Skip to Content

A Local’s Ultimate New York City Travel Guide

This is the ultimate New York City travel guide by a native New Yorker!

With family in Queens, friends in Brooklyn and my experience of four different neighborhoods of Manhattan, my 12 years of living in New York City has brought me to almost every corner of four boroughs; almost because I have yet to visit Staten Island.

It’s also helped me learn how to manage New York’s exorbitant pricing and see the common mistakes that my tourist friends and family have made when visiting. As a result, this New York City travel guide will be your best friend in planning your trip to New York City as a tourist while giving you true local insight to make your trip feel authentic.

Without further ado, from the basics of navigating the hectic rhythm of pedestrian traffic to the best foodie bites in the city for less than $10, here’s your local’s ultimate New York City travel guide. I can’t wait for you to discover my hometown the way I do!

Note: All prices mentioned here as of the date published. Prices are subject to change without notice.

From Lust Till Dawn is a reader-supported site. Purchases made through links may earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Learn more.


New York City Travel Guide Basics

Here’s must-know information about New York City that’ll make your trip go smoother. Most of this information is for non-Americans, but Americans should take a quick glance here too, especially at the Safety section!

Currency

The currency for New York City is the U.S. Dollar ($).

It is a very good idea to have small bills on you because bodegas and street carts may not accept cash or charge you a fee for using a card. Also, you may want cash to tip street performers (more on this later).

Safety

New York is the safety city in the US with a crime rate per inhabitant even lower than the national average.

Nonetheless, pickpocketing and scams target tourists may be common in crowded, touristy areas so keep an eye out on your belongings.

Check out the Safety section below for tips on staying safe in New York City.

Language (for non-Americans)

People in New York City speak English, but depending on what neighborhood you’re in, they may predominantly speak another language such as Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Greek and so much more. New York City is a cultural melting pot!

Visa (for non-Americans)

For non-American citizens, if your country is part of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), you may travelt ot he U.S. for tourism or business for 90 days or less without obtaining a US visa. You may still need to apply for the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

For non-American citizens whose country is not part of the VWP, you’ll want to check with your local government about entry into the US.

Electricity Socket (for non-Americans)

The US uses the socket Type A and B. The standard voltage is 120 V and the standard frequency is 60 Hz.

This universal travel adapter will work converting non-American appliances to US sockets and has space for two USB cords.

However, it will not work with appliances that heat up such as a hair straightener or clothes steamer. Head to this post to learn about using hair appliances abroad.


Best Months to Visit New York City

My favorite seasons in New York City are spring and fall because of the temperature. Less ideal times to visit New York City as a tourist are the summer and winter with exceptions. Here’s why:

Spring

Spring is fantastic because the city is awakening from a harsh, cold winter. Flowers start to bloom and there is a joie de vivre (French for a cheerful enjoyment of life) in the air.

Best month to go is in May when the temperatures reach a peak of 71,6°F or 22°C, but April is a good time to go too. I’d avoid March since it’s a toss-up of whether we have a long winter or not.

MonthHigh/Low ° FRain
March51.8 / 35.68 days
April64.4 / 44.68 days
May71.6 / 53.69 days

Summer

Summer is a really fun time in the city with free concerts and movies in the park, brunching and drinking at outdoor restaurants and generally, enjoying the city’s many parks.

However, July and August tend to get unbearably hot and humid. There’s even been a few years where we experienced electric outages for blocks since everyone was blasting their AC during a heat wave. This is very rare but worth nothing!

Overall, if you can’t handle the humidity, which turns the city into a sweat box, come visit in June when the peak temperature reaches 80,6°F/ 27°C and low of 64,4°F/ 18°C and avoid July and August.

MonthHigh/Low ° FRain
June80.6 / 64.48 days
July84.2 / 688 days
August84.2 / 687 days

Fall

Fall in New York City is absolutely magical with the changing of the leaves, especially in Central Park. Also, it’s a welcome change after the hot and humid temperature that turns everything and everyone into one, hot sticky mess.

September is a great month to visit when kids are back in school and it’s still warm. October is a beautiful time to come if you want to see the city covered in yellow, orange and reds of the changing leaves.

