New York is an incredible city – we’ve just discovered that six days is in no way enough. We caught a lot of the highlights though, and got to see some of the places where famous movie scenes were filmed.
Before you go
Most English-speaking countries are members of the Visa Waiver Programme, which means you don’t need to get a visa to visit the United States for tourism. You do, however, need to fill in an online form called ESTA before you leave, preferably 72 hours in advance – just do it when you book your tickets. It’s nothing scary, in fact you have to fill out a paper form with exactly the same information when you fly in … the questions include such gems as “were you involved in the Nazi regime between 1939 and 1945?” Most people get an almost-instant acceptance.
When you arrive in the country, you need to give your fingerprints, which is done digitally. All ten prints are taken and they also take a photograph of you, no glasses allowed.
New York has a variety of airports to choose from – Newark in New Jersey, La Guardia, and John F. Kennedy International. La Guardia mostly deals with domestic flights, and while Newark handles both international and domestic, if you’re flying in from overseas you’ll probably arrive at JFK. Compare 100’s of international airfares on one web site.
There are a lot of ways to get to the city from JFK, and which one you choose will depend on your budget and the time of day. A taxi costs a fixed rate of $45 plus taxes and tolls, and of course you can split the cost between passengers, so it’s a good option if there are three or more of you. A variety of shuttles run services from the airport to your hotel door. We used Super Shuttle, which costs $19 per person plus tax, including tax it was about $21 each.
The slowest and cheapest option is to take the AirTrain to Howard Beach station ($5, about 15 minutes depending on which terminal) and from there hop on the subway to Manhattan ($2.25, 50-75 minutes).
There are other options if you don’t like these ones – I always use toandfromtheairport.com.
For a lot of your sighteseeing, walking is the best option. Manhattan is easy to navigate because of the grid system, and you can work out how far the distances are quite easily: one mile is 40 blocks (which makes one kilometre about 24 blocks). If you’re trying to get across town (from left to right when looking at a map) walking is the easiest way, since the public transport is geared towards moving people up and down the island.
The subway is easy to use, just buy a metrocard. If you’ll be there for a week, get a weekly pass for $28, otherwise just charge your card with individual rides. Each trip costs $2.25 but if you buy in bulk it’s $2.00 each. You can also use this card on the buses, which is really useful since otherwise you’d have to pay with coins. The cards are disposable but reusable, so don’t stress out if you lose yours.
When choosing which line to use, make sure that the train you’re about to get on stops at your station. Each station on the map has the letter or number of the trains that stop there – we made the mistake of hopping on an express train that skipped not only our stop, but four or five on either side of it.
Things to do
As part of our conference tickets, NYCgo gave us New York Citypasses. Normally they cost $79, and they allow entrance into six New York attractions. If you’re planning to go to any of these attractions, it’s worth considering buying the pass, because if you use all the vouchers you save about $65. Another option is getting admission to over 40 of New York City’s best attractions with New York PassWe visited the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock to get views of the city – both were amazing but Top of the Rock wins because they have fewer lines and a multi-media presentation.
We also visited MOMA (the museum of Modern Art) and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, both of which were mind-blowing and really needed to be given a full day each. We missed out on the Museum of Natural History because we’d run out of time, but we did have time to go on the Circle Line cruise. The pass gives you a ticket for a two-hour cruise, which does a half-circle around the bottom part of Manhattan Island, coming close to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty – great views for photos. The company also offers a three-hour cruise that circles Manhattan Island completely.
There’s a lot more to do in Manhattan, such as wander through the parks. Central Park is justifiably famous, but we preferred the more tranquil Riverside Park, on the west side, and the new High Line Park.
You could also go to a show on Broadway, walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, take the Staten Island Ferry to Staten Island, or go up the Statue of Liberty. The list continues, forever it seems!
Ah, food. New York is a good place for it! On the street, try a pretzel, a hotdog or a gyro, and stop into a bakery for a deli sandwich or a bagel with cream cheese. Diner food is plentiful and filling, and pizza is ubiquitous. You just have to taste for yourself.
We used the BUG New York City downloadable PDF travel guide, which we appreciated for its down-to-earth advice on things like tipping as well as the fact that the maps are actually aligned north-to-south. Most maps of New York are lined up with the grid system, which is at least 20° off the normal alignment.
We were also given a NFT (Not For Tourists) guide, which despite its name I think is quite good for tourists! It’s a little black book filled with useful information, both for the tourist and the local. There’s a map for each section of the city, and for Manhattan there are four versions of each map, each with different information – food, transport, essential items etc.
Browse more New York Guide books.
Next, we chose a hostel through HostelBookers, up on the Upper East Side. The location wasn’t great but it was close to an excellent cafe with a great beer list (David Copperfields). Plus, it was cheap. One thing to look out for when booking a hostel or hotel in New York, is to check if taxes are included – most of the time they aren’t. So the price you first see onsite is less than what you’ll actually end up paying. For a $28 per person private room in the apartment we stayed in, we ended up paying about $66 for the both of us.
And for our final two nights in the city, we stayed with Christopher, a listener and friend. It was great to finally meet him, since we’ve been in touch for quite some time, and as a temporary local he knew the best places to eat and drink.
Give yourself as much time as you can, New York deserves it.
HostelBookers is not only an average of 8.7% cheaper than their competitors, they also have no booking fees!
The HostelBookers blog, Facebook and Twitter provides travellers with all the latest travel news, tips and guides on destinations throughout the world from New York to Nice. ‘Like’ HostelBookers on Facebook now and start sharing your travel experiences with other keen travellers.