New York is one of the greatest cities in the world, if not the greatest. If you’ve never been there, make a point to visit. The city can be intimidating if you’re unsure about what to do or where to go. Even getting around may seem confusing if you’re unsure of the layout or modes of transportation. Medicareful Travel is here to help.
Unlike our previous travel guides, our guide on New York will be more of a cheat sheet so you can feel comfortable and confident during your visit. If you can do that, there is so much to do and see and eat in New York that the city will handle the rest!
Making your way through New York can be confusing if you don’t know the system. Once you’ve figured it out, though, it’s very easy to find where you need to go.
New York is a very walkable city; Manhattan, specifically, is laid out in a grid system. This makes finding your way very easy. Avenues run north and south, and streets run east and west. As you move east to west, the avenue numbers ascend, with Lexington Avenue, Park Avenue, and Madison Avenue falling between 3rd Avenue and 5th Avenue. Street numbers increase as you move north. It’s a bit more complicated in the south (around Greenwich Village) and north of Manhattan (around Inwood). This is where the streets stop being numbered, so a map or GPS app is helpful.
Let’s say you want to get from stadium seats in Times Square to the Empire State Building. Father Duffy Square (where the seats are) is located between 46th and 47th Streets along 7th Avenue. The Empire State Building is between 33th and 34th Streets along 5th Avenue. To get there, just go east two blocks and south 12 to 14 blocks. It’s that easy!
The subway system can be the most intimidating option, but it’s gotten so much simpler in the last five years. The introduction of the OMNY contactless payment system has made it easier than ever to pay for your rides, though you can still get MetroCards until 2024. Using the subway has also gotten easier if you’re using a smartphone GPS app, like Apple or Google Maps. These can tell you which train to get on, which stop to get off, and even the stops between. Alternatively, you can use the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) website’s Trip Planner if you don’t have a smartphone.
If you’re going old school, the maps can be useful. These tell you which line you need to get on and which lines go to which stops. Next, you need to know Uptown (or North) or Downtown (or South). Let’s say you want to see the American Museum of Natural History, and you just got to Port Authority. Looking at our map, that stop is serviced by B and C lines and, since the museum is north of Port Authority, you’ll want to go Uptown. We also know that 42nd Street/Port Authority Bus Terminal is serviced by A, C, and E lines, meaning we’ll want to take the C line Uptown to the 81 Street-Museum of Natural History stop.
If you’re ever confused or the line doesn’t say Uptown or Downtown, don’t panic. Sometimes the direction is identified by the final stop on that line. Just look at your map to see which direction each final stop is (in this example Uptown on the C ends at 168 Street and Downtown ends at Euclid Avenue). If you find you’re going in the wrong direction, just hop off the train at the next stop and switch to the correct track.
Now that you know how to get around the city, it’s time to enjoy it. It’ll be much easier to enjoy your time in New York if you know how to save a bit of money here and there. This will allow you to budget for some of the things you want to do, like see a Broadway show or have a fancy dinner.
Staying in the middle of a city allows you to experience as much as possible; however, if you’re trying to save money, this isn’t always an option, especially in Manhattan. You may be better off finding a hotel outside the city or in another borough. It can be much more affordable and still allow you to access Manhattan quickly and cheaply.
Many hotels can help you find the nearest bus into Port Authority. The ferry is also an option if you’re close to one of the terminals. And, of course, a train (or subway if you’re in another borough) is another alternative. A hotel stay outside of the main tourist areas and transportation to them will likely still cost less than a hotel only remotely close to Time Square. Don’t worry, the transportation options start early in the day and stop late, so you can still spend as much time in the city as you likely want.
Not everything in New York is expensive. There are plenty of things you can do that won’t empty your wallet or are even free! For example, it costs nothing to walk around Manhattan and see all the world-famous sights and scenic neighborhoods. You could spend an entire day in Central Park alone.
If you’re lucky, you may be able to get free tickets to a studio recording of shows like Saturday Night Live or The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. You could also just be outside the Today Show or Good Morning America tapings to be part of the broadcast crowd. Many of the city’s museums have free or pay-what-you-like times, when you can enter for free or at a discounted rate. While you can pay for the official Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island ferry for an up-close view of both, you can save the money and catch a free ride on the Staten Island ferry to get a solid view. These are only a few of the examples because there is always something happening in the City That Never Sleeps.
