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TRAVEL

7 MIN

New York: An Essential Guide

Tips for getting around New York like a pro.

The vastness of New York City is a paradox: On one hand, the range of things to do in the city is endless; on the other, option paralysis is a legitimate concern.

To help make sense of the metropolis, we’ve assembled essential information for everything from cultural must-sees to insider tips on navigating transit. 

While New York itself is an assemblage of five boroughs, Manhattan itself is a tapestry of unique and vibrant neighbourhoods, each with its own flair, history and hipness level. First-timers to the city can be found in droves at Times Square, Central Park, Broadway and Fifth Avenue. The Meatpacking District is a haven of chi-chi nightlife. Soho is the go-to for boutique shopping. And hoods like the West Village, East Village, NoLiTa and the Lower East Side are all their own individual ecosystems. In truth, all of this merely skims the surface of all New York has to offer. It’s often best to just take to the streets and explore.

Whether in town for work or pleasure, this essential guide will help you get your bearings so you can set out and discover whatever it is you’re looking for in New York. 

THE LAY OF THE LAND

Finding your way around NYC is relatively easy. The city’s numbered grid system makes on-the-ground navigation intuitive (admittedly this doesn’t really apply to the West Village and Lower Manhattan) and taxis are always a hail away.

As a general guideline the city’s various neighbourhoods are defined thusly:

  • The Upper West Side runs north of 59th and west of Central Park West (which is basically an extension of 8th Ave) out to the Hudson River.

  • Central Park is bound by 59th at the south, 110th at the top, 5th Ave to the east and Central Park West to the west.

  • Times Square is at Broadway and 42nd

  • Chelsea spans from 7th Ave westward to the Hudson River, running from 14th to 30th.

  • Just below Chelsea are Greenwich Village and the West Village, bordered by Broadway to the east, the Hudson River to the west, Houston Street to the south, and 14th Street to the north.

  • Soho can be found between Houston and Canal streets, bound by Crosby St. to the east and West Broadway to the west.

  • Further south is TriBeCa (Triangle Below Canal), which naturally starts at Canal St. to the north and runs west of Broadway in a triangle down to Vesey St, which is right next to the 9/11 memorial.

  • Wall St. is directly below TriBeCa, right at the bottom tip of the island.

  • Chinatown sits east of TriBeCa, with Little Italy just to the north, nestled between Lafayette and Bowery, just north of Canal.

  • The Lower East Side runs east of Little Italy, beginning at Bowery and set between E. Houston to the north and Canal to the south.

  • North of LES is the East Village and Alphabet City, which together span north from E. Houston up to 14th St., between Broadway over to the East River.

  • Travelling north is Gramercy Park, a neighbourhood that includes a private fenced-in park and is bounded by E 14th Street to the south, Third Ave to the east, 23rd Street to the north, and Park Avenue South to the west.

  • Fifth Avenue shopping is found roughly between 42nd and 59th, streets making a walk from Times Square to Central Park a potentially expensive one!

  • The very tony Upper East Side sits between Central Park/Fifth Avenue to the west, 59th Street at the southernmost tip, the East River, and 96th St to the north.

  • In New York, Uptown means Harlem. Topping the city, Harlem stretches from the East River to the Hudson and runs from 155th St at the north down to an uneven southern border that dips down anywhere from 110th street to 96th St.

NAVIGATION 

Public Transit 

For subway neophytes, a trip planner, like this one from MTA is a good idea. It includes bus, subway and rail routes, providing comprehensive options.

When buying a MetroCard, there are a couple of tips to keep in mind. First, don’t bend the card; it doesn’t like that. Also, if you’re using a credit card from out of the United States, you can skip the part where it asks for your zip code. Just press “Enter” or “OK” to get to the next screen.

To save money on your MetroCard, avoid the pre-suggested trip options, since this inevitably leaves you with an odd amount on your card that’s always less than the necessary $2.50, making you refill your card before you hit zero. Instead, let us save you some math: choose the “Other Amounts” button and enter $9.55, $19.05 or $38.10 and you’ll always have the perfect amount.

MTA Subway
www.mta.info
Fare: $2.75 

Taxis

If cabs are more your thing, there are a couple quick tips to keep in mind. The city’s entire fleet of drivers changes shifts between 4 and 5 p.m., making this an impossible time for hailing a cab. Since it’s also a peak time for users, it can get a little cutthroat in the late afternoon. Be prepared to wait a little longer.

Once in the cab, you can save time by swiping your credit card in the seat-back payment screen at any point in your ride. It will be processed once you reach your destination, saving you those lingering moments of settling your fare.

NYC Taxi
www.nyc.gov/tlc

Base fare: The initial charge is $2.50. Plus 50 cents per 1/5 mile or 50 cents per 60 seconds in slow traffic or when the vehicle is stopped.

Uber thrives in New York, so if you’re a user of the private-car service, you’ll have little trouble finding a ride. 

