The Big Apple is a dream destination for many travellers and a city full of possibilities to enjoy. It is an experience that is difficult to explain and must be experienced 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 with more outdoor activities. Plus, 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, kayaking and rooftop drinking. However, it's high season for flights and hotels and prices are on the rise.
New York's landscape is very colourful during this season, perfect for photography. There is little rain and the temperatures are mild, which is perfect for exploring the city on foot. Two very American holidays, Halloween and Thanksgiving, are celebrated in autumn, giving the city a very special atmosphere.
I visited New York for the first time in autumn and since then I have found it to be a very special time to visit the city. I tell you all about what you can do there at this epic time of year in my guide to 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 can visit the sights at your leisure.
In fact, Christmas in this city is a world apart. I have written a specialised guide to 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 say that you could spend years in New York and still not get to see and enjoy everything it has to offer. But since time and budget are usually not infinite, I recommend that you visit New York for at least 5-7 days, especially if it's your first time. With fewer days, you'll miss out on a lot and you'll be more stressed. You'll have the feeling that the trip is too short.
If your circumstances and budget allow, a 10-day trip to New York is ideal as it will allow you to see most of the city's must-see s ights and get the most out of your trip.
For longer trips
If you're lucky enough to stay in New York for several days and want to get out of the big city to discover the surrounding area, there are several possibilities: Washington, Boston and Niagara Falls are just a few 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 bit more about the culture and other American cities. (You can check out all the options here: 5 Day Trips from New York).
3. Travel medical insurance and vaccinations
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), so having good travel insurance with comprehensive medical coverage is essential when travelling to New York.
Chances are that during your trip you won't have to deal with a situation requiring medical attention that could put a damper on your holiday. But to prevent these unexpected surprises, it's best to have travel insurance that will save you from having to deal with exorbitant expenses in the event of an ailment during your stay in New York.
Any vaccinations required?
There are no vaccinations required to travel to New York as a tourist in order 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 yellow fever because the authorities may ask you to do so.
If you have any other questions or doubts, you can always go to the International Vaccination Centre in your city for more information.
4. Get your ESTA in time
When it comes to travelling to the United States, it is always necessary to plan ahead in order to gather all the documentation required to enter the country. If you are travelling to New York from Europe for either business or tourism, you will not need to obtain a visa but you will need to obtain an 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 US government website. This authorisation is valid for two years unless the passport with which you apply for it expires earlier. If you have any questions, you can ask the US embassy for more information.
If you come from a country outside Europe, it is advisable to check which documents are required for travel on the official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or at the US 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 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.
I recommend that you have the address of your accommodation (hotel or flat) and your return flight reservation (if you have one). They will also ask you the reason for your trip, but you don't have to worry about anything: these are routine questions and won't take long (nor will they require a high level of English, as they are used to dealing with tourists).
5. How to get from the airport to New York?
Once you've landed on American soil and cleared security, you'll have to choose how to get to the centre of New York from the airport. New York is a city with good transport links. Its public transport network (bus, underground, taxi, etc.) is efficient and allows you to get from one end of the Big Apple to the other and explore every corner of it quickly.
However, from experience I can tell you that after landing from a long flight that leaves you exhausted, the last thing you want to do is walk around the terminal looking for a free taxi or make multiple transfers carrying suitcases on the metro or bus network until you get to your hotel. That's why the most convenient option is to book a shared or private transfer to your hotel in Manhattan, where you'll travel aboard modern vehicles that are 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 chauffeur will be at your disposal and the VIP vehicle will be just for you and your group, you will not have to wait for other passengers. Check out my article on airport transfers to New York if you want to know more about how to get from the airport to your hotel and back in the most comfortable way and save on every ride...
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 once had. In the last decade, the crime rate has fallen sharply, and only a few problem areas such as East Harlem, the South Bronx and Brownsville in Brooklyn are best avoided, especially at night.
