New York City is one of the most visited destinations in the United States and for good reason. It’s home to attractions like the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building as well as some of the world’s best restaurants. It also hosts one of the world’s largest New Year’s Eve celebrations, but the rest of the year is also a great time to visit the “city that never sleeps.”
Be sure to wander beyond downtown Manhattan to neighborhoods like Harlem and Brooklyn to learn even more about the area. If you’re planning a trip to the city or just dreaming about it, we’ll show you what to know before you go!
If we’ve left anything out or you’d like to add to the conversation, please leave comments below!
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New York City Travel Expenses Tips
New York City is expensive in comparison with other American cities, but not against major destinations around the world. It’s easy to visit fairly cheaply if you know what to avoid overspending on.
Opt for Public Transportation
New York City is very easy to get around on public transportation. Grab a Metro card as soon as you get to the city and top it up throughout your trip as needed. It’s often cheaper to buy a 7 day pass if you’ll be visiting for that amount of time, but if you’re not sure how much you’ll use it, you can simply put money on it as you go. Use your card to take the subway and buses.
Taxis tend to be more expensive, especially getting to and from the airport, so look for other options to save money. Lyft and Uber are cheap options, as are airport shuttles. But also consider how long it will take you to get into the city versus how much money you’ll be saving. The $3 bus can take an hour but the $20 shuttle might only be 30 minutes!
- Here’s how to get around New York City, Matador Network
NYC Street Food is the Cheapest Way to Eat
The term street food is applied loosely, as it’s not like you’ll find in other cities. I mostly use it to mean any place that doesn’t have standard table service. Carts on the street sell everything from hot dogs and pretzels to halal-friendly gyros. Delis are also a great place to grab a meal and have just about everything you could need. Pop in for a breakfast sandwich or an afternoon snack.
Stay in Neighborhoods Outside of Tourist Zones Like Times Square
Hotels close to tourist attractions are much higher in price than in other neighborhoods. You won’t be hanging out in Times Square during your entire trip, so make it more of a priority to be close to the subway rather than close to attractions. Try looking for accommodation in the Financial District, the Upper West Side and even across the bridge in Brooklyn or Queens.
- Awesome Alternative Accommodation Options in NYC, A Cruising Couple
Travel in the Off Season
Expect to pay about double for everything from accommodation to attractions and food. Apart from the holidays, not many people want to visit in the winter, so go in February and March if you can. Hotels offer bonuses and deals this time of year like free breakfast, one night free or upgraded rooms.
- 5 hacks to see the best of NYC for cheap or free, A Globe Well Traveled
Visit the Free Museums
New York City has so many museums worth checking out, but you don’t have to spend all your money on them. Not only are there plenty of free museums, but even the main museums have one day out of every month where you can either go for free or pay by donation. Some also offer temporary free entry. For example, I recently visited the Neue Galerie and since they were doing work on one of their main galleries, entry was by donation. Do your research and you might be able to sightsee for nothing!
- Every Free NYC Museum, Thrillist
Essential Gear to Pack for New York City
Packing for New York City depends mostly on when you’re visiting. Summertime can be brutal and you might want to wear only shorts and dresses, but winter in New York requires lots of layers. But there are a few things to add to your bag, no matter what the season.
Comfortable shoes– Most travelers do lots of walking while visiting New York City, even if it’s simply walking to and from the subway station. In the winter, pack worn-in, waterproof boots and in the summer, wear walking shoes.
Smartphone Full of Apps– Getting around is much simpler with a smartphone full of helpful NYC travel apps. Download Uber and Lyft as well as a taxi app to hail a cab. A subway map app is also helpful, as is Google Maps. Looking up directions on your phone looks less touristy than holding a full map.
Cross body bag– Deter potential pickpockets by carrying around a cross body purse or messenger bag. A zipper is a good item to have as well. I personally recommend Manhattan Portage bags, and not just because they’re made here!
Hand sanitizer or baby wipes– Between the railings in the subway, cab handles and everything in between, keep your hands clean with a travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer or baby wipes.
Cash– While ATMs are readily available and almost everywhere takes cards, you’ll usually want to tip in cash. Also, cash comes in handy for those street hot dog stands.