GETTING CONNECTED 

• Radio: For Top 40 and pop, tune into FM 92.3, FM 102.7 or FM 103.5 (FM 99.1); soft rock is on 106.7FM and Z100 has adult contemporary; classic rock is on 104.3 FM and 101.1 FM; hip-hop can be found on HOT 97 and 105.1 FM; classical is on 105.9FM; while news talk is on 770 AM, financial news on 1130 AM, and sports news on 660 AM. For college radio try NYU’s station at 89.1 FM.

• On the hotel TV: CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX and CNN dominate U.S. airwaves and can be easily found on the TV guide.

• Listings for arts and culture, events, food and drink:
www.nycgo.com 
www.timeout.com/newyork 
www.villagevoice.com 

• LGBT-focused listings:
www.timeout.com/newyork/lgbt 
www.newyork.gaycities.com/events 
www.nycgo.com/gay

ENJOYING YOUR STAY

Doing the tourist thing 

There are endless options (http://www.nycgo.com/allattractions) when it comes to culture and entertainment in New York. Rather than attempt a comprehensive list of things to do, here are some pro-tips for seeing the best of the city, as simply as possible.

• If scaling tall buildings is on your agenda, we recommend Top of the Rock over the Empire State Building) then a little planning goes a long way. Make sure you go for the sunset observation, and buy your ticket as soon as you arrive in NYC for the clearest day in the forecast. Also, specify to the ticket agent you want to see the sunset; they know the best time to reserve.

• When buying tickets for the Top of the Rock, buy Rockefeller Center Tour tickets at the same time. And as the ticket agency about all the offers they have. It’s best to do it all in one fell swoop.

• The place to get tickets to Broadway shows is the TKTS booth in Times Square (there are also outlets downtown and in Brooklyn). This is where to get cheap tickets – up to 50% off – for in-demand shows. But to score the best tickets, you need to plan to show up around 5 p.m. This is when the theatre box offices have released most of their available tickets for the day.

• During the summer months, Shakespeare in the Park is a great option for theatre lovers. And it’s free. The way to get tickets for these Central Park shows is to either enter the daily ticket lottery online, or go wait in line at the park (a beautiful experience in its own right!) on the day of the performance.

• If sketch comedy is more your bag and sitting in on a live taping of Saturday Night Live is on your bucket list, then more planning is required. The ticket lottery is only open for one month, so be sure to email during August to enter. You’ll be notified by email if you’re chosen. Sure it’s a long play, but it’s infinitely better than attempting the SNL standby line.

THE BOROUGHS

While talking about New York’s boroughs could fill a book, here’s a super-simple overview of getting to Brooklyn, the city’s most popular outer hood.

Assuming you’re in New York for business or staying on Manhattan proper, it’s very easy to hop the subway and quickly step foot on the other side of the East River. Williamsburg is the height of Brooklyn hip, with clothing stores, coffee houses, record shops (the famed Rough Trade is in W’burg), and bars and restaurants aplenty. To soak up a bit of the hip, hop the L Train and get off at Bedford Ave., the first stop across the river. You’ll be right in the thick of things.

For another easy sojourn in to Brooklyn – and one that affords some epically spectacular views of Manhattan – hop the C train and head to Brooklyn Bridge Park. Just get off at High St. (again, the first stop on the other side of the river) and take a short walk to DUMBO, which stands for Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass. Here you can take in some stellar views from the waterside slip of park, and check out the sweet bars and restaurants of the growing DUMBO neighbourhood. 

Bonus: on summer weekends, both of these neighbourhoods are home to Smorgasburg (Saturday in W’burg and Sunday in DUMBO), an outdoor food and drink festival by the water.

OTHER PRACTICALITIES

Where to go if there’s something you need, and quickly

For forgotten sundries its best to head to Duane Reade. The drugstore chain can be found literally all over the city. Other prominent chains include Walgreens and CVS, but considering New York City has two adjacent streets in Tribeca named Duane and Reade, it somehow seems the best choice.

Each of the city’s neighbourhoods has its own strips of shops, bodegas and restaurants but for name brands, Broadway between Houston and Canal is dotted with chain stores, include a Bloomingdale’s. Other hoods with accessible shopping options include: Union Square (W 14 and Broadway) with a DSW shoe warehouse and Best Buy; Herald Square (W 34 and Broadway) with a Macy’s and the Manhattan Mall close by; and Fifth Ave between 42nd and 59th is a non-stop row of stores you know.

Beer, wine and liquor

Beer and wine for home consumption can be purchased at grocery stores, drug stores and liquor stores, which you’ll have no problem finding downtown and in any neighbourhood.

New York’s drinking age is 21. Under New York state law, bars must stop serving alcohol by 4 a.m. but it’s up to each establishment as to what time they actually close. Which is often quite late. Bars and clubs may start serving drinks at 7 a.m, except on Sunday when you’ll have to wait until noon for your first mimosa.

Published Wednesday, February 11th 2015

Header image credit: Getty Images

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