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There certainly isn’t a shortage of attractions, places to eat, and shopping venues in New York City. In fact, it probably has more things to see and do than any city in the U.S. It’s a place where you can feast on expertly prepared dishes from all over the globe, check out the best and newest things in the world of theater, art, music, and dance, and meet the most current movers and shakers. In NYC, there are opportunities around every corner and ambitious people chasing them (because if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere, right?). But as great as it all sounds, it’s the same amazingly wonderful world of opportunity you find in New York City that often intimidates visitors — there are so many choices. That’s why we’ve weeded through the options for you to create The Ultimate New York City Travel Guide.
New York City Travel Guide Quick Links
- 5 Tips for First-Time New York City Visitors
- What Is the Best Time to Visit NYC?
- Best Time to Visit New York City If You’re a Foodie
- Best Time to Visit New York City to See a Broadway Show
- Best Time to Visit New York City to Tour Museums
- NYC Weather and Crowd Level Considerations
- Annual New York City Events
- Best New York City Neighborhoods for Tourists
- Top 5 Manhattan Neighborhoods For Tourists
- How Not to Look Like a Tourist in NYC
- Fun Restaurants to Visit in New York City
Avoid Times Square, unless you’re a Broadway fan. Times Square is like a huge magnet that attracts the absolute worst of the city — massive crowds, chain restaurants, and a bunch of overpriced stuff. Is it’s a must for you, avoid visiting during the day or on weekends. Instead, go at night, when everything is lit up, snap a few quick pics and move on to bigger and better things.
If you land at JFK or Newark, take the commuter train or subway into the city. It costs less than taking a cab or an Uber and it’s a great way to get used to the city’s public transportation system. Unfortunately, those landing at Laguardia have fewer options. If you have to take a taxi or car service from Laguardia, be prepared for an hour-long ride, especially during peak traffic times.
Get a Metrocard. Metrocards can be purchased from a ticket agent or through the automated machines in the stations. If you plan to ride the subway 12 or more times during your stay, you save money by purchasing the weekly unlimited pass instead of the per-ride option. Also, with a Metrocard, you get free transfers between city buses and the subway.
Know the lay of the land before you go. Most of Manhattan is set up in a systematic grid — Lower Manhattan is the exception. Streets run from east to west, avenues run north to south, and 5th Avenue splits the east and west side. You’ll notice the address numbers get larger as you move away from 5th Avenue and smaller lower the closer you get to it. The only exception to this rule is Broadway — it runs diagonally.
Store your luggage at Bounce. Wondering what to do with your luggage if your flight arrives before your hotel check-in time or you’ve checked out of your hotel, but have a late flight? Bounce lets you store bags for a few hours or a day — even longer if needed. It’s also a great place to store shopping bags while you enjoy dinner.
Before reading through the rest of The Ultimate New York City Travel Guide, check out our video to learn more about some of the places we love in the Big Apple.
Overall, the best time to visit New York City is between April and June and from September to early November. During these times, the weather is pleasant and the city isn’t jam-packed with tourists — although there are tourists here year-round, these times of year are slower than most. Of course, the absolute best time to visit New York City depends on the reason for your trip too.
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Photo courtesy of Morgan's Brooklyn Barbecue on Instagram
You can eat your way through New York City at any time of the year. In fact, the city's basically like Heaven for foodies. You’ll find every type of cuisine imaginable, and everything from street food to restaurants with a three-star Michelin rating.
However, if you want reservations to some of the best restaurants in the city, you might want to plan your trip strategically. Surprisingly, reservations are easier to come by in July and August, when locals spend weekends away.
Also, you’ll find special menus and great deals at 300+ New York City restaurants during Restaurant Week. This happens twice per year — in late January/early February and late July/early August.
Photo courtesy of City of New York on Instagram
If your goal is to see a few Broadway shows during your trip, consider traveling in January, February, or September — after the summer tourists are gone. January and February are quieter, so it’s pretty easy to score Broadway tickets during that time of year. But if you want to avoid the cold, you’ll also find it easy to get tickets once the summer tourists head home.
During Broadway Week, you can get two-for-one Broadway tickets, which is ideal for anyone who loves a good deal. This happens twice per year — in January and September. Also, keep in mind the Broadway season starts in September. The beginning of the season is a great time to score tickets to new shows that have yet to generate a ton of buzz. In May and June, after the Tony Award nominees have been announced, it’s a lot harder to get tickets.
If your number one goal for visiting New York City is seeing Broadway shows, avoid traveling during the last two weeks of the year. During this time, blockbusters are consistently sold out.
