Coming to New York City? 10 tips

By Caitlin Kelly

You’ve seen it in movies and on television and maybe read about it for years. Before you head into Manhattan (or Brooklyn, probably the only two of the five boroughs that make up NYC you’ll visit), a few tips. I’ve lived here for 25 years and you can spot the tourists a mile off…


Dress the part!

You can always tell the out-of-towners — the teen girls and women have…unusual…hair color, wear heavy  make-up, nude hose, pastels, bright colors and sequins. They have French manicures and pedicures, or chipped nail polish. All of which mark them immediately as someone not from here. A fresh manicure (nude polish on hands) and pedicure are key. New York women are well-groomed!

Like Paris, New York has its own visual style, and understated elegance is a good option, for men and women. Yes, we all wear black, all year round. It’s easy to accessorize and moves easily, if it’s the right clothing and style, from day to evening, usually with a change of shoes. (Bring ballet slippers or flats for comfortable/stylish walking — we walk everywhere. Men might consider a stylish suede or leather lace-up.)

Also not very city-friendly: bulging, enormous backpacks (everything here is small and crowded); chunky white or black sneakers; ripped or super-baggy (or super-tight) jeans; farmer or baseball caps, especially worn backward, logos all over everything, fanny packs.

Get to/out on the water

It’s too easy to forget that Manhattan is an island, and some of the loveliest sights are found on its edges — the bike and walking paths along the East River and the Hudson. The Circle Line takes hours, but the round-the-island boat tour will give you a terrific appreciation of the city, as will the (much cheaper!) Staten Island ferry, which commuters ride to and from their homes on SI. (Rent the classic movie Working Girl, with Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver, to understand the importance of the ferry.)

Get onto the water at sunset to watch the city lights come up — and the Statue of Liberty at sunset. You can also rent kayaks and sailboats here.

Walk faster. No, even faster!

No kidding. Nothing is more maddening  and selfish than huge packs of tourists walking abreast — i.e. completely blocking a subway stair or sidewalk — sloooooooooowly.

Move it, folks!

The people who work here have places to go and no time to get there.

Enjoy a drink at one of the city’s vintage bars

Fanelli’s, Old Town Bar, Sardi’s, McSorley’s, The White Horse Tavern, The Landmark. Manhattan offers some fantastically old, weathered taverns with deep wooden booths, pressed tin ceilings and decades, even centuries of history. Settle in and enjoy.

(If you want to go seriously upscale — and dress well! — splurge on a cocktail or two at The Campbell Apartment, the King Cole Room at the St. Regis or Bemelman’s.) Yes, cocktails can cost $12, $14 or more. It’s New York, kids.

Keep your Metrocard filled

Taking the subway or bus is often a lot quicker and cheaper than trying to find a cab and getting stuck in traffic. Keep your card topped up. When you get on the bus, dip your card quickly in and out of the fare box. Then move to the rear!

Ride the bus

There’s no better way to really see the city. Skip the tourist buses and spend a few hours riding the M104 (Broadway) or the M5 (Fifth Avenue.) Comfortable, safe, cheap.


You will not find a cab at 4:00 p.m.

That’s when all the drivers change shifts and all those cars are going to whiz right past you, no matter how much you flap your arm. We know it. Take a bus, or subway or walk.

But…if you beg, nicely, you might still hitch a ride if someone is heading that direction.

If you take a cab, tip at least 15 percent

Or prepare to be brow-beaten.

Carry a small umbrella

Few things are more frustrating than getting caught in the rain and not finding a cab to rescue you. Be prepared.

Eat at Shake Shack

Forget the calories and the lines. Just do it. So damn good!

26 thoughts on “Coming to New York City? 10 tips

  1. my brother and his family live in hell’s kitchen and has shown me quite a bit of the city. i love your advice, (once again, column worthy), and i love shake shack too )

  2. breathewildflower

    i love how useful this post is, i so wish i would have found it earlier when i went to NYC and had purist slapped across my forehead. But I marked it so I can reread this next March when I go again. I was wondering what are some good nightlife places and is there a strict age checking (I’M 19) thank you!

