A Beginner’s Guide To New York City

All the important info you need in one place – A detailed beginner’s guide to New York City.

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I’m no Newyorker (a girl can dream though, right?). But since I’ve visited NYC a dozen times and went to college in the city, I get weekly questions about New York from friends and acquaintances. And I love it – I love helping people experience New York the best possible way. So for everyone out there who finds New York City overwhelming: Stay tuned. Here comes my best NYC tips.

THE BEST TIME TO VISIT NYC

New York City is an amazing destination all year round, but if you have the luxury of picking & choosing I would recommend visiting in spring or fall. The temperature is comfortable and perfect for spending long hours outside exploring, and there aren’t as many tourists as during the summer. April, May, late September, October & early November are my personal favorites. The city is at its most beautiful during blooming season in spring and during the beautiful fall foliage.

Winter in NYC can also be beautiful but it can be brutal temperature wise, so its not for everyone. Summers are gorgeous too, but it’s usually way too hot & super crowded because of summer break. There is a reason the locals flee the scene in summer if they can.. If you want to experience NYC craziness you should visit around St Patricks Day, Thanksgiving or Halloween. The crowds are huge, but it can also be so much fun with the parades – especially if you’re from a small town like me.

NYC guide for beginners: The Empire State Building

GETTING FROM THE AIRPORT

New York City is served by three major airports. JFK and La Guardia are located in the borough of Queens in New York City, New York, while Newark Airport is located in Newark in the state of New Jersey. There are plenty of ways of getting to your hotel from each airport, but the process can be confusing and overwhelming. I’ll try to make it easier for you:

TAXI & UBER

Metered taxis are available outside of all three airports. Let the airport signs guide you to the correct taxi line and official staff outside the terminal. Ignore offers from solicitors inside the terminal as they are illegal and might rip you off. You can also use apps like Uber or Lyft from each airport, they might be a little cheaper than a yellow taxi.

  • TAXI FROM NEWARK: Taxi from Newark to NYC takes at least 40 minutes and can get expensive due to a number of extra charges. We’re talking at least $65-$85 if you’re going to Manhattan, even more if you’re headed to Uptown, or to Brooklyn or Queens. Check out price samples here.
  • TAXI FROM JFK: Taxis at JFK charge a flat fare of $52 if you’re going to Manhattan, or $56.50 during peak hours (4-8 pm weekdays), plus tolls & tip. The drive is approx 30 minutes to Midtown Manhattan, but might be a lot longer due to the notorious NYC traffic.
  • TAXI FROM LA GUARDIA: La Guardia is the airport that is closest to Manhattan and getting to Midtown usually takes about 20 minutes if the traffic is normal. The price varies a lot depending on traffic and where in the city you’re going.

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

Public transportation is usually the best way to get from the airport to NYC. It is much cheaper than using a taxi and is a lot more reliable since there is no traffic underground. I suggest you make the process smoother for yourself by figuring out what subway line is closest to your hotel/airbnb prior to the trip.

  • FROM NEWARK: The fastest and cheapest way to get to NYC from Newark is using the AirTrain, which connects to the NJ Transit (another train). Look for AirTrain signs when you arrive the airport and purchase tickets there. For $12.50 it will take you from Newark to New York Penn Station in approximately 30 minutes. (Do not get off the train at Newark Penn Station!) From New York Penn Station you can take the subway to your hotel or catch a taxi/uber.
  • FROM JFK: Follow airport signs to JFK’s own AirTrain and take it to either Howard Beach Station or Jamaica Station. From there you can transfer to the subway that will take you to your hotel in the city: Howard Beach Connects to the A train, while Jamaica connects to the E, J & Z trains. It only costs $7.75 total ($5 for AirTrain and $2.75 for a single ride on the subway) and takes about 40-60 minutes to Manhattan. You can only pay with a MetroCard which you easily purchase on site.
  • FROM LA GUARDIA: LaGuardia offers a bus service from all terminals that connects with the subway. Follow the signs for Public Transportation until you arrive the bus station. There you’ll find a machine where you can purchase a MetroCard which you will use to pay for the bus. Get on the Q70 bus which will take you directly to the 74 St/Roosevelt Ave Subway Station. From there you’ll get a free transfer to the subway. Choose the train (7, E, F, M or R) that will get you to your hotel.
NYC guide for beginners: 14th Street Manhattan

NAVIGATING IN NEW YORK CITY

New York City consist of five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx & Staten Island. All boroughs have their own vibe and is divided into smaller neighbourhoods. You’ve probably heard of Williamsburg in Brooklyn or Soho in Manhattan, right? It might be confusing at first, but most of the weird names like “FiDi” and “Soho” are actually abbreviations of their geographical location in the city. I promise you’ll see the logic after a little while and then you’ll find it easy to navigate in the city!

