Welcome to the fantastical world of New York City travel tips.
19 horrendous New York City travel fails to avoid at all costs.
Let me just reassure you that we’ve all been there. You visit a foreign city and then bam, you do something that is totally normal at home, and you think nothing of it.
A split second later:
You see women crying in the street, desperately covering their children’s eyes to shield them from your blasphemous behavior and you think that maybe you should have read some handy, New York City travel tips, from a local who has lived here well over twenty years.
You can read guidebooks all you want, but most publications won’t provide you with travel tips for New York City that emphasize the subtle nuances of local culture.
These books fail to warn you about all the mistakes that a lot of first time visitors make. And trust me, no one wants to be THAT guy.
Being the kind, loving, caring, and considerate New Yorker that I am (if you have any more positive adjectives to describe me, please don’t hold back), I’ve created a list of tips for visiting New York City for the first time; tips that will help you navigate the mean streets of New York City like well, a real New Yorker.
So, without further ado, 20 travel tips for traveling to New York City!
Get those jazz hands ready for this epic post.
This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure for more information. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.
1. Getting into an empty subway car (New York City travel tips on roids).
Do not enter, do not pass Go, and do not collect $200, and yes, that is an order! It’s a trick. If there is an empty New York City subway car, there is a reason.
It’s because the air-conditioning is broken or because there is some icky bodily fluid lurking within.
Either way, you don’t want to find out. Just stay far, far away.
New York may be known for many things, but being the cleanest city in the world is not one of them.
Avoid totally empty subway cars at all costs (probably the most important tip in this entire New York City travel guide).
***Also, if you are traveling to the suburbs via train, DO NOT take the last train. This is commonly known as the “drunk train” and is filled with annoying, drunken hooligans who are projectile vomiting everywhere. It’s like the Exorcist come to life in there. Avoid this suburban phenomenon at all costs.
2. Waiting for the pedestrian crossing sign to say “Walk”.
Yeah, no. We don’t do that here (my special little New York City travel advisory for you).
We look down the street and cross when we think we’re not gonna get squished by oncoming traffic (and if you hit us we’ll sue you for all you’re worth).
New Yorkers are busy people and we don’t have time to wait for a pedestrian sign to tell us that it’s okay to cross the street.
This also means that you can’t cross the street just because a pedestrian sign says it’s safe. Drivers in New York are crazy and treat driving laws more like irrelevant suggestions.
That”s Why One of My New York City Travel Warnings is:
If you don’t want to get maimed by a rogue yellow cab, you’ll look before you cross the street.
And you’re super busy so while waiting to cross the street, you should actually stand about three feet in the street so that you can cross at the FIRST possible moment.
3. Stopping in the middle of the sidewalk for any reason whatsoever
This is the worst thing you can do to New Yorkers.
I can guarantee that if you do this, New Yorkers will hate you forever. This is actually the singular reason why most New Yorkers avoid Times Square like the plague and treat it like the worst New York City tourist trap ever.
Why is impeding the flow of foot traffic such a big deal?
Well, all New Yorkers are in a rush, all the time. And anyone who gets in our way is either openly scorned or is abruptly pushed out of the way.
We are a fast-paced city that is full of stressed out, high strung individuals who have copious amounts of caffeine running through their veins. So don’t mess with us as we speed walk down the sidewalk (BIG New York City tourist mistake).
***Check out this Skip the Line 9/11 Memorial and Museum Ticket so that you can see this touching New York City attraction without spending most of your day in line. ***
4. Making small talk with locals.
We are in a rush and don’t really care where you are going or how excited you are to visit New York for the first time.
We’re not about to sit down and give you any insider NYC tips and tricks.
Talk to someone who cares about those things, like a tour operator or the concierge at your mildly affordable New York City hotel (This isn’t all New Yorkers but you get the idea).
When we say, “how are you?”, we don’t really care how you are. It’s just a greeting to which the only acceptable reply is, “Fine thanks. How are you?”
This will all happen while we are both walking rapidly, so just keep it moving. The answer doesn’t even matter because it’s all just a courtesy anyway.
5. Visiting Only Manhattan (VERY Important New York City travel tip)
Manhattan is the most expensive and overcrowded of all the boroughs in New York City.
It is essential that you embrace you’re inner Lewis and Clark (I’m a US History nerd so if you’re not American you may not get my references but just know that I’m hilarious ) and go on a little adventure.
Arthur Avenue has the ABSOLUTE best Italian food in the city, and that’s ALL THE WAY in the Bronx.
if you travel outside Manhattan,, the prices are cheaper people are nicer, and the food is even better (avoid the New York City tour bus while you’re at it).
So get your booty to Brooklyn…ASAP
6. Eating at a chain restaurant (Gag me with a spoon)
New York City is known, the world over, for having some of the best food in the entire world.
