City Guide: New York City
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Affectionately termed the Capital of the World, New York City is a delightful convergence of cultures, crowds, and cuisines. It’s also one of the most intimidating metropolises for even a seasoned traveler. Here’s an overview of the Big Apple and what you can expect from your stay.

AT A GLANCE

Photo by Miguel Ángel Sanz on Unsplash

FROM THE AIRPORT

New York City is serviced by three major international airports, John F. Kennedy (JFK), La Guardia (LGA), and Newark (EWR) although it’s technically in New Jersey. There are multiple ways to get to midtown, and it’s worth knowing all of them because which method of transportation you take at the time you arrive in the city will mean the difference between a 45-minute commute to a two-hour one.

JFK

Shuttles such as Airlink and Airporter are plentiful and reliable. A round-trip ticket costs on average $30. If you arrive during the rush hour times of 7-10 a.m. and 4-7 p.m., expect heavy traffic while traversing the Grand Central Parkway.

Taxis are unmetered from JFK to your first destination in Manhattan. The flat rate is $52 plus the cost of toll and the customary tip. There are no surcharges of any sort—report a driver who imposes one on you.

Taking the train (Queens-bound E to Sutpin/Jamaica/JFK and then transfer to the AirTrain) is the method that’s most consistent in terms of total travel time. Unless there are major delays, you can expect to be at the airport in about 90 minutes.

Uber and Lyft are also available and is recommended if you need door-to-door service. Via, a newer player in the ride-sharing market, offers rides to the airport for $39.95, but you share it with a few others.

La Guardia

The same shuttle companies that service JFK also drops off passengers to La Guardia. These airports are in opposite directions, so make sure you get to the right one.

There’s no direct subway line to the airport, however, there are multiple bus routes. Depending on where you are in New York City, you have to take one of the following: Q47, Q48, Q70 SBS, Q72 or M60 SBS.

Taxis are metered and do include a surcharge of $1 for weekday trips from 4 to 8 p.m. or $0.50 for travel from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily. An additional $0.50 surcharge is added for trips within New York (the New York State tax).

Ride-sharing services are not permitted to pick up passengers from the airport outside of the terminals. There are centralized locations for them, however.

Newark

Take the NJ Transit train from Penn Station in midtown to Newark Liberty International. It’s only $13 one way and takes less than an hour. The other travel options aren’t as ideal as this—because you’re crossing states—although they are also available.

GETTING AROUND

If you were to meet a New Yorker, don’t be surprised if they tell you that they do not own a car. (One exception: Someone who lives in Staten Island.) Not only is New York City dense, it’s notoriously difficult to find affordable parking. Besides, the MTA Subway (referred colloquially as just the subway, even if some routes go above ground) is fast, generally efficient, and available 24/7. It may not be the cleanest (and you may encounter a few characters especially if you’re traveling during the wee hours of the morning), but for $2.75, you can go anywhere you want, as long as you do not exit the gates.

The MTA also operates the buses, and they are generally used to go east or west. Only a handful of subway routes traverse the avenues (or go “crosstown”), so getting to the Javits Center at 11th avenue from all the way at 1st or 2nd avenue necessitates the bus instead of the train.

Yellow cabs and ride-sharing companies are in tough competition for the rider’s market. In general, take Uber or Lyft, unless they are surge pricing. In which case a taxi, even with a tip, might come out more economical.

Interior subway photo by Fancycrave.com from Pexels

WHERE TO STAY

Hotels in New York City are a lot like the apartments: Tiny and expensive. Do not be surprised if one night at a modest 3-star costs upwards of $250.

You may hear of travel guides telling you to opt for the other boroughs outside of Manhattan (even Jersey City, New Jersey). If it is your first time to the Big Apple, do not follow this advice. Almost all of the places you would want to visit while in NYC are in Manhattan, and the amount of money you’ll save by staying outside is mitigated by how much time it would take you to get to the tourist spots. Splurge on the room that’s in midtown; it’s worth it, if not for the ability to get out of your room and be in the middle of all the action.

One thing to note is that breakfast is not necessarily included in your rate. Chain brands such as Hyatt Place Midtown South include a buffet breakfast for every night you’re there. The more boutique-style accommodations eschew this, instead encouraging you to head out and explore the neighborhood. (That, or they just don’t offer it at all.)

Hostels are a mixed bag. Some establishments do offer rooms with a private bath, like Broadway Hotel and Hostel. There are yet others which offer dormitory-style rooms, but you only have to share the bathroom with your roommates. If you’re traveling in groups of four, this may be a better choice. Check out The Pod Hotel in Times Square.

Airbnbs are an option too, however, it’s only legal when the owner of the apartment is with you, i.e. you’re not renting the entire apartment. Beware of owners asking you to pay them outside of the website. You have no way to recover your money if your apartment ends up being in the middle of the Hudson River.