Photo courtesy of William Kleppel on Instagram
Of course, low tourism levels in January and February means you won’t find massive crowds in the museums during these months. However, if you really want to see the city’s museums at their best, consider visiting New York City in October.
Area museums typically debut special exhibitions in the early fall, once the summer tourists have left. After the initial surge of traffic settles down, you can explore the newest art exhibits without worrying about massive crowds.
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The slowest time for tourism in New York City falls between January and March. However, if you plan to travel during this time, be prepared for cold, wet weather. Low temperatures, rain, and snow are really common during the first part of the year.
Even though the city’s tourism level increases in the summer months, there’s a really good chance you’ll find smaller crowds in Manhattan during this time — many locals head to the coast in the summer to avoid the heat. Of course, this isn’t always the case. People do have to work. So if you want to visit in the summer, and avoid massive crowds, consider Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. They are your best bet for warmer weather and smaller crowds.
New York City is an amazing place to visit during the fall and spring because the milder weather makes it easier to explore the city on foot. However, you should expect higher prices and lower availability for both hotels and flights. Even though the spring and fall aren’t considered the height of the city’s tourist season, they are still popular travel times and prices often reflect that.
If you’re traveling in the spring or fall, it’s important to keep transition months in mind. In April, the city’s weather is still transitioning from winter to spring, so while you might see small amounts of snow, it won’t last long. September is also a flux month. The cooler air doesn’t really settle in until mid-to-late September, closer to October, so if you travel at the beginning of the month, you might experience some pretty hot days and chilly nights.
Photo courtesy of Ven Pra NY! on Instagram
New York City has a plethora of annual events to attend throughout the year, including New York Fashion Week in February and September. NYC Restaurant Week, in January and July, brings three-course dining deals at many of the city’s best restaurants, and you can score two-for-one show tickets during Broadway Week in January and September.
You’ll also find area celebrations stemming around most major American holidays such as the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, which makes its way up 5th Avenue past St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Easter Parade and Bonnet Festival.
If you’re in town during the Fourth of July, you can catch the Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks along the East River, near the Brooklyn Bridge. Of course, if you’re visiting during the Thanksgiving holiday, you won’t want to miss the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Rockefeller City Tree Lighting Ceremony.
New Year’s Eve is a massive time to celebrate in New York City. If you’re brave enough, head to Times Square for musical performances, hourly fireworks displays, and the traditional midnight ball drop. You can also catch New Year’s Eve fireworks in Central Park, near Bethesda Fountain, but if you prefer a more mellow crowd, catch the fireworks show at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park instead.
If you want to plan your New York City visit around some of the city’s slightly lesser-known but amazing, annual events, check out these options.
Photo courtesy of NYC Lunar New Year on Instagram
Lunar New Year Festival — February
Celebrate the lunar new year in Chinatown during this two-part annual event. The Firecracker Ceremony and Cultural Festival typically takes place in the beginning of the month — on the first day of the lunar new year. Then, the Lunar New Year festival is held later in the month. The latter event features a street parade and performances, as well as street vendors, food, and festivities for all ages.
If you want a more laid-back vibe and don’t want to fight the Manhattan Chinatown crowds, you’ll find similar events in the city’s other Chinatowns. There’s a Chinatown in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and Flushing, Queens.
Photo courtesy of Joel Terry on Instagram
Ninth Avenue International Food Festival — May
More than a million hungry festival-goers head to Hell’s Kitchen each May for the Ninth Avenue International Food Festival. It sets up between 42nd and 57th streets each year, and features a plethora of ethnic cuisine options, international music, and family-friendly activities and entertainment.
Photo courtesy of Jarre Sanders on Instagram
Village Halloween Parade — October
Greenwich Village is the place to be on Halloween night in Manhattan. The annual Village Halloween Festival and Parade feature circus performers, parade floats, and giant-sized puppets. Running through Greenwich Village, along 6th Avenue from Spring Street to 16th Street, the parade is a must-see for anyone who loves Halloween.
Photo courtesy of Victoria on Instagram
Radio City Christmas Spectacular and Holiday Window Displays — Mid-November through New Year’s Day
Department stores on and around 5ht Avenue get decked out for the holidays beginning in mid-November. They stay dressed up through the new year, too, giving locals and visitors plenty of time to enjoy the holiday window displays. This also happens to be the only time of year to catch the Radio City Christmas Spectacular — an iconic holiday extravaganza, starring the Radio City Rockettes, that started in 1933.
