New York is one of the most fascinating, dynamic and multicultural cities in the world. Although it can be expensive, it’s a destination that every traveler should have on their list due to the huge variety in attractions that characterize its five boroughs: the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. These days, it’s one of the most-visited cities on the planet and according to New York City Tourism + Conventions, the Big Apple’s official tourism promotion organization, in 2023 it received an estimated 60 million tourists, of which I was one.
On my first trips to the city I made more than one mistake, like visiting the Brooklyn Bridge on a day so windy that a gust splintered my umbrella, and the night I decided to go from the airport to my hotel on the subway. To avoid the same things from happening to you, I made a list of common errors, with recommendations that will keep you from falling prey to these traveler’s woes.
Not planning your transportation from the airport to the city
To arrive in New York City, you have the choice of three airports: JFK, the largest; La Guardia, which is located in Queens; and Newark, in the neighboring state of New Jersey. Because of this, before you buy a flight, it’s important to look at which airport it lands in, and not base your decision solely on ticket prices. The best option for tourists is JFK, because of its connectivity with public transportation.
The mistake that many make is not keeping in mind how they’ll get from the airport to the city. If you land at JFK, the subway is always a good option, unless you’re arriving at night, at which time security is far from guaranteed. Taxis provide a quick alternative, but be careful with un-authorized cabs that offer their services at the airport’s doors. The best way to avoid them is to use apps like Lyft or Uber.
Another great option if you’re traveling in a group is private transportation. I recommend Luxury NY Limo, a business that offers luxury limousine, sedan and van services. Its rates begin at $105 and costs depend on the number of passengers, the airport they pick you up from and any extra services you wish to book.
Not planning out your activities
The key to seeing New York lies in planning out effective itineraries based on distance, weather and the best schedule for visiting certain sites. To save money and time, tourist cards are an excellent option, because they allow you to see the city’s most popular attractions.
If you are staying for longer than three days, you should consider a tourist pass like the Sightseeing Day Pass or the New York Pass, which offers 160 attraction options such as the Empire State viewpoint, the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and the American Museum of Natural History, among others. There are different packages, and their prices depend on the number of attractions they include. If you decide to not get a tourist pass, it’s best to buy tickets for museums, viewpoints and attractions in advance, because during high season, lines can be quite long.
To move around the city easily, it’s important to plan out routes and know how long it will take you to get to each place. Consider walking short distances and use apps like Google Maps and Citymapper, which shows the best way to get from one point to another. Both offer offline maps so that you can navigate without worrying about your phone’s connection.
Not using the subway
The New York subway is one of the most efficient and economic transportation systems for travelers, but beginners can easily be intimidated by its intricate lines. It’s worth your time to learn how to get between stations, because you’ll save a lot of money on trips. One ticket costs around $2.75 per trip, and if your time in the city will be longer than three days, it’s best to get the Metro Card, which can be re-filled to cover more trips.
Each subway line has different kinds of trains, which are indicated by letters, numbers and colors. There are local trains, which stop in every station, and express trains, which only make stops in the most important stations. There are also directions as indicated by the word Uptown or Downtown. To get oriented, use Google Maps, download the New York Metro: MTA Map app — which has information on New York subway maps and service status — or the MYmta app, which can serve as a guide to the city’s subway and buses.
Eating every day in a restaurant
The Big Apple has one of the most drool-worth culinary panoramas, and sampling restaurants’ best dishes is tempting, but doing that every day will top out any budget. Keep in mind: despite the city’s extensive, high-rated gastronomic offerings, there are also many establishments happy to offer poor quality service at high prices. To prevent all my money from going to food, whenever I travel to New York, I always plan for a few meals at inexpensive or moderately priced spots. You can always pick up food at delis, small stores that offer breakfast, sandwiches and snacks starting at $3. Other places with good food and below-average prices are: Chelsea Market, Zucker’s Bagels & Smoked Fish, Essex Market, Eataly’s Italian delights, Chinatown and the famous burger chain Shake Shack.
Picking a far-flung hotel
The range of hotels on offer in New York is enormous, but also leans towards the expensive, so finding well-located and well-priced lodging can be a challenge. Although not all attractions are located in Manhattan, I think that it provides some of the best housing options due to its connectivity and easy access. Hotels where I’ve stayed in this area and that I recommend are: Yotel New York Times Square and The Pod 39 Hotel, which have exceptional locations and moderate prices.
If you’re traveling for the second or third time to the city of skyscrapers and want to decamp to less tourist-y areas, consider staying in neighborhoods like Queens or Brooklyn, where there are more economic hotel options. Before you make your reservation, check for the closest subway station or bus stop.
Not taking advantage of free activities
The city has the privilege of offering a multitude of excellent free activities. Consider cost-free things for your itinerary like spending an afternoon strolling through Little Island, a small public park with gardens, green spaces and panoramic views, or getting on the Staten Island ferry to admire the Statue of Liberty. Add to the list the Harry Potter store, which is a real museum, elevated park The High Life, the entrance to The Oculus or certain museums like the one dedicated to 9/11, which offers free access on Monday afternoons.
Buying tickets to viewpoints without checking the weather
New York is a city that is known for its many skyscraper tourist attractions, but also as a place that sees a lot of fog and sporadic rains. If you don’t want to be as disappointed as I was the first time I went to the Top of the Rock, it’s crucial to check the weather forecast before you buy tickets to any viewpoint to make sure that the day will be as clear as possible.
The Edge is on my list of top viewpoints because it’s an open-air skyscraper with one of the best views of the city and a glass triangle on which tourists can walk. Further down is the Summit, the Empire State Building, the One World Observatory and the Top of the Rock. Ticket prices depend on factors like time of day, but general access starts at around $40. The most practical plan is to get a tourist pass like the Sightseeing Day Pass, which includes access to various skyscrapers.
Giving Manhattan all your attention
Movies and series have given so much promotion to Manhattan that many tourists prioritize the borough over New York’s other areas. But this city is so much more than Times Square, Broadway and Central Park. If it’s your first time at the destination, my suggestion is to visit the most emblematic sites of Manhattan and to set aside two days in your itinerary to travel to the other boroughs.
Consider biking or walking over Brooklyn’s iconic bridge, taking a walk through the Dumbo and Williamsburg neighborhoods, strolling through Prospect Park and Coney Island. In the Bronx, the birthplace of hip-hop, you’ll find sites like the New York Botanical Garden, Yankee Stadium, The Bronx Museum and the Bronx Night Market. In Queens, standouts include Flushing Meadows, Rockaway Beach and MoMA PS1. Don’t forget about Staten Island, the borough that houses Snug Harbor, an enormous cultural center with museums, Neoclassical buildings and botanical gardens.
Lastly, since the New York climate can be volatile, it’s very important to always keep an eye on the weather, and even if you’re making the trip during the summer, make sure there’s a waterproof jacket and umbrella in your suitcase. Now pack your bags, because NYC is waiting!.
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