A Complete Guide to Visiting New York for the First Time

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First Time Visiting New York from Ireland? Here’s some tips to maximise your time and minimise your budget.

Get a Yellow Taxi from the Airport.

Yellow Taxis have a set price on your destination, plus a toll charge (which is the “EazyPass” cheaper rate than the Cash Rate of $8). We made the mistake of stepping outside the airport door for a breath of fresh air when we were approached by a “Gypsy Driver” (as my NY friend put it) who was so so so insistent that we take his cab to Manhattan, charging a whopping $85 plus his toll AND his $5 parking fee. Being in a new country for the very first time we couldn’t tell him blatantly to fuck off for fear of opening Pandorra’s Box. It’s also illegal for those drivers to approach you so all you have to say is “Are you a yellow cab?” and tell them “no” with a mild threat of calling the cops if they persist. Our return fare on a Sunday worked out at roughly $70 inc tip but it maybe a little bit more expensive if you’re travelling during peak times. We didn’t tip the Gypsy driver, assuming he included the tip in his ridiculous quote.

Don’t hang out in Times Square.

IMG_6561Yes Times Square is the main attraction for tourists but it’s honestly just a commercial bazaar to try and squeeze every penny out of you. It’s crowded, people stop dead in their tracks to look up and dear god if you make any eye contact with anyone in a costume you’re instantly roped in for a “picture picture” then ALL their hands turn up for “tips”. EVERYTHING in Times Square is 30% more expensive than anywhere in Manhattan. It’s a good central point for heading out for your activites but if you want to see authentic New York, venture out, stay on the Upper West side because the number 1 subway train is all you need to take you downtown.
Do visit Tonic on 7th Avenue for good food without the outrageous prices. It’s just down from the M&M’s shop. We had 2 mains, a side, 3 glasses of wine and 2 cokes for $60 and the service was fast and pleasant. They also have happy hour on selected days up until 8pm, which is why I had 3 wines instead of 1 😉
If you’re a fan of GLEE then you’d love Ellen’s Stardust Diner round the corner from The School of Rock Theatre. The food and service are pants (and expensive) but keep in mind all the servers are aspiring Broadway Performers, so they’re all exactly like Rachel from Glee, attitude to boot and they are not impressed if you’re more concerned with getting fed than watching them perform some glorified karaoke. Yes I’ve a B.A in Theatre and I couldn’t get out of the place quick enough. Each to their own, maybe my dreams of becoming a successful performer were shattered years ago so it’s likely that my heart has gone black and cold and I’ve no hope left for todays youth.

Shop around for NY Pass attractions.

IMG_6674We stayed for 10 days so I got a 5 day new york pass which “includes over 80 attractions”. To be used within 5 consecutive days. Don’t worry about the “sale” it runs all year round.  There are other passes that are valid for a 9 day period with as many attractions that you can bundle together so you can split up your days according to the weather. I didn’t realise this until I got to New York and was nearly €500 out of pocket. It’s also impossible to fit everything you want into those five days because their “Hop on Hop off” bus is often full and you’re left waiting a very long time for one that you can actually get on. Most of the attractions close at 6pm everyday too so keep that in mind.

Attractions worth getting on a “Pass” – Circle Line Cruise, Empire State Building, Top of The Rock, Intrepid Museum, 9/11 Museum.

If you’re into Wax Figures you can stick Madamme Tussauds on there but it’s nothing compared to it’s sister venue in London, so if you went to the one in London don’t bother with it.  I’m sure the celebrities love to go to relive their youth as most of the figures are now very dated.

IMG_6700The Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise is THE BEST way to see New York and The Statue of Liberty
, especially when the weather is fine. An upgrade to premium costs an additional $25pp but it was the best money we spent on the whole trip. If you’re short on time take the Landmark Cruise or if you want to spend a full 2.5 – 3 hours chilling out then the Best of NYC cruise is good but not much to note on the northern parts of Manhattan.  In my opinion it’s the only sightseeing tour you need to do on the trip to cover “what’s needed” to see.
IMG_6619Do the Empire State Building at night after 9.30pm to avoid long queues and do Top of The Rock during the day. Top of the Rock you actually queue up for an appointment, and once you have your time you’re only waiting about 20 minutes to get up the elevator and again during nice weather the view is just amazeballs!  Don’t worry about upgrading on the Empire State because there isn’t much difference on the highest floor, however it is indoors.
We took a bike tour round Central Park that was included in the pass, we did it because it wasn’t raining and we weren’t sure of what else to do! It was good though I’m not sure if I’d spend $50 each for it separately. Our tour guide was good but you’d want to be confident on a bike, I honestly thought I was going to fall off a few times.
IMG_6762Another thing included in the pass was The Ride: a custom built tour bus with glass windows from ceiling to floor. NY Pass Holders have to queue up at their ticket office at 8.30am on the day of the tour (to schedule a time for later that day), which is NOT stated on the NY Pass guide nor the official website. Luckily I checked in the day before the pass was due to expire and you cannot make reservations for days in advance. I will not give any of it away, but we had fun for the hour. The hostesses’ jokes were bad, but you know that bad joke funny kinda jokes? And to be honest I would have tipped them if they asked for it because they were still cheesey but not too cheesey where I wanted to exit through the glass window. If it’s raining do NOT let down your umbrella when the bus rolls up cause you’re still gonna be standing there for a good 10-15 minutes before they let anyone on. Use it if it’s included in your pass, tickets are a pricey $55pp if you want to pay separately.

