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SoYouWanna plan a trip to New York City?

Congratulations on deciding to visit the Big Apple (from here on out referred to as "the city," since all New Yorkers are egocentric and believe that their city is THE city). Whether you choose to spend time in the Metropolitan Museum of Art or an S&M club in the West Village, or both (we wouldn't be surprised if the Met had an S&M club in its basement), you're in for quite an experience. NYC isn't nearly as crazy or dangerous as movies make it out to be, so relax and enjoy its intrinsic weirdness.

By the way, we're assuming that you want to visit Manhattan. The other boroughs (Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island) all have their own charms, but save those for your second trip; as months of watching Sex and the City have taught you, anything worth seeing is in Manhattan.

1. Get There

New York City, being a major metropolis, can be accessed in many ways: plane, train, bus, or car:
 

  • Flying: There are three major airports that people usually fly into when traveling to New York. LaGuardia is the closest to Manhattan, located in the borough of Queens. JFK International Airport is also in Queens, but a little farther from Manhattan. Newark is in New Jersey and is by far the farthest from the city.

    Most airlines fly out of all three airports, although international and American Airlines flights go through JFK, most USAir flights go through Laguardia, and most Continental flights go through Newark. For tips on getting cheap tickets, check out our article "SYW find cheap airline tickets?"

    All three airports have plenty of taxis to get you into the city. A typical fare from LaGuardia to Manhattan starts at $15, there's a $30 flat-rate for Kennedy, and much much more for Newark. You can also take advantage of shuttles provided by Gray Line Express Bus (212-757-7712), Olympia Trails (212-964-6233) and the New York Airport Service (718-875-8200). These will cost you less than $15, but the ride will take longer and will be less pleasant.

  • Train: Amtrak trains arrive constantly in Penn Station, which is located at 7th Avenue and 34th Street (if these numbers don't mean anything to you, don't worry; by the end of this SYW you will be a city guru). Penn Station is conveniently located in the heart of Manhattan and can be accessed via subway and taxis. For schedule and fare information, go to the Amtrak web page. Metro North, a light rail system which runs from Connecticut to New York, is another convenient way to get into the city if you happen to be nearby. Those trains come into Grand Central Station, which is located at 42nd Street and Park Avenue.

    Taking Amtrak can be quite pricey; in fact, unless you're only a couple hours away from the city, it's often cheaper to just fly in. So unless you have a fear of flying, you should definitely compare air and rail prices.

  • Bus: For those of you on a tight budget (or who are just plain cheap but have a lot of time on your hands), the bus is always an option. Buses, run by several companies including Greyhound, Trailways, Peter Pan, and New Jersey Transit, are usually much cheaper then trains and planes and they are just as convenient, arriving at Port Authority, located at 42nd Street and 8th Avenue. Of course, buses take longer and have smellier bathrooms. Hey, life is a trade-off.

  • Driving: If you choose to drive to New York City, your best bet would be to find a garage as soon as you arrive, preferably one that doesn't charge an arm and a leg, and park your car for the duration of the trip. Driving and parking in the city are both impossible (mentally, if not physically) and will certainly make your trip miserable. Since New York has excellent public transportation and thousands of taxis, you really don't need your car if you are staying in Manhattan.

2. Find A Place To Stay

Being a major tourist attraction, New York City has numerous hotels in variety of price ranges and in all parts of the city. Major chains such as Marriott, Sheraton, and Hilton all have at least one hotel in a convenient location. If money is no object, you might want to stay at The Plaza Hotel or the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Both are city landmarks for their architecture and famous guests; whenever you see a New York Hotel in a movie, it's probably one of those two. If your budget is tight though, you might want to check out some youth hostels.

If this is your first trip to the city and you are incredibly wealthy, we recommend that you choose a hotel in Midtown since that will be the most centrally located. Prices and availability for various hotels can be found on the hotel websites such as The Marriott and The Sheraton. The 1st New York web site also provides several lodging options, ranging from very fancy to very basic (and you can also make your reservations online). The World Executive site also lists many potential hotels, and it also reveals discounts you can receive.

If you happen to be a student or poor (the two usually go hand-in-hand), then you should definitely consider a hotel outside of midtown. The upper east side and the west side have plenty of more affordable (though still expensive) hotels. You just might be able to find something under the $200 mark.

