New York City: Planning Tips for the First-Timer

Get up close to NYC's first lady with a Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island tour—Caroline Helbig

Get up close to NYC’s first lady with a Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island tour—Caroline Helbig

Big, exciting, iconic New York City is an awesome place to visit. But, for the first time visitor, the city can be overwhelming. Attractions are numerous, but spaced across an area much larger than most people realize. Queues are lengthy, and visiting popular attractions can take much longer than expected. Public transit is great, but a tad overwhelming. Don’t let any of this deter you. Get the most out of your visit to the Big Apple by follow some simple planning tips, and save time, money, and headache. It worked for our family.

Make a New York “see and do” list: Get on the internet or invest in a New York City guide book—Lonely Planet’s Discover New York City is a good one. Consider the various attractions, museums, entertainment options and shopping. We all know the big stuff like the Empire State Building, but a bit of research will reveal all kinds of lesser known gems.

Develop a New York itinerary: Find out the locations of attractions you want to see, and consider how much time you will spend at each. Try to group your activities by neighbourhood to reduce traveling time. For example, combine a visit to the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island with attractions in Lower Manhattan, like Wall Street and the Ground Zero Memorial. An itinerary doesn’t need to be cast in stone, but developing one will help minimize stress. And, don’t cram in too much.

NYC's Rockefeller Center skating rink at Christmas—Caroline Helbig

NYC’s Rockefeller Center skating rink at Christmas—Caroline Helbig

Consider one of the New York City Passes: If you plan to visit a lot of attractions, you can save money and time by purchasing the City Pass or the New York Pass. Before jumping on these, make sure the pass offers the attractions you are interested in, and that you have time to see and do all the things.

Book New York attractions in advance: If you decide against a pass, you can still save time by purchasing tickets online. Doing this will help you bypass lengthy ticket line-ups and is especially useful for the very popular attractions like the Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island Museum. Advance tickets, though free, are mandatory for the Ground Zero Memorial.

Familiarize yourself with New York Broadway shows: For many people, seeing a Broadway show is the highlight of a trip to New York. If you absolutely must see a particular show on a specific day, then it makes sense to book in advance. If you are flexible, big savings can be realized by purchasing “day of” tickets at TKTS Discount Booths in Times Square or the South Street Seaport. The TKTS website provides information on location and hours, and lists the shows that have most recently been available at discounted rates. Do research on what’s playing, and what you are  interested in seeing so you can make an informed choice when you get there.

Take a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge—Caroline Helbig

Take a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge—Caroline Helbig

Learn about the New York subway network: The city has a fantastic public transit system, and it’s efficient and inexpensive. It’s also complex and rather daunting for a new user. Get the lay of the land by spending some time on the New York City transit website. The maps are particularly useful and will help you get oriented. Find out about fares and the convenient Metro Card.

Plan some aimless wandering time: New York has attractions galore, but you’d be remiss not to spend some time simply wandering through a few of the city’s fascinating neighbourhoods. Discover Soho, Chelsea or the Lower East Side. If you need a breath of fresh air, take a stroll or rent a bike and explore Central Park.

Pack your comfy shoes and have fun: With a little research under your belt, a fluid plan, and a good pair of walking shoes you’re ready to enjoy New York—one of the world’s greatest cities.

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