Abroad Edit: How To Navigate New York Like A Pro

navigate new york subway

Two weeks ago I came home from the BEST HOLIDAY EVER (just kidding Mr D) and already it feels like it was 2 months ago. Why it is that as soon as you’re back from holidays they feel like a distant memory within minutes? So before I lose too many more memories, I’m going to start some posts based on the feedback I had on Instagram stories about what people wanted to know.

First up is a post all about travelling to and around New York and how to navigate New York like a pro (well, almost). This was originally going to be combined with budgeting too since I didn’t think I’d have enough to write separate posts on these topics but it turns out I’m quite a chatty person (who knew) so I’ll do this one about travel and then a separate one with um, the very limited budgeting tips I can think of (newsflash, NYC is not a place you can get the most out of with limited funds if you really want to enjoy yourself). Hopefully there will be something useful here whether you’re a first time planner or a serial visitor although it’s obviously written from my perspective and even though this was my sixth visit there’s still so much I’m learning.

NAVIGATE NEW YORK: GETTING THERE/AT THE AIRPORT

New York is serviced by three main airports: JFK, Newark and La Guardia but only JFK and Newark offer direct flights from the UK (for La Guardia you’d have to take a connecting flight and why waste time when it doesn’t save you any money).

The last couple of times I’ve been to New York we’ve flown into JFK and so advice and guidance is going to reference this airport. If you’ve got someone coming to meet you at the airport or have a car service booked, allow two hours for immigration once you land. This most recent trip it felt like a never-ending nightmare with queues moving achingly slowly and obviously you’re at their mercy so there’s not a great deal you can do about it.

All travel to the US now (and for some time) requires UK passport holders to obtain an ESTA which you can purchase for USD 14 from the official government website. Do not use any other links you may come across as they won’t be valid. ESTA last for two years and actually, there was a separate queue at immigration for return ESTA holders (I’ve just had to renew my passport so even though I had an ESTA from our trip to Las Vegas last year, this was a new one for my new passport so I wasn’t eligible). Just be mindful that it can take a while.

Once you’re through customs at JFK I think there is a train and subway option to get into the main city but I’ve never used it and instead just get a cab at the airport. Uber operates in New York but to be honest, the taxi rank is immediately outside the doors as you come through customs, it’s well organised and moves quickly so I grabbed my suitcase and hopped in a taxi to my hotel. Don’t be tempted to go with anyone who is just hanging asking if you want a ride.

NAVIGATE NEW YORK: TAXIS

Now. Taxis from the airports to New York (assuming you’re staying either in Brooklyn or Manhattan) are not cheap. Since Brooklyn is also on Long Island, you’re going to reach this first and it’s cheaper than getting to Manhattan. I paid $70 including tip for my journey (about £55) but to get to Manhattan you can be looking at easily double that depending on the time of day since you have to either go through the Queens tunnel or over one of the bridges (Manhattan is an island). You may want to enquire with the hotel you’re staying to see if they can do a fixed rate pick up rather than being on the timer.

Once you’re at your hotel you probably won’t need to use taxis again at all. You can, but be warned as with any big city, traffic especially in Manhattan can move very slowly so you may find yourself paying way over the odds for a journey that you could have easily walked. If you do want to use a taxi again, Uber or just flag down one of the eponymous yellow taxis wherever you are.

NAVIGATE NEW YORK: THE SUBWAY

I won’t lie, even after all these visits I still find the subway intimidating and I’ve just come across this really comprehensive beginners guide which would have been so useful when I was there. It runs 24/7 albeit with some street level entrances closed at certain times and in some cases a less frequent service after midnight. Perhaps because of the volume of users and because of the fact it never really closes, I would say the subway is considerably more run down than London’s underground system.

That said, it IS cheap which makes me realise that London’s public transport system is probably one of the most expensive in the world. A single journey regardless of length of ride or destination is only $2.75 and you can buy a ticket from a cashier or machine at most subway stations. The transport system is gradually being upgraded to allow you just to scan a contactless card on the barriers themselves as you can currently do in London, but this is only available in very central stations and not for example at the subway station I was using in Brooklyn.

