A Beginner’s Guide To New York City

Visiting New York for the first time is an incredible experience - The Empire State Building is simply stunning.

Visiting New York City for the first time? Here’s all you need to know.

Visiting New York for the first time can be overwhelming. After all, it is considered to be one of the most epic cities on earth, and everywhere you look you’ll find an unlimited number of suggestions on what to see, eat and do on your first time visit to NYC. So, what makes this blog post any different?

Well, for one, I’ve been in your shoes. After obsessing over NYC my entire childhood, at 17 I finally got to visit NYC for the first time. I had the advantage of staying with a local, who gave me unique tips and taught me practical skills like how to navigate and get around. My trip was so AMAZING that I kept going back whenever I could, and I even moved there to attend college.

With each visit I absorbed everything I possibly could about the city, learning something new every time. And although I’m very aware of the fact that I’m not a newyorker (a girl can dream), I do have a ton of helpful tips that can make your first time to New York so much easier. So for everyone out there who finds New York City overwhelming: Stay tuned. Here comes my best NYC tips!

Last updated: July 2023

Table Of Contents

  1. When Is The Best Time Of Year To Visit NYC?
  2. How To Navigate NYC Like A Local
  3. The Best Place To Stay In NYC For First Time Visitors
  4. Iconic Things To Do Your First Time In New York
  5. How To Get From The Airport To Your Accommodation
  6. First Time In NYC: The Best Way To Get Around
  7. How To Use The Subway In New York City
  8. The Best Places To Eat In New York City
  9. First Time In NYC: Where To Shop
  10. How To Experience NYC On A Budget
  11. What Not To Do Your First Time In NYC

Related Posts

This post contains affiliate links

When Is The Best Time of Year To Visit NYC?

NYC is an amazing destination all year round, and every season has its pros and cons. The best time of year to visit New York really comes down to what kind of experience you want for your first time visiting NYC. Here are some thoughts to consider for deciding when to go:

New York In Spring or Fall

I personally think the city is at its most beautiful during blooming season in spring, and during the stunning fall foliage. During spring and fall, the temperature is also comfortable, which is perfect for spending long hours outside exploring, and there aren’t as many tourists and crowds as during the summer. April, May, late September, October and early November are my favorite months to visit New York City.

New York In Summer and Winter

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 to explore comfortably, and the crowds are insane. I mean, there’s a reason why the locals flee the scene in summer if they can.

New York During Various Holidays

If you want to experience NYC craziness at its best you should visit around a holiday or big celebrations, like St Patricks Day, 4th of July, 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 myself. Experiencing New York covered in Christmas decor is also a unique experience!

A lot of people find it overwhelming getting around their first time visiting NYC, but I swear its actually pretty straight forward! Not to mention a lot easier than other big cities around the world.

New York City’s boroughs

The first thing you should know is that New York City consist of 5 boroughs – Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Staten Island. All five boroughs are further divided into smaller neighborhoods, such as Williamsburg in Brooklyn or Soho in Manhattan.

As the most popular New York sights are located in the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn, odds are many of you will probably focus on those your first time visiting NYC, especially if your time in the city is limited. That being said, all boroughs have a lot to offer, and I highly urge you to explore all five whenever you get the chance.

New York City’s neighborhoods

Many of NYC’s neighborhoods have odd names, like Soho, Fidi or Tribeca. Although it may be confusing at first, the names are actually abbreviations of their geographical location in the city! For instance, Soho means “south of Houston street” and FiDi means “Financial District”. I swear, after a little practice it will make complete sense, and you’ll find it easy to navigate in the city!

Manhattan’s grid pattern makes it easy to get around

Manhattan is arguably the easiest borough to navigate in NYC. This is largely due to the fact that most of Manhattan is laid out in a grid pattern that consists of so-called streets and avenues:

  • Manhattan’s streets are horizontal, running from east to west. Most streets are numbered and the lower the number, the more southern the street is located (Ex: 110th St is located north of 4th St). Streets south of 1st Street however have lettered names like Houston St, Prince St or Spring St.
  • Manhattan’s avenues are vertical and run from north to south, 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, the island of Manhattan narrows in, and the avenues ‘fade’ into street names like Mercer St or Mulberry St.
  • 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.

