Streets of New York

Uptown means numbers go up, downtown… yeah.

“Fail” is the fun, 21st century way of telling someone they’re doing it all wrong. If you are headed to New York City, you’re going to want to “not” fail. New York City is an experience that can’t be rivaled, in part because few places on the planet have more people crammed into less space. If you want to discover true New York City food, culture, neighborhoods and fun, you’ll need to avoid these 10 ultra common mistakes that first time (and 100th time) tourists makes in the big city…

a subway sign on a buildingNot Using The Subway

Public transport can always seem a little tricky when you’re in a new city, but taking the Subway around New York will absolutely save you time and money – especially once you’ve seen the famous traffic! You can get a pay-per-ride Metro Card ($2.75 one way), or if you’re staying for a week you can get an unlimited 7-day pass for $32, allowing you to use it as much as you need during that time. Although the famous yellow taxis may seem cool at first, the thrill wears off quickly. Uptown means street numbers going up in value, downtown means street numbers going down. If you want to go from 59th and Columbus Circle to 14th street, you just need to catch a “downtown” train. Simple enough, right?

Staying In Times Square

Anything is worth seeing once in life, but if you keep going back we’ll try not to hold it against you, while we cringe in agony. Times Square is comprised entirely of tourists and tourist traps, with absolutely no bearing on actual New York culture. Stay in a different neighborhood, like the West Village, Upper East Side or Lower East Side where it’s slightly quieter and far less manic. You’ll soon figure out what New York City is really about.

a city street with many tall buildings and people crossing itEating In Chains

New York has some of the best restaurants and cafes in the world and none of them are called Bubba Gump, Olive Garden or Starbucks. The whole point of traveling is to discover new and unique experiences, so whether it’s just a slice of pizza (not in Times Square) or a slap up tasting menu, try something different that you can’t get elsewhere. New York naturally offers some of the most expensive restaurants, but there are great values to be had all over the city, especially if you love Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Indian or any of the other cuisines New York excels in. And if you’re looking for suggestions, head here.

Paying Separately For Tourist Attractions

If it’s your first time in the big apple, you’re likely going to want to check out as many tourist attractions as you can from – museums, river cruise, Empire State, Top of the Rock to fun Central Park bike rentals. All these things have steep entrance fees, and if you’re with a family they’re going to add up really, really fast. If your itinerary includes many of these things, it is undoubtedly worth getting the New York Pass or CityPASS, or at the very least doing the math. The prices vary depending on how many days you wish to book for, but if you want to see a lot, these will offer some savings up to $100 a day, and allow you to skip some lines. And if you’re really clever, check here for free or pay as you wish hours at certain museums.

30 Rockefeller Plaza skyline at sunsetNot Venturing Outside Manhattan

When people think of New York, they think: Central Park, Fifth Avenue, Times Square and the concrete jungle that is the Manhattan isle. And although there’s plenty to see and do there, it’s definitely worth venturing out a bit to fully understand life as a “New Yorker”, which may sound different if you ask someone in Brooklyn to say “New Yorker”. With easy access to Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, Long Island and more, you’ll be able to experience shops, restaurants and sites a little more off the beaten tourist paths – and taking a step out to places like Williamsburg or Dumbo in Brooklyn will offer you some of the best views of the famous Manhattan skyline. For example, many would say the best Italian restaurant in New York is Roberto’s, in the Bronx.

Not Thinking About The Season

New York during Christmas is one of the most popular destinations in the world, thanks to Kevin McAllister, likely chances of snow, a giant Rockefeller Tree and general seasonal merriment. It’s important to keep in mind that while there’s nothing quite like winter in New York, or summer for that matter, the weather is extreme. Like- very extreme. Winter temperatures can add enough layers to your packing that you’ll need a checked bag, and summer temperatures will make you wish you didn’t pack anything at all. In reality, seasonal celebrations aside, the best times to visit are definitely early Autumn and late Spring, if you’re into perfect weather and great sunsets.

a large building with many peopleShopping In Soho And Midtown

People love to shop in New York. In fact, some people love it so much, they bring empty suitcases for all the wares they foresee for the not so distant future. But, why fight through the busy streets filled with shops that exist all over the world? Walking along Fifth Avenue or West Broadway you’ll come across your usual Zara, H&M, Mango, Urban Outfitters and others you’ll find everywhere. If you’re looking for something new and different give the streets of Williamsburg, Fort Greene or DUMBO in Brooklyn a whirl. Alternately, the Lower East Side and West Village of Manhattan are great moves as well. If you really want to stay mainstream, and love everything in one place, go to The Oculus. The building itself is stunning and worth the visit alone, but once inside, you’ll find The Westfield World Trade Center mall, with more shops than you can count.

