Popping Your “Big Apple” Cherry
Tips for the New York Newbie
Every now and then someone says to me “I’m going to New York for the first time, do you have any tips?”. Do I have tips? Does my cat like scratching leather? Yes, yes he does (RIP my red “rock star” jacket). New York can definitely be overwhelming so I thought I’d compile my own personal tips and suggestions for the first time visitor. This is going to be another doozy of a post but stick with me.
Getting There (from YYT)
You can fly direct from St. John’s to Newark with United, though be aware that this is a one-in/one-out flight and gets cancelled more frequently than Air Canada. Flying with anyone else and you’ll have to connect through at least one other airport, which makes for an early, early morning. Whichever airport you land at you can get shuttle transportation directly to your hotel using SuperShuttle. I book and pay for my trips beforehand (about $20 each way per person). This costs more than public transit but it’s hassle free and the best bet if it’s your first time in the city.
Where to Stay
Avoid the lure of cheaper room rates off the island and stay in Manhattan unless you really just love trains and commuting. If you want a budget-conscious place that’s also pretty hip, check out The Pod. It’s not far from a subway station but on a relatively quiet midtown street. Traveling with a friend and want to save your cash for shoes and theatre tickets? Book a bunkbed room and bring shower shoes. Rooms are tiny and you share the marble spa bathrooms with other rooms but it’s clean, safe and you won’t be spending much time there anyway. Rooms with privates baths are also available.
Want to stay closer to the action of Times Square? The Milford NYC is under new management and they’ve renovated since I last stayed there. It looks like prices have gone up accordingly, but you can’t beat the location if you want to stumble out of a Broadway theatre and into your bed and it doesn’t get the same foot traffic crowds as the hotels that front directly onto Times Square.
First off, don’t even think about renting a car. Traffic will make you want to cry and there’ll be nowhere to park. Get yourself a MetroCard instead. Take some time before you get there to get familiar with the subway maps – it’s really not too bad.
Tip: avenues run north-south and are numbered east to west (eg. 2nd ave is east of 10th Ave), streets run east-west and are numbered south to north (eg. 10th St is south of 42nd St). If you’re not sure in which direction to walk, go up or down an avenue until you reach the next street and you’ll figure it out soon by watching the numbers. Or if you want to be all high-tech, haul out your phone and Google Maps. Keep in mind, subways are best if you want to travel north-south. If you want to go east-west, it’ll probably be faster and easier for you to just walk.
If you’re going to cab it, hail one that’s already pointed in the direction you want to go – that way you won’t have to pay for them to make a turn. Oh and give the cabbie the cross streets you want rather than a straight up street address. For instance, you could say “East 51st and 3rd” or “230 East 51st between 2nd and 3rd” if you were going to the Pod Hotel. Also, be aware that there’s no such thing as just 51st Street – you’ve got to include East or West (5th Ave being the dividing line) to get where you’re going.
Shopping and Entertainment
There are so many places to shop, it would be silly to try to list them out. Before I go, I usually do a search online for any relevant coupons. It’s netted me 20% off at a few stores in the past. Also, if you’re at Macy’s visit their customer service area when you arrive and tell them you’re visiting. They’ll give you a coupon for 10% off. There’s outlet shopping in New Jersey, but I haven’t personally done it.
For most, the theatre is a must when they visit New York for the first time. No matter whether you’re into musicals or straight plays, sign up for Playbill.com and you’ll get access to discounts. The prices will sometimes be cheaper than TKTS and you won’t have to waste your time lining up. Theatre tip: if you’re into meeting the actors, hang out by the stage door after a show. There may be a big crowd or no one at all depending on the show.
The thing I recommended the most to friends after my first trip was Accomplice: New York. It’s part walking tour, part scavenger hunt, part interactive theatre and full of awesome. You never know who’s part of the story and who’s just a stranger on the street.
As soon as you know that you’ll be visiting, I’d suggest signing up for a few of those deal of the day sites like Groupon. You never know when something will pop up that you’re interested in.
On my first trip to NYC I just jumped in with both feet and started exploring. If you’d rather dip a toe in first to test the waters, a hop-on/hop-off tour for one or two days may be a good idea. It’ll help you get a feel for the layout of the city while seeing the major sights. If you think you’ll visit enough attractions to make it worth it, check out the CityPass. It’ll give you a few extra perks beyond a bundled price. If you go to the Empire State Building, and you should, go first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds. This is one spot where our CityPasses let us skip a line-up.
The Museum of Natural History is massive and totally worth it. If you go all day, leave the museum and have lunch elsewhere though – their cafeteria is lame and expensive. The Guggenheim is a cool building to look at from the outside but unless you’re really into modern art, you may not get much out of a visit. I’d go to the Met instead.
You don’t need to do a special tour to get a closer view of the Statue of Liberty. You can see it for free by taking the Staten Island Ferry over and back. It’s not as up close and personal as a proper tour but since you can’t climb up inside the statue anymore, it didn’t matter much to me.
The carousel in Central Park is one of my favourite things ever. Go. Be a kid.
You could live in New York for 3 years, trying a different place every meal and still not visit them all. These are just a couple of my favourites:
- Indigo Indian Bistro: don’t judge them by their website. Nice little spot that serves yummy, yummy tikka masala and close to The Pod.
- Rice to Riches: a little spot in Nolita that only serves rice pudding but in many, many flavours.
- S’Mac: mac ‘n cheese anyone? That’s all you’ll get at this spot in the East Village.
- Pommes Frites: I’m really into these specialty places. Don’t blink or you’ll miss this hole in the wall that serves awesome french fries. Try the Vietnamese pineapple mayo for a dipping sauce.
- Magnolia Bakery in Greenwich Village was made famous in Sex & the City for their cupcakes. There’s always a line but they also have a couple other locations as well.
- Black and white cookies. I don’t have a specific location suggestion but you really need to try these. Also, can you bring me back one? Or several?
If you’re interested in saving a few bucks and discovering new independent places, check out Restaurant.com. You won’t find chains on here but quite often you can buy their vouchers for 80 or even 90% off – just do Google search for restaurant.com coupon before you buy. I’ve had a few good meals for dirt cheap by going this route.
- Wear comfortable shoes. You will walk. A lot. Bring band-aids and blister ointment just in case. If you forget them though, there’s a Duane Reade pharmacy on every corner.
- Drink lots of water. Walking will dehydrate you and the city is hot in summer. Tip: It might be cheaper to buy a gallon of water than a 500ml bottle so bring your own reusable bottle and stash the gallon in your hotel room. As with everything else, there’s an app for that – TapIt lets you find places where you can refill your bottle for free around the city.
- If you’re coming from Canada and have a smart phone with a map app, consider getting a US data plan. It’s super handy when you’re in a city you’re not familiar with and don’t like wandering up and down streets.
- Before you book anything do a Google search for a coupon or a promo code first. You never know…
My main tip is to just go with the flow and have fun! Have you been to New York before? What are your favourite things to do?