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Tips and Advice for Tourists in New York City

Updated on April 20, 2015

Learn how to survive New York City as a tourist

Visiting New York City for the first time can be overwhelming and confusing. Manhattan, especially, is big, noisy and crowded. Details of daily life — from transportation to buying lunch to finding restrooms — just don't work the same way as they do elsewhere in the country.

Here a few practical tips for NYC tourists to make a visit to the city as stress free as possible.

Times Square / E. A. Wright 2009
Times Square / E. A. Wright 2009
New York City parking sign / E. A. Wright 2009
New York City parking sign / E. A. Wright 2009

Have a plan that doesn't involve a car

Driving into Manhattan is hard to do. Finding parking is harder.

If you do try to drive, you will spend the first half of your trip looking for a parking space, and too much of the rest of your trip worrying if the spot you found was legal.

  • Fines for parking violations started at $35 in the outer boroughs and could hit $180 in Manhattan, as of 2009. (Check carefully, they may have gone up again!)

So, unless you have a friend with a private garage spot to spare, just don't.

Relearn how to be a pedestrian

You must not hog the sidewalk. You must not hog the sidewalk. Repeat that to yourself as you walk.

Sauntering down Broadway in loose groups of three or four may seem like the only way to travel, but this behavior presents an unwelcome obstacle course for locals.

It will mark you as a tourist. It may also bring on a few dirty looks or what may seem like violations of your personal space as others try to push past you.

Redefine "polite"

A heightened awareness of your effects on others will be needed throughout your trip to New York City.

There are dozens of other similar and unspoken rules to pick up.

It can be a bit of an awkward and unpleasant mental adjustment to start calculating how your smallest actions might end up inconveniencing 100 others within 30 seconds. But it is necessary.

Look at it as the ultimate test for treating others as you would like to be treated — a test with no extra credit for sweet smiles or whispered apologies.

Once you realize that the thousands of people you're passing each day are mostly passing this test, New Yorkers start to seem a little less rude.

Dress for street tromping success

Adjust your wardrobe to wandering the New York city streets.

  • If you wear flip flops during your trip, expect someone to step on the backs of them.
  • If you wear pants with hems that drag, the bottom two inches will be filthy by the end of the day. That's a fact of life walking on crowded city streets.
  • And don't plan on sitting down in too many public places while wearing white. Black is the most popular color in the city for a reason.

Dressing up a bit also helps lift you — if only psychologically — above the gritch underfoot.

Carry water

If this is not already clear, people in New York do a lot of walking. As a tourist, you will do even more, both because you will be exploring and because you are more likely to get lost or temporarily turned around, even when you are tired and thirsty.

Also, for those unused to walking around at street level in New York City, note that throats become scratchy and dry quickly from all the exhaust and other fumes in the air.

You will get thirsty, and then you will discover that having to buy several $2 bottles of water from the nearest Duane Reade is not the ideal solution. There are more interesting places to visit in the city.

Know your restrooms

Make a mental note of any and all clean and open public restrooms you pass, and remember how to get back to them.

Don't wander too far beyond the last one you pass. You can't depend on the nearest shop or Starbucks to have a public toilet. Many chain stores that routinely offer restrooms in other cities routinely don't in New York City, and city parks rarely have clean, readily available restrooms.

The cramped bathrooms at Penn Station (a major subway and railroad hub) are scuzzy. So are some of the options at the nearby flagship Macy's.

What this means is that if you are touring for the day, and your itinerary happens to involve a meal at a restaurant with a nice bathroom, don't leave before you have used it.

(Consider this a somewhat-more-complicated corollary to the preceding tip about carrying water.)

Don't depend on your credit or debit cards

While reliance on plastic has become increasingly common and increasingly practical in much of the country, many small yet interesting shops in New York City still run on a cash only basis. No credit cards or debit cards are accepted. This is especially true at many eateries.

Unfortunately, given prices in the city, carrying enough cash for a week's worth of spur-of-the-moment bagel and ice cream stops can quickly become a foolish proposition. Tourists are rightly advised not to carry wads of money in their pockets.

So, strike a balance between cash and plastic, and be aware of where to access an ATM in a pinch without running through several cab fares in bank fees.

Assess your giving strategy

Before entering the city, come up with a plan responding to panhandlers, performance artists and others asking for money. Have a strategy you feel good about and stick to it — whether that means carrying dollar bills for the purpose or steeling yourself for turning many blind eyes. This will save you many moments of uncertainty and angst.

Grand Central
Grand Central | Source

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