Dangers & Annoyances
New York City is one of the safest cities in the USA – in 2017 homicides fell to a record low of fewer than 300 and overall violent-crime statistics declined for the 27th straight year. Still, it's best to take a common-sense approach to the city.
- Don’t walk around alone at night in unfamiliar, sparsely populated areas.
- Carry your daily walking-around money somewhere inside your clothing or in a front pocket rather than in a handbag or a back pocket.
- Be aware of pickpockets, particularly in mobbed areas like Times Square or Penn Station at rush hour.
- While it's generally safe to ride the subway after midnight, you may want to skip going underground and take a taxi instead, especially if traveling alone.
If you plan on blitzing the major sights, consider buying one of the numerous multi-attraction passes (see www.nycgo.com/attraction-passes). Getting one of these discount cards will save you a wad of cash. Go online for more details, and to purchase these passes.
New York CityPASS (www.citypass.com) Buys you admission to six major attractions (including the Empire State Building) for $122, saving around 40% if purchased separately.
The New York Pass (www.newyorkpass.com) This pass gives you one-day access to some 90 different sites for $119. Multiday passes also available (from two to 10 days).
Downtown Culture Pass (www.downtownculturepass.org) Purchase this $25 three-day pass for free admission (and shop discounts) at a handful of sites in Lower Manhattan, including the Museum of American Finance and the Museum of Jewish Heritage, both locations where you can purchase the pass in person.
Explorer Pass (www.smartdestinations.com) A pass that lets you choose between three and 10 attractions for discounted admission. You pick the sites from among 63 options, including the MoMA, the Intrepid Museum, Sightseeing cruises and the Top of the Rock. Prices start at $84 for three sites, up to $199 for 10 sites.
The US electric current is 110V to 115V, 60Hz AC. Outlets are made for flat two-prong plugs (which often have a third, rounded prong for grounding). If your appliance is made for another electrical system (eg 220V), you’ll need a step-down converter, which can be bought at hardware stores and drugstores. Most electronic devices (laptops, camera-battery chargers etc) are built for dual-voltage use, however, and will only need a plug adapter.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Municipal offices & information||311|
|National directory information||212-555-1212|
|Fire, police & ambulance||911|
Entry & Exit Formalities
US Customs allows each person over the age of 21 to bring 1L of liquor and 200 cigarettes into the US duty free. Agricultural items including meat, fruits, vegetables, plants and soil are prohibited. US citizens are allowed to import, duty free, up to $800 worth of gifts from abroad, while non-US citizens are allowed to import $100 worth. If you’re carrying more than $10,000 in US and foreign cash, traveler’s checks or money orders, you need to declare the excess amount. There is no legal restriction on the amount that may be imported, but undeclared sums in excess of $10,000 will probably be subject to investigation. If you’re bringing prescription drugs, make sure they’re in clearly marked containers. Obviously, leave the illegal narcotics at home. For updates, check www.cbp.gov.
The US Visa Waiver Program allows nationals of 38 countries to enter the US without a visa, but you must fill out an ESTA application before departing.
Visa Waiver Program
The US Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows nationals from 38 countries to enter the US without a visa, provided you are carrying a machine-readable passport. For the up-to-date list of countries included in the program and current requirements, see the US Department of State (https://travel.state.gov) website.
Citizens of VWP countries need to register with the US Department of Homeland Security and fill out an ESTA application (Electronic System for Travel Authorization; www.cbp.gov/travel/international-visitors/esta) before your visit. There is a $14 fee for registration; when approved, the registration is valid for two years or until your passport expires, whichever comes first.
You must obtain a visa from a US embassy or consulate in your home country if:
- You do not currently hold a passport from a VWP country.
- You are from a VWP country, but don’t have a machine-readable passport.
- You are planning to stay longer than 90 days.
- You are planning to work or study in the US.
- Politeness It's common courtesy to greet nearby staff when entering or leaving a shop, cafe or restaurant.
- Greetings Shake hands with men and women when meeting for the first time and when saying goodbye. Female friends are greeted with a single (air) kiss.
