First Timers Guide to NYC | Top Tips from A Local
Last Updated on July 18, 2020 by Dana Berez
First Timers Guide to NYC | Top Tips from A Local
So it’s your first time to the Big Apple! I remember visiting NYC for the first time 10 years ago and was completely in awe- that’s why I have called it home for the past 7 years.
My experience visiting the city vs living here has given me so much insight on the ins and outs of NYC that I’d love to share with you!
This is an ultimate first timer guide to NYC with top tips from a local- me! If you have questions on where to stay, how to get around, and what to do, this is your one-stop guide!
First Timers Guide to NYC
Getting into NYC
If you are flying into NYC there are plenty of ways you can get into the city from all airports. If you are accustomed to using apps like Uber and Lyft you’ll find them readily available outside the airport.
In my personal experience riding with Uber is usually always a little cheaper than taking a yellow cab.
If you decide to go with a yellow cab, always wait in the taxi line outside the baggage terminal.
If someone comes up to you asking if you need a ride, just say no because they will overcharge you.
Using Public Transportation
The cheapest way is public transportation. Sometimes taking public transportation ends up being faster than taking a car because there is no traffic on the subway!
From LGA: This one is a little tricky because it involves taking a bus and a train. But once you do it, it becomes so simple.
At La Guardia Airport, head to the departures level on the second floor and follow the MTA/ Public Transport signs.
You’ll then find a machine where you can purchase a metro card that you’ll need for the bus and the free subway transfer. There will be multiple busses coming to the bus stop. Just be sure to get on the Q70 bus.
The only stop this bus makes is between all the airport terminals and the 74th Street Roosevelt Ave train station.
Once at the train station you have a free subway transfer to use on the 7,E,F,M,R train lines into Manhattan. Wherever your hotel is, see which of these lines comes the nearest to your accommodations.
From JFK: JFK has an AirTran shuttle ($5) that takes you between all the terminals, eventually leading you to the A-Train Howard Beach station stop. Follow the sign that says to Manhattan and you’ll be in the city within 45min-1 hour via subway.
From EWR: A oneway train from Newark to Penn Station only costs $13 and runs 22 hours a day! The ride is just under 30 minutes and is the fastest way to get into Manhattan.
You can check the train times on the NJ Transit Website.
Where to Stay In NYC
I get asked this question the most from people who are about to visit NYC! It really depends on what you like and how much you are willing to spend.
For a first time visitor, I think being centrally located is a huge plus.
Look for hotels in neighborhoods that have plenty of subway access so you can get around faster and cheaper.
You can also stay in an Air B&B to save some money. If you haven’t used Air B&B before, here is a $40 credit for your first stay!
Don’t Stay in Times Square
While Times Square has pretty much every subway line connected to it, I wouldn’t recommend staying there.
I personally stayed in Times Square before I lived in NYC, and thought it was really awesome for about a day.
But once my trip continued on, dealing with masses of people every time you left your hotel was enough of a headache.
Also, Times Square really isn’t authentic NYC. You should 100% see it at least once, but do yourself a favor and don’t stay there.
A great alternative to Times Square that’s centrally located and connected to Subway Lines is Herald Square or Flatiron District (23rd Street until 34th Street).
Sure, you’ll have loads of people on 34th Street, but the surrounding area is a great place to stay during your first time in NYC. There are plenty of restaurants, shopping, and transportation options available!
Freehand Hotel: A more budget-friendly hotel, perfect for couples, friends, or solo travelers. Don’t forget to check out the tiki-themed rooftop bar!
Royalton Park Avenue: This stylish hotel comes with a rooftop pool with Empire State Building Views.
Moxy NYC: Get used to this hotel name in NYC, new locations opening up in highly desired areas with the trendy design!
Arlo Nomad: Ideal location with beautiful interiors.
Ace Hotel: Boutique hotel in a historic building, steps away from the Flatiron Building.
If you are looking for a more authentic NYC neighborhood experience, I would stay in either the East Village, West Village, Nolita/ Soho, or Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
You’ll find a younger/hip scene with tons of cafes, restaurants, bars, small boutiques, and shops!
Sixty LES: Trendy Lower East Side hotel.
Hotel Indigo LES: Lower East Side hotel with a popular rooftop bar Mr. Purple.
11 Howard: Gorgeous Soho Luxury hotel.
Looking for more hotel inspiration? I created a list of 12 trendy hotels with epic views that won’t break the budget.
Want to stay somewhere quiet? I would recommend the Upper East Side or the Upper West Side. These neighborhoods tend to be more residential and don’t have a large bar/ nightlife scene.
Another alternative is the Financial District. Monday-Friday will be busy with office workers, but after 5 PM it does quiet down.
The only negative is that there aren’t a lot of restaurant options, even at the weekends, some restaurants are closed.
