Here are 10 must know New York City tips based on mistakes my friends and family have made visiting me.
Having lived in both Queens and Manhattan, my friends and family often ask me for my must know New York City tips.
Instead of overwhelming with activities, cheap places to eat in NYC and whatnot, I first and foremost tell them to these 10 things not to do in New York City.
That’s because I’ve had so many friends and family come visit me and make the same mistakes over and over. Enough was enough– I had to write this post full of New York City tips specifically for my loved ones.
I hope this also helps you do as the locals do and get the most of New York City when you visit.
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10 Tips for New York City
1. Don’t eat at McDonald’s, Olive Garden, or other large, corporate fast food establishments.
This is my most important tip on what not to do in New York City because New York is (in my humble opinion) the foodie capital of the world. Get the full New York City experience by eating anywhere but large, corporate fast food establishments.
Why eat at a fast-food spot like McDonald’s that you can easily access at home? Eat at Brooklyn’s top pizzerias and get a local take on Brooklyn with a lifelong Brooklynite*, or discover Lower East Side’s diverse cuisine through knishes, mozzarella and more.
*I took this tour in 2016 and loved it because I got to go to pizza places that were on my list of places I wanted to eat at BUT the lines there are always SO long. Going with this tour helped us skip the line and learn way more about this place than if I went by myself.
Food App Suggestion: If you don’t know where to go, then pull up Yelp (my go-to foodie app in the US), and find a place with 4+ stars near you,
Some of my Favorite Inexpensive Spots: If you’re looking for inexpensive places to eat ($10 and under), try these 15 Cheap Places to Eat in New York City.
If you’re on a budget, try these cheap eats for less than $5. They will blow your mind with how little money can get you a fantastic meal.
2. Don’t go to Times Square in the middle of the day or even in the evening.
The best time to go to Times Square is after 11PM, or if you’re out at a bar for awhile and can swing by the area, it’s even better at 3AM.
You’ll have Times Square (almost) to yourself without the sardine-packed-cow-herding-baby-step-shuffling mess you have to deal with during the day.
I usually bring my guests to Times Square after hours.
It’s so surreal and quite calming being surrounded with such bright lights shining solely on you!
3. Don’t hang out or walk slowly on the left side of the sidewalk or the left side of the escalator.
This is definitely one of the most important local New York City tips.
Yes, you want to spread your arms wide and circle around with glee as you take in the NYC scenery and breathe in the excitement in the air (scratch that, minimize the breathing– it’s polluted as fck in NY), but do it on the right side of the sidewalk.
This helps minimize traffic congestion and keeps the pedestrian flow moving efficiently, which is important in a city with almost 9 million people.
This will also help you avoid the impatient business men rushing off to the so called most important meeting of their lives and their startling ‘yell at that tourist to get out of my way’ anger.
When in doubt, think of driving rules, and apply them to the sidewalks and escalators of NYC– right side is for the slow or still guys, left side is for passing!
4. Don’t rely solely on credit cards and debit cards.
There’s a lot of mom and pop shops in NYC, and a lot of them still only take cash like my main boo, Saigon Shack, when I was living in Greenwich Village. Don’t miss out on the good spots to eat just because you don’t have cash.
Also, here’s another one of my local New York City tips for you– always carry a dollar or two on you because you never know when you’re going to need to pull a single out for some attention grabbing, soul singing street performers.
I’m serious! Cross your fingers, and hope the barbershop quarter finds its way to whatever subway you’re riding on. It really makes the subway ride such a joy, and you’ll experience a sense of community that comes with the shared enjoyment of the music.
5. Don’t make plans all over New York without considering travel time.
Even though visiting New York sounds like it’s easy to get around ’cause you’re in New York (mentally, it’s all one place), the travel time to multiple places can be unexpectedly consuming. Try planning a few things in the same borough, same neighborhood, or at least on the same side of town (west side vs. east side).
Real Life Experience: This is one of the many New York City tips that I learned right from family members (with a kid in a stroller) who visited for one day. They made plans to see us in the Upper East Side, Financial District, and back up to Times Square but sporadically.
Travel time to each of these places took about 20-30 minutes (especially with a kid in a stroller), which ate up 1 and 1/2 hours of their short 10 hour visit. Don’t make the same mistake as them and make this a priority on what not to do in New York.