Books to Read Before Visiting New York City
New York City has been a place where writers find inspiration since the early days of its founding. Choose a genre and there is at least one book set in the city. These are just a few of our favorited that create the city as an additional character.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald– While most of this great American novel takes place in a fictional suburb in Long Island, some of the memorable scenes take place in Manhattan. Readers are transported to the wild parties of the “Roaring 20s.” Grab on Amazon.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith– Francine Nolan is a sensitive young girl coming of age in the slums of Williamsburg in the 1940s. She finds comfort in books, despite the poverty she lives in with her family. Grab on Amazon.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger– Called an American classic since its first publishing, this story tells of Holden Caufield, a cynical teenager who travels to New York after being kicked out of school. Grab on Amazon.
Sex in the City by Candice Bushnell– The book that inspired a successful television series and movie franchise is about Carrie, a writer dating and making friends in New York City. But be warned, there are lots of differences between the book and show! Grab a copy on Amazon.
The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg– A favorite of young adult readers, a brother and sister decide to run away and choose the Metropolitan Museum of Art as their new home. They soon investigate the mystery of a statue and the woman who sold it. Grab a copy on Amazon.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer– Many books have sought to tell of September 11, but this novel is the only one, in my opinion, that captures it well. A young boy loses his father in the Twin Towers and finds a key that he runs around town trying to learn more about it. Grab a copy on Amazon.
Let the Great World Spin by Collum McCann– In a similar style, this novel is actually a story of different people who all witness tightrope walker Philippe Petit between the Twin Towers in 1974. The stories weave together with the one event in common. Grab a copy on Amazon.
The Godfather by Mario Puzo– Read the first installment of the trilogy of Don Corleone and his family. The definitive work of gangster and mafia literature starts with Don Vito’s life in New York City. Grab a copy on Amazon.
Movies to Watch Before Visiting New York City
New York City is perhaps the most well-known city when it comes to television and movies. Many travelers add the itinerary based on what they’ve seen alone! This list could be an entire post, but here are a few favorites of ours with locations you can visit on your trip.
Annie Hall– Woody Allen is a New York City legend and this film is perhaps his most beloved. The director plays a comedian who falls for flighty Midwesterner Annie Hall, played by Diane Keaton in her most iconic role. Christopher Walken, Paul Simon and Carol Kane also make appearances. Grab on Amazon.
Ghostbusters– Who you gonna call? Watch this film, which stars Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Sigourney Weaver, before visiting the Hook and Ladder #8, where the headquarters were filmed. In the movie, scientists are fired and seek work as hunters of the occult. Grab on Amazon.
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York– In the follow up to this family favorite, Macaulay Culkin’s character is reunited with the bumbling burglars who tried to break into his house. This time, they’re taking on a toy store at Christmas and he’s stuck at a hotel after his family forgets him again. Grab on Amazon.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s– The film adaptation of Truman Capote’s book stars Audrey Hepburn in her career-defining role as a society girl with a secret. She meets an aspiring writer who lives in her building. Grab on Amazon.
When Harry Met Sally– The ultimate romantic comedy showcases New York City with filming locations like Central Park and Katz’s Delicatessen. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan are unlikely friends who fall in love. Grab on Amazon.
Big– Despite the fact that you can no longer play the big piano at FAO Schwarz, catch this film where Tom Hanks plays a boy who wishes he was an adult and wakes up as one. But not everything as exciting as it seems. Grab on Amazon.
Taxi Driver– While a darker film, Taxi Driver made celebrities of Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster. In it, a mentally unstable Vietnam veteran works as a cab driver on the night shift in New York City. Grab on Amazon.
Gangs of New York– Set in 1800s New York City, a man in Five Points seeks out the man who murdered his father. Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz and Daniel Day Lewis all star in the film. Grab on Amazon.
Top Things to Do in New York City
You can visit New York City dozens of times and still not see everything. On your first trip, it’s likely you’ll want to hit all the major tourist attractions, but if some don’t interest you, don’t feel bad skipping them. Also consider the lines during high season and research package tickets like CityPass.
Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island– Perhaps the country’s most iconic landmark, “Lady Liberty” has welcomed the huddled masses for generations. You can take the ferry to Liberty Island from Battery Park and Jersey City. Visitors are now able to go to the crown, after many years of being closed. Ellis Island is the next island over, where you can see where immigrants first arrived into America.
Central Park– The over 800-acre public park spans most of the island of Manhattan. Spend a few hours wandering around, searching out statues of Balto and Alice and Wonderland, sailing model boats on the lake and watching buskers.