The last bit of advice we can give you is this: be prepared to spend a lot - at least $150 for a decent room in midtown. Everything in New York is expensive (the food, the souvenirs, the gigolos/prostitutes…) so you might as well enjoy it and stay in a comfortable place.

3. Get Around The City

So you have arrived and checked in to your suite at the Plaza, now what? First things first: you need to orient yourself. Lucky for you, New York City is mostly set up as a square grid, so if you can count, you won't get lost.

Avenues

First, check out this map and see how grid-like the city is. The Avenues North-South, and most of the Avenues are numbered (with 1st Avenue being the farthest East and 10th Avenue being the farthest West). Fifth Avenue is in the center of the city and divides the East Side from the West Side (so 1st and 2nd Avenues are on the East side, while 7th and 8th are on the West Side). Of course, the city planners did have to throw in some names too, just to confuse people. So, to make your life a little easier, here are the Avenues in order from East to West:

  • East End
  • York
  • 1st
  • 2nd
  • 3rd
  • Lexington
  • Park
  • Madison
  • 5th
  • 6th (also called Avenue of the Americas)
  • 7th
  • 8th (also called Central Park West)
  • 9th (also called Columbus Avenue)
  • 10th (also called Amsterdam Avenue)
  • West End Avenue
  • Riverside Drive

Streets

Cutting across the avenues horizontally are the streets, which run East-West. The numbers of the streets go up as you go North, so 8th Street is downtown, 35th Street is in Midtown, and 94th Street is uptown.

Broadway

To make matters a little more complicated, we throw Broadway into the mix. Broadway runs diagonally across the city, from the Lower East Side to the Upper West Side, cutting through our neat grid. The famous Times Square and Herald Square are both located at points where Broadway cuts through a major street (Herald Square is at the intersection of Broadway and 34th St.; Times Square is at the intersection of Broadway and 42nd St.).

Now that you know where you are in the city, how can you get your body to all the best places? As a rule of thumb, driving is out (because of traffic and parking trouble). Most New Yorkers rely on public transportation, taxis, or their own two feet to get them around. Be ready to do a lot of walking.

Public transportation

SUBWAYS: By far, the easiest and cheapest way to travel is to use NYC's comprehensive and mostly urine-free subways. Here's a map. Print it out in color and never let go of it. Although scary subway stories have become part of the Big Apple's lore, they are actually quite safe. As in every major city, there are some nasty people out there, so it's a bad idea to take the subway late at night by yourself, but if you use common sense, you'll be fine. On the map, you'll notice that there are some black dots and some white dots. The black dots indicate "local stops," and the white dots are "express stops." Express trains are much quicker, so they're great for going from one end of Manhattan to the other. So when you stand on a subway platform, always look for the sign that indicates which side is the Express and which side is the Local. The signs are all very clear as long as you read them carefully. Uptown trains go North and downtown trains go South.

BUSES: Buses also run up and down every Avenue, stopping either every 2 blocks if it is a local or every 5 to 10 blocks if it is an express. They also run East-West on the following streets: 8th, 14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd, 50th, 57th, 66th, 72nd, 79th, 86th, and 96th.

The fare for a single bus or subway ride is $1.50. Buses accept cash (coins only) while both subways and buses accept Metrocards and tokens, which you can purchase in any subway station. Tokens, a must for the nostalgic purist, cost $1.50 each and are good for one ride only. The big perk of the Metrocard is that they allow you to transfer from a bus to a subway or vice versa at no additional cost (in case you need to take a bus and a subway to get to your location).

For maps and additional information, check out the MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority) site.

TAXIS: Yellow taxicabs flood the streets throughout the city 24 hours a day. The only tough times to catch one are right after a Broadway show lets out, or during a rainstorm. Otherwise, you should always be able to find one on just about any street. Just stick out your hand, and an empty cab will pick you up. Remember to tip roughly $1 for every $4-$5 charged.

WALKING: Even though the subways are clean and taxis are convenient, nothing beats your own two feet. Walking in the city is certainly easy and cost effective, but is also provides you with a real feel for the city. Because of the nifty grid system, it is actually very easy to calculate the distance of a walk from point A to point B.

The blocks between avenues (from 2nd Ave. to 3rd Ave., for example) are called long blocks. There are four long blocks in a mile. The blocks between streets (from 42nd St. to 43rd St., for example) are called short blocks. There are 20 short blocks per mile. If you estimate that it will take you 1 minute to walk a short block and 5 to walk a long block, you can figure out whether hoofing it will get you to your dinner reservation on time.

