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A Traveling Insider’s Guide To New York City

This NYC travel guide is full of recommendations to help you get the most out of your trip to this cosmopolitan city. | By Paul Oswell | June 14, 2021

New York City is one of the most recognizable places on the planet. Thanks to TV and movies, we all grow up with images of the Manhattan skyline and yellow cabs cruising along busy streets. We plan vacations in New York City with high expectations, especially when you’re a first-time traveler.

Before we get into the specifics, here are three reliable ways to make new memories when you visit The Big Apple:

  • Bring your walking shoes: We hear you can cover an average of 11 miles per day on your visit to the NYC's five boroughs. You can see so much of Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens and Staten Island's local culture as a pedestrian.

  • Skip the sightseeing stress: You can get iconic views without the iconic queues. You’ll find impressive alternatives, like waving to the Statue of Liberty from the free Staten Island Ferry or taking in sweeping city views from Rockefeller Plaza instead of the Empire State Building in Midtown.

  • Save your spot: Make an itinerary well ahead of your trip. You have a better chance of getting into a hot Broadway show, a big game, or a ‘pay what you wish’ museum day–and you can often save money by booking online.

Why should you visit New York City?

When you think about NYC, you evoke images of The Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and the Brooklyn Bridge. We love visiting this city because the grandeur of this city must be seen to be believed.

Plus, everything is at your fingertips, from world-class museums to first-rate entertainment on Broadway and high-quality global cuisine. You can also choose to enjoy simple pleasures such as watching anglers on Harlem Meer or strolling through Union Square or Madison Square Park with a piping hot slice of pizza.

Hilton hint

“My best piece of advice: plan ahead. Time moves fast in the big city, and it’s best to have a general itinerary to keep you on track.” -Amberly Sisneros, Hilton Team Member, Marketing

There’s a wealth of experiences across the boroughs that make up NYC. Manhattan is the epicenter and irresistible, from the bohemia of Greenwich Village to Central Park’s natural beauty to the cultural institutions of the Upper East Side.

Brooklyn is hip and happening, especially Bushwick and Williamsburg. The Bronx is rich in history and culture, with the wide avenues of South Bronx. Queens is more suburban with pockets of incredible ethnic foods, which Staten Island is even more residential.

New York City is an incredibly diverse city. You’ll hear dozens of languages walking around any neighborhood, and there’s a large, active LGBTQ community.

Perks of the park

From ice skating to the Bethesda Fountain to the zoo, you’ll find 843 acres of things to do in Central Park—whatever the season.

When is the best time to visit New York City?

To be a part of it, come seasonally prepared. New York has a humid, subtropical, continental climate with cold, wet winters and hot, humid summers. City-wide events such as the New York Marathon usually mean crowds, so check your travel dates in advance.

You’ll find a sweet spot in springtime (April, May), as the near-perfect weather coincides with fewer crowds before summer vacations begin. If you prepare for summer’s muggy heat, you can enjoy al fresco dining, sunbathing in Prospect Park and outdoor festivals.

In November and December, the city is festively decorated with lights and lavish, must-see window displays. Bundle up: Manhattan’s high-rise urban design creates vicious wind tunnels all year, so take care as you step around the corner.

Getting to and around New York City

Most visitors arrive via one of the city’s three main airports. JFK, in Queens, and Newark, in New Jersey, are international hubs; LaGuardia is also in Queens and is currently getting some major upgrades.

All three have cheap public transportation options into the city including trains, buses and the Metro. If you have a lot of luggage, then consider a yellow cab, which will have a mandated flat fare into Manhattan. Rideshare services (Uber, Lyft) are also abundant.

Once you’re in the city, you can see so much from the sidewalk. Allow one minute walking per uptown or downtown block. Give yourself four minutes per crosstown block.

We know the subway might seem daunting, but the Metro (MTA) is fast, accessible and affordable. Buy a MetroCard from the machines or ask MTA workers inside the stations for help.

You can hail yellow cabs on the street (watch the locals to see how it’s done). There are also designated bike lanes and trails, as part of the public bike share programs. It’s a lovely way to see the Hudson River Greenway, Central Park and quieter neighborhoods.

Buckle up

The city moves fast, and you can see it from a bus, cab, subway or sidewalk. Use card or cash to pay fares in NYC taxis, and remember to tip 10-20%.

New York City’s culture and customs

Life in the city is busy, but NYC locals are usually willing to help visitors. Expect to tip at least 15-25% in restaurants and a dollar per drink minimum in bars.

New York is a progressive city with a wealth of choices when it comes to organic food, sustainable businesses and attractions. You’ll find eco-friendly options such as recycling bins, public bikes and green park spaces.

Things to do in New York City

Take our advice: pace yourself and plan ahead. From the famous sites like Rockefeller Center, the Chrysler Building, Ellis Island and the Brooklyn Bridge to everything in between, there’s so much to do and see. Make a few memorable selections so you’ll enjoy your trip—and be anxious to return.

Museums and galleries are high on most people’s lists. The big hitters are the Metropolitan Museum, The Museum of Modern Art, the American Museum of Natural History and The Guggenheim. You can easily spend an afternoon exploring the Met. Grab a map, pick a few exhibits to see and soak it all in.

Soak in the city

Visit City Hall Park and walk across the elevated pedestrian walkway along the Brooklyn Bridge. The views from the bridge create perfect backdrops for memorable photos.

If you love musicals and theater, you can book tickets ahead of your trip to a show on or off Broadway. Alternatively, you can spontaneously walk up to the TKTS booth in Times Square to see what’s on.

For shopping, you’ll find retail therapy all around: major department stores, luxury boutiques and flagship locations on 5th Avenue. There are also independent retailers and services. Head to the Lower East Side, East Village and parts of Brooklyn, where you’ll find thriving markets and family stores.

Walking around Manhattan allows you to feed off the city’s energy, but there are ample green spaces too. There’s Central Park, which has its own zoo, a famous carousel and acres of lawns. The High Line has an elevated track that saw a railway line turned into a popular greenway, with overlooks onto the Hudson and The Vessel.

It’s easy to plot a foodie tour in Manhattan, but places in Queens and Brooklyn will tend to be spaced further apart. The Queens Night Market, for instance, is well worth the trip.

The city’s magic is there to be discovered. Done well, New York City is one of the most exciting places in the world, with almost endless possibilities.

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Paul Oswell is an award-winning travel writer, and has been reporting from all seven continents for over twenty years. He is based in New Orleans and is the author of “The Bucket List North America: 1,000 Adventures Big and Small.”

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