New York City can be intimidating — it’s chaotic, loud, messy, and crowded. Sometimes the city seems like a never-ending carnival of the bizarre. Read on to discover how to survive — and even thrive — in the chaos of the world’s greatest city.
There’s no bad time to visit the city, but there are better times. Summer (July, August and early September) tends to be very hot, with soul-sucking humidity. Winter (late December, January and February) is cold, damp, and occasionally snowy. By and large, the city is at its best in October/November and April/May.
New York is the style capital of North America, so if you want to fit in with the locals, you can never go wrong with basic black. Despite what you may have seen in Sex in the City reruns, poofy skirts, pastels and screaming prints (Hawaiian shirts are the exception) and other festive ensembles are rarely worn by locals.
The easiest way to get into the city from NYC’s three airports — JFK, LaGuardia and Newark — is to take a taxi. Taxi stands are right outside the baggage claim areas. Join the line, tell the attendant where you’re going when he asks, and he’ll direct you to your cab. Expect to pay a flat fee of $45 from Manhattan from JFK; about $16-$26 plus a $3 bridge toll from La Guardia; and $30-$38 plus a $10 dollar bridge toll from Newark. For information on shuttle buses, trains, and other transportation options, check the websites for LaGuardia, JFK, and Newark airports.
Manhattan’s official licensed cabs are painted bright yellow. When the numbers on the sign on the top of the cab are lit, it’s available. When no lights are lit, the cab is occupied. To hail a cab, stand in the street and stick out your arm. It’s best to hail a cab on a street where traffic is moving in the direction you want to go, rather than making the cab turn around. Occasionally a cab which is off duty (the words “Off” and “Duty” will be lit on the rooftop sign) may pull over. Tell the driver where you want to go before you get in the cab. If your destination is on his way, he may take you, but he’s not under any obligation to do so. Tip cabbies at least a buck or 15 percent, whichever amount is more. And remember that hailing a cab between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. is very difficult — everyone seems to be on the move during this time, so plan accordingly.
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It may take a while before you’re able to get a cab, but even if you’re in a hurry, do not accept a ride from a gypsy cab — only get into yellow taxi cabs that have a numbered, plastic medallion riveted to the hood. To file a complaint or to report lost property, call 212/692-8294. You’ll need the cab’s medallion number (listed on your receipt), so always ask for a receipt.
While plentiful in Manhattan, taxis can be extremely difficult to find in many parts of Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island. As a result, you may have no choice but to call a car service. Always determine the fee when scheduling the service, and a 10-15 percent tip is customary. There are several differences between taxis and car services, also known as livery cabs. For one thing, a taxi is yellow and a car service sedan is not. Taxis run on a meter while car services charge a flat fee.
New Yorkers have a reputation for being rude, but locals are really friendly as long as you don’t get in their way. The best way to experience the fabled rude New Yorker in action is to cause a delay. So decide what you want before you get to the front of the line, don’t dither around the ATM, don’t stop smack in the middle of the sidewalk to check your map, and don’t saunter along slowly six abreast. If you need directions, move to the nearest street corner and wait for the light to turn red, and then ask someone for help while they’re waiting to cross the street.
New York has an abundance of everything but open space and public bathrooms. If you really need to find a rest room, look for a Barnes & Nobles bookstore or a Starbucks Coffee shop. At Starbucks, you’ll need to ask for a key and possibly purchase something.
New York City’s subway system carries 4.5 million people on an average weekday. It operates 24 hours a day, and it’s generally safe, though it’s best to travel during the busiest hours, from about 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. The fare is $2, and you’ll need a MetroCard, which you can purchase in the subway stations and at many newsstands. Swipe your MetroCard through the turnstile card reader and walk through when the turnstile screen says “GO.” Check the MTA’s website for route information, or consult the maps posted near the MetroCard machines. Remember that weekend construction work on the subways is ongoing, and that your route will probably be affected. Also note that subways are insanely crowded during rush hours — from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., so plan your outings accordingly.
In general, buying tickets online can save time. You can purchase admission tickets in advance to Empire State Building, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Intrepid Air Space Museum, and many other places, on their websites. You can also often buy tickets to special museum shows, like the Museum of Natural History’s popular Space Show and IMAX movies online. So hit the web before you hit the streets.
Affordable theater? Believe it or not, it is possible to see first-rate theater in New York without breaking the bank. Just visit the TKTS booths around the city and you can get discounts of 25-50 percent. TKTS has white and red discount ticket booths in Times Square and South Street Seaport. You can get tickets to Broadway plays on the day of the performance, with just an additional $3 surcharge per ticket. You won’t be able to snag a ticket for every play, but the selection tends to be good. Arrive at least an hour or two before the booths open for the best selection, or early evening to avoid the lines (sometimes theaters release tickets late in the day, so you can sometimes score great seats if you show up late in the day). TKTS booths accept only cash or traveler’s checks. Check the TKTS websitefor operating times and locations.
New York is one of the world’s safest big cities, so don’t be afraid to wander. Just use common sense. Stick to streets where there are restaurants, stores and other businesses. The avenues tend to be busy, streets tend to be quieter, so when in doubt stick to the avenues as much as possible. Many New York neighborhoods, especially those on the “fringes” of the city, can morph from safe to not-so-safe in the space of a block or two, so pay attention to your surroundings.