How to prepare for your trip to New York City? Now that's a good question!
If you are looking for advice on how to prepare your trip to New York, you are at the right place! A trip to New York requires a minimum of preparation, especially if it is your first time in the Big Apple 🍏 To help you organise your stay in New York, read the article I have prepared for you.
You will find all the practical and useful information (administrative procedures, budget, passes, transport...) to prepare your trip with peace of mind. Follow the numerous recommendations I give you and with a bit of patience and research, you will end up organising the trip of your dreams! 😄
You can check out my article on the ESTA for clearer information, but know that if you have a valid passport AND your country is part of the Visa Waiver Program, you will not need a visa to travel to the USA.
However, you will have to apply for an ESTA – the American electronic travel authorization. Let's see all of this right away! 😁
1. Is your passport up to date?
Before even thinking of booking your plane tickets, make sure your passport is up to date.
If it is, make sure that it will not expire in less than six months (mandatory). If it is out of date however, you will need to renew it quickly because, depending on the time of year, such a procedure can take up to two months!
If you do not have a passport, please note that the time necessary to obtain a first application may also vary. Between the appointment, the preparation of the required documents and the delivery of said passport, it can take several weeks. So start preparing for this as soon as possible!
If you are travelling as a family, you will need a passport for ALL family members – children and babies included.
2. The ESTA application
If you are from a country that is a member of the Visa Waiver Program, you do not need a visa to travel to New York. However, you will need to apply for an ESTA from the US government.
This Electronic System of Travel Authorization is a questionnaire that you will have to fill in online on the following official page.
Select whichever language you prefer (from the options at the top right) and fill in the information requested. It will take you about 20 minutes to complete.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security will review your answers and either allow you to enter or not. In any case, do not worry: you will receive an answer quickly (within a few days at most)! For my part, for my latest trips to NYC, I generally received my answers the same day I did my applications.
The ESTA application costs $14 (about £11) with a payment by credit card directly on the website. This authorization will allow you to travel to the United States for a maximum of 90 days.
It is valid for two years. After that period, you will have to make another ESTA application; so remember to check the validity of your ESTA if this is not your first trip to the United States.
You can check the status of your ESTA application on the website:
- Approved: you are authorised to travel to the USA.
- Pending Authorization: your travel authorization is under review, check back later.
- Unauthorised travel: you will need to apply for a tourist visa on the following site.
Organising your trip to NYC: programme of activities, budget & expenses
Let's face it, visiting New York City is expensive (flight + accommodation + food + activities/excursions + shopping budget)!
But with a few tips, you will know how you can make several savings on your travel budget 🙌
Start by choosing the best time to go to New York. Next, you'll need to compare flight prices at nearby airports then find a hotel at the best price. Finally, I recommend buying a pass that will give you discounts on New York City attractions. More explanations further down!
3. When is the best time to go to New York City?
Preparing your trip to New York often starts with the question "When to go to New York City?”
Peak tourist periods are of course the school holidays (summer holidays + Christmas holidays) and the holidays (Halloween, Thanksgiving). It is best to visit the city in Autumn (September to mid-November) and spring (April to mid-June), when prices are a little cheaper. And let’s not forget that the temperatures are ideal for exploring the city during these seasons.
I've written a whole article about the best time to go to New York, if you want to learn more about that 😉
During the interseasons, the parks in New York City take on totally different colours (the leaves on the trees are a beautiful green in the spring and a flaming orange-red in the fall). It's just beautiful! 🍂
If winter is a period to avoid for a first trip to New York (it's way too cold! 🥶), note that accommodation prices will be quite affordable outside the Christmas holiday season. This would also allow you to discover and admire the Christmas decorations that are put up in the city from the beginning of December.
In short, it's up to you to choose the right moment for your trip, according to your desires! 👍
4. How to find a ticket at a good price?
As soon as your ESTA application has been approved, start looking for flights to New York City.
Look on flight comparators like Skyscanner and watch for airline promotions. If you start early and look regularly, you can even find flights for around £250!
My last flight to New York was a direct Zurich – New York City (I live in Strasbourg, France; so Zurich wasn't too far away). The return flight was €295 per person in May (about £243).
