On a weekly basis I'll get a bunch of emails and messages from friends in Australia who are visiting New York asking about things to do and how to do them. I end up sending a roughly varying version of the same email each time, so here it all is as one post for you to peruse at your leisure. It's simple and to the point. Sorry if it sounds snarky... it's just New Yorker-y!
So. Here are a few things that'll make your trip easier:
Can't afford a hotel? AirBnB is the go. Plenty of places all over Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens to choose from. Is it legal? AAeegghh.. [scratches neck] Anyway. Also check out the "Aussies in New York" Facebook groups - sometimes expats go away and offer their places for extended chunks of time at decent rates. (Search for "Aussies in NYC or Aussies in New York" on Facebook.)
You will get carded. Bring your drivers license with you everywhere. Photo ID is required to get into most bars and be served booze in restaurants. Doesn't matter if you think you look old enough- they card pretty much everyone. Bring your ID, lest you be stuck drinking shirley temples all night.
How do I use my phone?
If you're here for less than 21 days, you can get a prepaid tourist mobile plan from T-Mobile for $30. It'll give you a US number and help you when it comes to making reservations, texting, using Google Maps to find places and hailing Ubers etc. It comes with a full data package which is more than enough for a month. Work out where you're going before you get on the subway. There is no wifi in most stations, but there is SOME in some stations. But you will have mere seconds to use it between stops.
I use an app called Citymapper (for iOS and Android). It gives you the perfect combination of trains to take and tells you if there are any delays. Once you work out your path you hit "go" and you can follow the path underground while you're offline.
Keep your phone in your front pocket if you're in a sketchy neighbourhood. Easiest way for someone to steal your phone is if it's hanging out of your back pocket. They can grab it and run in the other direction. It happens- be aware. One good bit of advice is to keep it in your front pocket if you're in a sketchy neighbourhood at night.
Using the Subway
A Metcard can be purchased down in the subway stops. Easiest way is to pay cash- $40 is the maximum. Your credit card will require you to punch in a 5-digit postcode when you purchase using credit. The trick is to punch in "0" before your 4-digit Australian postcode, otherwise it won't process. ie. if your postcode is 6024, punch in 06024.
There are stairs for all subway stops. If you can’t walk up or down stairs, take a car. Some stops have elevators, but it’s a hassle to plan your route around where they are.
There are more Ubers in New York than cabs. There are also many other driver apps like Lyft, Juno, Sidecar, Via etc.
I prefer using Juno. It's still cheaper than Uber and they never have surge pricing.
Apparently Via (http://www.ridewithvia.com/) is $5 anywhere in Manhattan but I haven't used it or Sidecar so I can't personally vouch for those.)
If you do insist on getting a cab, download an app called "Curb" so you can punch in the Code when you get in and it can automatically take payment out of your credit card when you arrive. Saves you lots of mucking around with tips, cash, swiping cards etc. while traffic is hurling past. With Curb you can also hail a cab like an Uber.
Important: When you are telling the cabbie where to go DO NOT tell him the address in numbers ie. Don’t say “254 5th Avenue, please”. Say the corner. eg: “5th and e28th”*
*If you see an address that has a letter before it, like w30th or e30th, that means “West 30th” or “East 30th” which is in regard to whether it is East or West of Broadway. The streets in New York span the entire width of the island, so tell the cabbie this, as it can help them figure out where you’re going more quickly.
Don't take a train or a shuttle from the airport.
You'll lose a lot of time and it's not a nice way to start your trip. Plus you're jetlagged. Budget for getting a car from the airport. If you don't mind sharing with someone, Lyft will get you to Manhattan from JFK for $35 (select "Lyft Line" which is their version of Uber Pool. Not coming from JFK? There are good options of trains from Newark NJ into Penn Station, and if you're coming from LaGuardia it's way easier to get into Manhattan through Lyft, Juno or Uber. If you're not staying in Manhattan- even better.
Walk places. You'll see more.
If you plan to walk places you'll see more stuff. Bring good walking shoes. You won't regret it.
Don’t drive. You’re in New York.
But if you must, your Aussie drivers license is valid for use for up to 90 days and you can hire a car with it.
Use Google Maps. Also, just know that it's a grid system (except for the West Village). So the Avenues go descending from Left to Right and the "streets" ascend from Houston street (near lower Manhattan) from 1st street all the way up to 218th street up past Inwood. (I lived there briefly. Don't go there.)
So, Left to Right is: 11th Ave, 10th, 9th, 8th, 7th, 6th, 5th, (Broadway cuts through), Park Ave, Lexington Ave, Madison Ave, 4th Ave, 3rd, 2nd, 1st, Avenue A, B, C, D. Some avenues change names on the Upper West Side, and Harlem has Frederick Douglas Blvd, Adam Clayton Powell Blvd and Malcolm X blvd instead of '8th, 7th and 6th.'
Coming in Winter?
