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Tips for your First Visit to New York City

Updated: Mar 4

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New York City skyline

New York City is a mecca for history lovers, travel enthusiasts, and those curious about culture. Though you may be itching to jump straight in, your first visit to New York City can be a doozy if you aren't prepared. Many things can only be learned from experience, but some things, such as general tips, can be taught ahead of time. Here are some tips for your first visit to New York City.

Avoid Scams

Characters posing in Manhattan
Credit: Tipsy Atlas

There's nothing free in New York City, but scammers will try to convince you there is. There are plentiful ways to solicit money from unassuming tourists, so here's a few to look out for.

  1. The CD Scam: A self-proclaimed upcoming artist will approach you with a CD under the guise they're hoping to get their name heard. After you grab it, they'll try to make you pay for it, either by insistence or by signing it. Though you may think you're helping out an unknown musician, there's a good chance the CD is blank. The best way to save your money is by handing it back.

  2. The Monk Scam: This one is quite odd. Somebody dressed as a monk will approach you, offer to pray for you, and give you a gift. They'll then ask you to donate to a non-existent temple, hoping that you'll fall for the seemingly innocent religious story. If you don't, they'll take the gift back.

  3. The Character Scam: You'll see people all over New York wearing costumes, from Mario to the Statue of Liberty. Though some are upfront about their intentions, others will pose for a photo then ask for donations. Because you already took the photo, you'll be made to feel bad if you don't pay up.

  4. Ticket Scams: Scammers like to crowd popular tourist attractions, offering skip-the-line tickets and discounted rates. Instead of purchasing from them, book your tickets online or at the gate. Most of the time, these tickets are invalid.

Often, scammers turn from friendly to hostile when you refuse to pay up. The best way to avoid scams while visiting New York City is by adopting the word "no" and walking on by.

Use the Subway

New York City subway entrance
Credit: Tipsy Atlas

The subways are the cheapest and easiest way to get around. Taxis and Ubers are much more expensive and bound to get stuck in traffic. Busses are cheap too, but they're prone to traffic the same as taxis. It only costs $2.90 to ride the subway, and it takes you anywhere you need to go.

The subway system is fairly easy to navigate. There are maps posted on the walls that show you which line goes to which stop, so all you have to know is where you're heading. They will also indicate which station you're at in case you forget.

Take Time to Walk

Street in New York City

New York is a beautiful city, and there's a lot you'll miss out on if you spend the whole time underground. With a grid-system layout, navigating by foot is simple. The streets run in order from east to west, while the avenues run from north to south. So if you're going long distances, take the subway, but if an attraction is nearby, enjoy the view along the way. Pro tip: Times Square is between 42nd and 47th street.

Try the Famous Food

Famous Amadeus pizza in New York City
Credit: Tipsy Atlas

Food is at the heart of any major city, and a visit to New York practically requires a dip into some of its iconic cuisines. Here is a short list of the ones you can't miss.

  1. New York Pizza Slice. These giant, thin-crust slices are designed for folding, and it only takes one or two to fill you up. My favorite spot for an affordable slice is Famous Amadeus on 8th Ave.

  2. Nathan's Famous Hot Dog. Founded in Coney Island, Nathan's still uses the same recipe as it did on day one. You'll find these hot dogs in stands and restaurants all across the city.

  3. New York Cheesecake. New York Cheesecake uses a different recipe than regular cheesecake, making it creamier and more dense. Two places I recommend are Eileen's Special Cheesecake and Junior's.

  4. Soft Pretzel. There's something very "New York" about enjoying a soft pretzel from a local vendor. These salt-sprinkled snacks are popular due to their portability.

  5. New York Bagel. Another grab-and-go food, New York bagels are said to taste better as a result of the city's exceptional water quality.

Visit Around Christmas

The Rockefeller Tree in New York City
Credit: Tipsy Atlas

Visiting New York is always a blast, but it's arguably prettier at Christmastime. By visiting in December, you'll get the chance to ice skate at the Rockefeller Christmas Tree, marvel at decorations and window displays, and stroll through Central Park in the snow. Just don't forget - it will be cold. Be sure to dress according to temperature as well as wind chill.

This guide serves as a starting point for visiting New York City. The rest, you'll simply have to learn on your travels. Good luck!

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