How to Navigate New York: The Unwritten Rules of The City

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It is very easy to get caught up in the glitz and the glam of the New York City lights and action. Of course when visiting, you want to be sure that your experience lives up to the expectations that are engraved in you based on the vibrant images that movies, TV-shows and songs that have painted in your mind. What visitors often overlook, however, are the tourist traps that will pave their way way.  And all the discounted or free things that can be sought out to keep the budget on track. Here are our advice and also some etiquette tips to make the most out of your New York City vacation.


Tips To Plan Your NYC Budget

Times Square couple travel in New York City NYC-harlem spirituals

Flashy-lights, tall scrapers, big…bills? New York City is one of the most expensive cities in the world. But if you learn how to plan your budget before your visit, you will comfortably enjoy your stay in this blissful city. Here are a few tips to make the most of your USD.

1. Avoid exchanging money at an airport or at a money exchange office. You will find better rates elsewhere and avoid other unnecessary fees.

2. When in NYC, you will often use credit. Before traveling, especially from overseas, check with your bank before arriving to make sure there will be little to no international fees.

3. When using credit in NYC, always pay in USD. You will get the best rate.


NYC Lodging Tips


It is easy to get caught up in the luxurious, 5-star hotel with a rooftop pool and indoor Jacuzzis. Yet, chances are if you are visiting New York City for only a few days, you are going to want to see as much as you can in the time being. You most likely won’t spend much time in your hotel. There are many factors that you should consider when selecting a hotel in New York City. You must decide whether you want to be up-close-and-personal with Time Square’s action in Midtown, or if you wish for a more low-key neighborhood in Lower Manhattan. There are many alternative travel options open.

1. Consider looking for lodging further from the center. Often times you will find rates to be a bit cheaper. Hotels in Brooklyn typically are not as expensive and not as far as you may presume they would be from the action. Plus, Brooklyn has it’s own action ready to be discovered.

2. Book a hotel that offers complimentary breakfast. You will save a lot of money on breakfasts of your own in the city.

3. If your hotel does not offer complimentary breakfast, do not opt for the hotel breakfast. It will usually always be more expensive than if you were to dine elsewhere in the city. Or just have your breakfast the New Yorker way with a coffee and a bagel on-the-go.


NYC Dining Style food-stall-hot-dog-new-york-harlem-spirituals

We all know that hunger may take over the meal decision with the urge to settle on whatever restaurant or street cart is closest. Especially after miles of exploring. We encourage you to fight the feeling and never settle on what you eat in New York. After all, you have nearly 24,000 options.

1. Look for the A rating on the front window. That means it successfully passed the Health Department conducts based on food handling, food temperature, personal hygiene and vermin control.

2. When eating out at a restaurant, always tip 15-20% on the bill. The tip is not included in the final price, but typically you can find the recommended tipping listed on the bottom of the receipt.

3. If you can, avoid dining in chain restaurants. In fact, we recommend you avoid dining in Times Square altogether. Prices are even more inflated in this area. The city offers all kinds of ethnic food; check out Hell’s Kitchen for Restaurant Row, or consider taking a Harlem Food Walking Tour to taste the Soul Food of Harlem.

4. A bodega is a convenience store. You will find small snacks and drinks here, along with any hygiene products you may have left at home. You will also always find an ATM in or near a bodega.

5. 99 Cent Pizza? Can’t complain. If you want to play it like a New Yorker, just order a slice!

6. Street-side hot dogs? Keep walking.

7. Oh, and we eat on the go here. I know, unfathomable.


NYC Excursions

bushwick-grafitti-harlem-spiritualsPhoto: Eric Gross/Flickr CC

How long is your list of must-sees and must-dos? New York has an overwhelming amount of events and excursions, but they are not always free. You could save some money with experiences that are not always advertised directly.

1. Upon the approach of your arrival, check out websites that showcase all things free and low-cost happening in New York City. is a great go-to, as well as

2. You can purchase Broadway shows at a discounted rate with TKTS Ticket Booths. There are three booths in NYC located in Times Square, South Street Seaport and Downtown Brooklyn. The Booths are run by the Theatre Development Fund and offer half-priced Broadway tickets. But you are very unlikely to find tickets to the best selling shows there. Need help booking your show? Don’t hesitate to contact us!

3. Visit both free museums and those with “suggested admission prices” such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History. Basically, your admission fee is a donation, and it is completely up to you to decide how much you are able to pay for the museum.

4. There are many free public galleries to view art throughout the city, especially in Chelsea.

5. If you are into art, just also make sure to go see NYC’s multiple murals across the city. Check our dedicated blog article for more info: The Best Places To See Graffiti in NYC.


NYC Street Tips


New Yorkers take street etiquette very seriously. Focus on where you would like to go and pay attention to your surroundings. We New Yorkers have got to go places.

1. Never stop short on a sidewalk. If you need to look at directions or take a photo, please step to the side

2. If you need to take an MTA public bus, you can use your METRO card funds. If you do not have a METRO card, you can only pay the $2.75 rate in silver coins. The bus does not accept neither dollars nor pennies.

3. When hailing a cab, you know that the taxi is vacant based on whether or not the number on the top of the car is lit up.

4. The green cabs are only for traveling to the outer boroughs of the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens.

5. Depending on your pickup and drop-off locations, sometimes hailing a yellow cab is not the best option. You will likely get stuck in traffic and the ride will be longer and much more expensive. There is nothing quite as painful as sitting in stand-still traffic while watching the taxi-fare increase.

6. If you take the subway, never get into an empty subway cart. No, it isn’t your lucky day. There is a reason that cart is empty.

7. If you take the subway, always let the riders off before you enter. This is subway etiquette and it avoids collisions, especially when the station is busy.

8. On the weekends, it is common for trains to be under construction, so on these days you should be wary of train reroutes and delays. Check the posters on the platforms walls and poles.


The Ugly Truths of New York City


We will always deem New York as our magical city, but we can admit that everything that shines definitely isn’t always gold.

1. Be wary of the smells, especially in the warmer months. It isn’t you (a majority of the time), it is the city streets.

2. The Disney superheroes and other characters dressed up in Times Square are not only there to put a smile on your children’s face, they will insist on taking a photo, but they will also insist on taking your money.

3. You should always have a few Plan B’s up your sleeve. Sometimes things will not always go as planned. There are also usually multiple ways to get from point A to point B, so consider planning your excursions based on your desired travel route.

4. There are very few public restrooms throughout the city. Check out the locations here for a peace of mind on your travels through the city.

5. Do not let the ample amounts of homeless people shock you. Remember that this is the largest city in America; it is sadly inevitable. Some will beg for money, others will not. Do not feel like you need to provide money, but if you have spare change at your convenience you may.

6. Always be prepared for a rainy day if the forecast is iffy. If there is a low percentage of rain on the weather app, bring an umbrella. It will most likely rain in NYC.



If you plan to visit New York for the first time, consider purchasing a pass such as the New York City Pass, allowing you to save time and money during your stay.  If you are interested in finding more things to do in New York City, search through our complete range of tours, attractions, and activities. We can also tailor-make programs specifically to match your desires and budgets. Harlem Spirituals is the ideal one-stop-shop to simplify your planning! Find more information on

How was your first time visiting New York? Share your experience with us in the comments. And if you liked this article, don’t forget to share it!



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