Tips for a First Time Trip to New York City

Last Updated on December 15, 2015 by Jody Halsted

It’s kind of funny…  You can put me on a plane and plop me down practically anywhere…

London?  No worries.

Dublin?  Piece of cake.

Boston?  We relocated there with nary a worry.

San Francisco?  No problem.

Miami?  Easy.

New York City

But New York City?  I’m nervous, worried, and overwhelmed.  I really don’t know why.  I know how to ride a subway and read the map (London, Boston); I’ve flown into huge airports (Heathrow, Atlanta); I’ve wandered through “destination” cities without a care (San Francisco, Dublin).

So here’s what I’ve got going on…  I’m attending the TBEX (Travel Blog Exchange) conference in 2 weeks.  I fly in and out of Newark.  I have Friday afternoon and most of Monday free.

So here’s what I need:

  • What is the easiest way to get to Midtown Manhattan from Newark?
  • What must I see in NYC?  (I believe I will have a New York City pass courtesy of the conference and New York City)
  • What is over-rated and skippable?
  • Restaurant recommendations?
  • Your best tips for the city.

Please share your tips and links in the comments.

New York CityPASS

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  1. Get Bagels from H&H
    Shop for Cameras at B&H
    Get a hotdog from Gray’s papaya
    Go up in the Empire State building and do it late in the day when the crowds are less and the light is golden
    Eat dinner any place in Little Italy

    1. I second the hot dog and a papaya drink from Gray’s Papaya…the subway stops right at the intersection (72nd & Broadway, I think)…then, it’s an easy walk east on 72nd to Central Park…you can’t miss a walk through Central Park…during the day, of course! Have fun!

  2. I agree w/ Chris – eat dinner in Little Italy. We found a little mom and pop place and ate out on the street. Made it taste even better! Also, don’t miss Central Park and Ground Zero (they’re kinda far from each other, but so worth it). And Times Square is a wild place (I actually ran into an old coworker on a street corner in Times Square – crazy!) I wish we would have bought a ticket for one of the bus/trolley trips through Manhattan. We only had one day as well (flew into Newark, also) in the city, and I feel like I got a really disjointed feel since we were so rushed and had driven ourselves in (quite an experience in itself!!).

  3. Lifelong Noo Yawka and attending (and speaking) at TBEX. Here are my answers:

    What is the easiest way to get to Midtown Manhattan from Newark? While not the cheapest, the easiest way is to hop a cab and since this is your first visit to NYC, you might like the ride in a crazy yellow taxi. The smell on the other hand…

    What must I see in NYC? (I believe I will have a New York City pass courtesy of the conference and New York City) Hate to advise people since I loath the location (I work nearby), but for a first timer you should check out Times Square briefly. Brooklyn Bridge…walk across it and have a pie on the Brooklyn side at Grimaldi’s! Dont feel like walking back? Hop an F train nearby and it will bring you right back into the city. Also check out Central Park, Bryant Park and a museum or two.

    What is over-rated and skippable?

    Empire State Building. Long lines and once you’re up there it is packed.

    Restaurant recommendations? Firenze on the Upper West Side. Tiny Italian spot that only has about five tables but impeccable service and excellent dessert cart.

    Your best tips for the city.

    Walk it. While you may want to check out the NYC subways, the city is so full of life and characters that just walking the streets will be a memorable experience.

  4. I agree with Spencer about Carnegies. I had an absurdly delicious Pastrami sandwich and slice of cheesecake there. A little on the expensive side but I had zero regrets.
    Another place I would recommend to eat if you like Chinese food is called Joe’s Shanghai, superb food and especially the soup dumplings.

  5. BTW…I did get my South Africa soccer blog up (see link)…but NYC is right near where I grew up! It’s very easy to take the train from Newark. When you land, follow the signs to the monorail and take it to the train station. From there, get a ticket to Penn Station, and from there the subways go all over. (There are cross town buses too, but I usually walk cross town.

    I love to walk around SOHO and downtown and just wander looking for galleries and cool stores. I could spend all day just walking around the city, I love it so much.