NAVIGATING IN NEW YORK CITY - the Manhattan grid system

NAVIGATING IN MANHATTAN

HORIZONTAL STREETS ARE NUMBERED: The lower the number, the more southern the street is located in Manhattan. Ex: 110th St is Uptown, 4th St is Downtown. The horizontal streets south of 1st Street (woops they ran out of numbers) have ‘random’ names like Houston St, Prince St, or Spring St.

VERTICAL STREETS ARE CALLED AVENUES: Starting with 1st Avenue on the east side of Manhattan. Counting west comes 2nd and 3rd avenues followed by Lexington, Park and Madison Avenue. Next up is 5th Avenue and from there its all numbers again until you hit 12th Avenue on the west side. Further south Manhattan narrows in and the avenues gets gradually replaced with ‘random’ street names Downtown, like Mercer St & Mulberry St.

5TH AVENUE DIVIDES MANHATTAN INTO EAST & WEST: So if a café is located at W38th St, you know it’s on 38th Street and somewhere west of 5th Avenue. The opposite goes for addresses marked with an E for east.

BROADWAY IS AN EXCEPTION TO THE GRID SYSTEM: Broadway is a vertical street like an avenue, but it stretches across the entire island of Manhattan from north west to south east.

NAVIGATING IN NYC NEIGHBORHOODS
NYC neighborhoods abbreviations

TIP: Newyorkers don’t necessarily use the official address when they’re headed somewhere. With their streets being ridiculously long it doesn’t make much sense to tell someone you’re at 250 W14th St. That only says you’re somewhere on the west side of 14th St, right? Say you’re at “14th Street and 8th Avenue” instead – it says exactly what part of 14th St you’re located.

TIP II: Add a bunch of places you want to see on the Google Maps app on your phone & download the offline map of NYC before your trip. That way you can always check where you are in the map using the phone’s GPS. The compass is also super helpful (north = Uptown, south = Downtown).

GETTING AROUND NYC

WALK: Hands down the best way to get around NYC. This way you’ll get to truly experience the city vibe and take it all in. You’ll miss so much in a taxi! Just make sure to check estimated walking time in Google Maps if you have to be somewhere at a certain time. First time visitors often underestimate distances as NYC is a lot bigger than it looks on maps.

RENT A BIKE: Renting a bike is also a great option for the warmer months. Learn more here.

TAXI & UBER: Although taking an iconic yellow taxi is a must fo first time visitors, it’s not the best way of getting around NYC in the long run. Costs add up quickly and I promise you’ll spend way too much precious time stuck in the notorious New York traffic. Uber might be a little cheaper.

SUBWAY: In addition to walking, the best way of getting around NYC is by using the subway. Not only is it the cheapest option, it’s also the fastest transportation by far (yaay no traffic!). Its also what the locals do.

Getting around NYC: walking & taking the subway. Greenwich Village.

HOW TO USE THE SUBWAY

The subway is the fastest and cheapest way to get around the city, and I highly encourage you to use it. The subway even operates 24/7! And most importantly: its what the locals do, so take notice. My quick guide on how to use the NYC subway:

1. GET A METROCARD

To use the NYC subway you need to purchase a MetroCard ($1). This can be done at subway station booths or vending machines. You can choose to add a dollar value of your choice to the MetroCard and pay for each ride ($2.75 each ride), or you can purchase an Unlimited Ride MetroCard at a fixed rate ($33 for 7 days or $127 for 30 days). I highly recommend the first one even if you’re not spending a full 7 days in NYC as you only need to use the subway or bus more than 11 times to save money on it. Trust me, you’ll be using it more than that.

Psst! Arriving at JFK? Get the 7-Day Unlimited MetroCard and add a $10 value to it once you get to the AirTrain. That covers your AirTrain tickets ($5 each way) plus 7 days unlimited use of the NYC subway and buses.

2. THE SUBWAY SYSTEM

Get familiar with what subway lines are the closest to your hotel/airbnb and get to know it a little by using a subway map. Download the NYC Subway app or Google Maps to plan your route from A to B in the beginning. After a few trips you’ll get the hang of it and probably won’t need an app or even a subway map.

THE SUBWAY TRAINS: Although the subway trains in NYC are color coded, Newyorkers refer to the different trains by their number or letter. Ex “I’ll take the one-train home”.

LOCAL VS EXPRESS: Each color category have local & express trains. While local trains stop at every stop along its path (the black dots), express trains only stop at a few major stops (the white dots).

FREE TRANSFERS: You often need to switch trains a few times to get from A to B. Once you get to a station where the two trains share a station, simply get off your train and follow the signs for your next one. Transfers like these are free.

