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Tips for a First Timer in New York

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After our recent trip to the Big Apple (read my travel post here) I have been asked by so many people what my tips are for visiting New York. It seems all my friends and family have trips to New York planned for the very near future! Having only visited once I am in no way an expert and can only offer guidance based on our experience last November, but due to popular demand here are my top tips for a first timer in New York.

New York from Top of the Rock

Getting Around

There are several ways to get from JFK to Manhattan – for ease most people choose to get a Yellow Cab. This taxi ride, assuming you are making just one stop in Manhattan is a fixed fare and is off the meter. You pay $52 plus tolls (plus tip, of course). Make sure you agree this with the driver before you leave – while it was fine from the airport, we ended up in quite a discussion with our driver on the return trip from Manhattan despite him having the fixed fare logo painted on the side of his cab. He wanted to charge us way over the price – saying the fixed fare didn’t cover his costs. We offered him the opportunity to pay for a tank of fuel for our car over here!

You can get around most of Manhattan on foot with no problem at all. Think two to three minutes walk per block and you’re about right. Do bear in mind that Times Square, Fifth Avenue and the area around the Empire State Building and Macy’s gets incredibly busy with pedestrians – I’ve never seen so many people trying to walk along or cross the road. It’s easy to avoid these places by walking around the block – it might be further but it will be easier.

Crossing the road involves much bravery. When you are given right of way, according to the white GO or number countdown on the traffic lights, then take a deep breath and just go. We were told that New Yorker’s believe red lights are just a suggestion, but they will stop if you’re there! It is legal in the USA to turn right on red, but again, if you are crossing they will wait. If you hesitate they will not be patient, they will go. Oh and be prepared for the constant honking of horns – if there is a cyclist, drivers will honk; if there is a pedestrian, drivers will honk; if there is a red light, drivers will honk. What an unnecessary racket!

If using the Subway/Metro/Underground/Tube (whatever it’s called!) bear in mind that you need to make your route and direction decisions above ground, and use the right entrance to the station. Unlike London, in most cases you go directly from the surface onto the platform, so you can’t wander around inside the station to work out where you need to be. Also, if you don’t have a US Credit Card you will need to buy your tickets from a manned ticket booth as the first thing the automated machine asks is for the zip code associated with your card. You only need one Metro card for your whole party if you are travelling together, as you can pass it back over the barriers and re-use it – this will save a dollar or two.

Drinks and Resting

New York simply doesn’t know how to do tea. I mean since when is good tea made by giving me a cup of hot water and a tea bag still in its wrapper? No, no, no. Fellow tea-drinkers, just resign yourself to the fact that you’ll get a decent cuppa when you return home, and drink coffee and hot chocolate instead!!

Most of the coffee shops we saw (and there are loads of those!) don’t have much, if any, seating. Some of the larger Starbucks do have seating areas but we only found a couple with more than a handful of chairs or barstools. There wasn’t even anywhere to sit and have a drink in Macy’s – even there it was take out only unless you were eating in one of the restaurants. It seems New Yorkers don’t sit and sip their hot drinks to take the weight off their feet for a few minutes, but rather they have them on the go whilst marching about.

My eatery recommendations are – Blue Smoke for pulled pork, Juniors for a burger, Trattoria for pizza and lemon cream pie, Ellen’s Stardust for singing waitresses, Eileen’s for cheesecake, Tick Tock for breakfast and Magnolia Bakery for cake. See my original travel post for more details (and links) for each one. You’ll eat well!

Shopping

If you want to buy electrical goods such as cameras, computers, iPods etc, then head to B&H Photo. Located on 9th Avenue just down from the Empire State Building, this is a massive (and I mean massive) store selling everything sound and video related. Even if you don’t want to buy anything, the ordering and collection system is something to be seen!

When they tell you that Macy’s is the biggest department store in the world, they are not kidding. At least double or maybe triple the size of Harrods, you will easily get lost.  Bloomingdales is much more up-market than Macy’s organised as a shop full of other shops rather than a massive department store.

The Apple Store at Grand Central Station is less busy than the one at the end of 5th Avenue close to Central Park, although both were heaving when we went. Ours in Covent Garden is bigger than both!

The Sights

The New York CityPass offers very good value for money. At $106 per person (something like £65) it gives entry into six (from a choice of eight) of the main New York attractions. You buy it in advance and print of the barcode, and take that to any of the included attractions when you arrive in New York to exchange it for your ticket booklet. We worked out that we had to use just four of the tickets in the booklet to save money, which was a very easy task.

Visit the Empire State Building in the day and Top of the Rock at night. This is what was recommended to us and it was definitely the right way around. You get great views of New York from both, but seeing the Empire State Building itself when its lit up is a must.

If you’re doing any of the Circle Line Cruises in Autumn or Winter and want to sit outside to get the best view, wrap up really warm! It might start out ok but once the sun sets you will freeze!!!

Empire State Building, New York

Please feel free to add your New York travel tips in the comments section – there will be plenty more from you all, I’m sure. Thanks!

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