New York City Guide: Planning Your Trip

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New York City is an iconic destination chock full of attractions — but it can also be overwhelming to visit. Which days are best to visit busy places like the Met and the Empire State Building, and how do you avoid tourist traps and discover local hangouts? Did you know the city has tons of outdoorsy activities for all seasons? And what about deciding between so many acclaimed bars and restaurants of all types?

Whether you want to spend the weekend in the city or a whole week exploring, planning your trip is important to ensure you make the most of your time. Let’s explore the best the city has to offer and help you decide when to visit, learn what to see and do, and discover where to eat, drink, and stay during your trip.

Planning Your Trip

  • Best Time to Visit: Figuring out the best time to visit really depends on what you want to do on your trip. New York City is a great destination year round, but each season has its own perks (and disadvantages). Winter is great for visitors who want to experience the wonders of the holiday season in New York City and after New Year’s crowds really dwindle and prices drop. Spring and fall are ideal in terms of mild weather and being able to take full advantage of everything the city has to offer. And while summer can get very hot and humid and it also brings lots of crowds, there are tons of free events and beaches, pools, and parks are in full swing.
  • Language: English is the official language of New York, but you’ll also hear a lot of Spanish , Mandarin, and plenty of other languages in this melting pot.
  • Currency: U.S. dollar
  • Getting Around: Public transportation makes getting around New York City easy, fast, and affordable. Quite often, you’ll find it’s best to take a bus or the subway to avoid traffic and save money. Before you give it a go, familiarize yourself with the routes by looking at maps so you don’t get lost or take the wrong train. Sometimes though, it can be more convenient or appropriate to take a taxi, Lyft, Uber, or car service. A cab is a good option for a group and might save money. You also might feel safer in a car late at night, although buses and the subway run all night long . Renting a car if you’re staying in the city is generally a bad idea as parking is difficult to find and/or very expensive. Plus, traffic is typically horrendous.
  • Travel Tip: Remember, New York City is more than just Manhattan and all five boroughs are worth visiting, especially Brooklyn and Queens, which are quite easy to get to from Manhattan. To avoid crowds, get an early start to your day and consider visiting the mot popular sites during the week if you can.

Things To Do

Whether it’s your first or tenth visit, New York City has so much to offer. It is brimming with attractions and activities, from world-class museums and monuments to stunning parks to shopping galore. There are things for kids and families, romantic activities for couples, and friend groups can be kept busy for days. Architecture fans, history buffs, entertainment lovers, foodies, shoppers, art hounds, and culture vultures will all be happy here. Don’t miss these activities:

  • Museums and Galleries: Visitors would be hard pressed to visit all the museums in NYC; from art to history to science and even food, there are hundreds of museums and galleries  to see. Beyond the classics like the Met, MoMA, American Museum of Natural History, and the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, await the Brooklyn Museum, Queens Hall of Science, Museum of the City of New York, El Museo del Barrio, and the Museum of Food and Drink, to name a few.
  • Boat Rides: Remember that New York City is surrounded by water and seeing the sights by boat is a great experience. A number of companies offer boat tours and cruises around the city, pay a few bucks to ride the East River Ferry to a number of locations, or hop on the Staten Island Ferry for free. 
  • Theater and Shows: Broadway shows are a highlight for many visitors and for good reason. There’s also plenty of Off-Broadway, Off-Off-Broadway, and experimental and avant-garde venues putting on some of the best theater in the world. And don’t forget the music scene — almost every band comes through NYC to play at one of its most famous concert venues, like Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, Lincoln Center, Bowery Ballroom, Kings Theatre, and Music Hall of Williamsburg.