GO THE RIGHT WAY: Make sure you take your train the right way. For subway rides in Manhattan the different directions are known as uptown (north) or downtown (south). Its no big deal if you go the wrong way though, just get off at the next stop and follow signs for the opposite direction.

USE THE CORRECT SUBWAY STATION ENTRANCE: At some stations it doesn’t matter what entrance you use – just swipe your MetroCard and let the signs lead you to the right train/direction. Other station entrances are more picky and only have ‘room’ for trains going in one direction. Those stations will be marked with an UPTOWN or a DOWNTOWN sign before entering, and are usually located across the street from each other.

3. OTHER TIPS

  • If one train is empty while others are full it’s empty for a reason. Follow the crowds. 
  • Odds are high that you’ll encounter mentally unstable people on the subway. Its very common and usually harmless, just avoid eye contact if you feel uncomfortable.
  • Ask locals for directions if you need help, most newyorkers will gladly take a moment to help.
  • Free WIFI is available at every subway station
nyc subway map

WHERE TO STAY IN NYC

The most important factor when choosing a hotel is location. NYC is huge and you do not want to waste too much precious time going back and forth to your hotel every day. Chances are you’ll be spending most of your time in Mid- & Lower Manhattan & west Brooklyn so pick a place that will get you there in 25 minutes or less. Look for hotels/airbnbs that are close to the subway, preferably several trains. Accommodation is often the most expensive part of a NYC trip and even hotels with low standards will cost a small fortune. The upside? It doesn’t matter as long as its clean, you’ll barely spend any time there. Here are some recommendations:

YES – DOWNTOWN MANHATTAN:

I always advice people to stay in Downtown Manhattan, especially first timers and people that are visiting for less than a week. Here you’ll find plenty of smaller neighborhoods within walking distance of each other and the entire area has a lot of character in general. You’ll have plenty of restaurants, bars, cafés and shopping possibilities. There are also a ton of subways here to get you where you want to go. My favorite neighborhoods are Soho, Nolita & Greenwich Village.

  • Walker Hotel Greenwich Village: Located in charming Greenwich Village & beautiful 1920s inspired decor
  • NoMo SoHo: Instagram friendliest hotel in Lower Manhattan. Inspired by Jean Cocteau’s movie “Beauty & The Beast” from 1946.
  • Nolitan Hotel SoHo: Lovely boutique hotel across the street from my old apartment. Looove the area.
  • Best Western Bowery Hanbee: My favorite budget option in this area. Superb location, breakfast included and super friendly staff.

YES – BROOKLYN:

Another great area to stay in is Brooklyn, particularly the western neighborhoods for first timers. That way you’ll be just a short subway ride from Manhattan without missing out on the fun. There is a lot of fun things to do in Brooklyn – great vintage shopping, the coolest bars and concert venues and unique restaurants. Brooklyn is perfect for anyone who wants a more authentic NYC experience. I can almost guarantee you’ll fall in love with this borough!

Psst! Airbnb’s are often cheaper than hotels. There are some great Airbnbs in Williamsburg, Bed-Stuy & Greenpoint. Here is a $54 discount if you’re new to Airbnb.

HELL NO – TIMES SQUARE:

I know, I know, Times Square sounds like the perfect place to stay in NYC. Its in the middle of everything, a ton of yellow taxis around and looks so cool in movies. Well, its all an illusion and you should never choose a hotel close to Times Square. You might think its great for like 15 minutes or even a full day. But the truth is it’s the least authentic place in the city and you’ll quickly get annoyed with the gazillion other tourists, vendors who wont take no for an answer and a lack of anything other than chain restaurants & stores.

… WHERE TO STAY INSTEAD: If you really have your heart set on Midtown I recommend choosing a hotel in Midtown West or in the Upper West Side. Neighborhoods in the southern part of Midtown are also be great, like Chelsea, Flatiron District or Gramercy Park. These areas are much nicer and more fun to stay in than Times Square.

  • The Watson Hotel: Lovely hotel in Midtown West. Close to Central Park and Lincoln Center.
  • Empire Hotel: Always wanted to stay at Chuch Bass’ Hotel on the Upper West Side? Here is your chance.
  • The High Line Hotel: Gorgeous interior, one minute from The High Line in Chelsea. Old and beautiful building.
  • New York EDITION: Classy hotel in the Flatiron District.