Obsessing Over Rooftops

Everyone wants that classic sky scraper Manhattan skyline picture and it does exist – but you shouldn’t stress over it. Don’t waste your time or money waiting in lines to get into clubs or the top of the Empire State building. If you’re on the tourist trail, go to the Top Of The Rock, where the price is the same, but you get time slots to enter, instead of queueing for hours. And side note, you actually get the Empire State building in view. If you’re thinking rooftop bar, go early before everyone else jumps on the sunset bandwagon! New York is not short of them, but for optimal views, try Le Bain or the Top of The Standard. Or, simply enjoy the skyline for free from the Williamsburg waterfront – the sunsets are gorgeous, and we’ve *heard* you can sneak a picnic with wine in, not that we’re saying you should.

a body of water with trees and buildings in the backgroundOnly Visiting The Large Museums

We don’t blame you for wanting to visit the MoMA, the Met, Museum of Natural History and the Guggenheim – they all offer wonderful things and you’ll be glad you did. But be aware that there is much more that New York has to offer when it comes to museums and galleries. Check out The Frick Collection, Neue Galerie, The Met Cloisters, or the Brooklyn Museum for something slightly lesser known or trafficked. Or if you’re looking for a special day, venture out to The Bronx Zoo or Brooklyn Botanic Gardens for an equally fun day, depending on your interests. The Bronx Zoo is near Roberto’s just FYI.

Not Packing Comfy Shoes

Thanks to the likes of Sex and the City, you may think people happily walk around New York in 7” high heels and ultra fancy shoes. That’s not entirely fiction, but for most practical New Yorkers, especially those with places to go, there’s usually a stunt double pair involved. Manhattan is one of the very best places in the world to walk – if you’re wearing comfortable footwear. Despite being one of the largest cities in the world by population, you can get from uptown to midtown, from midtown to downtown and from East to West no problem. At its widest point, Manhattan is only 2.3 miles wide. If you’re not pounding the streets, you’re not doing it right.

What tourist mistakes have you made in NYC?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. I do take the subway whenever I go into NYC. But, your suggestion that it’s faster than the above-ground traffic is misguided. Every weekend, it seems like half of the subway trains are rerouted, or not running at all, requiring you to go halfway into Brooklyn and back if you just want to get from Times Square to the lower east side. Subways can get you there, but they’re hot, crowded, and often not running (or not running on their regular routes) on weekends.

  2. I understand the “Staying In Times Square” one, which I interpret loosely as “Staying in Midtown”, but if you’re just popping-in for the weekend via the train and want to catch a Broadway show, you’re kind of stuck there.

    Also, I estimate that about 50% of NYC’s hotels non-airport hotels are in midtown. The bulk of the rest are in the Financial district, which I would recommend less than Midtown even, as there’s hardly any nightlife by NYC standards.

    Midtown is tough to avoid, but it does have good pockets with hotels like like Chelsea or Hell’s Kitchen. But regardless, venturing outside of Midtown is a must.

  3. My mistake was to pay for a horse carriage ride around Central Park. Those poor horses are treated awfully and I just felt guilt ridden for ages afterwards.

  4. As a lifelong New Yorker, I strongly disagree with your advice to avoid staying in Times Square. It is not only a short walk to all Broadway theaters (and many off-Broadway ones as well), but you can also walk from there to Rockefeller Center, Carnegie Hall, Museum of Modern Art, Bryant Park, Central Park, Empire State Building and more. It may not be the culinary capital of Manhattan, but you can’t beat Times Square for convenience to many attractions. Also, when you take a subway from Times Square to other parts of the city, you’re more likely to avoid having to change trains, which is great because the subway system can be very confusing.

    1. As a life long New Yorker, I stand by my statement – and I think many others will too. To each their own…

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