New York travel tips

Our 3 week trip to New York in September 2019 was a fantastic experience. We learned many things whilst there and have distilled our best New York travel tips for you below. They should prove beneficial and save you time and money.

The subway/metro

The New York subway system is fast, safe and efficient.

To use it you have to buy a Metrocard. Each ride costs $2.75 regardless of how far you travel (1 stop or 30 stops) so it’s good value.

You use the Metrocard to enter a station but do not need it to exit a station.

When you buy a Metrocard it will cost $6.00 ($1 for the card and 2 rides). You can top up your card at the machines located at each station with either cash or credit card.
There are also 7-day ($33) and 30-day ($127) unlimited ride cards that are really useful if you plan to be making many trips. The Metrocard is also valid on buses.

Two useful apps to have are:
MYmta – calculates the best way (using subway and bus) to get from point A to point B
NYC Subway Map – offline high-quality version of the NYC Subway map. Extremely useful.

One thing to familiarise yourself with prior to using the subway is the difference between local and express trains. Local trains stop at all stations (most of the time – late night and weekends can be different) and express trains bypass certain stations. On the subway map local stops are represented with black dots whereas express stops are white.

Looking below – on red lines 1, 2 and 3 the express trains only stop at 59th St Columbus Circle, 72nd St and 96 St whilst the local trains stop at all stations.

Section of the New York Subway map in our New York Travel Tips.

For more info about the subway and bus system go to the New York MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) website.

WIFI access

Our mobile phones (from Australia) were only 2 years old but not compatible with the US Networks. It was challenging not having mobile data BUT there is loads of free WIFI throughout New York.

WIFI is available in cafes and shops but also on almost every subway station. Many times we would just stand near a subway station entrance and be able to connect.

WIFI is also available on the street via the LinkNYC stations that are dotted all over the city. These are LCD advertising stations that include a digital touch screen with access to the internet, NYC information, free phone calls plus USB power jacks.

Statue of Liberty tour

If you want to go to Liberty Island to see the Statue of Liberty then you need to book via Statue Cruises. We took the option of having access to the pedestal that the statue stands on. This ticket costs the same as a general access ticket ($18.50). Another bonus is that pre-booked tickets get fast track access through security at the embarkation port.

Tickets to climb up to the Crown are also available ($21.50) however these need to be booked well in advance. For example, at the time of writing (October 8th) tickets weren’t available until January 6th! So you definitely need to plan ahead if you want to climb to the crown.

Liberty Island with Manhattan in the background. Another of our New York Travel Tips

Pre-booked tickets for general access or the pedestal are all for a specified departure time (hourly). They are made available in the morning of the same day so it’s best to book first thing on the day you wish to visit. I wasn’t aware of this and ended up having to take the 1.00pm tickets.

Your ticket/cruise also includes Ellis Island so if you plan to spend time at both make sure you get on one of the earlier departures!

9/11 Museum – free on a Tuesday evening

The 9/11 Museum has an admission fee of $26. However, a number of free tickets are released on a Monday morning for access after 5pm on Tuesday evenings.

We took advantage of this twice as the museum has so much information you do need a good few hours to see everything and watch the different videos.

To get free tickets go to their website and scroll down to the bottom to find the “Free Admission Tuesdays” item.

Staten Island Ferry – free all the time

If you don’t wish to pay to see the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island then the Staten Island ferry is the next best thing. It departs from Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan and cruises to Staten Island on a frequent schedule. It is totally free and provides fantastic views of Lady Liberty, the Manhattan skyline and Brooklyn Bridge.

Broadway show tickets lottery

One of the must do items on any New York itinerary is to see a show on Broadway. Ticket prices can range from $10 to more than $400. Advance ticket purchase/booking is usually possible through all the major ticket outlets. By the way, we discovered that “On-Broadway” shows are those in a theatre can hold more than 500 patrons whereas “Off-Broadway” shows are in theatres that hold less than 500 patrons.

There are a number of ways to get ‘cheap’ tickets for shows for the same days performance or perhaps a day or two before. The TKTS booth in Times Square provides this service and if you’re in that area there are many other people offering similar services OR offering tickets directly.

There’s a huge re-sale market for Broadway show tickets and prices vary widely. Major websites like Ticketmaster and StubHub re-sell tickets on behalf of individuals. This is useful if you’re wanting tickets for a specific show.
Before finding out about the lottery system we were going to buy tickets through the StubHub office (located on the corner of Broadway and West 39th St).
The staff there were very helpful and finding tickets on their in-store tablet app was very easy. Another bonus was that they didn’t charge a booking fee (unlike Ticketmaster that added a $7.50 per ticket fee!)