- Taboo Topics Although Donald Trump is almost universally reviled in NYC, politics and religion are topics best avoided.
- Transport Allow passengers to exit the subway car before entering; don't block the doors.
- Gratuity Not optional in restaurants or bars; don't forget to tip.
Gay & Lesbian Travellers
From hand-locked married couples leaving the City Clerk’s office wearing matching Bride & Bride hats to a rainbow-hued Empire State Building at Pride, there’s no doubt that New York City is one of the world’s great gay cities. Indeed, few places come close to matching the breadth and depth of queer offerings here, from cabarets and clubs to festivals and readings.
One of best ways to dial into the party hotline is to follow the various goings-on of your favorite promoter. Here are some of ours:
The Saint at Large (www.saintatlarge.com)
Daniel Nardicio (www.danielnardicio.com)
Josh Wood (www.joshwoodproductions.com)
School Night Shenanigans
Here in the Big Apple, any night of the week is fair game to paint the town rouge – especially for the gay community, who attack the weekday social scene with gusto. Wednesday and Thursday nights roar with a steady stream of parties, and locals love raging on Sunday (especially in summer). While there’s undoubtedly much fun to be had on Friday and Saturday nights, weekend parties tend to be more ‘bridge and tunnel’ – Manhattanites often use these nonwork days to catch up with friends, check out new restaurants and attend house parties.
- Brooklyn Multi-neighborhood borough with gays of every ilk, and diverse watering holes peppered throughout.
- East Village & Lower East Side Slightly grittier, sweatier, grungier versions of the west side haunts.
- Midtown Hell’s Kitchen is the city’s 21st-century gay epicenter, with a plethora of gay and gay-friendly eateries, bars, clubs and shops.
- Union Square, Flatiron District & Gramercy Hosts a small spillover of gay venues from the East Village, West Village and Chelsea.
- West Village, Chelsea & the Meatpacking District Classic bars and clubs in the Village, with a wilting scene in high-rent Chelsea.
Feature: Resources & Support
One of the largest centers of its kind in the world, the LGBT Community Center provides a ton of regional publications about gay events and nightlife, and hosts frequent special events – dance parties, art exhibits, Broadway-caliber performances, readings and political panels. Plus it’s home to the National Archive for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender History (accessible to researchers by appointment); a small exhibition space, the Campbell-Soady Gallery; and a cyber center.
Need to Know
There are tons of websites geared towards the goings-on of the city’s gay community.
Get Out! (www.getoutmag.com) Online version of another print guide to all things queer in town.
Gayletter (www.gayletter.com) E-newsletter covering queer-related culture, musings and parties.
Gay City News (www.gaycitynews.nyc) News and current affairs with a queer bent, as well as arts and travel reviews.
Metrosource (www.metrosource.com) Bimonthly publication with a focus on culture, design, entertainment and travel.
Gay & Lesbian
- NYC Pride Rainbow-clad pomp and circumstance.
- Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay & Lesbian Art The world’s first LGBT art museum.
- Industry One of the best-loved bar-clubs in kicking Hell’s Kitchen.
- Marie's Crisis Sing your heart out at this deliriously fun showtunes bar in the West Village.
- Duplex Camp quips, smooth crooners and a riotously fun piano bar define this Village veteran.
- Eagle NYC Love-it-or-loathe-it debauchery and plenty of leather.
Places to Stay
- Ink48 Skyline views and a hop away from Hell’s Kitchen bars and clubs.
- Standard East Village Crisp, fresh, boutique chic in the funky East Village.
- Chelsea Pines Inn Hollywood posters, diva-moniker rooms and a Chelsea address.
- Hotel Gansevoort Jet-setter cool and a rooftop pool in the Meatpacking District.
Classic NYC Gay
- Brunch on Ninth Avenue Pick a sidewalk table and do your bit for Neighborhood Watch, Hell’s Kitchen–style.
- Shopping in Chelsea Style-up at Nasty Pig and other queer-centric Chelsea boutiques.
