Traveling to New York City for the first time? In this post you’ll find tips on where to stay, things to do, how to save money on New York’s top attractions, and how to prepare for a trip to New York for first-time visitors.
Traveling to New York City on a budget can seem expensive for some travelers, but with careful planning, you can have an amazing trip to NYC even on a tight budget.
While New York City is known to be one of the world’s most expensive cities for tourists, there are plenty of ways to have a fun trip without breaking the bank.
This post shares the dos and don’ts in New York, including the best way to visit the city without going broke. Use this first timer’s guide to New York City when planning your trip.
***Please bookmark this page because I’m constantly updating it to help you get the most up-to-date information about traveling to New York***
Where should I stay in New York City?
After visiting New York City several times and staying in different neighborhoods, I recommend staying in one of these 6 areas:
- Midtown – The BEST neighborhood for first-timers
- Times Square – The heart of Manhattan. You can’t beat its location.
- Upper East Side – Ideal for museum lovers and close to Central Park
- Lower East Side & Soho – Ideal for shopping
- Greenwich Village & Chelsea – Lots of great restaurants
- Brooklyn– Ideal for travellers on a budget
Avoid staying at Airbnbs in New York as they are illegal. You’re better off booking a hotel for the ease and comfort of your trip.
Best hotels in New York City for every budget
If you’re traveling on a budget, these are the best affordable hotels in NYC:
- CitizenM New York Times Square
- Hotel Scherman (Midtown)
- Artezen Hotel (Minutes from the National September 11 Memorial & Museum)
If you have some more wiggle room in your budget, below are some of the best mid-range hotels in New York:
- Courtyard by Marriott New York Manhattan/Midtown East
- Fairfield Inn & Suites New York Midtown Manhattan/Penn Station
- AC Hotel by Mariott New York Times Square
If you want to splurge on your accommodations, below are some popular luxury hotels in New York:
What do I need to know about traveling to New York City?
Best time to go: The Spring (April to June) and Fall (September to November) are the best times to visit New York City. This is when the weather is mild and there are less crowds.
Best way to get around: Walk or ride public transit. New York City has an excellent public transit system that will take you anywhere you need to go. Another option is to take the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour, which can be a great way to get familiar with the city and see the main attractions.
Top 5 things to do in New York: The 9/11 Memorial & Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, and Statue of Liberty.
What’s New York City known for? As one of the most famous cities in the world, New York City is known for its Broadway shows, Central Park, Times Square, and the Statue of Liberty.
To help you get the most bang for your buck, here’s some tips for visiting New York City for the first time, including common tourist mistakes to avoid.
- How to visit New York on a budget
- New York CityPASS vs. New York Pass – Which is better?
- New York Pass review – Is it worth it?
1. Avoid taking a taxi or Uber to get around New York
Taking a taxi or Uber to get around the city is expensive. And let’s be honest – who wants to waste their precious sightseeing time stuck in NYC’s busy traffic?
What is the best way to get around New York?
My boyfriend and I bought a 7-day unlimited ride MetroCard during our trip. We had so much freedom with the metro card because it was a stress-free way to get around town. Plus it saved us A LOT of money.
New York is a BIG city, so even if you’re staying in a central location, you’ll save a lot of time sightseeing by using the metro. This is the best way to visit New York City.
I know the subway map looks like a giant spider web, but it’s surprisingly easy to navigate.
Whenever I visit a new city, I like to watch a YouTube video about how to use their public transit system. This helps me know what to expect when traveling and gives me peace of mind.
You can also download an app, such as CityMapper, which will show you train schedules, any service interruptions, alternate routes (if necessary), and which exit to take.
Other ways to get around New York:
- Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour – Yes, it’s a little touristy, but this is a great way to experience New York for first-timers. It’s super convenient because you can jump on and off the bus tour at any of their 35+ designated stops in the city, as many times as you wish. Plus you can listen to their digital commentary and learn more about New York’s top sights.
- Walk – New York is one of the world’s most walkable cities. It’s laid out in a grid pattern, which makes it easy to find your way around. Streets run East-West and Avenues run North-South. Just make sure to wear your most comfortable pair of walking shoes.
