In April 2023, I decided I was bored at home and that getting a part-time job would give me something to do and increase my income, which meant more money to travel later on. A few days later, I saw an add that a tour company was looking for tour guides for bus trips from Quebec to popular USA cities and I figured, if there was one job that I would love to do in my free time, that would be it. So I applied, interviewed, and got the job! I have now been a tour guide, exclusively in New York City, for almost a year, and I couldn't love this job more! Once a month, I get to visit one of my favorite cities, I get to see everyone be excited to see the sights they have seen in so many movies, I get to discover the little hidden gems that you don't get to see if you are only visiting for a short time, and most of all, I get to see the city change over the year which is always interesting.
tips on how to get around
Driving in New York City is basically hell, but fortunately for us, there are multiple other ways to get around to city and they are very easy to master. The first is walking. Especially if most of your visits are located in Manhattan, most places are easy to reach by foot. More than half of the island follows a grid pattern that is easy to navigate with avenues going North-South and streets going West-East. Just remember that going from one street to the other takes 1-2 minutes, and going from one avenue to the next takes 3-4 minutes, depending on your pace and traffic of course, but it gives you a general idea. So basically, if you are on the corner of 6th Avenue and 43th Street and want to go to the corner of 5th Avenue and 52th Street, it will take you between 11 and 20 minutes. That way you can decide if you are willing to walk that distance or would rather take an other type of transportation.
The subway is one of my favorite ways to get around, and with Google Maps, is it so easy for newbies. You just enter the place you want to go in the app and select the subway as the transportation method and it will tell you which corner to walk to, where on that corner the subway station entrance is, which line to take, the name of your stop and how many stops the subway will make before it is time for you to exit. Honestly, there is no way to mess up except one and now that you know, you won't make the mistake : the lines run mostly North-South on Manhattan with South (towards the financial district and Brooklyn) being called Downtown, and North (towards Harlem) being called Uptown. Just make sure you are taking the subway in the right direction and voila! You can also pay directly at the entrance with PayPass or even your phone so there is no need to buy tickets ahead of time.
The yellow taxis are such New York City icons that we just have to talk about them here. Honestly, they can be pricey and take a lot of time since traffic in NYC is almost as iconic as the taxis, but they are reliable and available everywhere. If you want to save some money, since New York streets are mostly one-ways, I would make sure that the street or avenue that I am on is going the right direction or I would walk one street over to take the taxi in the right direction and avoid paying for the extra loop of it turning around. Uber is also available and can be less expensive than a taxi.
tips on getting broadway tickets
Going to a Broadway show is one of the activities you cannot miss while visiting New York City. I had the chance to see The Lion King and Aladdin and they were both incredible! The shows can be pretty expensive though, especially on popular weekends like Thanksgiving and New Years. The cheapest way to buy tickets is also the most risky... waiting the day of for last minute tickets. If seeing the show is not something you are willing to miss and spending a few more bucks is not an issue, you should purchase the tickets online as soon as possible. Otherwise, tickets can be bought at the TKTS booth, behind the red stairs in Times Square, or if you want to see a specific show, the theatre will have the best prices. The closer you are to the time of the show, the better the prices, but the higher the risk that there won't be tickets left.
tips on which observatory to choose
You have probably seen pictures of the Manhattan skyline from above. All of them are always beautiful, but there are multiple observatories in New York, all with pros and cons, and most people only have the time and budget to visit one of them so here's my two-cents:
tips on when to visit and for how long
I am preparing a full article on the best times to visit New York City, so keep an eye out for it in the next few weeks, because it really depends what you are looking for. Popular weekends like New Years and Thanksgiving can be very crowded, but allow you to see Christmas decorations. The summer can be very hot, but there are lots of activities and you will have a guaranty of good views.