WHERE TO EAT IN NYC

With more than 10,000 NYC restaurants listed on TripAdvisor, picking where to eat & drink in NYC can be quite the task. I recommend beginners try a mix of casual spots, street food and nicer restaurants for the ultimate New York food experience. As you might have heard before, the best food in NYC doesn’t always come from the fanciest looking place, so keeping an open mind in general will enrich your NYC experience for sure. Here are some of my favorite spots:

Read more: My full guide on where to eat in NYC

FUN FOOD EXPERIENCES NOT TO MISS

  • Ellen’s Stardust Diner: A fun & quicky experience that can’t be missed! Enjoy true American diner food while aspiring Broadway stars entertain you. Ellen’s is the only reason I go back to Times Square to be honest, it is so much fun.
  • Bodega Negra: Classy mexican place with burlesque dancers on #locomondays. Gooo if you have the chance.
  • Smorgasburg: Experience the largest outdoor food market in America with 100 local vendors. Have fun walking around tasting many different foods & drinks
  • Caliente Cab: Fun mexican place in The Village. Great food & the biggest margaritas I’ve ever seen in my life.
  • Tipsy Scoop: Get tipsy eating ice cream.. The perfect fun time with your friends
  • Trailer Park Lounge: A fun restaurant that looks like a real life trailer park.
  • DŌ, Cookie Dough Confections: Hello fellow cookie dough lovers, visit this place. NOW.

THE BEST FOOD

INSTA-WORTHY SPOTS

  • Pietro Nolita: Instagram famous restaurant that is 100% pink (!)
  • The Butcher’s Daughter: For a healthy & delicious lunch or brunch. The best avocado toast
  • The Little Owl: Enjoy a tasty meal within the FRIENDS apartment building.
  • The Sugar Factory: Super cute American brasserie & candy shop in one!
  • Ladurée: For the ultimate french experience – macaroons & all
  • Boucherie: I’m not gonna lie. Food simply taste better in a picturesque environment. Definitely stop by.

ROOFTOP BARS WITH A VIEW

Magic Hour / Al Pastor Rooftop Bar / Refinery / Westlight / Gallow Green

A Beginner's Guide to New York City - Where to eat: The Butcher's Daughter

10 COMMON TOURIST MISTAKES TO AVOID IN NYC

  1. TAKING A TAXI EVERYWHERE: The subway is so much faster, and not to mention cheaper.
  2. PLANNING TOO MANY ACTIVITIES IN TOO MANY BOROUGHS ON THE SAME DAY: NYC is huge, plan your days accordingly. Don’t overstuff your days or plan activities in five different boroughs (or even neighbourhoods) on the same day, just getting from on place to another can take some time. Leave room for the unexpected and to just hang out and enjoy the city.
  3. WEARING NEW OR UNCOMFORTABLE SHOES: You’ll be walking a lot so wear good shoes. Bring an extra pair in your bag if you want to look extra nice for photos or an event.
  4. NOT MAKING RESERVATIONS: Make reservations if you have your heart set on a specific restaurant or you’ll risk not eating there at all.
  5. ACCEPTING ‘FREE’ STUFF FROM PEOPLE: Don’t accept any ‘free’ flowers, CDs or take photos with people in costumes – without expecting to pay money for it. This especially goes for the area around Times Square.
  6. FORGETTING TO TIP: Tipping is expected for all services in NYC. The amount depends on how good the service is of course, but a tip of at least 15-20% is the norm for most services like at restaurants & bars, salons, taxis or guides. Tip $2-5 per night for housekeeping in hotels.
  7. SPENDING ALL YOUR TIME IN MIDTOWN: Don’t spend all your time in Midtown, especially Times Square. Its fun to see for the first time but trust me, this place will annoy you after a while.. The city has so much more to offer. Visit a variety of more authentic Manhattan neighborhoods instead like Soho, Greenwich Village, Meatpacking & Nolita.
  8. DOING TOURISTY ACTIVITIES ON THE WEEKENDS: Try to avoid the most touristy areas & activities on the weekends and around major holidays because of crowds.
  9. SPENDING TIME & MONEY ON THE STATUE OF LIBERTY: Unless you’re extremely interested chances are you wont think its worth going to Liberty Island to see her – especially if you’re only in NYC for a couple of days. Instead you can see her from Battery Park or the free Staten Island Ferry. I can also recommend this boat trip if you’re into a more comfortable & luxurious way of sightseeing.
  10. OVERLOOKING THE OTHER FOUR BOROUGHS: NYC is so much more than just Manhattan. I’ve been to all boroughs several times but I personally love Brooklyn the most.. Can’t wait to explore more of Queens and The Bronx next time, though!
10 common tourist mistakes to avoid in NYC - Don't forget to visit Soho

16 ICONIC & LOCAL THINGS TO DO IN NYC

There is a thousand guides & itineraries telling you what to do in New York. I would never suggest an itinerary for anyone I don’t know personally, because there is simply too much to choose from. If you’e ever considered a NYC trip I’m pretty sure you’ve already got a few things you want to see, right? Create your own itinerary by prioritizing the things you want to do. I always recommend people to get a mix between touristy things & more authentic NYC experiences (things locals do). My best suggestions:

1. CHECK OUT CURRENT EVENTS

There is always a ton of fun things going on in New York City. Maybe there is an interesting TimeTalk happening while you’re in the city, a concert, or maybe a festival of some kind? I always check TimeOut New York‘s schedule before a NYC trip and I recommend you do the same so you don’t miss out on anything special.

