If you're planning a trip to New York this Summer, here are 17 Insider New York City Travel Tips to help you save and enjoy your trip!
New York City Travel Tips
We wrote this post several years ago. There may be quite a few COVID-19 restrictions still in place, but New York City is hoping to be open by July 1 this year! If you do travel there this year or next, here are 17 of our best New York City Travel Tips!
My 10-year-old has wanted to go to New York City for a couple of years now — something she picked up in school or books I guess. 🙂
But it's BIG and a little intimidating to navigate – and can be very expensive!
As we were thinking about a summer vacation, we looked at the possibility and found several ways to save money and make it worth it for us. Conveniently one of our 3 available weeks was during her 10th birthday so we chose it.
We surprised her with the trip and only told her a couple of hours before leaving for the airport. At first she didn't believe us, but then we told her she had to make sure I packed well enough for her. She was in shock, which was so awesome!!
My husband spent many hours researching and planning based on our interests.
Here are a few New York City Travel Tips that we think will be helpful for your own trip planning to the Big Apple…
17 New York City Travel Tips
1. Set a budget.
Because we really are passionate penny pinchers we do not go into debt for any of our trips. We save by couponing (my strength) and living “thrifty” (my husband's strength) so we can travel (my weakness and the bane of my husband's existence). 😉 I love to travel, but paying cash is a must!
2. Save on airfare.
If you don't have a frequent flyer miles account with your favorite airline, get one!
We had Delta Sky Miles from going on a few mission trips and an anniversary trip to Hawaii, and it really paid off on this trip. We used our Sky Miles to get all 4 tickets, 2 on my account and 2 on my husband's, for a grand total of only $44 + checked baggage fees!
I suggest flying into LaGuardia to save money and time. If you're going near Manhattan like most tourists, JFK is farther away. It's also more expensive. We wouldn't have been able to get Sky Miles tickets to JFK because of the higher cost.
3. Save on your hotel.
Staying out of Manhattan (or at least away from Times Square) can save you hundreds of dollars.
We stayed in Long Island City at a Fairfield Inn by Marriott. It was just off of Manhattan and wasn't inconvenient at all. It took only 4-7 minute to walk to 3 different subway stations that covered 6 different lines, so we could get to anywhere in Manhattan easily! It wasn't too noisy either, which is a big complaint near Times Square.
Staying in a hotel with breakfast included can save money for a daily meal. Hotel sites like Expedia and its subsidiaries, Priceline, etc. may get you a bargain, and if you're bold enough to stay in someone's private property, Airbnb is also something to consider.
4. Decide between Taxi, Subway or Uber?
We decided to use the subway most of the time we were in New York. It's definitely the cheapest option and often comparable in time for short distance trips.
We paid $33 per person for a 7-day unlimited Metro Card that allows you to get on/off as many times as needed for the one price. Considering a single ride is usually $2.50, but we rode several times a day for 5 days, this was soooo worth it!
Learning where to enter and exit the subway was tricky. When entering, make sure you read the signs before you swipe your Metro Card since some stations didn't have a way to cross to the other track if you were accidentally on the wrong side, and once you swipe your card, you have to wait 18 minutes to use it again.
My husband's advice for exiting is to look at the subway map, know which way the train enters the station, know which way you want to walk when you hit the street, and walk towards an exit in that direction. The only time we took a taxi was to and from the airport since subways don't go directly to them, and the distance between our hotel and the airport was longer. It's typical to tip your taxi driver 15% on top of the fare as long as they did a good job. You can use Google Maps to get you everywhere, and there are other good transit apps too. I don't know how anyone can get around these days without GPS, but you can always ask a local for help with directions.
5. Make sure you have good walking shoes.
Take some good walking shoes (my favorite are Saucony Guide). If you don't exercise much, I'd suggest walking as much as you can before leaving, because you will do it a lot there!
I'm a runner and run about 4-5 miles a day, but my husband doesn't exercise much. (He complained when I wrote he “doesn't exercise at all”, so I erased it to protect his reputation.) 😉 So we walked as many nights as we could with our youngest daughter before leaving in order to prepare. She still had no idea we were going so I just told her daddy needed to start exercising more to relieve stress from work. 😉
6. Check out Entertainment Passes
My husband found 3 entertainment passes for NYC:
- CityPASS gives you a set price for 6 places–3 fixed and 3 others where you can pick from 2 choices. That didn't include things we wanted to do and did include others that we didn't want, so we ruled it out quickly.
- The New York Pass is for a certain number of days and lets you go to however many places within those days that you can fit in. But reviews were bad since you have to fit in about 3 places a day to get your money's worth, and sometimes lines are so long that the high cost is unlikely to be worth it.
- Smart Destinations has 3 different flavors of passes, and we really liked their “Explorer” Pass. That one was based on a number of choices rather than days. It allows you to be flexible with what you use it on so that we could base it on weather, change in mood, etc. when we were there. We used the 5-choice across 3 days. My husband's company participates in TicketsatWork which offered discounted prices, so we added savings on top of savings for almost 40% cheaper attraction prices!
7. Get Statue of Liberty Tickets Early
If you'd like to go to the crown or pedestal, make sure to buy tickets for the Statue of Liberty the minute you buy your plane tickets.
Note – this may not be available at this time due to COVID-19 restrictions. Definitely call in advance!
