6 Things I Learned in New York City

I may be a seasoned traveler according to some measurements, but the truth is that I’ve barely dipped my toes into the ocean of travel. When people found out that I was visiting New York City for the first time last week, people came out in droves to provide advice, insight and words of encouragement and caution. I have to admit, I was a little scared.

Having survived the experience, I can say that the words of encouragement and caution were appreciated, but what I got most out of my first visit to the Big Apple had to be experienced on my own. Here is what I learned from my first visit to New York City:

1. The subway isn’t as intimidating as I had anticipated. The New York subway is no Washington DC metro or London tube system, with their clean and air conditioned stations, but I found it to be safe and reliable anyway. I admit that I didn’t use the subway alone at night, but even if I had, there were lots of people around and nothing out of the ordinary that would have made me feel wary. In fact, the only reason I didn’t take the subway alone at night is because I wasn’t sure I could find my way walking once I got off. Yes, the New York subway system is hot and gritty (and those sewer rats are as big as people say they are), but the overall experience was a positive one.

2. Understand the subway before using it. Taking the subway in New York City isn’t as easy as hopping on the red line or blue line and following the subway along a multi-colored plate of spaghetti through the city’s bowels. It is actually much more complicated. Subway lines are noted by number and letter, and several of them often run together before branching out to other parts of the city. It is also important to note that some trains are “local,” which means they stop at every stop along the way. Others are express trains and only stop at major junctions. The other thing to notice before entering a subway station is what direction the subway is headed. I mistakenly entered a station on the southbound side thinking I could cross over to the northbound side in the station. It turns out that to go northbound, I had to enter the station on the other side of the street. In order to head in the right direction without paying a second fare, I had to ride two stations south and get off at a station that allowed riders to transfer to the trains going in the other direction.

3. It takes a long time to get anywhere. Even though things in New York City are accessible by foot, subway or cab, it takes a long time to get anywhere. Lots of pedestrians, street lights, subway stops, long lines and traffic jams should all be considered when figuring out the amount of time it will take to get anywhere in Manhattan.

4. Be persistent on asking locals about where to eat. A friend and I were near Rockefeller Center looking for a place to eat. Sure, we could sit down in one of the pricey touristy spots in the Rockefeller Concourse, but travel bloggers aren’t content to settle. So I went into a store and asked an employee, “Where do you eat lunch?” He proceeded to tell me about all of the places to eat in the Rockefeller Concourse. I said, “No, where do you eat lunch?” At that point, he relented and pointed me toward a little deli called Toasties (apparently they are popular throughout the city) where businessmen lined up in chaotic fashion for pizza, salads and sandwiches. Now that was the lunch I was looking for.

5. You can never see it all. It certainly wasn’t my intention to cram everything into the couple free days I had in New York City, and I firmly believe it’s one of those places where you could never see it all. The city is HUGE and it would be a disservice to try to squeeze everything in to a couple days.

6. It’s completely worth taking the Staten Island ferry to see the Statue of Liberty. Here’s a practical tip: Before I went to New York City, I was told by an overwhelming majority of people to skip a visit to the Statue of Liberty and instead enjoy the view from the free ferry that goes from Staten Island and back. This is solid advice and I fully support it. I would also add that you want to be standing on the northern side of the boat in order to get the best view of Lady Liberty.

Now I want to hear from you: What’s your best piece of advice for travel in New York City?

 

35 Responses to “6 Things I Learned in New York City”

  1. Trisha

    Great advice JoAnna! I really enjoyed getting to explore a little of NYC with you, and I definitely agree with your assessment. I also learned that to get whatever you need or want in NYC, you do have to be a bit assertive – not rude or pushy, but with so many people who reside in – and visit – New York, if you don’t speak up for yourself you can be easily overlooked. 🙂

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      So true, Trisha, and people were very willing to help me when I asked with questions. Nobody brushed me off or told me they didn’t have time to help me. What it took was the courage to ask. The rest was easy.

      Reply
  2. Annette

    Really good advice — especially the observation that it takes a long time to get anywhere. Paradoxically, in a city where everyone seems to be moving at a frantic pace, the best way to enjoy it is to take your time and expect to move slowly around the city. Walking is a great way to get around.

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      I agree, Annette. Trying to squeeze everything in is absolutely impossible, not to mention unbelievably stressful. It’s worth taking your time.

      Reply
  3. Gray

    It does take a LONG time to get anywhere. Even though I’ve been to NYC before, I’ve never been in as much of a hurry as I was on this trip to get somewhere, so I’d never noticed how long it takes before. Not every station has a ticket booth or machine, either, something I learned the hard way when I ran out of sufficient funds on my metro card. Also: Sometimes walking will get you there faster than taking a cab. I also learned that the hard way.

    Reply
  4. Katie Pickard Fawcett

    Great tips. I’m heading to NYC this weekend with family and I must remember to slow down, having been reminded that it’s impossible to show them everything in a couple of days.

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      Enjoy your trip Katie! I would definitely advise that you don’t try to cram too much in, but other than that, have a blast!

      Reply
  5. Migration Mark

    I remember getting a little confused with the NY subway system, luckily I had a couple friends to show me around! Great idea on finding a local place to eat!

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      The subway in New York was a lot more complicated than others I’ve ridden, but after I learned the little idiosyncrasies, it became a lot easier to navigate.

      Reply
  6. Natalie

    This is great advice Joanna! You truly can never see it all. I like to pick one neighborhood and wander around it by foot, especially in the LES or East Village where metro stops are not very common! Pre-trip research on what you want to see and do is essential too because there are so many places to see in New York. Its my fourth trip and I still have to carry a subway map with me!