East vs West

5th avenue divides Manhattan into east and west. So if a cafe is located at W38th St, you know its on 38th street and somewhere west of 5th avenue. The opposite goes for addresses marked with an E for east. However, newyorkers don’t necessarily use the official address when they’re headed somewhere.

Tip: With NYC streets being very long, it often doesn’t make sense telling the friend you’re meeting up with that you’re located at 250 W14th St. That only says you’re somewhere on the west side of 14th St. Instead, mention the cross street! When phrasing your location like “I’m at 14th street and 8th avenue” your friend will know exactly where you are.

Uptown vs Downtown

The borough of Manhattan can also be divided into sections known as Uptown, Midtown and Downtown. This is helpful to know when navigating NYC in general, particularly when using public transportation as the words uptown or downtown tell you which direction a subway train or bus is headed.

  • Uptown: The northern part of Manhattan. Specifically the area above 59th street (think Central Park and above).
  • Downtown: The southern part of Manhattan. Specifically the area below 14th street.
  • Midtown: The mid part of Manhattan, between 14th St and 59th St.
The Manhattan Grid - makes it easy to get around NYC for first timers

The Best Place To Stay In NYC For First Time Visitors 

When visiting NYC for the first time, deciding where to stay is one of the most important choices you’ll make. Of course, you’ll have an amazing time in New York regardless of your choice of accommodation, but taking an informed decision can help make that amazing first trip to NYC even better. 

Why location is the most important factor

The most important factor when choosing a hotel is location. NYC is huge, and trust me, you do not want to waste too much time going back and forth to your hotel every day. Look for accommodation that are close to the subway, preferably several trains. Accommodation is often the most expensive part of a NYC trip and even tiny hotel rooms 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.

Best place to stay in NYC: 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. 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 and West 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”.
  • Nolitan Hotel SoHo: Lovely boutique hotel across the street from my old apartment. Looove the area.

Best place to stay in NYC: Brooklyn

Another great area to stay in is Brooklyn, particularly the western neighborhoods for first timers. There is a ton of fun things to do in Brooklyn, including 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!

Where not to stay in NYC: Times Square

I know, I know, Times Square sounds like the perfect place to stay when visiting New York for the first time. Its in the middle of everything, a ton of yellow taxis around and looks so cool in movies. Well, its all an illusion. 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, authentic, and more fun to stay in than Times Square.

  • New York EDITION: Classy hotel in the Flatiron District.
  • Empire Hotel: Fellow Gossip Girl fan? Try staying at Chuck Bass’ hotel on the Upper West Side.
  • Selina Chelsea: Modern and fun vibes, and a great location close to the High Line.
  • The Evelyn Nomad: Enjoy the classy Art Nouveau-styled decor in a much nicer part of Midtown.

Iconic Things To Do Your First Time In New York

Choosing what to do when visiting New York for the first time can be tricky – there is so much to choose from! Create your own itinerary by prioritizing the things you want to do. I always urge people to get a mix between touristy activities and more authentic NYC experiences (the kind of things locals do). If you’re planning on visiting several NYC attractions you may save some money getting the Go City Explorer Pass. Some of my best tips on things to do your first time in NYC:

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 calendar before a NYC trip and I recommend you do the same so you don’t miss out on anything special.

2. 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. The best timing to avoid the worst crowds and the harsh sun is early morning or at night.

3. See NYC from above

You never truly grasp the extent of the city’s size until you see it from the skies, so a first time visit to NYC is not complete without that experience. Book tickets in advance and visit classic spots like The Empire State Building, The Top of the Rock (my fave) or One World Observatory, or check out New York’s newest and highest observation deck, Edge. You can also make your trip extra special by booking a helicopter ride, or get a less touristy experience by enjoying the view from one of NYC’s many rooftop restaurants (more on that later).

4. Explore Wonderful Central Park

Exploring Central Park is a must when visiting NYC for the first time. 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 may take a toll on your schedule, so check out my Central Park map & guide for the best tips!

