15 travel tips for New York

If it's your first time in the Big Apple, take note of these basic tips to be well prepared and avoid falling into tourist traps

Isabel Catalán

Isabel Catalán

17 min read

15 travel tips for New York

Times Square | ©Hellotickets

The Big Apple is the dream destination for many travelers and a city full of possibilities to enjoy it. A difficult to explain experience that you have to live in person.

And so that you can enjoy it to the fullest, I have prepared 15 tips that will help you to make everything perfect. Do you want to know them?

1. When to travel to New York?

Fifth Avenue| ©Hellotickets
Fifth Avenue| ©Hellotickets

If you like New York, any time of the year is a good time to travel because they all have their charm. However, they all have their peculiarities.


The days are longer and the temperatures are milder, which invites you to walk around and explore the city doing more outdoor activities, such as booking a tour of New York to get to know the city comfortably. Plus, it's full of flowers and looks beautiful.


During this season the heat can sometimes be oppressive. However, New Yorkers take the opportunity to enjoy the festive atmosphere at Coney Island, the beaches of Staten Island and endless outdoor activities such as movies, kayaking or drinks on the rooftops.

However, it is high season for flights and hotels and prices go up.


New York's landscape looks very colorful during this season, perfect for taking pictures or booking a photo tour of the Big Apple. In addition, there is little rain and the temperatures are mild, which is perfect for exploring the city on foot.

In autumn there are two very American holidays, Halloween and Thanksgiving, which give the city a very special atmosphere.

I visited New York for the first time in autumn and since then I found it a very special time to get to know the city. I tell you everything you can do there during this epic time of the year in my guide on Things to do in New York City in the Fall.


If you are not afraid of the cold, visiting New York in this season is a good idea because Christmas is fairytale and the city is decorated to detail. Many tourists take the opportunity to hire a tour of Dyker Heights to see the Christmas lights, as they are really impressive.

On the other hand, in January and February there is little tourism and you can visit the tourist attractions more calmly.

In fact, Christmas in this city is a world apart. I have written a specialized guide on 15 Christmas things to do in New York Cityso if you are lucky enough to visit the city at the most magical time of the year, use it to make sure you don't miss anything.

Book a Christmas lights tour of Dyker Heights

2. How much time do I need in New York?

Statue of Liberty| ©Hellotickets
Statue of Liberty| ©Hellotickets

Obviously, the more the better! I'm sorry to tell you that you could spend years in New York and not finish seeing and enjoying all it has to offer. But since time and budget are usually not infinite, I recommend that you visit New York for at least 5 to 7 days, especially if it's your first time.

With less days, you will miss a lot of things, you will be more stressed and you will have the feeling that the trip is too short.

If the circumstances and budget of your trip allow it, a 10-day trip to New York is ideal, as it will allow you to see most of the city's must-see sights and get the most out of your trip.

For longer trips

If you are lucky enough to stay in New York for several days and you feel like getting out of the big city to discover its surroundings, there are several possibilities:

These are just some of the excursions that can be done from New York. I recommend them 100% to add a contrast to your trip and discover a little more about the culture and other American cities.

Book a tour from New York

3. Travel medical insurance and vaccinations

Central Park| ©Hellotickets
Central Park| ©Hellotickets

Take out travel health insurance

Health care in the United States is private and medical costs in this country are particularly high (for example the cost of a day in a hospital is 6,000 euros or a fractured femur is 80,000 euros).

That is why having a good travel insurance with comprehensive medical coverage is essential when traveling to New York.

Chances are that, during your trip, you will not have to deal with a situation requiring medical attention that could put a damper on your vacation. But to prevent these unexpected surprises, it's best to have travel insurance to save you from having to deal with exorbitant expenses.

Are any vaccinations required?

To travel to New York as a tourist, no vaccinations are required to enter the United States from Europe.

However, if you come from a country or have visited a country where there is a risk of yellow fever transmission, it is advisable to carry a certificate proving that you have been vaccinated against this disease because the authorities may request it.

If you have any other questions or doubts in this regard, you can always go to the International Vaccination Center in your city for more information.

4. Obtain the ESTA on time

The Vessel at Hudson Yards| ©Hellotickets
The Vessel at Hudson Yards| ©Hellotickets

If you are traveling to New York from Europe, whether for business or tourism, you will not need to obtain a visa but you will need to obtain the ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) which can be processed online and is a mandatory requirement.

The ESTA can be submitted at least 72 hours in advance of your trip electronically from the official U.S. government website.