- Pier 45 (Christopher Street Pier) Butt-hugging trunks and loved-up couples make this a summertime sunbaking staple.
- Fire Island Mingle with the hot and rich at this sand-dune-swept playground just off of Long Island.
NYC offers some of the finest level of health care in the world. The problem is that it can be prohibitively expensive. It’s essential to purchase travel-health insurance if your policy doesn’t cover you when you’re abroad.
If your health insurance does not cover you for medical expenses abroad, consider obtaining supplemental health or travel insurance.
Find out in advance whether your insurance plan will make payments directly to the providers or if it will reimburse you later for any overseas health expenditures.
We have to stress: a simple visit to the doctor’s office can cost hundreds of dollars, and a hospital stay will cost thousands if you aren’t covered by insurance.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
Most public parks in the city now offer free wi-fi. Some prominent ones include the High Line, Bryant Park, Battery Park, Central Park, City Hall Park, Madison Square Park, Tompkins Square Park and Union Square Park (Brooklyn and Queens are also well covered). For other locations, check out www.nycgovparks.org/facilities/wifi.
Even underground subway stations now offer free wi-fi, offering a way to pass time or get work done while waiting for signal problems or other delays to be resolved. LinkNYC (www.link.nyc), rolled out in 2016 to replace anachronistic pay phones (once iconic symbols of the city and where Superman changed into his suit), has installed free internet-connected kiosks, replete with charging stations and wi-fi access. The network aims to install some 7500 of these structures throughout the five boroughs.
It’s rare to find accommodations in New York City that don’t offer wi-fi, though it isn’t always free. Most cafes offer wi-fi for customers, as do the ubiquitous Starbucks around town.
If you’re arrested, you have the right to remain silent. There is no legal reason to speak to a police officer if you don’t wish to – especially since anything you say ‘can and will be used against you’ – but never walk away from an officer until given permission. All persons who are arrested have the legal right to make one phone call. If you don’t have a lawyer or family member to help you, call your consulate. The police will give you the number upon request.
Newspapers & Magazines
- New York Post (www.nypost.com) The Post is known for screaming headlines, conservative political views and its popular Page Six gossip column.
- New York Times (www.nytimes.com) ‘The gray lady’ is far from staid, with hard-hitting political coverage, and sections on technology, arts and dining out.
- Wall Street Journal (www.wallstreetjournal.com) This intellectual daily focuses on finance, though media mogul Rupert Murdoch has ratcheted up the general coverage.
- New York Magazine (www.nymag.com) A biweekly magazine with feature stories and great listings about anything and everything in NYC, plus an indispensable website.
- New Yorker (www.newyorker.com) This highbrow weekly covers politics and culture through its famously lengthy works of reportage; it also publishes fiction and poetry.
- Time Out New York (www.timeout.com/newyork) A weekly magazine with event listings and restaurant and nightlife roundups.
NYC has some excellent radio options beyond commercial pop-music stations. An excellent programming guide can be found in the New York Times Entertainment section on Sunday. Our top pick is WNYC (820AM and 93.9FM; www.wnyc.org), NYC’s public radio station that is the local NPR (National Public Radio) affiliate and offers a blend of national and local talk and interview shows.
Die-hard sports fans tune in to call-in shows on WFAN (660AM and 101FM) throughout the day. Yankees and Mets fanatics tend to be the most obsessive callers, usually unwilling to give any credit to their rivals.
ATMs widely available; credit cards accepted at most hotels, stores and restaurants. Farmers markets, food trucks and some restaurants and bars are cash-only.
ATMs are on practically every corner. You can either use your card at banks – usually in a 24-hour-access lobby, filled with up to a dozen monitors at major branches – or you can opt for the lone wolves, which sit in delis, restaurants, bars and grocery stores, charging fierce service fees that average $3 but can go as high as $5.
Most New York banks are linked by the New York Cash Exchange (NYCE) system, and you can use local bank cards interchangeably at ATMs – for an extra fee if you’re banking outside your system.