It’s practically criminal if you come here and order a sandwich from Subway, or eat pasta from Olive Garden.
You came all this way, so why not take advantage of all the awesome food we have to offer?
And I’m not just talking about Michelin star rated restaurants either.
Some of my favorite restaurants in New York City are little holes in the wall like Mac Bar or Tasty Hand Pulled Noodles. Super delicious cheap eats in New York City, with entrees, that are less than $10.
7. Eating anywhere in Times Square for that matter.
Times Square is so expensive, with restaurants there are just giant tourist traps (which doesn’t even factor in the insane lines to get into some of these God awful cesspools of heinous food).
Seriously one of the worst New York City tourist attractions:
All the restaurants here cater to tourists who cannot navigate the city. That’s why they settle on the familiarity of Times Square and get suckered into eating here.
If You Don’t Know Where to Eat:
Just ask a local or the hotel concierge for New York City restaurant recommendations
8. Telling a taxi driver where you’re going before you enter the cab.
Never tell a taxi driver where you’re going BEFORE you enter a cab.
If you do, then they can say no.
Just get in the cab and tell the driver where to go once he or she starts driving. This way, they have to take you wherever you want to go.
How do I know this?
Well, this is the only way that I can get a cab in the city to drive me ALL the way to White Plains (it’s in the suburbs and no cab driver or uber driver ever wants to schlep all the way out there).
It literally takes like 3 bridges, 2 toll booths, and a whole lot of traffic to drive to my house from the city. But this plan never fails and I always get home safe and sound.
9. Paying full price for Broadway shows.
Why would you EVER pay full price for a Broadway show?
If want to see something like Hamilton, that’s a different story.
I don’t have an off-shore bank account at my disposal so I ‘m going to wait to see that show until the theater looks more like a ghost town and less like a Lady Gaga concert.
10. Skipping Museums Because They’re Expensive.
I know you go to some museums, like MOMA, see the price of admission and think, “Does that price mean I get to take some of the art home with me?”
I get it.
Museums in New York City can be insanely expensive, especially if you’re on a tight budget.
But the Good News is:
Some of the best museums in New York City offer free days or evenings, so HINT, HINT, check out my Backpacker’s guide to NYC for more detailed information about when and where free admission times are
Add it Gets Better!
A ton of the greatest museums in New York City offer pay what you wish admission fees, like the Guggenheim on Saturday nights.
11. Eating in Little Italy.
I’m sorry but eating in Little Italy is so not worth it.
Just go to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx instead.
The food is way better, the lines are shorter, and the prices are much cheaper because you’re not in Manhattan.
A ton of people think the Bronx is just one giant gang battlefield, so they stay away. But the Bronx can be quite lovely, especially if you dine in Arthur Avenue.
If you only listen to one piece of advice I give, this should be it. I really wish I could tell you otherwise but the Little Italy of your dreams does not exist.
***Besides Lombardi’s, which is a pretty good pizza place. Also, stop by Little Italy for some epic street art. ***
12. Paying for the Statue of Liberty Tour.
O-M-G no (Sorry, my inner millennial is shining through).
But really, you could feed a small third world country with the price of admission to the Statue of Liberty Tour.
Once you arrive at Liberty Island there really isn’t that much to do. You wander around, take a bunch of selfies, and cry because you just took out a second mortgage on your house to see Lady Liberty, up close and personal.
So instead of annihilating your credit score:
Hop on the Staten Island Ferry. It’s one of the great free things to do in New York City, operates 24 hours a day, and gives you spectacular views of the Statue of Liberty and New York Harbor.
***The Sea Glass Carousel and the Irish Hunger Memorial are also near Battery Park and well worth a visit.***
***I am NOT a fan of the Empire State Building, but many people consider this a must-see New York City attraction. Therefore, if the Empire State Building is on your New York City bucket list then get an Empire State Building skip the line ticket.***
13. Wearing an “I love NY” shirt.
Okay, I know we all love New York City and want to say it loud and say it proud. And you can do that, just not with an “I love New York” shirt.
By wearing this shirt:
You are broadcasting to the entire city that you are indeed a total tourist and that everyone should feel free to swindle you at will.
So do yourself a favor:
And wear the shirt once you get home from your trip to New York City.
Because Scammers See This Shirt and Think:
“pillage me because I’m not from the area and am totally susceptible to any tricks that will u use to separate me from my money”.
14. Giving money to beggars or aspiring rappers.
This happens to me all the time. And the ones outside the MET are the worst and made me part of their show. YUCK.
Anyway, inevitably you get on the subway and some shaggy looking dude shuffles on over and sings about how his dog ran away, his sister got eaten by a tiger, his mom dated his brother, and about how his home got swept away by a tsunami.
