The Big Apple is the dream destination for many travelers and a city full of possibilities to enjoy it. An experience difficult to explain that you have to live in person.
1. When to travel to New York?
If you like New York, any time of the year is a good time to travel as they all have their charm.
The days are longer and the temperatures are milder, which invites you to walk around and explore the city doing more outdoor activities. In addition, the city is 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 a host of outdoor activities such as movies, kayak rides 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. 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 envelop the city with 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 visit the city. I tell you everything you can do there in this epic of the year in my guide on Things to do in New York City in the Fall.
If you're not afraid of the cold, visiting New York during this season is a good idea because Christmas is fairytale-like and the city is decorated to the nines. On the other hand, in January and February there is little tourism and you will be able to visit the tourist attractions at your leisure.
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 City, so 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.
2. How much time do I need in New York?
Well, obviously, the more the merrier! I'm sorry to tell you that you could spend years in New York and not end up seeing and enjoying everything 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 and you will be more stressed. 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 because it will allow you to see a lot of the city's must-see s ights and get the most out of your trip.
For longer trips
If you are lucky enough to stay several days in New York and you feel like leaving the big city to discover its surroundings, you have different possibilities: Washington, Boston or Niagara Falls are just some of the excursions that can be done in the same day from New York. I recommend it 100% to add a contrast to your trip and discover a little more about the culture and other American cities. (You can check all the options here: 5 Day Trips from New York).
3. Travel medical insurance and vaccinations
Get travel medical 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) so 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 is best to have a travel insurance that will save you from having to face exorbitant expenses in case you suffer from any ailment during your stay in New York.
Are any vaccinations required?
On the other hand, 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, you can always go to the International Vaccination Center in your city for more information.
4. Get your ESTA on time
When it comes to traveling to the United States, prior planning is always required in order to gather all the documentation required to enter the country. If you are traveling to New York from Europe either 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 questions about this, you can ask for more information at the U.S. Embassy
If you come from a country outside Europe, it is advisable to consult the documents required for travel on the official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or at the U.S. embassy in your country.
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 data and those of your flight and then show it together with your passport (valid for at least 6 months) at the security checkpoint.
My recommendation is that you have at hand the address of your accommodation (hotel or apartment) and the reservation of your return flight (if you have it). They will also ask you the reason for your trip, but you don't have to worry about anything: they are routine questions and will not take much time (nor require a great level of English, as they are used to dealing with tourists).
5. How to get from the airport to New York?
Once you land on American soil and pass the security checks, you will have to choose the way 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 of the Big Apple to the other 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 carrying suitcases through the subway or bus network until you reach your hotel. Therefore, the most comfortable option is to book a shared or private transfer to your hotel in Manhattan where you will travel aboard modern vehicles fully equipped with every comfort.
Difference between shared and private transfer
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. Take a look at my article about transfers between the airport and 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 while saving on every trip.
6. Is New York safe?
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 only some troubled areas such as East Harlem, the South Bronx or Brownsville in Brooklyn are best avoided, especially at night.
I have written an article explaining the ins and outs of each New York neighborhood, which I recommend if you are thinking of organizing a visit to a particular area: 6 Best New York City Neighborhoods.
As in other touristy cities, there may be pickpockets waiting for their chance to get their hands on other people's belongings, either in the subway or on the street while we are admiring a monument. Be careful! The best way to avoid this is to be alert to your surroundings, don't carry too much money on you and pay attention to your cell phone or camera. If you take certain precautionary measures and apply common sense, you will have nothing to worry about in New York.
7. Make the currency exchange in your country
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 origin
In theory, if you go to your bank, where your salary or mortgage is deposited, 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 (sometimes they will not tell you because the commission is already included in the exchange rate).
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 destination
If you choose to change money once in New York, it is better to do it in exchange houses 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 most convinces you to make the money exchange.
8. Tipping in New York
An unwritten law that is observed to the letter in New York (and which is a real headache for tourists) is to leave a tip after enjoying a service, especially in restaurants, cafeterias, cab transfers, hotel room cleaning, etc.
Where to tip and how much should I tip?
- Restaurants: A tip of 15% to 20% of the total is usually given, 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%. In this case, a 20% tip would be sufficient for cabs.
- Hotels: If in your hotel the bellboy helps you carry your bags, the correct thing to do is to tip him $2 or $3 for each one. As for housekeepers, 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 for many hours, a tip of $10 per person is usually appropriate.