MonthHigh/Low ° FRain
September77 / 60.87 days
October66.4 / 506 days
November55.4 / 42.87 days

Winter

There’s never a bad season in New York City since there’s so much to do and see, and winter is no exception. It’s a popular time to visit because of all the holiday magic happening in the city, especially on 5th Avenue and Rockefeller Center.

Nonetheless, it is very, very cold and the streets can get hard to walk on because of the snow and slush.

Also, depending on when you come, it can be quite crowded too. For example, walking five minutes can take 15 if you’re at Times Square or Rockefeller Center during the holidays, and even the subways can be extra crowded because it is too cold for many to walk.

On the plus side, outside the holidays, tourist sites, especially the outdoor ones, may be emptier because of the weather.

I’d generally avoid this season to visit New York City unless you want to partake in holiday activities or you want to experience a less crowded city. The best time to come for a more relatively peaceful trip is the second week of January when kids are back in school and adults are back at work after a couple weeks of partying.

MonthHigh/Low ° FRain or Snow
December44.6 / 328 days
January39.2 / 26.68 days
February42.8 / 38.47 days

Budget

New York City is generally known as an expensive city, and although that’s true, you can experience it on a smaller budget if you plan. Here are estimated prices for accommodations, meals and transportation.

Accommodation

Accommodation prices vary on the time of year that you visit New York with the prices in summer being the most expensive and winter, the least expensive. Overall, accommodation in New York City is generally expensive.

If price isn’t an issue, I’d stay in Manhattan for convenience or in Williamsburg or Bushwick for an alternative, hipster experience. See more in the Places to Stay section.

If you need to save money on accommodation, getting an Airbnb outside Manhattan will be your best bet.

Look for Airbnbs that are less than a 10 minute walk from a subway, on a subway line that leads directly into Manhattan, and with great reviews for an enjoyable stay.

See more in the Places to Stay section.

You might like:

Meals

Dining out in New York City can get quite cheap like less than $5 cheap, but it can also get quite expensive. It all depends on the type of experience you’re looking for.

Here are prices of meals for one:

If you are on a budget, there are so many delicious places to eat at in New York City that are less than $5 and less than $15.

You might like:

Transportation

The subway, an underground transportation system, is the most popular way to travel around the city.

  • Each ride costs $2.75 (as of 07/10/19).
  • New cards cost $1.00; this is to reduce the waste of getting a new Metrocard each time you need a card.
  • To save even more money, there are 7-day and 30-day unlimited options, which respectively cost $33 and $127.

These Metrocards can also be used on public busses. Read more on the MTA fares here.

Another popular way of getting around the city is by simply waving down a yellow taxi or calling an Uber. These rides depend on how far you go but can range from $6 to $80 (if you are going to the airport).

Sign up for Uber and get $5 off your first ride here.

Last but not least, you can bike around New York City with Citibike. It costs $3/trip, $12/day or $169/year.


Arriving into New York City

New York City has three major airpots nearby: John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark.

To get into New York City from the airports, you can take public transportation, get into the taxi line, call an Uber or book an airport shuttle.

  • Taking public transportation is the cheapest at $7.75 (JFK) to $15.75 (Newark) per one way but can take the longest at about an hour two two hours depending on the airport.
  • Taking a taxi or calling an Uber is the most expensive ($60-100 with tip) but in traffic-free times, it’s the fastest way.
  • Scheduling a Go Airlink shuttle, which I do often, is a good middle-ground between cost (about $20) and timing (about 45 min. if going from JFK to Manhattan). Schedule an airport shuttle here.

I prefer flying into JFK or LaGuardia since those are closest to New York City, but Newark often has cheaper flights so is a good option too.

New York City has two train stations you can take the train into: Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station.

I’ve taken the MetroNorth and Amtrak from these train stations, which are both quite convenient.


Getting Around

Getting around New York City is fairly easy, especially with Google Maps, which you can use offline without wifi or data. Google Maps will show you walking, subway, bus and driving (taxi) directions and is one of my must-have apps for getting around New York City.

Do you see the grid?Screenshot of my Google Maps full of saved places

Also, Manhattan is easy to get around because for the most part, it is one giant grid. If you learn this easy numbering system, then you will not have trouble getting around. As the street numbers go up, that means you’re going North. As the avenue numbers go up, that means you’re going West.