4. Find New York-Ish Things To Do

There are so many great things to do in New York City that you need to be efficient in order to cram as many events as possible into a short trip. Of course, you can mix and match activities from various parts of the city but here are a few things to do in each section:

Downtown

Downtown usually includes the West Village (which is what people usually mean when they say "Greenwich Village"), the East Village, and the Financial District.

  • The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island - If you want to see a real part of American history, and probably some of your own family history as well, take a trip to these monuments to immigration.

    Both the Statue of Liberty and the Ellis Island Immigration Museum can be accessed by ferry from Battery Park. Take the 1 or 9 subways to the South Ferry stop (the last stop). The first ferry leaves at 9:15am; departures continue every half hour, and the last is at 3:30pm. The Statue of Liberty costs $7 for adults; $5 for seniors; $3 for children 3-17; children under 3 get in free (lucky bastards!). The Ellis Island Immigration Museum is open daily from 9:30-5:00.

  • New York Stock Exchange - You've seen the movie Wall Street, right? Now, here is your chance to see it in action! The New York Stock Exchange Interactive Education Center informs and educates the public by allowing them to view the trading floor and look up information on stocks, bonds, and options.

    The New York Stock Exchange Interactive Education Center is located on the 3rd floor at 20 Broad St. Monday through Friday, 8:45 am - 4:30 pm and admission is free.

Midtown

Midtown includes Chelsea, the Theater District, and the Garment District.

  • Rockefeller Center is the home to 19 commercial buildings, including NBC studios. It is located in midtown Manhattan from 49th to 52nd Sts., 5th to 7th Aves. (It's a big sucker!)

    On a visit to Rockefeller Center, you can take the NBC Studio Tour, see tapings of Saturday Night Live, Late Night With Conan O'Brien or you can stand outside the window in the hopes of meeting Al Roker or Matt Lauer as they film The Today Show each weekday morning (get there at about 5:30 or 6:00 am to get a good spot).

  • The Empire State Buildingis the most famous skyscraper in the U.S., so why not go to the observation tower 102nd floor and get a beautiful view of the city? And you can reminisce about Sleepless in Seattle while you're up there. You can even buy your tickets online.

  • The Museum of Modern Art, also called MoMa, houses a rotating exhibit of modern art (duh). It's a fantastic museum, so we strongly encourage you to make a stop. This museum is located at 11 West 53 St. and is near the 5th Ave./53rd St. stop of the E and F trains.
  • Radio City Music Hallis a cultural landmark. If you are in town near Christmas, be sure to check out the legendary Christmas Spectacular featuring the Rockettes. You can also take a tour of Radio City, which will take you backstage to the rehearsal halls and let you see the famous Wurlitzer Organ. You'll even get to meet a Rockette!

    Radio City Music Hall is located between 50th and 51st Sts. on the Avenue of the Americas (6th Ave.).

  • Central Park provides the border between midtown and uptown. Being the largest urban park in the world, its 843 acres literally divide the city into the East Side and West Side. The park spans from 59th St. to 110th St. and from 5th Ave. to Central Park West. To help you figure out the geography - everything below the park is midtown or downtown, everything to the East of the park is the Upper East Side and everything to the West of the park is the Upper West Side.

    Within the park, you will find 20 tennis courts, 2 ice skating rinks, numerous lakes, The Delacorte Theater (which shows Shakespeare in the Park in the summertime), riding stables with horse trains, The Central Park Zoo, as well as hundreds of beautiful places to sit and rest those weary feet. You'll also meet colorful, harmless weirdos who will provide you with many fun stories to tell your friends back home.

Upper West Side

  • Lincoln Center is home to the New York City Ballet, The Metropolitan Opera, The New York City Opera, the New York Philharmonic, and the Julliard school. There is always something going on in one of the many theaters. It is located on Columbus Avenue between 62nd and 65th Sts.

  • The American Museum of Natural History is famous for its dinosaur exhibit and the brand new Hayden Planetarium. This museum is located at Central Park West and 79th St.

Upper East Side

  • Metropolitan Museum of Arthouses several permanent collections, the most famous being the Egyptian room made famous in When Harry Met Sally, as well as several rooms of Impressionist art.

    This huge museum is located on Fifth Ave. at 82nd St.

