“The Big Apple”, “The City That Never Sleeps”, or simply just NYC, no matter how you refer to it, New York City is one of the world’s most iconic and exciting destinations.
From the bright lights of Times Square and Broadway to the history contained in its world-class museums, there is quite literally something for everyone in this bustling metropolis. So it is no wonder that New York features most travellers’ destination bucket lists.
Let’s take a look at all that New York City has to offer, as well as take a look at a few tips and tricks to help you make the most of your time there. Especially if you are a first-time visitor or even if it’s just your first time in a while.
Where Is New York City
The city so good they named it twice… At least, that’s what they say. New York City is located in New York State. Hence it is sometimes referred to as New York, New York.
Located on the Atlantic coast of the United States, New York is one of several densely populated cities in the northeastern corner of the US, with the region often referred to as the Northeast megalopolis.
For visitors to the United States from Europe and the Middle East, New York is one of the main entry points to the country, with the city serviced by three international airports.
New York City itself is divided into five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island, each of which has its own unique attractions and neighbourhoods to explore.
A Brief History Of New York
The area that is now New York was originally inhabited by various Native American tribes, including the Lenape, who lived in the region for thousands of years before the arrival of European explorers.
New York City was originally founded by the Dutch in 1624 as a settlement on the southern tip of Manhattan Island called New Amsterdam. The city was captured by the English in 1664 and renamed New York in honour of the Duke of York. The city continued to grow and prosper under British rule, becoming an important port and commercial centre.
New York played a major role in the American Revolution and became the first capital of the United States in 1789 before that title was moved to Philadelphia while the current capital Washington DC was being established.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, New York City continued to grow rapidly, becoming a hub of immigration and cultural diversity. The city became a centre of industry, finance, and culture, with landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building symbolising its prominence.
Today, New York City remains one of the world’s most important cities, with a rich history, diverse culture, and vibrant economy.
What’s The Best Time Of Year To Visit New York
Given the city’s popularity, New York is a year-round destination. But when you visit the city will give you a distinctly different experience.
So much so that I’d highly recommend that you visit New York at least twice in your lifetime, once in the Summer and once in the Winter, but let’s have a look at why.
The Spring and Summer (March to August) are the peak times for tourists to visit New York City, and it’s easy to see why. The warmer temperatures make it ideal to wander around and explore all that the city has to offer.
Central Park comes alive with all sorts of activities, and it’s a perfect time to enjoy the outdoor restaurants and rooftop bars that New York is famous for.
The Fall (or Autumn if you are from anywhere else in the world from September to November) is also a popular time to visit New York, with cooler temperatures around the city. It’s also a great time to enjoy seasonal events like the New York City Marathon and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
While the Winter, especially in the lead-up to Christmas, is a magical time to visit New York, with holiday lights and decorations all over the city. Ice skating rinks pop up all over the city, the most famous being the one at Rockefeller Center. And there is always the possibility of snow for a truly amazing experience, particularly for those of us who live somewhere it doesn’t snow regularly.
However, it can also be bitterly cold, and some outdoor attractions that New York is famous for may be closed.
How To Get To And From New York
New York is easily one of the most well-connected cities in the United States.
The city features three international airports, John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), LaGuardia Airport (LGA), and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), all offering an abundance of flights to get you to and from all over North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia connecting the city to the rest of the world.
By Train, Bus and Coach
In addition to the myriad of flight options, New York is also well-interlinked with the rest of the United States by train and bus (coach) with Amtrak, Greyhound and Megabus services to and from various cities in the US and Canada.
Bus/coach services operate out of the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan off 8th Avenue near(ish) Time Square. At the same time, intercity train services are based out of Penn Station, underneath Madison Square Garden.
How To Get Around New York
Once you’re in New York City, the city’s public transportation system is one of the easiest and most affordable ways.
New York’s iconic subway system is one of the most extensive subway systems in the world and the fastest and most convenient way to get around the city.
With over 472 stations and 27 lines, the subway system can be a bit daunting for first-time visitors, but once you get the hang of it, it’s actually quite easy to use.
There are a bunch of different lines and services, but they are each identified by either a letter or number designation. Ignore the colours; they just confuse matters.
Pay attention to the line/service that connects both stations you want to travel between. The stations will have the service/line numbers next to them both on the map and at the station. The letter/number is important as express services will feature different letters/numbers and not stop at every station on the same line.
The other thing that will catch out first-timers is working out if you need to catch an Uptown (north) or Downtown (south) train. Some stations, typically smaller ones, feature separate entrances for Uptown and Downtown services and will be listed as such at the stairs leading down to the station. Bigger stations divide the different services at the access to the platforms.
It’s also worth noting that there are only a couple of east/west services on Manhattan Island, the vast major of the lines head north/south on the island.
The other thing to understand about the New York Subway system is ticketing. They currently run two systems, the traditional MetroCard and the new digital-only OMNY. For more information visit the local MTA website.
