Anyone can survive in NYC. But to succeed in all things do and see in NYC—and of course, what NOT to do, follow these master tips.
There are more than 8.6 million citizens of New York City, and they’re pretty much all in a hurry. They’re also shrewd, outspoken, and proudly able to survive in a metropolis that tends to punish the meek. The buzzing subway system alone is a symbol of how this city works: part ballet, part battlefield. Residents and visitors alike can see why New York is considered the greatest city in the world, and well worth the effort of learning its idiosyncrasies to better enjoy its mystique. Here’s a rundown of common mistakes to avoid, all while moving through town like an ace. Don’t miss more helpful Fodor’s NYC Travel Tips online, or with the indispensable Fodor’s New York City guidebook, or with Fodor’s Ultimate Things to Do in NYC Guide.
Never, Ever Block the Sidewalk
It seems simple: Sidewalks are shared public space, so you can do (almost) whatever you want. But in NYC, sidewalks are more like highways. And absolutely no savvy New Yorker would stop in the middle of one. Not to check a map, not to text, not to take a picture, not to tie a shoe.
The golden rule is to step aside. You can stop near the curb, beside a mailbox, under an awning–literally anywhere but the middle of the sidewalk. For those walking in a group, never walk shoulder-to-shoulder and block the entire sidewalk. Those in non-compliance risk the dreaded elbow knock, evil eye, or something worse. (What can we say, rushing everywhere makes us crabby!)
Don’t Forget the Bike Lanes
Like the sidewalks, NYC bike lanes are basically highways too. That means that pedestrians, drivers, and other cyclists should never stop in the middle of one. Taxi passengers should be head’s up near bike lanes and not pop open a car door–always look first. Or better yet, just find a clear curb lane or another safe spot to pull over.
Don’t Disrupt the Escalators
As in Europe and other global cities, escalators consist of two implied “lanes.” The right side is for standing; the left side is for climbing the escalator steps. Visitors will find this unspoken rule vital, especially in the precious few subway stations that actually have escalators. So step aside for the predictably hurried commuters to whisk by.
Don’t Be Shy About Asking for Directions
It’s true that New Yorkers may come across as brusque or even rude, especially if you’re not following the city’s implied or explicit rules. But we are very proud of knowing our way around this mighty metropolis. So visitors shouldn’t hesitate to ask for help with directions, subway suggestions, or other navigation planning. In fact it’s favored because it likely means they’re clearing the way faster than a tourist stuck only with a map.
Don’t Spend Money at a National Chain
Don’t let the all-too-familiar big-box stores and fast-food chains distract you. In NYC, one of the best features is our abundant independent restaurants and shops. Stroll through SoHo, the West or East Village, Williamsburg, and basically any other neighborhood to discover unique wares, handmade goods, distinctive menus, and countless other exclusives found only in this particular city, at that specific spot.
Don’t Rely Only on Credit Cards
NYC operates with a true old-fashioned streak when it comes to money. Cash-only restaurants and bars are surprisingly common, and often you’ll find a high-fee ATM in the corner instead of a credit card machine at the register. Cash tips and taxi fare also will guarantee you some gratitude. (Even more peculiar: NYC Transit buses do accept cash, but only in coins, and as long as they’re not pennies.)
Don’t Only Stick to Big Tourist Attractions
On the first visit to NYC, you’ll need to check off certain sights from your must-see list, like the Statue of Liberty, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Carnegie Hall. Firstly, know that you’ll never get to all of them no matter how long your trip. Secondly, there are so many ways to dig deeper. Start by consulting local event calendars (Time Out NY, New York Magazine, and VillageVoice have good ones). Then enjoy roaming around less-touristy neighborhoods. Or plan an outing further afield, perhaps to Governors Island, Fort Tryon Park uptown, a Staten Island Yankees baseball game, or the Bronx’s New York Botanical Garden and Arthur Avenue’s Little Italy. In other words, let your best urban explorer discover what’s so gloriously dynamic and diverse about NYC.
Don’t Accept a Random Pickup at an Airport
You may be weary upon landing at an NYC airport. But no matter how convenient it seems, when you’re offered a taxi in the arrivals area, ignore it and press on. You’re better off in taxi-stand line than risking a weird route and inflated rate with a private cab hawking at baggage claim. Another option is a taxi app (know your terminal and exact pick-up area). Or call an NYC car service, which works great as an advance airport-pickup reservation with a flat rate to your destination.