It snows. It gets below zero. Bring boots and a big jacket. And gloves. In 2015 it got to -16C. Women — make sure your jacket covers below your hips. You’ll literally freeze your arse off if your jacket isn’t long enough in winter. It’s the wind chill that gets you.
Coming in Summer?
It gets really hot. Muggy hot. Bring looser summer clothes and expect to be sweaty. Pack water when you leave your hotel.
Plan your bathroom stops.
There are very few public toilets in Manhattan. Starbucks is basically your only option in most cases, but expect to wait in line, or have to buy something to get a door code. (They were meant to have changed this policy in summer of 2018 but not all stores joined in.) Restaurants/bars don’t let you use the toilet (“restrooms”/”bathroom”) unless you are eating/drinking there. Plan your stops if you’re going to be out and about for an extended time.
Always carry cash.
Carry cash. Many places in New York don't accept credit cards. More than you'd think. They always put it on the menu, or there will be a sign out the front.
Righto. A lot of Aussies have a hard time with this one. I know I did when I first got here.
Tip. You have to tip. Yes, it sucks but complaining does nothing. These people don't make any money. They live on tips. You need to tip. A tip is not a little bonus- it is mandatory. Tip the waiter. Tip the concierge. Tip the bell boy for bringing up your bags. Tip the bar staff. Leave a tip in your hotel for housekeeping before you check out. Always have singles* with you. *$1 bills ALWAYS BUDGET FOR TIPPING.
But how am I supposed to know how much to tip?
Here's a rough guide: The customary tipping rate is 15%-20% for taxi drivers and waiters; bellhops are usually given $2 per bag in luxury hotels, $1 per bag elsewhere. Hotel maids should be tipped $2 per day of your stay.
A doorman who hails or helps you into a cab can be tipped $1-$2. You should also tip your hotel concierge for services rendered; the size of the tip depends on the difficulty of your request, as well as the quality of the concierge's work.
For an ordinary dinner reservation or tour arrangements, $3-$5 should do; if the concierge scores seats at a popular restaurant or show or performs unusual services (getting your laptop repaired, finding a good allergist, etc.), $10 or more is appropriate.
Waiters should be tipped 15%-20%, though at higher-end restaurants, a solid 20% is more the norm. Many restaurants add a gratuity to the bill for parties of six or more. Ask what the percentage is if the menu or bill doesn't state it. Tip your hairdresser, Tip your masseuse, Tip your beautician. 15-20% is standard/minimum. Tip $1 per drink you order at the bar, though if at an upscale establishment, those $15 martinis might warrant a $2 tip.
The easiest way to calculate it is to just do your usual GST calculation of 10% and double it.
$25.00 drinks bill? Great- $2.50 x 2 = 20% Tip. Just to stress again: It is not okay to not tip.
When I moved here from Melbourne it was a real shock to my snobby taste-buds that there was no decent coffee. Thank God the Aussie baristas took over New York's coffee scene and since about 2014 you can now get a decent cup of Toby's Estate from over a dozen awesome Aussie coffee venues. I won't list them all here, but you can see the best ones here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/30/dining/australians-arrive-serving-breakfast.html?_r=0 My personal favourites are 9th Street espresso (e9th & Ave C), Little Collins (667 Lexington Ave) -are you sensing a pattern here?- and the other 9th Street Espresso (10th Street & Avenue B, also 10th and B opposite the park). There's heaps more and they're all great but it'll depend on where you're staying. Those are my regulars.
Things to do!
Want to come see me do a comedy show? I always post my dates online at www.jasonchatfieldcomedy.com
I would, however, highly recommend you hit up the Comedy Cellar and try to get tickets to a 9:30 or 11:30 show mid-week for maximum chance of seeing a big drop-in by someone like Dave Chapelle, Chris Rock, Amy Schumer etc. Book online at http://www.comedycellar.com/reservation/ - Do it before you leave. They sell out every show. (And try to book in the 'original' Comedy Cellar on MacDougal street, not the Fat Black Pussycat or the Village Underground. The original is the best.)
This is probably the most comprehensive list I've seen of all of New York State- the best 100 things to do in New York. Highly recommended!
Viceroy - Best view of Central Park in Manhattan.
The Skylark - Best view of the Empire State building and Times square. (go all the way up to the rooftop)
The Ides at the Wythe Hotel Roof in Williamsburg - Lovely view on Manhattan. Northern Territories – IN Williamsburg (Aussie owned)
Gallow Green at Mckittrick Hotel (Garden party feel) - Brunch here also. You could do Sleep No More afterwards which is an interactive play. The top of the Standard hotel in meatpacking, right by the New Whitney and the start of the Highline.
The MET rooftop Bar - Panoramic city views. Can go MET after. Great Rooftop.
Grand Banks - NOT technically a rooftop but a boat docked in tribeca with rose on tap- lovely view city/ w/ breeze of the water great for sunset and early eve drink. Also oysters.
La Bierria in Eataly - Fun seaside vibe for this rooftop. By Madison Square Park/Flatiron Building.