Simply one of the greatest cities on the planet – New York City has got pretty much everything you can think of and then a whole heap more.
If you’re heading to the Big Apple for the first time here’s the key things you need to know.
What’s New York like?
Busy and brash with iconic landmarks, superb nightlife, a really lovely park and an energy like no other. You need to visit, you really do.
- Size wise it’s not as big as London or Paris.
- The buildings are tall, very tall – there are more than 6,000 skyscrapers.
- Traffic is often at gridlock so just go for a wander round – you’re best off exploring on foot.
- New Yorkers think they’re cool. They are cool. The city is just cool.
When to go to New York
Now. Do it. But if you prefer a little planning, try Thanksgiving (last weekend in November) and the run up to Christmas.
These are probably the most iconic times to visit (which makes them pretty busy – but don’t let that put you off). You’ll be either watching the trees in Central Park changing into their autumn shades, taking a turn round the outdoor ice skating rink or shopping in the famous stores you’ve seen in the movies on snow-lined streets.
What’s the weather like in New York?
New York can be a city of extremes and the weather fits in perfectly with that. When it’s hot, it’s sweltering and when it’s cold it’s freezing.
- Summer temperatures hit the late 20s and early 30s – a good excuse to spend a lot of time in Central Park.
- In the winter months, pack the thermals: it often can drop below freezing.
- Spring and autumn are as changeable as they are in the UK, so check the latest weather forecast before you shut your suitcase.
- If you’re after a cheap flight then go in late winter (February) or the early part of spring (March / April).
How long do you need?
“How long have you got?” might be a better question.
- A day trip: this isn’t really going to cut it – unless you have something very specific in mind. It’s too big and there’s too much to see.
- A short and packed weekend: you’d manage the main sights, but might still leave wanting more (a good excuse to return).
- Four to five days: probably your best bet if you want to see the major landmarks, hit the shops and really experience the nightlife (and recover) at a more leisurely pace.
Which airlines fly to New York from the UK?
Good news. There’s really good competition among the airlines taking you across the pond.
- British Airways, Virgin, American Airlines, Delta, Air India, Norwegian and United are among the carriers flying directly to NYC.
- Flights depart from UK cities including London, Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Belfast.
- The average price of a New York flight is around £450.
Find flights to New York
Which is the best airport to fly to?
New York has three major airports.
John F. Kennedy International (JFK) is the closest to New York itself and the biggest.
If you’re shopping around, look at flights to Newark Liberty International. Although it’s in New Jersey, it’s only a couple of kilometres further out and has decent transport links into New York.
There are no direct flights from the UK to La Guardia at present – but it could be an option if you’re travelling from another city in the US.
How long’s the flight to NY?
This is a medium-haul trip. Expect an average flight duration of eight hours from London, Manchester or Edinburgh..
You could also take a small detour en route. Flights via Iceland and Dublin often offer stopovers at no extra cost.
How to get from the airport to the city
Be aware that on the way back, international check in times are around three hours – so leave plenty of time to get to the airport.
The cheapest way is to take the AirTrain (free) which then connects you to public transport. You can reach Manhattan and Brooklyn in 50 minutes for less than ten dollars by subway, or get the train: it’s double the price but takes half as long.
Taxis will have a flat rate of $56.50 to get to Manhattan at peak times – find fares to different destinations in the city.
You can also get the AirTrain here to connect and be in New York in around half an hour for less than $15 – find out more here.
From La Guardia
This is the closest airport to New York – it’s only eight miles from Manhattan – here’s how to get from here to NYC.
Is there a time difference?
Yes. The UK is five hours ahead of New York – our afternoon is their morning.
Some people might experience a little jetlag as you’re heading west. If your body clock wakes you up at 5am – maybe think about going out for a walk or run.
It’s a great time to catch the city when it’s quiet, see the sunrise and take some pictures before everyone is out and about. You can always go back bed.
Where to stay
If you’re going for a short break, you’ll probably want to stay close to the main action in Manhattan.
- top end is The Waldorf Astoria on Park Avenue. One of the most famous hotels in the world – and The Queen even has her own suite named after her there.
- The five star Pierre Hotel on Fifth Avenue has a nice view of Central Park. If you want to stay Downtown – try the W New York. It’s not far from Battery Park and for visiting Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. Find more five star hotels in New York.
- The Wellington Hotel is a decent three star hotel – which is in walking distance to Central Park, Broadway and Midtown for shopping,
- If you want to get good views – the Residence Inn New York is the tallest hotel in North America. This three star is near Central Park.
Staying longer? The other four boroughs (there are five in NY) including Brooklyn could be an option to see more of NYC.
- We’ve put together a guide to three of our favourite neighbourhoods in New York – Chelsea and Greenwich Village in Manhattan, DUMBO (which stands for Down under Brooklyn Bridge – NYC has the best acronyms) in Brooklyn to get you started.
Browse our New York hotels to find something to suit your trip.
Getting around New York
- Get a MetroCard – there’s three to choose from depending on how often you’ll use it.