Don’t pay for stuff you don’t have to pay for!

Research before you go as many places offer free entry on a certain day of the week. The Bronx Zoo is free on Wednesdays. The Museum of Natural History and The MET are both “suggested donation” so we paid $10 each to get in. St John Devine Cathedral is free and we donated 5 bucks by just dipping the credit card. We didn’t get to go to the zoo but heard it’s good and also heard that Central Park zoo is crap. Get to the museums by noon at the latest for less crowds.

The Best Pastrami on Rye will cost you $20.

Turkey on Rye from Katz Deli $20

Turkey on Rye from Katz Deli $20

For a sandwich. And you can’t expect to split one between two. So while Katz Deli is famous in all the movies, especially When Harry Met Sally, only do it if it’s on your bucket list and if you have the budget for it.
If you want to eat somewhere noteable, check out Tom’s Resturant uptown on Broadway. It’s known for Seinfeld and the breakfast is good. Two huge sambos, a juice and a cappuccino cost us $20 – the cappuccino was $7 but regular coffee is cheap. And it was tasty. They don’t over charge for their fame.

One of the best burgers in town is Mel’s again on uptown Broadway (opposite Five Guys). Delish. Split a portion of fries between two cause there’s loads in it. $16 each inc tip.


Little Italy Pizza

If you’re too tired to go out to eat in the evening, look up grubhub.com and get pizza delivered from Little Italy. Their regular pizza size is 16+ inches, way too much for two of us so if I were to order again I’d get a couple of slices instead. Very nice and reasonable price.
If you want a taste of proper New York with an Irish twist head to The Ear Inn downtown off Houston Street. It’s the oldest bar in New York, the steak is gorgeous and tell Barry that the girl from Lucan said he’s a Baldy Bollox!

I’ve a background in theatre but I did not go to one single Broadway show.

Cheers from The Ear

Cheers from The Ear

My thoughts behind it were I could fly to London and still get a ticket for half the price. Instead we went to local cabaret clubs, jazz bars, the Improv Club and the Comedy Club on 7th in Times Square. Entry for the Comedy Club was covered under our New York pass and it’s a 2 drink minimum, so do check those things out before heading out. We got more value from going out 4/5 nights to see all this than blow our budget for “cheap” tickets on Broadway.

If you want quick travel, take the subway.

Do not rely on the Hop on Hop off Big Bus Tour to get you to your attraction in a timely fashion. It took us two hours to get from Times Square to 9/11 from point of queuing for the bus to the time we got off. It would have been much quicker (and dryer) to hop on the number 1 train down to Wall Street. And good luck trying to get back on the bus after hopping off. There was another tour bus company, “City Sightseeing” or Grayline which seemed to have more busses on with less people on them. Look it up as an alternative if you’re into bus tours. And if you’re taking the subway and using it a good few times, get the unlimited travel I think it’s $30 for 7 days. We just kept topping ours up and actually spent about $50 each over the trip. It’s $2.75 to hop on a train or public bus.
IMG_6564We stayed in The Manhattan Hotel Times Square which is on the cheap side of hotels in the area. It has mixed reviews and a frowny face on trivago. But it’s a central location right beside 50th street subway. We got a king room. The bed was very comfortable and the rooms were clean. All hotels in NY need renovations so don’t expect a lap of luxury. But all you need is a nice bed and a hot shower to keep you sane.

Lastly. When it rains. It pours.

IMG_6654We had to change so many things due to weather and leg cramps from walking. If you’re not used to walking, get out and about in the weeks leading up to your trip as we walked on average 5 miles per day and my other half suffered quite a lot. Google “Manhattan New York weather” for a more accurate weather forecast – bring a brolly and make sure you have a proper rain coat, dry shoes, a hat, scarf and gloves to keep you warm. There’s nothing more miserable than being cold and wet on your holidays. But when the sun shines its FANTASTIC.
I didn’t mention shopping because we didn’t shop. The exchange rate is the same at the moment so there were no bargains.
If you found this helpful, please pass it onto a friend. And have a wonderful time in New York, it’s really a magical place.