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New York City Do’s and Don’ts: 10 Unwritten Rules That Every New Yorker Knows

A woman rides the subway through New York City.
Hallo, mein Name ist Jessica!

Jessica Colley Clarke is a freelance writer and curious traveler based in New York City. Her stories have appeared in AFAR magazine, BBC Travel, The Daily Beast, and the New York Times, among other publications.

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Hi, I'm Jessica!

Jessica Colley Clarke is a freelance writer and curious traveler based in New York City. Her stories have appeared in AFAR magazine, BBC Travel, The Daily Beast, and the New York Times, among other publications.

Mehr anzeigen

Manhattan moves at an electric pace that few other cities can match. But what keeps the metropolis buzzing along is a social contract that instills order throughout this densely populated city.

The golden rule is to stay out of everyone’s way. New Yorkers move fast, so allowing everyone else to move fast is essential. Do this, and locals will likely be friendly, happy to give directions, and ready to share restaurant recommendations. In addition to the golden rule, visitors should keep the following tips in mind to maximize their time and navigate the city like a pro.

Do explore beyond Midtown and Museum Mile

Bicycles and plants outside a pretty building in New York's West Village.
The West Village is a perfect spot for a stroll. | Bildquelle: Victoria Lipov / Shutterstock

Hit Broadway theaters and big museums—but everything in between, too.

Several Manhattan landmarks, like the Empire State Building, The Museum of Modern Art, and Grand Central Station are clustered in Midtown but don’t let this fact consume your entire trip. New Yorkers spend their evenings in more low-rise neighborhoods, so to rub elbows with locals, plan to explore beyond the skyscrapers of Midtown.

Stroll outside the concentration of Broadway theaters to Hell’s Kitchen, home to numerous small restaurants and bars, or hop on the subway downtown and get lost in the West Village, the Lower East Side, or Nolita.

Don’t expect lots of space

A busy street in New York, full of people.
You'll need to get used to being among crowds when you're visiting New York. | Bildquelle: blvdone / Shutterstock

From restaurants and bars to the subway, NYC is tightly packed.

There are plenty of restaurants in New York City where the table next to you is just inches away. While this can frustrate some first-timers, it can be helpful not to expect space in the first place. Instead, lean into the idea that being crammed into small spaces together is all part of the fun.

New Yorkers generally try and respect personal space as much as possible, but expect some shoulder-to-shoulder subway rides and what may feel like brunch with strangers, and you’ll have a smooth trip.

Related: How To Beat The Crowds In New York City

Do seek out New York City’s natural side

Leafy green trees and a bridge over water in Prospect Park.
Stroll around Prospect Park and see a greener side to the city. | Bildquelle: littlenySTOCK / Shutterstock

From parks to waterfront paths, New York offers greenery.

Some visitors associate New York with the neon lights of Times Square or the tall skyscrapers of Midtown, but the city also has a natural side thanks to its extensive park system. Bring a picnic, people-watch, wander, and relax in these blooming, serene spaces.

Of course, you shouldn’t miss roaming the popular shady paths of Central Park, but visitors should also check out the High Line and Hudson River Park in Manhattan, plus the Brooklyn Heights Promenade and Prospect Park in Brooklyn.

Don’t eat at chain restaurants

A chef makes pizzas at a classic New York pizzeria.
New York's home to some of the best restaurants in the world. | Bildquelle: ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock

Just don’t.

Yes, you’ll find Burger King and Chipotle in New York City. But Manhattan is one of the world’s great food cities, and there’s almost always an excellent restaurant, bar, bodega, or coffee shop within a stone’s throw of that corner Starbucks.

Locals avoid chains whenever possible. Join New Yorkers in dining at locally-owned bagel shops, specialty coffee shops, corner pizzerias, and more. There are too many options here to settle for a burrito bowl or burger you can find in any other city in the world.

Insider Tip: If you’re at a loss for where to dine, consider a food tour led by a local to find all the best spots.