2. EXPLORE CENTRAL PARK

A beautiful green lung in the concrete jungle that is New York City, Central Park offers a lot of wonderful nature and fun activities for you to enjoy in the middle of the city. As the park is huge (seriously huge) walking around the park looking for your dream landmarks can be confusing and may take a toll on your schedule, you should do some research before going.

Read more: Check out my full Central Park guide

3. SEE THE CITY FROM ABOVE

I still remember the butterflies I felt looking down on 5th Avenue from the Empire State Building on my first NY trip at 17 years old.. You never truly grasp the extent of the city’s size until you see it from the skies, so a first timers trip to NYC is not complete without that experience! The Empire State Building and The Top of the Rock are both great options for seeing the city from above and I’ve been to both several times. My favorite is definitely Top of the Rock – it gives you an amazing view of New York and the Empire State Building – better photo ops. I recommend going a while before sunset, that way you can enjoy the view in daylight, during the golden hour and when it gets dark – in one trip. You can also enjoy the view from one of NYC’s many rooftop restaurants. Save time & money and book in advance:

Skip-the-line tickets: Top of The Rock / Empire State Building

4. WALK ACROSS THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE

Brooklyn Bridge is nothing less than iconic and I have to cross the bridge by foot at least once whenever I’m in the city. The bridge is beautiful & you’ll get a great view of Manhattan while enjoying the walk. You can even see the Statue of Liberty in the distance. Just make sure you wear comfortable shoes and dress appropriately (weather wise, of course). The best timing to avoid the worst crowds and the harsh sun is early morning or at night.

5. LOOK FOR TREASURES & ANTIQUES

Either if you love flea markets as much as me or if you’re just looking for a unique NYC souvenir, you should go treasure hunting at one of New York City’s wonderful markets. The numerous vendors sell everything from vintage clothes & furniture to home made art and jewelry – and everything in between. Sometimes its like walking in an IRL Etsy Store. Don’t forget to bring cash.

Chelsea Flea Market: Every Saturday & Sunday (29 W. 25th St)
Brooklyn Flea Williamsburg: Saturdays in Williamsburg (51 N 6th St)
Brooklyn Flea DUMBO: Sundays under Manhattan Bridge (80 Pearl St)
Artists & Fleas: Open daily (locations in Soho & Chelsea), open Sat & Sun in Williamsburg

6. DUMBO SIGHTS

Once you get to Brooklyn you should check out the neighborhood known as DUMBO. Right between Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge you will find the most adorable park with the most amazing view of Lower Manhattan. Here you can check out Jane’s Carousel and Pebble beach for the coolest pics, or simply hang out by the shore. There are also lots of cool shops here. Head over to Washington Street to see the most instagrammed street in New York. And for a good reason – it really is a lovely spot.

7. VISIT HEAVEN FOR FOODIES – SMORGASBURG

If you’re in NYC during the weekend you should check out Smorgasburg in Brooklyn. Smorgasburg is the largest outdoor food market in America and there are as much as 100 local vendors at the market. It’s so much fun to walk around and tasting so many different foods & drinks. Smorgasburg is located in Williamsburg on Saturdays (90 Kent Ave) 11AM-6PM, and in Prospect Park on Sundays (Breeze Hill) 11AM-4PM.

8. GO TO A GAME

NYC is the home of some great sports teams so if you happen to be in the city at the right time you should definitely go to a game. My favorites are going to a Knicks or a Rangers game in Madison Square Garden, it is such a great experience! Find out what games you can go to here.

9. EXPERIENCE THE HIGH LINE

Fun fact: 8 times out of 10, I’ve seen completely naked people while walking The High Line. You see, this former-abandoned-train-rail-turned-park has the perfect view of the Standard Hotel, and a few of the visitors apparently seem to enjoy showing off in the huge windows of their hotel room. Regardless of if my fun fact made you want to visit The High Line more or less I still recommend you pay this unique and creative park a visit. After all, The High Line is so much more than a park. It’s a community where you can eat delicious food, enjoy art by local artists, watch a performance or sunbathe – all while taking a stroll through the gardens of the park.