SIDE NOTE: I don’t recommend wearing sandals when walking around New York. The city is super dirty and it’ll take forever to wash the dirty and grime off your feet.
2. Save money with the New York Pass
If you want to visit New York’s most popular attractions, I highly recommend getting a city pass. This allows you to save up to 50% off the city’s top attractions, tours, and landmarks.
While there are many different New York city passes to choose from, the most popular one is the New York Pass, which is great for those who want to visit a lot of attractions.
The best way to save money on New York attractions:
They’re also recommended by Expedia and the New York Pass currently have a TrustScore rating of 4/5 on Trust Pilot.
Over 3.5 million travelers have used the pass and 9 out of 10 customers recommend the New York Pass to their friends. This is the most popular New York tourist pass.
With the New York Pass, you can save time, money, and enjoy stress-free sightseeing. This is your one-stop shop for the ultimate New York sightseeing experience!
But don’t just take my word for it. Check out these Trust Pilot reviews below.
PRO TIP: Buy the pass online to save time and hassle. Plus, you’ll save extra money off the retail price. To buy the New York Pass, click here to go to the official website.
Here’s what’s included in the New York Pass:
✓ Pick from over 100 NYC attractions
✓ Valid for up to 10 days
✓ Save up to 50% compared to purchasing tickets at each attraction
✓ Visit unlimited amount of NYC attractions each day
The New York Pass is a prepaid sightseeing card that can be used to get FREE fast-track entry to over 100+ attractions, museums, and tours in the city.
Below are some of my favorite attractions included in the New York Pass.
Observation decks in NYC:
- Edge NYC ($43.55 value)
- Empire State Building ($47.91 value)
- Top of the Rock Observatory ($43.55 value)
Museums in NYC:
- 9/11 Memorial & Museum ($28.00 value)
- American Museum of Natural History ($23.00 value)
- Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) ($25.00 value)
Tours in NYC:
- Big Bus Hop-On Hop-Off tour ($59.00 value)
- Statue of Liberty Ferry and Ellis Island Immigration Museum ($24.00 value)
- Best of NYC Cruise by Circle Line ( $44.00 value)
Once you’ve bought the New York Pass, you can visit as many attractions as you want. The more sights you visit, the more money you save!
I found that using the pass allowed me to check out more attractions and tours that I wouldn’t normally think of doing. For example, small walking tours. The New York Pass offers free access to a variety of walking tours in NYC. I really enjoyed this!
Is the New York Pass worth it? Check out my honest review of the New York Pass here.
How to buy your New York Pass:
STEP 1: Choose which pass duration you want to buy (1, 2, 3, 5, 7, or 10-day). You can click here to purchase your New York Pass from their official website.
Why you should consider buying the pass online:
- When you buy the pass online, you can take advantage of online discounts.
- They offer a 365-day money-back guarantee, so you can get a full refund just in case your plans change.
- You can activate your pass anytime within two years from the date of purchase.
For a limited time, you can save 10% off the New York Pass. Use the code: MINTNOTION at checkout. This is an exclusive deal for Mint Notion readers.
STEP 2: Download your mobile pass instantly using the New York Pass app.
If you prefer a physical pass, simply print your pass and guidebook at home. Links and easy-to-follow instructions for both options will be in your confirmation email.
STEP 3: You now have FREE access to any of the 100+ top NYC attractions included for the duration of your pass.
How to activate the pass: It will activate once you visit your first attraction and can then be used on consecutive calendar days for the number of days purchased.
You’ll also receive a free guidebook, which is included with your purchase. Use this book to help you easily plan your itinerary.
3. Make time to visit Brooklyn
During my first trip to New York City, I spent the whole time in Manhattan. I had no idea there were so many other great places to visit in the boroughs.