Check this interactive map for pricing & availability
Not only is the NYC Subway an iconic thing to do, but it’s also actually the most efficient way to get around the city. Especially during your first visit, your feet will be glad for a rest.
That’s why I recommend staying near multiples lines so you can hop on and end up throughout the city.
Subway Tips: Don’t be intimidated when using the subway. It is fairly simple to get the hang of. But there are some general tips to be aware of.
- If you want to go north, always walk through the UPTOWN stairs. If you want to go downtown, always walk through the DOWNTOWN stairs. Usually, the smaller stations don’t offer both directions once you step underground. The big subway hubs like 14th street, 34th street, and 42nd street offer plenty of entrances and exits. Just look for the subway line you need to take and the Uptown/ Downtown directions.
- If you realize you are going the wrong direction, don’t worry. You can always exit at the next stop and cross over to the other side for free.
- You most likely will encounter a crazy person in the subway. It’s best to just ignore them and go about your life.
- On the trains, you may have people singing, dancing, selling candy, and anything else you can imagine. If you plan on not giving them money, just don’t look. The more interested you seem in their show, the more they will feel obligated to get money out of you. But if you enjoyed the show, go ahead and give them some money.
- If a train is empty, it is probably for a reason. Avoid it like a plague.
- If you genuinely need help with directions, just ask somebody. New Yorkers won’t mind giving you the right directions. Also, more and more stations have help kiosks that you can use!
Cabs use a fixed meter so you won’t be getting ripped off. They are pretty expensive, especially if you end up sitting in traffic. But if you are in a rush and need a cab just raise your arm, and you’ve just nailed your first NYC cab.
I think anyone’s first trip to NYC deserves a cab ride!
Tips: You’ll know a cab is free if the light on top is on. If it’s off, it’s occupied or the driver is done with their shift. Also, no one really whistles to get a cab, I’ve really only seen that in movies.
Uber/ Lyft/ Apps
A great way to get around is by using these apps. Usually, they are a little cheaper than a yellow cab.
Where to Eat
There are thousands and thousands of restaurants in NYC, so don’t you dare eat at a chain Olive Garden while in NYC! Depending on what you want to eat and where NYC will have it.
A general rule of thumb is don’t judge a place on the decoration, those IG worthy places have alright food. In fact, the more sketchy it looks, probably the better.
A great way to judge a place is how busy it is! Is there a wait? Then it’s probably for a reason. Put your name on the list and have a cocktail at the bar.
Have no idea where to eat? There are plenty of restaurant guides on Eater.com. With new restaurants opening every day, I can hardly keep up with it myself.
But some of my Favorite Classics are:
Rubirosa: Italian Staple in Little Italy. Make a dinner reservation week in advance, seriously!
Kat’z Deli: Been around since 1888 and is home to the famous Harry Meets Sally scene.
Balthazar: French Restaurant in the heart of Soho with a gorgeous interior.
Grand Central Oyster Bar: Famous restaurant in the middle of Grand Central Terminal.
Serendipity:Don’t forget to try the frozen hot chocolate at this old-school dessert spot.
In general, NYC is more on the expensive side, but you still can go on a budget. Check out my NYC on a Budget blog post where I go in detail about how to save money in NYC.
What to Wear
I have a full post on what to wear in NYC, but to be really honest, you can wear whatever you want.. No one really cares or notices what you are wearing.
So that being said, wear clothes that are appropriate for the weather, and a pair of comfortable shoes. With the amount of walking you’ll do, don’t torture your feet with new shoes.
If you do however go to a nice restaurant, dress accordingly as some restaurants have a dress code. It’s always fun dressing up in NYC!
What to Do in NYC
There is so much to do in NYC, especially your first time. You’re probably feeling the pressure to see everything within a short amount of time. Don’t over tour yourself. I would do some essential things and add a room to explore on your own.
Check out my other NYC Blog Posts for some itinerary inspiration!
- 10 iconic things you must do in NYC
- Top 10 NYC Instagram Spots
- How to see NYC in 2 Days
- Local’s Guide to NYC
General Insider Tips
There is so much to cover for your first time in NYC. But here are some general tips on your trip.
- When you’re walking in Times Square or any other busy location, don’t accept things people will give in like CDS, Flowers, they will charge you if you grab it.
- When you are planning activities, allow plenty of time between things. I wish traveling throughout NYC was faster, but generally, it takes 30 minutes to get from one place to another via subway and car even if it’s close-by!
- Don’t spend all your time in Midtown! There is so much to explore downtown and in Brooklyn. You’ll get a real sense of what it’s like to be a New Yorker!
- Please Please don’t be that tourist who stops walking in the middle of the sidewalk! Nothing irks a New Yorker more than that. If you need to take a picture or find out where you are, please step to the side.
- Don’t forget to have some sleep in the city that never sleeps & has the best time!
If you would like to know any other tips, feel free to leave a comment below.
Also please save this first-timer guide to NYC to your Pinterest boards!