Blog · 7 NYC Travel Tips From a Local for the Perfect Vacation

7 NYC Travel Tips From a Local for the Perfect Vacation

By Hedy Phillips
NYC at night

Planning a vacation takes a lot of work, but it’s made a bit easier when you have advice from someone who lives there. If you’re in a New York state of mind, this New Yorker is here to help you plan your next vacation.

You probably already have a list of things you want to do and see while you visit the Big Apple, but there are a few travel tips that I want to make sure you have in your back pocket before you arrive in the greatest city in the world.

Enter the Broadway lotteries


One of the most fun things to do on a visit to New York City is go to a Broadway show. The Great White Way has more than a dozen shows playing at any given moment, and each one is worth seeing. 

Tickets, however, can get pricey. One of the best ways to see a Broadway show for cheaper is to enter the lottery. There’s no harm in entering the lottery for any show you’re willing to see, because it’s free to enter and you can always turn down the ticket if you win — you don’t have to buy it. 

Lottery times can vary. Some are run in the week or two before the show, while others run just a day in advance. This requires a bit of pre-planning and willingness to be flexible, but it’s worth it if you win. 

It really works! I’ve won the lottery for almost every Broadway show at some point (except “Hamilton”).

When to enter the Broadway lottery

My best tip is to enter for weeknight shows for a better chance of winning. More people go to the theater on weekends, so more people are entering for those tickets.

There’s also a better chance at winning during the offseason and on days with inclement weather. Every time there’s a snowstorm, I enter the lottery!

More to do on Broadway

And while you’ve got Broadway on the brain, you can also take a tour of Times Square and Broadway to hear real stories from the experts on the history of the theater and what shows they recommend. 

Use your phone on the subway

NYC subway entrance

New York’s subway stations and buses are now equipped with a tap-to-pay device at the entrance. With this, you can tap an enabled credit or debit card or your smartphone to pay the fare. 

The city recently started OMNY, which gives you free rides after you’ve paid for 12 in a week. At $2.75 per ride, that nets out to $33 for unlimited rides — the same as a weekly unlimited Metrocard out of the ticket machine. 

But here’s why using your phone or card directly at the gate is a better idea: If you buy a ticket from the machine, you’re spending $33 for the week no matter how many rides you take. If you only take 10 rides, you’ve wasted money. 

If you pay with your card and only take 10 rides, you’ve only spent $27.50. However, if you use your card or phone and take 20 rides, you’ve still only spent $33. Just remember to use the same card or device each time. 

Before you arrive in the city, set up the wallet in your smartphone to make paying with it even easier. You should be able to set one of your cards as a transit card, which means it will automatically be detected at these gates, and you won’t have to do extra verification on your phone before the gate opens for you.

The only drawback here is if you’re international and don’t want to pay a bunch of foreign transaction fees by using your card each time. If this is the case and you don’t have a no-fee credit card, the ticket machines in each station offer weekly ride passes for $33.

Eat the pizza

NYC pizza

It goes without saying, you have to eat pizza while you’re in New York. 

You’ll find pizza spots around every corner, and to be honest, you can’t really go wrong with whatever you pick. There are pizza places to suit any budget — from gourmet pizza restaurants to dollar-slice joints.

If you see a no-frills pizza place like the photo above with just a line of pizzas that are sold by the slice, definitely make a stop there. They often offer a number of flavors, but I recommend a slice of plain cheese or the Grandma/Nonna pizza. 

Don’t be afraid of locals

NYC crowd

New Yorkers sometimes get a bad rap for being unfriendly, but we’re really not an unfriendly bunch. In fact, New Yorkers are usually very happy to help out a lost tourist who needs pointed in the right direction.

Don’t be afraid to ask a local for directions if you can’t figure out where to go. Most likely, they’ll be quick to help, especially if you’re nice. But remember that New Yorkers are often in a hurry, so don’t be bothered if they’re short in answering you. We just have places to be!

Go to all the touristy places

NYC Statue of Liberty

You may have done some research before your trip to New York and seen loads of people telling you to avoid tourist traps and stray from the beaten path. While I definitely recommend you broaden your horizons during your visit, you shouldn’t miss the touristy spots.

New York has so many “touristy” places that are worth a visit. Is Times Square a little bit stressful? Yes. Is it still worth seeing? Absolutely. You might find overpriced souvenirs and chain restaurants, but this is why you came to New York.

Don’t miss out on seeing some of our top sights:

You can take really great guided tours of some of these places, which provide insight on the history of the location, its importance to NYC, and fun facts you might not have found out otherwise. There’s a 9/11 tour of Ground Zero with New Yorkers who lived through it, as well as a guided tour of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island that are worth checking out.

Local tip: If you find chain restaurants a bit comforting, then eat there! I eat at the Olive Garden in Times Square all the time because I love it. Just mix it up with some local cuisine off the beaten path.

Leave the city

There’s plenty to do, see, and eat if you leave Manhattan.

  • Brooklyn has a wealth of delicious restaurants and parks, plus it’s where you’ll find Coney Island.
  • You can catch a baseball game in Queens or the Bronx (depending on if you want to support the Mets or the Yankees). 
  • You can even hop over to New Jersey to hit up American Dream, the brand new huge mall that rivals the Mall of America. 

If you want to get even farther outside the city, you can take a day trip to the Hamptons or to the outlet mall in Woodbury, New York.

If your time is short, stay in NYC, but definitely venture beyond Manhattan if you can. You can take public transit or use a rideshare app to get outside to other New York boroughs. If you prefer to go with a tour, we make it easy with our bus tour of Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens, leaving from Manhattan.

Consider the off-season

Central Park in Fall

New York is expensive, plain and simple. Even if you research, save, and make a plan to fund the trip, it’s still expensive. Though New York at Christmas time, for example, is beautiful, it’s also a very popular time to visit, which means hotels are more expensive.

If you want to visit in winter, try coming in early January, right after the New Year. The Rockefeller Christmas tree is usually still up and lit for the first week or so of the year, but the crowds have mostly died down and people have returned to their daily lives. This means the city is a bit calmer and things are a bit cheaper.

Fall in New York is also really beautiful with all the rich colors. It’s a less popular time for families to visit, as kids are back in school, which means the city is a little quieter as well. 

Local tip: Summer is probably the busiest time of year to visit New York. The city is full of travelers, and the weather can get hot and humid. Bear that in mind when choosing the season you’ll visit (and packing for your trip).

Just have fun

Don’t get too hung up on seeing everything on your first — or second or third — visit to the city. Just make sure you’re enjoying yourself and staying safe.

Also, make sure you’re eating all the delicious food New York City has to offer. Read our guide to 10 iconic NYC foods (and where to find them).