Some of the best photos of the Manhattan skyline are from Brooklyn
If you’re using the New York Pass, below are some of the attractions and tours you can check out in Brooklyn for FREE using the pass:
- Brooklyn Bridge Bike Rental by Unlimited Biking ($45.95 value)
- Brooklyn Bridge and DUMBO Neighborhood Tour ($35.00 value)
- NYC Bus Tour of Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens ($79.00 value)
- Brooklyn Museum of Art ($16.00 value)
- Brooklyn Botanic Garden ($18.00 value)
- Graffiti and Street Art Walking Tour of Brooklyn ($32.00 value)
- Brooklyn Bridge Walking Tour ($27.57 value)
Prep for your New York trip
4. Don’t pay full price at New York City museums
Why pay full-price to visit museums such as The Met, MoMA (Museum of Modern Art), or the American Museum of Natural History when you can save money or visit for free! This is one of the best things to know before going to New York.
Take advantage of free museum days
You can visit some of New York City’s museums on free days, which makes this a great option to save money.
The only down side is free museum days are always busy. This is why I recommend arriving BEFORE the museum opens to avoid long wait times.
Side Note: For New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut residents ONLY, some museums (such as The Met) offer “pay what you wish” admission. A valid form of ID is required.
In the past, some New York museums offered “pay what you wish” admission to everyone. But that doesn’t exist anymore. Now it’s ONLY offered to New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut residents. You’ll need to show a valid form of ID.
If you don’t live in one of these states, the best ways to save money on attractions is to try visiting on free days or using one of the following New York sightseeing passes.
Save money with one of these New York sightseeing passes:
New York Pass – Using the New York Pass is a no-brainer if you want to avoid paying full-price at NYC’s top attractions. With the savings you gain from using the New York Pass, you can put that extra money towards a nice dinner, a fancy hotel, and so on.
BEST FOR: Those who want to hit all the major attractions in a short amount of time. You’ll save up to 70% off vs. paying for individual entrance tickets.
New York CityPASS – If you just want to visit the city’s most popular attractions and aren’t interested in tours, then you may want to consider getting the New York CityPASS.
BEST FOR: Those who want to visit the top 5 attractions in New York. You’ll save 40% off vs. paying the regular admission price. This includes:
- Empire State Building
- American Museum of Natural History
- Top of the Rock OR Guggenheim Museum
- Ferry Access to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island OR Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises
- 9/11 Memorial and Museum OR Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
New York GO City Pass – And if you just want to visit a few attractions at your own pace, then I recommend checking out the New York GO City Pass.
BEST FOR: Those who have more time to spend in New York to see the city’s top attractions. You’ll save up to 55% off vs. paying the regular admission price.
The New York CityPASS and GO City Pass DON’T offer as high of a discount on sightseeing as the New York Pass, but they are still excellent ways to save money when visiting the city’s top attractions.
Below you can read my post sharing tips on how to choose the best sightseeing pass for your trip to New York.
5. Don’t spend all your time in Midtown and Times Square
Midtown is great, but there’s SO much more to do in New York City. It would be a shame if you spent all your time in Midtown or Times Square.
Many tourists make the mistake of spending their entire trip visiting these areas. They miss out on all the wonderful things that New York has to offer.
DO THIS INSTEAD:
If you’re using the New York Pass, below are some more great things to do outside of Midtown and Times Square. All attractions are free when using the pass.
- 9/11 Memorial and Museum
- One World Observatory
- Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Immigrant Museum
- American Museum of Natural History
- Best of NYC Cruise by Circle Line
- Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
- Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
- Whitney Museum of American Art
- Brooklyn Botanic Garden
- The Highline
- Flatiron Building
- Central Park
- Washington Square Park
- Coney Island
- Brooklyn Bridge
6. Don’t eat in Times Square
This spot may be great for a photo or to watch a Broadway show, but don’t eat here. The food in Times Square is usually expensive and doesn’t offer good value.
If you’re hungry when visiting Times Square, try to walk at least 3-6 blocks east or west to find more affordable restaurants with better quality food.
PRO TIP: Traveling can be expensive. One way I like to save money is to get FREE gift cards from Swagbucks. You can get free gift cards to Starbucks, which can be used to cover coffee or breakfast while traveling. Instead of paying out of pocket, this can be a great way to cut back on travel costs. If you’re not already a memeber, you can join Swagbucks for free here.
7. Check out at least one observation deck in New York City
Yes, this is a little touristy, but the views of New York City are absolutely incredible. To get a true feel for New York, you need to see it from above. If you decide to splurge on one thing, THIS should be it!