Banks and money changers, found all over New York City (including all three major airports), will give you US currency based on the current exchange rate. Travelex has a branch in Times Square.
Major credit cards are accepted at most hotels, restaurants and shops throughout New York City. In fact, you’ll find it difficult to perform certain transactions, such as purchasing tickets to performances and renting a car, without one.
Stack your deck with a Visa, MasterCard or American Express, as these are the cards of choice here. Places that accept Visa and MasterCard also accept debit cards. Be sure to check with your bank to confirm that your debit card will be accepted in other states or countries – debit cards from large commercial banks can often be used worldwide.
If your cards are lost or stolen, contact the company immediately.
Tipping is not optional; only withhold tips in cases of outrageously bad service.
- Restaurant servers 18–20%, unless a gratuity is already charged on the bill (usually only for groups of five or more)
- Bartenders 15–20% per round, minimum per drink $1 for standard drinks, and $2 per specialty cocktail
- Taxi drivers 10–15%, rounded up to the next dollar
- Airport & hotel porters $2 per bag, minimum per cart $5
- Hotel maids $2–4 per night, left in envelope or under the card provided
Standard business hours are as follows:
Banks 9am–6pm Monday–Friday, some also 9am–noon Saturday
Businesses 9am–5pm Monday–Friday
Restaurants Breakfast 6am–11am, lunch 11am–around 3pm, and dinner 5pm–11pm. Weekend brunch 11am–4pm.
Shops 10am–around 7pm weekdays, 11am–around 8pm Saturday, and Sunday can be variable – some stores stay closed while others keep weekday hours. Stores tend to stay open later in the neighborhoods downtown.
Visit the US Postal Service (www.usps.com) website for up-to-date information about postage prices and branch locations throughout the city.
Major NYC holidays and special events may force the closure of many businesses or attract crowds, making dining and accommodations reservations difficult.
New Year’s Day January 1
Martin Luther King Day Third Monday in January
Presidents’ Day Third Monday in February
Memorial Day Late May
Gay Pride Last Sunday in June
Independence Day July 4
Labor Day Early September
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Mid-September to mid-October
Halloween October 31
Thanksgiving Fourth Thursday in November
Christmas Day December 25
New Year’s Eve December 31
- Smoking Strictly forbidden in any location that’s considered a public place, including subway stations, restaurants, bars, taxis and parks. A few hotels have smoking rooms, but the majority are entirely smoke-free.
Taxes & Refunds
Restaurants and retailers never include the sales tax – 8.875% – in their prices, so beware of ordering the $4.99 lunch special when you only have $5 to your name. Several categories of so-called luxury items, including rental cars and dry cleaning, carry an additional city surcharge of 5%, so you wind up paying an extra 13.875% in total for these services. Clothing and footwear purchases under $110 are tax free; anything over that amount has a sales tax. Hotel rooms in New York City are subject to a 14.75% tax, plus a flat $3.50 occupancy tax per night. Since the US has no nationwide value-added tax (VAT), there is no opportunity for foreign visitors to make ‘tax-free’ purchases.
Phone numbers within the US consist of a three-digit area code followed by a seven-digit local number. In NYC, you will always dial ten numbers: 1 + the three-digit area code + the seven-digit number. To make an international call from NYC, call 011 + country code + area code + number. When calling Canada, there is no need to use the 011.
No matter where you’re calling within New York City, even if it’s just across the street in the same area code, you must always dial 1 + the area code first.
Manhattan 212, 646, 332
Outer boroughs 347, 718, 929
All boroughs (usually cell phones) 917
International travelers can use local SIM cards in a smartphone provided it is unlocked. Alternatively, you can buy a cheap US phone and load it up with prepaid minutes.
If buying a US SIM card, you'll want to go with either AT&T or T-Mobile (or companies using their networks) as these carriers run on the GSM network, the standard used in most other countries. You may be able to preorder a card at home, or you can simply purchase one from the relevant carrier's store in New York.
If purchasing a cheap US phone, you can also look into Verizon and Sprint, which use the CDMA network. Phones can be bought in telecom stores, drugstores, grocery stores and big retailers like Target.