    1. Thanks!

      Nightlife is not my specialty — you might read TimeOut New York and look for blogs focused specially on NY….also nightlife being….? Clubs? Dancing? Theater? There is a LOT to do here.

      Age checking may depend on the venue.

      1. breathewildflower

        thank you, sorry one more quick question, what are some goo local cafes that aren’t touristy and maybe even cute?

      2. That’s too big a question. NYC has a lot of cafes. I like Cafe Cluny; it is small, expensive and quiet, but may not be what you’re looking for. NY is not big on cute, really.

  3. Fatima

    Any advice on New York in February? I hope to go there next year. At least I need to work on my manicure. (I have an annoying habit of picking at my cuticles.)
    Thanks for the tips.

    1. Dress warmly! Winters here are very cold and windy: scarf, hat, wool/leather/cashmere gloves; waterproof shoes or boots (leather.) It’s a perfect time to see lots of museums and galleries (stay inside!) and enjoy some of the tea rooms, like Bosie’s, in the West Village. Museums are damn expensive ($20 admission) but almost every single one has a night of free admission; check their websites.

      Does that help?

  4. mylifeinfocusblog

    As a native New Yorker (who finally moved out and away) I had to be in the city this past weekend to babysit my new granddaugter. They have an apartment in Hell’s Kitchen (2 bedroom, 2 bath @$4,000 a month). I could not get over how horribly filthy the city has become! Times Square was loaded with crap and garbage strewn all over the floor/street. Mayor DeBlasio is doing a terrible job since he took office. Many of the tourists had to step in this litter! Bloomberg must be turning over in his armchair! Empty bottles, pizza boxes, take out food containers were everywhere. Smashed, uneated food, smothered all over the curbs. And let’s not forget all the melted dog poop everywhere.

    Anyone who goes to NYC now, IMHO should have their head examined. It is NOT the same as it was just a year ago. As I walked around, I didn’t even hear English, as most everyone now is a foreign tourist. Everyone I saw dressed like a slob! I don’t think I could catch a glimpse of anyone’s manicure. I just saw filth and complete disarray. Give me Paris any day. Even Rome! But you could take Manhattan.

    Next month my daughter moves out of NYC and further up north to greener pastures and a different mayor. Thank God! (oops, you forgot to mention that New Yorkers don’t like to hear the word ‘God’ uttered) As for me, I’ve moved totally out of the state and I hope I never, ever come back to this sh**hole. Broadway shows are overpriced and crowded (you can see these shows ANYWHERE else in America for a lot less) the restaurants are filthy AND overpriced, the hotels are notorious for having bed bugs………..I can go on and on. Crime is up (a recent tourist died after being punched in the face by a street gangster), the subways suck, ditto for the buses. I wouldn’t be caught dead on the Circle Line.
    The final straw is the $24 entrance fee you have to pay to see the remains of the World Trade Center and the absolute horror at the trinkets being sold in their “GIFT” shop? As a New Yorker who lost many friends in the bombing of the World Trade Center in 2001, New York City has descended into a new low. Despicable!

    Save your tourist dollars and go somewhere else on this planet! (PS: DeBlasio stated he wants to end NYC tourism. What a genius he is. He’s already off to a good start by having tourists walk around the city of filth!)

    1. Well, tell us how you really feel…:-)

      The fact is, whether or not we agree with their decision, millions of people (some of them Broadside readers) will arrive in NYC expecting, or hoping for, a good time. I can agree with some of your points (why the hell waste one SECOND in Times Square?!) but I know — as you do — that there are also many quieter, cheaper, more welcoming parts of the city as well.

      Rent in NYC has always been obscene; no news there.

      I go into the city maybe once a week. I also rarely visit it between June and September as it is hot, stinky, crowded and the subways unbearable. So, if you choose when and how to experience it — if at all — you can have a hideous experience or a lovely one.

      Same can be said for almost any city — LA, Toronto, Paris…I rented a car in LA on one visit that refused to start most of the time, leaving me alone and stranded (for work), with no cellphone, in a remarkably isolated and not-great area. I still love LA and would come back in a heartbeat. Shit happens.

