Ever since I was little, I’ve accompanied my mom on her buying trips to NYC. She owns a children’s boutique and women’s clothing store and does most of her buying at big trade shows in the city. When I was younger, I’d go to the shows with her but once I got older, I gradually began to explore the city by myself. In the beginning, I was intimidated by NYC and all that it has to offer. I had no idea where to even start! Over the years, I’ve learned how to make the most of my time in the city and have picked up a few tips and tricks along the way.
If you’re visiting NYC for the first time, or just looking to make your trip go a lot smoother, you’ve come to the right place!
This guide will teach you:
- The non-touristy way to discover the city
- How to navigate the city like a pro
- How to pick where to eat
- Where to find the best shopping deals
1. The non-touristy way to discover the city
In my opinion, the best (and non-touristy) way to discover NYC is to explore a few of NYC’s famous neighborhoods. You won’t be able to explore them all (unless you’re staying for quite a while), so you’ll need to pick one or two that appeals to you. Each neighborhood has its own distinctive personality. I’d recommend reading this guide for an overview of each neighborhood and what it’s known for. After selecting a neighborhood that speaks to you, choose a couple of activities and then devote at least half your day to exploring the area. If you’re looking for unique things to do, check out travel blogs for their suggestions, especially if the blogger calls NYC home. Just go to Pinterest, search “what to do in X neighborhood,” and you’ll find tons of great guides.
Alternatively, if there’s something you absolutely want to do, then plan around that activity. That way, your day will have some structure to it but you won’t feel like a crazed tourist jumping from one destination to another. Instead, you’ll have time to immerse yourself in your surroundings and make your own discoveries. After all, that’s what NYC is all about! Some of my favorite neighborhoods to explore are the Meatpacking District, the West Village, and Soho in Manhattan, and Dumbo in Brooklyn.
2. How to navigate NYC like a pro
To navigate NYC like a pro you first need to have a sense of where things are geographically. Manhattan is divided into Uptown, Midtown, and Downtown and it really helps to know which neighborhoods are where. Below you’ll find a useful map of all of the neighborhoods. Naturally, everything above Midtown is Uptown and everything below Midtown is Downtown. You’ll need to know which direction you’re heading when taking the Subway or hailing a cab so keep this map on you!
Before going anywhere in NYC, I use Google Maps to figure out what is the best mode of transportation. If it’s walkable (under 20 min), I walk. If not, I usually take the Subway and use Google Maps to see where to get on and off. For Subway newbies, it’s really not as intimidating as you think and you’ll save so much on cabs! Also, the Subway is often by far the quickest option (like when going to Brooklyn or traveling during rush hour) so it’s important to become familiar with it. However, if you’re traveling alone at night or have a lot of packages, I’d recommend taking a cab or Uber.
Click here for more tips and tricks for navigating NYC’s public transportation.
3. How to pick where to eat
NYC is a foodie’s paradise. It’s home to some of the best restaurants in the world and you can find anything your stomach desires. It’s also the perfect place to try different ethnic cuisines from around the world. However, having thousands of options at your disposal can be daunting. How do you pick?? After years of wrestling with this dilemma, I’ve learned to first select a general location or neighborhood where you want to eat. For example, somewhere in walking distance to your hotel. If you’re in the mood for a specific type of cuisine, such as Indian, research the best Indian food in X neighborhood via Yelp or a quick Google search.
However, if you’re open to eating anywhere in the city, ask a New Yorker. Every New Yorker I know has strong opinions about where to eat in the city. So if you know anyone from NYC, hit them up! I promise they’ll love sharing their favorite spots with you. If you don’t know anyone, turn to guides such as Zagat for food critic reviews or Yelp for customer reviews. I’d also suggest perusing food blogs based in NYC. Once again, Pinterest is an awesome tool. Just search “where to eat in NYC,” and you’ll find tons of guides to help you make your final choice. If a restaurant allows reservations, make one either by phone or on OpenTable. If not, call before going to see if there’s a wait.
