It was five years ago I visited New York for the first time, and I can still remember the exact moment I fell in love. We had boarded a bus from New Jersey which travelled under the Lincoln Tunnel and dropped us off at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, so I hadn’t seen any of the famous landmarks or buildings on our way in. I remember stepping out of the doors to the bright lights of Times Square, with the towering skyscrapers and the New York Times building over the street from me, and thinking ‘wow’. Fast forward to 2017, and I have just returned from my fourth trip to the city – and my love for it hasn’t lessened over the years.
I feel like I have been enough times now to master the ins and outs of getting around New York, and these little tips and tricks will hopefully help any NYC newbies, and save a lot of time and hassle!
The JFK Airtrain
First things first, if you are flying from the UK, chances are you will be arriving into JFK Airport. There are lots of options when it comes to getting from the airport to your accommodation, and hopping in a yellow cab may seem super stylish, but it’s certainly not the cheapest way to do it.
From experience, if you don’t have lots of luggage, the best and cheapest option is to get the JFK Airtrain to Queens before catching the Subway.
The Airtrain runs from all terminals, and will take you to Jamaica Station, where you can get the E train into Manhattan. Best of all, it only costs $5!
We recently took an Uber to Brooklyn from the airport because we had a lot of luggage and it cost in excess of $90, so the Airtrain is a big money saver.
If there’s one app you need to download for your travels, it’s Citymapper aka your ‘New York bible’.
Put in any destination, whether it is a tourist attraction, address, restaurant or bar and it will provide you with every travel option available, including travel times and even how many calories each mode of transport will burn off.
I think my lack of weight gain on my NYC trips is down to this app. When I see how many calories I can burn off from walking, it definitely stops me from defaulting to the Subway.
New York Pass
I am glad I discovered the New York Pass on my first trip to New York, because it saved me so much money over the course of three days.
The pass will gain you entry into nearly every tourist attraction, most with queue jump. It costs roughly $200 but watch out for special deals by signing up to their newsletter.
There are also lots of walking tours, restaurant discounts and other added benefits to the New York Pass – you can visit their website to see exactly how much you would save. My recommendation is to get the three day pass, you can fit most tourist spots into that time.
TKTS booth (Seaport)
You may have heard about the TKTS booth in Times Square where you can receive discounts of up to 50% on Broadway shows if you are looking for a same day performance. The booth is great, but you will probably find yourself in a long queue which could impact on your seat choices (and eat into your day!)
My advice would be to visit the Seaport booth Downtown, which opens at 11am for both matinee and evening performances. The longest queue I have ever seen at that booth has been no more than five people, and I have always managed to bag tickets to my preferred show at a fantastic discounted price.
Circle Line Cruise at sunset
The Circle Line Cruise is one of my favourite activities in New York. It is a cruise down the Hudson River with amazing views of the NYC skyline and the Statue of Liberty. Whilst amazing during the day, the best time to go is at 7pm, just before the sun begins to set.
You will get to see the city that never sleeps turn from day to night, and trust me there is nothing more spectacular. It was my third time on the cruise this trip, and it definitely doesn’t get old. Plus, you get to learn lot of interesting facts and information on board by the designated tour guides who commentate along the way.
Stay in Brooklyn
If it’s your first trip to New York, it’s natural to be tempted to stay in Manhattan. If you are looking to save on costs – Airbnb in Brooklyn is well worth looking at. There were four of us on our most recent trip and we paid a total cost of £1,000 for 5 nights in a two bedroom apartment. It averaged out as £50 per person per night and getting to and from the city couldn’t have been easier. It took about 30 minutes on the Subway to get Downtown each day, but we would have been paying at least double to stay in the centre of Manhattan. Plus Brooklyn is a great place, there is loads to do and lots to explore!
5th Avenue walk
If you arrive in New York with half a day to spare, you may be wondering what the best things are to do if you are feeling tired from travelling. My advice would be to get the Subway down to Washington Square Park and walk the length of 5th Avenue. NYC’s busiest avenue will see you pass the Flat Iron Building, the Empire State Building, Bryant Park, the New York Public Library, Tiffany’s and the icon flagship Apple Store. It’s a great way to suss everything out on the first day, and you will tick off some great buildings and landmarks on the way.
Tipping in New York
Tipping in New York (and America in general) is a big deal. Whilst you would only expect to tip for good service in the UK, in the USA tips make up most, if not all of a waiter/waitresses salary.
Expect to tip at least 15% for absolutely everything; taxis, drinks, food, coffee etc. Of course, if you have had absolutely terrible service then tipping is not compulsory, but in general when budgeting for the trip, I always factor in tipping.
Swiping your Subway pass
It’s taken me four trips to the city to finally master the art of swiping my Subway card. The trick is to not do it too fast, it can be tempting to swipe it like a credit card strip – but the movement should be slow and steady (but not at a snails pace!) Such a small tip, but one that will save you endless frustration at the barriers.
In shops and some restaurants and bars, taxes aren’t added on to the advertised prices. This can be a shock when you walk up to the counter at Sephora thinking you’ve grabbed yourself a bargain lipstick, to find a couple of dollars whacked on when you get out your card. Always factor in a little more when shopping in New York, tax is sneaky!
Macy’s tax free card
Having said the above about taxes, if you have a UK passport and find yourself in Macy’s, you can visit the Information Desk and they will give you a Visitor Savings Pass which makes some items in the store tax exempt. Unfortunately this doesn’t include the beauty counters, but you can grab yourself some good deals on clothes and homeware!
Manhattan Bridge views
Sure, the Brooklyn Bridge is the famous bridge in New York, but if you are on the bridge, you can’t see it in its full glory. I prefer to walk over the not-so-pretty Manhattan Bridge, where you can get the best views of downtown New York AND the Brooklyn Bridge. Better views, and for you Gossip Girl fans out there, the Humphrey Loft is situated directly below the bridge on the Brooklyn side.
Top of the Rock observation decks
A must on your to-do list, Top of the Rock boasts arguably some of the best views of the city, with the Empire State Building on one side, and Central Park on the other. Some people may be savvy and notice the Upper Deck escalators at the top, however what most don’t realise is that there is actually an ‘Upper Upper Deck’, situated on the very top of the building next to the antennae, which can be accessed for free. Look for the stairs inside the Upper Deck…and be taken LITERALLY to the Top of the Rock.
So there we go, my New York newbies tips and tricks! Didn’t spot one on the list? Let me know in the comments, I’ll be planning my next trip back before I know it!
Flatiron Building and Circle Line Cruise photos by @liammckinnon