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Finding the right place to stay in New York City can be confusing. The city has five different boroughs, each with its own neighborhoods. Manhattan is the most popular part of NYC for tourists, but it’s not necessarily the best option.
When you’re looking for a good place to stay, it’s important to choose a neighborhood that best appeals to your personality and is fairly close to the things you plan to see and do during your visit. Also, if you’ve been to NYC several times, you should definitely consider staying outside of Manhattan. The other boroughs have a lot to offer too.
For example, if you’re a sports fan, you might want to stay in the Bronx, close to Yankee Stadium. Staying here also puts you in proximity to the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Gardens, both places are loved by locals and tourists alike. Queens, on the other hand, is a mostly residential borough that’s kind of like a breath of fresh air in a crowded city. It’s a good option for people who want a quieter place to relax in the evening and music fans who love free summer concerts — Flushing Meadows hosts a large variety of them each year.
Brooklyn is a great option for anyone who wants cheaper accommodations than those in Manhattan but doesn’t want to be too far from the action. Williamsburg, Brooklyn Heights, Greenpoint, Park Slope, and Dumbo are all neighborhoods near the Brooklyn waterfront that have been revitalized into a trendy, bohemian scene filled with art galleries, coffee shops, restaurants, and beer gardens — but make sure you choose a hotel or Airbnb that’s close to the subway station.
Midtown East and West
Midtown West includes Times Square, the Broadway Theater District and continues west to the Hudson River between Columbus Circle at 59th Street and 30th Street. This exciting area is ideal for first-time visitors and anyone who likes to be right in the middle of the action all the time. It also puts you within walking distance to all the attractions in Midtown East.
Midtown East spans the same streets as Midtown West, but on the opposite side of 5th Avenue running to the East River. It’s a great place to stay for anyone who plans on sightseeing, especially if you only have a few days. It’s home to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building, Radio City Music Hall, 5th Avenue, Grand Central Station, MoMA, and the United Nations. In fact, there are so many attractions packed into Midtown East, you could spend days exploring them all.
Upper East Side and Upper West Side
The Upper West Side is home to Lincoln Center, making it ideal for anyone who enjoys the ballet and opera. But it’s the area’s proximity to Central Park and the fact it’s the safest Manhattan neighborhood that make it a great place to stay. The neighborhood has a great local feel with plenty of restaurants, shops, and markets to explore. It’s close enough to the shops along Broadway for a daytime adventure and the quiet, brownstone-lined streets feel comforting at night.
The Upper East Side, Manhattan’s ritziest neighborhood, sits on the opposite side of Central Park. It’s filled with grand apartment buildings and expensive private schools, but it’s also home to Museum Mile, which is on 5th Avenue between 82nd Street and 105th Street. If you want to spend your days shopping at Bloomingdales, exploring the swanky stores lining Madison Avenue, and perusing museums, the Upper East Side is your best bet.
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SoHo and Tribeca
SoHo and Tribeca are filled with trendy boutiques, upscale art galleries, and classy restaurants. You’ll find street vendors selling original works of art throughout these neighborhoods and plenty of outdoor cafes where you can enjoy a quiet afternoon or people watching. But the real gems in these neighborhoods are all the boutique shops — they make SoHo and Tribeca ideal for anyone visiting NYC to shop.
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Known simply as The Village to locals, Greenwich Village and the West Village are ideal for creatives and anyone who wants to enjoy the NYC nightlife. The area has a cool, authentic New York City vibe that’s popular with NYU students and middle-aged creatives alike. It’s home to Washington Square Park, the Whitney Museum of Art, and the IFC Center for independent films — and the classic Federalist-style row houses lining the streets have housed countless musicians, writers, and artists.
It’s also a great place for foodies. You’ll find an array of street food, grab-and-go restaurants, and romantic cafes tucked along the neighborhood’s small, residential streets. The best cluster of pizza places in Manhattan sits along Bleecker Street, between 7th Avenue and MacDougal — you can even find an artichoke slice at Artichoke Pizza.
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Lower East Side
The Lower East Side is artsy and a little bit edgy. It’s a diverse neighborhood that appeals to hipsters and foodies thanks to its plethora of ethnic cuisine and creative food options, hidden speakeasies that serve artisan cocktails, and vintage shops.
Staying in the Lower East Side puts you within walking distance to Chinatown, the Tenement Museum and the Merchant House Museum.
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The good thing about New York City is it’s so diverse there’s no reason to try to blend in. You don’t really need to stick to a specific attire — although, casual wear and tennis shoes are ideal because you’ll probably be walking a lot. Also, there are some key things you can do if you want to avoid looking like a tourist in the city.