If you plan on traveling outside of NYC, make sure you are using AT&T or Verizon – these two carriers have the best coverage in more rural areas.
Data coverage in NYC is LTE.
New York City is in the Eastern Standard Time (EST) zone – five hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (London) and three hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time (California). Almost all of the USA observes daylight-saving time: clocks go forward one hour on the second Sunday in March and are turned back one hour on the first Sunday in November. (It’s easy to remember by the phrase ‘spring ahead, fall back.’)
Considering the number of pedestrians, there’s a noticeable lack of public restrooms around the city. You’ll find spots to relieve yourself in Grand Central Terminal, Penn Station and Port Authority Bus Terminal, and in parks, including Madison Square Park, Battery Park, Tompkins Square Park, Washington Square Park and Columbus Park in Chinatown, plus several places scattered around Central Park. The good bet, though, is to pop into a Starbucks (there’s one about every three blocks), a department store (Macy’s, Century 21, Bloomingdale’s) or a neighborhood park like Tompkins Square in the East Village or Bleecker Playground (at W 11th and Hudson) in the West Village.
NYC Information Center There are official NYC Visitor Information Centers throughout the city. The main office is in Midtown.
In this web-based world you’ll find infinite online resources to get up-to-the-minute information about New York. In person, try one of the official branches of NYC Information Center (www.nycgo.com) at Times Square, Macy’s Herald Square, City Hall and South Street Seaport.
Explore Brooklyn (www.explorebk.com) has up-to-date event listings and lots of of other info on this much-loved borough.
Travel with Children
New York City has loads of activities for young ones, including imaginative playgrounds and leafy parks where kids can run free, plus lots of kid-friendly museums and sights. Other highs: carousel rides, puppet shows and noshing at markets around town.
Best Parks & Playgrounds
- Central Park
More than 800 acres of green space, a lake that can be navigated by rowboat, a carousel, a zoo and a massive statue of Alice in Wonderland. Heckscher playground, near Seventh Ave and Central Park South, is the biggest and best of Central Park’s 21 playgrounds; another good one is Ancient Playground at 85th St and Fifth Ave.
- Prospect Park
Brooklyn’s hilly 585-acre Prospect Park has abundant amusement for kids, including a zoo, several playgrounds, hands-on playthings at Lefferts Historic House and an ice-skating rink that becomes a roller rink and water splash area in summer. Pedal boats and kayaks for Brooklyn's only lake and a variety of kid-friendly bikes are available at the LeFrank Center at Lakeside in the park.
- Brooklyn Bridge Park
Check out the park's fun new playgrounds, then hit the water-filled play area on Pier 6 (bring swimsuits, all will get wet), followed by pizza at waterfront Fornino. Pier 2 has shuffleboard and bocce courts and a roller rink that becomes an ice-skating rink in the winter. Further north are the grassy hills of Pier 1 and Jane’s Carousel.
- Hudson River Park
Coursing along Manhattan’s western side, this park offers loads of kiddy excitement, including mini-golf near Moore St (Tribeca), a fun playground near West St (West Village), a carousel off W 22nd St, watery fun at W 23rd & Eleventh Ave, and a science-themed play space near W 44th St.
- The High Line
NYC’s celebrated elevated green space has food vendors, water features (which kids can splash through) and great views, plus warm-weather family events – story time, science and craft projects, fun with food, and more. Check the website (www.thehighline.org/activities/family_programs) for details.
- Riverside Park
Riverside Park on the Upper West Side has a bicycle trail with views of the Hudson River. Take a break at the River Run Playground (at W 83rd St), with fountains for cooling off in summer, or at whimsical Hippo Playground (at W 91st St).
For many kids, some of New York City’s top attractions are a world of fun.
The city has a number of zoos. The best, by far, is the Bronx Zoo, which is known for its well-designed habitats. (The Congo Gorilla Forest is a stunner.) Otherwise, if you’re pressed for time, the zoos in Central Park and Prospect Park are great for short visits.