10. PAY YOUR RESPECTS AT THE 9/11 MEMORIAL

Pay your respects at the 9/11 Memorial Site. It’s a sad & breathtaking experience that I advice everyone to do when in the city. Walking around the premises always gives me chills.. Especially whenever I pass an engraved name with a white rose on it – that means it’s their birthday. What a wonderful way to honor each individual victim. The memorial park is free but you have to purchase tickets if you want to visit the museum. One World Trade Center is right next to the 9/11 memorial if you want to head up to the observation deck while in the area.

Skip-the-line tickets: 9/11 Memorial & Museum / One World Observatory

11. CHECK OUT THE STARS AT HAYDEN PLANETARIUM

Dinosaurs and space stuff in one building? Count me in! The American Museum of Natural History is heaven for geeks like me and every time I’m in New York I have to pay it a visit. The first time I was there my friends and I got tickets for the Space Show in Hayden Planetarium and it BLEW. MY. MIND. If you’re even the slightest interested in learning about stars and space you should definitely see it, too.

Book Tickets: Here

12. SEE THE FLAT IRON BUILDING

Flat Iron building is one of those iconic New York landmarks everyone has seen. Growing up this used to be my ultimate favorite building in NYC and I still adore it, there is simply something unique about it. You should pop by whenever you’re in the area or combine a visit there with adorable Madison Square Park which is located right next to the building. Location: W23rd Street & 5th Avenue

13. EXPLORE GREENWICH VILLAGE

Greenwich Village is one my favorite neighborhood in Manhattan. You’ll find no skyscrapers and few chain stores in this part of town. Instead you’ll see loads of cute low rise buildings, cozy cafés and restaurants, cool bars, record stores and exclusive boutiques among these narrow streets. The area is frequently used in TV and movie productions and played a major part in the music industry and hippie movement of the 60s and 70s. Some of my favorite sights:

  • Visit charming Washington Square Park & MacDougal Street for the perfect hippie vibe. Head to Caffe Reggio for delicious coffee and Café Wha for a beer and a live performance.
  • Follow Bleecker St west & enjoy its mix of great restaurants, adorable gift shops and boutiques, vintage record stores and high end stores like Michael Kors and Burberry.
  • If you love the iconic 90s sitcom FRIENDS as much as I do you HAVE to check out Monica’s apartment at 90 Bedford Street
  • Fan of Sex and The City? At 66 Perry Street you can pretend to be Carrie as this is where the exterior shots were done. Magnolia Bakery is also super close (401 Bleecker St)

14. NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY & BRYANT PARK

The New York Public Library is a masterpiece of a building, inside & out, and totally worth a visit. You might also remember it from movies & TV shows like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Ghostbusters, Sex and The City & Gossip Girl. Right behind the library you’ll find Bryant Park which is a lovely place to sunbathe or to enjoy a picnic in the summer, and a wonderful Winter Village in the winter. Winter Village has a skating rink & a ton of vendors giving you the best Christmas feeling!

15. VISIT A WORLD CLASS ART MUSEUM

New York City is the home of some of the greatest art collections in the world. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of them – the possibilities here are endless if you’re interested in art. And if not? Well, at least let your inner Gossip Girl have a seat on the famous steps. Other popular art museums are Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), The Guggenheim and the Whitney Museum.

Skip-the-line tickets: The Met / MoMA / Guggenheim / Whitney Museum

16. HAVE A BLAST AT CONEY ISLAND

Tired of those skyscrapers already? Get your butt on the next subway to Coney Island. This peninsula has everything you need for a perfect day – a white sandy beach, a beautiful boardwalk, an amusement park and delicious food. Oh, and cold beer. Lots and lots of cold beer. If the weather allows it and you have the time it truly is a place I recommend for all visitors of NYC, especially for those of you who bring your children along. From Midtown Manhattan its approximately a 50 minute Subway ride away.

A Beginner's Guide to New York City - Coney Island

Psst! If you’re planning on visiting several NYC attractions you can save money with the New York City Explorer Pass. Definitely worth looking into!

WHERE TO SHOP IN NYC

5TH AVENUE: The most famous shopping street in the world. Here you find big chain stores like H&M and Zara, high end stores like Tiffany’s & Louis Vuitton, and iconic sights like St Patrick’s Cathedral & NYPL all-in-one.

MALLS: There are a ton of old & new malls & departments stores in the city.

SOHO: One of the most popular shopping areas in NYC.

  • Hit Broadway for reasonable chains like TopShop, Victoria’s Secret, Urban Outfitters & Forever 21.
  • Go west (or east into Nolita) to find more exclusive stores & independent boutiques.

EAST VILLAGE: Fun, weird or eccentric shops. St Marks Place is a street worth a visit.

WILLIAMSBURG: Hipster’s paradise & heaven for vintage shoppers.

GREENWICH VILLAGE: A fun mix of tiny exclusive boutiques, high end stores & laid back shops and record stores. Check out Bleecker St & 14th St.