Don’t Eat Only Standard NYC Fare
There is no doubt that this city serves the very best of some foods, from bagels and matzo-ball soup, to hot dogs, pizza, and New York strip steaks. International cuisine, however, is almost as authentic here as in its homelands. And it’s best enjoyed in neighborhoods representing particular ethnic communities. Everyone expects to find solid pasta in now-teeny Little Italy and reliable Asian cuisine in Chinatown. Far more exciting are the flavors of Indian fare in Curry Hill, Greek in Astoria, Russian in Brighton Beach, Chinese in Flushing, and other specialty delights across our rich global city.
Don’t Get Scammed
There are plenty of worthy charitable causes in NYC, and legitimate hard-luck stories. The city also is overloaded with fantastic performers. So if it seems especially dramatic how this stranger says he’s lost his wallet and is desperately trying to get to New Jersey to visit a family member in the hospital, he may just be a talented actor. Regardless, always keep your wallet in a front pocket and your purse secured, and never wield your wallet openly in a public space.
Don’t Be Afraid to Take the Subway
NYC’s subway network is a wild web that’s sometimes confusing and often intimidating. It’s still the fastest and cheapest way to cross town, so embrace it. As early as you can during your trip, invest in an iconic yellow-and-blue MetroCard, which is available as one-day, one-week, or one-month unlimited rides; or by the dollar value (one ride is $2.75). There are map apps galore and cell service in every station. You’ll find subway maps in every train car, and subwaytime.mta.info tells you when the next trains are arriving at any station in the city.
INSIDER TIP Check out Fodor’s NYC’s Public Transportation Travel Tips.
Don’t Skip the Outer Boroughs
In smaller cities, neighborhoods within Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island, or upper Manhattan would be an entire bustling downtown area. Here, those outer boroughs are just part of the bigger metropolis. They’re also where some of the best museums, parks, sporting events, and other attractions reside. Even better, they’re almost all reachable by subway and are likely to be less crowded and cheaper than Manhattan hotspots. To name but a few: the Brooklyn Museum, Coney Island, the Bronx Zoo, Museum of the Moving Image, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden.
Don’t Focus Only on Broadway Shows
Broadway shows are a worthwhile diversion in NYC–though you could argue their ticket prices aren’t quite as worthy. If you prefer keeping your theater-seat prices to double (not triple) digits, consider an off- or off-off-Broadway play or musical (so-called according to their seating capacity). Talent here runs deep, so you might get a sneak peek at the next Hamilton or Book of Mormon. The range of live entertainment knows no bounds, either, so check local calendars for cabarets, operas, dance theater, burlesque and drag shows, music halls, comedy clubs, readings, arts festivals, and other only-in-NYC events.
Don’t Steal Someone’s Cab
Regardless of the ever-growing selection of taxi apps, in NYC, the yellow taxi still reigns supreme. When you need a quick ride, you’ll find transportation solace when you see the rooftop sign illuminated (indicating the cab’s available) and heading your way. But every New Yorker has had a cab “stolen” when someone dashes a few feet in front of them, grabs the door, and hops in. Let this be a warning: Stealing a cab is bad karma in this town.
On a related note: No matter how many movies have shown it, hailing a cab by shouting “Taxi!” or whistling remains a rarity. A simple arm flag from a safe area by the curb works just fine.
Don’t Miss Seasonal Attractions
Hot or cold, sunny or snowy–all four seasons bring something different to NYC, and often for free. In fall and winter, you’ll find fun ways to warm up with draws like pop-up ice-skating rinks, food and holiday markets, the NYC Marathon, indoor train and light shows, Lunar New Year celebrations, restaurant week, and other special citywide discount “weeks.”
With spring comes mesmerizing botanical garden shows and other colorful events like the Easter Parade. Soon after, the city becomes an open-air wonderland of summer happenings with outdoor film screenings, concerts like SummerStage and Celebrate Brooklyn, NYC Pride, and loads more from sports, to family-fun in local parks, to boating and other recreational outings.