16 Things Nobody Tells You Before Visiting New York City: Insider Tips Revealed

Embarking on a journey to New York City can be overwhelming, with its bustling streets and endless options.

This article is your insider’s guide to navigating the city like a pro, addressing your biggest concerns and preparing you for the unexpected.

From avoiding tourist traps to discovering the best eats, this article will guide you through valuable tips that will help you experience NYC like a local.

Get ready to explore New York City with confidence and make your trip truly unforgettable.

1. There are Lots To Do for Free

Visiting New York City can be expensive, but luckily there are many free activities available for you to enjoy. Start by exploring the scenic Central Park or take a stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge for a memorable experience.

Central Park Foliage

New York is renowned for its museums, and you’ll be glad to know some offer free admission. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has suggested admission fees, but you can enter for free if desired.

Don’t forget to check out the Staten Island Ferry for a fantastic view of the city without spending a dime.

Get a taste of the city’s diverse culture by attending numerous free events, like outdoor movie screenings or concerts. Also, make sure to visit High Line, an elevated park built on a former railway track, for some green space.

Lastly, wander through world-famous neighborhoods like Greenwich Village or SoHo, where window shopping and people-watching won’t cost you anything. Remember, your New York City trip doesn’t have to break the bank with these free activities.

Check out our list of the Top 15 FREE things to do in New York City.

2. Forget About Driving

Driving in New York City can be a nightmare. With bumper-to-bumper traffic on most days, it’s best to leave your car at home.

Subway Train

Instead, make use of the extensive public transportation system, including subways, buses, and the iconic yellow taxis.

Parking in the city is expensive and scarce. If you do decide to drive, be aware of street parking rules and parking garage fees. Apps like ParkWhiz can help find affordable parking spots in advance.

New Yorkers* walk*. A lot. So pack your most comfortable shoes and enjoy the city by foot. Not only is it healthy, but it gives you an up-close experience of the Big Apple’s neighborhoods and attractions.

As an alternative, consider renting a bike. With the Citi Bike program, you can easily pick up a bike at docking stations throughout the city. Just remember to follow traffic rules and use dedicated bike lanes when available.

Lastly, don’t forget about ride-sharing services like Uber or Lyft. They can provide a convenient way to get around the city without worrying about parking or dealing with hailing a cab. Just be prepared for surge pricing during peak hours.

3. NYC Taxis are Slow Due to Traffic

In New York City, taxis can be slow because of traffic, so consider faster options like the subway or walking for your travel plans.

Yellow Taxi NYC

Keep in mind that taxi fares can also be quite expensive. To save money and time, consider using public transportation like buses or subways, which are reliable and efficient.

If you do need to catch a taxi, hailing a cab might be a challenge sometimes. June 2021 saw a shortage of yellow taxis and rising Uber prices in NYC. Be prepared for possible wait times.

To make your taxi experience smoother, remember the proper way to hail a cab – look for available ones with their lights on and have a clear hand signal. Also, familiarize yourself with the city’s layout and street names to communicate better with the driver.

4. Taking the Public Transit is Great, including the Subway

New York City’s public transit system is efficient and extensive, connecting all its boroughs and making city exploration a breeze. Feel free to hop on a bus or join the 5.6 million people riding the subway daily.

Subway

The subway is an affordable and quick option for getting around. Don’t let stories of empty subway cars scare you away. Most lines are well-frequented and safe. But be mindful of locals’ advice and avoid empty cars when possible.

Make use of handy tools like the MTA website and apps for real-time updates on buses and subway lines. You can plan your trips efficiently and save precious time.

Walking is an option too. However, considering the city’s size, using public transit is a valuable option. Don’t forget that many of the iconic scenes of NYC, like Times Square, are just a subway ride away.

5. You Will Have to Do a Lot of Walking

New York City is a vast and bustling place, which means walking will inevitably become your primary mode of transportation. It’s crucial to wear comfortable shoes to make the most of your experience.

NYC Walking

Many tourists underestimate the distance between attractions and the frequency of their walks. Plan your days efficiently by grouping destinations within the same neighborhood.

Public transportation, such as the subway, is a viable option when distances are too great. Just remember, subway cars can be packed during rush hour, so plan ahead.

While walking, take advantage of New York’s parks for a pleasant break. These green spaces offer scenic views and a chance to rest your feet.