My personal favorite is the view from the Top of the Rock. I’ve been several times and never get tired of it. Below are some other popular skydecks to check out. You can visit them all for FREE with the New York Pass.
- SUMMIT One Vanderbilt Experience (very new and exciting)
- Empire State Building (a must if you like the movie Sleepless in Seattle)
- New York One World Observatory (the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere)
- New York Edge Observation Deck (the highest outdoor skydeck in the Western Hemisphere)
8. Avoid eating at chain restaurants
Don’t tell me you came all the way to New York City to eat at Sbarro Pizza, like Michael Scott did in The Office TV series.
If you’re visiting New York City for the first time, you’ll want to take advantage of the city’s diverse selection of restuarants and ethnic eats.
Whether you’re craving an authentic slice of New York-style pizza or a gourmet meal prepared by some of the top chefs in the world, you’ll find everything your taste buds desire here.
If you’re a foodie like me, consider taking fun Manhattan Food & History Tour with a local guide. You’ll get to hear stories of the millions of immigrants who settled in New York and taste incredible Chinese, German, Dutch, Italain, Jewish and other dishes.
Whenever I’m planning a trip, I like to do some research to find out the best places to eat, shop and sightsee at the destination I’ll be visiting.
I like using my Travel Planner to help me to do this and keep everything organized. The packing checklist is also handy so I don’t forget to bring anything important.
9. Don’t pay full price for a Broadway show
One of the most popular things to do in New York City for the first time is to see a Broadway show. Instead of paying full price for tickets, you’ll almost always be able to find a discount.
How to save money on theatre tickets:
I recommend arriving early in the day, as it tends to get busy and some shows can sell out quickly.
Their flagship location is in the heart of Times Square. You can also check out their booth at South Street Seaport or Lincoln Center.
10. Don’t support horse carriage rides in Central Park
Riding a horse-drawn carriage sounds like a fairy tale. But the reality is, carriage horses often live and work in inhumane conditions.
Horse-drawn carriages shouldn’t share the same roadways as honking cars and cyclists as it puts both the animal and the public at risk. These horses work long hours (rain or shine) and even when the weather is unbearably hot or freezing cold.
Paying for a horse-drawn carriage ride continues to support the industry. So while it might sound like a nice way to experience Central Park, you’ll want to pass on this idea.
DO THIS INSTEAD:
Ride the metro – Besides walking, this is the fastest and most cost-effective way to get around New York City.
Staten Island Ferry – It’s free to ride and it’s a fun way to see the Statue of Liberty from a distance.
Walking – Put on your walking shoes and explore the city. This is my favorite way to get around and sightsee. To make it more fun, consider joining a local walking tour. If you’re using the New York Pass, there are several walking tours available for every interest.
By bike – Explore New York City by bike. Check out the city’s urbans parks or ride along the dedicated greenways. If you’re using the New York Pass, you can rent bikes for FREE in Central Park – a $54.44 value!
New York City helicopter tour – If you have some extra money to spend and want to create an unforgettable experience, consider this helicopter tour. You’ll get a bird’s-eye view of New York’s Manhattan island and enjoy 180 degree views of the city’s sights.
New York Cruise – If you’re pressed for time, this can be a great way to see New York City. This 90-minute cruise allows you to experience lower and midtown Manhattan in a unique and exciting way. You’ll also get a close-up look at the Statue of Liberty and other popular landmarks.
11. Some NYC attractions require advance booking
If you’re traveling to New York City soon and plan to visit some of the city’s popular attractions, I HIGHLY recommend making reservations as soon as possible.
Some of the popular attractions, such as the Empire State Building, may sell out or require a wait for the next available entry.
Then once you’ve planned your New York itinerary, you can make your reservations through their website after purchasing your pass.
Below are some popular attractions that require or recommend advance reservations:
- Empire State Building
- American Museum of Natural History
- Top of the Rock observation deck
- Guggenheim Museum
- Ferry Access to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
- Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises
- 9/11 Memorial and Museum
- Edge Observation Deck
- One World Observatory
I find using this Travel Activity Planner helpful when planning out the attractions I want to visit during my trip.
