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 such uptown palaces as the Ritz-Carlton New York Central Park and the Pierre to lavish boutique properties like the Gramercy Park Hotel and Crosby Street Hotel. You could shell out $75,000 a night — the cost of a new Maserati! — for the two-story 12,000-square-foot penthouse suite at the Mark Hotel or check into a compact Pod Hotel room for $85. With more than 450 hotels, Manhattan has it all.
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 rates ($119-$232, 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 19,000 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, 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 LaGuardia Airport (LGA), followed by John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport. Penn Station is the Amtrak hub in Manhattan, with easy connections to the subway system.
Ways to save: Instead of taking a cab (taxi rides from JFK to Manhattan have a flat rate of $52 for all passengers; rides from the other airports are metered, but fares can rise fast in traffic), you can take a less-expensive shared van or bus into Manhattan. Check out NYC Airporter, which will take you to Grand Central or Penn Station from LaGuardia or JFK for half the price.
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, and 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: 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 & Ellis Island or Circle-Line Sightseeing Cruises; 9/11 Memorial & Museum or Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum Complex. At $122, 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 $35 for seniors; a Circle-Line Landmark Cruise is $36) add up quickly. Other passes bundle similar attractions, including 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 (no tracksuits, please) 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, where crime has been reduced to levels not seen since the 1950s. Though petty larceny has dropped more than 14 percent in Manhattan in the past two years, it remains an issue, and pickpockets are a perennial problem. 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.