I have written an article explaining the ins and outs of each of New York's neighbourhoods, which I recommend if you are thinking of organising 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 on the underground or on the street while you're admiring a monument. Be careful! The best way to avoid this is to be alert to your surroundings, don't carry too much money and keep an eye on your mobile phone or camera. If you take certain precautionary measures and apply common sense, you won't have anything to worry about in New York.
7. Make the currency exchange in your country
When planning a trip, the question always arises: where and when do I 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. It is therefore 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 won't tell you because the commission is already included in the exchange rate).
During this process, make a note of 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 change depends on you and the circumstances of your trip. What you should bear in mind is that you will have to request the currency exchange at the bank a week in advance, as they must ask for the dollars and you run the risk that they will not arrive in time for the date of your trip.
Currency exchange at your destination
If you choose to change money once in New York, it's better to do so at exchange offices rather than at the airport. There are usually several bureaux de change scattered around the city, each with a different rate. Bear in mind that you will be subject to the exchange rate they want to give you and you may lose track of the commission and the real value. In any case, look for the one that suits you best to exchange your money.
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, cafés, taxi transfers, hotel room cleaning, etc.
Where to tip and how much should I tip?
- Restaurants: Tipping is usually 15-20% of the total, depending on how happy you are with the service.
- Taxis: Many taxis 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 taxis.
- Hotels: If at your hotel the bellboy helps you carry your bags, it is correct to tip him $2 or $3 per bag. For housekeepers, tip $2 to $5 per day.
- Tour guide: If the group is large and it's a short visit, a tip of $5 per person is fine. If the group is smaller and the tour lasts many hours, a tip of $10 per person is usually appropriate.
In the United States, some sectors allow workers to be paid less than the minimum wage because in theory, by adding tips to their base wage, workers should reach the 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 come as a surprise coming from other countries, this is how things are done in New York 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 demand that the customer leaves 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's in my suitcase for my trip to New York?
Of course, the clothes you wear will depend (very much) on the time of year you travel to New York. If you're travelling in the summer, bear in mind that temperatures are very high outside and the air conditioning in shops, hotels and shopping centres is very, very hot. I recommend that you bring a scarf and a denim or thin jacket to protect yourself from the air conditioning.
In winter, gloves, hat and scarf are a must, but don't forget to pack some thermal clothing (temperatures can easily drop below freezing and you'll be spending a lot of time outdoors) as well as some extra socks in case it snows. (Bear in mind that winter footwear should be comfortable and, if possible, waterproof against 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 and the middle of the day.
As for the rain, don't worry because it doesn't usually rain much and when it does, there are hundreds of street vendors where you can buy an umbrella on the street for a good price.
Shop in New York
The prices of some brands of clothing, electronics and accessories in the United States are much cheaper than in other countries around the world, so make sure you leave enough room in your suitcase to bring all your purchases. In fact, I recommend that in addition to visiting the typical Manhattan high street shops, you should also check out the vintage flea markets you can find in areas such as Brooklyn.
And don't forget to visit the famous outlets. There you will be able to find luxury brand clothes from other seasons at very good prices. If you are interested in 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 travellers who claim to be able to live for a few days without going online, but having the option to go online anytime, anywhere is something that many do not want to give up these days during their holidays (you will find it useful, especially the Maps application, checking opening hours of shops or restaurants, being able to check your email if you have saved confirmation of tours or attraction tickets, etc.).
Roaming in the USA
Roaming is the service that allows you to use your mobile phone abroad. All calls, messages and data you make with your mobile 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 as in Spain. However, if you want to roam in the United States... be careful, because phone companies can charge exorbitant rates.
My recommendation is that you carefully read the conditions of the tariff you have contracted (the cost of calls, sms, and Internet connection) and check with the telephone company for this information and whether you must activate your roaming service to travel to the United States or whether it is already active by default.
Buy a SIM card in New York
There are plenty of shops in New York 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 in order to exchange your current card for another company's SIM card. Your SIM card will be activated by the employees themselves, so you don't have to worry about anything.