This authorization is valid for two years unless the passport with which you apply for it expires earlier. If you have any doubts about it, you can ask for more information at the U.S. embassy. And if you are from outside Europe, you can also check there or on the official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Security checks at the airport

On the plane or in the customs control area of the airport you will be given a form that you have to fill in with your details and those of your flight and then show it together with your passport (valid for at least 6 months) at the security checkpoint.

You will be asked about the address of your accommodation (hotel or apartment), the reservation of your return flight (if you have one) and the reason for your trip, but you do not have to worry about anything because these are routine questions that do not require a great level of English, as they are used to dealing with tourists.

5. How to get from the airport to New York?

The New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street| ©Hellotickets
The New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street| ©Hellotickets

Once you land on American soil and pass the security checks, you will have to choose how to get to the center of New York from the airport.

It is a city that is quite well connected. Its public transport network (bus, subway, cab...) is efficient and allows you to move from one end to another of the Big Apple to explore all its corners quickly.

However, from experience I say that after landing from a long flight that leaves you exhausted, the last thing you want to do is to walk around the terminal looking for a free cab or make multiple transfers. Therefore, the most comfortable option is to book a private transfer to your hotel or a shared one.

Difference between shared and private transfers

The main difference between shared and private transfers is that in private transfers the driver will be at your disposal and the VIP vehicle will be only for you and your group, you will not have to wait for other passengers.

Check out my article about airport transfers to New York if you want to know more about how to get to your hotel from the airport and vice versa in the most comfortable way saving on each trip.

Book your airport transfer to NY

6. Is New York safe?

Rockefeller Center| ©Hellotickets
Rockefeller Center| ©Hellotickets

In terms of safety, New York is one of the safest cities in the United States despite the bad reputation it may have had in the past.

In the last decade, the crime rate has dropped a lot and it is only advisable to avoid some troubled areas, such as East Harlem, the South Bronx or Brownsville in Brooklyn, especially at night.

As in other very touristy cities there may be some pickpocketing. The best way to avoid this is to be alert to your surroundings, don't carry a lot of money and pay attention to your cell phone or camera. If you take certain measures and apply common sense, you will have nothing to worry about in New York.

7. Make the currency exchange in your country

Views of the Empire State Building| ©Hellotickets
Views of the Empire State Building| ©Hellotickets

When planning a trip we always have the following question: where and when to exchange my money for dollars? My advice is to do it in your home country to avoid having to waste time with the question of currency exchange in New York. Here's how I do it.

Currency exchange at home

In theory, if you go to your bank they should give you the best exchange rate, but this is not always the case. Therefore, it is advisable to visit different banks, whether you are a customer or not, and ask how many dollars they will give you for an amount and the commission they apply.

During this process, write down the bank where you ask and the exchange rate they tell you, and then make a comparison at home and finally choose the one that suits you best.

The amount you are going to change depends on you and the circumstances of your trip. What you should keep in mind is that you will have to request the currency exchange at the bank a week in advance, because they must ask for the dollars and you risk that for the date of your trip they will not arrive on time.

Currency exchange at the destination

If you choose to change money once you are in New York, it is better to do it in exchange offices rather than at the airport.

There are usually several exchange houses scattered around the city, each with a different rate. Keep in mind that you will be subject to the changes they want to make and you may lose the reference on what is the commission and the real value.

In any case, look for the one that suits you best to make the money exchange.

8. Leave tips in New York

A New York coffee shop| ©Hellotickets
A New York coffee shop| ©Hellotickets

An unwritten law that in New York is observed to the letter (and that brings us tourists upside down) is to leave a tip after enjoying a service, especially in restaurants, cafes, cab transfers, hotel room cleaning, etc.

Where to tip and how much should I tip?

  • Restaurants: a tip is usually between 15% and 20% of the total, depending on how happy you are with the service.
  • Cabs: many cabs now have screens on the back of the seats where the default tip is calculated and the options for the customer to choose from are 20%, 25% and 30%.
  • Hotels: if at your hotel the bellboy helps you carry your bags, it is correct to tip him $2 or $3 per bag. As for the floor maids, the tip is $2 to $5 per day.
  • Tour guide: If the group is large and it is a short visit, a tip of $5 per person is fine. On the other hand, if the group is smaller and the tour lasts many hours, a tip of about $10 per person is usually appropriate.

Why tip

In the United States, some industries allow workers to be paid less than minimum wage because, in theory, by adding tips to their base wage, workers should reach minimum wage.

The reality is that many people need tips to make a living wage at the end of the month.

This system may seem more or less fair to us and, although it may surprise us a lot coming from other countries, in New York this is the way things are done and we have to adapt. As the saying goes: "where you go, do as you please".