Overall, most of Manhattan is basically like a giant compass with its numbering system except in downtown. Downtown, the streets have names, not numbers, so it won’t be as apparent which way is north, south, east or west, but nonetheless, Google Maps will show you where you are even if you don’t have data or wifi.

Here are the best ways to get around New York City.

  • Walking seems quite obvious but skipping a subway stop or two may give you a 15-30 minute walk to thoroughly enjoy a neighborhood’s sights
  • The subway is your best bet in traveling from neighborhood to neighborhood and certainly borough to borough. For subway directions, use Google Maps, and if you’re going to be riding it frequently, you may want to grab a Weekly or Monthly unlimited card.
  • Taxi or Uber is a comfortable way to get around and can be faster than the subway. But keep in mind that when there’s a ton of traffic, taking the subway might be faster than a taxi!
  • Citibike is a bike share system in New York City that’s a fun way to discover the city. Check pricing and how-to’s here.

Good to know: Although the New York City runs 24/7, it starts to come less frequently after midnight so always check Google Maps to see if it’s running.

I have taken the subway many times by myself from 2-5AM coming from a bar or club and have never had an issue with safety, but if you don’t feel safe taking the subway or just don’t want to wait for it to come when it’s late at night, call an Uber!

Sign up for Uber and get $5 off your first ride here.

You might like:

Local Customs & Tips

Stand on the right, Pass on the left

For an effortless trip in New York City, it’s best to know some local customs and tips. Here are some of my best New York tips from a New Yorker.

  1. The right side of the sidewalk and escalator is meant for walking casually or standing while the left side is meant for passing; kind of like with driving!
  2. Always have small bills on you because some mom and pop shops, bodegas, street carts and restaurants only accept cash. Also, you’re going to come across some amazing street performers you’ll want to give cash out to.
  3. Use the toilet when you can, seriously. Free toilets or toilets without huge lines (think Starbucks) are rare!
  4. Tip 18-20% at restaurants, not 20%. This is a New York City standard since rent and general living costs are so expensive.
  5. Tap water is more than ok to drink! New York City has high-quality tap water.

To get more local tips and customs, you must read 10 Things Not to Do in New York City, which even shares when the best time to go to Times Square is and how to consider subway travel time in your planning.


Street-Smart Safety Tips

New York City is the most safe city in the US, and from experience, I have never been in a compromising situation whether it was taking the subway at 3AM or walking around Queens by ourselves when I was 5/my sister was 10 (ok so that was the early 90s…).

Nonetheless, with so many people in the city— some crazy, some targeting tourists, some crazy AND targeting tourists– it is always a good idea to be aware of these street smart safety tips.

1. In crowded areas, keep your valuables safely deep inside your pockets, or better yet, if you have a zippered pocket on your backpack or purse, put your wallet, phone, etc. in there.

2. When on a crowded subway, wear your purse around your shoulder or your backpack in front of you like a baby.

3. If waiting for the subway late at night or walking around late at night, it is always better to be on a crowded, well-lit area or street.

4. Be extra mindful in Times Square, the most populated tourist spot in New York for a few things:

  • If you take a photo with a character, expect to tip them or you may be harassed to pay them for the photo.
  • Be aware of pickpocketers.
  • Be mindful of the sunglasses scam, which happened to my brother. Someone bumped into him, and then yelled at him for making him drop his sunglasses. He demanded my brother pay him money on the spot to fix his glasses. My brother, having lived in New York most of his life, yelled back at him telling him he’s not playing into his scam.

5. When in a bar or restaurant, keep your phone in your pocket instead of casually laying out on a table although Mike says I am too careful about this one because the odds of someone swiping my phone off the table are so small. Better safe than sorry!

6. Don’t get sold fake Metrocard or attraction tickets. Always go to the official vendors.

7. Don’t dress like a tourist if you don’t want to be targeted as one. This means just dressing in street clothes (vs. I Love New York shirts and hats) and blending in.

Images from Gatta Bag’s Website

8. Don’t carry around an obvious camera bag that screams, “I have a super nice and expensive camera in here.” Gatta Bag sells chic camera bags that look like regular old purses and backpacks.

Most of the time, you won’t have much to worry about in New York City as long as your valuables are tucked away somewhere safe. It’s just always good to be mindful.