Example of flights from London to New York at different times of the year:
Direct flight (7h35 on average)
Airport of departure & arrival
Low tourist season - 18 to 25 September 2023
Enjoy the summer temperatures
Starting from £333
LGW, UK / JFK, US
High tourist season - December 26, 2023 to January 2, 2024
See New York in the snow
Starting from £431
LHR, UK / JFK, US
Low season - 6 to 13 February 2024
Enjoy the lowest accommodation rates
Starting from £356
LHR, UK / EWR, US
Prices on Skyscanner in May 2023
5. Where to sleep in New York City and for what price?
Planning your trip to New York City also raises the question Where to stay and in which neighbourhood?
Once you know your travel dates, you'll need to start looking into your accommodation. To that end, I wrote a full article on where to sleep in New York City that may help you!
In any case, I personally recommend looking on Booking. Most of the listings for accommodation/hotels are on these two platforms – no need to spread yourself thin by looking on dozens of different websites.
The good thing about these websites is that you can add criteria to your search (neighbourhood, number of rooms, price range, etc.).
Example of rates for a stay in NY for one person (same period as flights above):
Low tourist season – Stay from 18 to 25 September 2023:
Type of accommodation
Name of accommodation
High tourist season – Stay from 26 December 2023 to 2 January 2024:
Type of accommodation
Name of accommodation
Tarif le moins cher
Low tourist season – 1 week-holiday in New York from 24 to 31 January 2024:
Type of accommodation
Name of accommodation
Tarif le moins cher
Rates on Booking.com in March 2023
A word of advice: don't hesitate to check out other travellers’ reviews on the booking's website. They can be very useful! 😄
My favourite accommodation in New York City ❤️
is a beautiful hotel located a 15-minute walk from the World Trade Center and right next to an underground station, making it perfectly located for your visits. It has a well-equipped gym and a business centre.
The rooms are modern and quite large, the bedding is comfortable and some rooms offer a beautiful view of the city. A small bonus is the staff, who are very helpful and friendly! For a night in this hotel during the low season, expect to pay at least £187.
6. Make a planning for your stay in New York City
Think about the sites/monuments you really want to visit, and the activities you want to do first. But above all, make sure that your NYC holiday is a pleasure and not a chore! An overloaded programme risks making your stay too tiring and therefore less enjoyable (and you won't be able to do and see everything you wish to on your first trip anyway!)
Of course, you can also choose not to plan your holiday, and go on an adventure to discover the city on your own! Many people prefer to do things that way 😉
7. Buy a pass a book your activities in advance
Once you have planned your New York activity programme, I suggest you take a closer look at my article on New York passes. These passes are the best way to save money on your outings budget. Thanks to a pass, you will not only be able to benefit from discounts on the entrance fees of various attractions of the city and on the different activities available, but you will also save precious time.
Indeed, all your tickets will be grouped together in one pass and you will be able to benefit from faster entry to certain attractions (no-queue tickets). Just remember to present or scan your pass at the reception of each site.
The only catch is that there are several passes to visit New York, and you'll need to choose the one that's best for your stay.
To help you out, here is a comparison of the three most popular passes:
To visit a max
The least expensive
Image of the pass
Best value for money
To visit the classics
A sample of the city’s must-sees
The widest choice
Ideal for visiting as many must-see places as possible
Alternates between activities, experiences and New York tours
Few activities but useful to see the essentials
Ideal for organising your stay as you wish
90+ unlimited tours and activities
95+ monuments and attractions (maximum 10)
8 visits (5 maximum)
100+ visits (10 maximum)
Period of validity
1 to 10 days
Where to buy it?
1 day if selected
Statue of Liberty + Ellis Island
Empire State Building
Top of the Rock
Edge Hudson Yards
One World Observatory
If you don't fancy a pass, you can of course buy your tickets separately. But be careful, don't wait to do it once you're in New York – the queues to buy a ticket will be endless! Instead, opt for an online reservation well before your departure. You can do this on online platforms such as GetYourGuide, for example.
The most famous pass and the most suitable for a first stay in the city is the New York CityPass. This will allow you to see the 6 top must-see sites in New York City.
