Tips for getting the best out of a trip to New York City

There’s so much to see in the Big Apple so making sense of it all as a first time visitor can be daunting.  Here’s what I’ve learned:

Use the subway

Getting around in New York’s traffic can be hell so why waste your precious time sitting in traffic?  Instead take the subway.  A one week MetroCard costs $30 plus a $1 fee to buy the card.  Tip: save your card and take it with you on your next holiday – the card is reusable.  Standard fare per journey is $2.75 so you don’t have to use it much over a week to get your money’s worth.  Check out the MTA tourist’s guide here: http://web.mta.info/metrocard/tourism/index.html.

Essex Street subway station

Essex Street subway station

Both JFK and Newark airports, serving UK carriers, are located out of Manhattan – JFK is out in Queens and Newark is over in New Jersey.  Both take a similar amount of time to reach.  If you are offered a coach or shuttle connection to the airport as part of a package, think carefully as to whether to take it – journey times are often double that of the subway or Long Island Rail Road, especially at rush hour.  Note that if you take the subway or LIRR to JFK you’ll need to connect to the AirTrain which requires an extra ticket (a $5 fare).  In the city, look to see whether you can take an express train; for longer journeys (e.g. Upper West Side to Battery Park) these can be considerably quicker.  But at busy periods, you might have a better chance of getting a seat (or even getting on!) if you take the local.  Print off a map from http://web.mta.info/maps/submap.html or download a free app so that you can ensure you don’t go whizzing past your stop.

See NYC’s museums and attractions free of charge

Time your visit right and you could save a ton of money.  Many of New York’s premier attractions offer free entry at particular times of the week, so before you consider buying a tourist pass, work out which attractions you want to visit and when you can see them for nothing.  For example, up in the Bronx, the Zoo offers free entry on a Wednesday, though some exhibits charge an additional fee, such as the excellent Congo Gorilla Forest.

Bears playing in the Bronx Zoo

Bears playing in the Bronx Zoo

The nearby Botanical Gardens offers free entry on the same day, so combining the two makes sense.  The city’s top museums are also free some of the time – try the 9/11 Memorial and Museum on Tuesdays after 5pm (reservations recommended) and the Museum of Modern Art between 4 and 8pm every Friday.  For a fuller list, check out http://www.nycgo.com/articles/free-nyc-museums and double check things haven’t changed just prior to your visit.

Go local and eat at a food cart

Some of the best food in New York can be found at the city’s food trucks.  Famous burger chain Shake Shack started from a cart in Madison Square Park back in 2000.

Shake Shack, near the Brooklyn Bridge

Shake Shack, near the Brooklyn Bridge

No matter what your favourite type of food, there’s a truck to suit.  Try Calexico, a Cal-Mex eatery with a range of restaurant locations and carts scattered across lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, including the Flat Iron and SoHo.  Schnitzel and Things brings an American twist to German food and again shifts from place to place; follow them at http://www.schnitzelandthings.com/ to find out whether they’ll be near you.  If you’d rather try something from the US, then I have a couple of recommendations.  Shorty’s on Wheels is the mobile offering from Philly cheesesteak provider Shorty’s – check out its website http://www.shortysnyc.com/truck-schedule.php for the week’s locations as the vehicle moves on a daily basis.  Luke’s Lobster have a number of restaurants scattered across the city bringing a taste of New England (think clam chowder, crab and lobster rolls) but they go mobile via the Nauti Mobile.  Find them here: http://lukeslobster.com/nauti and check out their scrumptious menu.

Get off Manhattan

There’s so much to do and see that it is tempting to limit yourself to Manhattan, but that would be a pity.  On a summer’s weekend, there are few places better than Governor’s Island.  Take the ferry from southern Manhattan, rent a bicycle and enjoy fabulous views of the New York skyline from two wheels without having to worry about traffic.  Over in Brooklyn, the neighbourhood of Williamsburg contains a clutch of great shops (and eateries) centred on Bedford Avenue including the Goorin Bros. hat shop, the Bedford Cheese Shop and the delightful Red Pearl, a boutique selling clothes, jewellery and gifts: http://shop.redpearlbrooklyn.com/.  If you have enough time to venture further afield, take a Metro North train out of Grand Central and visit the quaint town of Rye or, a little further on, Old Greenwich, one of Connecticut’s prettiest little towns and home to the Sweet Pea’s Baking Company: http://sweetpeasct.com/.

Sweet Pea's Baking Co, Old Greenwich

Sweet Pea’s Baking Co, Old Greenwich

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