If you are a woman, the worst you might actually experience in New York City is the incessant cat calling from lame, egotistical men. The best thing to do is to ignore them.

If something ever does happen to you (i.e. you find a Times Square character being aggressive with you), just run into the nearest store where lots of people are, get away from the situation as fast as possible, or find/call a police officer.


How to Save Money in New York City

Costs in New York City can easily add up if you don’t plan ahead, but with the right resources and know-how, you can minimize your spending in New York.

1. Stay at an Airbnb over a hotel, or if you’re going to New York during a non-busy time, you may be able to book your hotel last-minute at a cheaper rate. This is how I got a room at Riu Plaza Times Square for $100/night.

2. Get a New York City pass to save $100 on six top attractions. Check out all the sites you’ll be able to visit with it here.

3. Eat at places that are less than $5 or less than $15. Ton of these types of places exist all over New York!

Just use Yelp to find places to eat near you, and click on the $ filter to choose the least expensive options.

4. Buy an unlimited Metrocard if you plan on taking lots of subway and bus rides!

5. Pack a water bottle and fill it in the sink of your hotel or Airbnb to avoid having to buy water out.


What to Pack

For Your Electronics: I recommend packing a Belkin surge protector with USB ports. Some New York City pre-war buildings may only have one outlet in your room, which makes charging your phone, camera, etc. a super big hassle.

Not only will this be handy for charging all your electronics at once, but you’ll be quite popular at the airport too if there’s only one charging port with many in need.

I love using this Belkin surge protector home too! Get it here on Amazon.

Also, if your phone tends to die easily as mine, since you will be out for most of the day in New York, I recommend this super portable Anker charger.

Both Mike and I had one for over four years until we lost them. We used them about 2-3x weekly and loved how compact and powerful they were. Get it here on Amazon.

For The Weather: Depending on what season you come, you’ll have to pack for the weather.

In the springtime, bring a durable, windproof umbrella. It tends to get extremely windy when the wind passes through all the tall buildings. Some people’s umbrellas even flip inside out!

Spending an extra dollar or two on a windproof one that won’t break is your best bet. Get the exact travel windproof umbrella I own and use on Amazon.

If you don’t want to carry around an umbrella and would rather wear a raincoat, pack a stylish, reusable raincoat because the flimsy, one-time ones are awful in a downpour (and also scream tourist, which is 100% ok, but entirely up to you if you don’t want to stick out as one).

For Clothing: New Yorkers wear the fanciest of clothing to the grungiest so really anything goes here. All you really need to pack is a nice outfit if you plan on going to dinner and a Broadway show.

Also, if you don’t want your camera bag to scream tourist, then it’s a good idea to pack your camera in something that looks more like a purse such as these chic camera bags from Gatta Bag.

Images from Gatta Bag’s Website

You might like: How to Keep Your Clothes Wrinkle Free While Traveling

For Traveling: Sidewalks, apartments, and in general, space tend to be smaller in New York City than the rest of the US. It really is no fun being in a subway at rush hour with a large suitcase.

As a result, I recommend traveling with a carry-on size luggage such as this eBags Fortis one that I’ve used in the Netherlands, Spain and France. Its wheels roll so smoothly, which makes walking on bumpy sidewalks and through the subway stations a breeze.

Miscellaneous: It’s always a good idea to have a foldable, reusable grocery bag on you. They’ve come in handy when my grocery bags have broken, or when I bought too much stuff to fit into my purse/pockets. Overall, they’ve been super handy to have on me while living in New York!

They’re handy for traveling too. Read my post on why a reusable, foldable bag is a must when traveling, or get some on Amazon here.

Last but not least, buying water can get ridiculously expensive in New York such as when you’re in the middle of Central Park and the only kiosk there has a monopoly and can sell water for $4.00 a bottle!

Take advantage of New York’s amazing tap water and bring a reusable water bottle that you can fill up at your hotel or Airbnb’s sink.

Recap of what to pack for New York City:


Best Things to Do

There’s so much stuff to do in New York City so let’s narrow it down to just a handful of my favorite activities! #sorrynotsorry but all of my activities involve food of some kind.

bushwick graffiti and street art- where to find it
bushwick graffiti and street art- where to find it

1. Check out Bushwick’s grandiose graffiti and street art murals shortly after eating one of New York’s best pizzas at Roberta’s.