- A one way ticket is currently less than $3.
- Check whether your train is express – if it is – it misses out lots of stations, so you could find yourself having to double back.
- They’re really cheap – but you must have a Metrocard (see above) or cash change.
- You can get a day pass and ask for a free transfer if you’re jumping from one bus to another
- You can hail them in the street – just wave your arm and shout “taxi!” (you’ve seen it in films).
- It’s paid for by the meter so you can keep an eye on costs – remember to tip at least 10%.
- Take a boat trip around Manhattan to see the skyline and sights.
- You can also get a free ferry over to Staten Island to see the Statue of Liberty.
Tipping: this is probably the most important thing to get to grips with – it’s a huge part of the New York culture. Here’s a brief New York Times guide to who you should tip and why.
Culture: New Yorkers are proud of their city, and locals will usually be willing to stop and help if you’re lost or have questions. But as with any big city, don’t take impatience personally. It’s a fast moving city, so if you’re dawdling in front of the subway entrance or doors they’re going to get miffed.
On the move: The fast food is good because a lot of New Yorkers don’t have time to sit down for lunch. Join in grabbing some food on the go – the pizza slices are epic.
Navigating: New York is built on a grid. Numbered streets run east to west, and avenues run up and down – Fifth Avenue divides the city into east and west.
Things to do in New York
New York’s top attractions
With so many films and TV shows made about New York – you’ll be familiar with many of the major sights, but it’s different seeing them for yourself.
- The Empire State Building – no longer the tallest, but still the most romantic. The sunset is really special.
- The best view of New York is probably from the Rockefeller Centre.
- The Statue of Liberty – one of the most recognisable sights in the world
- Find out if any of your relatives settled in America by visiting the Ellis Island museum, where immigrants were processed.
- Brooklyn Bridge: head onto the walkway for sunset
- Times Square – technically not a square – very busy, but worth getting a selfie (then getting out again).
- 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero
- United Nations Visitors Centre: go inside the UN headquarters
- St Patrick’s Cathedral
Lots of people come to New York purely to hit the major department stores, bargain outlets, electrical superstores and vintage markets.
- You can find goods and clothing at sometimes a fraction of the price you would do in the UK or Europe – hence why a trip to New York is so popular pre-Christmas.
- Have a potter around Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s and Barney’s – its an experience in itself.
- Fifth Avenue and 34th Street are probably the closest equivalents to Regent Street and Oxford Street you’ll find in New York.
The great outdoors
- Central Park is often top of people’s NYC hit list. You can take a guided tour around the park if you want to learn more – or just wander round. Especially in the autumn when the colour of the leaves and trees are truly spectacular. You can rent a bike, a boat (April-October) and on Memorial Day, Labor Day and 4th of July you can barbecue
- Coney Island was where New Yorkers first escaped to the seaside from the city in the 1800s – get the train over and check out one of the oldest resorts in North America. While you’re there, visit the new Luna Park for fairground rides and rollercoasters.
- The Hamptons are a posher version of a seaside resort. The great and the good head out there for their summer vacations. There are public beaches and surfing to so on a day trip – if your budget doesn’t quite run to taking a house in this most exclusive of neighbourhoods.
- The High Line is a rather unusual public park – its built in the air on an old freight line. Wander along it and stop off in the cool bars and cafes they have here.
New York’s art scene
- Museum of Modern Art (MOMO) – If you go to one museum or art gallery – make it this, truly exceptional.
- The Guggenheim Museum is pretty good too and the building is a work of art in its own right.
- Broadway, along with London’s West End, is where you”ll see the best musicals and plays in the world. There’s 40 theatres in total to choose from – although only four are actually on the street itself. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera is the longest running Broadway show of all time.
- Visit Madison Square Gardens for gigs, concerts and major sporting events like boxing.
Sport in New York
Time it right and you’ll be able to catch one of New York’s famous sporting teams in action.
- American Football – The New York Giants and the New York Jets share a stadium.
- Baseball – Decide if you’re a New York Mets or New York Yankees fan.
- Basketball – New York Knicks
- Ice Hockey – The New York Rangers
Eating out in New York
- Pizza slices, hot dogs from a stand and giant pretzels – they might be stereotypes, but isn’t that the fun of being a tourist?
- Super posh is Eleven Madison Park – but you’ve got to book months in advance.
- Get a pricey porterhouse steak (but pay in cash) at Peter Luger in Brooklyn.
- Sardi’s is a legend for pre or post Broadway show dining.
- Go to brunch at Bathazar
- Train station food. Really? Yes. Grand Central Oyster Bar.
Going out in New York
- Have a drink in a rooftop bar like La Birreria or Roof at Park South.
- Sip a beer in an historic bar – try Fraunces Tavern (1762) or perhaps The Ear Inn (1817).
- Try a Manhattan in a cocktail bar.
Already visited New York?
We’d love to hear what your favourite things to do in New York are.
Please let us know your best tips for first timers by leaving a comment here below.