To make a little more sense of the New York subway system, watch this video.
The iconic Yellow Taxis that New York is famous for might be few and far between these days, but you can still use them to get around the city.
In their current iteration as Toyota RAV4s, they may not have the same appeal as the cabs that you might recognise from the movies based in New York, but they still stand out, and you can still flag them down in the same way that you would have seen in those movies. Just keep in mind that they aren’t nearly as common as they used to be, so if you want that experience, you might be waiting around for a while. The best way to experience a Yellow Cab is to take one from the airport into the city.
That said, the far more popular way to get around New York these days is with one of the ride-sharing services in the city like Uber and Lyft. Just keep, they are going to be much more expensive than taking the subway. Like a lot more.
Traffic in New York is also notoriously bad, so other than the convenience of sitting down somewhat comfortably, almost any other form of transport will most likely be faster to get you around the city, including walking.
Another unique way to get around New York City is the local bike-sharing program called Citi Bike.
Popular with the locals, Citi Bike is a great way to get around the city on two wheels. All you need to do is download the app, and you can rent a bike from one of the many Citi Bike stations around the city and return it to another station when you’re done.
For a small fee, it’s a great and fun way to quickly get around the city.
That all said, my favourite way to get around New York City is simply to walk.
As you would have picked up from any other travel guides, I find that walking is a great way to discover more of what the city has to offer. And with so many different possible ways to get where you are going, there is always something new to discover in New York.
Just keep in mind that walking is popular with locals, and in a fast-paced city like NYC, people tend to walk a little faster and further than you might be used to. So make sure you bring some comfortable shoes.
Whatever you do, don’t just randomly stop in the middle of a footpath.
How To Stay Safe In New York
New York City is surprisingly not nearly as dangerous as I expected it to be. That might have, in part, that my first visit to the city immediately followed sometime in San Francisco. But overall, New York is a very safe city to visit.
The number of police officers wandering the streets and at major tourist attractions offers a bit of visual reassurance. As does the metal detectors and other security checks you need to pass through to visit some of the attractions.
However, as with all big cities, there are certain precautions you can take to just to be on the safe side.
- Be aware of your surroundings – Be mindful of your surroundings and the people around you. Avoid dark and isolated areas at night, and stay in well-lit, populated areas.
- Don’t show off flashy gear – It’s quite common for people to walk around with generic-looking backpacks in New York, so take one of those with you to hold your camera or anything else that you want to carry around that might otherwise grab too much attention.
- Use public transportation wisely – New York’s public transportation system is generally safe, but it’s important to be aware of your surroundings when using it. Avoid empty train cars, especially late at night, and keep an eye on your belongings at all times.
- If it looks sketchy, it probably is – Enough said.
The Best Things To Do In New York
As you might have caught onto by this point, there is so much to see and do in New York that no matter how long you spend in the city, you’ll always feel like you haven’t seen and done it all. That said, I’ve picked out my must-dos while in NYC, which you can check out in this post.
New York’s Boroughs And Neighbourhoods
New York is a big and highly populated place. While it is easy to encompass the entire area as New York City, you’ll also find that it is broken down into a number of boroughs and neighbourhoods to help you navigate through the city.
New York Boroughs
So what is a “borough” anyway? It’s a smaller city within the metropolis that is NYC. There are five boroughs in New York, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island.
Manhattan is the most associated with New York City, being the island central to the city that is most densely populated with the majority of the city’s most iconic landmarks.
Brooklyn, to the south of Manhattan, is known for its hipster vibe and creative scene and where you will find some of the best restaurants and bars in New York.
Queens, to the east of Manhattan, is the most ethnically diverse borough in New York and also where you will find both LaGuardia and JFK airports.
The Bronx, to the north of Manhattan, has a rich cultural history and is known as the birthplace of hip-hop and the home of one of the world’s most easily recognised sports teams, the New York Yankees.
While Staten Island is the most detached and is a stark contrast to the other boroughs, with wide open green spaces and lower-density dwellings and best known for its parks and beaches.
a “borough” anyway? It’s like a smaller city within our massive metropolis. NYC has five of them—the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island
New York Neighbourhoods
In contrast to the boroughs, New York is also divided up into neighbourhoods (sorry, neighborhoods for the Americans reading this), some as small as one city block and each with its own trendy name that’s either a reference to the history of the area or some sort acronym for something much more complicated.
Manhattan, in particular, is split into Uptown, Midtown and Downtown areas, but then each of these is also broken up into smaller neighbourhoods. However, they can be a little confusing as, in some cases, they overlap with other neighbourhoods. As is the densely populated nature of the city.
Uptown Manhattan is best known for the affluent neighbourhoods of the Upper East Side and Upper West Side (on either side of Central Park), while further north and a stark contrast is Harlem.