Do eat at the bar

Beers and other drinks at a bar in New York.
Eat at the bar, if you can't get a table. | Bildquelle: Pmmrd / Shutterstock

Secure the prime people-watching seats.

Some New York City restaurants require reservations weeks or even months in advance. One way to get around this fact is to eat at the bar. Many restaurants don’t take reservations for the bar, and seats are filled on a first-come, first-served basis.

So if that restaurant you want to try doesn’t have any reservations available, don’t give up. Instead, call ahead and ask if they take walk-ins at the bar. These seats have the added benefit of chatting with the bartender for other food and drink recommendations and offer prime people-watching.

Don’t limit your visit to just Manhattan

Tulips at the Botanical Garden New York.
You'll find lots to explore outside Manhattan. | Bildquelle: Andy-OSK98 / Shutterstock

Manhattan is just one of five boroughs in New York City.

The top mistake visitors make when visiting The Big Apple is sticking only to Manhattan. Of course, it’s possible to fill an entire trip with Manhattan’s landmarks, parks, restaurants, and more, but if you want to get a true snapshot of New York City today, you have to leave Manhattan.

So, hop on the subway and discover the other four boroughs. Check out Brooklyn top bookstores. Eat your way through Flushing in Queens. Go to the Botanical Gardens in the Bronx. Getting out into the neighborhoods where real New Yorkers live will provide a much more realistic portrayal of the city.

Do step into the subway car

An empty subway car in New York.
Know how to ride the subway. | Bildquelle: Maya K. Photography / Shutterstock

Be courteous by not blocking the door.

One standard faux pas of people visiting New York is not listening to the subway conductor who clearly requests riders to step in and stand clear of the doors. The NYC subway system is aging and has its problems, but riders can keep things moving as efficiently as possible by respectfully deciding not to block doors and instead moving into the center of a subway car.

If you’re getting off at the next stop, it’s OK to linger near the door, but don’t cause a traffic jam, slowing down the train’s ability to leave the station. This isn’t polite and will irritate locals.

Don’t rely on taxis or Uber to get around

A man uses a MetroCard in New York City.
Get your MetroCard and getting round the city will be easy. | Bildquelle: Ben Harding / Shutterstock

The subway is often the fastest way to move between neighborhoods.

New York City has a gridlock problem, and depending on the time of day, jumping into a taxi can be a slow and expensive way to reach your destination. The subway is often a far more efficient way to get around, so do get a MetroCard at a kiosk in any subway station for fast and affordable transport.

The system is admittedly confusing, and signage can be poor, so don’t be afraid to ask a local—or an MTA worker in the station kiosk—how to get where you want to go. Just remember to follow the aforementioned subway etiquette and don’t block the doors.

Do walk on the right side of the sidewalk

A woman takes a selfie on a pretty street in New York City.
Keep to the right and everyone will be happier. | Bildquelle: photoiva / Shutterstock

Keep to the right.

The angry New Yorker stereotype may be rooted in common frustrations when visitors refuse to walk on the right side of the sidewalk. We live in a dense city, and unspoken rules (like sidewalk and subway etiquette) are just about the only thing that can keep things running smoothly.

On often-crowded streets and subway escalators, be courteous by observing local customs: Walk to the right on streets and stand to the right on subway escalators. And please, don’t just stop short on the sidewalk because a skyscraper caught your attention. Just like when driving a car, pull over to the side, then gawk away.

Don’t smoke near building entrances or in parks

A no-smoking sign on a post in New York.
It's just good courtesy. | Bildquelle: Pisit Koolplukpol / Shutterstock

That’s right, NYC’s parks are smoke-free.

Finding a place to smoke legally in New York is challenging. The rules have tightened in recent years, and it’s now not only frowned upon but illegal to smoke cigarettes in New York City parks or within 100 feet of the entrance to buildings like libraries and schools.

Smokers may also see similar signs outside of residential buildings or restaurants, designating how far from an entrance a smoker must go. Keep an eye out for these signs; not obeying could result in a ticket/fine.

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