New York: A beginner’s guide

New York is a must-see for lovers of culture, history, food and nightlife – it’s a delight for everyone really. If you’re visiting for the first time it can seem a little overwhelming finding your way around the city. Here’s my beginner’s guide on how to get to grips with the Big Apple.

Aerial view of New York City captured from above the Central Park at sunset.

Arriving into New York

New York has three major airports, John F. Kennedy, Newark Liberty and La Guardia. Your Aer Lingus flight will arrive into either JFK or Newark depending on your booking. Both airports are well served by commuter trains and the subway. If you’d rather get a taxi, there’ll be taxis outside both airport terminals, or you can book an Uber.

Getting around

The best way to get anywhere in New York is to walk whenever possible. If it’s too far to go on foot, the subway is your friend. With the exception of lower Manhattan, streets run in a grid pattern. Here are a few tips to help you get your bearings on the streets:

• “Streets” (E.g. “E 57th St.”, “Spring St.”) run horizontally from east to west more or less
• “Avenues” (E.g. “Madison Ave.”, “5th Ave.”),  run vertically from “north to south”
• 5th Avenue splits the East Side from the West Side. Building numbers get lower the closer the building is to 5th Avenue and higher the farther it is away from 5th Avenue.
• Broadway is the exception. It runs diagonally, interestingly enough, following an old Native American footpath.

New York’s subway covers the whole city so no matter where you want to go, a subway will be heading in that direction. Here are my tips for navigating the subway like a pro:

• Metrocards can be purchased from a ticket agent or from the automated machines in the stations. The small machines are for purchases made with credit cards or debit cards only. As a non-US resident, just use 99999 as your zip code.
• You can buy pay-per-ride Metrocards or unlimited weekly or monthly passes. There’s a $1 charge to get the actual card before loading it with money or time.
• The subway fare is $2.75 per person each way with free transfers between the subway and city buses.
• If you plan to ride the subway at least 12 times, the weekly unlimited pass will save you money regardless of how many days you’re there.
• Download an NYC subway app or save a PDF to your phone so you can always work out which subway you need to get.

Manhattan's iconic Times Square and Theater District seen in the evening, view bearing South.

See and Do – classic sights you won’t want to miss

Flashing neon lights and giant digital billboards. Costumed characters and musicians. Times Square is big, bright and unforgettable. While you’re looking up, down, and all around Times Square, you’ll be surrounded by all of Broadway’s theatres and the massive show billboards. The TKTS booth in Times Square sells discounted tickets for performances on the same day. But shows can definitely sell out well in advance. If you have your heart set on seeing a particular show, I’d suggest you book your tickets as early as possible.

New York from Rockefella Center

Walk along 50th Street crossing over 7th and 6th Avenues you’ll reach the Rockefeller Centre. On your way, you’ll pass by Radio City Music Hall. The Plaza at Rockefeller Centre hosts the Today Show and the SNL studios. There’s an observation deck at the top of the Rockefeller that is definitely worth a visit for views across the whole city.

Head towards 5th Avenue and you’ll pass by the amazing St. Patrick’s Cathedral. You can head inside for a look then browse the shops on famous 5th Avenue, window shop at Tiffany’s, Cartier and Saks.

A visit to Central Park is a must-do for any trip to New York. Central Park spans 863 acres in the middle of Manhattan. The park is free to enjoy so pop in and explore all of its nooks and crannies. It’s filled with free events, statues, people-watching and sites like Strawberry Fields, featuring the ‘Imagine’ mosaic near the Dakota, where John Lennon was tragically killed in 1980. Once you leave the park you have your choice of museums to visit like The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The American Museum of Natural History.

Brooklyn Bridge Manhattan

The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the most iconic sights in New York, and walking across is one of the best ways to take it all in. You’ll get a great view of both the Brooklyn and Manhattan skylines. Try and get there early – it gets very busy, very quickly!

The Statue of Liberty, one of New York’s most popular tourist attractions, has captivated people from every corner of the world for more than a century. It’s not to be missed. If you’re short on time you can get some of the best views from the Staten Island Ferry, a free service that runs 24 hours a day and departs from Whitehall Ferry Terminal (also known as South Ferry) in Manhattan.

So what are you waiting for? It’s time for your first visit to New York. Find great value flight deals.

Read next: 5 free things to do in New York.