Read: My Central Park Map & Guide

5. Catch a game

New York City is the home of some epic teams in sports like basketball, hockey and baseball. If you happen to be in the city at the right time, you should definitely considering going to a game. It is such a fun experience to see the Knicks or the Rangers go at it in world known Madison Square Garden, while enjoying a beer and some pretzels. Find out what games you can go to here.

6. Discover DUMBO in Brooklyn

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.

7. Look for treasures at NYC’s markets

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: Saturday + Sunday year round (29 W. 25th St)
Brooklyn Flea DUMBO: Saturdays + Sundays, April-December (80 Pearl St)
Artists & Fleas: Open daily (locations in Soho & Chelsea), open Sat & Sun in Williamsburg

8. Walk The High Line

The High Line is a formerly abandoned train rail turned into a creative and truly unique park. This spot is a popular one among both locals and tourists for a reason, and I highly recommend those visiting NYC for the first time to pop by. After all, The High Line is so much more than a park. It’s more like a community where you can eat delicious food, enjoy art by local artists, watch a performance, or sunbathe – all while taking a stroll.

9. Visit the largest outdoor food market in America

If you’re in New York City during the weekend you should check out Smorgasburg, the largest outdoor food market in America. There are as much as 100 local vendors at the market, and it is so much fun walking around looking at so many different foods and drinks – not to mention tasting them! Smorgasburg has several locations in New York City, read more here.

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. 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.

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

11. See the stars at Hayden Planetarium

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. Dinosaurs and space stuff in one building? Count me in! If you’re even the slightest interested in learning about stars and space you should see the space show in Hayden Planetarium, it is SO COOL. Remember to book a ticket that includes general admission + one special exhibit.

Book Tickets: Here

12. Visit NYC’s impressive art museums

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 Met steps. Other popular art museums are Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), The Guggenheim and the Whitney Museum. Make sure you book tickets in advance to avoid the worst lines.

13. Pop by New York Public Library and Bryant Park

The New York Public Library is a masterpiece of a building, inside and out, and totally worth a visit. You might also remember it from movies and TV shows like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Ghostbusters, Sex and The City and 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 and a ton of vendors giving you the best Christmas feeling!

14. Have fun 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 those of you traveling with children. From Midtown its approximately a 50 minute Subway ride away.

15. Explore charming 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)

How To Get From The Airport To Your Accommodation

When visiting New York for the first time, it can helpful to know that the city is served by three major airports. JFK and La Guardia are located in the borough of Queens in New York City, state of New York, while Newark Airport is located in Newark in the state of New Jersey. Each airport offer plenty of ways that will get you safely to your hotel or other accommodation.

Taking a taxi or Uber/Lyft from the NYC airports

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 $60-$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, plus tolls and 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.

Using public transportation from the NYC airports

Public transportation is usually the best way to get from the airport to pretty much everywhere in 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 Newark AirTrain. The AirTrain connects to the NJ Transit and other trains, and will get you to New York Penn Station in approximately 30 minutes. Read more here.
  • FROM JFK: The fastest and cheapest way to get to NYC from JFK is by using the JFK AirTrain. Take it to either Howard Beach Station or Jamaica Station, which connects to the NYC subway system. Read more here.
  • FROM LA GUARDIA: LaGuardia offers a bus service from all terminals that connects with the NYC subway. Read more here.

First Time In NYC: The Best Way To Get Around

You have plenty of options when it comes to getting around New York City, like walking, taking a taxi or use the subway. However, some are clearly better choices than others, especially for those visiting NYC for the first time:

Walking around New York City

Walking is, hands down, the best way to get around NYC. This way you’ll get to truly experience the city’s vibes and take it all in. Just make sure to check estimated walking time in Google Maps if you have to be somewhere at a certain time, like if you have tickets to see a show. People visiting NYC for the first time often underestimate distances as the city is a lot bigger than it appears on a map.

Taking the subway in NYC

Sharing first place with walking, the best way of getting around New York is by taking the subway. Not only is it the cheapest option, it’s also the fastest transportation by far. Especially if you’re traveling great distances, like across boroughs. Taking the subway is newyorkers preferred means of transportation too, which says a lot. (Psst! Get tips on how to use the NYC subway below).

