I was so lucky to finally have the chance to visit NYC this year for my birthday. It has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember, probably tracing back to when I was 10 years old, watching “Friends” and being captivated by the city they lived in. I’ve always enjoyed big cities; I remember visiting San Francisco quite frequently when I was growing up and then Seattle when I moved to the PNW. But New York has always called my name and I knew I had to visit to truly experience the city for myself. These are the top 6 things you need to know when traveling to NYC to guarantee a good experience and make the most of your time.
Christmas in New York– I imagined it to be so magical, so beautiful and mystical, and I am happy to say that it didn’t fall short! It truly lived up to my expectations (and I can’t say that about many things). Our mind has a way of building things up, especially with the more time that goes by, that when the moment that we’ve been waiting for finally arrives, we are left a bit disappointed that our imagination was better than reality. Not this time. Throughout the trip, I just kept reminding myself that this is not a dream. I was very surprised that the real New York was exactly like I dreamed it would be.
Knowing me well, my husband decided to surprise me with tickets to New York three months before my birthday so I can have more than enough time to plan the whole trip. Our stay was only 5 days so I was anxious we would not have enough time to see all the things I wanted, but I was determined to make it work. Which brings me to my first tip–
1.) PLAN YOUR DAY-TO-DAY ITINERARY
With all the things that I wanted to see and do, I knew I had to make a schedule for myself or else it would not get done. First thing I did was map everything out in google maps using this tutorial. It was so helpful so see where everything was on a map and plan my days accordingly. Getting from place to place will take up a lot of your precious time so try to group your activities together by location. But leave some room in your schedule for spontaneous activities and sightings as well as time for travel. I was a little nervous at first that I had planned too much to do and would feel rushed but I was happy to find that with approximately 7-8 things on the schedule each day, it was not rushed at all. As long as you make proper accommodations ahead of time, you’ll be fine. Which bring me to tip #2…
2.) MAKE RESERVATIONS TO EVERYTHING
While reading reviews to all the different restaurants I wanted to try, I noticed that everyone talked about how long of a wait it is to get in. Knowing that we will be short on time, I decided to not take my chances and make reservations ahead of time. Yes, this means that you will need to do a lot of planning ahead of time and decide on all the restaurants that you will be eating at months in advance, but it will be worth it when you are saving 2-3 hours a day not waiting inside a crowded restaurant. Most of the restaurants that we ate at took reservations a month ahead so we were lucky enough not to have to wait at all with the exception of one restaurant that did not take reservations.
This also applies to shows, museums, and different types of attractions. At one point we were turned away and told to come back at a later time because they were too busy and could not accommodate any more people. If possible, do this all in advance and buy your tickets online so you have less to worry about when you are actually there.
3.) CHOOSE THE RIGHT AIRPORT
If prices between the three major NYC airports are competitive and similarly priced, choose LaGuardia. Although it’s the smallest of the three, it is the closest (7.6mi) to Manhattan and will cost you a smaller fare to get to your hotel. We paid $55 on a taxi to get to our hotel from LaGuardia and $96 on a Town Car Service to fly out of Newark airport (17.1 mi). Public transportation is available from certain airports, but not all. The subway runs to and from JFK (19.6 mi) which would be your cheapest form of transportation if you are flying into this airport, but you would be lugging all your suitcases with you which can be an inconvenience. Otherwise the taxi fare will cost you approximately $60 from JFK and $110 from Newark. Also, we found Newark airport to be one of the most disorganized airports we’ve ever traveled from and were very disappointed with the experience. All good things to keep in mind when you are deciding on which airport to choose.
4.) USE THE SUBWAYS!!
Probably the fastest and certainly the cheapest form of transportation available when getting around the city. We purchased a 7-day MetroCard at a vending machine in the subway station for $32.00/person which allowed us to have unlimited rides on the subway for a week. It may be a little intimidating to try and figure out your trip using the subway lines if you have never done it before, but I promise you, it is not that difficult and you will love the subway by the end of your trip. I used my iPhone google maps to get me from place to place which now, conveniently, provides you with transit directions and tells you exactly which subway train to take and what stop to get off at. So easy. As long as you pay attention to which direction (uptown, or downtown) you are headed, you won’t get lost.
5.) STAY IN A CENTRAL LOCATION
One of the things I knew for sure when planning our trip, was that I wanted to stay close to Times Square. I didn’t realize until later what a great idea this actually was. There are so many attractions/restaurants/subway stations all within an arms reach. You don’t realize how lucky you are to be near a subway station until you’ve walked for 9 miles already and can’t wait to put your feet up. Our subway station was only a 5 minute walk away, but not everyone is this lucky. In some parts of town you have to walk for upwards of 1.25 miles to get to the subway station you need. Not fun when it’s freezing cold and you are exhausted. This was also very convenient on our first day when we were tired from a long day of travel and didn’t want to venture far into the city, we simply walked out of our hotel and got to explore Times Square. There is never a shortage of things to do and see in Times Square. Since we walked through it almost everyday on our way to and from the subway station, we got to experience it a lot. One night we saw the live filming of “Person of Interest” with Michael Emerson. The next day, we saw a live filming of “Good Morning America” with Robin Roberts; there’s always something exciting happening here! Bonus- we got amazing views from our hotel window.
6.) CHOOSE A HOTEL WITH BREAKFAST INCLUDED
Although hotel breakfasts are not known to be the fanciest, it saved us a lot of time and money to have this option. We liked not having to travel far for breakfast; just go down into the lobby, get our food, and be on our way out in 20 minutes to get the sightseeing started. In addition to the breakfast, our hotel also included a complimentary happy hour with drinks and appetizers. We enjoyed stopping by on our way back from the busy day and grabbing a bite to eat before heading out again for the night.
In preparation for our trip, I read SO MANY ARTICLES about traveling to NYC, but none of them happened to mention any of these things! I hope that these tips will come in handy if you are a planner like me and strive to get it perfect from the first time. Truth is, there is no one perfect way to do New York. But these tips will hopefully enhance your experience a lot and help to maximize your time.
If you know me, you’ve probably guessed this isn’t ALL I have to say about our visit to the Big Apple, and you’re right! This is the first of a four part series on planning your trip to New York. Stay tuned to find out which are the best attractions to visit, restaurants to eat at, and places to avoid.