- Statue of Liberty
The boat ride to Lady Liberty offers the opportunity to chug around New York Harbor and get to know an icon that most kids only know from textbooks.
- On Top of the World
A glass-roofed elevator leads to the Top of the Rock, a lookout that offers glittering views of New York.
- Coney Island
Hot dogs. Ice cream. Amusement-park rides. Coney Island is just the ticket if you’re in need of some lowbrow entertainment.
The American Museum of Natural History, with its dinosaurs, marine world, planetarium and IMAX films, should not be missed. Nearly every big museum – the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, Guggenheim Museum, Museum of the City of New York and Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum – all have kids’ programs, but many smaller institutions are even more appealing for young visitors. The Lower East Side Tenement Museum offers an interactive tour where kids can meet an immigrant (costumed interpreter) of centuries past.
- Toddler Time
For tots aged one to five, hit the Children’s Museum of the Arts in West SoHo and the Brooklyn Children’s Museum in Crown Heights. Both have story times, art classes, craft hours and painting sessions.
- Five & Over
Bigger kids can clamber on vintage subway cars at the New York Transit Museum or slide down a pole at the New York City Fire Museum. Out in Astoria, the Museum of the Moving Image has hands-on exhibits for kids.
Fun for Kids & Parents
Markets around NYC are great snack spots, particularly Smorgasburg, which has vendors selling everything from popsicles, doughnuts and pickles to tacos and pork sandwiches. The Chelsea Market also has many temptations – assemble a picnic then head over to the Hudson River Park for a waterside picnic.
Tiny Puppetworks in Brooklyn’s Park Slope has amusing weekend puppet shows throughout the year.
Need to Know
- Car Seats Children under seven can ride on an adult’s lap in a taxi or you can use your own car seat. Ride-sharing services may have available car seats.
- Strollers Not allowed on public buses unless folded.
- Babysitters Contact the Baby Sitters’ Guild (www.babysittersguild.com).
- Resources Check out Time Out New York Kids (www.timeout.com/new-york-kids) and Mommy Poppins (www.mommypoppins.com).
- Subway Children under 44in (110cm) ride free.
For an insight into New York aimed directly at kids, pick up a copy of Lonely Planet’s City Trails: New York. Perfect for children aged eight and up, it opens up a world of intriguing stories and fascinating facts about New York's people, places, history and culture.
Travellers with Disabilities
Much of the city is accessible with curb cuts for wheelchair users. All the major sites (the Met museum, the Guggenheim, and Lincoln Center) are also accessible. Some, but not all, Broadway theaters are accessible.
Unfortunately, only about 100 of New York's 468 subway stations are fully wheelchair accessible. In general, the bigger stations have access, such as West 4th St, 14th St-Union Sq, 34th St-Penn Station, 42nd St-Port Authority Terminal, 59th St-Columbus Circle, and 66th St-Lincoln Center. For a complete list of accessible subway stations, visit http://web.mta.info/accessibility/stations.htm. Also visit www.nycgo.com/accessibility.
On the plus side, all of NYC's MTA buses are wheelchair accessible, and are often a better option than negotiating cramped subway stations.
The city also provides paratransit buses for getting around town for the same price as a subway fare, though these aren't very practical as you must order them 24 hours in advance. Call Access-a-Ride (877-337-2017) to request transport.
More practical is simply ordering an accessible taxi through Accessible Dispatch (646-599-9999; http://accessibledispatch.org); there's also an app that allows you to request the nearest available service.
Another excellent resource is the Big Apple Greeter program, which has more than 50 volunteers on staff with physical disabilities who are happy to show off their corner of the city.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
There are numerous volunteer opportunities in NYC. You can help mentor struggling students, assist in cleaning up the parks, play Bingo with seniors or lend a hand serving food in a soup kitchen (a place where homeless or low-income residents can get a free meal). A few places where you can sign up to help include the following organizations:
- New York Cares (www.newyorkcares.org)
- NYC Service (www.nycservice.org)
- Street Project (www.streetproject.org)