12. Learn how to find cheap eats in NYC
NYC is an expensive city and the price point at its restaurants are higher than other large cities, such as Toronto. However, with some careful planning, there are plenty of great ways to save money when eating in New York City.
- Get the lunch special
Many popular NYC restaurants offer affordable lunch specials. This can be a great way to enjoy a tasty meal for cheap.
- Eat and drink during Happy Hour
If you don’t mind eating a little early (or late at night), I highly recommend taking advantage of New York City’s happy hour specials. Enjoy discounted menu prices on a selection of both food and drinks.
- Dollar pizza slices
OK, we can’t be healthy all the time. Grabbing a slice of New York pizza is one of my favorite meals when I’m on-the-go sightseeing in the city. If you’re visiting New York City for the first time, getting NYC-style pizza is a MUST!
- Find cheap eats in the Village, Lower East Side, and Chinatown
Think everything in NYC is expensive? Think again. There are plenty of delicious restaurants with affordable eats in these neighborhoods.
- Check out NYC Diners
Diners can be a great way to enjoy an affordable breakfast or lunch in the city.
- Street food
From ethnic food trucks to familiar hot dog carts, there’s lots of street food options to choose from in New York.
If you want to eat at the city’s most popular restaurants, try to make a reservation or expect long wait times. Not all restaurants take reservations. In this case, aim to visit during off-peak dining hours.
13. Don’t rent a car in NYC
One of the most common travel mistakes is renting a car in New York City. Parking is expensive and traffic is a nightmare, especially if you’re not used to driving in a big city.
Even if you’re driving to New York, I recommend leaving your car at your accommodations for the duration of your trip. The city’s metro system is easy to navigate and one of the quickest ways to get around town.
14. Follow this basic New York City etiquette for first-timers
Many people expect New Yorkers to be rude, but I found that most people were pretty friendly in the city. To help you enjoy your trip and even befriend a New Yorker, it’s a good idea to grasp the follow NYC etiquette.
Tips for riding the NYC Metro:
- If you have trouble swiping your Metro card at the subway station, step to the side to let other people behind you go through first. Then try again when it’s less busy.
- Unless you’re getting off at the next subway stop, don’t block the subway doors because people might be trying to exit.
- Let people exit the subway / bus before you get on.
- Avoid wearing a backpack when the subway / bus is crowded. Carry it in your hands or put it in your lap instead.
- Give up your seat for pregnant women, elderly, or disabled passengers.
Tips for walking around NYC:
- Don’t stop in the middle of the sidewalk, street, or stairs to look up / take photos / check your phone / look at a map. Instead, step to the side so other people can pass.
- If you’re with a group, don’t walk together in a row blocking other people from passing you on the sidewalk. In some cases, you may have to walk single file.
- Stick to the right when walking on the sidewalk or riding the escalators. This allows people who are in a rush to pass on your left.
- Pay attention to bike lanes when walking through the park or crossing the street.
- Real New Yorkers don’t wait for the walk sign to turn green. Most streets are one-way in NYC, so you may notice locals like to cross the street when there’s no oncoming traffic (even if the pedestrian light is red).
- If you’re using an umbrella, be mindful of others around you. Move your umbrella up, to the right or left when passing others.
- Wear comfortable shoes. You’ll see many locals wearing sneakers with their suits and changing into dress shoes once they reach the office. If you want to wear high heels for photos, put them in your bag and change once you’re at your destination.
Tips for talking like a New Yorker:
- “Houston”, the street in Lower Manhattan is pronounced as “HOW-stun” instead of “HUE-stun” (like the city in Texas). If you’re in a taxi and need to get to Houston Street, make sure to pronounce it as “HOW-stun”.
- New Yorkers call it “the City”. They don’t call it NYC or Manhattan.
- If you want to ask someone for directions, keep it short and sweet. There’s no need to make small talk. Just ask, “Can you please tell me how to get to The Met from here?”
Tips for staying safe in New York City:
- Stay away from platform edges on the subway. Stand away from the platform edge so you’re not at the risk of accidently falling on the subway tracks or being pushed.
