7 Insider Tips From an NYC Tour Guide For First-time Visitors

Hi there!  I’m Dan from CityRover Walks NY, a unique New York walking tour company.

If you’re planning your first NYC trip, you’ve probably realized by now that the sheer volume of information online about visiting NYC is endless and overwhelming.  

So here is some free advice from us as native New Yorkers and licensed tour guides:

The best way to get around New York City is to walk and use the subway

A rule of thumb for getting around NYC is:

“Do I have to walk more than a mile?”

If not, I’ll just walk (about 20 min – good for the heart and free!). If so, I’ll jump on the subway, which, as I have written in my free NYC subway guide, is the most efficient way to get around the city, and by “efficient” I mean cost vs. time spent.

Note: 20 NYC blocks is about 1 mile, so if you need to go from 20th street to 40th street, you can expect to walk a mile.

Taking a taxi or uber sounds like the easy option, but if you’re visiting New York for a few days, the cost of taking cabs each time can add up very quickly.  $15 here, $20 there, and before you know it, you’ve spent a lot of money sitting in a car fighting through Manhattan traffic and stopping at every red light.

The subway, on the other hand, is only $2.75 per ride, and if you read my guide on how to use the subway, the thought of using it won’t be as intimidating.  I promise, you’ll get the hang of it and save a lot of time and money.

And remember:

EVERYONE in NYC uses the subway, no matter their income bracket. It’s the fastest way around.

Avoid chains at all costs

If you recognize a café or restaurant brand, chances are it’s either a national or global chain.  And did you really spend all that money to visit NYC only to end up ordering the usual at Starbucks or waiting to get into Olive Garden in Times Square?

Yes, we often prefer the known and familiar, but a great coffee shop, bar, or restaurant in NY is usually just around the corner. So don’t be afraid to explore a bit.  Otherwise, NY becomes just another big city.

Leave room in your schedule for serendipity

Some travelers like to plan every hour of every day. And there is nothing wrong with that. It shows that you care enough about your experience to take the time to plan and do research.

However, in a city like NY, it’s important to leave some room for flexibility and “unstructured” exploration. The magic of New York lies in its beautiful parks, charming neighborhoods, and just people-watching.

Often, it’s the unexpected and unplanned that is the most enjoyable and memorable experiences, so keep your eyes and mind open to them.

Careful where you buy tickets

In a city that gets close to 60 million tourists a year, there are sellers and hawkers all over the place trying to sell you tickets to a comedy show,  the Statue of Liberty, or the FREE Staten Island Ferry. There are plenty of scammers among the honest salesmen. So don’t fall for it. Be extra vigilant if you buy anything from a ticket seller on the street.

On a related note, be careful what you book through your hotel’s concierge desk.

Here is a little secret:

Many hotels actually outsource the ticket agent desk to a third-party company. In other cases, the concierges themselves sell you tickets for shows and attractions. In either case, the seller almost always gains a commission, so you don’t always get objective advice or even the best price.

With that said, at top hotels concierges have a way of getting a reservation at a fully booked restaurant and tickets to sold-out shows. 

Don’t be afraid to get off the beaten path

While this may sound like a travel cliché, you’d be surprised how many tourists spend most of their time in or around the really famous places and landmarks.  And, of course, it’s important to visit these places, but New York offers so much more than a shortlist of easily identifiable sights (you can probably name them right now).

There are a lot of layers to this great city, and to discover them, you have to venture out of the main tourist comfort zones.  Safety is not an issue, as serious crime in NYC remains near record lows.

Don’t be afraid to cross the East River!

if you have more than a few days in New York City, remember that Manhattan is just a skinny island (albeit, a very famous one) and there are 4 other boroughs (can you name them?), which are home to 7 million New Yorkers combined.  So you can apply this last piece of advice to not just getting off the beaten path in Manhattan, but venturing off the island of Manhattan for a deeper exploration.

Stay away from the “street” hot dogs

For most New Yorkers, “street hot dogs, or “dirty water dogs,” as we call them, are a food of last resort. We’re in a rush or desperately hungry. Hot dogs do have a long history in New York starting at Nathan’s in Coney Island. You may not get out to Nathan’s, but across Manhattan, there are restaurants that specialize in quality grilled hot dogs and papaya juice (don’t ask, it’s a New York thing), Gray’s Papaya and Papaya King are the most famous. 

Still, don’t be afraid to eat from a street cart, they’re popular with all New Yorkers and regularly inspected by Health officials. Seeing a Broadway show?  Never do this afterwards

The most stressful time and place in NYC is around 10pm in Times Square. That’s when most of the theaters let out thousands of people, who quickly fill every inch of already-crowded sidewalks in the busiest part of Manhattan. Now, I will never tell you NOT to go see a Broadway show. But what you absolutely positively MUST NOT DO after getting out of the theater is try to hail a taxi, take an uber, or worse, get into a pedicab.

Speaking of pedicabs, you will see a small army of young guys standing up on their pedicabs calling out to the crowds feeling a bit tired and looking for a convenient ride to the hotel.  Resist the urge! You will end up paying an arm and a leg for the guy to wheel you through traffic and out of the theater district.

A taxi might end up being cheaper, but unless you like sitting in standstill, you’re better off just walking.  You’ll get there faster.

In fact, if you don’t remember anything else we’ve written here, heed this simple piece of advice:

If you’re going to see a Broadway show, the ONLY option you should consider after the show is to WALK away from the theater and the crowds.  If your hotel is less than 10 blocks from the theater, you’re better off just walking back. If you need to go farther than that, then Google Map directions and hop on the subway.

Alright, enough ranting and raving on my part.  If you’re just planning your first NYC trip, take a deep breath.  Everything will be OK. Nearly 60 million people visit New York every year, and the vast majority come back alive.

P.S.  If the idea of exploring NYC (and figuring out the subway) on your own seems daunting, check out our custom private tour options.