NYC - The Official Guide

Tips for Visitors to NYC

by NYCgo.com Staff
Updated 12/04/2019
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You’re either planning a trip to New York City, on your way here or have made it to our fair city. Well done. Our site has plenty to help you with whatever stage you’re at, including a comprehensive basic information section. Before going further, read a quick overview of tips to help you navigate basic safety issues while you’re here.

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General Safety

New York is America's safest large city, but visitors should still use common sense to protect themselves and their property. Be aware of your surroundings, and make sure to always use licensed, reputable businesses for any services you need. For example, don't get into unlicensed vehicles at the airport, and don't rent bikes from companies that seem suspicious. If you're not sure where to find legitimate businesses, the listings at nycgo.com are a good place to start, as are those published by the Better Business Bureau. Your hotel concierge should be able to answer questions on this topic as well as offer knowledge about neighborhoods in the five boroughs. The City's official information hotline, 311, is also a useful resource, as is our Official NYC Information Center. A few other suggestions for while you're here:

  • Keep a copy of your passport stored in your hotel room safe.
  • Use well-lit, well-populated ATMs. 
  • Be wary of the renegade Disney, Sesame Street and superhero characters in Times Square, who are not officially licensed by their creators and generally hustling for tips.
  • In the event of a (rare) citywide emergency, check nyc.gov and NYC Emergency Management for the most up-to-date information.

Public Transportation

One of the most extensive public transportation systems in the world, New York City's inexpensive mass transit network is administered by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). It operates around the clock, 365 days per year, and comprises buses, commuter trains and the subway. Visitors and locals should observe the safety information posted at mta.info and pay attention to signs posted in subway stations, as well as to announcements broadcast over the subway's public address system. Some tips to keep in mind:

  • When waiting in subway stations, always stand behind the clearly demarcated yellow line at the platform edge.
  • The gap between the train entrance and platform edge is wider in some subway stations than others. Be mindful of the distance before boarding the train.
  • The train conductor will almost always be located in the middle subway car. There is a black-and-white sign on the platform to indicate the position of that car when it arrives.
  • Do not hold subway doors open, and keep your hands and possessions away from them as they close. A chime indicates when this is about to happen. Do not lean against the doors once they are closed either.
  • Do not use the doors inside cars to walk between subway trains, unless absolutely necessary or instructed to do so.
  • Only buy MetroCards from MetroCard kiosks in stations or approved vendors.

For more information, visit mta.info and our Getting Around guide.

Taxicabs

There are around 13,500 licensed medallion taxis that make up the City's famous yellow fleet, which is administered by the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) and operates 24 hours per day, seven days a week. All cabs accept both cash and credit cards. Some pointers to keep in mind:

  • When a taxi is available, the light on its roof (which displays the cab's individual medallion number) is illuminated. When a taxi is taken, the light is switched off.
  • In addition to being on the roof, the medallion number is located on the hood, the partition between the driver and backseat, and the receipt. Note the number in case you need to retrieve items from the TLC's lost and found.
  • Always exit via the curbside door, watching for cyclists, pedestrians and other cars.
  • Do not accept a ride from any unlicensed vehicle, especially at any of the three area airports.
  • It is against the law for a taxicab driver to refuse a person based on race, disability or what your destination is in New York City. Cabbies are required to drive a passenger to any destination in the five boroughs. If you believe you have been subject to discrimination, file a complaint by calling 311 or visiting nyc.gov
  • Street Hail Livery cabs are now operating in the boroughs outside of Manhattan (except for the airports) and in Manhattan north of West 110th Street and East 96th Street. These vehicles are identifiable by their light green color and may be hailed from the street as you would a regular yellow cab.
  • Pedicabs are another mode of transportation, and serve popular areas like Midtown and Central Park. Note that drivers must post very visible per-minute rates on their cabs (no additional fees may be charged) and have city-approved stopwatch timers, which start when the cab moves.

For more information, visit nyc.gov.

Walking and Biking

NYC is one of the world's foremost walking cities and, with of its many bike lanes, is cyclist-friendly as well. There are many miles of greenways (linear, open spaces linking parks and communities) in New York City—including a 32-mile loop around Manhattanand more green is being added. They're great for walking, jogging, biking and in-line skating.

Guided walking tours offer visitors the opportunity to see the City from different perspectives, but be sure you are using a trained, licensed guide. All tours on nycgo.com are run by licensed operators. You can also verify that a tour is fully licensed through the Guides Association of New York (ganyc.org). Some other tips to keep in mind:

  • Cyclists should observe all regular traffic rules. If you’re looking to rent a bike, basic rules of the road and some places to go for a ride, see our guide to biking in the City
  • Always be aware of your surroundings and pay attention to traffic, even if you have the right of way.
  • Be mindful of both bike lanes and the flow of traffic.
  • Always cross at the light and, where available, use pedestrian crossing zones.

For more information, read nyc.gov's information about pedestrian safety and visit the site's page for cyclists.

Useful Contact Numbers

  • Emergencies (police, fire or ambulance): 911
  • NYC government agencies and any questions or requests about City services (nonemergency): 311 or 212-NEW-YORK (639-9675)
  • Directory assistance: 411
  • Printed NYC literature: 800-NYC-VISIT (692-84748) or 212-397-8222

Local Laws

If you're headed out for a night on the town, you should know that the drinking age in NYC—and throughout the United States—is 21, and smoking (including the use of e-cigarettes) is banned in public places throughout the City, including in bars, restaurants, subways and taxis. Cigar smoking is permitted at cigar bars that register with the City. In NYC, those who are 21 or older can purchase cigarettes and tobacco; as well, the city council voted in late 2019 to effect a ban on the purchase of flavored e-cigarettes and vaping liquid flavors not including tobacco

If you are traveling to New York City and are planning to bring a firearm, you should be familiar with New York laws. In order to possess a gun in New York City, you will need a valid New York City handgun license or rifle/shotgun city-issued permit. Please check state, local and federal laws prior to traveling here, as there are limited exceptions to this rule (involving, for example, some military personnel or police officers on official duty). For more information, visit nyc.gov

Official NYC Information Center

The Official NYC Information Center in Macy's Herald Square is the place to get NYC facts, figures and tips, along with maps, guides and everything else you'll need during your stay.

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