New York City is one of the biggest destinations in the U.S. for both American and foreigners. It's a city truly like no other. Because I live only a few states away, I've visited the Big Apple more than a couple times, often for daytrips. So here's my best tips and tricks for making the best of this crazy city.
1. Driving in and taking the Staten Island Ferry.
For transportation in the United States, NYC is pretty cheap and easy to get in and out of. Some of the cheapest international and domestic flights operate through and there is almost always a bus from wherever you are to New York. But recently I have discovered what is probably the cheapest option available. The Staten Island Ferry.
If driving from your location to Staten Island is feasible, I highly recommend it. We packed the car with five people, so individually the tolls did not cost that much. There is a $14 toll to get onto Staten Island, but if you use an Ezpass or go over the bridge on off-peak hours, it is less. Once you are at the ferry, parking is $8 a day and free on Sundays. Then you board the ferry FOR FREE. It runs every half hour from early morning to 11:30 and more often during rush hour. Plus, you are treated to pretty waterfront views and a up-close peek at the Statue of Liberty. And no Manhattan traffic.
2. Scoring the cheapest tickets on Broadway.
There are three ways that I have gotten my paws on discounted Broadway tickets. If you are a student or know a student in college, you can get better-priced tickets online through Tix4Students. You will have to pay a few fees and choose from certain seats (near the back), but you can get tickets for under $50. Each student is able to purchase one or two tickets, so a friend could purchase the ticket for you.
The easiest way to nab some cheap(er) and last minute seats to a show is tckts. No, that's not a typo--tckts is a company that specializes in day-of, slightly discounted seats. You must go to the physical stand, in Times Square or at one of the other two locations and wait in line. It is best to have an idea of two or three shows you want to see, in case your first choice is unavailable. Chat with the staff while you are in line, or download the app, to get idea of prices and what is already sold out.
The most complicated, but definitely cheapest method to grabbing a Broadway show is to check for lotteries and last-minute ticket drawings. Check on the tckts app or individual shows' websites to see if they offer an option like this. You will probably show up thre to four hours before the show to enter your name and then again one to two hours before the show to hear the drawing of winners. I did this with a friend when we wanted to see Kinky Boots on a weekday matinee. Since only twenty or so people entered, everyone got $37 seats. They were on a side balcony and we were near the back (our names were drawn at the end), so we had to wriggle a little to see the show. But for the price, it was just right. Like the student tickets, most drawings allow you to purchase two tickets, so if your date's name is drawn you get in too.
3. Navigating the metro.
It's not surprising to me that the metro is mostly used by New Yorkers while everyone else takes taxis. For being so huge, the NYC metro is grimy and relatively hard to navigate. I've taken public transport all over the globe and I don't know how I would be able to use the metro there if I didn't speak English. However, I consider it an interesting case study into life in the city and the cheapest way to get around. My best advice is to put a detailed map on your phone. If you don't have cellphone data in the U.S. or don't want to pay those exorbitant overseas fees, also download an interactive offline app, or preload your Google maps. By doing this and keeping your wifi on, you will have a map that shows your location and can help you with walking directions or the location of the nearest metro. If you are not from NY, please pay attention on the metro. Stops are incomprehensibly announced over the loudspeaker and most trains don't have light-up maps, so you will have to peer out of the train to discern which street you are at. If you are ever uncomfortable or get a weird feeling on the metro, switch cars at the next stop.
4. Central Park.
Free and beautiful, this place is loved by visitors and New Yorkers alike. A great spot to people-watch or unwind from the concrete jungle that surrounds you. It's huge and there is always something going on, even if it's a homeless man serenading you on the saxophone. Don't give in to the horse and carriages, that most-likely mistreat their animals, instead push past and find the lake to sit by or a ballgame to observe. Definitely worth a stop at any time of the year.
5. Dress for the weather.
I can't tell you why, yet when I visit NYC I either sweat or freeze. Something about all the urban life reflects sun in the summer and leaves you gasping for a breeze. And in the winter, you will be shaking in your boots and hurrying down the block. So wear boots and a coat and a hat and gloves if the weather calls for it. Or dress in lightweight cottons and sandals if it's summer. This may seem like common sense, but just take my advice.
6. Step away from Times Square.
This may be hard for many a tourist. The huge shops, the lit-up billboards, the shabby Elmo character that looks more like a badly-dyed red cat. But when you want a bite to eat or a walk down a sewer-smelling street, it will be better a little out of Midtown and farther from Times Square. There is more character in many of the other neighborhoods and craziness that is not manufactured for tourists. Many Manhattanites avoid Times Square. For a better look at life on this crazy island you can hang out in Soho, eat some pizza in Brooklyn, visit the Bronx zoo, or simply get lost in the maze of streets and skyscrapers.