Among the sites not to be missed in New York you will find:
- The Brooklyn Bridge
- Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty
- The Empire State Building
- The Flatiron Building
- The World Trade Center
- Grand Central Terminal
- The Chrysler Building
- The Rockefeller Center
- Central Park
- Bryant Park in Manhattan
- Times Square
- The Summit One Vanderbilt
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art
- The SoHo neighbourhood
- The Harlem neighbourhood
- The Top of the Rock
- Little Italy
- The 9/11 Memorial
If you plan to attend an NBA game in New York City during your stay or if you would like to go to a Broadway musical, you should definitely plan ahead and book early or you will find yourself without tickets – everything will be sold out or way too expensive! 😕
My tip to book your activities 🎫
You want to book your activities without purchasing a pass? Then I highly recommend the GetYourGuide website – that's where I always book my own activities during my different trips to New York City when I don't take a tourist pass. On this site, you will find all the must-do activities in New York: the Summit One Vanderbilt, helicopter flight, ferry cruises, tickets for the Empire State Building, the Top of the Rock observatory and so many other activities!
8. Check your health coverage
It really is a necessity: don't go to New York without taking out health insurance first!
I certainly don't wish it on you, but accidents happen quickly and medical expenses in the United States can be very expensive! A simple visit to a general practitioner costs around $300, and let’s not even talk about a short trip to the emergency room – you'd be looking at an invoice of thousands of dollars! 😨
So don't hesitate and get insurance before your trip – you will leave with a much lighter mind! On top of that, insurers are numerous, as are the types of coverage and rates.
Among the best insurances there are out there, check out Chapka! It’s an insurance specialist in the USA. I've even negotiated a Chapka promo code for my readers – it gives 5% off your travel insurance! 😄
Don't hesitate to have a look at their website – you will surely find the right insurance for your stay. For example, for stays of less than 90 days, they offer CAP ASSISTANCE. This cover includes repatriation assistance, luggage insurance, a minimum medical expenses ceiling of £400,000 and it includes civil liability and accident cover. If you subscribe before you buy your tickets, you will also benefit from the cancellation option. If not, you can still take out this insurance up until the day before your departure. Pretty nice, isn't it? 😁
You should also tell your bank that you are going abroad. They could consider your banking transactions in New York as fraudulent and block your card, which would greatly complicate your stay in New York!
Take the opportunity to find out the maximum amount you can withdraw abroad. This will save you a lot of trouble when you get there 😉
9. Want internet on your phone?
If, like me, you’ve got to use the internet everyday, planning your trip to New York will also involve the question How to get internet there?, and Should I take an USA SIM card?
As for me, I live in France and I've been with Free Mobile for years now, and my plan offers DATA in the US without any extra cost. So I take full advantage of this: I keep my French SIM card and I use my package normally when in New York.
Otherwise, Free's €19.90 package offers 25GB of data abroad (in over 65 destinations, just saying! 😉).
Apart from Free, another good option to consider (in my opinion) is to opt for a Holafly prepaid card. This is a SIM card that you can use for a short or long stay – it's up to you to choose the duration that best suits you. The advantage is that you can enjoy the SIM’s capped tariff to avoid unpleasant surprises – no overspending! As for the price, count on about £25 for 10 days, though prices vary according to the options you choose 👍
10. Establish a global budget
It is important to keep in mind the overall budget for a trip to New York. To help you, here is an example of an average budget for a week in New York City for one person:
- Cost of ESTA: £16.77
- Return airfare: £375
- Accommodation: £700
- Airport transfer: £52
- New York City Pass: £116
- Health insurance: £26
- International sim card: £35
- Card to use public transport: £26
- Meals: £305
- Helicopter flight over the city: £140
Of course prices vary depending on when you go and how far in advance you book accommodation or flight tickets for example.
Preparing your trip to New York: what about once you're there?
Once in the Big Apple, you'll need to be patient before setting off to explore the city... Indeed, it takes at least an hour and a half from the time you land to the time you leave the airport! 😅
The process at the airport is a bit lengthy, especially if other planes have landed at the same time as yours.
You will first pass before an immigration officer, who will check your passport and take your fingerprints and a photo of you. They will also ask you why you are travelling, and you will need to provide them with your New York address.