It can quickly become expensive to get around in New York. For this reason, we only suggest getting a cab or rideshare if you need to be somewhere very specific very quickly. Otherwise, it’s much cheaper to walk. A full day of walking is exhausting, though, so for longer distances, don’t be afraid of taking the subway. If you utilize the OMNY system, there is a weekly fare cap of $33 or 12 trips. That means once you’ve spent $33 on subway fares during a week, your subway rides are free until 11:59 PM on Sunday. This can make the subway incredibly affordable if you’re in the city for a few days.
New York is known for its entertainment. There are so many kinds of shows you can take in, from concerts to comedy to television broadcast recordings. That’s not to mention the famous Broadway shows and other forms of theater throughout the city. If you want to see a show, here’s what to do.
No matter what show you want to attend, the only way to guarantee you’ll be able to see it is by booking your spot in advance. The earlier you book your tickets, the more options you’ll have for better seats and better prices. It may even be helpful to plan your trip around when tickets are available in a price range you can afford. Other shows, like The Tonight Show or Saturday Night Live (SNL), are free and given out by registration or lottery, making them even harder to get. All of this takes timing, luck, and persistence, so the earlier you start working on getting your tickets, the better.
If you fail to get tickets to a show in advance, some shows (but not all) offer standby tickets. Sometimes, even the most popular shows have open seats before a broadcast. Maybe someone had to cancel at the last minute or just didn’t show up. This is when the theaters turn to standby tickets to fill those potentially open seats. Each show has its own rules for how standby tickets are given out, but generally, you wait outside the studio at a given time and a show staffer will hand out tickets on a first-come, first-served basis. There have been reports of camping overnight, though SNL has moved to digitize the experience. The tickets also don’t guarantee you’ll be seated, since the ticketholder may show up, but it gives you a chance to get in. Since each show has its own rules, we highly suggest you research well in advance and be prepared to wait.
This is a short tip, but it’s an important one. Don’t be afraid to go to a show you haven’t heard of. Whether it’s a smaller musical act or a brand-new Broadway show, the standard of entertainment in New York is exceedingly high. If you find a great deal on tickets, do a little research to make sure it’s something you’d be interested in and give it a try. The show may become your new favorite.
While you’re in New York, you’re going to have to eat. With so many options, it can be extremely difficult to decide where to eat. That’s both the blessing and curse of eating in New York. You can find everything, but you have to decide between everything. If you’re the kind of person who generally “goes for anything,” you may find yourself with some decision paralysis.
This is an experience we know well, so take it from us. Do your research and make a few reservations for the places you really want to eat at. After that, have a few backup options to pick from. It may also help to have a few options based on areas of the city in case you want to spend some extra time there. This way, you have something set but allow yourself the flexibility in case plans change. It’s really that simple. You can find some of the best food in the world in New York, from traditional fine dining to street food. Don’t be afraid to try new things and give yourself options.
All that being said, we can point you in the direction of a few of our favorite restaurants in Manhattan. First on the list would have to be Red Rooster Harlem. The restaurant is owned by chef Marcus Samuelsson and is a refreshing twist on traditional Southern cooking. It’s also home to the best fried chicken we’ve ever tasted and that’s saying something.
Up next is The Consulate UWS (or Upper West Side), a cozy restaurant that pulls influences from all over the world. The pasta is fantastic, along with the cocktails, but be warned; you get generous portion sizes, so don’t let your eyes get ahead of your stomach. It’ll be tough when you see the options. Rue 57, located right by Central Park, is another excellent brasserie that also serves breakfast. Aldo Sohm is a fantastic wine bar located in Midtown with smaller plates and a well-curated wine selection.
For steaks, you could go to Peter Luger Steakhouse, the older standard in the city, but two other steakhouses are challenging for the throne. Hawksmoor NYC, which has an excellent sister restaurant in London, and Gallagher’s Steakhouse may be a bit pricier, as steakhouses, but are definitely worth it if that’s what you’re looking for. Of course, the city also has its classics, like Katz’s Deli, Lombardi’s, or Rao’s, that have stood the test of time, but don’t be afraid to try some of the up-and-coming spots, too.
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New York is a city of opportunity and diversity with some of the best entertainment, restaurants, and sights in the world. But to the inexperienced, getting around the city can be confusing or intimidating, the entertainment can be unavailable or expensive, and there can be too many restaurants to choose from. Don’t miss out on this world-class city and all that it offers with our guide.