6. Don’t forget to use the toilet when you can.
Hahahaha! This might seem like one of the funniest New York City tips but seriously, there are not many convenient public toilets like there are in Europe and other parts of the world. You either have to go in a restaurant or bar that you’ve already bought something in or have to pretend you’re a customer to go to the bathroom*.
I’ve seen multiple friends have this issue of not being able to find a bathroom when they need one so whenever there’s a bathroom available, I ask them if they need to go like the good
mommy friend I am. This is such an apparent issue that some McDonald’s has bouncers at their bathrooms (but you wouldn’t know that because you’re not going to step into a McDonald’s while in NYC), and there’s even a SitorSquat app that tells you where you can find toilets nearby.
Edit 11/20/16– Thanks to Casey, we have another great tip! Use the bathrooms at any public library. If you’re going to the winter village at Bryant Park, skip the long lines and head to the NYPL.
7. Don’t tip 15%.
In New York City, most people tip 20%, not 15%. Some tourists finds this to be one of the craziest New York City tips but it’s the norm here.
15% might be standard tipping etiquette in other parts of the United States, but in New York City where the rent prices are ridiculously high, one subway ride costs $2.75, and a god damn cocktail can cost $15, the standard tipping rate is a minimum of 18% but on average 20%.
I only tip 15% if I get bad service, which my husband makes fun of me for because none of the servers I’ve disliked will ever know that they sucked balls at serving food.
Tip: You can make up the difference you spend on tipping by saving up to $100 on NYC sights such as the Empire State Building, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and more.
8. Don’t accidentally go on the express subway.
It cracks me up when I’m supposed to meet a friend in 20 minutes of which only 10 minutes is supposed to be on the subway, and then an hour later, I finally hear from my friend who says she’s in Brooklyn when she’s supposed to be in Manhattan– hahaha!
Ok, not that funny, but here’s how to prevent it. Don’t accidentally go on the express subway. There are express subways and local subways. The express ones only go to the more significant stops and skip a few of the local stops.
The express vs. local are clearly marked with signs, or just ask someone around you for help! New Yorkers love helping people get to their destinations, and basically, showing off their street cred/knowledge (maybe that’s just me…).
9. Don’t assume locals are mean!
One thing I really hate about New York City stereotypes is that New Yorkers are mean. Let me tell you– they’re really not.
New Yorkers are just more direct because there are so many people living in one place, there’s not enough time to fluff everything with kindness.
That being said, here’s what I’ve noticed with New Yorkers. If you go into a situation assuming people will be cold and mean, then most likely you’ll get the same energy you put out there.
For all my warm-hearted, life-loving friends who’ve visited in New York, they always share their stories with me about how the nicest New Yorkers ever who helped them find their way or gave them excellent recommendations on things to do. I think they got back the loving and happy energy they put out.
So love and be loved (and ignore that occasional business guy on a rampage to get to the office).
10. Save money on tourist attractions.
You might find it funny to know that I have never visited the Empire State Building. As a New Yorker, I didn’t really do these touristy New York things. It took me moving away from NYC and visiting again to at least go to the Top of the Rock to get a great view of the Empire State Building.
If you plan on visiting the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, Metropolitan Museum of Art, etc. make sure to spend money wisely! You can save up to $100 on 6 sights by buying a CityPass with this link.
More New York City Resources
For an all around guide to New York, check out my New York City travel guide.
These apps are my favorite for getting around NYC.
If you need a reliable and professional car from the airport, try Blacklane cars. They provided me a complimentary ride from the airport one time when I was visiting home.
Have any questions or want any specific New York City tips? Comment below!
Thanks for stopping by! xo.
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- Two Days in New York City: A Local and Tourist Mix
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- 23 Most Instagrammable Places in NYC 2021 (WITH A MAP)
- A Local’s Ultimate New York City Travel Guide
- 16 Cheap Places to Eat in New York
- Bushwick Street Art You Don’t Want to Miss (with Bushwick Street Art Map)
- Best Microblading in NYC (My Own Experience)
- Local Insight: New York City Pass vs. New York Pass, Which One to Get and Why?