If you are going to be using the subway a lot, get a 7 day subway pass called the Metro card which is $33 plus a $1 for the card itself. Definitely worth it if you’re a hop on hop off person and again you can get this from a machine or cashier at the stations. You can also add top up if you need to.

For Williamsburg, the part of Brooklyn I was staying in, the ‘L’ line on the subway runs from Bedford Avenue straight into Lower Manhattan and takes about 10-15 minutes. It’s super convenient however the trains don’t run necessarily that frequently. Since I couldn’t work out if it was a weekend thing, or because they’re doing construction work, make sure to plan your journey rather than just turning up at the station expecting a train every 2-3 minutes. I used it on Saturday to get into Manhattan and had to wait 25 minutes for a train to arrive.

navigate new york trump
NAVIGATE NEW YORK: WALKING

I don’t think I need to stress how much I love walking and the best way to navigate New York and indeed any city if the infrastructure allows it. I 100% believe that walking is the best way to see ANY city, and without it you’ll miss everything from the random Donald Trump mask lying on a rainy East Village street to the hustle and bustle of 5th generation shops opening up for the day.

New York is a very safe and easy city to walk. It’s built on a grid system with avenues running north to south in Manhattan, bisected by streets running east to west. You need to know where you’re going obviously but so long as you have a map it’s very easy to find everything and really quite hard to get lost. It may seem old-fashioned but do make sure you have a map or like me you’ll end up spending a lot on mobile phone data (tip: log on to Starbucks wifi just once and then every time you walk past one you can stand outside and connect free of charge!)

Walking is what meant I saw this beautiful St Bernard on 5th Avenue

It’s a fairly flat city in general and the pavements (sidewalks) are pretty wide with pedestrian crossings at almost every street corner so there’s no excuse really especially if the weather’s good. Walk, explore, see where your feet take you and let yourself fall in love with the city. That definitely won’t happen if you rely on taxis and the subway. It’s also nowhere near as busy/crowded/frenetic as films from the 80s would have you believe. If you’re used to big cities New York is no busier and if you’re not, well you’d think it’s a pretty busy place. But no need to be intimidated or scared or think it’s not safe because it’s genuinely one of the safest places I’ve been. I’d take my chances here over an isolated country lane any day of the week.

NAVIGATE NEW YORK: THE FERRY

Oh my. My love affair with the ferry started this trip and is going nowhere fast. Right. There are tourist ferries that you can use to take you places like the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island (where people arriving in the city for the first time used to be processed). And then there’s the commuter ferry which you can use to zip around the place especially if you’re staying in Williamsburg/Greenpoint/Dumbo areas of Brooklyn.

The main route I used was the East River route which runs between East 34th Street on Manhattan, over to a few stops along Brooklyn and then back over to Manhattan at Wall Street. It’s MAJESTIC and such a great way to get around and navigate New York. You can’t use your Metro card for this and will need to purchase tickets from the machines located at each pier terminal. There’s a fantastic timetable and routes for all the ferries here that I referred to most days of my stay. A single journey costs $2.75.

If you get the chance sit on the top deck (you may to go inside and then out of the back to access the stairs up to the top because you’ll be able to get some brilliant views, pictures and video footage of Manhattan, passing under the Williamsburg and Brooklyn bridges and then the bottom of Manhattan/Wall Street area too and it’s just so worth it.

Service wise, they run around every 20 minutes or so from roughly 6am until about 9.30pm. Again, check the service at the weekends since this is a commuter travel system I found when I came to look it was only hourly so just requires a bit more journey planning.

I hope this has been useful to anyone planning a trip and again, my biggest piece of advice would be to walk as much as you’re able to as the very best way to navigate New York. You can smell the history, imagine how things used to be despite the glass megaliths that have sprung up everywhere and it really is the best place to stop and look up (or down) so you don’t miss anything. If you have any other questions just leave a comment or email me and I’ll be happy to help.

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