Lastly, remember that NYC is constantly evolving. Keep an open mind and don’t hesitate to indulge in spontaneous adventures while exploring the city on foot.

6. If Budget’s Tight, Consider Staying in Manhattan

When planning your trip to New York City, consider staying in an affordable area within Manhattan. There are various neighborhoods, like Upper West Side and Harlem, that offer budget accommodation options.

Manhattan

Choose lodging options like hostels, shared apartments, or budget hotels. To save more, book your stay in advance or make use of accommodation deals and discounts.

Get the most out of your visit by exploring free attractions, such as parks, museums, and street shows. Fill your tummy by trying local food options in ethnic neighborhoods rather than chain restaurants.

Remember to prioritize your must-see attractions and make a rough plan to maximize your time and save money during your NYC trip.

7. Avoid the Tourist Traps in New York

As a visitor, it’s important to stay aware of popular tourist traps in the city. While they might seem enticing, these spots can be overpriced and crowded.

Instead, choose to explore lesser-known attractions for a more authentic NYC experience. Walk down streets like Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, which has become a bit of a tourist trap over the years.

Your trip to New York will be more enjoyable if you’re selective about your destinations. For example, avoid ice-skating at the crowded Rockefeller Center Ice Rink and opt for less busy alternatives.

Get recommendations from locals or do some research before visiting any popular attractions. This way, you can enjoy your time in the city without wasting it on overrated spots.

Finally, don’t forget to venture outside of Manhattan for unique experiences in other boroughs, like Queens and Brooklyn. They offer a diverse selection of food, art, and culture just waiting to be discovered.

8. Don’t Buy Anything Off the Street

While exploring New York City, you may get tempted by street vendors’ offering cheap deals. Resist the urge! It’s common to find counterfeit products with questionable quality.

You might think of it as a great bargain, but counterfeit goods can lead to legal complications, and their low quality may not be worth the price. Instead, shop at trusted retailers and boutiques for an authentic NYC experience.

Before making a purchase, check the vendor’s permit. Be cautious when buying electronics, as they might not be genuine. And always remember, if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

In NYC, there are designated places like flea markets and official street fairs where you can find unique items and support local artists.

9. New York is Filthy

New York City can sometimes be a dirty place. With the hustle and bustle of so many people, trash can build up. It’s important to be mindful and prepare for dirt or grime in heavily populated areas.

NYC Marathon Trashes Brooklyn” by Seth W. is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Public restrooms might not be the cleanest, so carrying hand sanitizer is a good idea. The streets are often littered, but you’ll also find dedicated crews working to keep the city clean.

Rats can be an unfortunate reality, particularly around subway stations. Just keep your distance and don’t feed them, which helps limit the issue.

NYC’s pollution levels can be high. To minimize exposure, avoid spending too much time near busy streets, and consider spending time in greener areas like parks.

Don’t let the filthiness deter you from enjoying this incredible city. Embrace its unique features and remember that New York City has so much more to offer.

10. Festive Season in New York is Enchanting but Can Be Pricey

Visiting New York City during the festive season is a truly magical experience, with the city transforming into a twinkling wonderland.

Christmas Season in NYC

From the iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas tree to the enchanting window displays along Fifth Avenue, the city is alive with holiday spirit.

However, it’s important to remember that this charm comes with a price tag. Accommodations, dining, and entertainment options often see a significant price hike during this time, making budgeting a crucial part of your trip planning.

So, while the festive season in New York is unmissable, it’s wise to prepare for the extra expenses to fully enjoy the yuletide cheer.

11. The Staten Island Ferry is the Best Free Tour

Visiting New York City on a budget? Don’t worry, the Staten Island Ferry offers a fantastic, free experience! Enjoy a 25-minute ride with stunning skyline views.

Staten Island Ferry

To get the best views of the Statue of Liberty, stand on the right side of the ferry. Make the most of your trip by choosing one of the best times to ride – early morning or late evening.

Not just a tourist attraction, 22 million people use the ferry for commuting each year. Locals love it, and you will too!

Remember, the Staten Island Ferry runs 24/7, so you can plan your visit according to your schedule. Don’t miss this amazing opportunity to see New York City from the water.

12. NYC is Much Noisier Than You Might Expect

You’ll quickly notice that New York’s noise levels can be quite overwhelming. From honking cars to construction sites, it’s a bustling city that rarely quiets down.

