There is no place in the world like New York City. It is an iconic destination for many reasons including the blend of world-class museums, delicious food, bustling streets and giant skyscrapers. However, for the same reason New York is unique, it can also be overwhelming. Whether you want to visit for a week or just a couple of days, it is important to plan if you want to make the most of your trip.
If you’re visiting for the first time or the 100th time, there’s always something new and exciting to discover. It is a city of eight million inhabitants, and you can bet there is something for everyone to enjoy!
Understanding New York’s boroughs and neighbourhoods
New York City is made up of five boroughs; The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. Within the boroughs are different neighbourhoods. Each borough and neighbourhood offers a different vibe. This is why it’s important to do your research. If you only have a few days in the city (or even two weeks), you want to make sure you’re covering what you want to see because you won’t get everywhere.
Now, it is important to know a bit of New York geography when visiting. As this will save you a lot of time! In New York, when someone says “downtown,” they mean “in a southerly direction” or any of the neighbourhoods below 14th street. “Midtown” means the neighbourhoods in the middle section of Manhattan, between 14th Street and 59th Street. This section also happens to be the busiest, most office-building-filled part of the city. And “uptown” means “north” or any of the neighbourhoods in Manhattan above 59th Street.
When to Visit NYC
There isn’t the best time of year to visit New York. It’s always busy, and there’s always something to see, learn or do no matter the weather. Figuring out when to visit depends on what you want to do, as each season has its perks.
For me, I would never visit in winter because (I imagine) it is far too cold for my Australian-self. However, winter is great for those who want to experience a white Christmas or watch the ball drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. There are slightly fewer crowds and more discounts as well.
Spring and Autumn are the most enjoyable times to visit in my opinion. You’re either going into summer or coming out of it, so the weather is pleasant. Spring-time also means beautiful flowers over the city, and in the Autumn you’ll see the foliage across Central Park- what a sight. Visiting in these months means New York is very walkable, so you get to see a lot more of it!
Summer can be sweltering hot in NYC. Try walking across the Brooklyn Bridge in 35-degree heat- not fun! Summer is also the busiest season as everyone in the US is on holidays. However, this also means that a lot is going on!
Where to stay
Where you stay is going to depend on which borough and neighbourhood you prefer and how much money you want to spend. The closer to the heart of the city, the more money you’re going to pay. Manhattan is the more popular destination because it’s where most of the tourist attractions are; making it one of the most expensive areas to stay.
That being said, Manhattan is a large borough. Do you want to stay in the Upper East Side, Tribeca or Noho? I suggest writing an itinerary and marking where you want to visit and what you want to see on a map and stay in the area where the majority of your tourist attractions are to minimise long commutes and make the most of your day.
There are hotels, hostels or AirBnbs all over the city, providing lots of variety when it comes to location and cost.
- Tipping is essential:
- For table service at a restaurant, make sure to tip between 15-25% of the total cheque
- Tour guides depend on tips, generally, a 15-20% guideline applies
- Taxi drivers should be tipped 10-20% of their fare
- Metro Card: If you’re here for a week or more, consider getting an unlimited seven-day card for $33, which you can buy at a kiosk in any MTA station.
- Subway: Understanding the Express v. Local Subway is necessary! Don’t get on the express subway or bus unless you’re sure that it’s going to stop off where you want it to. The regular train will stop at the majority of the stops while the express trains will skip on average half the stops.
- Museums: A lot of the museums have a free day or specific hours where you can visit for free. Check out their websites.
- Pizza: The dingy whole-in-the-wall pizza stores are the tastiest
- Times Square: This is the worst, most horrific part of New York (arguably the whole world). Avoid this area unless you want to see a broadway show; then I suggest you get in and out as fast as possible.
- Time to spend: New York City is SO BIG and I would recommend no less than four days. If you want to get a real feel for New York City, you need to spend at least a week.
- Friendly: New Yorkers are very friendly! If you are lost on the subway or on the street, just ask someone! 9/10 times someone will be a local and will be more than happy to help.
If you do decide to visit you’ll learn what a crazy, vibrant and magnificent city it truly is. The city looks just like the movies, but to understand it, you must experience it for yourself.
NYC is a city of immigrants, in a budding symbiotic relationship. Whether you’re after knishes and bagels, Chinese food or a Korean bbq, Colombian meats, Yemeni tea, Himalayan food or cannolis, you’ll find whatever you desire.
New York City can be an overwhelming city to visit, but if you take the time to understand it, you’ll fall in love with its grittiness, craziness, quirks, beauty and charm. You’ll start to understand why so many people move here and make this city their home.
If you’ve been to NYC, let me know your favourite thing about it!