Where to Eat and Drink

New York City is known for its plethora of food options, including iconic dishes that are must-eats on any trip. Be sure to grab a slice of pizza, a bagel with lox, a bodega egg and cheese on a roll, a classic deli sandwich, and a hot dog. And don’t forget to partake in brunch, a NYC tradition. But the best part about New York City is that you can find foods from across the globe here thanks to immigrants from around the world, be it inside Michelin-starred dining rooms or hole-in-the-wall eateries serving everything from Ethiopian to Burmese to Korean to Italian to Israeli to Mexican and beyond. You can go big at a steakhouse or find cheap eats throughout the five boroughs. And every neighborhood has something unique to offer if you look hard enough — even Times Square.

Drinking is just as important as eating in NYC and there are plenty of craft cocktail bars, historic taverns, breweries and taprooms, wine and Champagne bars, and even alcohol-free drink spots. And, there are some incredible coffee shops to start your day at.

Explore our articles on the most romantic restaurants, the best family-friendly restaurants, and the most expensive restaurants in NYC.

Where to Stay

Hotels are easy to find in New York City, but finding the right room for you is a different story. Where you stay is going to depend on which borough and neighborhood you prefer, if you’re alone, with a significant other, or with your family, and how much you want to spend. Midtown Manhattan is the most popular place to stay because it’s where most of the tourist attractions are but it is also one of the most expensive areas. If you’re willing to move north or south, there are some good budget-friendly hotels in Manhattan available. And of course, if you want to stay somewhere with a view of Central Park, near nightlife in Chelsea, or in the center of trendy SoHo, expect to pay a premium but be very happy. If you’re amenable to heading over the bridge to Brooklyn, there are some excellent options, and many people prefer its more low key vibe. Other options aside from hotels include short-term apartment rentals (a good value if you’re staying for three nights or more and may want to cook instead of eating out), hostels for those on a tight budget, and Airbnb rentals—although beware that these might be operating illegally .

Explore the different neighborhoods you can stay in, and see our recommendations on the best hotels in NYC with Pools and the Best NYC Airport Hotels.

Getting There

There are myriad ways to get to NYC: flying, by train, by bus, or driving. The main airports are:

  • John F. Kennedy International Airport is the largest and has the most international flights, but it can be intimidating and exhausting to traverse its many terminals. It is 16 miles from Midtown Manhattan and there are various ways to get there.
  • La Guardia International Airport in Queens is more manageable and recent upgrades have greatly improved its look, functionality, and services. It also has plenty of flights from most major carriers but less international options than JFK and EWR and some airlines, like Delta and United, use the other area airports as their hubs and so have fewer flights from La Guardia as a result. It is a little closer to Midtown Manhattan at 8.5 miles away and there are various ways to get there.
  • Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey, is 16 miles from Midtown Manhattan and sometimes flights there can be cheaper (but taxis generally cost more from there to NYC). It is the hub for United so almost all United flights will arrive and depart from here and it also has robust international offerings.

Amtrak trains to other major East Coast cities run fairly often to and from Penn Station and there are also trains to cities farther afield. Buses are usually the cheapest option, with Greyhound, Megabus, Bolt Bus, and smaller companies serving the city. And of course, driving is always an option but keep in mind that parking can be difficult and expensive.

Culture and Customs

New York City has a culture all its own and there are several unwritten rules that locals follow, including how to walk on a busy sidewalk (hint: don’t stop in the middle of it), subway etiquette, how to hail a cab, and proper bicycle behavior.

Tipping is important in NYC; be sure to tip taxi drivers, wait staff at restaurants, and bartenders.

Is New York City safe? It's a question visitors ask all the time and, in general, it is a safe city . However, swindlers and thieves can often spot “out of towners” so a little common sense is required.

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Article Sources
TripSavvy uses only high-quality, trusted sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
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  2. MTA. "How to Ride the Subway."

  3. NYC & Company. "Museums & Galleries in NYC."

  4. The Official Website of the City of New York. "New York City Water Bodies." 2014

  5. Airbnb. "New York, NY." 2020

  6. The Economist Intelligence Unit. "Safe Cities Index 2017."

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