Busy Times Square

Prepare yourself by bringing earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones. This will help you enjoy your visit even in the noisiest neighborhoods.

When looking for accommodations, try to choose a location in a quieter area or inquire about noise insulation in the hotel or Airbnb.

Noise complaints peak around 11 PM to midnight, so adjust your bedtime expectations accordingly. While in the city, embrace the lively atmosphere and remember that part of New York’s charm lies in its bustling streets.

Lastly, consider planning some downtime in the city’s quieter spaces such as Central Park or the many tranquil museums throughout Manhattan to find a balance between the energetic city vibes and moments of calm.

13. Make Reservations

When planning your trip to New York City, it’s important to make reservations in advance. There are plenty of amazing restaurants, shows, and attractions that can quickly fill up.

Booking your reservations early will help to secure your spot and alleviate stress. For popular restaurants, reserve a table at least a few weeks ahead, and for Broadway shows, book tickets at least a month in advance.

Consider utilizing apps and online platforms like OpenTable or the official Broadway website to finalize your bookings.

If you’re visiting NYC during peak seasons, such as the holidays, it’s wise to plan even further ahead to ensure a memorable experience.

Don’t forget to research each restaurant’s NYC health department rating to make an informed decision. Keep in mind that flexibility is key in the city that never sleeps; stay open to trying new places and experiences that the Big Apple has to offer.

14. Tipping 20% is Normal

Another thing you should know before your visit to New York City is that tipping is a significant part of the local culture. In fact, it’s quite common for people to tip 20% for good service at restaurants.

As a rule of thumb, start by tipping 15% if you’re just satisfied with the service. However, if you’re delighted with their job, feel free to tip 18% or more. You can calculate the tip by roughly doubling the tax on your bill.

Don’t forget to tip other service providers too! For example, when taking a guided tour, it’s courteous to tip your guide – the amount may vary based on the group size following the guidelines here.

Finally, always have some cash available. Although many places accept cards nowadays, there might be instances where tipping in cash is more practical or convenient.

15. Don’t Obsess About the Main Tourist Attractions

It’s easy to get caught up in visiting iconic sites like Times Square or the Statue of Liberty. However, don’t forget that New York City has much more to offer.

Instead of focusing on crowded tourist spots, explore lesser-known attractions and local neighborhoods.

Step out of your comfort zone and try authentic local experiences like food trucks, tiny bookshops, and eclectic street art. This will give you a deeper appreciation for the city’s rich culture and history.

In NYC, public transportation is your friend. Master the subway system and use it to reach off-the-beaten-path destinations.

To make the most out of your trip, create a flexible itinerary that balances famous landmarks with unique, local attractions. This approach will enrich your experience and help you discover NYC like a pro.

Lastly, savor each moment and enjoy the bustling streets, beautiful parks, and vibrant energy of New York City without feeling overwhelmed by needing to see it all in one visit.

16. Street Smarts

Last thing to keep in mind on your NYC trip is to be aware of your surroundings. Keep an eye on your belongings at all times in crowded places like the subway.

Safety is excellent in most areas, but it’s wise to stay vigilant, especially at night. Stick to well-lit streets and avoid walking alone in unfamiliar neighborhoods.

Be cautious when using ATMs. Opt for those located inside banks or well-populated areas to minimize any potential risks.

While you shouldn’t be paranoid, trusting your instincts is crucial. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t hesitate to remove yourself from the situation.

Finally, practice common street sense. Look both ways before crossing the street, and obey traffic signals. Enjoy exploring the Big Apple, but stay smart and safe while doing so!

16 Things Nobody Tells You Before Visiting NYC: A Recap

Wrapping it up: If you’re heading to New York City, make sure you know the insider stuff that’s not in the usual guides.

Dive into the city’s charm without spending a dime at places like Central Park, and ditch the car for the subway or your own two feet – it’s the real New York way. Remember, comfy shoes are a must!

Navigating NYC is about striking a balance between tourist hotspots and local gems. Skip the tourist traps, grab a bite in a quirky neighborhood, and mix famous sights with off-the-beaten-path experiences. Oh, and don’t forget to tip generously at restaurants – it’s the NYC norm!

With these helpful suggestions, you’re sure to make the most of your time in NYC. 

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