Renting a bike in NYC

Renting a bike in New York is also a great option for the warmer months. It lets you to take in the city vibes like when you walk, all while being less time consuming. Its always been a popular choice among active locals, but these days its also gaining popularity among tourists. Learn more here.

Taking a taxi or Uber/Lyft around NYC

Although taking an iconic yellow taxi is a must for first time visitors, it’s not the best way of getting around NYC in the long run. Uber/Lyft might be a little cheaper, but the costs add up quickly and I promise you’ll spend way too much precious time stuck in the notorious New York traffic. I try to only grab a taxi in NYC if my feet hurt like hell or if I’m suuuper tired late at night. Whatever you do, do not take a taxi during peak hours.

How To Use The Subway In New York City

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, 365 days a year. Here is a quick guide on how to use the NYC subway:

Get A Metrocard

One way to use the NYC subway is by purchasing a MetroCard. 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). Even if you’re not spending a full 7 days in NYC, I still recommend getting an Unlimited Ride MetroCard, as you only need to use the subway or bus 12 times to save money on it.

You Can Also Tap To Ride!

You can also use your contactless credit or debit card, smartphone, or wearable device to pay for rides on the NYC subway. This way, you won’t have to worry about potentially losing your MetroCard. They even have a fare capping matching the 7-day Unlimited Ride MetroCard – once you’ve paid $33 (12 trips), you’ll automatically receive free unlimited rides the rest of that week. The only downside? The seven-day period begins at 12 a.m. on Monday and ends at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday. Read more here.

Get To Know 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. Things worth noting:

  • THE SUBWAY TRAINS ARE NUMBERED OR LETTERED: 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.
  • STAY CLEAR OF EMPTY TRAINS: If one train is empty while others are full it’s empty for a reason. Follow the crowds. 
nyc subway map

The Best Places To Eat In New York City

With more than 10,000 NYC restaurants listed on TripAdvisor, picking places to eat in NYC can be quite the task. For those visiting New York for the first time, I always recommend trying 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 experience, too.

Read: My best tips on where to eat in New York

First Time In NYC: Where To Shop

New York City if famous for its endless shopping opportunities, and there really is something for every personality and wallet size out there. Here is my quick guide on where to shop in NYC:

Shopping along 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 & New York Public Library all-in-one.

Shopping at NYC’s malls and department stores

  • Brookfield Place: A great selection of shops, services, events and places to eat located right next to the 9/11 Memorial.
  • Hudson Yards: A pretty new mall near Hell’s Kitchen with a ton of shops, plus the insta-famous construction The Vessel
  • Westfield World Trade Center: Elegant mall inside The Oculus by the 9/11 Memorial.
  • Chelsea Market: Half market, half mall with lots of great shopping opportunities & places to eat
  • Seaport District: Not a traditional mall, but a charming shopping area Downtown with lots of unique shops
  • The Shops at Columbus Circle: 50+ shops and boutiques located by Columbus Circle, in the southwest corner of Central Park.

Shopping in East Village

Great for fun, weird or eccentric shops. St Marks Place is a street worth a visit and a great place to start.

Shopping in Williamsburg

Hipster’s paradise and heaven for vintage shoppers.

Shopping in 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

Shopping in Soho

One of the most popular shopping areas in NYC. Hit Broadway for reasonable chains like TopShop, Victoria’s Secret, Urban Outfitters, Levi’s and Forever 21. Go west, or east into Nolita, to find more exclusive stores & independent boutiques. West Broadway is stunning.

How To Experience NYC 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.

How to save on accommodation in NYC

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 and Greenpoint.

How to save on transportation in NYC

Walking and public transportation is the best ways to get around New York City. The NYC subway is an absolute gold mine – its both the cheapest and the fastest transportation, so just get that MetroCard. Uber, taxis and other car services are great options to turn to once in a while, but it all adds up quickly.

How to save on food in NYC

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 and filling meals like hot dogs, bagels and $1 pizza slices.

How to save on activities in NYC

Although it can be tempting, you don’t have to spend a lot of money on activities to have an incredible trip to New York. Purchase tickets for a small selection of museums, activities or sights you don’t want to miss out on, and fill the rest of your itinerary with budget friendly or free activities. New York has a ton of them!