I recommend spending at least three days for a nice overview of the city. Three days will allow you to see most of the sights, do some shopping, and understand the vibe of the city. If you want to see it properly, go to museums, have time to take a stroll in Central Park, or walk the Highline, a full week would not be too much. It really depends on the time that you have and how much you are willing to spend on your vacation.
tips on where to stay
This also depends greatly on your budget! In my opinion, the midtown part of Manhattan is the most central and the closest to all the main attractions, meaning you could walk to most places, but it is also the most expensive part of the city to stay in. Most hotel rooms will start at 300$ a night in low season.
For cheaper options (and I mean cheaper, not cheap. New York is expensive) Brooklyn is well connected to Manhattan by subway and most attractions would be a short subway ride away. I have also stayed at an AirBnb in Staten Island which was convenient as we were traveling by car for that trip and could park on the street for free and take the free ferry to Manhattan. The parts of New Jersey that are close to New York are also a cheaper option, but unless you are traveling with a tour company, I would not recommend. The bus to Manhattan will take a while and driving to Manhattan every day would end up costing you more in toll and parking than just staying in Manhattan in the first place.
tips on which museum to choose
There are so many museums in New York City that there is no other choice than to make a choice. You can't possibly visit them all. There is even part of 5th avenue called Museum Lane because there are so many.
Th classics are the Museum of Natural History (the one with the dinosaurs that you saw in the first Night at the Museum), the Met (art museum where they have the Met Gala every year) and the Guggenheim (modern art museum that looks like a white spiral from the outside).
There is also a Jewish Museum, the Frick Collection (mostly European masters), the MOMA (museum of modern art), the museum of New York City, the Neue Gallerie (German art) and many others.
If you are looking for something a little outside the box, you will find the Madame Tussaud wax museum, the ballon museum, the ice cream museum, the sex museum, the USS Intrepid (an old aircraft carrier converted into a museum of sea, air and space) and many others.
There is also a museum about the September 11 attacks located by the memorial in the World Trade Center.
Basically, if you are interested in a certain subject, there is probably a museum about it in New York City.
tips on the stores not to miss
New York used to be very big for shopping since there were a lot of shops that didn't exist anywhere else. Nowadays, with online shopping, everything is more available so shopping is not as big a reason for people to visit the city, but there are still some stores that are worth a visit. You don't even have to buy anything, these are worth it just for the fun of visiting:
tips for restaurants
They say you could eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at a different restaurant everyday for a year and you wouldn't have tried every restaurant in New York City, and honestly, I can believe it! There are so many! Not counting all the foodtrucks...
The first thing to know before choosing a restaurant is that NYC restaurants are inspected and receive a letter grade from the inspector. A is perfect, B is ok, any lower than that and I wouldn't bother. There are so many options that it's not worth getting food poisoning on vacation.
The second thing to know is that the tip (or gratuity) is included in most tabs, and definitely for groups. Before paying your bill, you should always check if the tip is already on there. It will be written on a separate line next to the taxes. Tables of 6 or more (some restaurants it's 4) will have a mandatory 20% tip that is already on the bill at almost every restaurant. If you want to be more generous, good for you, but always make sure you aren't paying the tip twice if it's not what you intended to do. The food is already expensive enough.
It is always possible to show up and eat without a reservation somewhere, but not everywhere. Most popular restaurants (think restaurants in Time Square, Michelin stars, rooftops, themed restaurants, etc.) will require a reservation or might have availability, but you would have to wait a few hours. If you are visiting for New Year's Eve, restaurants in midtown will definitely require a reservation for the evening of the 31st and most restaurants will have en entrance price, but an open bar policy. It allows them to charge a flat rate and not have to worry about creating a different tab for every table or people moving around and it being difficult to follow whose tab is whose.
New York City is definitely one of those destinations that requires some preparation and advance planning, but it is so iconic and such a must for anyone who likes to travel. It's important to keep in mind that NYC has something for everybody and there's no way to do it wrong. I hope you will love the city as much as I do!
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