What happens if I don't leave a tip

It is true that they cannot require the customer to leave a tip, but not doing so is interpreted as a very rude and inconsiderate gesture. Thus, after taxes and tipping, prices will be 15-20% higher than what is indicated in New York.

9. What should I pack for my trip to New York?

Coney Island amusement park| ©Hellotickets
Coney Island amusement park| ©Hellotickets

It is clear that the clothes you take will depend (very much) on the time of the year when you travel to New York.

  • Summer: temperatures are very high in the street and the air conditioning in stores, hotels and malls is very very strong. I recommend that you bring a scarf for your neck and a denim or thin jacket to protect you indoors.
  • Winter: gloves, hat and scarf are a must, but don't forget to also take some thermal clothing (temperatures easily reach below freezing), several extra socks in case it snows and winter shoes.
  • Autumn and spring: wear several layers of clothing during the day, as temperatures are warm but there can be a big difference between morning and evening with the central hours of the day.

Regarding the rain, do not worry because it does not usually rain too much and when it does, there are hundreds of street vendors where you can buy an umbrella on the street at a good price.

Take the opportunity to shop in New York

The prices of some brands of clothing, electronics or accessories in the United States are much cheaper than in other countries of the world, so be sure to leave enough room in your suitcase to bring all your purchases.

In fact, I recommend that in addition to visiting the typical Manhattan stores on the street, be sure to visit the vintage markets that you can find in areas like Brooklyn.

Do not forget to visit the famous outlets. There you can find luxury brand clothes from other seasons at very good prices. If you are interested in knowing more details, I leave here my guide about Premium Outlet Day Trips from New York.

10. Internet in New York, always!

In Times Square| ©Hellotickets
In Times Square| ©Hellotickets

There are many travelers who claim to be able to live for a few days without connecting to the Internet, but having the option to connect anytime, anywhere is something that many do not want to give up nowadays during their vacations.

Roaming in the United States

Roaming is the service that allows you to use your cell phone abroad. If you travel to a country that is part of the European Union, the advantage is that you will pay the same rate as in Spain.

However, if you want to roam in the United States, be careful. Phone companies can charge excessive rates.

My recommendation is that you carefully read the conditions of the rate you have contracted and check with the phone company for this information and if you must activate your roaming service to travel to the United States or if it is already active by default.

Buying a SIM card in New York

In New York there are plenty of stores where you can buy a US SIM card, so it will be easy to find one.

If you choose this option, remember that your phone must be unlocked to be able to change your current card for another company's SIM card.

The employees themselves will take care of activating your SIM card, so you don't have to worry about anything.

Take advantage of free WiFi in New York

To avoid using up all the GB on your SIM card, the perfect complementary option is WiFi. In New York you will find free WiFi almost everywhere: coffee shops, museums, department stores, public libraries...

Take advantage of a visit or a coffee to send a photo to your family of how much you are enjoying your vacation in the Big Apple.

11. How to save on travel arrangements

Views of the Manhattan skyline from the ferry| ©Hellotickets
Views of the Manhattan skyline from the ferry| ©Hellotickets

To make the most of your trip to New York, have you thought about buying a New York Pass? It is a tourist card that gives access to the main tourist attractions of the city and has several advantages. If you take advantage of it, you will save money:

  • Money: as it allows you to enter popular attractions at a flat or reduced rate.
  • Time: since most of these sites of interest have a special queue for holders of these passes.

And it's so convenient to have all your tickets in one place!

What do the passes usually include?

  • Access to a sightseeing bus around the main areas of New York City
  • A ferry to Liberty Island, where the Statue of Liberty is located
  • Tickets to the Top of the Rock, Empire State Building or One World Observatory
  • Tickets to the 9/11 Memorial and the 9/11 Museum
  • Tickets for the Natural History Museum
  • MoMA tickets
  • Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum tickets
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art Tickets
  • Madame Tussauds New York Tickets

Which pass to buy?

The main thing to keep in mind is that there are passes by number of days, by number of attractions and by type of attractions.

Finding the perfect pass depends on the type of trip you are going to do in New York and your budget. In our post about New York City sightseeing passes we help you choose the right one for you. Check it out!

Book a New York pass

12. And once there... How do I get around?

The New York subway| ©Hellotickets
The New York subway| ©Hellotickets

The subway will be your great ally once you settle in the Big Apple. At first you will feel like walking for hours and hours (and I recommend it, as it is the best way to enjoy New York), but sometimes the distances will make it impossible and fatigue will start to act.

