Traveling to New York can be intimidating—but it doesn’t have to be! Here are the dos and don’ts of traveling to New York City; everything you should (and shouldn’t) do when it comes to general etiquette/unwritten rules, subway etiquette, and exploring the city.
Because it’s home to so many people packed into such close quarters, New York is a city that runs on etiquette and unwritten rules of conduct. Here are some dos and don’ts:
Although New Yorkers are often stereotyped as rude and unhelpful, that couldn’t be further from the truth. When you’re surrounded by people 24/7, you’re just forced to develop a tough exterior! A simple “please,” “thank you,” or “excuse me” can go a long way in bringing out the kindness of a jaded New Yorker.
Yes, New York is beautiful. And yes, you’re going to want to savor it. But remember: walking is the main method of transportation for most New Yorkers, which means they’re walking with a purpose. Translation: to a New Yorker, a slow walker on the sidewalk is like a car driving 25 on the freeway! And in the same vein:
For the same reason as above, this is a major no-no. If you have to stop walking—whether to admire the view, check your phone, or eat a slice of pizza—simply find an out-of-the-way spot to do it. Our recommendation: post up next to a telephone pole, trash can, or anything else a walker would already have to avoid.
It's especially annoying to locals if you stop in the middle of the sidewalk with an enormous suitcase. To avoid this NYC faux pas, skip lugging around luggage! Instead, store it in one of LuggageHero's NYC locations. They have 100+ throughout the city.
It should go without saying, but it’s rude to take pictures of anyone without their consent. This goes double in New York, where there’s a conspicuous lack of privacy in day-to-day life. If you do take someone’s picture without asking, be prepared to be confronted.
Local tip: New York is a city of performers. If you see someone dressed or acting strangely (and if they seem mentally sound), don’t be afraid to ask if you can take their picture. Odds are, they’ll be flattered! That said…
We know this is a cultural thing, but in New York, staring at someone is considered rude. If you do stare someone down, don’t be surprised if they ask you what you’re looking at or if you’ve “got a problem.” Beware: those are fighting words.
Again, with so many people living in such close proximity, it’s really important to be respectful of personal space. Watch where you’re going and try not to bump into anyone! Your phone can wait—your peace of mind can’t.
Time is money, and New Yorkers are always in a rush. Whether you’re ordering a cup of coffee or grabbing a slice of pizza, remember that the people behind you have places to be! Decide what you want before you get to the counter; then, order clearly and quickly.
This is doubly true on the subway (which we’ll get to shortly), but if you see someone acting erratically, it’s best to avoid making eye contact. Trust us on this one—you don’t want them to make a scene. Just do what New Yorkers do: look at your phone or stare at your shoes.
New Yorkers are known for their colorful vocabulary. Don’t take it to heart; it’s just how we communicate!
Because it’s such a necessity, and it’s the place where people are physically packed the closest together, many of New York’s rules of etiquette are about the subway Here are some dos and don’ts for riding the train (and read our New York transportation guide for even more info).
To walk through the subway turnstile, you’ll need to swipe your MetroCard through the card reader. Sadly, many of the turnstile card readers are old and finicky—which means travelers often have trouble getting their cards to swipe. Here’s a tip: with the magnetic strip facing you, place your card firmly at the edge of the reader and quickly push it through. The commuters will thank you.
This is a pet peeve of many New Yorkers. Wait until passengers have gotten off the train before trying to get on! Otherwise, you may be treated to some “colorful” language and perhaps a shoulder or two.
This is another common issue. Subway poles are for people to hold onto while standing on the train—they are not for people to lean on and/or hug. Doing so is seen as rude and self-centered, as it makes it impossible for other people to hold them.
New Yorkers take care of their own. If you see an elderly, pregnant, or disabled person enter the train, you’ll be expected to give them your seat. If you don’t, be prepared for a scolding from the other passengers. And remember, not everyone who needs a seat looks like they need a seat; if someone asks for your seat because they have a chronic illness, invisible disability, new pregnancy, or other reason, give it to them if you are able to stand.
If you’re already on the train and passengers are boarding, make room. Adjust your position or move to the middle of the car—whatever you need to do to let others on. It’s just common courtesy.
If you’re in a crowded subway car, make sure to take off your bag and place it at your feet. It’ll make more room for other passengers, and you’ll avoid bumping into people by mistake.
New York has a sizable low-income/homeless population. Many people beg for money on the subway or perform for tips. You should feel free to give them money if you wish. However, you should never feel forced to do so, even if they become irate (which is often an act). If you ever feel uncomfortable, do not hesitate to tell the train’s conductor or a police officer.
These are just a few tips to make your trip to New York even more amazing. That said, we could go on for pages and pages here—so make sure to connect with a New York trip planner for your own personalized recommendations.
If you never leave Manhattan, you’re missing out on most of New York’s best places to visit. Remember: New York City is made up of five different boroughs. Explore everything you can, especially in the awesomeness that is Brooklyn and Queens!
And we haven't even touched on other places to visit in New York state! The Hudson Valley and the Catskills are absolutely beautiful. They're great destinations for camping, hiking, or visiting small towns. Plus, most are an easy train ride via Metro-North from Grand Central Station. We offer trip-planning services in both New York City and upstate New York.
Times Square is every New Yorker’s worst nightmare. Crowded, expensive, artificial, and touristy, it’s as inauthentic as you can get. We get it though; it’s a place that everyone has to see at least once. But whatever you do, do not go to any of the tourist-friendly restaurants in the area. They’re ridiculously overpriced and serve some of the most generic, disappointing food around. And in a city with more than 25,000 restaurants, that’s a mortal sin. You’ll find better and more authentic options just a few blocks away.
As we said earlier, New Yorkers have tough exteriors, but at heart, they’re often kind, protective, and proud of their city. That means you should never hesitate to ask for help or directions. Sure, maybe one person in ten will shrug you off. But the vast majority will be more than happy to help you out. New Yorkers come from everywhere, and most of us know what it’s like to be new to the city.
There’s nothing worse than traveling somewhere only to realize that you’ve missed out on the *real* gems. Our advice: have a New Yorker help you plan your trip. You’ll be traveling with the knowledge that you’re seeing the most authentic side of New York—the hidden gems, the off-the-beaten-path treasures, the local culture—stuff that never makes it into the glossy Barnes & Noble guidebooks or out-of-date internet reviews.
Ready to take on New York City? Get in touch with a local New York City trip planner for help, or contact us for more information. You could spend hours trying to plan your trip yourself… but why would you? Oh, and don’t forget to check out: