shopping and dining experience. It is an artsy indoor market comprised of restaurants, local shops, and even chain stores such as Anthropology. Be sure to stop by Giovanni Rana’s for some delicious homemade pasta. If you like the taste of seafood, check out the squid ink linguini with crab meat. I like to live dangerously.
When you budget for your trip, be sure to allocate between $50-$100 a day for food. Obviously, if you are on a tight budget, you won’t be dining at the more expensive restaurants. However, cheap fast food is hard to come by, and that includes street vendors. Paying $4 for a pretzel adds up fast.
Traveler tip: Plan carefully if you want a food tour of the famous Top 10 Street food Vendors of New York City.
Also, NYC hotels typically do not offer a continental breakfast, so you are on your own for every meal. If you have to choose between food and souvenirs, go with food. Your taste buds will thank you even if your waistline doesn’t.
Transportation in New York
Don’t let the movies fool you; Cary Grant is not waiting for you at the top of the Empire State Building and taxis are not the best way to make your way around the city. Just ask Deborah Kerr (see the film An Affair to Remember.) The exception to this is if you locate the Cash Cab. Shout out to Discovery Channel for bringing back the best trivia show ever! The one time I flagged down a cab driver (which I will admit, was exciting), he ended up taking us on a rather circuitous route so he could charge us more. So, suck it up buttercup and make your way to the nearest subway station.
Contrary to some misconceptions, the subway is not shady or filled with hoodlums. New Yorkers use it all day for errands and for commuting to work.
Traveler tip: Avoid using the subway during typical rush hours such as 8AM and 5PM. Check out reviews of the Best New York Subway Apps. I would definitely download one before your trip because it makes navigating the system much easier. Check out this awesome site for Complete NYC subway tips and tricks.
If you choose the subway, I recommend the seven-day pass which costs $31. To view the various prices for subway tickets, check out Metro Card. We used the seven-day pass for about three and a half days and it was perfect. There are kiosks in the subway where it can be purchased and they accept card or cash.
As for navigating the subway, we had a friend show us the ropes, but if you lack the advantage of a local connection, your smartphone will save the day.
Traveler tip: Pay attention to whether you are going uptown or downtown. This will determine which subway trains you should take. See the Complete Guide to NYC Subway tips and tricks.
I used an app called Citymapper and it was AMAZING. It showed us which station to use, which subway train went to our stop (they are identified by letters), how many minutes we had until the next one would arrive, and the number of stops that lay between us and our final destination. If you have an Apple watch, the app syncs to your watch so you don’t have to keep pulling out your phone to check.
If you still don’t care for public transportation or cannot handle all of the walking and stairs involved, then Uber is your next best friend. New York is full of Uber drivers. We generally found them to be friendly and in possession of clean, fragrant cars. The prices were better than taking a cab, especially if you are splitting the cost with friends or family. Also, they are incentivized to get you to your destination quickly so they can pick up their next paying customer.
Just a few more things…
We flew into the Newark airport because it is less crowded, and we were picked up by a friend who lived in New Jersey. However, we then had to drag our luggage on the train and subsequently the subway, so either choose one of the busier airports like LaGuardia airport or JFK airport, or request an Uber from New Jersey into the city. Our UberXL ride at the end of our trip cost about $80 and the drive takes approximately 35 minutes when the roads are clear.
If you are interested in taking in a Broadway show, buy tickets in accordance with how popular the show is. This trip came about because we found $200 mezzanine seats for Hamilton on Broadway a year ahead of time. We purchased our Waitress tickets about three months out. (If you know nothing about Waitress, I highly recommend it! It’s hilarious, endearing, and the music was written by Sara Bareilles, so it’s flawless.) You can use the TodayTix App to find last-minute tickets to Broadway shows. However, if you wait until the last minute for Hamilton, you are most definitely throwing away your shot.
Traveler tip: When choosing a hotel or AirBnb, you may be tempted to focus solely on price. However, you really want to prioritize location. I stayed at the Radisson Martinique on Broadway which has a subway station right outside its doors and is only four stops from Times Square. (No compensation was provided by the Radisson for this reference.)
Finally, the people of New York City get a bad rap. They have an unfounded reputation for being surly and uncompromising, when in fact, I found the opposite to be the case. Everyone we met, with the exception of one unhelpful street vendor, was kind and obliging. So, don’t be afraid to ask for directions and enjoy your trip!
Have you already traveled to New York City before?
What tips do you have for new visitors?
Please leave any advice, feedback, or questions in the comments section below 🙂
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Janiel Green is a Travel Guru with 22 years of National travel experience in the USA, and 18 years of International Travel experience. She is a highly educated, courageous, driven and dedicated individual to both her professional and personal life. She is the Founder of Culture Trekking LLC, and is devoted to bringing a celebratory passion for humanity into her writing to make meaningful, useful, and heartfelt recommendations for a culturally enriched travel experience. For inquires please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org