When to go
Manhattan is always bustling, but it’s busiest — no surprise — during the winter holiday season. After all, there’s nothing quite as magical as the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and festive windows on Fifth Avenue. But winter is cold and often snowy. Bundle up: Those towering skyscrapers can create a vicious wind-tunnel effect, exacerbating the frigid air.
Summer is often hot and sticky with high humidity, from mid-June through September. It can also be on the quieter side, as New Yorkers escape on weekends to flee the heat of the city. But both spring, offering cool breezes and occasional rain, and fall, with its crisp and refreshingly brisk days, can be glorious. May and October are wonderful times to visit.
Ways to save: January through March is the quietest time, best for sweet deals on hotels. And if you go in the summer, you can enjoy a free outdoor concert or Shakespeare in the Park.
Where to stay
As befits this city of excess, it has some of the best (and most expensive) lodging in the U.S. — from uptown palaces like the Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park, to lavish boutique properties like the Gramercy Park Hotel. Happily, with more than 450 hotels, Manhattan has a room for most budgets (though be prepared to spend more than you would in other cities).
New hotels have sprung up in slowly changing neighborhoods, such as Public, hotelier Ian Schrager’s bastion of hipness in the still-gentrifying Lower East Side. But the sweet spot just might be small midtown properties like the Redbury or the Archer Hotel, in freshly renovated older buildings with competitive nightly rates ($206 to $249 in winter).
Ways to save: Home rental services such as HomeAway, VRBO and Airbnb may save you money over a hotel stay. Airbnb dominates in the Big Apple, with more than 38,000 listings — from entire apartments to individual guest rooms — that can often be less expensive than a hotel room of the same size. When choosing a hotel, extend your stay to include a weekend, when business travelers have left town.
How to get there
With three major airports, getting to Gotham is easy. The closest to Midtown Manhattan is the recently renovated LaGuardia Airport (LGA), followed by John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport. The newly opened and glorious Moynihan Train Hall, adjacent to Penn Station, is the Amtrak hub in Manhattan, with easy connections to the subway system.
Ways to save: Yellow taxi rides from JFK or LaGuardia to Manhattan have a flat rate of $52 for all passengers; cab rides from the other airports are metered, but fares can rise fast in traffic. Shared van shuttles, like GoAirlink, may seem like they will cost less than cabs but can end up costing more because they charge per passenger. From Newark, you have a few extra options: Coach USA operates buses to the Port Authority terminal or Grand Central Station, and NJ Transit and Amtrak both run between the airport and Penn Station.
Activities to arrange before you go
Advance reservations for popular restaurants are a must, and scoring tickets for the most in-demand Broadway shows can be tougher than finding a cab in the rain. For blockbusters like Hamilton, you’ll need to buy tickets months in advance. You’ll also need to buy tickets early for opera and ballet performances at Lincoln Center, as well as for blockbuster exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. If you have trouble standing for long periods, buy all theater and museum tickets ahead of time to ensure faster entry.
Ways to save: The New York CityPass, which you can buy online before you go, is arguably the single most useful one and includes admission to the top attractions: the Empire State Building, American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Top of the Rock Observation Deck or Guggenheim Museum, Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island or Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises, 9/11 Memorial & Museum or Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum Complex. At $129, the pass is valid for nine days from first day of use. Pricey? Not when you consider that individual admissions to sites and attractions (the Empire State Building is $42 for seniors; a Circle Line Landmark Cruise is $31) add up quickly. Other passes bundle similar attractions, including the New York City Explorer Pass, the New York Pass and the New York Sightseeing Pass.
What to pack
Let’s face it, this is the fashion capital of the country, where locals vie to make style statements and dress to impress. But you needn’t be a fashionista to fit in. Start with seriously comfortable shoes, because you’ll do a lot of walking. Smart casual clothing is ideal, though dressier wear in the evening (jacket for men, dress or dress pants for women) fits right in at the theater or a concert. When in doubt, just stick to black, and you can’t go wrong.
New York is one of the safest large cities in the world, but petty larceny remains an issue in the city and pickpockets are a perennial problem, especially in crowds and in areas popular with tourists, like Rockefeller Center and Times Square. Men should carry their wallets in a front pocket; women should keep a grip on their bags and never hang them on a restaurant chair.
Driving in New York? Fuhgeddaboudit. Traffic can be horrendous and parking garages expensive. There’s a reason people walk or take public transit. Here’s how to get around.
Subways: Head underground. The subway is quick, inexpensive, relatively safe — and a genuine New York experience. It also runs 24/7. Most subway lines run north and south, like the city avenues, with a few lines east and west, like the streets. It’s smart to stand back from the edge of the platform, because injuries have occurred from people falling onto the tracks. Be aware of your surroundings: If it’s a quiet time of day, stand near other people on the platform. After 11 p.m., it’s best to skip the subway and travel by taxi or to car-share instead.
You can find maps at mta.info. Seniors pay half of the $2.75 single-ride price. But note that only 47 of 151 Manhattan subway stations are wheelchair accessible with elevators or escalators, and even an accessible station may have inaccessible trains or platforms.
Buses: They crisscross Manhattan, and you can combine a bus ride with a subway ride at no additional cost if you transfer within two hours. Seniors (65 and up) get half price on a single-ride fare, payable with a MetroCard or exact change. All are equipped for those in wheelchairs or using walkers.
Taxis: More than 7,300 iconic yellow taxis serve the city. When the cab’s rooftop medallion number light is on, the taxi is available. When it’s dark, the taxi is in use. If the entire medallion panel is lit up, the driver is off duty. Drivers are required to take you anywhere in the five boroughs and to Newark Airport in New Jersey. They also must assist disabled passengers, though only about 37 percent of cabs are wheelchair accessible.
The best alternative is Access-A-Ride, a public service that provides door-to-door vehicles for the physically challenged for $2.75 per ride. Request your ride 24 to 48 hours in advance.
Ride sharing: Cars from sharing services like Uber or Lyft are as ubiquitous as skyscrapers and come in especially handy during busy times when cabs are scarce. Fares vary according to demand, distance and type of car requested.
Bike sharing: CitiBike is New York’s bike-sharing program. A day pass gives you an unlimited number of 30-minute rides in a 24-hour period for $15. Affordable? Yes. Safe? That’s debatable. Helmets are not provided, and only a handful of the city’s perennially congested streets have protected bike lanes. So you might want to stick to a leisurely ride around Central Park if you’re not an experienced and agile urban cyclist.
While Manhattan strives to make itself accessible, with curb cuts and ramps, the reality is less than ideal. About 80 percent of street curbs don’t meet federal standards for the disabled. Navigating the city’s densely packed sidewalks — especially in teeming Times Square — is akin to tackling an obstacle course, even for those who are fleet of foot. In a wheelchair or with a walker or cane, it can be frustrating and exhausting.
For information about accessibility throughout the city, check the interactive content on Accessible NYC on NYCGO.com, the city’s official tourism website. It can help visitors with mobility, hearing or sight challenges at arts and entertainment venues, restaurants, museums and galleries, family attractions, and sports and recreation facilities. For example, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has two wheelchair entrances and lends a wheelchair to visitors on a first-come, first-served basis.