We weren't able to get crown tickets because they were booked about 4 months out, and when we arrived there, an employee said they were now booked until next year! The pedestal was easier to get tickets for, but there are still a limited number.
I would also recommend getting early time slots. We had an 11:00 and still waited in line for a long time because of schools doing field trips. We packed a lunch with sandwich items we brought from home which saved us money and time. Although we didn't ride the Staten Island Ferry, it is a free option.
8. Don't Miss The Empire State Building
If you plan to go to the Empire State building, go as early as possible in the day or late at night. (Seeing a pattern?) 😉 We saw a recommendation to go before 11. We went around 9:30, and as we were leaving the lines were getting extremely long. Definitely worth going early to make sure to skip the lines!
9. Be sure to visit the 9/11 Museum.
I think everyone remembers where they were when you heard about the twin towers getting hit. It was such an impactful moment in our history. Older kids and teens would be ok in the “historical exhibition”, but there are parts of it (pictures, audio clips, etc.) that will probably be difficult for younger kids.
If you go on Tuesdays at 4:00, they issue free first-come, first-served tickets. We got there at 3:30, were near the front of the line, sat for a half hour until the line started moving, and ended up with 5:00 tickets (the earliest possible). That gave us time to look at the memorial and shop in the mall next door. You can make a donation as well.
10. New York City Travel Tips – Don't miss all of the other museums!
Besides the 9/11 Museum, we would recommend the following:
- Statue of Liberty Museum – Included with pedestal or crown tickets
- Ellis Island Immigration Museum – FREE
- American Museum of Natural History (aka AMNH) – Suggested price but pay what you want
- Metropolitan Museum of Art (aka the Met) – Suggested price but pay what you want
It took a few hours inside the AMNH (enter at the 81st entrance to save a lot of time from standing in line), and we didn't see everything. Plan on 3-4 hours if you like that kind of stuff. I heard that for the Met as well although we never made it there. I think our girls were museum'ed out (and maybe their mom a little too). 😉
11. New York City Travel Tip – Visit Central Park (It's FREE!)
This is a great place to go, and it's free! There are playgrounds for little ones to play on, winding walking paths, beautiful flora, and lots of history.
The Central Park Sightseeing bike tour was our favorite thing all week! Our tour guide, Damien, was very informative. The tour was a 7-mile bike ride through lots of historic places in Central Park with plenty of celebrity gossip and movie info. So worth it!
12. See something on Broadway
I'm not a musical person, but we were told we needed to take the girls to see Lion King…until we saw the price. WOW! More expensive for Broadway tickets than all the other entertainment combined!
My husband learned about the TKTS booths that sell same-day or next-day discounted (maybe half price) tickets, but Lion King wasn't included. You can also walk up to the ticket office at the theater for a show you're interested in the day of and ask for similarly discounted tickets to see if they'll sell them. Finally, you can sign up for a lottery the day before for some shows for the lowest price. Unfortunately, we never got selected for the lottery so we never made it to a show, which honestly I'm okay with. I am too much of a penny pincher to pay full price for tickets.
13. Walk the Brooklyn Bridge and the High Line.
The first is another freebie activity that is a must! Great views of Manhattan. Just stay out of the bike lanes! 🙂 We also went on a small piece of the High Line, an abandoned above ground train track that they spruced up with a walking path, lots of scenery, and occasional fun things like a place to take off your shoes and stand in cool water.
14. Food is Expensive
Almost every restaurant we went to did not have a kids menu so plan to either split your meal with the kiddos or buy them an adult meal.
We ate at 3 different pizza places (you have to, right?). The pizza was pretty good, but we noticed that at every place the employees were just not friendly. Welcome to New York! 🙂
Because we walked all day we stopped a few times for sweets. (Ok, as payback for the exercise comment earlier, my hubby says that I have to admit that I would have stopped at all the sweet shops even if we hadn't walked all day. Guilty pleasure!) 😉 All the employees at the bakery places were awesome!!
I would recommend using Zomato (formerly Urban Spoon) for restaurant reviews, menus, and price ranges, and then working a few interesting restaurants into your budget. Eating earlier dinners will help you wait less time for a table.
15. Be smart when buying souvenirs.
We went to Chinatown and Little Italy on a whim, and the souvenir shopping was so awesome that we decided to return later in the week! We were able to save money buying souvenirs here rather than the actual tourist attractions. Authentic meals here too . . . but more expensive.
16. Pack Water Bottles… & Backpacks to Carry Them – This New York City Travel Tip will save you a TON of money!
We each had our own water bottle and filled them up every day before leaving the hotel. When we went to any tourist attraction that had water fountains, we would fill up again. This saved us a ton of money, and during the hot summer it was a must. There are vendors at every corner selling bottled water for $1-2. So glad we didn't have to buy water!
17. Character Costumes
Try to stay away from the people dressed up in character costumes. A friend warned us about this and we were so glad she did! When you get you or your kiddos picture taken with them, they expect you to tip them and will hound you until you do. This is their job.
I hope these New York City Travel tips will be helpful in planning your next trip – and I'd love to hear any additional tips you might have for saving money or seeing the best sites!
What other tips do you have for New York City or other vacations? We’d love to hear your thoughts ~ please leave a comment!
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- Check out How to Travel on a Budget
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Looking for more travel tips? Check out these 7 things you need to know before bidding at Priceline and Hotwire.
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