    Reply
  7. Stephanie

    I agree, I was surprised how safe and (relatively) easy the subway system was. I did take it alone past midnight once by myself last weekend and nobody bothered me at all. Not the cleanest but for the price it’s worth it!

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      Considering how pricey other things in New York are, the subway is a rock-bottom bargain!

      Reply
  8. Robyn

    I’m in NY right now – actually at The Thayer Hotel on the West Point campus for an orientation for my year in China. But I was in the city last week as I was ending this season’s hike on the AT. I spent a day in the city – my only goal was to visit Ellis Island. I had to get there alone from my friends’ house in Glen Rock, NJ. With instructions in hand, I’m proud to say I managed to get on all the right trains, subways and ferries and back again and annoyed only one train conductor with my newbie question. And yes getting around takes time – it took me 2 hours to get to the Island, not counting the 1 hr wait in line for the ferry. But I had such a great time just getting there and back and taking in the energy of NY. The figuring it out was half the fun!

    Reply
  9. Alouise

    Definitely can relate to the second point. The subway was ok to navigate for the most part but there were several times I didn’t realize I was on an express line and they wouldn’t be stopping at the stations I needed to get to. I did take the subway by myself at night and made the mistake of hopping to another line in hopes of getting somewhere faster. The trains aren’t as frequent at midnight but the do come, next time I’ll know to wait instead of heading in the complete opposite direction I need.

    Reply
  10. Anil

    I was one big lost mess in the subway during TBEX, but even if there were only two stops I’d manage a way to get off track. New York City always seems to be a travel adventure, glad you had one!

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      The NYC subway system was way more confusing than others that I’ve ridden before. It took a lot of concentration and planning to get where I wanted to go.

      Reply
  11. Plain Jim

    What I learned in New York:
    1. New Yorkers are very busy, and will not put up with their time being wasted. That said,
    2. New Yorkers are very proud of knowing where they are and how to get somewhere, and generally helpful to newcomers and tourists who ask for directions or suggestions. Don’t be afraid of the locals.

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      I definitely agree with your second comment. The people I met were focused on where they had to be, but they didn’t hesitate to help when I had a question.

      Reply
  12. jessie

    Don’t tell people to take the SI ferry. We all hate tourists. The S.O.L looks 3 inches tall, its not a big deal. All the annoying tourist clog up the ferry, literally making it lean on one side.
    Also, anyone ever visiting NYC, please learn to walk faster and DO NOT STOP on the sidewalk; you will get pushed (by accident!).

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      Hey Jessie ~

      I can definitely appreciate that you don’t want tourists on the Staten Island ferry, but it really is a good way to see the Statue of Liberty, if all you want to do is see it. For people who have never seen the Statue of Liberty before, it is an important, iconic piece of America to see, just like the Washington Monument in DC and the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

      I do agree that people need to keep moving or at least step into doorways if they need to check maps or get their bearings, though. That’s true in any city.

      Reply
      • Joe

        And there you go, that’s why we make fun of people from SI.

        Reply
  13. Candice

    I wish I had taken more time out to learn the subway system, I found it rather complicated…but then again I come from a city with 150,000 people, hahahaha. Great post!

    Reply
  14. Lacey Bean

    Very cute post! (saw this on Twitter) I’m a New Yorker born and raised, and I always forget what NYC is like to people who haven’t lived there all their lives. Even after all these years, I still haven’t seen everything there is to see in the city!

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      Thanks for your comment, Lacey. I’m not sure there would ever be a way to see it all in NYC!

      Reply
  15. Ed W

    You don’t take the Staten Island ferry to see the Statue of Liberty. It does pass it but the Circle Line boats go right to it and Ellis Island and are worth the cost.

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      Hi Ed ~ Even though the Staten Island Ferry doesn’t actually go to the Statue of Liberty, if a person only wants to see the statue, it is a simple way to do that. I’ve gotten mixed reviews on taking the Circle Line, but obviously if a person wants to go to the Statue of Liberty, that’s the way to do it.

      Reply
  16. Andy

    Good advice – but for non-US visitors who may not be familiar with the road grid system you also need to learn how to navigate the streets. Downtown, uptown, west and east – do your homework to avoid wasting time getting lost. And don’t forget the buses – also a good network and they reach some places the subway for some reason doesn’t (e.g. to get to USS Intrepid etc.). I can’t wait to get back to NYC!

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      This is a really good point, Andy. I was also confused by this, but I carried a map with me and played hapless tourist. I had no choice ~ it was like a maze!

      Reply
  17. Glow

    You don’t take the Staten Island Ferry to the Statue of Liberty. You take a ferry, but not the Staten Island Ferry. Just sayin’….

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      Thanks for the clarification, Glow. Like I said, these are six things I learned in NYC on my first (and only) trip there. I obviously have a lot to learn.

      Reply
  18. joanne silverman

    There are no “sewer rats” in the subways; we have “subway rats”. The sewer rats hang out in the sewers. We also have “project rats” who live in the projects and are the fiercest of them all. But, as with a lot of things in NYC, you leave them alone and they’ll leave you alone.

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      Thanks for the clarification, Joanne. To me, rats are rats. 🙂

      Reply
  19. Travel Blog of Pa Ul

    It seems you really learned a lot there in New York. This place is one of dreamed place to visit someday. Thanks for sharing your experiences especially in the subway.

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      I’m glad you found the post helpful. I’m looking forward to getting back to NYC someday soon!

      Reply

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