  • The Guggenheim Museum is full of funky modern art in a building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

    It is located on 5th Avenue at 89th St.

5. See A Broadway Show

As long as you are in New York, you really should take advantage of something you can't do anywhere else…see a Broadway Show (no, that revival of The Sound of Music you saw at the County Fair last year doesn't count).

Most people think that seeing a show isn't for them because 1) they think they will be bored or 2) they don't want to pay ridiculous prices for decent seats. Fear not, dear reader; we will now give you indispensable tips on how to pick, pay for, and enjoy a Broadway show and a cheap price.

  1. Picking the right show - there are several shows playing at any given time, so there is sure to be something for everyone. Things to consider while choosing a show are whether you prefer a musical or a play, if you want a comedy or a drama, and whether you will be attending with children. Then, you can narrow down the field. The New York Times lists the running shows every day in the Arts and Leisure section so you can easily see all your options. To give you a little help though, here are some guidelines:

    • Revivals (shows like Annie Get Your Gun and Kiss Me Kate) are often good family fare.

    • Disney shows (The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Aida) are always kid safe.

    • Off-Broadway shows are often more risky (and risqué) than Broadway fare (if you don't believe us, then check out the accurately titled Naked Boys Singing) but they are usually great fun and very unique. Off-Broadway shows are also much cheaper.

    • Long running shows (Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera) are always safe bets and usually have tickets available.

    • Plays vs. Musicals: it completely depends on your own taste, but we suggest that you try for at least one of each.
  2. Buying tickets to a Broadway show can be a daunting experience since seats can sometimes go for as much as $100 each. Still, there are ways to see theater without breaking the bank.

    • The most popular way to get a discount is to go to the TKTS booth located in Times Square (Broadway and 47th St.). You can get half price tickets to most shows at this booth, although the most popular shows are never available. Prepare to wait in line for at least an hour. The booth opens at 3:00pm Monday through Saturday and at 10am on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday for matinee tickets. At the TKTS booth you can only buy tickets for a show that day and you must pay in cash. The most expensive tickets run about $35. There is another TKTS booth at 199 Water Street on the corner of Front and John Streets, and you can buy tickets for some shows a day in advance there. The times for the WTC booth is 11:00 am to 6:00 pm Monday through Saturday and 11:00 to 4:00 on Sunday. Be forewarned, however, that this booth may have less variety and crappier seats.

    • If standing in line to get a ticket to a show that might be sold out before you ever get to the front of the line doesn't sound like the ideal way to spend your afternoon, try getting a discount ahead of time by going to the Playbill site. This site publishes discount codes for numerous shows. You have to subscribe to the site to have access to the discounts, but membership is free. These codes are good to use in person at the box office or over the phone.

    • Many shows have a "Rush Seat" policy. This means that if you get to the theater about 2 hours before the show and enter a drawing, you can get seats in the front row for $20. It lets poor folks (like the struggling workers of SoYouWanna.com) have a chance at kick-ass seats for a great show. Rent is one example of a show with this opportunity. Each show works a little differently so you need to call the theater to get the specifics. Some theaters require a student ID while others do not.
  3. If you followed steps 1 and 2, you are already well on your way to #3: enjoying the show. In order to really have a great time, you must have a decent seat. This doesn't necessarily mean 5th row center; different types of shows are best seen from different vantage points. Big musicals with huge props, costumes, and special effects (e.g., The Lion King or Miss Saigon) are actually easier to appreciate from the mezzanine (balcony), while you might want to sit closer for a play. One word of advice - NEVER settle for "obstructed view seats." These seats are a cheaper, but it means that you'll have a big pole in front of you. Also, whatever the show, seats in the center are better than seats to the right or left.

    When you purchase your tickets, be sure to have a seating chart for that theater on hand so that you can make sure you get seats you're happy with. If you purchase tickets online (at Tele-charge or TicketMaster, for example) the sites will have links to seating charts. If you're calling via telephone, the operator won't be able to help you. Luckily, seating charts for every theater are available at the Playbill site.

And that's everything there is to enjoying NYC. There's tons that we left out (The World Trade Center, Gray's Papaya, the Bronx Zoo, Washington Square Park, the amazing restaurants, Chinatown…), but our advice should get you started on the right track. So grab a friend and start spreading the news… you're leaving today.

SoYouWanna know more? Check out our full-length article SYW buy a good pair of sneakers?