It's September, which means thousands of college freshmen have moved to New York City and are adjusting to life here just like any other newbie. But no matter how old you are, and whether you’re here for a short stay or the long haul, there are bits of wisdom you’ll need that usually only come after spending some time in the five boroughs. In an effort to help you skip that step, we've decided to share some of the things we wish we'd known when we first came to the city.
1. Use the Empire State Building and One World Trade Center to tell uptown (north) from downtown (south). It can sometimes be tough for newcomers to orient themselves after getting off the subway, but if you know that One WTC is way downtown and the Empire State Building is at 34th Street, you'll often be able to decide which way to walk from a quick glance at the skyline. (A compass app on your mobile phone will also help.)
2. Use the restroom whenever you have the chance. Do it before leaving the theater, the museum, the restaurant and so on. Yes, even if you don't feel like you need to. If you're out and about, you never know when (or where) your next chance will be. By the way, here's more on restrooms in NYC.
3. Walking is sometimes faster than the subway. It takes about a minute to walk your typical city block, and three to walk an avenue block—so in some cases, especially if it's a nice day, you may not want to bother getting on the subway. Other helpful transit tips: subway and bus transfers are free (though if you pay with coins, not from bus to subway). If you're making more than two one-way trips on the subway at least five days a week, a monthly MetroCard is your best bet. And the middle car of the subway train is usually the most crowded, so try one of the ends if you'd like some more breathing room. For more, visit our transportation page.
4. Entertainment doesn't have to be expensive. While you can (and may sometimes want to) spring for high-priced tickets to see your favorite musicians, comedians and Broadway shows, there are deals to be had. For theater, try the TKTS booths in Manhattan and Brooklyn for same-day discounts. Always bring your student ID to the box office. Be on the lookout for free concerts in parks. And big names may drop by venues like the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and the Knitting Factory for free or cheap shows (Robin Williams and Chris Rock, for example, have performed sets at Hannibal Burress' free Knitting Factory show). Sometimes these sets are hard to predict, but if you make a habit of frequenting such shows and follow social media closely, you may get lucky. If you're looking for tons of gratis stuff in NYC, check out our Free in NYC page.
5. Taxis are obligated to take you to Brooklyn. If you're requesting a ride to any destination within the five boroughs (or one of the major area airports), the driver has to get you there as long as you pay the fare and tolls. Just take a seat and tell the cabbie your target address.
6. Wear comfortable shoes. We know you look great in those heels—but if you're going to be walking around a lot, you're better off with flats or sneakers.
7. There is life outside Manhattan. Brooklyn's getting a lot more attention these days, but some still have the perception that all the action is in Manhattan. Not the case. You’ll often get a better deal on rent in one of the other boroughs; there are fantastic restaurants, bars, parks, and nightlife all around the city; and the subway will get you to Manhattan faster than you think. Many new residents of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx discover that they'd rather live in their boroughs than anywhere else.
8. New Yorkers don't call Sixth Avenue “Avenue of the Americas.” The grid system makes it easier to navigate the streets of Manhattan, and most locals don't bother with this thoroughfare's “new” name, even though it's been in place for nearly 70 years. Also: the “Houston” in Houston Street is pronounced “How-stun,” not “Hew-stun.” If your interest is piqued, read our guide to even more NYC street name trivia.
9. Stand away from puddles as you wait to cross the street. Whether it's raining or has already stopped, be aware that water can accumulate near the sidewalk. Otherwise, you run the risk of suffering Carrie Bradshaw's fate in the opening credits of Sex and the City. And carry an umbrella if you think it might rain, lest you get stuck buying one for $5 on the street—in general, the store-bought variety is likely to be sturdier and a better value.