After this aforementioned heart wrenching musical rendition:
He asks for a small donation to help him buy a sandwich (if you give him your social security number and access to your kid’s college fund that would be even better).
This is all probably a lie.
Sure, there are people out there who are struggling to get by, but nine times out of ten, these people are at work, not singing on the Subway.
These jokers are probably con artists who prey upon tourists by tugging at their heartstrings.
Don’t fall for it.
Plus, the more money you give these people, the more you encourage them to continue this charade of dishonesty (and if you’re a resident of the area, it gets annoying after about the 500th time).
Do us all a public service and just say no to scammers because I have been on a single subway ride and have had to deal with at least five different scammers doing the same exact thing.
15. Not attending a sporting event or concert because it’s sold out.
Come on guys, this is the age of computers.
Who would fail to attend a sporting event or concert just because it’s “sold out”?
What sold out really means is:
Entrepreneurs have actually bought all the event tickets and are now reselling them on sites like Stub Hub so that they can turn a profit.
If you really want to attend a sold-out show or game, just use this thing called the internet and all your dreams will come true (okay, maybe not all of them but you get the idea).
Want to get great tickets for less?
Wait to buy your tickets until about two hours before the event. You’ll l see ticket prices drop dramatically as sellers try and unload their unsold tickets. One of my favorite “how to save money in New York City” tips.
16. Not bringing a sweatshirt with you in the summer.
It’s hot out so you thought you wouldn’t need a winter coat in New York. Aww, that’s so sweet and 100% not true.
Here, we waste electricity like it’s our job and like the Earth doesn’t matter.
Yup. Stores actually crank up the air conditioning in the summer so that it feels like the outer reaches of Siberia in most indoor spaces.
Any seasoned New Yorker knows that you always need a warm sweater, fleece, or jacket during the summer in New York City.
Fail to Heed This Advice?
Then you’ll end up hugging random strangers to absorb their body heat. So just avoid this painfully awkward situation and pack warm clothes.
17. Using a store ATM.
Do you want your identity stolen by a twelve-year-old girl in Nigeria or by an unemployed fifty-year-old man in Arkansas named Butch?
What do you mean that doesn’t sound like a good time?
Live a little!
Okay, no one wants to have their identity stolen but that can happen when you use these independent ATM machines in convenience stores.
So don’t use them.
Because if identity theft doesn’t get you, then the inflated $10 money withdrawal fee sure will. Stick with reputable bank ATMs if you really need some fast cash.
18. Taking a cab to or from the airport.
This is the worst and most expensive way to get to and from the airport.
There are seriously about 50 other easier and much cheaper ways to get there, so slowly back away from the cab. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.
I made this mistake once and ended up paying like $100 to get from JFK to my house.
I now depend on the kindness go strangers or public transportation when looking for the fastest way to get to New York City airports (LaGuardia, JFK, and Newark are some of the closest airports to New York City).
Newark is not in New York at all. Newark is in New Jersey and the airport that is FARTHEST away from NYC. And LaGuardia? Yeah, that’s just a big heapin’ pile of awful that you wanna stay away from).
19. Referring to New York City as New York City.
All respectable New Yorkers refer to New York City as, “The City”.
This is the one and only city that really matters.
There is no need to say which city you are referring to because obviously, it could only be New York City (Are there even any other cities in the world? LoL.).
So if you want to blend in:
Just say that you’re visiting the city and we’ll know what you’re talking about and maybe even accept you as one of our own (Welcome to the inner circle! You’ll love it here. Now move out of my way. I’m late for work!).
20. Not Folding Your Pizza Down the Middle
First of all:
New York style pizza is the only acceptable form of pizza to eat in New York City. EVER. Sorry Chicago but to us, deep dish is not actual pizza.
Since pizza slices in New York are thin and wide, you MUST eat your pizza by folding it down the center and eating from the cheesy end, towards the crust. You’ll know you’re eating your pizza correctly when the cheesy end droops a bit and you see grease spilling out from the crust.
Eat your pizza with a fork and knife and we will shun you forever.
21. North and South do NOT Exist
East and West?
New Yorkers love East and West since we have the Eastside of Central Park and the Westside of Central Park.
But North and South?
Hell no! Those words don’t exist in New York City. Instead, if you’re heading North you’re going Uptown (towards the Bronx) and if you’re heading South, you’re going downtown (towards Brooklyn).
And that’s it.
Use the words North and South and you’ll lose all credibility among any respectable New Yorker. That and all the subway signs say uptown or downtown, so remember this and you won’t get lost.
That’s All The New York City Travel Tips I Got!
I’m sure there are a ton more mistakes you could make in New York City, but this list should be good enough to help you survive here, at least for a week or so.
Now go forth and enjoy all the top attractions in New York City.
Just keep an eye out for any and all travel fails in New York City.
And if need be, feel free to come back and refer to these New York City travel hacks.