The High Line– Another favorite green space is this former elevated rail line. While it runs less than 2 miles, it provides great views of the city and features public art and plant life. Arts and food vendors also set up along the way.
World Trade Center– The former World Trade Center site, known for years as Ground Zero, is now home to the 9/11 Memorial, the 9/11 Memorial Museum and the new One World Trade Center observation deck. Advance tickets are recommended to all three to avoid long lines.
New York City Public Library– One of the city’s best free museums is the exhibits at the public library’s branch in Bryant Park. Be sure to check out the Rose Reading Room, a stunning place with lavish murals which will soon reopen after renovations.
Brooklyn Bridge– See the city from its most iconic bridge, which resembles the arches of a cathedral. You can walk from the Brooklyn Bridge and City Hall subway station over the bridge. But stay on the pedestrian side or risk being run over by cyclists!
Best Views– Some of the best views of New York City are from its iconic skyscrapers. These include the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center. Consider visiting at night for short lines and city lights.
Museums– Museums are in a league of their own in the city. Art lovers should check out The Guggenheim, MOMA, Met, Neue Galerie and The Cloisters. History buffs will love The Tenement Museum and the Morgan Library.
Additional activities include seeing a Broadway show or sports game and tours. You can go on a tour for just about anything, including food tours, movie and television tours and history tours.
- Caroline in the City Guide to New York City, Caroline in the City
- 11 Secret New York City Sights, The Whole World is a Playground
- Girls Weekend Guide to New York City, The Everygirl
Where to Stay in New York City
Staying in New York City can quickly eat away at your budget, so factor accommodation into your plans early. Also consider going during the low season to save money. Check out alternative neighborhoods and stay as far from Times Square as possible.
NYC hostels are a dime a dozen in the city, but that doesn’t mean they’re all good. Some give hostels a bad name, while others provide hotel-style amenities.
- The Local NYC in Queens is a funky, modern hostel in the neighborhood of Long Island City.
- HI NYC on the Upper West Side is one of Hostelling International’s flagship locations.
- Jazz on Columbus Circle, part of a regional chain, is another favorite.
Budget-friendly hotels that offer great amenities include The Row, The Ace, The Jane, Yotel and the Pod Hotels. Rooms are small, but you can take advantage of in-house restaurants, WiFi and more.
And, of course, you can also rent an apartment. But keep in mind that local laws make it very difficult for websites like AirBnB to operate. You’re likely to only be able to find a place to stay outside of Manhattan. Consider this before booking.
Food and Drink in New York City
Dining out in New York City is an experience difficult to describe. There are some of the world’s best restaurants as well as cheap eats. Even restaurants you don’t read about in your guidebook might surprise you. The city is also known for a few dishes in particular, which we’ve highlighted below.
Hot dogs– Far from what you’ll find back home, hot dogs range from the basic “dirty water” cart variety to beloved stands like Gray’s Papaya, Crif Dogs and Nathan’s Famous. Add yellow mustard, raw onions, relish or even chili, depending on your taste.
Bagels– Every New Yorker will disagree with the best bagel in the city, each with their own pick. Among those you might hear are H&H, Zabar’s and Ess-A-Bagel. Grab the crusty but soft bagel with cream cheese or as a sandwich.
Jewish deli– If you’ve never dined at a traditional Jewish delicatessen, New York City is the place to do it. Katz’s is the most well known for its association with When Harry Met Sally, but the pastrami sandwiches and matzo ball soup are worth a visit. Neighboring Russ and Daughters is another favorite.
Pizza– You’ll find signs for $1 slices on practically every corner of the city. Like bagels, each local has their own pick for best pizza. They’re typically thin, large and best folded. Try Roberta’s, Grimaldi’s and Famous Original Ray’s.
Burgers– What’s so special about New York City burgers? It’s their exclusivity, made with high priced ingredients, on secret menus or only available during certain times of day. Shake Shack is a favorite, as is Corner Bistro and Burger Joint.
Ethnic– And, of course, the melting pot that is New York means you should try all sorts of food, namely Chinese, Indian and Thai. Xian Famous Foods comes recommended, as do Momofuku Noodle Bar and Prosperity Dumplings.
- 16 Delicious Places to Eat in NYC, Nomadic Matt
- Top 10 Foods You Have to Eat in New York City, Shared Appetite