Take advantage of free WiFi in New York
If you don't want to use up all the GB on your SIM card, WiFi is the perfect complementary option. In New York you'll 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're enjoying your holiday in the Big Apple.
11. Tips on how to save money when organising your trip
To get the most out of your trip to New York, have you thought about buying a ? New York Pass? This is a tourist card that gives you access to the city's main tourist attractions and has several advantages. If you make the most of it, you'll 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 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 million-dollar question we have all asked ourselves at some point. In this sense, the most important thing to bear 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're going to make to New York and your budget. In our post on New York sightseeing passes we help you choose the one that's right for you - take a look!
Isabel's Traveler Tip
It will be easier to choose a pass if you first make a list of the sights you want to see in New York.
12. And once there... How do I get around?
The underground will be your greatest ally once you get settled in the Big Apple. At first you'll feel like walking for hours and hours (and I recommend it, as it's the best way to enjoy New York), but sometimes the distances will make it impossible and fatigue will start to set in. But don't worry, because wherever you are, you'll have an underground stop nearby that will get you where you need to go, in no time and for very little money.
Although there are many lines (some are express and some are not), don't feel overwhelmed because it's simpler than it looks. I tell you everything you need to know (main stops, timetables, express lines, ticket prices and vouchers) in my article on Guide to the New York City Subway.
The tourist bus
If you prefer to keep it simple and still enjoy the sights of New York as you move from place to place, the sightseeing bus is always a good option. With several routes, it connects the city's most iconic sights and allows you to hop on and off as many times as you like. It runs day and night and its operation is simpler than that of the metro, as it is designed exclusively with the traveller in mind. I'll tell you all the details here: Hop on Hop off Bus Tours NYC.
A cruise on the Hudson
Another way to get around Manhattan (while resting) is to take a cruise on the Hudson (or take one of the ferries to Brooklyn or the Statue of Liberty). The views of the Manhattan skyline from the water are spectacular and you'll be able to relax, if only for a little while, as you leisurely cruise the river. Here are all the options available on Best Manhattan Cruises.
13. And what do you eat in New York?
Eating well and cheaply in New York is not impossible, but it does require a bit of thought when choosing a restaurant or a place to stop for a break.
The city has a gastronomic offer that's hard to beat, but you'll have to keep an eye on the menus to avoid blowing your budget. Important: remember that menus don't usually 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're travelling on a budget, I suggest combining a daily fast food meal (probably at lunchtime as you tour the city) with a more leisurely dinner in one of the cooler neighbourhoods (the West Village or SoHo areas have some very cool restaurants where you can treat yourself to a meal while you take a break from a long day of sightseeing).
Don't rule out picnics
Especially when the weather permits, I personally love to picnic in one of the parks or squares (you won't be alone, you're sure to see dozens of executives, tourists and New Yorkers doing the same as you). Throughout the city you'll find fast food chains (but more or less healthy) such as Pret-À-Manger where you can buy a sandwich or hot soup to go.
What to eat
It's not just burgers that New Yorkers live for (although you'll obviously have to try more than one during your time there). In New York, you'll find everything from elaborate menus to the typical hot dogs and delicious hamburgers. I've written a guide to 10 places to eat in New York City with all my recommendations so you don't fall into any tourist traps. Oh, and don't forget the cheesecake for dessert either. Delicious!
14. Beware of ticket scalping
Are you one of those travellers 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 since these are in high demand, especially around Christmas, I recommend you buy your tickets online in advance so you don't miss out on a seat at the theatre or stadium.
But most importantly, be wary of the touts you will see on the street (especially in Times Square or around the stadiums and theatres): the tickets are not guaranteed to be real and if they are, the seats will probably not be 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 tickets for the day you would like to see the show due to high demand.
Moreover, by booking online you can choose the seat you like best and in some cases the prices are cheaper than at the theatre 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 on a tour
If you want to discover the most interesting places in New York with a guided tour, my favourite 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.