Your NYC travel guide
Posted on November 7, 2016
Planning a trip to New York City? Here are my tips written from a Vancouver perspective and what I find unique from what we have here.
- Learn the neighbourhoods – There are so many and it helps a lot when you have an idea of what is where.
- 1 free bus transfer – Every time you pay for transit ($2.25) you get to go into the subway (transfer as many times as needed) and 1 bus transfer within 2 hours of initially paying. This could also be the other way around. Ex. You pay for the bus at 9 am, go walk around a museum, then jump onto a subway at 10:55 am and head to another destination for one price.
- Local vs express – Trains could be traveling local (they stop at every station along the way) or express (they only stop as certain stations, making it a lot faster). Know if the station you’re trying to get to is only a local stop or if the express will stop there too.
- Free transit map – ask the employees inside the booths at any subway station. They make a great souvenir!
NYC is known for Times Square and the Broadway shows that take place there. It’s definitely a fun experience, but if you don’t want to break the bank to watch, here’s how you can get cheap(er) tickets:
- TKTS – Visit the booth underneath the “red stairs” in Times Square the the employees are great at describing what the shows are like and give you recommendations. They can also search up what seats and ticket prices are available. Or you can look online for ticket prices.
- Lotteries – Many shows set aside tickets to sell at a super low “lottery price” usually $10-40/ticket for every performance. They are usually “partial view” seats or anything unsold to the general public. You used line up at the box office waiting to see if they draw your name, but now, they are mostly digital lotteries which makes it super convientent! You have to enter the day before or the day of and they will email/text the winners a few hours before the show starts so you have to be flexible with your schedule. It’s worth it for the cheap prices though!
- Standing Room Only – Some shows will also sell Standing Room Only (SRO) tickets if all the seats in the theatre are completely sold out. If you win this lottery, tickets are around $30 and it means you’ll be standing – likely in the back of the theatre – for the entire duration of the show. This is worth it if it’s a very, very good and expensive show that you’re dying to watch. I got SRO tickets for the Book of Mormon and it was totally worth it!
- Student Rush – Some shows also have a separate lottery for those with valid student ID.
- Today Tix – Download this free app and to apply for certain lotteries. There are some shows that do not have an online form, and only offer their lottery through this app so it’s worth the download.
- Off Broadway – Keep in mind, Broadway shows are not the only good ones – there are lots of Off Broadway ones too! I recommend Avenue Q.
Warning: Do not pay full price! Many museums will have admission prices listed and it looks very official so many tourists do not question it and pay the full amount, but often, the fine print will state that it is actually “suggested general admission”. The concept of “pay what you want” is quite common in New York so don’t be scared – no one bats an eye on the amount you pay (even if it’s $1 dollar).
Many museums also have a few hours, one day a week where it’s free admission so you’ll want to look these up and plan your schedule around it.
Read this blog post for more info on visiting NYC museums for free.
Although I’ve never done one, I don’t recommend doing a bus tour, hop on/hop off buses or purchase those NYC passes. They make the cost sound like a great deal because it includes admission to many places, but when you realized The MET and Natural History Museum are basically free (see museum section above) then it’s not really a good deal anymore. Plus, traffic is bad in NYC so the bus won’t be moving too fast.
Instead, I’d recommend doing one of the many free/pay what you want options for walking tours in the city!
- Free tours on foot NYC – Tons of different tours available, reservation required. I loved the food tours! I wouldn’t recommend doing tours much longer than 2 hours because it gets tiring and it’s hard to focus on all the information the tour guide is sharing towards the end.
- Grand Central Tour – Free, weekly, no reservations required, walking tour. I was expecting just a tour around the inside of Grand Central, but he took us to important buildings all around the area and shared a lot of the NYC history. Very interesting!
- Official Central Park Tours – Many different tours available and most of them are offered for free.
- New York Public Library Tours – They offer free tours every day at 11 am and 2 pm (only 2pm tour on Sundays)
- The High Line – Free weekly 1 hour guided walking tours every Tuesday 6:30 to 7:45 pm and Saturday 10:00 to 11:15 am, May through October
- Self-Guided Tours – I’ve looked up tours for famous movies (When Harry Met Sally, Spiderman, Serendipity, Elf, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Home Alone 2) or popular TV shows (Seinfeld, Sex and the City, Friends, Gossip Girl, HIMYM). The website usually list and describe they locations that will be covered on the tour. I pick the spots I’m interested in and go check them out myself!
Live TV show tapings
It’s a rare and cool opportunity to be part of the studio audience for many popular television shows. It’s free, you could see stars up close, you could get free giveaways, and you might end up on the TV screen!
The only downside is that they will take up a good half of your day for a one hour show. There’s a lot of lining up and waiting around. They need to make sure the seats are full so they get standby tickets (you) to line up and see if they need you – so yes, there’s a chance you’ll waste your time and you won’t even get in.
Examples of shows filmed in NYC
Some shows are very popular and you’ll need to do your research on how to get tickets beforehand (shows all have a slightly different process) and watch for when tickets are released online.
- Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (very funny)
- Late Show with Stephen Colbert (must get a ticket online, no standby available)
- Daily Show With Trevor Noah (must get a ticket online, no standby available)
- Late Night with Seth Meyers (less popular so more likely to get in)
- Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (shows fill up fast online)
- Dr. Oz (very likely to get in if you get a ticket and they confirm you on the phone)
- The Rachael Ray Show (didn’t get a response for tickets)
- The View (had a standby ticket but show ended up full from priority tickets when I got there)
- Fifth Avenue – Between 39th and 60th Street
- Madison Avenue – Between 57th Street and 80th Street
- 57th Street – Between Park and 6th Avenue
- Times Square – Classic shopping spot (Forever 21 is open until 2am!)
- SoHo, which stands for South of Houston Street – Beautiful architecture and cobblestone streets creates a great atmosphere
- Herald Square – Has the flagship Macy’s store which has been dubbed the “World’s Largest Department Store”
- 9/11 World Trade Centre – Check out the Westfield Mall (looks like a dinosaur) and neighboring Brookfield Place (fabulous food court)
- Chinatown – Great place to buy souveiners because you can haggle
Here are the stores I like to shop at since we don’t have them in Vancouver, Canada.
Discounted brand names
- Century 21
- Tj Maxx
- JC Penney
- Saks Fifth Avenue
- Lord & Taylor
West of Manhattan (New Jersey)
- Woodbury Common Premium Outlets – 1.5 hour Northwest from Manhattan, 220 stores, outdoor mall
- The Mills at Jersey Gardens – 5 minutes south of Newark, 30 minutes west of New York, 102 stores, indoor mall
East of Manhattan (Long Island)
- Westbury plaza – 40 minutes east of New York in Long Island, an open air plaza with only 9 stores but it has these 3 staples: Nordstrom Rack, Saks Fifth Off 5th, and Bloomingdale’s Outlet!
- Tanger Outlet Deer Park – 1 hour east of New York in Long Island, 77 stores, outdoor mall
- Tanger Outlet Riverhead -1.5 hours east of New York in Long Island, 118 stores, outdoor mall