New York City is an overwhelming place, especially if you’re from a rural area. With its busy streets, honking cars, and forest of skyscrapers, it’s easy to get turned around. But never fear – navigating NYC is actually very simple once you’ve learned these easy tips. Let a local teach you how to maximize your time in New York with some basic directions and big city etiquette – not only will you have an easier trip, you’ll feel like you run the Big Apple!
DO: walk. It’s the best way to get a feel for the city and see the kind of everyday wonders that make New York unique. New Yorkers walk a lot, and the city is very easy to navigate if you understand its layout. Set aside some time to wander in an easily walkable neighborhood like SoHo or the West Village, but make sure to wear comfortable shoes!
DON’T: take up the whole sidewalk. Locals don’t appreciate the three-abreast Sex and the City power strut when they’re in a hurry on a crowded street. Try to avoid stopping to check your map at the edge of a crosswalk, and be aware of bike lanes when crossing the street.
DO: take the train. It’s efficient, fast, and most of all an easy way to save money on your trip. Consider buying a seven-day unlimited MetroCard, which costs about $30 – the cost of one or two cab rides! The subway system is easy to navigate as long as you follow the signs and use a map – subway system maps are available for free at assistance booths. Download a free app that will tell you which train to take and when it will arrive. The MTA also has help points, a TripPlanner tool on their website, and free wifi in major stations. Remember to keep your limbs and belongings to yourself on a train to free up more space for everyone.
DON’T: be afraid to ask for help! New Yorkers might seem scary, but they’re actually incredibly kind and usually willing to direct you to your destination or recommend some local secrets. Just don’t stop anyone who’s clearly in a hurry – walking fast, looking down, or wearing headphones.
DO: Carry cash. Lots of small businesses, even institutions that have been around for ages, don’t accept credit cards. Most small businesses have a credit card minimum of five to ten dollars. Try to get cash from your bank’s ATM rather than using an ATM on the street, which can slap you with a transaction fee that can be up to three dollars.
DON’T: get stuck in Midtown. While you’ll want to see the landmarks that make New York famous, the true character of the city is outside its tourist traps. If you’re in Times Square, make a detour to Hell’s Kitchen. If you’re traveling with teens, spend a day in a bustling downtown neighborhood like SoHo, the East Village, the West Village, or Chinatown. Instead of the crowded southern end of Central Park, consider the northern end. Don’t be afraid to explore Brooklyn, Queens, or any other boroughs – there’s plenty to see there too, and nowhere is too hard to get to.
DO: learn the basics of navigating NYC. The majority of Manhattan lies on an easy grid: Avenues run North-South, streets run East-West. The numbered streets start at 1 in the south and get higher as they go north, and avenue numbers rise the farther west you go – so if you’re on 58th st and 7th ave, you know you’re in midtown Manhattan on the west side. If you’re looking for a specific address, address numbers are even on the south side of the street and odd on the north side. Some streets and avenues change names – for example, 2nd St is Bond St for a couple blocks, and 6th ave is also known as Avenue of the Americas.
DON’T: forget these easy landmarks: the Freedom Tower is at the southern end of Manhattan, so unless you’re at the very tip of the island if you see it, you’re facing south. If you’re below the 30s and you see the Empire State Building, you’re facing north. If you’re below 42nd st and see the Chrysler Building, you’re facing north and are on the east side of the island. The tall ‘pencil tower’ you may see is at 57th st, by the southern end of Central Park.
And one last ‘do’ – do remember to take your time. There’s so much to do here that even the locals haven’t seen it all. That’s what we love about New York City – there’s always more to discover. The best memories of any trip don’t come from checking off a list of the top sights to see, but from the unexpected wonders you and your family may find along the way. Use these tips to navigate New York like a local, and don’t be afraid to get off the beaten path.
Chloe Grey Smith is an official NYC Local. She attends NYU in southern Manhattan and studies Art & Public Policy at NYU’s Gallatin School.