New York City: Need to Know Facts and Tips

What you need to know before heading to New York City, from getting around to the best time of year to visit.

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Image courtesy of Justin Harrington.

Before you venture to the Big Apple, keep these handy facts and tips in mind.

Population: 8.2 million

Language: English

Currency: The U.S. Dollar. It’s quite easy to access cash at any time via an automatic teller machine (ATM), which can be found at almost every street corner, many of which are 24 hours. For exchanging currency, there are banks and money exchange stores all over the city, as well as all of the major airports, but plan to pay an exchange fee.

Tipping: When dining at a sit-down restaurant a tip of 15-20% of the bill is expected, determined at your discretion based on the service given. Cab drivers also expect a tip of about 10-15% of the total cost of the trip.

Weather: New York City experiences the four seasons, despite some weather anomalies here and there. During the spring, average temperatures range from 10-20°C (50-68°F) in April and May with beautiful sunny days, occasional showers and cool evenings. The summer’s can get very hot and humid — it’s not unheard of to see a day that’s 35°C (95°F) in July, although usually temperatures hover around 28°C (82°F) from June to August. From December to the end of February, old man winter rules, bringing snow, sleet and slush, so pack accordingly.

Airports: There are three major airports that serve New York City: John F. Kennedy (JFK), LaGuardia (LGA) and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) in New Jersey. Even though Newark sounds far it’s actually the same distance from Midtown as JFK, with many airlines including Porter Airlines, flying into this airport.

For a refined flying experience consider booking with Porter Airlines, who fly into many major Canadian cities including Montreal, Ottawa, Halifax and Toronto’s Island Airport (YTZ).

Getting Around: New York’s subway system is one of the largest in the world and is the way most New Yorkers get around town. The subway is open 24 hours, 7 days a week and a single fare is $2.75, which allows you one ride within 2 hours of the purchase. If you plan to ride the subway more than twice it’s more affordable to purchase a MetroCard, reducing the fare to $2.50 (note: for a new card you must put at least $6 on the card, which includes a $1 fee). First timers should also pay attention boarding the subway, as many trains often travel along the same track, but are headed in much different directions.

Besides the subway, taxis are the city’s other main mode of transport. Regulated by the Taxi and Limousine Commission, the yellow fleet of cabs are available 24 hours a day, and are ideal when your shopping bags are too heavy or you’re done with walking. When hailing a cab, those with illuminated lights are free. Be sure to board and exit curbside. If you’d like your hotel doorman to hail you a cab, it’s customary to tip about $1. The metered fare starts at $2.50 and increases $0.50 every third of a kilometre. Monday to Friday, 4-8pm there is a $1 surcharge and at night from 8pm-2am there is a $0.50 surcharge. In addition there is a $0.50 New York State tax on every ride.

Faster than walking and environmentally-friendly, biking in New York City is easy for tourists and is a great way to cover a lot of ground. Citi Bike is New York’s bike sharing program, which allows you to unlock a bike at any station, ride where you want and drop off at any other station. If you’re nervous about what streets to take, check out Ride the City for safe routes to and from your destination. For helmets visit Bike & Roll, a bike tour and rental company with 12 locations throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn, offering Citi Bike customers a flat rate of $3/day or $7/week to rent a helmet.

Safety: As far as big cities go, New York City is quite safe. Most of the tourist areas are well populated and during the day you can walk almost everywhere. General safety tips you should observe in any big city, include be cautious of your surroundings; don’t flaunt expensive jewellery or cash in public and walk with your purse in front of you, holding onto the strap. Plan to walk in well-populated areas at night and take a cab if you feel uncomfortable or are lost. Ignore panhandlers and anyone who approaches you on the street with a sob story, it’s likely a scam. Even though crime in New York City has gone down considerably, Central Park is still best avoided at night.