Note that you may be subject to a more thorough security check, including a search of your luggage.
To speed up the process and save some time, electronic terminals have been installed in various airports (with a procedure in other languages available!). By replacing the immigration officers, they regulate the flow of travellers, but you are not guaranteed to be able to pass through these terminals! If you are lucky enough to be able to do so, answer the questions and then hand the ticket issued by the terminal to the control officer.
You will also have to go before a customs officer and hand over the form you filled in on the plane or on arrival – to declare what you have brought into the USA.
Once these steps have been completed, you can collect your luggage and finally leave the airport to go to the transfer area to your hotel (taxi, car, metro, etc.).
How to get to your accommodation?
You can take a yellow cab, for example. Simply head for the designated locations.
If you take a taxi, you will be charged a flat rate of $52 plus tolls, taxes, rush hour fees and tip, making a total of between $65 and $70. The advantage is that you can share the ride with other passengers, but it's not the most economical option if you're on your own.
Travel time from JFK:
Northern Manhattan: 45 min to 1h15
Midtown: 45 min to 1h30
Lower Manhattan: 1h to 1h50
Brooklyn: 30 min to 1h40
Queens: 30 to 50 minutes
Travel time from Newark:
Northern Manhattan: 45 min to 1h30
Midtown : 35 min to 1h15
Brooklyn: 45 min to 1h20
Queens: 1 hour
You can also use public transport such as the underground, train or bus.
If you land at JFK, take the AirTrain (just follow the indications). It is a shuttle that connects any airport terminal to the city's underground. There are two stations: Jamaica or Howard Beach, and you can continue your journey to the station nearest your hotel.
The AirTrain ticket costs $7.75 per person and an underground ticket costs $2.75. The underground and the AirTrain are the fastest ways to get to your hotel.
Travel time from JFK:
Northern Manhattan: 1 hour
Midtown: 40 min
Lower Manhattan: 55 min
Brooklyn: 40 min
Queens : 35 min
Travel time from Newark:
Northern Manhattan: 40 min
Midtown: 30 min
Lower Manhattan: 40 min
Brooklyn: 1 hour
Queens: more than 1 hour
If you would rather take a bus (NYC Airporter), you can use them to get to Grand Central Terminal and Times Square. It costs $19 per person for a one-way trip (free for children under 3). They run every 20 to 30 minutes or so.
However, I recommend you to go to NY via the Shuttle, a shared shuttle that serves the hotels in the city (in a limited area though!). Please remember to reserve your seat on the shuttle!
It costs about $22 per person, taxes and tolls included. You get door-to-door service (dropped off directly at your hotel) and the shuttle is free for children under 3. However, the shuttle ride can be long if you happen to be the last person to be dropped off. Travel times are the same as by taxi, but you have to add the detours to drop off all the passengers in front of their accommodations!
You can also take a private taxi, as their rates are cheaper! Carmel Car & Limousine Service, for example, has a flat rate starting at $44. Another advantage is that you will have little waiting time! You can also order a private vehicle with a driver before you leave for New York City. This costs $115 from Newark and $108 from JFK. The travel time for these private taxis will be the same as for a taxi transfer.
Finally, nothing stops you from renting a car for your stay in New York. There are about thirty agencies present at the airport (Budget, Avis, Hertz, Sixt...), but the best thing to do is to reserve your vehicle before you leave. Don't hesitate to compare prices on the RentalCars platform.
Transfer times will depend on your destination, your departure airport and the mode of transport used, so make a practical choice! After spending 8 hours in the air, you'll want to get some rest! 😅
Organising your trip to New York City: pre-departure checklist
- your plane tickets;
- your passport;
- copies of your identity papers, hotel reservations, tickets for attractions, etc;
- your telephone and computer charger, as well as an adapter for American sockets – the electrical outlets in the USA are not the same as in the UK. You can also take a power strip if you need one;
- Your medication if necessary;
- a cap and sun cream if you are travelling in hot weather;
- a warm coat and hat if you are travelling in winter.
And we've come to the end of this article! I hope it was enlightening, and hopefully you now have a clearer idea of what you need to prepare for your trip. Best of luck to you, and remember that all those preparations are going to be worth it once in the City That Never Sleeps! 😁