However, we discovered that there are ways to get cheap show tickets via online ticket lotteries. There are many sites that do this and some shows do it directly.

Lottery websites

A couple that we used were:
Broadway Direct Lottery – daily lotteries for shows like Hamilton, The Lion King, Aladdin, Wicked and Tootsie. Ticket prices from $10-$49. You need to submit individual online entries for each show every day.

Lucky Seat – daily lotteries for shows like Frozen, The Book of Mormon, Hadestown and Moulin Rouge. Ticket prices from $29-$40. An added bonus with Lucky Seat is that, once you’ve created an account, you can ‘apply’ for lottery tickets for shows for the entire week at once and not have to do it every day.

Harry Potter “Friday Forty” – Every Friday they release some of the very best seats in the theatre for $40 ($20 per Part) for every performance for the following week. A friend of ours won in this lottery and had a wonderful time seeing part 1 (matinee) and part 2 (evening) for $40!!

So get to it if you want to see a Broadway show on the cheap. We were drawn out twice (in three days) in the Tootsie lottery. The seats cost us $42 (plus $3 booking fee) and they were in the orchestra section right in the middle of the theatre so we were very happy.

Two people sitting in the orchestra area of the Marquis Theatre New York. Getting Broadway show tickets cheaply is discussed in our New York Travel Tips
Our seats at the Broadway production of ‘Tootsie’

Walk the Brooklyn Bridge – it’s free

If you have time you should make the effort to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. This iconic bridge was completed in the late 19th century and is an engineering marvel.

Our best tip for this activity is to walk from the Brooklyn side to Manhattan. You’ll get superb views of Manhattan as you stroll across.

The best subway station to start from is High St-Brooklyn Bridge on the A and C lines. On exiting the station walk across the park (Cadman Plaza Park) to Cadman Plaza E. Turn left and walk along Cadman Plaza E towards Prospect St. You’ll find stair access to the bridge walkway on your left once you enter the underpass.

Brooklyn Bridge - a free activity discussed in our New York Travel Tips
Walking the Brooklyn Bridge

Once you’ve crossed the bridge into Manhattan you could continue your wanderings as Chinatown is only a few blocks away. Little Italy is also in the same area and adjacent to Chinatown.

Brooklyn Botanic gardens – free entry Friday mornings

If you’re at a loose end on a Friday morning why not take a trip to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Normal entrance fee is $15 but up until midday each Friday you can enter for free. The Brooklyn Museum is next door so you could combine a visit to the Museum with a morning walk around the gardens.

If you haven’t done enough walking then across the road there is also the massive Prospect Park (Brooklyn’s answer to Central Park) as well as the Prospect Park Zoo ($9.95 entrance fee)

Central Park

Walking around Central Park is one of the best experiences you can have when visiting New York. The park is huge at 4 km long and 800 metres wide and has many entry points. We’d recommend entering at the south-west corner at 59 St/Columbus Circle subway station or the south-east corner at 5th Avenue subway station. These are the main ‘tourist’ entry points where you’ll find vendors providing various services (food and drink, bicycle rental, tours, horse and carriage rides).

If limited for time then I’d suggest heading north from the southern end towards ‘The Mall’ and ending up at the Bethesda Fountain and Loeb Boathouse.

TOP TIP – make sure you get one of the free pocket park maps from one of the numerous info points throughout the park. It can be quite easy to get disoriented and lost.

The Central Park Conservancy runs and maintains the Park and offer various walking tours. Many have an associated cost but there are a number of free tours. We did the Heart of the Park walking tour. It was a very interesting and informative hour and we were glad we did it.

New York Ferries

There’s no need to pay for an expensive New York cruise -simply take a ride on one of the New York Ferry routes. A single ride costs only $2.75 and you’ll get fantastic views of Manhattan and Long Island.
The major departure point is at Pier 11 – just a short walk from Wall Street.
There’s also an excellent app for buying tickets and seeing real time ferry information.

NYC Ferry routes

Hudson Yards and the Vessel

Tips coming soon……

Apollo Theatre

Tips coming soon……

Roosevelt Island tram/cable car

Tips coming soon……

The largest Mausoleum in the USA

Tips coming soon……

Grand Central Terminal

Tips coming soon……

DUMBO

Tips coming soon……

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