- Be aware of pick pockets. Keep your valuables close to you and within your sight at all times, especially in subway stations.
- Don’t walk with earphones in (esepcially at night). Walking alone with your earphones in at night can make it difficult to be aware of your surroundings. This can make you an easy target for getting mugged.
- At the airport – Never leave your bags unattended or let a stranger offer to carry your bags for you / offer you a ride into the City. If it sounds too good to be true, it’s because it probably is.
- Taxi – Never get into an unmarked cab. All NYC taxis will be clearly identified. They are usually yellow with a light on the roof which displays the cab driver’s medallion number.
- Disney and superhero characters in Times Sqaure – If you take a photo of them without their permission, the characters may demand payment. Make a plan in advance if you have children when walking through Times Square.
- Avoid walking alone at night or riding the subway late a night. Try to ride in subway cars with others (as opposed to vacant subway cars) or walk in busy areas. Central Park and the Financial District are quiet at night and should be avoided if you’re walking alone.
15. Public bathrooms are hard to find
If you need to use the public restroom, I always recommend using the one at the next restaurant you eat at or museum / attraction you visit. Unfortunately, most places will not let you use their restroom unless you’re a paying customer.
Sometimes you might have some luck using the public restroom at Starbucks. You might need to ask an employee at Starbucks for the restroom door code first.
I’ve also had good luck by using the restroom at hotels. You have to walk into the hotel as if you were already staying there and look for the sign to the restroom. It’s usually in the lobby.
Some hotels during the busy holiday season will ask to see your room key before entering the lobby, so keep this in mind.
Ready to plan your NYC vacation? See what hotel deals are available in the area thanks to Booking.com
First Time in New York City FAQs
What is the best month to visit New York?
The best time to visit New York City is in the spring (April to June) and fall (November to December). This is when the weather is mild and there are fewer tourists.
What is the cheapest month to visit New York?
If you don’t mind braving the cold, early spring (February and March) can also be a great time to visit New York. This is often when I find cheap flight tickets and affordable hotel accommodations.
What should I do on my first trip to New York City?
Below are my top 10 things to do on your first trip to New York City:
- Visit Central Park. (it’s free and one of the most beautiful spots in New York)
- Check out Times Square at night. (Yes, it’s touristy. But it’s worth going at least once)
- See the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (If you’re using the New York Pass, it’s free)
- See the views from the Top of the Rock at the Rockefeller Center. (It’s free with the New York Pass)
- See Eygptian mummies at The Met. (It’s free with the New York Pass)
- Visit the 9/11 Memorial and One World Observatory. (There’s also the 9/11 Memorial Museum which is worth visiting. It’s free with the New York Pass)
- Walk the High Line and check out the observation deck. (This urban walking trail above the city streets is a nice break from the hustle and bustle of NYC)
- Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. (This is one of my favorite FREE views of the New York skyline)
- See a Broadway show. (Popular shows book up in advance or you can find deals on same-day tickets)
- Eat food from around the world. (New York is famous for bagels, cheesecake and pizza. But you can also try authentic food from this city of immigrants)
How many days do you need to see New York?
If you’re visiting for the first time, I recommend spending at least 5 days in New York. This will give you enough time to see the main attractions and neighborhoods of Manhattan.
Depending on what you want to do in New York, you can visit for 3 days. But you’ll need to spend longer if you want to cover the top sights.
Should I stay in Times Square?
Times Square is the heart of Manhattan and the cetner of all the top attractions in New York. This is a great neighborhood to stay for first timers. If you want to escape the crowds, consider staying in the Upper East Side or the Greenwich Village.
What is the easiest way to get around New York?
The easiest way to get around New York is to ride the subway. It’s often faster and cheaper than driving or taking a taxi. You’ll also feel like a local when riding the subway. Another fun way to get around New York is to ride the Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour.
Is New York City worth visiting?
Yes, you have to visit New York at least once in your life, especially if you love big cities. It’s the most visited city in North American and often appears in major motion pictures. New York City is known for its world-class Broadway performances, its history, museums, skyscrapers, and diverse population.