A Guide To New York For First Time Visitors by guest author Laura Zoumberis
It has been honored in countless songs, films, and television shows, 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 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 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. To navigate the 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.)
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. (Sunday-Thursday, 10 AM to 5:30 PM, Friday and Saturday, 10 AM to 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. The prices vary depending on the experience you are looking for, so see
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 personally preferred the day view because I could see more.
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 was 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, Eatily. 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 linguine with crab meat. I like to live dangerously.
In the mood for dessert? Try the cheesecake at Junior’s Restaurant and Bakery on 45th Street and Times Square, or grab a pastry at Magnolia Bakery in Rockefeller Center.
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. 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 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 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 Yorker's use it all day for errands and commuting to work.
Tip: avoid using the subway during typical rush hours such as 8AM and 5PM.
On the subway, everyone pretty much keeps their heads down and minds their own business...except for me. I scan faces like a crazy stalker, hoping to spot Keanu Reeves so I can saunter over to him while channeling my inner Sandra Bullock. Keanu, you know we’re going to be BFF’s. Stop hiding from me.
If you choose the subway, I recommend the seven-day pass which costs $31. To view the individual cost of subway rides, click here. We used the 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.
Tip: pay attention to whether you are going uptown or downtown. This will determine which subway trains you should take.
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 fancy 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 Travel tips for New York
We flew into the Newark airport because it is less crowded and we were picked up by a friend who lives 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 or JFK, or request an Uber from New Jersey into the city. Ours cost about $80 in an UberXL and the drive takes approximately 35-40 minutes depending on the time of day.
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 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 Barielles, 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.
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!
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Welcome to Culture Trekking!
My name is Janiel, a leader in the travel industry with over 20+ years of experience with international travel. I specialize in solo female travel, cultural connections, sustainable adventures, food and history to help make your travel experiences fun, meaningful, and delicious. My experience in travel, and my personal story have allowed me to get published in Fodor's Travel, Atlas Obscura, Metro.co.uk, Trip Advisor, and multiple Podcast interviews. You can find me on pretty much every social media channel YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, TikTok. To read more about me and my story click here. If you are a brand and would like to work with me, click here.