      1. mylifeinfocusblog

        New York City is deteriorating. Rapidly.
        June, July August & September is when the tourists go. So, if you don’t go during those months, how can tourists? The also absolute worst month ever is February. The weather is unfathomable. One of your readers said she is going that month. What for? The cheaper rates?
        I’m sorry, but as a 60+ resident of NYC, it is time to cross this city off your list. How can you enjoy anything there while embroiled in garbage strewn about your feet? How can you ride the Circle Lines with garbage overflowing out of every crevice? And the rats! Many of the eateries are buried under rats and their dung. Especially coffee joints and those street vendors!
        I categorize NYC as a 4th world country. Make sure you take your rabies and tetanus shots before arriving. And please don’t wear those thin flip flops while walking around. Who knows what you will step in.
        Under Guilliano & Bloomberg the city shined. But now? Detroit would make a better choice. You’re from Canada so you don’t remember the Manhattan of the 70’s. I do. And sadly, it’s returning back to those dark days. DeBlasio wants to do away with horse drawn carriages, but unfortunately, the horse shit is an improvement over what’s thrown down on the streets lately. At least horse shit is a fertilizer.
        1 in 5 New Yorkers are fleeing each and every day. It’s a modern day Exodus.
        ‘Nuff said. I won’t comment about this matter anymore. Let people experience NYC for themselves. And then they can talk about it after the realization sinks in.
        NYC ain’t ‘Sex In The City’ anymore. It’s more like ‘Two Broke Girls’ who near poverty more and more each day.

      2. Hey…I’m not running the NYC Tourist Bureau…My ideas are simply my way of offering some suggestions.

        People come to NYC in the summer because….I assume because that’s when their children are out of school. I rarely visit cities in the summer because they’re almost all horrible for the same reasons.

        I have never lived in the city and do not regret my decision (driven by cost) to remain in the clean, cool, affordable (for me) suburbs. I enjoy my visits in and I enjoy having the choice to leave.

    2. Jonathan R

      Your observations, while troubling, don’t jibe with my experiences as a NYC resident. The subways are clean, the streets are clean, the big parks (and High Line) are clean.

      Certainly there are many foreign tourists here; New York is much cheaper than European cities and has a comparable range of cultural activities. Bear in mind also to your point about the Trade Center that many foreign nationals were killed in the attacks and that their families and friends have the same right as you to mourn.

      1. mylifeinfocusblog

        Hi Jonathan. I don’t know what street you live on, your income or background. The High Line, yes, is very clean but privately overlooked and cared for. BIG difference from the public streets of Times Square. No one is cleaning up the streets often enough where most of the tourists visit. I find that to be disgraceful.
        8 Million+ people live in NYC alone, so there are 8 million stories to tell. Every time I’m there, quality seems to be a bit less. I take Metro North. I almost took the train that derailed a few months back. Service has NEVER been the same since.
        For this New Yorker, it’s time to move on and move out. Good luck.

  5. Pingback: [BLOG] Some Tuesday links | A Bit More Detail

      1. And NYC sounds like such a vivid and diverse place. I visted only once, Brookyln, 1966 with an English teacher. She told me to wear tennies in case I had to run fast to get away from trying types! Gads. Would love to return.

      2. Well, clearly some people disagree with me, but I think it is well worth a visit, esp. in fall or spring. I would avoid almost all of midtown and Soho and stick to the E or W Village and also head into Brooklyn. I’m writing this at a Williamsburg cafe (my first foray into this trendy nabe) and the place is jumping.

  6. Negative comments notwithstanding, New York still remains high on my list of places I want to visit. And now I know I am already dressed for the occasion with my predominantly black wardrobe!

    1. 🙂

      I think NYC has many really lovely things to see, eat, enjoy. Yes, it can be very dirty (it’s a huge city) but few cities are not. Yes, it can be expensive, but — hello? — try London, where my last visit broke the bank just riding the Tube. Stay away from anywhere filled with tourists and you’ll see why some people come and stay.

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