10 NYC tips


Gah, it's another power-list, the last resort of the travel writer. You're probably expecting one reasonable tip for visiting NYC and a lot of flimsy drivel to make up the numbers, or subjective recommendations based on limited research and passed off as objective facts. Fortunately, this list encapsulates some of the lessons I've learnt and gleaned from other travellers, as well as wisdom passed on by locals from across the five boroughs. 
1. Get ahead at US Immigrations at JFK

How long it takes to clear US Immigration at JFK varies between five minutes on a good day, and 90 minutes on a bad one. Obviously queues are an issue at most airports, but JFK is a popular place; its international terminals land big planes and lots of them. The terminal you land at can make a big difference too: terminal 4's immigration hall is bright, spacious and usually well-manned, while terminal 7 is a dull and oppressive bunker - hot, cramped and far fewer desks. If a couple of full 747s land just before your flight, you're in for a miserable wait.

To cut down your waiting time, simply get to the front of the queue. It sounds like blindingly common sense but the fact is most passengers don't follow it. The walk between the plane and the immigration hall can take several minutes but the corridors at JFK are usually nice and broad, so march quickly and with purpose all the way. If those ahead are slow, a polite 'excuse me' will see you through. Do it. Several times I've sat at rear of the plane and ended up in the first couple of dozen through the desks. Reaching the immigration hall 30 seconds earlier can make a massive difference if another flight arrives at the same time, and it can mean another hour spent in the city instead of a queue.

2. Choose the right airport transfer from JFK

roundtheworldflights.com has an in-depth guide to transfers from JFK airport to NYC - you can save a lot of money and plenty of time by choosing the right transfer options for your party here

3. Stay where the bargains are

The most popular tourist hotels are in Manhattan's Midtown area, while the likes of Soho, Tribeca and Chelsea have no trouble with charging hundreds of dollars per night. These neighbourhoods are preferred by most visitors because they fear unfamiliar place names and streets they consider out the way. 

There are nearly 13,000 cabs in New York, plus the subway network is cheap, extensive and pretty fast for the most part. In other words, if you find a better deal in another part of the city, don’t dismiss it. Check out the Upper West Side and Brooklyn in particular; popular neighbourhoods in Queens are just 10 minutes from Midtown by subway.

4. Check in with hotel websites before you book

They may be expensive, but there's still healthy competition between hotels in NYC. Many will publish exclusive deals and prices on their websites that aren't necessarily featured on sites like Hotels.com or Travelocity. For example, hotels have offered packages for three night's accommodation, and booking two of these direct has saved money compared to booking a six night stay through a third party website.

If it's your first time travelling to NYC then you won't know which hotel websites to look at - fortunately you can still use the search tools and maps on the likes of Hotels.com to find hotels you'd consider booking, then search for the hotel name online and check their site direct. One word of caution - prices displayed on hotel websites probably won't include taxes in their initial quotes, so check the final total before deciding to book. roundtheworldflights.com also have pretty good tour and hotel deals here

5. If breakfast isn’t included in the room price, don’t pay for it

There are good local diners, delis and cafes everywhere in New York City, and you’ll always pay less than the price on the hotel menu.

6. Buy your 7 day unlimited Metrocard early in the day

If you’re in the city for longer than a few days, a 7 day unlimited Metrocard is a godsend. It costs $29 for unlimited rides on the subway and local buses (and even the Roosevelt Island tramway) for seven days. 

Well, almost. The 7 day expiry is a little too literal; your card isn’t valid for 7 x 24 hours, but on seven consecutive days. In other words, if you buy and use your card at 11pm on a Monday, it’ll expire at midnight the following Sunday – 6 days and one hour later. To get the best value for your money, consider buying a single fare if it means you can then buy your Metrocard after midnight, or early the next morning.

7. Save time sightseeing

Queues for the big attractions in NYC are stupidly long. Want to hit the Statue of Liberty? You can be stood in line for two or three hours. If you’re going to visit, get there early – before 9am. The same is true of the Empire State Building - arrive before 9am and you'll breeze through. The ESB is also very quiet after 8pm so there'll be no long queues and you'll enjoy outstanding nighttime views.

While they're not ticketed attractions, the same is also true of popular locations such as Brooklyn Bridge or the increasingly popular High Line. Start your day early and you're guaranteed to avoid the crowds every time. Again, it might seem like common sense stuff to you but nearly every visitor will ignore it and then complain about the queues. 

8. 'Pre-walk' the subway

Because of NYC's grid system of streets and avenues, it's easy to save time while waiting for a subway train, even if it's your first time in the city. Two facts you need to know:

- subway trains and platforms are four blocks long, i.e. a single train will cover four blocks underground from, say, 2nd St to 6th St

- many subway stations (though not all) tend to have exits in the middle of the platform and at either end

Knowing this means you can often walk to the correct end of the platform while you wait. For example, if you're heading to a restaurant on 31st St and taking the subway to a station on 34th St, the platform will stretch from 32nd St to 36th St. Walking to the correct end of the platform means you'll likely step off the train at an exit on 32nd St. 

9. See NYC for less (and free)

Want to visit the Guggenheim for just a couple of dollars? Nearly all museums in New York charge for entry, but it's a little known fact that many operate pay-what-you-want hours at specific times of the week. 

10. Catch cabs in the right direction

The majority of streets and avenues of NYC are one-way, so if you catch a cab facing the wrong direction, your driver may have to travel up, around, down and across a block before you get any closer to your destination. Bear in mind where you're heading and hail a cab that's already heading the right way; just crossing the street beforehand could save you money.

"Twitchhiker – How One Man Travelled the World by Twitter" is Paul's book about his social media adventure around the world, published by Summersdale and available on Amazon.