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 be able to make 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 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 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?
It is clear that the clothes you wear will depend (very much) on the time of the year when you travel to New York. If you are traveling in summer, keep in mind that 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 from the air conditioners.
In winter, gloves, hat and scarf are a must, but don't forget to also take some thermal clothing (temperatures easily reach below zero and you will spend a lot of time in the street) as well as several extra socks in case it snows. (Keep in mind that footwear in winter should be comfortable and if possible, waterproof to rain and snow).
In autumn and spring it is best to 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, do not forget 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 you here my guide on: Premium Outlet Day Trips from New York.
10. Internet in New York, always!
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 and anywhere is something that many do not want to give up nowadays during their vacation (you will find it useful, especially the Maps application, check store or restaurant schedules, be able to check email if you have saved confirmation of tours or tickets to attractions, etc).
Roaming in the United States
Roaming is the service that allows you to use your cell phone abroad. All calls, messages and data you make with your cell phone outside your home country (or the European Union) are considered roaming. If you travel to a country that is part of the European Union, the advantage is that you will pay the same rate you have in Spain. However, if you want to roam in the United States... be careful, because telephone companies can charge excessive rates.
My recommendation is that you read carefully the conditions of the tariff you have contracted (the cost of call, sms, and Internet connection) and check with the phone company this information and if you must activate your roaming service to travel to the United States or if it is already active by default.
Buy 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 the SIM of another company. 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. Tips to save money when organizing your trip
To get the most out 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: as most of these attractions have a special queue for pass holders.
And it's also very convenient to have all your tickets in one place!
What do the passes usually include?
- Access to a sightseeing bus through 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 million-dollar question we have all asked ourselves at some time. In this sense, the most important thing to keep in mind is that there are two types of New York Pass: by number of days and by number of attractions.
Finding the perfect pass depends on the type of trip you are going to make in New York and your budget. In our post about New York tourist cards we help you to choose the most suitable for you, take a look at it!
Isabel's Traveler Tip
It will be easier to choose a pass if you first make a list of the tourist attractions you want to see in New York.
12. And once there... How do I get around?
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.
Although there are many lines (some are express and some are not), don't feel overwhelmed because it's simpler than it seems. I tell you everything you need to know (main stops, schedules, express lines, ticket prices and vouchers) 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, the sightseeing bus is always a good option. With several routes, it connects the most emblematic points of the city and allows you to hop 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 are all the details: Hop on Hop off Bus Tours NYC.
A cruise on the Hudson River
Another way to move (while resting) around Manhattan is to take 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 available on Best Manhattan Cruises.
13. And what do you eat in New York?
Eating well in New York at a good price is not impossible, but it does require a bit of attention when choosing a restaurant or a place to stop for a break.
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. Important: 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 area has very cool restaurants where you can treat yourself while resting from a long day of sightseeing.
Don't rule out picnics
Especially in times when the weather permits, I personally love to have picnics 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) as the 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 obviously you will 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 on 10 places to eat in New York City with all my recommendations so you won't fall into any "tourist traps". Ah! And don't forget the typical cheesecake for dessert either. Delicious!
14. Beware of ticket scalping
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 in the mecca of basketball or sitting in a velvet seat waiting for the curtain to rise and the show to begin is one of the most exciting things to experience in New York.
Seeing a Broadway show or watching an NBA game (both Knicks and Brooklyn Nets) in New York is a highly recommended experience. But as these activities are in high demand, especially on dates like Christmas, my recommendation is to buy tickets online and in advance so you don't run out of your spot in the theater or stadium.
But the most important thing is to be wary of the scalpers you will see on the street (especially in Times Square or around the stadiums and theaters): the tickets do not offer any guarantee of being real and in the case that they are, surely the seats are not the ones promised.
How to get good tickets without spending a bundle?
That's why I recommend that you buy tickets online as far in advance of your trip 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 them for the day you would like to see the show due to high demand.
In addition, by booking online you will be able to choose the place you like and in some cases the prices are cheaper than at the theater box office. The same goes for NBA tickets for the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden and for the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center.
15. Discover New York by taking a tour
If you want to discover the most interesting places in New York with a guided tour, my favorite tours are the Contrasts Tour and the Upper and Lower Manhattan Tour. Here are the details of both tours: New York Contrasts Tour and The Best Upper and Lower Manhattan Tour.