A Few of My Favorites Eateries
Off the top of my head here are a few of my favorite places to eat in the city:
- ABC Kitchen– delicious organic food in a beautiful setting; after eating explore their drool worthy home store
- Via Quadronno– the best place for cappuccino and a sweet treat after exploring Central Park
- Miss Korea BBQ– best Korean I’ve ever had, fun environment and great for big groups
- Ilili– incredible Lebanese in a trendy, modern space
- Takahachi– possibly the only affordable Japanese restaurant in the city with seriously good sushi
- Sarabeth’s– the Park Ave one right next to The Plaza is a real treat for brunch; If you’re a fan of sweet breakfasts (i.e. lemon ricotta pancakes, almond filled french toast), you’ll be in heaven
- Buvette– adorable French bistro in the West Village; there’s always a line on the weekends but it’s worth the wait
- Bubby’s– fuel up here before walking the High Line; known for its comfort food
- Cosme– Mexican-inspired cuisine by renowned chef Enrique Olvera; If you haven’t made it to his Mexico City restaurants, this is the next best thing
- Waverly Inn– dine at this beautiful restaurant for a special occasion, pricey but worth it
4. Where to find the best shopping deals
NYC is one of my all-time favorite places to shop. Every year I find amazing deals in the city and leave with pieces that become staples in my wardrobe. I even refrain from buying my favorite designers elsewhere because I know I can get it cheaper in NYC. The trick to getting a good deal is knowing where to go and when. Visiting the city in August is a fabulous time for end of the summer deals. Most major stores have sales running in mid-August because they’re desperate to make room for their new fall collections. My two favorite places to find designer clothes for a steal are Nordstrom Rack and Bloomingdales.
If you’re unfamiliar with Nordstrom Rack, it’s the off-price division of Nordstrom, offering deep discounts of brands found at Nordstrom. So if you love Nordstrom but hate the hefty price tags, Nordstrom Rack is for you.
The Nordstrom Rack in Union Square is not for the faint of heart but you will find amazing deals if you know how to navigate it. When I’m there, I zero-in on the racks of my favorite designers like Joie, Vince, and Theory, and ignore everything else. Nordstrom Rack is also my go-to place to find designer jeans like Paige and 7 for all Mankind for a fraction of their original price. Finally, don’t leave without checking out the shoes.
DwD Tip: When you’re ready to check out, skip the long line and instead find an employee wearing a green shirt. If you’re paying with a credit card, they’ll check you out right there and then.
The Bloomingdale’s on 3rd and Lex is one of my absolute favorite places to shop because it has all of my favorite designers on one massive floor. Bloomingdale’s also offers loyal customers great perks. Years ago, I opened a Bloomingdale’s store credit card and I’m so glad I did. Every time I go there’s an awesome promotion for card holders. This past trip, I got an additional 25% off everything, including sale! If you don’t want to open a store card (they’re dangerous, I know), get a Loyalist card instead.
Besides the discounts, I also love the Bloomie’s sales clerks. They always go above and beyond to find my size, get me a roomy dressing room, and give their honest opinion about whatever it is I’m trying on.
DwD Tip: I’ve gotten an extra 10% off when I was on the fence about something so don’t be afraid to ask!
*Click here to see what’s new at Bloomie’s!
Finally, if you’re more into boutiques than big department stores, NYC has tons of those as well. I love discovering little boutiques across the city, especially in neighborhoods like Nolita, SoHo, and Greenwich Village. Although you probably won’t find the kind of deals you would at stores like Nordstrom Rack and Bloomingdales, you just may leave with a unique piece that you couldn’t get anywhere else.
DwD Tip: Student or Teacher Discount
Oh and one more thing, if you’re a student (or still happen to have your student ID…) or a teacher, make sure to ask stores if they offer a student discount. Stores like Club Monaco (a personal favorite), Madewell, and J. Crew offer up to 15% off and that really helps! Here is a list of 87 other retailers who grant student / teacher discounts.
In order to make the most of your time in NYC you need to have a plan. With a combination of foresight and flexibility you’ll be able to check off your must-dos while keeping yourself open to new places and experiences. And if you happen upon something you want to check out, like a cool rooftop bar, veer from your itinerary and check out that rooftop bar!
Good luck, you’ve totally got this!!
I hope you’ve enjoyed these tips for visiting New York City for the first time. If you found this guide helpful, or have other NYC tips, please let me know in the comments below!
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