  • Weirdest and coolest shop: The Evolution Store (where you can even buy a real human skeleton)
  • Record stores: Village Music World / House of Oldies / Generation Records
  • Best high end vintage shop: Screaming Mimis Vintage
A Beginner's Guide to New York City - Shopping in Soho

NEW YORK CITY ON A BUDGET

New York City is expensive but completely doable on a budget, I’ve managed to visit NYC on a strict student budget many times. Its all a matter of prioritizing as you can find restaurants & activities in all price ranges. For starters you can save a ton of money on using public transportation, so go buy that MetroCard. Other budget tips:

1. SAVE ON ACCOMMODATION

Accommodation is easily the most expensive part of a NYC trip. Its hard to work around but if you start looking early your chances of finding a good deal is better. Although I recommend people to find a place to stay in lower Manhattan it can often be cheaper to stay in northern neighborhoods like Harlem, Hamilton Heights or Washington Heights. Astoria in Queens is also reasonable, and several neighborhoods in Brooklyn like Bed-Stuy, Bushwick & Greenpoint.

  • BUDGET HOTEL: Best Western Bowery Hanbee is my favorite budget hotel in Manhattan. Superb location & super friendly staff. Breakfast is included which saves you one meal a day.
  • AIRBNB: Airbnb’s are often cheaper than hotels. There are some great Airbnbs in Williamsburg, Bed-Stuy & Greenpoint. Here is a $54 discount if you’re new to Airbnb.

2. SAVE ON FOOD

Although you’ll find some of the worlds most expensive restaurants in this city, New York also offers a ton of cheap eats. In general you should stay out of the most touristy places as they tend to be overpriced. Avoid getting your coffee from overpriced chains like Starbucks. Take advantage of the fact that NYC is filled with cheap & filling meals like hot dogs, bagels and $1 pizza slices.

3. SAVE ON ACTIVITIES

There are a ton of free & budget friendly things to do in New York City:

  • Visiting Central Park, The High Line & other parks is totally free
  • The Staten Island Ferry gives you a view of the Statue of Liberty for free
  • Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge & explore DUMBO for free
  • Checking out iconic building like the New York City Public Library & the Flat Iron building is completely free
  • The subway can get you to a white sandy beach for just $2.75 – head to Coney Island on a sunny day.
  • Although visiting the 9/11 Memorial Park is free, the museum is not. Except 5-8 pm on Tuesdays.
  • Brooklyn Botanical Garden is free Tuesdays, New York Botanical Garden is free Wednesdays
  • MoMA is free 4-8 pm Fridays
  • Visit a rooftop restaurant instead of paying for tickets to the Empire State Building or Top of The Rock.
  • More museums & activities that have free days
A Beginner's Guide to New York City - Greenwich Village

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I hope my detailed beginner’s guide to New York City is helpful for any “NYC virgins” out there. Have fun & enjoy the greatest city in the world!

Tina
Tina

Hi, I’m Tina! The chubby fingers behind this travel blog are attached to my body, so I guess that makes me a travel blogger? I enjoy exploring the corners of the world as often as I can, including my own ‘backyard’ in arctic Norway. And I hope you’ll join me on my adventures.

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links.


31 Comments

  1. September 28, 2019 / 5:15 pm

    This is such a detailed guide, super helpful for first timers! I love how you put a little map to help navigate with the neighbourhoods! It’s always good to remind us of the free things to do to save some money in really expensive cities.

    • Tina
      Author
      September 28, 2019 / 8:17 pm

      Thank you, glad you liked it ☺️😄

  2. Caroline @ Pack The Suitcases
    September 28, 2019 / 9:43 pm

    I love how you’ve written this. Loads of useful information and stuff like photogenic spots, really handy! I like your photography too.

    • Tina
      Author
      September 30, 2019 / 4:20 am

      Awe thank you so much! Most of the photos in this guide were actually taken with an iPhone as my DSLR was too heavy for me to carry around during the summer heat 😅

  3. September 29, 2019 / 7:23 am

    Thank you for the amazingly comprehensive overview of NYC! I’ve been lucky enough to visit once in the past but I hope to return in the next couple of years if possible and this guide will be hugely helpful!

    Hannah | https://getlost.blog/

    • Tina
      Author
      September 30, 2019 / 4:21 am

      Thanks, glad it can be helpful 😄 NYC is always great to revisit 😍

  4. September 29, 2019 / 7:25 am

    Thank you for this amazingly comprehensive guide to NYC! I’ve been lucky enough to visit once before but I hope to return, possibly in the next couple of years so I’ll definitely be returning to your post for advice!

