10 Tips for Visiting New York City for The First Time

Visiting New York city can be intimidating and quite scary if you are not prepared ahead of time for your visit. These 10 tips for visiting New York City for the first time will help you prepare for your visit and ensure you enjoy the city to it’s fullest potential!

10 Tips for Visiting New York City for the first time

I have visited New York City more times than any other major US city, outside of Chicago (my birthplace) in my life. I’ve been there for high school mission trips to family vacations. I’ve seen plays on Broadway and taken ferries to the Statue of Liberty to shopping in Chinatown and buying knockoff Nike shoes, ha! I’ve always been fascinated by the fast paced city that never sleeps but am always glad to return home after a fun-filled visit. I’ve compiled a list of my top 10 tips for visiting  New York City for the newbie based off of personal experiences throughout all of my trips there.

  1. Be Alert

    • Every city has its good spots and bad spots, New York City is no different. When you’re traveling to a new city and are not familiar with the areas, it’s easy to wind up in a not so desirable location. I hate to admit that we’ve found ourselves in these situations more times that we’d like (sometimes not to any fault of our own, but because of construction detours, etc). However, doing research beforehand and knowing what areas may not be the safest or areas or streets you wish to NOT visit. Keep a running list or highlight these areas or streets in red on a printed map so it’s easy to identify where you don’t want to go.
  2. Have a GPS That Can Change From Drive Mode to Walking Mode

    • Getting around large cities like New York is easiest on foot. However it’s also easy to get lost or frustrated when it seems like it’s taking a long time to get to your destination. Having a GPS to guide you is the way to go! But make sure that you can switch your GPS from driving to walking mode. Believe me, it will make a huge difference! If you’re embarrassed or have a difficult time hearing your phone (like me) plug in a set of earbuds or headphones so you don’t miss your next turn!
  3. Have A General Destination in Mind Before Setting Out

    • It’s always a good idea to have a general destination or game plan in place before you head out and just start wandering around. It’s in those moments when you don’t have a plan in place that you end up in areas that you wish you weren’t in. Always know that if you end up in one of the situations, most of the large buildings have security guards working at them, so enter the building and ask them for help.
  4. Look at Reviews Before Going Places

    • Doing a bit of research and reading reviews or comments about locations and attractions you are wanting to visit is always a good idea. Most of the time, people are very open and transparent about their experiences visiting someplace (whether it be a restaurant or an attraction) and most of the time they don’t lie! We do this all of the time – before we go out to eat while traveling or when planning our next travel adventure, and it has always been very helpful!
  5. Be Prepared for Weather Changes

    • I know this sounds so cliché and you’re probably thinking “duh!” but let me explain. New York City is a landscape of towering sky scrappers – therefore there are tons of shadows! So it’s not always as warm as you think it will be. And on the same token, it’s not always as cold as you think it will be. So like typical advice, wear layers and know that if it starts to rain (or snow!) that most of the souvenir shops have rain ponchos or gloves for sale!
  6. Have Cash

    • Not everywhere you visit will accept credit or debit cards. Making sure you have cash is a must, especially if you end up relying on public transportation – there are cash payment machines when you enter the buses. It’s always a good idea to carry singles ($1 dollar bills) and a few quarters. You never know when you will need them!
  7. Know Where the Popular Attractions Are

    • New York City is full of amazing places to visit, however, not all of them are easy to get to, like the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island. Knowing your itinerary and route beforehand will be a life saver…especially if you have to cross any of the bridges or tunnels!  The fees are super expensive and vary during “peak times”. You won’t want to pay for it more than you have to (again, learn from mistakes we’ve made!) Knowing where the highlight points are will also help you determine how you will get to them as well as where you eat along the way!
  8. If You Drive Don’t Do This

    • Although walking by foot is the best method to navigate around New York City sometimes you have to drive your vehicle. A few things you should know before doing so will save you a lot of headaches and money in the long run.
      • Do NOT stop in the intersection at any cost. New York City has police officers on foot who literally stand in the busy intersections and hand out tickets if you get stuck not being able to fully go through on the green light (how do I know this you ask? Well, we were the lucky victims of a ticket in this exact situation!)
      • Parking is beyond expensive, and I mean expensive! Most hotels, if not all, charge for parking on top of their nightly hotel fee. Most of the time it is around $75+ per night just for parking your car! It’s depressing, but something you have to deal with. And to make it even better, a minivan is considered an oversized or extra large vehicle and you will be charged even more money!
      • Public parking is very hard to find and if you’re not used to city driving then you will be most likely be stressed. Most people aren’t afraid to use their horns and make you feel like you’re totally in the wrong. Be prepared to park in a parking garage and pay a fee.
  9. Be Familiar with The Subways, Buses, Regional Trains, Ferries and More

    • If you’re able to avoid driving your own vehicle but walking is not an option because the destination is too far, etc, then you need to make yourself familiar with the different forms of public transportation. There are subways, buses and regional trains and even ferries that have schedules that you can view ahead of time and plan your trip accordingly.
    • Outside of the public transportation options there are of course taxis and Uber drivers that will be more than happy to cart you around. However, I can’t stress this enough, never get in a vehicle with someone that makes you feel uncomfortable. Trust your gut instinct and know that it is ok to decline their services. My husband had a situation in Paris at the airport that most likely if he would have gotten into the vehicle his situation wouldn’t have turned out very well.
  10. Know Where to Eat Beforehand if You Are On A Budget – Or You Will Spend A Fortune on Food

    • There certainly is no shortage of restaurants in New York City, however, a lot of them, especially in the touristy areas all cost a lot of money and before you know it, you have blown your weeks budget in just one meal. Asking people you encounter like the receptionist at your hotel hotel, passengers on the bus, or your taxi driver is the best way to go about finding local fare that is delicious and won’t break the bank. Of course doing research before hand is also a great idea. On Yelp, the restaurants are ranked with “$” signs showing how expensive they are. One dollar sign ($) means least expensive, while three dollar signs ($$$) mean most expensive.

Following these 10 tips for traveling to New York City for the first time will definitely make your trip more enjoyable and will leave you with more time to explore and make lasting memories! 

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