Roberta’s sources many of its greens and herbs from its own garden. This place is quite popular so expect a wait or head there right at 11am for no wait.

Find out exactly which route to take to get from Roberta’s to the Bushwick Collective street art in this blog post.

2. Grab one of the best cookies to have ever existed at Levain Bakery and take a walk over to the Strawberry Fields / John Lennon memorial in Central Park.

Then continue walking to the Cherry Hill Fountain and Bethesda Terrace to enjoy a couple of iconic Central Park spots. Walking directions here.

3. Take in the epic New York skyline from the Top of the Rock during sunset time, then head to Times Square afterwards to enjoy the bright lights at night with less crowds. Walking directions here.

Note: The Top of the Rock entrance ticket alone is about $40 for adults. If you plan on going to this and the Empire State Building, American Museum of Natural History, 9/11 Memorial & Museum and other top attractions, get a New York CityPASS. You’ll save $100 on six attractions!

This Two Days in New York City guide details how to visit six top attractions in New York in two days while checking out some local spots too.

4. Food-hop around Chelsea Market then take a walk the High Line, which is a park built on unused, above ground subway lines. This public park has a truly unique design that incorporates the natural environment of the area and offers a different vantage point of the city.

See what you can eat at the Chelsea Market here and learn more about the High Line park here.

5. Grab a whole pie from Joe’s Pizza and people watch at Washington Square Park. You’ll not only make people jealous with a whole pie of ‘a dictionary definition of a New York pizza’ pizza, but you’ll also have plenty of things to check out to keep you busy while you rest a bit from all the exploring you’ve done. Walking directions from Joe’s to the park here.

No joke– in one afternoon at Washington Square Park, you could see breakdancers, a man playing on a grand piano, kids in cosplay outfits, theater students practicing a play, and the list goes on and on and on.

If you love gelato, then the Grom next to Joe’s has super creamy and decadent gelato. Make a stop there!

You might like this: New York Pizza Tour

6. Have a truly epic vantage point of New York City by taking a helicopter ride above the city!

7. Experience the beauty of the New York City sunset over the skyline by boat around Manhattan with a glass of Champagne in hand!


What and Where to Eat

According to Open Table, it would take 22.5 years to eat at every single restaurant in New York City. That’s even without eating at the same on twice.

But you only have a few days in this metropolis so going down the enormous list of restaurants in New York City seems rather improbable. Therefore, you should eat these quintessential New York foods at these places:

Classic New York City Foods

Popular New York City Foods

  • Levain Bakery’s warm and gooey inside and a crispy outside cookie
  • Joe Shanghai’s soup dumplings, which is exactly what it sounds like– dumplings with soup on the inside so eat them in combination with both your spoon and chopsticks and be careful of hot they are inside!
  • Roberta’s wood-fired pizzas full of garden-grown ingredients
  • Shakeshack‘s juicy and flavorful burgers

Places I Love

The Flushing, Queens location but the Manhattan location has the same yummy baked goods. The twisted donut is a classic and anything with cream is super tasty!

  • Tous Les Jours is a Korean-French bakery that creates the fluffiest and airiest of desserts. Even though it’s a chain, it’s probably one of my favorite bakeries in the world. As a bonus, if you stop by here, you’ll get to experience the tiny little K-town.
  • Saigon Shack is an awesome Vietnamese restaurant that knows how to serve flavorful, satisfying pho in the quickness. I’ve spent many nights here after work slurping down a whole bowl by myself; oh, the memories! Bring cash.
  • Pepe Rosso to Go is a hole-in-the-wall Italian spot that never disappoints. For all of its delicious pastas, this the best value Italian food in the city. Don’t let the small space put you off though; the counter guys keep an eye on the first-come, first-serve policy. You WILL get a seat by the time your food is served.
  • Cafe Mogador is a Moroccan restaurant that’s great for a date night, bringing out parents or catching up with friends with a bottle of wine. It’s the only Moroccan restaurant that serves food somewhat close to Mike’s aunt’s amazing cooking, and it has reasonably priced bottles of wine. There’s also a location in Williamsburg.

You might also like:


Areas to Discover & Hotels to Stay At

New York City has an overwhelming number of neighborhoods; more than 150 if we’re counting! Each neighborhood has something unique to offer completely depending on what you’re looking for.

