If the bright lights of New York City are on your bucket list, keep reading because I’m going to cover essential tips for first timers to the Big Apple! If you’re drawn to the energy of this bustling city, there’s no doubt you’ll have an incredible first-time experience in NYC.

While planning your trip to this energetic, magnetic mecca, this guide will help you with itinerary ideas, where to sleep, eat and transportation options!

Getting There

New York City has three airport options for arrival: JFK, LGA, and EWR. For the best transportation options, make it easy on yourself and fly into JFK. Trust me.

Once you arrive, taxis are prevalent – as well as Lyft and Uber (promo code mandyk315ue) – and are conveniently parked directly outside the airport. Keep in mind that taxis can run slow in peak traffic times and a surcharge rate will be assessed once you’re in Manhattan. I personally prefer a cab for sheer convenience. Do not, I repeat, do not rent a car!

Where to Stay

My favorite area to stay is in Midtown Manhattan, which places you close to Times Square and within walking distance to Central Park. There are plenty of excellent properties in walking distance to major sights sights like Central Park, Rockefeller Center, Empire State Building, the Theater District and the sought-out Times Square.

Properties I recommend are the Marriott in Times Square, the W if you want to splurge and the Moxy if you’re on budget!

I’m loyal to Marriott’s point program, so these properties are my personal favorites. However, there are several hotels to choose from in Midtown Manhattan. If this is not your first time in NYC, or maybe you’d rather have a relaxed, local experience, I recommend booking a quaint rental through Airbnb in lower Manhattan, near Soho or Tribeca. Here you can stroll through quintessential neighborhoods, step into inviting shops, taste local eats and feel like you’re Carrie Bradshaw from Sex in the City.

The apartment from Friends, along with the Central Perk café is also in this area, so be sure to grab a coffee and stroll along the quaint streets with your person.

Pro Travel Tip: Pay attention to the season that you book for the best hotel stays. Hotels will be more expensive than after the holidays. Consider staying outside of the Theatre District, in Greenwich Village, and stay near the subway!

What to See

The obvious sights to see like The Top of the Rock, Rockefeller Center, Central Park, Times Square, and the Empire State Building are amazing. However, places like the 911 memorial, Battery Park, Brooklyn Bridge, Financial district, Soho and Tribeca are equally fascinating! I recommend booking a day tour through Airbnb Experiences, where expert guides will give you a local perspective. The New York Pass is also a great option if you have several places you want to see for one low price.

Pro Travel Tip: If you’re looking for fantastic views but the Empire State Building is out of your budget, consider The Top of the Rock instead. The Empire State Building ranges from $42 per person for the 82nd floor, and $72 for the top floor for the full experience. Military do receive a small discount, so inquire when at the ticket booth.

If you’d like to see the Empire State Building in your photograph, go to The Top of the Rock instead: the lines are shorter, the tickets are cheaper (a mere $38 per person) than if you were to go to the 101st floor of the Empire and you’ll get the Empire State Building in your photos.

A few more local tips for great views are from walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, One World Observatory, or you can see the Skyline from a water taxi.

Where to Eat

  • On the Cheap: Street Food is prevalent in New York City. A swarm of food trucks will be on most street corner and are home to New York Pizza, Hot dogs, Doughnuts, and nuts. Our favorite quick bite was $1.00 pizza by the slice at 2 Brothers Pizza which happens to be one the most popular places to get true New York sliced pizza. And yes, only $1.00

Pro Travel Tip: The Boathouse in Central Park is a nice experience and in a beautiful setting. However, be aware that if you order bottled water you will be charged $16.00. The tap water is fine, and I didn’t notice a difference. If it’s a special occasion and you advise the waitstaff, it is assumed you will be paying $12.00 for the cheesecake that is brought to the table. The food is incredibly filling and it’s a beautiful place to brunch, lunch or have a nice dinner.

When to Go

The most affordable time to go to New York City is from mid January to the end of February, but you’ll get the best weather in the Spring and Summer months- just keep in mind you will experience crowds during these peak times.

Getting Around

The subway is easy, cheap and can get you almost anywhere you need to go. Taking the subway does require some land navigation knowledge, and ability to walk to the nearest entrance as well as up and down stairs, but I promise it’s the fastest means of getting from point A to B in Manhattan! If the subway is not your jam, Lyft, Uber, and taxis are prevalent. We took several Lyfts and taxis for the convenience factor.

Bucketlist Pics

Coming soon! Check out my Instagram to see some pics that will make New York City your next vacation destination.