Midtown is broken up into a number of different well-known neighbourhoods, including Times Square, Hudson Yards and Hell’s Kitchen.
While Downtown, you’ll find the SoHo, East Village, Tribeca and the Financial District.
For a full breakdown of all the neighbourhoods in Manhattan, check out this Wikipedia article.
Best Places To Stay In New York
I’m just going to preface this by saying that New York is an expensive place for accommodation. Very expensive!
With that in mind, the most convenient place to stay to make the most of your time in New York is Midtown, but its also the most expensive.
Staying in Midtown, you’ll be right in the heart of the city and walking distance from the vast majority of the city’s key attractions.
There is an abundance of hotel options in Midtown; that said, my personal picks are the DoubleTree by Hilton New York Times Square, The New Yorker, The Royalton and Hilton Garden Inn New York Times Square for their modern and spacious comfortable rooms (at least by New York standards), as well as being centrally located while not outrageously expensive (again, relatively).
You might find that you will save some money by staying a bit closer to Downtown in the more business-focused part of the city, like SoHo and Tribeca.
That all said, you’ll find the best value accommodation options for New York outside of Manhattan. Just keep in mind that you will need to use the subway system to see the majority of what the city has to offer.
Williamsburg (in Brooklyn) and Long Island City (Queens) are extremely popular options just across the river. However, I haven’t stayed in these parts of the city so I don’t have any personal recommendations.
Attending Sports In New York City
New York is home to some of the most iconic American sporting teams, so it would be a shame if you were to visit the city and not at least one of them in action.
In the summer, it’s baseball season, and the city is home to two Major League Baseball teams, the New York Mets (in Queens) and New York Yankees (in The Bronx).
While over the winter, there is an abundance of sports in (and around) the city. Both the New York Jets and New York Giants NFL teams share MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
Sticking with the sharing of venues, New York Knicks (NBA/Basketball) and New York Rangers (NHL/Ice Hockey) both share Madison Square Garden in the heart of Manhattan.
New York is also home to the Brooklyn Nets (NBA/Basketball), who play their home games at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. And also the New York Islanders (NHL/Ice Hockey) who call UBS Arena in Long Island home.
Where To Find Food In New York/What To Do In The Evenings
New York is a 24 Hour city. There is just a much going on in the city once the sun sets, if not more so.
The other thing about New York is the city is ever-changing, with fresh new restaurants, bars and other experiences opening each and every day. Even if you lived in the city, it would be hard to keep track of all the new additions unless you visited every street every single day.
So instead of giving you individual recommendations, what I’m going to suggest is evening and food experiences you shouldn’t miss while visiting New York. That way, it doesn’t matter when you are reading this post, the recommendations will still be valid.
In terms of food, you simply cannot visit New York without trying the following:
- Bagels: There is nothing more New York foodwise than bagels. Traditionally served with cream cheese, you can also find creative variations like rainbow bagels or stuffed bagels.
- Pizza: You’ll see them everywhere as you walk around New York, but the pizzerias are all over the city. From the iconic $1 slices to the much more fancy options, grabbing a slice is a staple of the NYC experience.
- Pastrami on Rye: A classic New York deli sandwich that features thinly sliced pastrami piled high on rye bread with mustard. The most famous spot in the city to try this is Katz’s Delicatessen.
- Hot Dogs: New York-style hot dogs are the most iconic street food. Typically served with sauerkraut and mustard, you’ll find hot dog carts right across the city.
That said, there is such an amazing variety of food options (covering breakfast, lunch and dinner) right across New York. From cafes and delis to restaurants and bars, you will absolutely have more delicious options than you will be able to fit into your trip to the city.
As for things to do in the evenings, I’ve already mentioned the abundance of restaurants and bars. But there is so much more to New York’s vibrant and diverse nightlife scene.
Catching a Broadway show is a must while in New York, and I’d also recommend visiting (albeit briefly) the bright lights of Time Square, which are even more impressive at night.
Otherwise, you’ll have no shortage of hip bars, live music venues, comedy clubs and trendy nightclubs right across the city. If you want to know what’s good, look for the queue to get in.
My one personal recommendation is to visit the Comedy Cellar; you are all but guaranteed a good laugh and occasionally so very well know comedians make appearances to test out new material.
Good New York Travel Resources
While I do love to visit New York, I’m certainly not a local. And given how quickly the city changes, advice from someone who wanders around the city every day will help you make the most of your time there.
I’ve found that Jon Barr/Here Be Barr and Sarah Funk are both very good resources for helping tourists, especially first-time visitors, to New York with all the latest tips and advice. Go check out their YouTube channels to find out more.
If you’d like to get more information to help plan your trip to and around the United States of America, I’ll have some more specific content coming in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, check out my general advice for first-time travellers to the US.
And if you have a travel-related question, you would like me to answer, head on over to my contact page to get in touch and let me know.