Free things to do in New York City

  • Visiting Central Park, The High Line & other parks is free
  • The Staten Island Ferry gives you a view of the Statue of Liberty for free
  • Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and explore DUMBO for free
  • Checking out iconic building like the New York City Public Library & 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.
  • Visiting the 9/11 Memorial Park is free. Museum entry is also free on Tuesdays, 5-8 pm.
  • 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

What Not To Do Your First Time In NYC

Here are ten common tourist mistakes to avoid when visiting New York for the first time. No judgment, I’ve done them all.

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 MANHATTAN: 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. 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!

9. DOING TOURISTY ACTIVITIES ON THE WEEKENDS: Try to avoid the most touristy areas & activities on the weekends and around major holidays because of extreme crowds.

10. 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.

Like It? Pin & Save It For Later

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!


Some of the links in this post are affiliate links.


  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
      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
      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
      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
      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
      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
      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
      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
      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
      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
      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
      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
      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
      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
      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
      October 3, 2019 / 10:32 am

      Thank you so much☺️

  16. December 7, 2019 / 4:02 pm

    Your budget tips are so handy. The first time I went I spent way too much, I learned after that. The cheap eats are so good too. Great guide!

    • Tina
      December 7, 2019 / 4:20 pm

      Same here 😂 thank you so much 🧡

  17. Michelle
    December 7, 2019 / 4:19 pm

    This is such a detailed guide. NYC can be a little overwhelming for the first time visitor, but your post helps to alleviate that anxiety. I love how you have included money saving tips as well as New York can be expensive. 🙂

    • Tina
      December 7, 2019 / 4:53 pm

      Awe thank you so much Michelle 😄☺️

  18. December 8, 2019 / 4:30 pm

    Such lovely photos. I have not been to NYC but hoping to go and this guide is great for this.

    • Tina
      December 8, 2019 / 8:25 pm

      Awe thank you so much, hope you get to use the tips in the future 😊

  19. December 8, 2019 / 7:52 pm

    Such a complete guide to NY. I loved it. Deff saving this one for my trip to NY!

    • Tina
      December 8, 2019 / 8:26 pm

      Thank you for reading 😍

  20. January 16, 2020 / 4:14 pm

    This is one of the most comprehensive NYC overviews I’ve ever read! Thank you so much this will be so helpful when planning my next trip. One question – I remember a while ago hearing a news story that a law may be passed to ban/limit AirBNBs in New York. Do you know if anything ever came of that? I’m always so nervous to book AirBNBs because I’m always worried the people renting it are doing it illegally/without their landlords approval and that it might end up screwing me over!

    • Tina
      January 16, 2020 / 6:58 pm

      Thank you so much, Shannon! Yes I’ve heard a lot about that law myself, and I actually considered including it in my post.. But its hard to grasp exactly what is legal and what is not at the moment. This is the status quo according to some sources:

      «It’s illegal for New Yorkers who live in buildings with three or more residential units to rent their apartments out for less than 30 days, unless the owner or leaseholder is present during the stay.»

      So if you’re renting an entire apartment in NY it can become an issue, but if you just rent a room you should be fine either way 😊

  21. Odette
    February 29, 2020 / 10:12 am

    Oh my, this post just takes me back to NYC! I visited the city back in 2015 and have been wanting to go back ever since. Just wished I had this guide back then, would have made my time there a whole lot easier!

    • Tina
      February 29, 2020 / 11:25 am

      Awe thank you so much!🥰 NYC can be super confusing in the beginning!

  22. February 29, 2020 / 2:08 pm

    Oh I wish I could have read your post before I visited New York! It’s such an amazing city and seeing your photos from there make me wanna go back so badly 🙂

    • Tina
      February 29, 2020 / 2:36 pm

      Baaah I know what you mean, I’m daydreaming about going back myself 😭

  23. March 1, 2020 / 8:19 am

    Love your recommendations! Especially your food recommendations. Always amazing.

    • Tina
      March 1, 2020 / 10:10 am

      Thank youu <3

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.