    Hannah | https://getlost.blog/

  5. September 29, 2019 / 11:19 am

    This is such an epic guide to NYC! You’ve covered absolutely everything. I love Ellen’s Stardust Diner too. I now need to come back and try the rest of your recommendations 🙂

    • Tina
      Author
      September 30, 2019 / 4:22 am

      Thank you, Sophie! Ellen’s is the best, it is so much fun and unlike any other restaurant 😄😄

  6. September 29, 2019 / 12:48 pm

    What a comprehensive guide to New York City for the people going to NYC for the first time! I lived there for several years and one trick I found out that really helped me navigate the city: Almost every exit from the subway includes not only the cross streets where you’ll exit but also WHERE on that intersection you’ll exit to. So if you learn north/south/east/west, you’ll be able to visualize exactly where you are when you get out of the subway – so you know what direction to walk when you get out! It’ll save you from walking in the wrong direction. 🙂

    • Tina
      Author
      September 30, 2019 / 4:30 am

      Thanks! Ohh yeah, I love that trick too! Thanks for reminding me 😄 maybe I should include it in the guide? ☺️

  7. September 29, 2019 / 7:59 pm

    So many good tips! I’ve only been to New York City for layovers (1 – 2 days at a time). There are so many things on this list that I still want to see. Definitely saving this for next time I go!

    • Tina
      Author
      September 30, 2019 / 4:25 am

      Thanks! I hope you get a few extra days on your next trip 😍 there is so much to see

    • Tina
      Author
      October 1, 2019 / 6:14 am

      Thats great, good luck on your big move 😄😄

  8. October 1, 2019 / 4:41 am

    What a great guide. I’ve been to NYC numerous times (and am already counting down the days until my next visit…. just 150 to go). But even for me this had some new recommendations.
    Can’t wait to see the Vessel, that wasn’t yet finished last time I visited.
    Food markets are great. Unfortunately I haven’t been to Smorgasburg yet (but it’s been on the list for a while), but I can also recommend the Dekalb Market Hall for foodies. With the added benefit of that one being indoors (if the weather is a bit shite)

    • Tina
      Author
      October 3, 2019 / 2:07 am

      Thank you Sarah! There is always something new to discover in NYC, one of the many reasons I love that place so much😄 Ooh I’ll have to check out Dekalb Market Hall next time, thanks for the great tip!

      I hope those 150 days go fast 🗽☺️

  9. October 2, 2019 / 10:28 am

    Wow wow wow! This is such a detailed guide and absolutely perfect for first time visitors to NYC. I’ve already been once but I wish I’d seen this before – we definitely spent far too much time in Manhattan; but not Times Square (we hated that part!) I’m sure there will be a next time for us though so I’m keeping note of this. My mum is also supposed to be going there soon too so I’ll send this to her 🙂

    • Tina
      Author
      October 3, 2019 / 1:56 am

      Thank you, Justine, glad to hear it ☺️Hope your mom has the best time in NYC!

  10. October 2, 2019 / 10:38 am

    This is a dream!! Currently planning on returning to NY but haven’t been since I was 15 so have no memory of getting from A to B or anything other than its beauty!! Loved this and it has been a a massive help!!

    • Tina
      Author
      October 3, 2019 / 1:57 am

      Thank you Ashleigh! Hope you get to go back asap 😄

  11. October 2, 2019 / 1:51 pm

    Love this beginners guide! New York is an amazing city and I can’t wait to go back one day 😀

    • Tina
      Author
      October 3, 2019 / 1:58 am

      Thanks Brenda! I agree, NYC is amazing 😍

  12. October 2, 2019 / 2:13 pm

    This is an amazingly thorough guide! I definitely agree with you about using the subway. It’s my favorite way to get around when it’s too far to walk.

    • Tina
      Author
      October 3, 2019 / 1:59 am

      Right?? The subway is such a great way to get around ☺️

  13. October 2, 2019 / 9:01 pm

    I was interested to read you did not recommend to waste time on actually going to see the Statute of Liberty. I am making note of your tips for future reference. I hope to take my son to New York City!

    • Tina
      Author
      October 3, 2019 / 2:01 am

      Yeah, I’ve actually done it twice: the first time I was in the city, and once more a few later with some friends who wanted to go. Its nothing wrong about going, its just super time consuming and exhausting 😅

  14. October 2, 2019 / 10:40 pm

    Wow what a comprehensive post! The perfect guide on NYC packed with everything you could possibly need. Thanks!

    • Tina
      Author
      October 3, 2019 / 2:01 am

      Awe thank you so much ☺️🥰

  15. Rahma Khan
    October 3, 2019 / 8:00 am

    Thank you so much for sharing such a detailed and informative guide. It truly contains all the information anyone would want to know about NYC. I loved your photographs too! Great job!

    • Tina
      Author
      October 3, 2019 / 10:32 am

      Thank you so much☺️

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