But don't worry, because wherever you are, you will have a subway stop nearby that will take you where you need to go, in a very short time and for little money.

Even if there are many lines, don't feel overwhelmed because it's simpler than it seems. I tell you everything you need to know in my article on Guide to the New York City Subway.

The tourist bus

If you prefer not to complicate your life and still enjoy the sights of New York while moving from one place to another, booking the tourist bus is always a good option.

With several routes, it connects the most emblematic points of the city and allows you to get on and off as many times as you want.

It runs day and night and its operation is simpler than that of the metro, as it is designed exclusively for the traveler. Here I tell you all the details about Hop on Hop off Bus Tours NYC.

A cruise on the Hudson

Another way to move (while resting) around Manhattan is to hire a cruise on the Hudson (or take one of the ferries to cross to Brooklyn or the Statue of Liberty).

The views of the Manhattan skyline from the water are spectacular and you can relax, even for a while, while crossing the river quietly. Here are all the options that exist on Best Manhattan Cruises.

Book a Hudson River Cruise

13. And what to eat in New York?

The Chelsea market| ©Hellotickets
The Chelsea market| ©Hellotickets

Eating well in New York at a good price is not impossible, but it requires a little attention when choosing a restaurant or a place to stop for a break.

About prices

This city has a gastronomic offer that is hard to beat, but you will have to be attentive to the menus so as not to destroy your budget. Remember that menus usually do not include taxes and tips, so the price you see on the menu is not the final price.

My advice is to set a daily budget to spend on food. Unless you are traveling on a budget, I advise you to combine a daily fast food meal (probably at noon, when you are touring the city) and a quiet dinner in one of the coolest neighborhoods (the West Village or SoHo).

Don't rule out picnics

Especially in times when the weather permits, I love to picnic in one of its parks or squares (you will not be alone, you will surely see dozens of executives, tourists and New Yorkers doing the same as you).

Throughout the city you will see fast food chains (but more or less healthy) such as Pret-À-Manger, where you can buy a sandwich or a hot soup to go.

What to eat

New Yorkers don't live by burgers alone (although you will obviously have to try more than one during your days there).

In New York you will find food of all kinds, from the most elaborate menus to the typical hot dogs and delicious hamburgers.

I have written a guide about 10 places to eat in New York City with all my recommendations so you don't fall into any "tourist traps". Ah! And don't forget the typical cheesecake for dessert either. Delicious!

Take at least one gastronomic tour

This is one of the best ways to get to know the best restaurants in the city and enjoy the best New York flavors. However, I recommend it if you are going to New York for several days or if you are passionate about gastronomy.

There are several gastronomic tours in New York and each one usually covers a specific area of the city, showing its best dishes. In this sense, you will find for example:

  • Gastronomic tour of Manhattan: perfect if you want to combine the knowledge of the history of the area with the tasting of typical local flavors.
  • Gastronomic tour of Brooklyn: you will discover the gastronomic epicenter of New York.
  • Gastronomic tour of Little Italy: where you will taste the flavors that emerged from the union of Italian and American cuisine and you will visit popular restaurants such as Lombardi's Pizza and Ferrara Bakery.

Book a food tour in Manhattan

14. Beware of ticket scalping

Broadway musical brochures| ©Hellotickets
Broadway musical brochures| ©Hellotickets

Are you one of those travelers who dream of seeing a Broadway musical or an NBA game at Madison Square Garden? The feeling of being at the mecca of basketball or sitting in the velvet seat waiting for the curtain to rise is one of the most exciting to experience in New York.

But being activities with high demand, especially at times like Christmas, my recommendation is to book tickets for Broadway and buy tickets for the NBA online and in advance to avoid running out of place.

But most importantly, be wary of resellers that you will see on the street. These tickets are not guaranteed to be the real deal and, if they are, the seats will probably not be the ones promised.

How to get good tickets without spending a lot of money?

I recommend buying tickets online as far in advance as possible if you are sure of the date and the musical you want to see.

Otherwise, if you wait to buy them at the box office, you run the risk of running out of tickets for the day you would like to see the show due to high demand.

This also happens with NBA tickets for the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden and the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center.

Book a Broadway musical

15. Discover New York by taking a tour

Guided tour of New York| ©Hellotickets
Guided tour of New York| ©Hellotickets

If you want to discover the most interesting places in New York with a guided tour, my favorite tours are:

  • The Contrasts Tour: where you can discover in depth the most emblematic neighborhoods of New York.
  • And the Lower Manhattan tour: also known as Downtown, it consists of areas such as Chinatown, Greenwich Village and the financial district, among others.

Book a New York City tour