new york empire state building city

“If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” – Jason Pierre-Paul

New York is awesome. As in, it’s definitely cool. And it definitely leaves you in awe. You don’t have time to waste getting on the wrong subway line, miscalculating your tip, or getting trampled amongst impatient New Yorkers.

I’ve tried and tested (we’ll say it was on purpose, ok?!) some mistakes so you don’t have to. Here’s some tips to make your trip to New York city just that bit easier.

Experience the Subway

new york subway penn station

You either love it or hate it, but everyone agrees that taking the subway in New York is one hell of an experience. Whether it’s the various subway creatures, the performers (sometimes it’s gymnastics, sometimes it’s a beggar screaming their life to the carriage), how many rats you see, or the cool mosaics, you’ll always have a story to tell. Plus you can’t help feeling a little badass for some reason. I think it’s too many movies.

There are two main rules of the subway, however.

1. Don’t make eye contact / don’t stare at people. It’s not that they’ll kill you, it’s just rude. Also, you don’t want to aggravate anyone.

2. Don’t get in an empty car. I did read this before I went but I still did it because, well, coronavirus, so I didn’t think this rule applied so much. It did. There was a man peeing in the corner.

There are local and express trains. The local ones stop at every station. The express ones don’t. The ones they stop at are lit up on a map inside the car, and the ones they skip aren’t. I made this mistake twice (yes, twice!) and ended up going into unknown territory because my train skipped by a whole load of stops.

For a single ride it’s $3. You can get a MetroCard and top it up. You can get 16 rides for $17.50. There are other options too, of course. 7 day tickets and longer.

And finally, the subway is faster and cheaper than a taxi.

Eating Out

pizza new york usa restaurant deli

Rule #1
Tipping. Do it.

As crazy as it seems, this was the thing I was the most concerned about when I was planning my trip to the US. I’m painfully bad at maths, I was scared I would tip too little and offend everyone or get totally ripped off and be the laughing stock of the restaurant. I downloaded a couple of tip calculator apps and hoped for the best.

The good news is, for anyone as clueless as I was, it shows 3 “recommended” amounts at the bottom of the receipt. 15%, 20% and 25%. It’s already worked out for you. Thank goodness!

15% is the minimum, even if it wasn’t good service. Laws in the US somehow make it legal for servers to be paid $2 an hour so they really do rely on tips. They’re putting food on your table, and if you’re not tipping them, they’re not putting food on theirs.

Rule #2
Times Square is expensive. Do not eat here and complain about the prices. It’s the equivalent to St. Mark’s Square in Venice. You know what you’re doing.

Rule #3
Drinks can be expensive in New York. Especially because if you want a drink, you probably wanna go somewhere cool or a rooftop bar with a nice view. Check out happy hours beforehand for generous discounts.

Rule #4
No matter where you’re from, you have American chain restaurants like McDonalds or Dunkin’ Donuts in your town, so try something new. They say you can have a different meal every night for a year in New York and never have the same thing twice. They have everything and more. Try a famous pizza slice or cheesecake, a bagel, knish, cannoli, anything but a bloody Burger King.

Some of the smaller places don’t accept credit cards by the way, so make sure you have some cash on you.

New Yorkers

new york street people

New Yorkers have a bad rep for being rude. They’re quite the opposite. They’re blunt and don’t have time for bullshit which is especially refreshing when you’re coming from the UK (who beat around the bush a lot) and Ireland (who speak in riddles and never seem to get to the point). I’ve lived in both of these places, it’s true!

If you need some advice or directions, ask someone who doesn’t have earphones in or is clearly in a rush somewhere and they won’t just help you, they will go out of their way to help you. We had one lady who, and I’m not kidding, took us from 125 Street to Columbus Circle after we got our streets and avenues mixed up. Yes, I know, it’s supposed to be fool-proof! 😀 She even chased us up the escalator at one point. And I asked many people, especially in the subways, for directions and they seemed to, dare I say, ENJOY helping me.

And yes, their accent is totally awesome, but don’t ask them to say “coffee”. They don’t like it.

On that note, here’s how to piss off a New Yorker:

Walk slowly in the middle of the pavement.
Stop in the middle of the pavement.
Take a photo in the middle of the pavement.
Look at your map in the middle of the pavement.
Stop at the top of a subway entrance/exit (especially in the middle).
Stand in the middle of the subway doors.

Here is information for free museum times.

metropolitan museum met new york


These days NYC is one of the safest mega-cities in the world so you don’t have to walk around clutching your handbag with your eyes darting from person to person. That said, stay alert, but just as you would do anywhere else.

However many people (locals included) do say that cat-calling is still a big problem. I know it’s degrading and I know how you’d just love to tell them where to go, but please don’t. This only aggravates them and I’ve read stories of things like that making the situation worse and then they’re more likely to act on what they said. So if you’re a solo female traveller and you do encounter this, just ignore them and keep walking. This happened to me three times on my final night in New York (my family left a day before me) and it was a bit scary but I just didn’t react and kept my head down. Don’t let them ruin your trip.

I hope this helped. Leave me a comment if you can think of any more tips! 🙂