    I love Queen of Sheba Ethiopian, which you definitely can’t get at home! It’s not glamorous, but the food is good and the people are nice. Get a sampler plate.

    I do love the American Museum of Natural History, but save it for when you’re there with your kids. Try the Guggenheim Museum and or the Museum of Modern Art. Or the Met.

    And H&H bagels are a MUST!!! But I’ll see your H&H and raise you a Zabars! Up by the Beacon Hotel there’s an H&H near a Zabars. You haven’t LIVED til you’ve tried to order food in there at rush hour. With kids in tow it was like an extreme sport! Mornings are more mellow.

    Get a Sunday NY Times and see what’s going on. Have a great time!

  6. * Cipriani’s in Soho – lots of celebs – I saw Sting & family, Carol Alt and Mickey Rourke in one night!
    * If you’re a foodie – splurge on a $100 dinner – Daniel & The London are both great – 1 $100 dinner is FAR better than 2 – $50 – then eat street food the rest of the time – pizza, sandwiches, little italy, etc…
    * Subway is intimidating as hell – especially in the hot summer – but go for it!
    * Times Square & a Broadway show – I had the best time at Hairspray

  7. Oh and definitely do the bus tour – it’s a quick way to see everything – then spend of the rest of the time on individual favorite spots that folks mention or that intrigued you from bus tour

  8. The easiest way to get from Newark to Manhattan is NJ Transit. Amtrak will leave in you at the Path train station (34th St) and from there you can connect to the train to you hotel, or cab it. For more info on fare and schedule visit their site: Costs less the $20 and is quicker and easier than a cab (and cheaper!) A cab will cost you about $60 bucks.

    Other than that I agree with what others have said here. Don’t be afraid to travel to other interesting areas by train. It’s not the 70s or 80s any more. People travel on the train at all hours and are more than happy to help. Skip the highly tourist sections and lines…not worth it! Go to Times Square, best at night…but don’t spend your money eating there (not always good and expensive).

    Walk through Central Park, it’s awesome, and take in the Metropolitan Museum (a days’ worth–check schedule not sure if opened on Mons)…Happy to send more tips. Just connect with me and see you there!

    Carol @NYCityMama

  9. There’s on important thing to remember in New York: People are willing to be helpful. You need directions? Don’t be afraid to ask. For instance, when you get off your plane in Newark, follow airport signs to the train station and once there, simply ask an employee how to get where you want to go. It’s truly that easy. 🙂

    Andrew has a point, though: For your first time in NYC, springing for a cab isn’t a bad idea, just to ease your anxiety level ’til you get your bearings. Or, a less expensive alternative is the blue Super Shuttle.

    My favorite New York experiences:

    On the Upper East Side, stop into the Carlyle Hotel for a glass of champagne in Bemelman’s, a piano bar with murals done by the same artist who created “Eloise.” Continue the sugar coma with lemon icebox pie at Serendipity 3.

    The slightly unnerving one-way-mirrored bathroom at a delicious little Thai restaurant in Soho called Peep.

    If you make it to Ground Zero, wander towards the South Street Seaport and hop the Ikea Water Taxi for a free and lovely trip across the river to Brooklyn and back. Or, stroll down Canal Street through Chinatown to see a whole different cultural universe within the city.

    In Little Italy, I love the seafood at Rocco’s, a real family place.

    Wandering through the Medieval artworks at the Cloisters (including a famous unicorn tapestry), taking in the lush view of the Hudson River Palisades.

    The view of the turtle pond, trees and skyline from the terrace at Belvedere Castle in Central Park.

    The Frick, a small gem of a private art gallery on 5th Avenue in the West 70s, near the Guggenheim and the Met. At the Met, the central atrium is one of the most gorgeous Beaux Arts era rooms in Manhattan.

    Down near TBEX and NYU, off Union Square, stop into Friend of a Farmer for homemade soups and breads from farms around upstate New York.

    Looking forward to meeting you at TBEX!

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