WHAT TO DO

I don’t think I need to state the obvious here: You’re in New York City. The things you can do while you’re here are only limited by your energy level, how much you’re willing to spend, and the length of your stay in the Big Apple.

For first-timers, here’s a list of the place you may want to visit:

Go all the way south and visit the Statue of Liberty at the earliest possible time you can. An average visit is about three to four hours, ferry rides included. Purchase your tickets online at the official website, Statue Cruises (not to be confused with the unaffiliated StatueOfLibertyTickets.com) or at the box-office in Castle Clinton at Battery Park. Do not purchase from touts. The tickets they sell may be valid (but even that is not a guarantee) but they are definitely overpriced to the hilt. Pro tip: Once you board the ferry boat, stay on the right side to get the best view of the statue as you approach the dock at Liberty Island.

Once you’re back at the island of Manhattan, you can either walk or take a brief subway ride to the World Trade Center memorial site. To visit the spot where the Twin Towers used to be is free, but the museum requires a ticket purchase (from $15, 911memorial.org).

When choosing which tall building to go up at, skip the Empire State Building and head to Top of the Rock instead (from $39). Because your tickets are timed, you don’t have to queue up too long, unlike the ESB, where wait times of over two hours are common. The views are also better at Top of the Rock. Central Park, in particular, is unobstructed.

The two heavyweight museums are worth a visit as well. The Museum of Modern Art is at Fifth Avenue ($25, includes access to film screenings, special exhibitions, and MoMA PS1 at Queens), while the massive Metropolitan Museum of Art ($25; pay-what-you-want for New York State residents and NY, NJ, and CT students with valid ID) is uptown. Allot three hours for MoMA and around five for the MET. Other museums of note are the Guggenheim ($25), Cooper Hewitt ($18), The American Museum of National History ($23), and The Intrepid ($33). Note that most museums close by 6 p.m., so it usually is a good idea to visit one a day instead of hitting them all in one go.

Times Square is sweaty, crowded, and a tourist trap in every sense of the word. However, it’s also beautiful especially in the evening when you’re bathed in its neon lights. The best time to head there is in the evening, closer to midnight. This guarantees the least amount of people—both visitors and scammers. Pro tip: None of the stores in Times Square is unique to the place. You will find them all over the USA. This applies to the restaurants too. I suppose if you don’t have a Bubba Gump Shrimp Company or a Red Lobster at the country where you’re from, then eating at either chain is understandable. But even then, if you can avoid them, do so. There are far tastier options scattered throughout the city.

WHERE TO EAT

NYC is, without a doubt, the best city to be a foodie. It may not have as many Michelin-starred restaurants as Japan or Paris, but the staggering amount of cuisines that you can enjoy while visiting the city more than makes up for it. In fact, there’s a Quora Q&A that said it would take someone 22 years to eat at every restaurant in New York City, assuming that the person eats three meals at a new spot every time and there are no turnovers from the time the challenge starts (which is impossible).

With this in mind, there’s absolutely no reason to go to the chains—only consider McDonald’s if, like me, you like eating at a country’s Mickey D’s just to see if anything about the recipe is different.

I could not possibly list all of the great restaurants the city has to offer, so here are a few of my personal favorites:

  • Peter Luger Steakhouse (178 Broadway, Brooklyn) – Exceptional steaks in an old-fashioned location. Order their steaks for 2 or 3 and a bottle of their house red. Credit cards not accepted, only cash, debit cards, the Peter Luger credit card, and checks with ID.
  • Menkui Tei Ramen (58 W 56th St, New York) – Small and unassuming ramen shop just an avenue away from the busy 5th Avenue shopping street. The Hakata ramen with a small side of curry rice makes for a filling, but cheap, dinner.
  • Diner (81 Broadway Brooklyn) – Kitschy restaurant operating out of a converted railroad car. The always changing menu includes diner favorites as well as new-American concoctions.
  • 5 Napkin Burger (various locations) – Tasty burger creations that are several steps above what you get from a fastfood. Order their classic, the 5 Napkin Burger, or the Avocado Ranch for the more hipster sort.
  • Han Dynasty (90 3rd Ave., New York) – Ready your glasses of water, bowl of rice, and milk! This restaurant serves authentic Szechuan dishes that give “spicy” a whole new meaning.
  • Barn Joo 35 (34 W 35th St., New York) – Right in the middle of Koreatown, this restaurant-bar churns out Korean cuisine favorites, tapas-style. Expect a lot of small plates meant to be shared.
  • New York Pizza Suprema (413 8th Ave., New York) – There are plenty of pizza places in the city, but none more delicious than this midtown spot.

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