Here’s a few suggestions on areas to discover and hotels to stay at:

Downtown

Downtown technically refers to anywhere in Manhattan below 14th street, which can include many neighborhoods such as West Village, East Village, Greenwich Village, Soho and Chinatown.

Some of my favorite neighborhoods are in downtown such as West Village, which has a cute European vibe, and Greenwich Village, which has amazingly delicious eats for really cheap. Check out Joe’s Pizza on West 4th and Saigon Shack on MacDougal Street. Bring cash.

It is worth staying in downtown if you want to experience the more accessible and fun side of Manhattan– where a lovely bakery is only within a couple minute’s reach by foot out of your hotel, shopping at both big brand and boutique shops is endless, and you’ll learn the true meaning of ‘the city that never sleeps.’

Two hotels that I recommend downtown are the James New York – Soho Hotel and the citizenM Bowery hotel:

  • The James New York Soho Hotel is close to the subway lines 1, C and E, which will bring you to the World Trade Center, Times Square, Highline Park in Chelsea, Rockefeller Center and more.
  • The citizenM Bowery hotel is close to the F, J, Z and 6, which will bring you to the World Trade Center, Times Square, Rockefeller Center and more.

Both hotels are conveniently located to my favorite neighborhoods downtown (West Village, Greenwich Village, East Village, Soho and Chinatown) and are close to Chinatown, which has amazing eats that can’t be missed like soup dumplings at Joe’s Shanghai.

Hotels to Stay At

Booking.com

Times Square

Being a local New Yorker, I thought I’d never recommend staying in Times Square as I hardly even recommend people visiting that area unless it’s after 10PM.

But in the beginning of this year, I stayed in Times Square at the Hyatt Centric Times Square and RIU Plaza, which included breakfast. At this point, I realized how CONVENIENT it was to stay in Times Square.

Times Square is on the same subway line as the World Trade Center and the Highline Park and it’s only a 15 minute walk away from the Rockefeller Center. Plus, it’s right by all the Broadway shows.

Hotels to Stay At

Booking.com

Williamsburg, Brooklyn

If you’re a hipster, or at the very least, more of a modern traveler who’s not so into top 10 tourist sites, you might want to stay in Williamsburg.

Yes, it’s hipster central of New York, but even better, there’s enough bars, shops and restaurants to keep you busy for three+ days. You can drink beer at Radegast Hall and Biergarten, eat a Moroccan dinner at Cafe Mogador, dance to live music and go bowling at Brooklyn Bowl, and find vintage goods at the Artists & Fleak Market.

Hotels to Stay At

Booking.com

Long Island City, Queens

Now there’s not too much going on in Long Island City, but I recommend this neighborhood because it’s only one stop out from New York City on the 7, E, R, N, W and Q. This makes it super convenient to get in and out of Manhattan at a better price!

As a plus, it’s near Astoria, Queens, which is the next neighborhood I’d want to live in New York City because of its chill vibe. It’s also on the 7 so if you’re the foodie adventurer type, you can take it all the way out to Flushing, Queens to get the real taste of Chinese and Korean food there or to Jackson Heights for some of the best Indian food you’ll find in New York City.

Hotels to Stay At

Click on the + button to zoom up on hotels around Queensboro Plaza.

Booking.com

If you can’t decide which neighborhood to stay in, I’d recommend choosing two and splitting your trip up over the two. That way you can experience more than one neighborhood!


New York City Travel Guide Related Blog Posts

Looking for more posts on New York City to help you with your awesome trip? Check out these posts below.


I hope you have an amazing trip. If you found any part of this New York City travel guide to be helpful, I’d appreciate a pin to Pinterest, share on social media or just a comment below to say hi!

Definitely come back and let me know how your trip went in the comments below or via my Instagram @sarchetrit.

Till then, thanks for stopping by, and have a great day!

xo,
Sarah


PIN THIS NEW YORK CITY TRAVEL GUIDE FOR LATER

New York City Travel Guide

Traveling to Japan For the First Time (Top Tips for Places to Visit, What to See and More)
← Read Last Post
Our List of Best Places to Eat in Rotterdam
7 Places to Eat in Rotterdam
Read Next Post →