1. Walk on the right side of the sidewalk.
New Yorkers treat sidewalks the same way as they treat street traffic. They stick to the right side when they’re walking to avoid any pedestrian traffic jams. It’s also important to move further to the right if you have to stop or move slowly so you don’t block anyone’s path and walk in two-by-two style if you’re traveling with friends. If you have more than two people walking in a row, you take up more of the sidewalk, which causes a problem for people walking in the opposite direction.
2. Fold your pizza down the middle.
Grabbing a slice on the go is common for New Yorkers. That’s why each slice of pizza is fairly large. To eat it, fold it down the middle. This way it’s completely portable.
3. Don’t look up.
New Yorkers walk with a purpose — they know where they are going and they want to get there as quickly as possible. They don’t stop to stare at skyscrapers in awe, so if you want to blend in, walk briskly with your head down. But remember, it’s a city full of tourists year-round, so feel free to act like one. There’s some amazing architecture you’ll miss if you constantly walk with your eyes on the sidewalk.
4. Don’t gripe about prices.
New York City isn’t a cheap place to visit. The locals are used to higher prices, but many tourists aren’t. If you want to blend in, don’t complain about prices. Instead, accept them for what they are and move on.
5. Don’t hold things up.
New Yorkers hate waiting. They’re usually in a hurry and don’t like to mess around. When you’re walking through the city, don’t fumble around with your phone, it slows you down. Also, have your Metrocard ready before you enter the subway station. No one likes to be behind the person who’s fumbling through their wallet looking for their card.
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New York City takes food seriously. There are literally hundreds of restaurants packed into Manhattan alone — and that’s not even counting the food carts. While you’re there, embrace your inner foodie and try some of these slightly unusual, and totally instagrammable eats.
Photo courtesy of DŌ, Cookie Dough Confections on Instagram
1. Satisfy your sweet tooth at DŌ.
DŌ sells cookies, ice cream, and brownies, but what makes the place special is the fact that it serves cookie dough by the scoop. You can order scoops of cookie dough in a cup or in a waffle cone, and the sheer variety of options is amazing. The bakery carries everything from chocolate chip, sugar cookie, and cake batter cookie dough to oatmeal M&M and flutternutter cookie dough. Oh, and did we mention it’s all gluten-free?
Photo courtesy of The Bagel Store on Instagram
2. Grab breakfast at The Bagel Store.
Located on Metropolitan Avenue in Brooklyn, The Bagel Store is home to the “Bagel That Broke the Internet.” Stop by for a rainbow bagel topped with rainbow-fetti sprinkles cake cream cheese — one of many homemade cream cheese options on the menu. The eatery also offers a large selection of breakfast, lunch, and baked goods.
Photo courtesy of Otto's Tacos on Instagram
3. Stop by Otto’s Tacos for street tacos or a Mexi-cobb salad
Grab a quick lunch at Otto’s Tacos. The Southern California-inspired taqueria serves mouth-watering street tacos made with Otto’s signature corn tortillas, salsa, cilantro, onions, and your choice of chicken, carnitas, carne asada, shrimp, or seasonal veggies.
If you aren’t in the mood for tacos, consider ordering the Mexi-cobb salad — another fan favorite. Or if you’re feeling really hangry, try The Gorgon. Made in a giant, crispy tortilla, it comes with a double serving of meat or seasonal veggies, spicy red salsa, guacamole, cilantro, onions, and Serrano Crema.
Photo courtesy of The Butcher's Daughter on Instagram
4. Relax while sipping on healthy juice at The Butcher’s Daughter
If you need to get away from the city noise for a bit, stop at The Butcher’s Daughter. This juice bar and cafe is a plant-based restaurant. They dubbed themselves a “vegetable slaughterhouse” because they chop, filet, and carve vegetables into healthy vegetarian dishes and press them into refreshing juices. The menu here is totally vegetarian, mostly vegan, and gluten-free — and the restaurant’s natural-style decor is absolutely beautiful.
Photo courtesy of 100barclay on Instagram
5. Enjoy drinks with an amazing view at Conrad’s Loopy Doopy Rooftop Bar
The Loopy Doopy rooftop bar sits on the 16th floor of the Conrad New York — in Downtown Manhattan. You can sip your cocktail while enjoying incredible views of the Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor, and the Hudson River — and the cocktails are just as impressive as the view. Try the Prosecco and Ice Pop cocktail — a fruity People’s Pop ice pop topped with chilled prosecco or rose from the bar’s wine tap.